I know that some who’ve walked a similar path consider that their surgery marked the completion of their transition, the day when they left behind the adjective transsexual, when they stopped referring to themselves as transsexual women, opting instead to describe themselves as just women. This is, of course, their prerogative and that’s fine, I’m not here to judge other people’s self-identification – but it’s not how I see it. Even though I, too, identify as a woman, I am also transsexual and a transsexual woman. I’m neither proud nor ashamed of this; it’s simply who I am. These are some of the intersectionalities in my life, they play out in many ways and I will not deny them.
The medical condition of transsexualism – with which I was formally diagnosed in October 2006 and which still impacts on my life today – is defined by the NHS here in Britain as “a life-long and extreme form of [gender dysphoria]“. Life-long: and my own experience bears that out. I knew, with absolute certainty, at the age of five years old that the body into which I had been born was not the body my brain was expecting. Transitioning – and I don’t view it as comprising only surgery; it has many other aspects: medical, social, legal, etc – is no more and no less than a way of managing that dissonance, of making my life bearable, of finding ways to function as a contributing member of society. I do not accept that any one particular change, or set of changes, offers a ‘cure’. I am not ‘ill’, therefore there is nothing to ‘cure’.
One consequence of the medical profession’s pathologisation of gender dissonance is the resulting stigmatisation that I face as a transsexual woman: I do not consider that I have a ‘disorder’, or that I am ‘mentally ill’. But this mislabelling of my existence is applied to me by the medical profession, and mainstream society accepts that authority over my own narrative of my lived experiences. I may assert that I am ‘just a woman’, but ultimately society will decide if it accepts me as such. This is just one of many compromises that I must make, one of the chances I must take in my transition. The sweetener is that I am then allowed access by the state to palliative – but none the less essential – treatments like surgery, like HRT. And, in passing, let us remember that, as a result of surgery, I will need to apply estrogen patches twice a week until the day I die; try as I might I don’t see how that a procedure which requires long-term post-operative attention can be called a ‘cure’, something over and done with, which I can now forget about.
Yes, surgery has improved my well-being immeasurably – and no, I have absolutely no regrets – but it cannot, to my mind, ‘cure’ a ‘life-long and extreme’ condition. I was born transsexual, and I will die transsexual. But that’s okay too, because had I not begun medically transitioning, I would not be here to write this today: I would have taken my own life on a quiet and sunny August afternoon in 2006. Instead, surgery has offered me one method of bringing my sense of self – my existence – to a place where I can today look back at the course of my path over the past three years, and think about where I would like it to take me in the years ahead.
All of this is why I celebrate my anniversary of undergoing surgery. It’s why, as I woke up in that recovery room two years ago today, I didn’t think of it as another item ticked off a checklist, or the end of a particular phase, but as another milestone on the journey that is my transition, the path through my life as a transsexual woman.
Now, if anyone would like a piece of unbirthday cake, you’d best get a wiggle on before the panda eats it all…
Happy second unbirthday, Helen!
Previously at Bird of Paradox:
- Happy unbirthday to me (September 20, 2008)