First surgery prep laser

I had my first laser hair removal session on my genitals today to begin prepping for bottom surgery. I’ve been dreading it all week because it is so extremely painful when I do it on my face that I assumed it would be even worse on such a sensitive area. But I was pleasantly surprised. I don’t know if it’s because the numbing cream works better on the thinner skin (it did last longer), or because it is a wider dispersal laser head but it was a breeze and over really quickly. It honestly hurt a lot less than waxing or sugaring.

Turns out the worst part of laser down there is the shaving. It is a pain in the ass (literally) to try to get it all and the aesthetician still  had to clean it up. I recommend having a friend or partner help you shave. The other part that sucks is the insurance approval process which took me three months of pestering.

But session 1 is finally over. I have 6 more months of doing this every 6 weeks and hopefully it is enough for surgery. I’m also going to finish laser treatments on my face since I had to stop because it is expensive to pay out of pocket ($300 every 6 weeks). But the stubborn hair patches that have come back are giving me too much dysphoria to keep waiting.

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My skeptical face as I wait for the numbing cream to work

Captain Marvel Cosplay

Today I did something scary for me – cosplay at Geek Girl Con for the second time.

Last year I did Stevonnie from Steven Universe and I put a lot of work into my costume but ended up not feeling great about the photos because I really felt dysphoric about my ridiculous grin with braces. This year I wasn’t going to do one due to money and because I’m not feeling great about my body during transition most of the time. It’s also hard to do cosplay when you are larger and fat. Most out of the box things don’t fit well.

But 2 weeks ago I found the Captain Marvel jacket I’ve wanted since the movie came out on sale and decided to go all in. I found red boots, red gloves, patterned leggings, and even a matching shirt for when I needed to cool off. It took a lot of returns and online orders to find things that fit me but I managed to get it all together in time.

And I have to say, even though I’m not a big fan of all the photos, I felt much more confident in my outfit today. Captain Marvel / Carol Danvers is my personal hero. She is strong, fiercely feminist, and doesn’t give a fuck. And the best part is that she doesn’t smile a lot. So I don’t have to worry about braces in my photos.

There is not a lot of representation in media that I feel like I can cosplay. Until recently, I never saw people like me on film. Heroes with big thighs, jiggly bellies, and are tall and curvy. And even now there aren’t many queer, trans, or nonbinary characters available in geekdom. But that number is growing every year and I strongly believe in making a character your own. I don’t wear a wig because I want to be MY version, not an exact imitation of the actor.

I’m excited to go back tomorrow and continue to own Captain Marvel and walk around feeling confident in my leather jacket and stompy boots.

1 year without a beard

Today is the 1 year anniversary of me shaving off my beard. It was a big scary leap for me to give up something that had been such an important part of my identity for 12 years and accept that I would have to deal with more dysphoria for awhile as I dealt with the facial hair. But I’m so glad I did.

I’ve now had 5 sessions of laser hair removal on my face and spent over $2,000 in the process but all the pain, time, and money paid off because now I’ve gone a week without shaving and my face is still smooth! I have no more stubble or that dark shadow on my face and the amount of hair I have left to pluck isn’t any more than many cisgender women have to deal with.

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In other news, I’ve conquered two of my biggest fears around bathrooms so far. I’ve used a women’s room at a mall (with my spouse), and I’ve had a conversation with a coworker in the women’s room at work. Both things that I never would have felt safe doing with a beard.

This transition has been expensive and I’ve managed to make it this far with the help of my spouse but I still need to raise another $5,000 for my bottom surgery next year. If you are able to contribute I would really appreciate it. https://www.gofundme.com/f/haven-gender-confirmation-treatments¬†

Feminizing my voice

Sometimes I feel like I’m taking two steps forward and one step back.

A few weeks ago I started taking lessons on how to feminize my voice from another trans woman. Because unlike with taking testosterone which lowers your voice, taking estrogen doesn’t bring it back up. Once your voice has dropped, it takes a lot of conscious effort to retrain your muscles not to use that lower range and resonance. Eventually it becomes a subconscious thing but it takes months of hard work.

I’ve been avoiding doing this for a long time, partly because I’m not interested in passing, but mostly because I knew that focusing on my voice would trigger a lot of dysphoria. The reason I finally started is because I’ve realized that a big part of my fear of using the women’s restroom is the fact that I don’t feel like I can safely talk without creating a ruckus. Having a more feminine voice would open up more doors and make it easier to move through the world.

Trans femmes in particular also face a lot of subtle transmisogynistic messages, even in trans community, about how “scary” or “aggressive” we are, often based on our size or voice. And we can often be targeted and excluded because of it.

I definitely right about it being triggering. Paying attention to my voice and having to listen to recordings of it is really hard for me. When I’m in choir, somehow it feels okay to hit the very bottom notes. It’s really fun actually to be all rumbly and resonant. But that’s partly because I’m blending with other voices and it feels like I’m intentionally putting on a vocal costume and performing my voice in a particular way.

But when I try to consciously listen to my voice outside of that context, it is just a painful reminder of that choice that most trans people face. Do I put a lot of work into trying to pass, knowing it will only ever be semi-successful, in order to be safer or more accepted? Or do I “just be myself” knowing that I will forever be experiencing transphobia everywhere I go?

For my voice lessons, I was asked to pay attention to the voices around me and how they use their resonance in their body and sinuses. And then I was supposed to imitate various extreme examples of those such as cartoon voices to learn how to move and use those vocal centers. Which is great in theory but it also means a lot of practice time where I have to sit with a lot of discomfort.

Today I made the hard decision to put those lessons on hold. I’ve realized that I don’t have the emotional capacity right now to push through that intense dysphoria to do the practice necessary to make it worth my teacher’s time. My work has been stressful and demanding now that I am doing 2 and a half people’s jobs during a hiring freeze. And I already have to fight so much dysphoria with my preparations for jaw surgery and bottom surgery. I feel like I just have so much work to put in to transition at the moment (and so many appointment) and something had to give. So for now the voice lessons go on hold.

Luckily my voice has subconsciously raised a little bit from where it used to be. I still use a more masculine resonance but I speak more in a tenor range with an effeminate touch than my singing voice as a second bass would suggest. I guess I’ll take the little wins for now and try to go back to ignoring my voice until I am past some of this other transition work.

A new life

It’s been a little over 10 months since I shaved my beard and almost a year since I started using my new name everywhere and already it feels like another lifetime and another person. I’m still getting photos from a year ago popping up in my Facebook memories and it is hard to even recognize them as myself. I can see that the person in (some) of the photos is beautiful but it isn’t me anymore. I have moved so far beyond who I was in that moment.

The first few months after shaving were definitely rough with having to face my dysphoria around my chin and stubble. But now there is so little hair left that I don’t have to think about it 90% of the time and I often forget to shave the few stubborn hairs around my lips. I feel so much more feminine now without the shadow on my face.

It also helps that I can really visibly see the changes that estrogen has made in my body. My facial structure has been changed by both rounding of the edges from hormones and from a pretty distinct cheek structure change created by the first jaw surgery. Many acquaintances I see think I have already had the feminization portion of the surgery which feels great. At this point I’m feeling more excitement than dread about the second surgery and the final results I’ll have. Especially since I can finally get this annoying metal out of my mouth and feel confident smiling again.

There are still a lot of hurdles to cross. I’m trying to get the letters from the psychiatrists that I need for surgery and the hair removal on my genitals to prep for that. I have appointments today and next week that should hopefully cover those barriers.

I also started vocal feminization lessons last week. While my voice has subconsciously raised a few degrees already, estrogen doesn’t automatically bring your voice back to where it was before testosterone (yet another reason to support hormone blockers for trans teens). I have to do a lot of conscious work to expand my upper range and retrain my muscles not to create the masculinized resonance my vocal cords are used to. Someday it will hopefully be second nature but for now it is exhausting work.

However, I do seem to have crossed some magical threshold now where many people in public recognize me pretty quickly as a trans woman. Whereas before with my beard I would get stares of befuddlement everywhere I went, now I mostly get recognition, at least in liberal Seattle.¬† Which has meant that I get a lot more “ma’am”s and “she” either automatically or from self correction.

I tried using she/her pronouns before just around my chosen family but it still felt grating at the time. Like I was too far away from that reality and the pronouns just reminded me that no one would automatically assume that. But now I have decided to use them again as another option in addition to they/them and it feels wonderful. Especially when it is coming from strangers who I am first meeting.

In the moment, progress can feel so slow but it is nice to have these moments where my head comes out of the water and I feel like I can breathe again.

What it takes to change your government gender

I received my new Drivers License today which means that I’m officially a doctor certified, government recognized woman! It also means I’m done with phase 1 of changing my name and gender marker. But you wouldn’t believe how complex the steps to get there can be. Here’s what it takes in Washington.

First I had to research the process and figure out which dependencies were built in so that I could get the necessary documents at the correct government office in the right order. Then  I had to go to my doctor to get the required letters and signatures.

Step one was going to the local County Courthouse and filing a Petition for Name Change which had to be submitted by 11 am if I wanted a same-day hearing and I had to pay $215 in cash to get the 4 certified copies I would need later on. Then I had to come back at 1:15 to have a judge have me attest on the record that I wasn’t changing my name to commit fraud or escape debt. Then I waited around in the lobby while my documents were processed.

Once I had the name change, I was able to submit my passport renewal in the same office but I nearly made the mistake of filling out the renewal form because that’s what the online steps indicate if you say you are changing your name. In order to find the correct steps you have to find the deeply hidden page on how to change your gender which tells you to submit the application for a NEW passport (Form DS11) in person and means you can’t use the online wizard completely (you have to tell it you don’t have a former passport and then correct it by hand after you print) or submit by mail. I also had to be prepared with a new passport photo which cost me $15, a letter from my physician certifying that I had medically transitioned, and pay $145 in the form of 2 checks to submit along with my previous passport which means I can’t fly abroad until the new one arrives.

Then I proceeded to the local Social Security office where I waited for an hour in a crowded lobby full of armed officers to submit my Application for a Social Security Card showing the correct gender which required me to show my court order along with another copy of the letter from my doctor certifying my medical transition. Luckily that process was free.

Then I proceeded to the Department of Licensing to update my Drivers License only to find out that to update an Enhanced ID (necessary for flying soon), I needed to wait for the new Social Security Card to arrive in the mail. So I came back a week later and waited in line a second time to submit yet another Change of Gender Designation Form with my physician’s signature along with another copy of the court order and a $10 fee.

Luckily for my Birth Certificate, I was able to mail in the Request to Change Sex Designation on a Birth Certificate for an Adult which had to be notarized but luckily doesn’t require a doctor to sign anything now in Washington. I did have to pay another $20 by check if I wanted to get a copy however.

All told, this is how much effort it took:

  • Research Time: 3 hours
  • Number of Offices: 4
  • Wait Time in Lobbies: 2 hours
  • Cost: $425

Now I get to move to phase 2 where I contact all the various places that have my old name such as banks, medical providers, online accounts, etc. to get them to update my name and gender as well. I’m exhausted just thinking about it!

If you would like to help support my transition costs, you can donate at https://www.gofundme.com/f/haven-gender-confirmation-treatments

The privilege of transition

Particularly as I embark on some majorly expensive transition steps, I am reflecting a lot on how much privilege I have to even be attempting this.
I have partners who fully support my transition and a spouse who has the ability to work remotely from San Francisco during my recovery. I have a job where I not only have an affirming team but I have the ability to take 6-12 weeks off and the insurance coverage to make this possible. I have a community of friends that are generously contributing to my transition costs. And I have the class, racial, and urban privilege to make this a relatively safe thing to do.
On a regular basis I see trans people living on the streets in Seattle who can barely afford to have gender affirming clothing, much less any sort of medical transition. So as you support the people around you who are taking those steps, take a moment to remember those who can’t. And please support organizations like Gender Justice League who fight to make policies that allow transition for people on state health plans and shelter beds to get trans people off the streets and out of unsafe situations.
Most trans people in the world can’t afford the costs of transition, aren’t allowed to transition, don’t have the possibility to transition, or aren’t in a safe environment to transition. They still deserve respect and dignity. (Credit to Sophie LabelleAssigned Male Comics)
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Fundraising for surgeries

It makes me so sad that trans people have to beg for money from friends and strangers in order to have live saving treatments for gender dysphoria. And that we have to have our identities pathologized and our daily existence diagnosed in order to get access to insurance coverage. But this is the reality that we live in.

Transition is a very expensive process with exorbitant costs everywhere you turn. If you want to change your name, you have to pay $400 and spend most of a day in government offices getting a judge to approve it and other offices to accept it. If you want to treat dysphoria around body hair and have any hope of being seen as a trans woman, you need to spend thousands of dollars on hair removal that most people consider a luxury and insurance won’t pay for. And if you want surgery, you often have to travel out of state like I am doing to find someone trained in what you need which means the expenses snowball with housing, airfare, meals in a strange place, etc.

It is absolutely terrifying to be looking at my budget for surgery next summer and realize that I need to come up with $6,000-$9,000 for my out of pocket costs. And as much as I hate asking for money, that’s what I’m doing now. I’ve launched a GoFundMe campaign to start saving up.

So if you have ever benefited from my writing and how openly I share about my path to self actualization, please consider donating. Every little bit will make a difference in making this life saving surgery a reality. https://www.gofundme.com/f/haven-gender-confirmation-treatments

The costs of being trans

Being trans is so damn expensive! Who in their right mind seriously thinks we do this just for kicks?

I just budgeted my out of pocket costs for bottom surgery and I’m looking at between $6,200 to $8,800 since there are no surgeons near Seattle and I have to travel to San Francisco to do it. I also just spent $400 on my name and gender change documents. And I’ve already spent $3,000 on hair removal with at least another $600 to go.

If you would like to help contribute, please donate to my transition fund: https://www.gofundme.com/f/haven-gender-confirmation-treatments 

Surgical Consults

I have a date for gender confirmation surgery! August 3rd, 2020.

I’ve decided to go with Dr. Heidi Wittenberg for my vaginoplasty. She is who I have been researching for the past year and my consultation with her last week confirmed that she is everything I had been hoping for. Her staff were all wonderful and friendly. And she was very approachable with a great bedside manner and excellent at explaining the process and answering questions. She seems very factual and will be straightforward with the risks and complications. She also has the training in alternate techniques such as peritoneal pull through that would allow her to perform a revision surgery with the latest technology if that was needed. More importantly, she feels like someone I can trust completely and it makes sense to me to have a woman with a background in gynecology and urology doing my care.

I did do a second consultation while I was in San Francisco with Dr. Thomas Satterwhite who trained with Dr. Wittenberg at Brownstein and Crane. He comes highly recommended from friends but I didn’t have the greatest experience with him. In both his intro video and in person he was very fixated on BMI (Body Mass Index) and treated it as medical fact, despite the vast body of evidence that it is wildly inaccurate, scientifically useless, and never intended by the creator to be used on an individual basis. He brought it up multiple times in my 20 minute consult to warn me that if I gained 10 lbs before next summer, I would be ineligible for the surgery. And yes, I have what many people would consider excess fat around my belly, but I am not objectively that fat of a person. I am tall and large and I am built that way naturally. In fact, I am pretty average in build for a white American.

If I, who have quite a bit of relative privilege, am receiving this much fat phobia from him, how much more pronounced would that be for the many trans people who are larger than me? And if he puts stock in pseudoscience like the BMI, what other areas does he make inaccurate conclusions in? To me, this is the kind of thing I would expect from a plastic surgeon that makes money off of fatphobia. And maybe that’s his background, but I’m not giving him money to support that. Even if he was the best surgeon around. Luckily, I have choices.

Now I’m not saying other people haven’t had wonderful experiences with Satterwhite, but I loved Wittenberg and I’m excited to be having her do my surgery. Next up, I am submitting documentation to get laser hair removal done on my genitals to prepare the area for surgery. Then I need to get 3 letters from my physician, therapist, and a PhD level psychiatrist because my insurance still goes by the outdated WPATH standards of medical gatekeeping.

In the meantime, I’m starting my countdown now for surgery. 377 days!

If you would like to contribute to my transition fund, you can donate at: https://www.gofundme.com/f/haven-gender-confirmation-treatments