Drew Cordes

Living My 'New Life:' Same as the Old Life

Filed By Drew Cordes | July 12, 2011 9:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: gender reassignment surgery, GRS, identity, surgery, transgender

metamorphasis.jpgOn my last day in the nursing center after my sex reassignment surgery, one of the nurses bid me farewell by saying "Goodbye, and enjoy your new life." I brushed off a brief wave of bewilderment and simply said thank you. Later, I joked about it with some friends - "Apparently I'm getting a new life now, too. I hope I'm rich in this one." After a few weeks I received a letter from another friend who wanted to throw me a congratulatory party "to celebrate your new life" and "rebirth." Hearing these phrases again irked me more this time, and I tried to explain why.

First let me get this out of the way: I know these comments come from a good place. I know this. I'm not entirely an ungrateful bitch. I know they aren't intended to touch off a deepening discord in my brain about how others perceive the legitimacy of my gender and why it's perceived the way it is. These are intended to be pleasantries and well-wishes. I know this.

I do appreciate the intended sentiment, but at the same time it makes me wish more people would stop and consider the auguries of certain words and why they're attaching so much importance to one specific moment or act (in my case, reassignment surgery).

I feel the same maddening confluence of thoughts and emotions when, upon informing someone that I'm trans, I hear "You had me fooled!" "Well, you're very pretty" or "You pass very well." In those cases also I give a polite smile, refusing to say "thank you" to the unwitting attempt at a compliment, as my brain rages - "Why should you be able to tell I'm trans? You think I'm trying to 'fool' you? What makes you believe I'm interested in whether you think I'm passing or not? Why are you surprised to find a trans person pretty?"

As these conversations usually occur at parties, bars or restaurants I, at least, have the consolation of chasing my swallowed pride with a slug of gin and tonic. It's not considered proper in polite society to jump down the throat of a new acquaintance with barbed interrogations about the biased nature of their perceptions of sex and gender. If I broach that line of conversation, however delicately, I'm the asshole, not the person who just openly insinuated with an ignorant smile that most trans people are dishonest, unattractive or can't pass.

So when I hear "congratulations on your new life!" I'm forced to consider what the well-wisher must think of my old life. The "life" in question is undoubtedly referring to my gender and sexuality. This spurs my first thought - that gender and sexuality are merely part of who I am, not the entirety of who I am, as the comments about a new life and a rebirth imply. Previous steps in coming to grips with my gender and sexuality, such as starting to crossdress and losing my virginity, were not met with the same cheers (actually boos would've been more fitting for both of those).

Graduating from college was a giant step in my intellectual life, yet no one mentioned the word "rebirth" then. Therefore, do the people making these comments view me solely in terms of my nonconforming gender? Do they see the whole me? And is their view of my gender centered only on surgery?

The laudation also suggests that my "old life" was not as good as my "new" one. I admit there may be an element of truth to that. Surgery was important to me. However, I never had a profound conversation with my well-intentioned friend about its importance for me, and certainly the nurse didn't know much about me as a person past my fondness for oxycodone and what was on my charts. The unhesitating ease with which the nurse and my friend used these terms exposes the assumption that surgery is always important to a trans person's sense of self.

And while it was important for me, I speak for myself alone. There are countless other trans people for whom surgery is either not desired or not an option. Are they forever stuck in the "old life?" Are they denied the chance to burst forth from the chrysalis reborn as a beautiful butterfly? (That sappy, clich├ęd metaphor supplied the name and logo of my chosen hospital, by the way.) Is their gender not as legitimate as mine? Of course not.

In the weeks before and after surgery, my thoughts about my personal gender didn't change one bit. Nor did I expect them to. I was a woman before; I was a woman after. I'm elated to be post-op, but not because it validated my sense of who I am. I'm happy because it's fucking over with. No more looming risks of operations in the future. No more 10 out of 10 on the pain scale (hopefully). No more surgery savings account eating up my income. Who I am remains unchanged.

What I'm saying is the role surgery plays in the lives of trans people can be overestimated, as well as underestimated. As for the latter, I immediately think of health insurance companies, who refuse to acknowledge surgery (as well as many other things) as viable and sometimes necessary treatment. The former exists mostly in the minds of others.

In addition to the comments by the nurse and my friend, this is evidenced by the other common query usually heard immediately after disclosing one's transness: "So are you gonna have the surgery?" The tunnel-vision focus on surgery in our culture's view of transness even permeates the consciousness of trans people. Months ago, when I booked my date, a post-op trans friend took me aside for a few words of warning.

"Just know ... surgery's not going to solve all your problems," she said. I agreed, and assured her that I wasn't expecting the operation to disappear all my unresolved conflicts with gender, sex and my identity.

"Good," she said. "There are some people who build it up so much, that after it's done there's a big letdown. They get depressed when they realize they still feel the same."

I replied, "That's not me. I know I'll still be the same person."

And I am. I'm the same person, with the same life, the same parents, the same friends, the same need for more bookshelf space. I have improved, as anyone does after surgery successfully treats an ailment, but I haven't changed. I wouldn't want to. My success in surgery, and transitioning as a whole, hasn't made me want to celebrate "a new life," rather, it has just made me want to celebrate life in general.


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I agree; the good-hearted attempts at compliments and "you're a real girl now"s irked me at first. It wasn't until my sister stepped in that I put it into perspective. She said that for the first time since I'd transitioned she saw her sister, not her brother-who-is-now-a-girl. It wasn't the surgery itself, she said, but the way I carried myself. Something changed after surgery - everybody I know has commented on this. It's a bunch of little things but the overall effect has been really stunning.

I could have been angry, indignant, even snippy - how dare she couch my identity as a woman within her own perceptions of me? - but then I saw the sincerity in her eyes. She meant every word and saying it almost felt like a release. There was relief, peace, even closure in that statement. In that moment we closed the book on our collective transition.

That's when it hit me: who am I to judge the genuine feelings of another human being?

I'm glad things are falling into place for you. I'd love to chew the fat with you about this whole process sometime. :D

Jaime Dunaway Jaime Dunaway | July 12, 2011 10:09 AM

Nicely written and I agree with your thoughts on it. I've talked with a friend about how not to expect all your issues to go away with surgery. And the way so many other people are about it is why I don't share whether I've had all the surgery with anyone that's not very close. I've attained quite a bit of contentment while being pre-op, it doesn't make me want surgery any less, but it makes it ok to wait til I can actually afford it without selling my house to do it.

And yeah, the "you look just like a real woman" comments from someone that finds out I'm trans because of someone else's slip-up is sometimes infuriating. They think they're being supportive, but its more like they're seeing you as a impersonator.

Your thesis is, in my opinion, substantially correct. However, at least for myself, transition and my GRS has allowed me to at long last find peace, peace with and within myself. This sense of well being has, I believe, subtly altered who I am as a person. With that said I readily acknowledge and accept that I am who I am because of genetics and my personal history which I embrace fully.

As far as a new life goes, well I parse this in terms of reinventing myself. Now that I am no longer obsessed with my gender and sex, no longer having to hide, to pretend I am someone I am not. But who am I really, who am I to become? Forced retirement has greatly accelerated the process, for the good. New things to learn, new opportunities, each day brings new opportunities, new joys.

Yes it is a cliche but like the monarch butterflies who I always observed as a child in wonder and joy as they underwent their metamorphosis I have spread my wings and am now seeing, exploring the wondrous world from a very different perspective.

My life continues but as Yogi said I came to the fork in the road and took it.

Before surgery: Drew the incredibly nice person I adore.

After surgery: Drew the incredibly nice person I adore.

I don't see how anything's changed in our relationship. I just had dental surgery; is this the new me?

When I met you I thought you were a beautiful woman.
When days later(yes it was days later), i found out you are "also" transgender.
It didn't change that that your still a beautiful woman.
Wither a person calls that passing or not might be a limitation of our language.... or just lack of knowledge in proper language usage especially if a circumstances is new or uncommon to someone.

And you might very well hear the same comments 10-20 years from now. For some reason, when people (especially cis women) find out I'm trans, or assume I've had surgery (which I have, but I'm not really going out of my way to tell them) I get a lot of comments like... 'well -pause- enjoy your new womanhood,' blah, blah. Yes, it's trying to come from a supportive place of bestowing (honorary?) sisterhood, but they always assume it's the surgery which did it and that I've always had the surgery last week instead of years ago.

The sad thing is, I would love to discuss the emotionally positive impact of having SRS but usually, I don't want to take the time to do it and it would just fall into the "SRS makes you into a woman" meme.

The other thing I do point out, when I have these discussions, is that (post SRS, 'post-passing') I still have a lot of gender dysphoria about many different parts of my body. I still have a lot of feelings about the hips/shoulder width thang and I'm still touchy about being tall (not as much as I used to, but still...). If I try on bracelets, it still upsets me if I can't get one on because my hands are too wide or not being able to buy a lot of clothes at brick and mortar stores because they don't carry tall sizes. Yes, those might be feelings tall non-trans women have as well, but that doesn't make me feel better about it. And, on the other hand, I feel way prouder and more 'complete' about my voice sounding female as anything having to do with having SRS. For me, opening my mouth sounding female really was, in some way, the start of some kind of a new life. And it was through my intense work and practice, not just a surgery.

Gaytorguy | July 13, 2011 4:22 PM

Even if well meaning, your friends should know YOU! And did you live as one gender and then poof, after surgery you are another and living that way? Is any trans person?
I uderstand your feelings. Like when family found out I was gay it was like a new life happened and whatever we had before their knowledge was somehow someone else's life.
Kudos on a successful operation.