I remember sitting on the couch in the Suporn clinic two weeks after my surgery. There were four of us taking the post-op care class. The nurse explained the process of dynamic dilation and outlined the daily schedule we’d have to adhere to for the coming year. I felt faint, nauseated, terrified, and sank into the corner of the sofa. Afterwards, I went back to my hotel room and put a few dates in my phone. The first one was today. December 22nd, 2014, 3 months post-op. Back then in seemed like a lifetime away.
I haven’t written about my process in a while, and I figured it was worth marking this personally momentous day by jotting down a few reflections.
I’ll lead with the best news, which is that the clinic gave me clearance to begin reducing my dilation regimen! I was told that I’m healing really well and should have great results. For now, I still have to dilate 3x a day every other day, but on the opposite days I only have to do it twice. On one level, it’s great to have uninterrupted days and longer breaks between sessions. (For everyone who has worked at Musical Theatre Factory the past two months, thank you for dealing with me coming through the studio with nothing but a towel and a bowl of dildos.) The challenge is that with longer breaks between sessions the scar tissue, which is still quite aggressive, has more time to close up what I’ve been working to keep open. A month ago I got my dilations sessions down to around 45 minutes each. Then, when the healing kicked into high gear, it started taking nearly an hour and a half. Now, when I dilate 3x a day the average session is 57 minutes, and when I dilate twice a day it takes about 80 minutes. As I’ve started to describe it to friends, it’s like taking two or three yoga classes per day, except they’re all in your vagina. And I’ve taken to calling her my Million Dollar Baby; she’s gotten quite a beating these past few months, and kind of looks like Hillary Swank.
I’m still figuring out how everything works. Sometimes I get these muscle spasms where I unwillingly grab hold of the dilator internally and feel my whole pelvic floor contract. Other times I’m able to breathe and create enough space to penetrate, though that last inch is always a killer. I also get these strange sympathy pains in my mouth, which I think is my bodymind trying to make sense of my new diaphragmatic topography. For example, I had a small tear in the skin on the left side of my introitus (the opening to the vaginal canal), and each time I passed it with the dilator I would feel this sharp, localized pain, but also a pinch under my tongue on the left side. When I need to muscle up the courage to go that last inch, I instinctively broaden and lift the soft palate of my mouth, a technique singers use to create more space for sound to resonate. I think this has something to do with creating new proprioceptive relationships; I’m trying to equate unfamiliar physical experiences with pre-existing embodied knowledge.
Another interesting thing I have to figure out from scratch is my fantasy life, and this I’m really grateful for! How many people have the opportunity to reinvent themselves erotically? I mean, I guess we all do, but in my case it’s not an option, but a necessary part of growing into my new body. When I was coming of age as a young gay boy it was the heights of the AIDS epidemic and amidst rampant homophobia. My sense of self as a sexual being was wrapped up in the feelings of danger, shame, and unworthiness that this environment fostered. Internalizing all that negative feedback, my sexuality evolved in such a way that I sought out experiences that would reinforce how I felt about myself. This degrading and derogatory behavior was reflected in the majority of the gay erotica I encountered for most of my life. I currently work in an office with one of the most aggressive and controversial gay porn companies. The film we made together last year was our attempt to comment on this “Death Drive” in the gay male sexual psyche.
Anyway, last month I made a really great discovery. Well, two. The first was that I am, thankfully and blessedly, orgasmic. I still have granulation tissue where my clitoris should be. The necrosis has fallen away and left a tiny amount of bright red and swollen tissue. Actually the majority of the posterior wall of my vagina is still in a granulation phase. It looks really scary, but it’s not at all painful, and should reduce in redness and inflammation in the next couple months. In the mean time, I’ve been able to locate—through careful investigation—the two erogenous areas created from the former head of my penis. Even though the superficial tissue of my clit is still hard to recognize, there is a bundle of nerve tissue beneath the surface of the skin that is sensate and responsive. Dr. Suporn also creates a secondary sensory area just beneath the clitoral hood, affectionately called the Chonburi Flap. Add those with my pre-existing prostate gland and there you have a trifecta of neovaginal orgasmic potential. So far the orgasms I’ve experienced are pretty localized, but it’s also a really cerebral exercise at this point, and I’m sure once I learn how to relax into them I’ll be able to allow more pleasure to move through the rest of my body.
In my own experience, erotic fantasies can come from a few different places: Porn (or any other external stimulant, AKA the easy way), euphoric recall (reliving your favorite hot memories), and pure imagination (like Willy Wonka, but different). What I soon learned after my first couple orgasms was that none of my previous methods work anymore! I didn’t want to reencounter imagery that felt rooted in self-deprecation, and reflecting on some of my hotter sexual exploits also didn’t do it for me—partially because some of them happened in the same vein as the violent porn ethos I no longer identify with, and partially because the body involved in those memories is no longer the body I have now. There was a sense of incongruity in trying to find pleasure in my current form while calling upon memories which, while enjoyable, relied on a body I never felt at home in. And in terms of pure imagination, I have no point of reference for how the things I hope to experience actually feel, so it’s really difficult to conjure a sensory relationship to the ideas I have in my mind. This left me basically empty handed. So I went out a bought myself a vibrator. Happy Birthday to me!
The Rabbit: At first it felt like a science experiment. There was absolutely nothing enjoyable in the initial exploration. It wasn’t too far off from the discomfort of dilating, except there were more buttons to push and more points of contact to keep track of. The second time around I still didn’t think I was enjoying it, but I found myself trying out a whole lot of positions. Whereas I’ve been instructed to keep to a pretty basic position on my back for dilation, while trying out the Rabbit I wound up like Nomi Malone from Showgirls, in a lot of "Different Places!" I was getting lost enough in the exploration to have moments where I was like, “Oh, wow, how did I end up here?”
The third time, as they say, is the charm. I was really scared to try moving it in an out, as my experiences with dilation had informed me that this could offer nothing but pain. Not so, Mr. Rabbit!
I can’t honestly remember the last time I experienced an orgasm without relying on some sort of mental encouragement. This, on the other hand, was purely physical. I was all-in, so to speak. And it was like wiping the slate clean, all the erotic feedback loops I felt trapped in for the better part of my life, suddenly rendered mute.
As I wrote in a previous blog, this surgery may involve restructuring a very specific part of my anatomy, but in doing so I’ve given myself permission for that change to radiate inward and outward, and to effect anything else in my life that could use some recalibration. My erotic mind has been a powerful driving force behind a fair share of regrettable life decisions, and I feel so lucky to have been able to hit the reset button as part of my rebirth. I am excited to rediscover my sexuality with a new sense of self, one rooted in ownership, confidence, even veneration for who I’ve become.
This positive sense of self I’m working to cultivate post-op extends to much more than just my sexuality. Due to harmful internalized messaging and an internal incongruence between my body, mind, and spirit, my body has been a source and receptor of aggression and hatred for most of my life. I’ve learned how to “love myself” on the surface, but deep down those demon voices always found ways to whisper their commands and catch me off guard. In particular, this is true for me in how I’ve chosen/learned to treat my body with sex, food, substances, exercise…you name it. My “rewards” were almost always inevitably harmful; my self-discipline was almost always “punishment.” I am excited to reframe this perspective in the coming year.
When I decided to transition medically, I made sure that I had done enough internal work so that each change I made came from a place of love and self-actualization rather than hatred and self-abuse. At a certain point in my life I could have easily cut off my dick out of disgust or disidentification, I chose instead to lovingly take my verga within myself and make it part of my now congruent whole. My lifelong struggle with weight-gain and improper nutrition has likewise been symptomatic of a larger incongruity in my relationship of body/mind/spirit.
So, too, my struggles with substances: This isn’t something I’ve ever written about, but at my darkest moments leading up to the new light of my transition I struggled with a painful addiction to Marijuana. I was basically high from 2009-2011. Weed made it possible for me to live with the pain of being a foreigner in my own skin, but in placating that anxiety it brought up a whole host of other problems. When I tried to quit, which I did innumerable times, I would suffer crippling anxiety attacks, and when I started again, I would retreat from the rest of the world and live in private, escapist isolation. I started going to MA (Marijuana Anonymous) meetings in 2012, but it wasn’t until Oct. 8, 2013 that I was able to put the pipe down for good. I celebrated my one-year anniversary free from Marijuana in Thailand, quietly but victoriously. I told myself I wouldn’t speak about this publicly until I had at least a year under my belt because I’d tried and failed before, and didn’t want to make commitments I couldn’t back up.
I sort of feel the same way about weight loss and nutrition. I’m no expert, and have no way of knowing if I’ll be able to holistically and sustainably make the changes I hope to see in the coming year, but my physical journey has been so public this past year, and I’ve found the support to be overwhelmingly helpful. I’ve also been told that writing and speaking about my process has been helpful for others. As a performance artist I’m used to dealing with my private issues in a public forum. I know from experience that Transfolk face many challenges in learning
to love and accept themselves, and that self-love needs to approached mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
To that end, in 2015 I will be partnering with Alex Gutierrez, creator of Trans & Fit in Orlando, Florida, to try and be more of the change I want to see. Alex has made it part of her life’s work to bring the conversation of physical wellness to the trans community. Whereas I feel pretty adept at speaking to emotional, spiritual, and mental issues surrounding self-acceptance, when it comes to certain physical realities I’ve not been able to practice what I preach.
When I was in Thailand immediately post op, I was pretty depressed, and didn’t eat much at all. If you know me, you know I’ve never been one to not eat. Only one other time in my life, after a particularly brutal heartbreak, have I actually lost my appetite. While it felt nice to see my cheekbones again, I was sad to say goodbye to my breasts. In my thick shape I could to forgive my unhealthy body-mass index in favor of the cleavage it afforded me, but dropping just a few pounds—as most women can attest to—meant losing a cup size, and I was left with little more than rotund, semi-glorified pecs. So, my plan for the coming year is this: Get in shape, then get tits. What I lose in body fat I can replace in saline! Ta-da!
The other body-mod I’m still thinking heavily on is this issue of hair. I’ve actually enjoyed wigging it since getting back to NYC. Suddenly passing has a lot more value to me. After everything I’ve been through with the surgery it just feels so disheartening to be called sir by strangers. I even went for a designer wig fitting for my birthday and tried on a $1900 lace-front human hairpiece. It was amazing, I felt like a model. I still don’t know what I’m gong to do, but in the mean time this day-to-day short hair look works while I grow out my balding hair beneath, and I still have the $20 long hair wig I got in Thailand that I’ve learned how to steam out and repair… not style mind you, but at least I can keep it wearable. What I really want though is hair I can wear in the shower, at the gym, in the pool, having sex… all of it! Unfortunately my scalp takes after my beloved Papa, and I’ve been bald since I was 20. The shaved head I rocked for 15 years masked it well (and was both a spiritual and fashionable statement), but now I’m trying to grow out this Bozo the Clown ring in hopes that I can get some kind of weave or “hair system” that will allow me to have permanent extensions. I’ve looked into transplants, but I don’t think I have the strength to crowdfund another 20K.
I also want to continue exploring my voice, and how that affects my being in the world. Last year was a phenomenal year for me artistically, as I returned to the musical theatre stage for the first time in over a decade. My last role on stage was playing Cousin Kevin in a summer stock production of Tommy in 2004! After that I retreated from conventional performance because I just couldn’t deal with being a man on stage. I could play the role in life, but putting on another layer added insult to injury. I also didn’t want to be seen as a drag queen if I chose to perform in my true gender, since that meant ultimately confirming my identity as a man. I still did Butoh and performance art, but I felt estranged from my first love and soul-partner, the musical theatre.
This year I found my voice again, or maybe (truthfully) for the first time. In 2015 I hope to record an album of all the great songs written for ONE WOMAN SHOW, and also explore what it would mean to return to the stage playing a role other than myself. Strangely, I think I’d be just as comfortable playing any gender on stage now that I’m finally at home in my own skin. As an actor, I was trained to come from a place of neutrality and be prepared to take that any direction. I feel like the restrictions I’ve placed upon myself have been lifted in that regard, and I’m excited to see what comes from this new openness.
I also want to put more attention to playing with my voice in daily life. I have trouble imagining myself drifting into a breathy, demure, falsetto just to be more “feminine.” As a feminist, I hardly think that cultivating a disempowered intonation is an appropriate marker for womanhood. However, I know there are healthy ways to find and maintain a higher placed voice that would serve to round out my presentation of self as a transgender woman. Passing isn’t everything, but it helps. And since identity is all a performance anyway, why not present the most well crafted version I can conjure.
This is all to say, if in the coming months you see me experimenting with a new hair style, a new speaking voice, a new diet plan, or a new romantic partner, it’s all part of the same objective… to grow into the fullest expression of my most realized self. I thank you in advance for supporting me on this journey, and for allowing me to support you as you undertake your own version of that same quest.
I’ll close with my favorite Marianne Williamson quote, something I reflect on constantly and share on Facebook at least once a year:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
And that, my friends, is where I’m at. 3 months post-op. Just in time for the New Year, for Saturn’s return to Sagittarius, for Chanukah, for Christmas, for the moment…