Monday, July 18, 2011

Derby Girl Decision

I never had a healthy relationship with sports growing up. In T-Ball I spent most of my time in the outfield sitting in the grass and picking flowers. Next came soccer, but you can only get kicked in the face with a ball so many times before you call it quits. I briefly tried Tae Kwon Do but couldn't see the merit in it. By the time I entered middle school I not only hated sports, I hated people who played sports. “Jocks” weren't exactly fond of me either. But as an adult, I find myself in a completely different place. Not only do I welcome athletic classes, I actively sign up for it every semester. I've taken Karate, Weight Training, Aerobics, Kickboxing and Self-Defense with no end in sight. My boyfriend is a coach and former competitive athlete. And twice a week I practice for a full-contact team sport. I'm a Derby Girl.

I love roller derby. There's just no other sport like it. When I pull on my leggings, pads, helmet and skates I feel like I'm suiting up for combat. I love the rush of wind in my face as I race around the track. The adrenaline as we crash into each other is intoxicating. I love the training, the feeling of improving with every practice. But it's not just the game itself I love, it's the other girls. If you saw a derby girl on the street, you'd never know she has an alter ego with a name like Luna Tick Tick Boom or Stone Cold Jane Austen. You'd never know she spends nights bonding, crashing, shoving, and racing other girls. You'd never know she shows off bruises and injuries like badges of honor. You'd never know she wears fishnets and skimpy outfits in front of screaming fans. We're clerks, nurses, teachers and housewives, but with a unique twist. We're in touch with our aggression and thus don't get along with most other girls. We've been considered “weird” for most of our lives. Most of us were nerds growing up and still are today. We all have crazy life stories once you get to know us.

Of course, I've been reluctant to share the full extent of my crazy life story with my teammates. It's not that I'm ashamed of my past. And the WFTDA allows transwomen to participate without discrimination so long as our hormones fall into the “average female range”. But I don't want to be known as the transgirl on my team. I want to be known as an aggressive jammer and a good blocker. A tough girl who knows how to throw a good hip check. But I may not have that option for very long.

One of my teammates has friended my private (and nearly impossible to find) Facebook account. So I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place. Either I let her see my account and discover my birth status or I block her and let her think I'm a bitch. Normally I wouldn't care, but I've developed a relationship with these girls I'm not used to, I've never been a real teammate before. I recognize all the familiar worries that usually accompany the “coming out” debate. I'm afraid of being distanced and shunned and “othered”, but I also wonder how long I can keep bending the truth. I trust these girls, but do I trust them enough not to treat me differently?

Perhaps the best option is a “best of both worlds” solution. I can come out to a select few, including my coaches, my closest friends and other members of “The Family”. I know eventually I need to come out once I'm drafted to a full-time team anyway. I'd hate for my status to come up and be contested after a win and cause my teammates grief. I'll do it, but it will be a delicate and deliberate operation.

Jon Stewart: Most Trusted Newsman

I picked up this story from Mad Dog Liberal. Jon Stewart has just been named the "Most Trusted Newsman" in a Time Magazine poll. While this may come as a surprise to the establish news media and even Stewart himself, I can't believe it's taken this long for him to get recognition. For years now, I've said Jon Stewart is the only journalist left. And he's a comedian. Unlike the "news personalities" that populate Fox News and MSNBC, Jon Stewart isn't afraid of getting his hands dirty. He's not afraid to slaughter the sacred cows on either side of the political aisle. Congratulations Jon Stewart. You deserve it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

SRS Explained

My last post seemed to produce many more questions than I expected. Or different questions than I expected, at any rate. So I thought it might be a good idea to explain how my chosen form of surgery works when compared to others. Plus, it should have the added effect of calming me down.

To simplify things, there are three basic forms of vaginoplasty (the technical term for SRS) for trans women. I'll call them "Western Surgery", "Eastern Surgery" and "Colon Surgery", but to be fair, all forms can be found in any region of the world. They vary not only in cost and methods but also aesthetics and sensation results (those are fancy words for a realistic, orgasmic vagina). So I'll show you what's different about them and explain why I'm flying all the way to Thailand to get what's rightfully mine.

First things first, before you can even get the surgery there are several hoops you have to jump through first. You have to be of a consenting age in your country (18 in the States), one year of hormone therapy, one year of "real-life experience" and two letters from therapists (one of which must be have a PhD). Generally, to get those letters you need two years history with one of the therapists. You must also have a "demonstrable knowledge" of the ins and outs of surgery. Most interpret that to mean you must watch a video of the surgery take place and know about multiple surgeons. All of these are just the legal requirements. There's also physical requirements. Generally speaking, most surgeons won't work with HIV/AIDS infected patients and if they do they charge a lot more. You also need a full physical with blood work to demonstrate you're healthy enough to undergo anesthesia and most surgeons have a weight limit in the mid-200s mark. There's also the matter of hair removal in the "unmentionable" region so you don't have hair in your...well, moving on. Oh, and you need money. There's no payment program for this surgery. It's cash up front only.

I'll use Marci Bowers as an example of Western Surgery. When I first began to seriously research surgeons she was my first choice. Primarily because she's a fellow trans woman and a gynecologist. So I figured she would know better than most about what makes a good vagina. She practices what is commonly called "two-stage" surgery. The costs are astronomical, around 20K, which only rises when you consider travel, hotel, etc. Marci is famous, and her fee reflects that. As for the method, she has a variation on the original form of surgery. This is the inversion technique or the "turning the outie into an innie" procedure. To simplify, they take the birth defect, turn it inside out and place it into the pelvic region to create the vaginal canal. The clitoris is created by moving the most sensitive nerves and the outer vulva is created from scrotal tissue. It's been around for a long time and it works. The only problem is that's just the first step. In order to have labia and a clitoral hood you need to undergo "Labiaplasty". This bumps the cost up even more in order to have a realistic looking vagina. Here's an example of the results before labiaplasty. Her patients report positive sensation, which is really the most important aspect of the surgery in my opinion. After all, no vagina is perfect. But this traditional method places less sensation on the clitoris and labia and more in the vaginal canal. Which is a little less than accurate representation of a cissexual vagina.

Pros:
In the United States, less travel
Sympathetic surgeon
Good Sensation

Cons:
High cost
Two surgeries
Vaginal stimulation over clitoral

The least common and, quite frankly, least popular type of surgery is Colon Surgery, actually called Primary Colon Segment Vaginoplasty. The procedure is more or less the same as Western Surgery, however a segment of the Colon is used in order to achieve better depth rather than use skin grafts. This results in a self-lubricating vagina, which sounds like a great sales point until you learn self-lubricating means always lubricating. Sorry if that's TMI for you, it certainly wasn't a pleasant visual for me. The most prominent doctor who performs this type of surgery is Dr. Pichet Rodchareon of Thailand, though there are plenty of American and European surgeons who perform this same surgery. The cost with Pichet is around 10K, which is much cheaper than Bowers but can still require a second surgery for some patients. He's a hit-and-miss surgeon. A lot of girls love him and a lot of girls hate him. Personally, I don't like those odds. The fact that Pichet no longer allows pictures of his results is a pretty bad sign in my book.

Pros:
Lower cost
Self-lubricating
One-step (usually)
Cons:
More travel
Always lubricating
Mixed Results

My surgeon of choice is Dr. Chettawut Tulayaphanich (try saying that three times fast!) who's a great example of Eastern Surgery. I call this technique thus because it's much more common in Thailand and other Eastern countries. Dr. Chettawut's price is reasonable, around 10K not including travel and hotel expenses. And his method is much more accurate in terms of matching a cissexual vagina. Instead of using the birth defect to create the vaginal canal, the skin is used to create the clitoris and outer vulva areas, making these areas more sensitive. The vaginal canal is created by using scrotal tissue and, if needed, skin grafts. He also places the canal close to the pelvic bone and urethra, resulting in a g-spot (yes!) which most other surgeons cannot. Very rarely does he require a second surgery to fix the labia and he consistently has good results. I've yet to find a girl who was unsatisfied with her outcome. The results are some of the best I've seen. To top it all off, his staff cares for you at your hotel through the entire healing process and Thailand is a very accepting country when it comes to trans folk.

Pros:
Lower cost
Best sensation
Sympathetic staff
Consistent results
Cons:
More travel

The final step in all surgery is recovery. This involves "dilation", which is stretching the new vaginal canal out several times a day with a stent (a nice, medical word for dildo) for the first few weeks, slowly increasing the size of the stent and decreasing the frequency of dilation. Ultimately, the only dilation required after a year or so can be in the form of sex or masturbation once a week. This is one of my boyfriend's favorite "perks" of dating a trans girl. He'll get to use the line, "But honey, we have to have sex. It's prescribed by your doctor." Is he a lucky guy or what? There's also a need of douching once in a while. Like dilation this decreases in frequency over time. To add irony into the whole thing, I'll need maxi pads for the first few weeks until the bleeding and swelling go down. To quote Hedwig and the Angry Inch, "It's my first day as a woman, already it's that time of the month." And that plane ride back home will be enjoyed in a wheelchair and later on a donut pillow. Sounds like fun, right? But it's worth it.

Really, once I found Chettawut it was a no-brainer. My boyfriend and I are very excited about our upcoming trip, not to mention the fun we'll have after the fact. Hopefully that answered a lot of your questions but feel free to ask any more, I know I gave the super simplified version. Stay tuned for information about what my trip to Thailand and surgery might be like.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

2012

December 21, 2012 is the end of the Mayan calendar and rumored to signal the end of the world as we know it. Personally, I think the Mayans said, "You know what, 2012 is ages from now. Let's just stop. I got more important shit to do. We can update it again in a thousand years or so." Doomsday doesn't concern me, but there are some big events coming next year in my life.

First of all, I should be graduating from Collin with my Associates in May. There's still a long way to go in my academic career, but this is the first milestone since I decided to change my life in 2010. With any luck I'll be off to SMU to finish my Bachelors with a scholarship (hopefully a full-ride) or UTD. It will be a departure from "the basics" and more focused on my passion.

But the event that looms in my mind, and has for years, will take place in Thailand in the last week of July. Here I will meet Dr. Chettawut Tulayapanich, the man who is going to correct my birth defect. The thought of going through sex-reassignment surgery both delights and terrifies me. It's something I want to do and yet also something I have to do. I'm not implying that all transsexuals must get SRS, but this is something I've known I had to do since I learned about it at the age of 12. But as happy as the thought of surgery makes me, the looming reality also scares the shit out of me. It's not just the fact that I've never had surgery, never left the country and only have one shot at getting it done right, but the fact that I'll achieve something I've wanted for so long. I will forever look back on this day as a new beginning. And yet, despite my optimism I worry about everything. Will I have enough money? Will I have complications? Will I be satisfied with the results? Will everything go according to plan? And there's no way for me to know the answers ahead of time. No matter how many testimonials I read and result pictures I look at, it doesn't tell me what my experience will be.

It's been difficult to explain this apprehension to most people I know. My boyfriend is too excited to really understand (who can blame him?) I don't talk about "trans things" with my mom or sister, although my sister will be there during the surgery so I'm sure something will come up between us soon enough. Other trans girls I know are either jealous (because they're still saving for surgery) or dismissive (because they've already had surgery). And most other people I know either happy for me or want to know the technical details. It's odd having such mixed emotions about what will no doubt be one of the happiest days of my life. This is on par with my wedding day or bringing my first child home. The enormity of the event itself scares me. And still, I work toward it each day. I think about it multiple times a day and generally, the thoughts are happy. It's just something I have to push through, because the thought of not having surgery scares me even more.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Game On

When people ask me how I began my transition, I tend to give several different answers depending on my mood. Did my transition begin when I came out as transsexual on my 22nd birthday? I'd say much sooner. What about when I came out as gay before that and began exploring my gender expression before dealing with my gender identity? Close, but still not quite there. Was it the moment in my early twenties when I decided if I was a pervert I might as well learn to live with it? We're getting closer. But the true beginning of my long, painful, beautiful transition to womanhood all starts with video games.

I've mentioned previously that Lara Croft was my first female protagonist in a video game. But that was a much bigger step than I usually give credit. Not only did she open to door to feminist discussions between my mom and me, but she also gave me an excuse to identify as a woman. You see, even if I was given the choice to choose a character's gender (which only ever happened in RPGs back then) I pressured myself into believing I had to pick a male character. Otherwise, people would suspect my gender even more. But with Tomb Raider, I didn't choose to be a woman. I simply was. And that began my exploration of identifying as a woman without feeling guilt or shame. It even gave me to courage to dress like a woman outside my room for the first time, briefly. At the age of 10 I would jump from tree limbs to playground equipment in my backyard while wearing cut-off shorts and a tank top with my stepbrother's cap guns holstered through my belt loops. I'm sure it was quite a sight.

There were plenty of kick-ass females in my life: my mom, Tifa Lockhart, Leia Organa, Daria Morgendorffer and Selina Kyle, to name a few. But I also suffered from the messages that all women are exposed to, telling me being a female was inferior, something unfortunate brought about by birth. It was MMORPGs (Massive, multi-player online roleplaying games) that gave me the courage to identify as a woman again. And feel power from that identity. It all started with a game of Guild Wars my roommate talked me into. I enjoyed gaming with friends, but it was the late-night sessions that kept me coming back. I rolled a female mage in secret and began a new game on my own. It wasn't long before a got a "private message" from a guy asking me to dance naked for money. So I did. I was a new character, broke and titillated at the thought of turning a man on, albeit with a virtual avatar. It wasn't long before my character became a stripper primarily and a mage after the fact. Boys would pay me extra to cyber while I did it, so I earned even more. But pretty soon they were asking for voice chat and pictures and that's when I got scared, the harassment that hounded me prevented me from actually enjoying the game and so I pulled the plug. I still had my male characters, but I lost all interest.


When I found a new online game, City of Heroes, I told myself to take things differently. As much as I enjoyed exploring my sexuality, I learned it was not safe for a woman to do so openly. So I focused on the game itself. I was The Green Mistress, a bow-and-arrow expert who could stalk her villains and snipe them from a distance. I joined a super team that roleplayed in character. I became good friends with Super Mama, a girl who was my age and had a toddler. There was also She-Witch and Tina Trix, who were sisters in college. We would generally play on our own unless a bigger mission required bringing in the boys. This was my first time feeling accepted by other women as myself. We bitched about men, talked about our lives, shared our secrets...but there was always one thing I didn't tell them for fear of losing that acceptance. To complicate matters even more, one of the boys, El Tigre, developed a crush on me. We began playing together once the others went to bed, then one night he asked if I wanted to cyber. I'm sure he was just joking, but I was horny and wanted the sexual acceptance of a male again. So I did it. Things progressed as they had before, he asked for pictures, voice chat and web cams. And this time I gave in. I think I was curious to see how far either of us would go. It almost became a game of chicken, waiting for the other to flinch. But he ultimately won when he began asking if we could meet up and have sex in RL (real life). Once again, I ran.

While these games didn't give me the healthiest beginnings, they did teach me valuable lessons about being a woman in a man's world. It taught me female sexuality is a powerful and sometimes frightening thing when pushed against male entitlement. It taught me about gender discrimination in a way I'd never experienced before. It gave me to power to change my gender in some small way without completely altering my life before I was ready. I like to think of it as my transition training wheels. The first step in a long journey. I'm grateful for the chance those games gave me and wonder how it might help other girls and boys out there struggling to figure out who they are.