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

Exploring surgery further

Content warning: I’m going to be talking about sex and genital surgery. Be forewarned.

Now that I have done some work in therapy to work through my fears about surgery, I am starting to explore my options in earnest.

For years I thought that I wouldn’t want to get surgery unless I found an option where they could add a vagina while keeping my penis intact. This was partly based on how I envisioned myself and those I was attracted to in my dreams as a teen. Before I knew that trans people existed, most of my imaginations centered around people who had both sets in tandem, sometimes with retractable phalluses and always with breasts.¬†A year ago I tried to do some research to see if that was possible. At that time they had just successfully done the first neo-vagina made from peritoneum, the internal connective tissue in your abdomen. But everywhere I looked people either weren’t talking about that option or claimed that it was impossible to construct a vagina without damaging the penis.

So I had pretty much given up on that idea and gotten on board with a standard penile inversion vaginoplasty. But this time when I started doing research on surgeons I came across the website of Dr. Heidi Wittenberg who mentions that for gender nonconforming people she offers a penile preservation vaginoplasty. I can’t find many details online about the technique but apparently it involves using skin from another area such as doing a tummy tuck or a strip from the thigh. The scrotum is still used to build the labia and the phallus is left intact. And I hear from other trans people that she isn’t the only one. There are several surgeons who trained under¬†Brownstein and Crane who can do this.

The odd thing is, now that I’ve finally found the thing that I always thought I wanted, I’m not sure that’s actually what I want. The more I think about it the happier I am with the idea of having a well constructed neo-vagina. I’ve seen the work that surgeons can do firsthand and it is incredible how hard it is to tell that it isn’t natal.

Luckily I don’t need to decide just yet. Next year is my jaw surgery (hopefully with some chin correction while I’m at it) and I know I can’t afford both in the same year so this will have to wait until at least late 2019 or probably 2020. My current plan is to go to both Gender Odyssey in Seattle and Philly Trans Wellness to learn more about the current techniques and hopefully catch Dr. Wittenberg’s presentation. I can get a consultation there and schedule something if I want. I do like the idea of having a surgery done with someone who recognizes transitions outside the binary and can talk me through the options. Not to mention that she specializes in Gynecologic urology exclusively for trans people and is considered an expert in neurology and minimally invasive surgery. Currently her waitlists appear to only be 3 months which is much better than most of the surgeons out there.

What I have noticed is that making up my mind that I do want surgery and giving myself permission to explore that in earnest has improved my sex life quite a bit. My libido has picked up and I find myself more ready to utilize my penis now that I know it is short term. It almost feels like I want to make good use of it while I have it as a way of wishing it goodbye. I have also noticed a difference in sensation as my brain rewires itself for estrogen. The head of the penis is more sensitive almost to the point that it already feels like I imagine a large clitoris must feel. And stimulation on the shaft somehow evokes the sensation of being penetrated. Not sure how to describe that and how much is me envisioning it in different ways but it does feel more and more like what I have right now is an inverted vagina, not the same penis I used to have.

That may be TMI but you can’t say I didn’t warn you.