Of course, I’ve been worrying. I’ve been finding it hard to put my thoughts into words, to express, even to myself, my experiences with my changing body. I’ve been obsessed with my genitals. They are not how I expected.
Now I know why the doctors and nurses spent a long time examining the lower part of my vulva. Not until two and a half months had passed after the operation would they admit something was wrong. Those two and a half months were difficult for me. There was still pain, and considerable discomfort; a sensation of stretched flesh, bruising and tenderness. Despite being fit from dancing before the operation it took me much longer to regain my strength than I had anticipated. The lower part of my vulva did not look right. I worried about it more and more. The nurses responded to my weekly reports and photos with less and less convincing reassurances. I became good at taking wide-open beaver selfies.
I’m not surprised the doctors and nurses couldn’t be sure what they were seeing when they first removed the dressings. It wasn’t until the swelling and bruising had subsided, until the clots of blood and stitches had come out, that I was able to see how the inner labia were joined in the middle over my vagina. As I explain in an earlier journal entry, I had chosen the option of not having a full vaginal cavity created. I had a bad feeling when I was reminding the doctor about this choice before the surgery, as though he would disapprove, but he was reassuring, explaining that there would be a small depression, the entrance to the vagina, but no deep canal. I could see no depression. If it was there, it appeared to be covered by the joined labia.
I was still taking two sitz baths every day, first sterilizing the bathtub, cleaning myself by gently swishing water between my legs. As the swelling went down and the incisions healed I would sometimes take a full, almost hot bath. I began to lose the fear of touching myself and opening or infecting the many incisions. Exploring gently, I realized that despite the area being tender, it was the deeper bruised and swollen flesh that I could feel, and that the skin had no sensation anywhere within the area marked out by the outer incisions. Most of the incisions themselves were also numb, except for a few sensitive spots. I found this lack of sensation disheartening. It made it hard to explore the inner folds of my vulva, as I was afraid I could hurt myself without feeling it. The nurses, after my weekly e-mail report, assured me I would have full sensation by the first year.
It felt creepy. From the beginning I had been having sensations, some of which I could tell were ghost limb feelings, my brain misinterpreting incomplete signals from damaged nerves. I thought I could feel my penis flopping slowly to the side. I could feel discomforts, itches in my testicles, feel them retracting. Realizing I had no sensation in the skin, pinching to make sure, I understood that many other sensations I had been having were in my mind, also phantom. There was no penis, no scrotum. I examined the bruised flesh in my hand mirror. Instead of the lovely streamlined form I had dreamed of it was grotesque, my pubis and labia swollen and discoloured. I couldn’t cross my legs, and had to sit, unladylike, with legs spread.
Apart from the weekly reports to the nurses, I was feeling too embarrassed about my feelings to be able to talk about it. To explain to my friends. My trans well wishers, curious how I was doing. After all that preparation, taking such a risk, spending so much money, to have it turn out less than perfect felt shameful. I talked to my psychologist, first a month after the operation, then every two weeks. I did more explorations. I found I did have a vagina. If I gently pushed my soapy little finger under the adhesion, I could push up into my vagina. I wondered it there was a passage under the adhesion through to the back. I probed with the smooth round end of a fever thermometer, being careful with my numb flesh. It did not go through, the labia appearing to have been absorbed.
My pee, which at first had sprayed randomly, had settled down to a usually acceptable stream. Then around this time I had noticed it had begun to spray again, but spray forward. Messy. Comparing photos from one week to the next I noticed that the adhesion appeared to be growing, absorbing more of the labia, moving forward. Where was my pee coming out of, anyway? No matter how far I leaned over, I couldn’t see where it came out. With the mirror I found a small opening, near the front. Up inside the opening I was sensitive. The first non phantom sensation. I kneeled in the bath, and peed while looking in the mirror. The pee didn’t come out of the little opening, it was spraying forward, deflected out from under the adhesion.
I sent more pictures, with labels and arrows, and wrote to the clinic, explaining that my pee was obstructed by the adhesion. Dr. Brassard himself called the next day. Could I still dilate? If I couldn’t dilate, my vagina would be reabsorbed. I reminded him that I didn’t have the vaginal cavity, and explained my condition. He was nice, as always, and told me I would have to come back, and have a small corrective surgery, and everything would be fine. When I wrote the administrator, she replied that it would cost $1000. I wrote back, explaining that their oversight had caused the adhesion, and I received a reply from Dr. Brassard. He corrected me: they had made no mistake. It was one of the risks I had assumed when I signed the waivers and if I wasn’t happy I could go to another surgeon. But, he conceded, if I returned I wouldn’t have to pay for my corrective surgery.
While I was worried about the need to return, and have more surgery, and where I was going to get the money for the travel and accommodation in Montreal, it was a huge relief to finally have my fears acknowledged. The hardest part had been the insecurity of having the staff of the Brassard Clinic denying my fears with facile reassurances. My criticism of the clinic, and the whole system of providing surgical services to transgender people, is that it is done for profit, and was designed to maintain the status quo of the gender binary, and in the case of transwomen, to facilitate male sexual privilege and dominance. The shame I felt at admitting my surgery had not provided me with perfect female genitals is not unusual, and keeps transwomen from sharing our experiences, helping to maintain a skewed narrative which, no doubt, improves sales of sexual surgeries.
Healing has been slower than I thought it would be. It took me much longer to to regain sensation than most post op transwomen. This had me worried, because in a small percentage of cases it never completely returns. Once I had confirmed a date for my corrective surgery, my self explorations in the bath became less fraught with anxiety. I realized that the pricking sensation inside the small opening which I had first mistaken for my urethra was in fact my clitoris, which gradually gained more and more sensitivity. Dr. Brassard had confirmed that my idea of stretching and dilating the flesh around the adhesion in an attempt to keep it from moving forward and absorbing more tissues would be a good idea. I also began dilating my little vagina, deeper that I had expected, first with my little finger, then my middle finger, which eventually I was able to introduce as far as the second knuckle.
The tissues were less swollen. The incisions healed, and the scars became less pronounced. The two main ones on either side became covered with pubic hair. The ones inside the vulva were nearly invisible. I still experienced discomfort, feelings of tightness and tenderness that continued to annoy me as more and more flesh regained sensation. I found I was able to ride my bicycle if I maintained an upright posture, keeping my weigh on my sit bones, and so I raised my handlebars and lowered my seat as much as I could. While I love my 30 year old mountain bike, for once I began to wish I had a woman's cruiser bike. I was dancing regularly, and as my strength returned I agreed to perform. Tight clothes no longer made my groin as uncomfortable, and I felt ecstatic to be able to wear leggings again, finally enjoying the sleek form I had dreamed of. With other dancers I didn’t feel self conscious of the occasional contact of my pubis with their bodies.
As the nerves continue to grow and reconnect, the phantom sensations diminished. By six months after my first surgery I had regained feeling in most of the skin. It became easier to identify the various tissues, on the surface and deeper inside. But, in a grotesque and surprising way, my genitals didn’t feel feminine. They felt like different parts of penis and scrotum. Especially my clitoris. It felt like the tip of my penis. It still felt like it was joined to my body with the shaft of my penis, which felt bent over at the base, under the skin, a little to the right of centre, under my labia and joined to the clitoris. I could feel it under the skin with my fingers. It was sensitive, especially the base, now a stump. At one point I though too much erectile tissue had been left, and been buried under the skin. That first masturbation had been magical, the only real sensation coming from my clitoris itself, the rest vague and imagined. As feeling returned I found the sensations too specific and disturbing to allow me to be able to relax with that kind of touching.
It was a difficult summer. My ex-wife had decided it was time to finalize the divorce, and to get the house ready for sale for the spring of next year, because she and my daughter were moving away to a big city. I agreed to help fund and do much of the work, to be compensated when we sold the house. I enjoyed being outdoors in the garden, and working in the big sunny addition, finishing the last details from the renovations begun over a decade ago. I enjoyed some of the carpentry. I enjoyed seeing my daughter on a more regular basis. I did not enjoy sorting through 22 years of family memorabilia, objects and building materials. There were times when the house, the possessions, and situations with my daughter and her mother were catalysts to tears.
First I had a long wait downstairs by the nursing station, where the nurses remembered me from seven months before and said they remembered I was one of the good ones. Then a shorter wait upstairs in the little waiting room I remembered from my previous surgery. I was given gowns and changed in the washroom. Like before, Dr. Brassard came in to talk to me. He took me into a tiny examining room and had a look. Yes, he’d separate the adhesion, but he would not be able to redo the portion of inner labia that had disappeared. He could do something to make the hood of my clitoris more hood-like, but it might restrict the clitoris. I agreed that less was better. Then I asked him about my sensation of feeling the base of my penis and a sense of the shaft under my skin. He told me yes, that was exactly what I was feeling. The clitoris needed to be left connected to the nerves and blood vessels, which had been stripped of most of the erectile tissue, curled around, and placed under the skin of my new pubis. What I was feeling was scar tissue and swelling. Massage would help, he suggested.
I was led walking into the operating room, in a better position to look around than when I was wheeled in on the gurney for my first visit. It was a corner room, where windows in two walls gave views of sky and autumn trees and let in lots of light. The orderly helped me on to the operating table, installed the stirrups and draped me with a hot blanket. The operating room was cold, and he asked if I’d like another hot blanket, which he brought while the nurses draped me in sterile sheets and readied the banks of surgical lights. The surgeon arrived, and after two needles of local anesthetic, he began to cut, then to stitch. Within 10 minutes it was over, everything was packed away, and I was helped to stand and walk away. Anticlimactic. There was no pain; the part that was cut had no sensation. Three days later I caught the plane home.
Healing has been rapid. I came home with a cold, and some TV series Emmanuelle downloaded for me. Orange is the New Black and Transparent. I have some books to read and I’ve been writing. This has helped keep me resting for the ten days recovery the doctor had recommended before I begin dance training again. It will be a while before I’m ready to ride my bike. I massage the stump of my penis which feels sore but seems to be changing, softening, blending in. One of these days I’ll try masturbating again. I’ll use a mirror, to help me redraw my mental map of what I’m feeling. I suspect that when I experience my sexuality with someone, who turns me on as a woman, it will also affect how I feel about my genitals. I'm loving my vulva, and my vagina, and clitoris. Miki’s own sweet crazy kiki. I can stop obsessing. It's time to move on…