The first twelve months of living full-time are called “the real life test.” It is a significant milestone on the transsexual road map, because after one year of living full time and surviving, one is eligible for gender reassignment surgery (GRS). That is, of course, if you pass the psychological assessment.
As I mentioned earlier, originally I did not plan to have the surgery. What tipped the scale in favor of it was a conversation I had with my doctor at the clinic. Unfortunately, some of my blood tests had given the clinic some concern. Both my kidneys and liver had shown signs of distress, and the doctors had even considered taking me off the medications if the next test showed similar results. However, if I were to have the surgery, I would be able to go off most medications. If I didn’t, then I would need to continue taking them for the rest of my life if I still wanted to suppress testosterone, which would keep me at risk for all kinds of complications. That was reason number one for reconsidering GRS.
Reason number two had to do with the legal and safety aspects of living as a woman but still being identified as male in all of my official documents, including passport and driver’s license. If I planned to travel, the incongruity between how I presented and my stated gender could potentially cause some problems, depending on the jurisdiction. There would always be the risk of being delayed, humiliated or worse, if some official were to make a case out of it.
The third reason was a moot point for me—validation. Some transsexuals view the surgery as the ultimate validation of who they are, and this is all the reason they need. For others, it is crucial for them to undergo GRS so they can enjoy heterosexual intercourse and function sexually as a woman. Neither of these was of any consequence or significance to me. I didn’t need the surgery for validation, and the last thing I wanted to do was make love to a man, since I have never been attracted to men.
I chose to request surgery on the medical and legal/safety issues alone. For my one-year anniversary appointment at the clinic I brought letters from individuals who could vouch that I had been living full-time for one year. I asked a couple of clients and a couple of friends for such letters, since letters from family members were not accepted. My doctor then submitted the letters, along with his report and a copy of my file to the provincial Trans Health Services office in Victoria, the provincial capital. He told me this office would contact me in about three months to schedule me for the psychological assessment.
In September, I got a call from the provincial office requesting my email address so I could be notified about when and where the assessment would take place; they suggested it would be sometime in October. The following week, however, I was called again, because they had a cancellation and I could be seen sooner. The assessment, done by two of the Trans Health psychiatrists, lasted one hour; I was approved for surgery. Then I had to wait another three months for the Authorization for Surgery letter from the Ministry of Health. With that letter in hand, I could call the hospital in Montreal to book a date for the GRS. For now, the Province of British Columbia farms out the surgery to the clinic of Dr. Pierre Brassard, a world-renowned GRS specialist. Travel and extended care for recovery are the patient’s responsibility.
The Authorization letter arrived the week before Christmas, so I called the hospital to book a date; the earliest would be May 17, 2010—a five-month wait. I wanted to think about whether the other dates might work best for me, but since the hospital was closed for two weeks over Christmas and New Year’s I was asked to call back in January. I chose the first date they had given me, May 17th—but, once again, there had been a cancellation. March 30th was now available so I went for it.
Friends have wondered if I would be attracted to men, and if I would consider that possibility in the event that my marriage does not survive. My instant and emphatic answer has always been no, I do not wish to have any intimate relation with a male. I am not curious or remotely interested in such a thing, and never have been. The surgery does not change one’s sexual orientation. If I were not monogamous and celibate, I would be open to an intimate relationship with a female—I suppose, technically, that would make me lesbian. And that’s an issue for Rachel: she is one hundred percent heterosexual.
The best explanation I have heard about this complicated multi-level issue of gender, sex and orientation, was by Dr. Cameron Bowman of the University of British Columbia, the only gender surgery specialist in our province. In an interview on a local cable community program, the interviewer asked the question if all trans- sexuals were attracted to the members of their original sex, now their opposite sex. He explained the need to take each of these three areas and discuss and understand them separately.
Gender, he said, is how we identify ourselves—it is the brain’s imprint. We either identify as male or female, but there are some who identify as neither—they are asexual; others identify as a combination of both; and yet others as more of one than the other, but not one or the other.
He described Sex as the body’s biological, physical characteristics—the plumbing. Again, most have either fully developed male or female “plumbing,” but there are a few who have ambiguous sexual characteristics and cannot be categorized as either male nor female—they are intersex.
Finally, there is sexual orientation. Again, most people are attracted only to the opposite and never to their own sex. However, there are some who can go either way, or are only attracted to their own sex.
What complicates things is that each of these layers is a spectrum and when you superimpose all three, you have an endless set of possible combinations.
The majority of people have a gender imprint that matches their body and they never question or wonder what they are. If you are one of these, consider yourself fortunate. For me and for many like me this has not been the case. And it goes both ways. There are women who identify as male and men who identify as female, others who identify as both male and female; and yet others who identify as more of one, but not totally. It is not an issue of being right or wrong. We cannot and should not be so literal as to say, “You have a man’s body, therefore, you are male.”
If you don’t struggle with your gender imprint, at least give those who do the benefit of the doubt, and be open to the amazing diversity in our human family. None of us gets to choose and that should keep us all humble, compassionate, and inclusive.
In Chapter 26, I talked about how I came to a new understanding of Jesus’ comments about eunuchs. That was a pivotal point in my life, because it was then I was finally able to reconcile faith with what the doctors had told me. It was only after I saw God was not going to judge me for the choices I needed to make, and that my faith was not at odds with what I was, that I finally felt I had permission to proceed.
I must admit, however, there was a touch of doubt that lingered in my mind. Was I fooling myself, and only seeing this issue from a selfish point of view? Any doubt I may have had evaporated when I realized there was corroborating evidence in the Bible. I now believe the disciples did come into a new understanding of human sexuality, (as well as marriage—the high calling of the committed, intimate relationship between two persons) as a result of Jesus’ teaching discussed earlier. The evidence is in St. Luke’s account in the Book of Acts, about Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch. Luke tells it like this:
But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he got up and went; and there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship, and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this:
“HE WAS LED AS A SHEEP TO SLAUGHTER;There are so many lessons we can unpack from this story. For example, the Ethiopian eunuch’s devotion to Judaism had compelled him to make the long, treacherous, and dangerous journey to Jerusalem from Ethiopia to celebrate the Jewish feast of the Passover. He did this even though, as a eunuch, he was unable to enter the Temple grounds to fully participate in the feast, since, as was the custom at the time, eunuchs were considered ceremoniously unclean. He could therefore only stand on the sidelines and watch; he was an excluded person, through no fault of his own.
AND AS A LAMB BEFORE ITS SHEARER IS SILENT,
SO HE DOES NOT OPEN HIS MOUTH.
“IN HUMILIATION HIS JUDGMENT WAS TAKEN AWAY;
WHO WILL RELATE HIS GENERATION?
FOR HIS LIFE IS REMOVED FROM THE EARTH.”
The eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing.
I appreciate you may not hold the same beliefs as me about Jesus, and I am not sharing all of this with you to convince you one way or another. I simply want you to understand that it was important for me to work these things out. As I said earlier, I needed to reconcile what I was inside with my faith. The narrow focus and very simplistic views I had held is what made it so difficult for me to accept what I was. This was the tension and the battleground, and nothing made sense for most of my life.
As a believer and follower of Jesus, what touches me about this story is this is one of the first acts by one of the apostles, and more significantly, it is the act of including sexually and anatomically “other” persons. Additionally, for this to be one of the first “church” events is evidence things were going to be different from the very start. It declared that none would be excluded for being “different.” That Philip did not hesitate to reach out and affirm this sexually-other person as a believer is an equally monumental lesson. I suspect Philip must have been just as surprised as the eunuch by this amazing encounter.
When the eunuch asked Philip if he shouldn’t be baptized, he wasn’t saying, “Hey, I want to start out right by following the new rules.” Instead, the question was packed with so much more importance. It was as if he was saying, “Though I have been a devout Jew all my life and have done everything that is expected and demanded of me, even coming to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, I have not been a full participant. As an other-sex person, I have had to stand on the sidelines. Will this also be the case now, or can I be a full participant as an equal?”
Humor me a little bit longer, and just imagine how the eunuch must have felt to no longer be marginalized and excluded. He was now an equal. How could there be no rejoicing? That, in essence, is how I finally feel after almost six decades. I finally accept myself as a woman, and though there is still a long road ahead and it won’t always be smooth travelling, I am finally able to rejoice in who I am.
With that said, I must say good-bye; it’s time to finish packing the suitcases. My flight is tomorrow morning and the surgery is in a couple of days. My surgeon is waiting!