Friday, 15 July 2016

18 months post-op

***Content Warning*** 
Discusses matters of a sexual nature
Please click away if this is likely to offend.

It is unbelievable that time can go so quickly, but two days ago I found myself realising that I had had my surgery eighteen months ago. It seemed an insignificant milestone at the time, I nearly didn't realise it occurred, but on reflection it was more important than I realised.

It is quite good that I didn't actually do a twelve month update. The changes that have occurred between six and eighteen months have been incredibly subtle. Reaching this point has made me realise that it has taken all this time for the surgical site to properly heal.

I have had granulation issues internally for all this time and it is literally the last few weeks that have seen the issue disappear. Even so, I don't think it is fully gone but the pain and small amount of discharge it was causing seemed to have lessened greatly. Ironically this issue made me approach my GP and we embarked on a path of getting gynaecology to deal with the issue. They refused, saying I needed my original surgical provider to deal with it. This was not possible as we were outside of the window that the Brighton Nuffield were responsible for my care. 

There are many stories of Trans Broken Arm Syndrome and this was a classic example of this phenomenon. I wont belabour this update with the details, it would make a good write up of its own, but suffice to say that I embarked on the warpath with our local hospital and they did back down. I did not need them in the end, as the problem had lessened but it highlighted to me that even someone like myself with a GRC and a hide-able history of being Trans, is still likely to encounter problems. I am convinced Transphobia was displayed here too, but it would be difficult to prove. 

Dilation had moved on a great deal in all this time. I am now just using the 40mm on its own, straight in and for twenty minutes. I brought out all my dilators the other say to show someone who had never seen them and seeing the might 40mm against the tiny 25mm that I started out with was startling! I have now moved to dilation once every five days although the guidance says I could go to once weekly. I have taken dilation very seriously since I started out and I feel that is too big a step so I am adjusting it over time to get it to that once a week. It is hard to imagine that I was doing this three times a day!

I mentioned at six months how I had had my first orgasm. I have continued to explore this side of things and found there was a learning curve attached to it. I have found that the more that I utilise my sexual function, the easier it gets. Not only that, it gets better too! I remember orgasm in my past life and they were nothing compared to now. It's a completely different experience, a much more all over body feeling as well as an emotional satisfaction. It sometimes takes me as much as five minutes to come back down to Earth! Very little has changed in my approach six months ago, vibrators and such like do nothing and it is simply a finger rubbing approach to the clitoris that works. 

This makes me realise how little guidance we are given for something that is very important and I am painfully aware of how many post-op ladies never manage to have an orgasm. The only guidance I had was to get a vibrator from LoveHoney (seriously, this is what the post-op guidance says) and yet that was my biggest mistake. When I realised how easy it was with just my fingers, I started to think how many others are making the same mistake by following the guidance and then giving up. 

I have some sensation internally but not enough to bring me to orgasm. Sometimes it can enhance a clitoral orgasm but rarely do I get much more than that. I have used vibrators/dildos, fingers and even the occasional penis (yes really!) but they just add a nice feeling to what I already have. Mandy and myself have had to completely revisit our sex lives since my surgery, but we both agree that my transitioning has made things even better. It is less frequent than before but so much more satisfying.

It is also important to think about everything emotionally since my surgery. I have seen more developments in myself as a person since this event than during transitioning. I have reflected a great deal on why this was the case and feel it is down to the removal of the reminder of the past me. Now that I feel truly complete, I can explore properly who I am.

There has been a great deal going on in the last eighteen months. My work at the Laurels has been a massive influence on who I have become. It has given me the confidence the examine my future and realise that counselling is the way to go. I thoroughly enjoy the work that I do and taking it to the next level feels like a massively exciting challenge. 

Just over a week ago, I was voted Chair at our local Independent Advisory Group to the police. I have been a member of this group for over two years and to have the support of the members to elevate me to this position is very rewarding. It is quite apparent to me that there is a lack of women in such positions in Avon and Somerset, let alone anyone with a Trans past. This is another new challenge in my life and helps me develop my skills with interacting with people as well as helping me hone my organisational skills; I have lost track of the emails I have sent in the ten days since taking on this role!

In addition to all this, I have been working with the Avon and Somerset police raising awareness of Trans issues. I have addressed a couple of groups recently, one as large as 35 people and this has boosted my confidence greatly. I just talk about my life, my transitioning and the difficulties of the people that I work with. It is enlightening to know that people want to listen and learn but it is also sobering to realise how much ignorance and misinformation there still is amongst cisgender people. There is still a long way to go in helping society understand about us. That is how I like my approach, enabling cisgender people to understand our lives and how they can support us without being patronising or condescending.

This eighteen months have been a monumental roller coaster of a ride and the next few years seems equally exciting!

My GRS time-line :


Saturday, 25 June 2016

Reflecting on my Blog

I said that I would be back at the end of June to look at returning to blogging, and here I am!

Initially I was going to have a thorough tidy up of the posts I have made so far with the intention of removing some of it. Some of the material I have written is good and useful but there were perhaps one or two posts that were written at times when I was not at my best. My thoughts were to have a good look through and delete those posts that were not so good.

I have spent a little time revisiting some of the very early material that I have written and found myself very surprised at how rich and real it still is. I approached it expecting to be slightly embarrassed at how awful it would be and yet some of those posts in 2013 felt really honest and profound. 

It is interesting the language I used then and compare it to now. One term that really stands out is the word transsexual. Back then I used to use it all the time and regularly referred to myself as such. The last couple of years has found the word falling out of favour big time as it is not really an accurate term to describe any transperson. I also feel my own thinking has moved towards the belief that I am simply a woman. It has taken the full transitioning for me to exercise that belief, even though I was sure of it all the time.

I got through the whole of what I had written for 2013 and then there was a gap. When I was starting to proceed to surgery in 2014, I restarted again followed by a another gap whilst my surgery was put on hold. Once the surgery was back on track, I started yet again and produced the largest amount of material in the nine months before, during and after my surgery.

There is some material in amongst that large section that I could change or remove. To be honest though, it is not worth my time in going back and reading through the whole lot just for that exercise. I am relatively pleased with what I have written over the entirety of my blog and have no qualms about leaving it all in place for the time being. It has been a useful medium over the last few years, and prior to that when I had my HTML website. Occasionally I stumble across someone who has accessed my blog for resource purposes and this also lead me to keep it in place.

My life is again changing over the next few months with me starting at college to form my new career. Up to that time, I feel that there is again a desire to write. I feel that eighteen months on from my surgery, I can give a perspective of what life is like for a formerly transperson. How day to day activities are for someone who is congruent in their gender.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Putting a positive spin on hate crime

This week has been National Hate Crime Awareness Week in the UK. It started on Saturday 10th October and yesterday saw this come to a close. Recently I have been involved with Avon and Somerset Police with transgender awareness and because of this, I became involved in their celebrating diversity campaign.

It is hard to imagine how a positive aspect can be put on something so awful as hate crime but I really feel that a great deal has been achieved this week because of this campaign locally and nationally.

To start with, I was asked to contribute my story to the police website, which can be found here. I spoke to a lady last week and was asked to get my story and message into 300 words or less and this was no mean feat! There was much use of apostrophes and it was incredibly difficult, but I managed it. 

Not long after it went on the website, I was contacted by BBC Radio Somerset. They were particularly interested in my story and felt it would be good to run as an item on their breakfast show. Local radio is a far cry from my usual listening fare of Planet Rock but this felt a good opportunity to help spread awareness of hate crime.

The next day we were visited by a journalist, Rachel, and she had more than one idea in mind. Primarily there was the interview about my recent assault but also they are running an item next week about couples and how their relationships change with time. There can be no better story than a transitioning couple and we agreed to do an interview for that as well. 

We initially talked over the assault and then Rachel started the interview proper. I was surprised at how well I managed to hold up the conversation and together with some input from Mandy, we got more than 13 minutes of recording. We then proceeded to do the other interview and then spent more than an hour talking to Rachel. I think she was gathering information for future reference and I was happy to inform and educate. 

Soon after, Rachel emailed me and said they'd had to cut it a little as 13 minutes was too long. This made me a little apprehensive, was I going to be misrepresented? I was also told it would be aired at 7.05 and 8.05 the next morning. 

Wednesday came and I listened in for the first segment. It was very strange to hear my voice, which can still trigger an element of dysphoria, but I do not think I was too bad. They seemed a little keen to cling on to the physical aspect of transitioning such as mentioning my GRS in January but that was just a side thing. The media do seem hung up on the GRS and birth sex issue, but hey ho, this will change. They broadcast a shortened version initially with another interview from the hate crime lead at Avon and Somerset Police. An hour later was a longer version that went into much more depth. You can find the two broadcasts here and skip to 0.36.00 for the short one with the longer one at 1.36.00. This link stays active until the 12th November 2015.

The typical audience of this station is more mature and this makes interesting thinking as to who it would benefit. Age is of course no barrier to transitioning but the average age is reducing with many more younger people coming forward. However, there will still be older people who may be feeling that they want to deal with their gender issues and if this interview was listened to one single person and helped them, then it would have achieved something. It did have an effect on two people and that was the lady who delivers talking books for Mandy. She had heard it and not even realised it was me until Mandy had started speaking! Her husband had also been moved by it and she expressed that he was not usually an emotional person. She had not even known I was Trans either, so something for the confidence there.

It has also led to that other interview and I am led to believe that the media is starting to move to our side when it comes to representing Trans people properly. It is ironic that this week, Channel 4 have broadcast two awful programs that were wholly obsessed with genitalia and the sexual side of being Trans. This has led to an uproar amongst activists but I am also heartened by all the positive portrayals we have had with this awareness week. I know of several people that have done their own interviews across the country and I am convinced they have far outweighed the damage Channel 4 have done. 

When Rachel left us, she told me to keep in touch. Anything else that I feel may be of use to them, then I am to let her know. I will definitely keep that in mind and will pursue that avenue when I feel it is advantageous to Trans people. Both Mandy and myself have also agreed to do something with them when we get close to the wedding. 

Hate crime is not a nice thing when it happens to you, especially when it gets physical. But this week has shown that it can open doors to new opportunities. Past occurrences have led to me becoming closely involved with the police, and now media sources. By being involved it has also led to coming into contact with other diverse groups who experience the same type of crime. This has helped me be more empathic and respectful of other groups as well as not feeling so alone. It has been a very busy, long and tiring week but I have gained more experiences and possibly new contacts. It can end positively.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Taking the plunge - Swimming

I appreciate that my postings are infrequent and is a reflection on how much less I need to write about. Many times I have mentioned about the difficulties I have faced with where I want to go with this blog. Life is slowly getting to a good state of normality and this means there is little I can write about that is not boring. Life is certainly not boring but there is much less I can write about that concerns transitioning. 

However, swimming is certainly one activity that seems beyond the reach of many trans individuals, especially pre-op. I am full of admiration for those that do manage to go swimming before their surgery but for me this was never going to happen. 

I was able to go swimming from the time my wounds were externally dry, probably sometime in early March. However it never really crossed my mind because I have never had any strong desire to partake in this activity. People often used to look at me blankly when I told them this, particularly in my past life, and I have had to examine why swimming was such a negative thing to me.

Before transitioning, one thing I never liked was displaying a bare chest. It always seemed wrong for me and as I discovered who I really was, it became clear why this was the case. There were a considerable number of years where I was in denial and didn't understand it myself let alone anyone around me. Men would parade around topless in the summer and yet I found it such a distasteful thing to do. Swimming required this nakedness so I found it very difficult and shied away from it all.

Of course, after my surgery, my physical dysphoria was no longer an issue. It would be possible to wear a bathing costume without any of the "wrong" lumps and bumps showing. However, because swimming was such a negative issue before, it took me a little while to get to the point of wanting to go.

Towards the end of March, I attended a disability discussion group and in that meeting, a representative of Taunton Deane Borough Council was there displaying the plans for a new swimming pool. I did ask at the meeting whether there were any plans to try to encourage trans people to swim. Surprise was expressed as to why there would even be problems with this and I had to explain that many trans people considered swimming out of their reach. They were thoughtful and I would be contacted further down the line with a possibility of discussing this further. Typically, I was not contacted but thoughts of going swimming myself were starting to increase and by mid-summer I had decided I would be going sometime soon.

The schools were to soon break up and I felt that it might be better to wait until the children went back to school. The idea of going swimming for the first time in many years with a pool full of screaming kids was not appealing. I decided I had waited long enough for the correct body for this and a few weeks more would not hurt. I vowed that by the end of September, I would face this gremlin.

Fate can be a cruel mistress but I also believe she can be kind as well. I have made a couple of new friendships very recently and one of those happened to enjoy swimming. She seemed quite surprised that I had not been yet when I spoke to her in August and I explained that it was on my list and that I was just waiting for the kids to go back to school. She said she had a spare bathing suit that might fit me and would I like her to come with me the first time? I had already decided I was going to do this anyway but to have someone accompany me the first time was a golden opportunity. The lumps and bumps might be gone but I was going to be displaying a lot of flesh in public.

The bathing suit was a good fit and we then looked at the timetable for the local pool in Taunton. Friday was the day we decided as it coincided with Mandy attending her day centre. 

We dropped her off and then had to wait out a couple of hours before the pool was available for the public. A little wander around town and a coffee got us to the right time and we returned to the car to collect our swimming gear. It was then that I discovered that I had forgotten to put a parking ticket on the car and miraculously I had not attracted a penalty. I then paid for one, thanking my luck.

In we went and paid our money. The changing room was a much different affair that the last time I had been there, probably more than ten years previous. In past times, they had male, female and family changing areas. Now it was all just one massive unisex area with cubicles to change in as well as shower and toilet areas. I found a cubicle and got myself undressed and into my swimwear.

I was surprised at how relaxed I was when I opened the door to the public whilst dressed in this small amount of clothing. Something I had built up to be a massive thing over all these years was actually quite a non-event. My friend had also gotten dressed and we deposited our stuff in the lockers and went out to the swimming pool. I sat on the edge, remembered how cold swimming pools can be and then got in. I thought to myself how easy that had been. 

We then swam to the far end and I found myself quite surprised at how much it made me out of breath. I often go out for very long runs, 9 miles or more but that 15-20 metre swim was hard work! We chatted a while whilst holding on to the edge, mostly about how I felt and then swam back. We continued this cycle for the next hour, talking and swimming and I found myself surprised at how sociable this activity could be. We eventually decided we had had enough and it was time to go. The showers were surprisingly warm and after changing back, we found the changing area even had hair-dryers!

It was a reflective time afterwards, this was such a big issue for me and it turned out to be so easy. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and felt so much enjoyable than it ever had in my life. Perhaps by being so comfortable with myself, I was able to relax properly and partake in the activity. I had always puzzled why people enjoyed swimming so much and perhaps now I can relate a little better to this. I also think that this is perhaps the last thing I had to do for myself since transitioning. There is such a big list of firsts when you set out on this journey and I can't think of much else that is left. This was the final tick-box so to speak! In fact I will be back tomorrow, on my own this time.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Finishing therapy

I looked back to refer to other blog posts about the CBT I have been having and found none, realising that I had not written anything about it since I started in mid June.

I wrote back in April in my post Mind Matters about how I had referred myself to the local mental health team and it was decided that I had PTSD in a mild way due to a traumatic incident during my transitioning. The aftermath of the incident was that it had led to anxious and worrying tendencies and it was hopeful that a short course of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) would help me deal with these issues.

I started back in mid June and my therapist discussed my issues in depth. My main two behaviours that were causing me the most problems were negative rumination (regurgitation and reliving of past memories in a negative way) and catastrophisation (always thinking the worst it going to happen). This process of therapy requires a level of self-criticism and it is not easy to admit that you have these problems. I was determined though and accepted this was where I was going wrong. We talked about how I worried about things and whether these worries were practical or hypothetical. Practical worry solutions relied heavily on making plans to solve them because those worries often stemmed from real problems which could be fixed. Hypothetical worries were different to deal with because they were often non-existent in reality; they were often about things that had yet to happen. Typically, hypothetical worries were my problem and I was told that hypothetical worriers rarely have practical worries because they often find problem solving very easy.

It initially relied heavily on homework which was mainly in the form of keeping a diary, a worry diary to be exact. Every time I found myself worried or anxious, I had to write it down along with a classification of hypothetical or practical and a score of 1-10 in severity. I did this for a fortnight and we examined what was going on. I do not think there was a single practical worry in any of it. I also had had a few very busy days in that fortnight and worrying was very low on those days. It seemed I was worrying more when I was less busy, when my mind had more time to wander.

We moved on to dealing with the worries and this was done with the aid of "worry time". I was to write down my worries and then put them to one side. At a certain time of the day, I would go somewhere quiet and worry about them for a set period of time. The theory sounded good but I did not actually pursue this part of the treatment. 

I seemed to enter a new phase of my life at around this point. A few things had clicked into place outside of all of this, my mind seemed to slowly settling down properly since my surgery and I was starting to really enjoy my new-found voluntary work. My past trauma that had caused all of these issues seemed much less important and I finally felt for the first time that I could let go of it. I returned to my next session, explained all of this and how I was feeling. My therapist decided I had made progress although not in the conventional sense. I was given some other guidance, relaxation tips and pointers on mindfulness and asked to return in a fortnight to see how things had been going. If the anxiety did return, then try the exercises.

The anxiety did not return and I was starting to move to an even more comfortable place in my mind. When I returned, we discussed it all in depth and decided that we would wait for six weeks and if I did not relapse, then we would discharge me.

The very next day saw me attacked in a hate motivated incident. This had the potential to completely derail everything we had achieved and it did lead to a few weeks of extremely low mood. I did draw on everything I had learned and discussed and found myself slipping back into old ways a few times but always managing to realise what I was doing and correct it. When I wrote about the aftermath of the attack, I discovered as I was writing, that I was going down dark paths and actually describing what might have happened had things been different. When the physical element of the attack was described, I started proposing how I could have been seriously hurt. I quickly realised as I was doing this that I was catastrophising and stopped myself. I went back and deleted everything I had written that was not fact.

In the end I picked myself up from this attack and moved on from the whole affair. The closure I had last week helped and today saw me visit my therapist for the final time. I showed her my scores on my test sheets (a series of questions to quantify mental health) and mentioned that I had Mandy verify them because they seemed so good. We talked about the attack, how I had picked up on the catastrophisation and generally how I got through the event. We talked about my past trauma and that I felt I was ready to let all that go now. I told her how I have found myself much better at reflection and know the difference between that and rumination.

We also talked about my work, what it was doing for me and how I was making serious plans for my future, possibly in a similar line of work that she did herself. Was I ready for discharge? We both felt it was definitely time and with a shake of the hands, we parted company with a proposition that we might meet in a different capacity in the future. That would be very satisfying indeed.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

The Laurels - setting the record straight

Very long term readers to this blog will understand that I have had a very chequered history with the Laurels GIC (Gender Identity Clinic). Recently I found myself reviewing some of my old posts and found them to be quite hostile with regards my attitude to the clinic. 

Over two years ago, I found myself writing some extremely distressing posts about my treatment at the clinic. I even stopped blogging for over a year because I found this toxicity has spilled over into my words and they were having a negative effect on me. I resumed writing last year, major mistakes then happened and again I found I had to stop writing.

I resumed in November last year and although a little erratic recently, I have written in great detail about the surgical part of my journey and the effects it has had on my life afterwards. 

In some way I feel the need to revisit my past attitude towards the clinic, why I found it so difficult and how the clinic is doing so much for me since I discharged myself.

I must say that I do not regret being critical of the clinic in the past. I re-read the posts and feel very justified in writing them because mistakes were made. For so much of my transitioning prior to the Laurels, I had had to push myself and suddenly I found myself in a therapeutic setting being poked and prodded about the decisions I had made. I expected a congratulatory response to what I had already achieved and instead found a doubting attitude as to who I was. I remember shouting "I just need fucking treatment" to someone at the time when pushed to tears because of the endless questioning. 

I did of course complain and in the response it was even suggested that I could consider moving to another clinic. In amongst my reply was of course a curt, "you aint getting rid of me that easily!". I did offer the opportunity to strike a line under everything to try to move on and after a long discussion with the clinic manager, I was offered the option of working with Lynda. 

As historical readers will know, Lynda worked incredibly hard to regain my trust in the clinic. It went wrong more than once further down the line but I always felt that Lynda was there helping through the problems, and to a certain extent the clinic manager, Maria. 

So I acknowledge that they both did work really hard to get me where I am now. I was so grateful for this that I felt a return as a volunteer would go some small way to thank them for this. I also felt that one way to help improve the service was to be involved with it. 

My experience as a volunteer has far surpassed what I expected to gain from it. For a start, just being there to talk to people going through their own journey's is incredibly humbling. I thought I had developed good listening and empathy skills with Samaritans, but my role at the Laurel's has taken this to a whole new level. 

I am also taken aback to my new relationship with the staff. It did take them a little while to get used to me which is understandable but once this barrier had been broken, I have found I have gained quite an insight into other little worlds within the clinic. I have found many clients to be critical of how long it takes for a letter to get out of the place, but I have seen how hard all the staff work and it is genuinely not their fault. A lack of resources is what is to blame for this and it's simply down to money at the end of the day. You simply do not see this side of the issue when you are a client. 

I am also being utilised in many ways and have become involved in several other things alongside my main volunteer role. This has been rewarding on so many levels and I am still reflecting on how much I have gained from it all. To have my ideas and opinions so valued is a very new experience because as trans people we are generally not used to this. I never felt I had a problem with self-esteem but this has highlighted how perhaps I did have a negative view of myself because it feels like I am growing in such a positive way since starting there. 

It is ironic that since my discharge, I have found my personal development growing in such a massive way. It almost feels like the driving test analogy; that you only start learning once you pass your test. This feels a lot like that and working at the Laurels has helped shape where I feel I want to go in the future. I have started to take an interest in the idea of counselling and psychotherapy and this is being encouraged by more than one person. They are giving me the confidence to consider major new challenges and I am growing less fearful of accepting them.

I get paid nothing for what I give to the clinic, but I receive far more in return than money could ever pay me.

Saturday, 22 August 2015


It is really sad that for over three weeks, my blog has been sat with a post about the aftermath of hate crime at the very top. This was an unfortunate occurrence but I have not felt able to write anything in that time. I have struggled the last few weeks with it all and the fallout from it too. Today I was contacted by the police and informed that there is nothing they can do because there is no evidence to support a conviction. I am not surprised by this and saddened that because my attacker is a liar, justice can not proceed. Even more saddening is that I was told again this week, by social services this time, that if I had sustained an injury more could be done about it; that I have to be hurt before anything can be done.

However, this is good now in that I have closure on it all and that I can talk about it freely. I am not going to describe it in great detail because that would be triggering to me and possibly to anyone reading this. However, some elements I can reveal that are not triggering.

The assault occurred at the day centre my partner (used to) attend. I was attacked by a service user who is related to one of the staff there. The attack happened because staff had talked to a service user about an issue I had with the staff there misgendering me. In essence Mandy and myself were failed in many ways by a service that is supposed to care for its patrons. Our confidentiality was breached in many ways by staff gossiping and directly led to me being assaulted.

A massive part of our difficulties in all this is the fact that Mandy had lost her social activities because of no longer going to this day centre. This led to guilt on my part too, I felt in some way responsible, even though I clearly was not. Her isolation was starting to become apparent. 

We decided in the end to try another day centre, one that social services had actually suggested we not attend. We were desperate and decided to give this one a go. We were pleasantly surprised, it had more structure than the old one as well as seeming to care much more about its users. In the end we have discovered how shit the old day centre had become. 

My conversation with the police today saw us reflecting on the positives. 
  • My attacker has been inconvenienced because he had to be formally questioned at a police station some distance from his home. He had the opportunity to admit his guilt and be served restorative justice on the day. Instead he was an asshole and paid with his own time, fuel and the cost of his solicitor. He will think twice before attempting this with me again.
  • Mandy has found a far better day centre than the one she was at.
  • Social services recognised we were in crisis and have reassessed us leading to a rethink of Mandy's social activities. They have also discussed my future plans and how I want to develop myself academically with acknowledgement of our needs when I do this. 
  • I have significantly educated an police officer with an insight into the trans world. She was not convinced it was a hate crime when she arrived that day but when she left three hours later, she was determined to get something out of this for me, even though sadly she didn't
It has been a phenomenally difficult month but thankfully there have been some rays of light in it all to keep us going. I am even more grateful for my voluntary work, that has been the escape I needed once a week. 

Now I feel I can accept that closure and move on.