Post-Op with No Regrets
by Ariana Danielle Wojcik 11/15/2018
You have probably seen certain headlines or heard certain talking points being discussed over the airwaves such as these:
Exactly one incredible year ago today, and three years after beginning hormone replacement therapy, I underwent gender confirmation surgery or GCS. My results and my story are the polar opposite of these frightening headlines that are part of a narrative being pushed by certain groups.
Folks, lean in close and listen.. it works!
My life is good, great, and wonderful with respect to my surgery and its results. If this surgery is in your future and you are nervous about it and have read the horror stories, know that most of us come out of it with the results we were hoping for. It is major surgery, so you have to expect a long carefully monitored recovery. For me, it was so very worth it. In addition, the common feared road blocks of transition from legal name changes, identity document updates, workplace transition, the disapproval of certain family members, dealing with the loss of loved ones, laser treatments, online attacks, disapproving stares, being purposely misgendered and dead-named, countless blood tests, injections galore, electrolysis (even in the nether regions before surgery), the nightmare of dealing with insurance companies and billing departments, were all things I had to face. I would still say despite all of that, it was all worth it!
There are many risks, just as there are with any major surgery. There are possible side effects that could cause life long issues. This is all known and will be explained to prospective surgical candidates in minute detail by any surgeon performing this operation. This surgery is never undertaken lightly and represents the end result of years of refinement and accepted medical practice.
This does not sit well with those who want to vilify not only transgender people, but their doctors, therapists, surgeons, and parents. Transgender people are under attack at every level and this includes a targeted effort on whether or not transitions should even be allowed. As an example, I suggest you search for information about the plan of attack of the anti-LGBT hate group ironically named the “Family Research Council”. The problem with all of the efforts from groups like the FRC is that their hatred and dismissal of the existence of transgender people is based on their own “beliefs” and not on reality. The medical professionals who actually study and understand this topic fully support the practices of hormone replacement therapy, and gender confirmation surgery for those that require either treatment. They do this because it is the right, and extremely successful treatment path for many transgender people. Transgender people exist and have been a part of the human condition throughout history. Attempting to erase us from history will not succeed. These groups like the FRC are wasting their time, breath, and money from donors who often do not even realize they are funding hate.
Many transgender women contact me every week asking questions about my transition and surgery, often expressing worry that surgery is a long shot to be successful. When external efforts to cast doubt and fear on transgender health practices cause confusion among those who deeply need help, it is time to speak up. I am writing all of this to try and address those concerns and to discount some of the stigma regarding this surgery and transition.
Can you find examples out there of people who regretted transitioning?
Yes, you can find a small number of cases of people who experience regret. In fact you can find those rather easily because those cases are purposely and inaccurately touted by motivated anti-LGBT groups as the “consistent and unfortunate experience” for those who have this surgery. This is not accurate. Thousands and thousands of transition related surgeries are performed every year by surgeons across the globe. There is a growing number of surgeons in the United States and the numbers of surgeries performed is only growing, not shrinking. My surgery was performed in Chicago, IL by one of the more recent additions to the experts in this field.
Do I worry that no surgery could ever make me a real (insert societal definition of a certain gender type here)?
Nope, not a concern. I underwent gender confirmation surgery because it was right for me. My doctors, (yes plural), my surgical team, my therapist and psychiatrist (a therapist and psychiatrist are both required by the WPATH standards of care) all agreed that this surgery was right for me as a medically accepted treatment for my personal health and well being. Who is anyone else to think they have a right to get in between that circle of people? My doctors, surgical team, therapist, psychiatrist, and I are the only ones that should have input into whether or not gender confirmation surgery is right for me. Every other person on the planet should rightfully decline from attempting to insert themselves into that discussion. To do so is to tamper with things they do not understand. This goes for people in government, religious institutions, water-cooler discussions at the office, people online, family members at Thanksgiving dinner, really anyone. Do not presume you know better than the true experts involved in a person’s care. The surgeons who perform this medically necessary surgery should never have their professionalism questioned in the slightest bit.
Detractors will try to argue semantics about whether or not this surgery actually changes a person’s sex/gender often interchanging the two as if they are synonyms (they are not). By now most people have probably heard the commonly used quips, such as the often tweeted “you can’t change chromosomes” (which of course is now widely accepted to be an inadequate single determining factor of one’s gender). We could spend time refuting every “argument” but I simply see no need for me to do so. Do you know why? I AM HAPPY. Now at age 44 as a “late transitioner,” my life is just one of many that are the ultimate refute to all of those who attempt to misinform and to spread hate regarding transition and surgery.
Four years ago, I was suddenly happier than I had ever been just weeks after beginning hormone replacement therapy or HRT. Having your body and brain in sync with the correct hormones alleviates so many of the issues that transgender people face. It is something that has to be experienced to fully understand it. I was more in sync after starting HRT than I had ever been as a human being. It only got better from there as the hormone replacement therapy advanced and slowly over time did its work to reshape my body. It is funny how many of the detractors out there do not even understand what hormone replacement therapy actually entails. Our hormone levels are closely monitored by our doctors and this means that at any given time we know our levels are the same as those of any non-transgender woman. With that comes the expected changes to our bodies. Yes, we do actually grow breasts and our body shape can dramatically change only with HRT. I have had people admit to me they assumed all transgender women get breast augmentation, not knowing that we “grow our own”. It’s a second puberty after all and a “body reset”. We experience not only the obvious breast growth and softer, thicker hair, but softer skin, changes in things like our overall temperament, sense of smell, sense of touch, range of emotion (such highs and lows now!), energy levels, and most importantly, we find a sense of peace within ourselves. It’s miraculous what finally having the right hormones for our transgender bodies does for us. The happiness I experienced was so palpable that it just flowed out of me constantly. Despite the difficult circumstances brought about in social transition, the physical transition is life giving and life affirming. Gender confirmation surgery, for some like me, takes all of that happiness to another level of magnitude. No regrets.
What were my reasons for having surgery?
Was I “so gay” that I just had to have surgery so I could have sex with men?
Nope, it’s all about just being me. “Just be you,” became my mantra. Even if I never had sex with anyone else again, surgery was still my path. In fact, sex and future sexual prospects were of very little concern to me as I sought help. The gender (binary or non!) of any current or future sexual partners of mine is my business, but the point here is that a certain type of sex act was never a driving factor in the least bit in my decision to transition or to have surgery.
Was I some loser who could not cut it “as a man.”
Nope, I already had the “American Dream.” By American societal standards, I had it all. You would have known me then as a college grad with a successful career supporting a family on one income with a lovely house, two cars, a nice yard, and a garage. The problem was, there was the painful fact that I experienced all of that while not ever being free to be me. I stopped myself from being me because of fear and denial and eventually I had to address it because my health was starting to fail as I rotted from the inside out.
Was I a “pervert” that wanted to dress in women’s clothes because it excited me sexually, so much so that I would undergo surgery for the privilege?
No. Are you serious? Not even close. The stigma and hatred towards transgender women specifically gets a lot of fuel from the lie that we are perverts or sexually driven (As a side note, it is interesting how transgender men are not targeted the same way). Far right religious groups are nothing but consistent when it comes to attacking sexually driven behavior of all kinds. Please understand that I am not judging fetish driven cross-dressers here. I am merely pointing out that there is a difference between us. Heterosexual cross-dressers are men who choose to wear women’s clothing because it excites them. They can spend time enjoying that practice, but then they happily go back to their often very manly and very “normal” life. When people open up their minds and accept that people can be born transgender, then they can also understand that what is different about us is that we are simply wearing the clothing that is appropriate for our gender. I was actually being forced to crossdress in men’s clothing most of my life because I was not being honest with myself about the fact that I was a transgender woman. Nowadays, I regularly get excited about finding a super cute dress on sale and will tweet about it and post pics on Instagram for my girlfriends to see. “Look at the bargain I found!” They get excited and I get excited. I just don’t get that excited. Am I being clear enough there? It doesn’t turn me on. Get it now? The same goes for heels and tights. Nope, no heels or tights fetish here. I like practical boots and sandals. I work in an office you all, so wearing tights is called for with certain outfits, it does not mean I am a walking, quivering, mass of constant sexual excitement because I own and wear tights. I should be so lucky if it were that easy! Do some transgender women have a particular thing for heels or tights? Sure they do, but then any given human being regardless of gender can also have a “thing” for tights or heels or other things. All people have kinks, it’s a part of life. I am so glad we do, otherwise we would be a boring species. I am merely further pointing out that the stereotype that transgender women are by default fetishists regarding clothing and sex fantasies is complete garbage. We may have other kinks just like anyone else, but don’t falsely assign to me things that just aren’t there!
Was I ever suicidal?
No, I was not healthy though. Until I made the decision to finally admit to myself and the world at large that I was transgender, my health was at a steady drastic decline. By the time I finally began to accept myself, I was overweight (over 65 lbs lost by this point), with high-cholesterol and on cholesterol medication, considered pre-diabetic, and I was experiencing heart palpitations regularly. I reduced and eliminated all of those negative health conditions by transitioning and beginning to actually care about myself and my body again.
Eventually, staying in shape and being mindful of what I put into my body became easy once I began to accept and love myself for who I was.
Other Questions to Address
Did you worry about dying alone and unloved if you underwent surgery?
No. Despite what people like Ray Blanchard think. The often quoted transphobe once tweeted “One social problem of MTF trans can’t be solved by legislation: Finding attractive men or women who want to sleep with them”. I did not worry about dying alone and I am very happy to report that dating has been an amazing experience since I began transitioning (both pre and post op). Dating is all about conquering your own fears about the act of dating itself, whether you are a transgender person or not. Also, people who are confident and comfortable with who they are tend to have the most success when dating. Aside from dating, I have built a large group of friends since beginning transition. Being happy with myself allowed me to connect with people more easily and through a purposeful effort of making social connections by attending events and joining groups I was interested in. I now have a much larger collection of friends than I ever have had in my life.
What should you do when you see a quote from someone with a PhD who detracts from the practice of HRT and GCS?
Know that they likely have a paper trail of transphobia or are part of an organization that is backed by known LGBT hate groups. Do actual research and see what is behind their statements, and you will likely find an agenda. My agenda in writing about this is not to promote “turning people transgender” as if that was even possible. My agenda is to speak out against the lies, stigma, and misinformation that for a long time prevented me from being myself and being happy living the life I was meant to lead, which I am now privileged to be doing. I made it through. I am a success story like many others who came before me. I have zero regret and zero shame about the fact that I was born a transgender woman. I also have zero regrets regarding undergoing surgery. Rather than falling silent and again hiding, I wish to clearly tell my sisters out there that they need to know transition and even the big scary surgery that is possibly in your future was all worth it for me.
At long last, I have achieved the basic equilibrium of self that everyone else in the world who is not transgender has a much better hope of finding. Most of you reading this had the privilege of being complete after your first puberty. It took me two, followed by an amazing surgical procedure to find that equilibrium of self. Other than those differences, we are all just people. Transgender people deserve the same level of respect that you would provide any other person. You may “not understand” us, but have you actually tried to? Are you instead believing the negative things being said about us? We do not seek special rights or privileges that take away from your rights. Our fight is about our safety and our basic rights (the same rights you hold to be self-evident) being protected.
How do you remain positive despite the climate in this country and in the world at large for transgender people?
It is amazing what freeing yourself from the concern of what other people think of you can do for your well being. Most human beings have a tendency to want to conform to what those around us expect of us even if it is completely contradictory to who we are as a person. Overcoming that fear of letting people know who we really are is a key part of every human being’s growth and speaks to their level of maturity as an individual. By overcoming that fear and beginning to transition, it is easy for me to project positivity because that just flows from me now. Being right with yourself is a major key to happiness. It makes you a better person. It makes you a better partner, parent, friend, boss, employee, and a better citizen of the world.
Do you still experience lack of acceptance from friends or family?
Unfortunately, in certain cases, yes I do. However, that sadness will never eclipse the happiness and overwhelming level of acceptance I have received from so many others, but most importantly, from myself! By the way, one of the best days in my life mid-transition was when after giving them many months to adjust by wearing only androgynous clothing, both of my children told me, “You can come pick us up ‘as yourself’ today!” One of the first things they said upon seeing me ‘as myself’ was, “Oh it’s not really that different. You are still just you.” Yes. They nailed it. Also, I have reconnected even with many friends from my past whom I had made the mistake of pulling away from before I transitioned.
Do you think there is an age that is too young to transition?
I would not for one second attempt to insert myself into that circle I mentioned before of doctors, surgical teams, therapists, psychiatrists, and their patients, and in some cases the parents of young patients. It is for them to decide on the best care and approach and timing. As a young child, growing up in such a different time period, I was unable to express what was going on inside. The explanations were all hidden from me back then and I did not know how to vocalize any of this. I learned to fear it all at a very young age. I could never have imagined the wonderful possibilities my life would hold at that young age or even well into my thirties when I was still fighting against fear, stigma, and self hatred instead of acceptance. You have no idea the damage that causes over time and the wonderful release of it all once it is gone.
How do we get past the stereotypes that stop us all from communicating?
I was able to transition in place while still working with my long standing employer. It is a company based in Alabama and I was at first worried about the attitudes and reaction I would receive from the people in my company who live down South. I have to apologize, because this was an example of me believing in stereotypes. I was so wrong to do that. Thank you to all of my co-workers for proving I was in the wrong to worry about that. We all to some extent can let stereotypes influence us, which is why I bother to try to educate the general public about people like me. Some day, I hope you all have the privilege of knowing someone who has transitioned. Chances are that you already do and may not know it. Please consider looking past stereotypes, misconceptions, and those using hate as a weapon and become a more vocal supporter of transgender people. You might just learn you are already a friend to one of us.