Column: The Edge of the Knife

Before I came out and began living as a woman almost 18 years ago, I never really gave much serious thought to whether or not I wanted Gender Realignment Surgery (GRS). I was working in retail and getting by, but not so well that coming up with twenty thousand dollars or more to get my genitalia refurbished seemed like a realistic possibility.

I don’t need surgery to be who I am, I told myself, I’m a woman no matter what’s between my legs. My gender identity and sense of self-worth don’t depend upon the configuration of my genitalia, but rather upon the configuration of my mind. I told myself these things, and I believed them. In all honesty, I still do.

And yet, for me all of these undeniable truths still added up to a lie.

A little over a year ago, I came into some money. The GRS that had seemed like a pipe dream to me for so long had suddenly become affordable. Knowing that completely rocked my world.

Many trans people in my position would have rushed to schedule a surgery date, but I didn’t. I’d spent the last 17 years telling anyone who would listen that I’d be just fine without GRS, but now that I had the money it was the first thing I thought about spending it on. What did that say about me? About everything I believed about myself and the kind of woman I am? About my entire belief system regarding what it is to be trans? Am I really, in my heart of hearts, one of those people who equates the legitimacy of trans identity with the surgical status of the body?

I couldn’t help asking myself those questions, and it took a long time to find the answers. In addition, I had to answer one more key question, the one upon which all the other answers depend: Is GRS for me a want or a need?

Was I right when I claimed I didn’t need GRS to live a happy life as a woman? Or was my instinct right when the first thing I thought about after coming into that money was spending a significant chunk of it on GRS?

I was forced to reexamine everything, in some ways my entire personal rationale of who I am and what I want out of life. It took me over a year to work it all out, but here’s what I came up with:

It’s not a matter of legitimacy, it’s a matter of comfort and happiness, of self-care. It’s not about qualifying under someone else’s definition of what it is to be a woman, it’s about what I want for myself and how close to that ideal I’m able to come.

It’s also about realizing that I’m almost 53 years old, and I want the rest of my life to be the very best it can possibly be. I think I’ve earned that.

I had to admit to myself that it’s OK to be selfish in this, to want the best for myself. I also had to come to the understanding that I can’t be at my very best in other aspects of my life if I deny myself happiness and make excuses for not taking care of my own needs to the best of my ability.

Yes, I said “needs.” Could I survive without GRS for the rest of my life? Yes. I’ve done it for 18 years as an out trans woman and for many years previously while still in the closet. I could do it, but that’s not the real issue.

The real issue is could I be happy knowing I could get GRS if I wanted it but didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to make it happen? The answer to that question was the one that took me over a year figure out and it’s a resounding “No!”

Yes, I could live and survive as a non-op, just as I have all these years, but it would always be a lesser happiness, an almost-but-not-quite-there happiness, the kind of happiness that feels warm to the touch but never comforts me as fully and completely as I know it could.

As a trans community activist and media maker, I spend a lot of time thinking about what I can do to help make things better for other trans people. I’ve had to realign my thinking and realize that in order to be a good activist and advocate for others, sometimes it’s necessary to take care of myself first.

And so, I’ve put the wheels in motion toward scheduling a GRS date sometime this spring. There will be medical tests and all kinds of not-so-fun things culminating in lots of pain.

I feel warmer already.


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