Saturday, 14 July 2007

Don't Do It Unless You Have To

From the UK Daily Mirror:
Paula Vendyback is a post-op transsexual who was born a boy called Paul. Here Paula, 40, from Leicester, tells how changing gender has meant sacrificing a lot more than the obvious...

'FOR as long as I can remember I knew I was different. Even in school, I didn't fit in. On paper I seemed like any other kid. I loved sport and was on the football team.
Not me, my feelings ranged from indifference to loathing. It was something I had to do, and the cameraderie was good, the inter-personal relationships, depending on one another. I think the one moment I truly enjoyed Rugby was when I tackled one beg, beefy guy on the other team. He'd been playing dirty, monstering the smaller boys on my team. It felt good to land on top of him and make sure he didn't do that any more.
But inside I was a mess. I can't explain it, I just didn't feel like I should be a boy.
I knew I wasn't one. I wasn't sure what I was though. I looked like a boy, dressed like a boy, thought like other girls. But I enjoyed a lot of activities girls in the UK in the 60's weren't supposed to. They were supposed to grow up to be dancers, mothers, nurses, not Rocket Scientists or Astronauts.
I remember from a young age seeing women in the street and wishing I could be one of them. When I was 13, I even started to sneak back home in lunch breaks and try on my sister's underwear. I loved the
feel of the fabric, it was so much softer than men's clothes.
Not me. It would have been like putting lipstick on a pig, for one thing. At age 13, I found out that boys and girls were born different. Before then, I just naturally assumed I'd been put in the wrong group by accident, and that the mistake would be corrected in due course.
In the end the urge to speak to someone about it became overwhelming and I finally confessed to my boss that I liked to wear women's clothes. He was understanding and even said he knew people who liked to do the same thing but he said he didn't want other staff to know.

As it turned out, I didn't have a choice. Gossip spread, my clients found out and one by one they stopped booking me. Before I knew it, I no longer had a job and my life started to spiral downwards. I went from successful to suddenly being unemployed and living in a bedsit barely bigger than a cupboard.
Par for the course, I'm afraid. I was incredibly lucky, and I know it.
In the end I turned to a psychologist for help and she diagnosed me as a transsexual. I can't explain the relief of finally having someone who understood what I was going through - but it was to be the start of further problems. I decided to undergo an operation to change my sex. I was so desperate to be a woman and thought this would finally solve my problems.
BIG mistake. Sure, it solves the biggest, most terrible problem of having a mis-matched body. But it brings more problems than it solves, it's certainly no cure-all. It doesn't "make you a woman" anyway, you had better be one beforehand or it's a terrible mistake.
I didn't have £8,000 to go private so I agreed to have it done on the NHS, which had a four-year waiting list. In the meantime I had to live as a woman. That meant dressing as a woman every time I went
out, and working as a woman.

The transition began. I had electrolysis every two months to get rid of my facial hair and was given oestrogen tablets.
Ah electro. Imagine a bee sting. 40,000 times, over a few years...
By now I had a job at a care agency so I went shopping for clothes to wear to work. I'm 6ft 2in so it was difficult to find things at first. In the end I opted for long floral skirts and women's T-shirts. I remember shop assistants looked at me oddly and sniggered as they put the clothes through the tills. But that was nothing compared to other people's disapproval.

My eldest brother, Craig, was so ashamed of seeing me in a skirt he stopped contact with me. Even at Christmas, he will send cards to the entire family except me.

When neighbours found out, some reacted badly. Someone put a brick through the back window of my car, some kids put a flaming piece of paper through my letterbox to try to set the house alight (luckily all it did was burn a hole in the hallway carpet) and one man even forced his way into my flat and threatened me with a gun - the police arrived just in time and arrested him.

I became frightened to go out at night. Every time I left the house local kids would shout "cross-dresser" at me. Life became very lonely.
Ah, but you see, this was all for her own good, in theory. In order to see whether the patient has enough mental stamina to cope in the new social role, they are first put through 1,2 or even 4 years of this, often without hormones or other treatment to make them appear normal.

It also makes sure that the doctors have few patients coming back with regrets of course. Those who think it would be "fun" to be of the opposite sex get weeded out by this deliberate torture. As do most of those whose bodily appearance is such that they will never look just like a stereotypical housewife or young woman. What she should have done is suicided you see, rather than continue on this trail of tears. That way the treatment would not be a failure.
Many people think transsexuals are gay, but the majority of us are actually asexual and have no desire for sex. All we want is an acceptance of who we really are inside, and to be able to live in peace.

Relationships, however, were the least of my worries as I waited for the operation. I knew it was a big decision - I'd even heard of one transsexual who died on the operating table - but I was determined to go through with it. I felt so frustrated that I was ready to sacrifice everything to become a woman. I wanted it all to be over.

The night before the operation in November 2002, I couldn't sleep, I was just imagining how it would all feel afterwards and I could hardly wait for them to begin.
Yes, the operation is not without risks. Not many die on the table, but it happens. More get Compartment Syndrome, and lose the muscles on their legs. Some heal enough to walk again. Then there's the risk of fistula, and worse, of having to have a colostomy bag all your life. My complications were minor in comparison.

I can't explain the driving need to have my body corrected, after all, I'd gotten most of what I wanted just by the natural change, assisted by hormones. Probably just greedy, but at the end, it was no longer a "nice to have", it was an elemental compulsion. The more I had, the more I wanted.
My mum came with me to the hospital but she didn't want me to do it.
She was worried about the risks and began to cry as we walked in. It was horrible but there was nothing she could do to change my mind.

I remember as I was being wheeled in, thinking: "This is it, there's no going back now." That's my last memory of being physically male.
My memories are of thinking "Is this really the right thing to do?". I thought about it, then decided that really, there was no other option. I could never have been normally male, I was sterile, it was horribly uncomfortable. I was giving up nothing, and possibly gaining more than I ever dreamt of. Content and at peace, emotionally exhausted and glad that nothing could stop it now, I fell asleep even before they put me under.
When I woke up in the recovery room I immediately screamed. The pain was agonising. It was at that moment I thought: "What have I done?"

They put me on a morphine drip, but I was still so uncomfortable. I had thick padding on, like a nappy, and had to go to the toilet through a tube leading to a bag at my bedside.
Been there, done that. Maybe it's because I've had lots of painful surgery in my life that the pain was so insignificant I didn't notice any. No need for morphine, anyway. But a part of it is that the surgeon I saw was so good.
I spent 10 days in this room, alone with just a TV to keep me company. I lost half a stone because I wasn't able to eat and could only feed on a drip.
2 days afterwards, I'd eaten so much fruit (you do NOT want constipation under these circumstances, it's not just agonising, but can cause damage) that I had to use a bedpan. My surgeon insists on 5 days in bed, no getting up. But you get released from hospital on day 8.
The skin from my scrotal sac had been used to create a vagina and the tip of my penis was left in place. When I finally dared to look, I was horrified. The whole area was purple with bits of skin dropping off. Even my doctor said he had never seen anything quite like it.
Did I mention that I'm not impressed by any of the UK surgeons? Bellringer on a good day is OK, as I'm sure many other UK surgeons are. But I've heard worse, and seen pictures of worse. That's why I chose Dr Suporn in Thailand.

Interesting that the vagina was formed from the scrotum, I thought none of the UK surgeons did that particular procedure, only the more routine penile inversion. It's trucky, and even now only a handful of Thai surgeons use it. It produces the best results, but is more difficult to perform successfully.
After being discharged, I got an infection that made things even more painful. I spent weeks after the operation in real pain. Just walking was agonising, and I couldn't sit down for at least three weeks.

It's now five years since the surgery and I am still suffering. Sometimes the stabbing pain wakes me in the middle of the night, but more often than not, it greets me as I wake up in the morning, a constant reminder of what I've done to my body.
See previous remarks re UK surgeons, competence thereof. I hope she can save enough to get some revision surgery done. Dr Suporn is the most expensive of the Thai surgeons, but any revision procedure is free. He doesn't have to do many of those.
The hormone tablets I have to take on a daily basis leave me with
frequent and intense migraines and sporadic mood swings. I've lost five stone due to the pain and developed anorexia as a result of the stress. I now weigh just nine stone.
Sounds as if she needs a better Endocrinologist. But on the NHS, I guess she has no choice. Meanwhile, I'm trying to lose weight!
I am attracted to women but have no real hope of finding one who would understand, especially now I've had the surgery. I can confidently say having this operation has ruined my life, but I've been told there is no chance I can have a reversal.
The odds aren't good, but I think she'd be surprised. There are many lesbian women out there who are far more thoughtful and understanding than she knows. But, as I said, the odds aren't good. Less than 50/50. But really, it's the only game in town. I'm sorry she has regrets, but I think she'd be even more unhappy with the status quo. She just had too high expectations, that's all.
After all the years of waiting, all the counselling and all the risks I've taken, I'd sincerely love to say that it's been worth it. But it hasn't.

I don't feel any more a woman than I did before.
Of course not! Neither do I! I was a woman before, and am no more and no less of a woman after! There is no such thing as a "sex change" operation, just one that partially corrects a brain-body mismatch. I think perhaps surgery was the wrong thing for this person, or maybe it was just the execution that was ... I won't say "botched", but I will say "suboptimal" with an "unfortunate result". (Surgeon-speak for "botched").
In fact, I just feel like a man with no penis. I can't bear to look at myself in the mirror naked. I've removed all the big mirrors from my house and only
have a small one in the bathroom for when I brush my teeth.

When I go out I still get called "sir" or "mate". To everyone else, I'm still the man I was.
Having seen her... if only she had $50,000, and could go to an FFS (Facial Feminisation Surgery) specialist. She has a facial structure that would really benefit. It would give her confidence, and relieve her misery. I'm sure it would totally rebuild her shattered life. I think her problem is not that the surgery was wrong or her, but that it has left her looking less than feminine, and that can be both depressing and personally dangerous.

Meanwhile I'm here in Chonburi, looking at all the beautiful women who have had this surgery, and eating my heart out with envy. Never mind, I look adequate, and thus should count my blessings.

I'd like to think the Mirror paid her enough for her story so she can have surgery, anyway.

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