Rocky Recovery Marked by Joy, Pain and Covid
Editor’s Note: This is the latest installment of “The Transchick Chronicles,” an on-going series of essays written by newly-out transgender journalist Stephanie Haskins, as she documents her transition. Scroll to the bottom for links to her previous entries.
BY STEPHANIE HASKINS
At long last, I’m actually running around uncocked.
It’s been a month since my vaginoplasty, and only now am I starting to have little shivers of joy zap through my body.
My God! I did it. I actually fucking did it. I no longer have any evidence on my body that I was ever a male. (And yes, I do think in italics.)
But what if I almost died during the procedure, or something like that?
Sorta like what happened when I came down with Covid BA.5—the latest variant—while I was recovering from my vaginoplasty. When there were actually several days that I didn’t think I’d wake up. Like when I simply went to sleep a few nights knowing that if I didn’t make it to morning that my spirit would no longer be angry. Or sad.
Stephanie “The Transchick” in her hospital bed, awaiting surgery on June 10, 2022. Photos by Wayne Freedman
Something like that?
But in the days before Covid creeped in, I’d like to say that I felt absolute joy as I came out of surgery, knowing that my dopey little dick had been turned into an absolutely stunningly beautiful (in my opinion) vagina.
I had such great plans to say clever and lovely things as I became conscious after five or six hours under anesthesia during my procedure—words that would have surely been immediately written down by adoring and stunned nurses who had the good sense to know they were in the presence of a golden-tongued goddess.
Those words were not spoken and no historical scribes were standing around ready to take down my words of wisdom.
In fact, I don’t remember a goddamned thing. When I woke up, I was very woozy (I guess), I ached all over, and I was really thirsty. I didn’t have one bloody clever, oh-so-Oscar-Wilde quotable thought to pronounce to a waiting planet.
Which wasn’t. Waiting, that is.
See, for a couple of years now, I’d planned to say something so witty and astonishingly hilarious that it would have gone down in transgender, post-op history as maybe, MAYBE, the greatest quote ever from a transwoman.
I’d expected to slowly regain consciousness, look into the eyes of one of the attending ICU nurses, and say with a quiver in my voice, “Oh thank God. Now I can finally get pregnant.”
But it didn’t happen. Never will happen.
Because, like I said, all I could think about was how sore my groin was. Not one goddamn thought about my new, wondrous vagina—just painful throbbing. Beyond that, I was pretty numb down there. I was packed in gauze, with ice bags, and my blessed, wonderful urinary catheter was delivering bright mellow-yellow to a bag hanging from my bed.
I assumed I’d be horrified to have that tube dangling from my crotch for almost a week—but I wasn’t! It was glorious! I fucking loved it. I didn’t have to worry about peeing for a whole week—not when I was sleeping, not when I was watching TV, or typing on my phone, or contemplating my new little InstaBake oven…
I’ve always loved the analogy of a pregnant woman having “a bun in the oven” because it meant that something wonderful was indeed “cooking” in her womb. And yes, I fully realize that my new vagina is in reality, nothing like the naturally fertile loins of a woman who can actually incubate something in her “oven,” but I, well, sort of have an oven now, too. Thus, my claim to an “InstaBake oven.”
I’m sure I could keep a small bag of chips warm down there, for what it’s worth. I wish it COULD do more, but…nope.
But back to my vaginoplasty. Recovery was otherwise freaking fabulous, and the pain began to quickly wane—for the most part. Three or four days into it, I asked one of my attending surgeons why my stitched up frontal parts hardly hurt at all any more, but why my backside parts were sore.
During my surgery, I was stretched out like I was going to be drawn and quartered—arms and legs in stirrups, spread as far apart as possible. This resulted in my buttocks being pulled and stretched as well, this way and that, and it’d likely been abraded against the surface of the operating table.
As the pain subsided, I finally had time to seriously ponder my brand new vagina. In addition to the tiny new pipe to pee through, there was a wondrously new and VERY SENSITIVE clitoris. Yes, I now have a new place, a new space, for visiting penises to land! (Only by appointment, I might add.)
Oh, who am I kidding? My hookup book has more dried-up spider corpses in it than the prefrontal cortex of POTUS 45. (In case you were wondering.)
Anyway, let me rewind a bit. As I explained in a previous Transchick Chronicle, doctors would only give me a shallow-depth vaginoplasty, also known as a vulvoplasty, instead of a full-depth procedure. I had AFib issues, they said.
I remind you that a vaginoplasty is the process by which tissue of the penis of a person who is the assigned male at birth is reconstructed into a female vagina. A cavity is constructed in the area between the urethra at the base of the penile shaft and the very top area of the anus. Testicles are removed and discarded, The penis is halved and tissue from either side is used to line the inside of the new vaginal canal. The very top of the penis, the glans, is then used to create a clitoral hood and clitoris. Tissue that held the testicles is then used to create a vulva and labia.
I can absolutely identify tissue of my new labia as having been part of my former scrotal sac. The skin feels the same, sort of wrinkly and freckly—very different from the tissue of my penile shaft.
I was so confident and unconcerned about issues that might arise during my surgery that I peacefully dozed for hours in my hospital bed awaiting it. When I was awakened, I chatted briefly with my surgeon and the anesthesiologist, and I was then wheeled into an operating room and positioned on a surgical platform.
I remember feeling so incredibly happy and totally at peace with my decision. I didn’t feel at all sad to be losing my penis, not nostalgic at all.
Nope. Just relieved.
A number of people were in the OR: nurses and techs (mostly female, I remember thinking). Of course, my primary surgeon, who would construct my neo vagina was there, as well another plastic surgeon who would oversee my urethral well-being. “I’m the plumbing guy,” he had told me in an almost jovial conversation earlier that morning.
I liked him immediately; he was wearing a light blue, pink and white bow tie—the colors of the transgender flag. “I got it from my daughter in Boston for Father’s Day,” he told me, when I pointed it out. I knew I was in good hands at that point.
I was a father, too. Perhaps just not physically recognizable as one.
The oxygen tube was inserted in my nostrils, and the anesthesia was released into one of my saline bags. I remember the bright lights shining in my face, and silently saying a small prayer: “Dear God, please let me have a beautiful vagina.”
Fade to black.
My surgery was performed on Friday June 10, 2022, and got underway, near as I can determine, sometime around 1 pm at the huge Kaiser Permanente Hospital facility in San Francisco.
I can’t repeat it enough: I so badly wanted to do this. I wanted to be happy with my body for the first time ever—not ashamed of my penis, not constantly consumed with thoughts that my outer appearance didn’t match my inner identity, and soul.
I wanted an end to the anxiety, to the dysphoria.
Do you have any idea how disheartening it is to go through one’s entire life with a dull ache in one’s gut that something just isn’t right?
Of course, not all has been gloom in my life, not all the time. Not by any measure. While I had a wonderful career in television, have a fabulous family, and have even experienced moments of pure joy in my life, it’s just that it was all always tempered by the sense that something was a tad off kilter.
Here’s a silly example—very minor, I suppose—but it’s an episode I recall very clearly:
It was maybe 20 years ago, a holiday probably. My young daughter and I were in my in-laws’ back yard, throwing a wiffle ball around with a couple of her small cousins and maybe one of my brothers-in-law, and possibly one of my sisters-in law. Doesn’t matter, really. So, we’re all just chucking this ball around to each other. Everyone seems to be having a good time, but here I am—supposedly Mr. Macho Guy then—having trouble getting the wiffle ball to go exactly where I wanted it to go, and not as fast as I wanted it to go, and I felt like a goddamn sissy.
I’m throwing like a fucking girl, I thought. I remember feeling really frustrated, but it was not at all an unusual sensibility for me. I just didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing as a male person.
As a MAN.
I never referred to myself as a man. I wasn’t worthy. The word “man” made me VERY uncomfortable.
I’d felt that way hundreds of times in the past. And at this particular point in time, I felt like I just wasn’t up to throwing a wiffle ball.
Like a MAN.
I thought: What the fuck is wrong with me?
Why couldn’t I throw the ball? Or fix things around my house like every other XY person? Why did I cry so easily all of the time? (Sooooo secretly, btw.) Why did I hate looking at myself in the mirror? Why did I have so much trouble (after all these years) dealing with other males in social situations—and sometimes even professionally? Why did I hate spending any time with any of them, talking about the usually inconsequential shit that most men love to talk about?
Why was I so much more comfortable around women, whom I was almost inevitably drawn to?
I had no idea. No clue. Just uncomfortable as a male, around other males, and way more drawn to women. Socially for sure. Sexually, back and forth. I knew I was attracted to men (so, I was gay, right?) but I also had a deep fascination with vaginas. They were mysterious, beautiful, orchid-like. As a male, I never had penis envy; it was always VAGINA envy.
No one else knew what I was going through. And I sure as hell wasn’t telling anyone.
I also had an unnerving, years-long feeling inside of me, one that I just couldn’t shake, that at some point I was going to drive off a desolate ocean-side cliff onto the rocks below. It’s a dream I’ve actually had dozens of times in my life.
Off the road. Into the air. Blackness in front of me for a split second. Then a bright panorama of giant rocks and boulders hurtling toward me.
And then that blackness again.
I am ended.
The dream would recur over and over and over.
But it wasn’t me whose life suddenly ends on the rocks. It’s a young woman in the dream, one who I, at first, didn’t know or recognize. I would see her brushing her long, luxurious, light blond/brown hair, sitting at her vanity in a bedroom somewhere.
But then, I would I see her face in the mirror—and I knew it was ME!
The image in the dream was of my younger “male” facial features, morphed with those of someone resembling the actress Sigourney Weaver.
Why was I seeing both this horrific accident (or was it a suicide?) and this woman’s face in the same dream? Was the woman in the mirror (me) lurking in my subconscious since birth? Is she the female I’ve felt in my soul all these years? Has she been whispering to me about my always shaky, put-on maleness?
Has she emerged with my transition?
On the other hand, I do believe in reincarnation, and I do believe it’s possible that this woman—who might have died in that nightmare over-the-cliff-crash before I was born—was popped into my soul in this body. And that I’ve felt her presence almost my entire life.
It’s a mystery. But it’s also very much a part of my transition and journey to becoming Stephanie Grace.
Now back to this thoughtful, joyous paean to my new vagina.
I had to fight so hard to get it. And now that I have it, I have to say I barely remember what it was like to have my penis.
I feel complete, for one thing. I don’t miss my “member.” At all. Once in a while, in the shower, I’ll find myself absent-mindedly grabbing for my dick to give it a squeeze or to lather up.
But other than that, nope. Nah.
My vagina is still very stitched up, and still swollen in some places, but by God, it’s mine. Me.
And interestingly, as a person, as a human soul, as a woman, I now feel completely, um, womanly. No more pretending—not that I ever did, exactly—but now, well, I have the goods.
To paraphrase that Arby’s commercial: I HAVE THE MEAT!!!!!
Wanna see it?
I’d show you a picture of it if I could—I’m absolutely not embarrassed or coy or shy about it—but that’s a non-starter, I suppose. (EDITOR’S NOTE: The Reporters Inc. has already vetoed the idea. The Transchick Chronicles is going remain a solid R rating, not an X.)
I’d be surprised if it looks ANY different from the one that The Bible’s God and his Numero Uno Man Adam the Guy allegedly crafted out of primordial goo and some random bone slurry back in the BC era.
Seriously, I have all the pieces and parts that any other woman with a vag has except, well, a birth canal, a uterus, a cervix and ovaries. Everything other than those “incidentals.”
Still, it’s so fucking precious to me.
Of course, with every glad tiding comes some really scary shit.
I came closer than I ever thought possible to munching the big dirt dessert right after my surgery.
Maybe I exaggerate about but, as I mentioned, I caught Covid BA.5 soon after—probably while I was still in the hospital recovering from the surgery—and I brought it home with me a week later.
I had odd symptoms during the six days I spent in the ICU after my procedure; I’d get really dizzy when I’d be strolling up and down in the hallways in the hospital post-surgery (with my jiggling catheter bag)—but I figured, well, my dick is gone. I just had major, major surgery. What should I expect?
I never told the docs. Probably a dumb thing. I had no idea it might have been the onset of anything so, as I pretty always do, I decided to ignore it. Except when I got dizzy again.
And then, all of a sudden, my blood pressure readings started to plummet. I had systolic readings (the top number) in the mid-90s, and even high 80s were pretty common for a few days. The diastolic readings (the bottom number) were usually in the lower 50s. Pretty damn low. Scary, actually. I’d ask my many nurses what was going on, but usually I’d get only a grunt or a cough in response.
It was sort of like, “Enough with the questions, Just shut up and eat your dry, flavorless turkey sandwich and drink the milk you’re not supposed to have.” (I’m lactose intolerant, so I rarely drink milk. The hospital dieticians didn’t know, and I didn’t tell them. However, I happily discovered that milk isn’t so bad on ice.)
Oh, and I didn’t pay much attention at the time, but the flavorless food seemed to become even more flavorless. Didn’t notice any smell issues, but honestly, I’m not sure I would have much noticed anyway.
Then, my blood sugar spiked way up. I AM diabetic, but I’ve always had tight control over my blood sugar, I almost never have any symptoms. I’m on a couple of medications which generally keep me on an even keel, But all of a sudden, my blood glucose level doubled, and that scared the hell out of me. So, they started pumping me full of insulin to level my blood sugar.
Yes, I was worried, but I figured I was also being looked after by LOTS of medical experts. And keep in mind, other than the dizziness, I felt mostly great the entire time I was in my comfy bed. As long as I kept my nether regions iced I was, for the most part, happy as a clam. I slept and slept and slept, watched TV, and texted friends and family. I didn’t even take many pain-killing meds.
Most importantly, every once in a while I’d get this overwhelmingly happy jolt in my gut, in my soul, that I had made it.
I was a WOMAN!
On June 16, I was set to go home. Before I left, two docs I’d never met before came in to see me, including a really incredibly beautiful plastic surgeon and her resident, who checked over my incisions. The doc said my new vagina looked beautiful, and considering the source, I was, well, REALLY PROUD. The top of my vagina, called the mons, was quite distended she told me, but that the swelling was pretty normal. Everything else: fab!
Then my wonderful surgical nurse Jeffrey came in, looked my incisions over, and started pulling out stitches. “Everything looks great, hon,” he said. “Doctor did a really nice job.”
I should explain that Jeffrey has sort of been my advocate for more than a year—starting with my breast augmentation procedure. We’ve talked mostly over the phone, but he was responsible for making sure I understood what to do to prepare for my surgery, scheduled me, talked me through some minor crises, and consoled me several months ago when my surgery was initially delayed. I love Jeffrey. He’s one of the angels in my life.
And then the great challenge: To pee without my catheter and, obviously, without my dick to point the way. Jeffrey flooded my bladder with warm water through my catheter, and just when I thought I would burst, he pulled out my catheter tube, causing me to dash to the bathroom. And OMG, I peed like a race horse!
See, here’s the deal. ALL transwomen have always had a penis to guide our urine—standing, sitting, whatever. But when one’s penis is gone and the “tracking system,” if you will, is no longer in existence, we don’t know how it’s all gonna work at first. It is a universal, trans-only worry.
I pondered: Would my bladder tighten up to the point where I couldn’t urinate on command, as it often had before, during my life as a bloke? I sure as hell didn’t know.
Thank god, it all worked. It felt different, but the same. It did NOT flow in a semi-tidy stream, as had always been the case before, and it kinda just sort of all jangled out—but I was delighted. And relieved, so to say.
And no more standing up to pee. I hated standing. So messy. I especially hated using urinals in men’s’ bathrooms. Awful. Barbaric. Prehistoric.
Sitting to pee is simple and way more hygienic. When I’m done, a square or two of toilet paper takes care of any excess urine. Men have to shake off the excess, And of course, you know where the shaken pee goes. All the fuck over the place!
That’s why men’s bathrooms smell so badly. Because there’s goddamn pee all over the place! Women sit down and deposit their urine straight into the toilet. Neat and clean.
But I digress (again).
My best friend arrived to take me home from the hospital in San Francisco, driving me to my condo in Sacramento. It’s a two hour drive and we talked and talked, because we hadn’t seen each other for six months (he lives in Los Angeles). I felt happy and safe, and glad my friend was there to help care for me.
But by the time I got home, I was really shaky and dizzy, and I went right to bed. And then, out of the blue, my wonderful friend—whom I trusted with every fiber of my being—had an emotional crisis of some sort and abruptly left, two days later. He didn’t explain, simply told me he loved me, and departed.
I was stunned. No fight, no arguments.
I was devastated, and terrified, but I thought I’d be able to ask other friends to pitch in, because many had volunteered to do so pre-surgery. Unfortunately, that’s when the universe whispered in my ear, “Not so fast, sweetie. Not so fucking fast.”
After my friend left, almost immediately, I started to feel really sick. Not just out-of-the-hospital-and-feeling-crappy sick, but REALLY, REALLY sick. I was dizzy, headachey, and suddenly severely exhausted. I scheduled an emergency Covid test, which turned out to be positive.
I did in fact have freaking Covid BA.5.
As a result, I couldn’t exactly ask anyone to come and care for me, because I was quarantined and contagious.
And then, I started to cough.
It was a really, congested, heavy, “smoker’s” cough, which came in spasms, lasting 10 or 15 seconds every five minutes or so. I didn’t think I had a fever, but I couldn’t tell for sure because I was so weak I couldn’t look for a thermometer. I suppose it could have been low, because I didn’t feel warm at all. In fact, I was cold most of the time. Like, shaking cold.
I cranked my furnace up to 80, even though Sacramento summer weather had arrived. It was over 100 every day.
All I could do was sleep. My vagina had started to ache by then, and I didn’t know what to do, honestly, other than slather it with bacitracin. (It’s like Neosporin.)
All I could do was sob. Which I did. I was suddenly very scared. And alone. I had Covid. I had to isolate. Yes, I had plenty of food and I was secure in my home/bed, but I guess it depends on how you might define secure. Despite the joy the surgery had brought me, I really started to wonder if I would make it through this illness (despite being double-vaxxed and boosted).
Friends would text, but what could they do? No one could hold me as I cried, coughed and cared less and less about waking up the next day.
And then I wondered, if I do die from this fucking virus, would I be buried as a woman?
Or just incinerated.
Thinking those thoughts, morbid as they were, helped me sleep—18-20 hours a day for 10 straight days. No sleeping aids needed. I drank lots of fluids, but I had no appetite and ate little.
So I coughed my lungs out. So much congestion. So much mucous.
I was sicker than at any other time in my life, except for maybe a three-week period in 9th grade when I had some sort of virulent flu. Back then, my wonderful grandma took care of me. She was my touchstone then, and during every other part of my early life as well. I have taken her name, Grace, as my new middle name, to honor her impact on my life.
Days went by. Still no human contact. I started to plan my funeral—when I could stay awake. Open casket or cremation? When I was a guy, I didn’t want anyone to see me dead. But now? I was pretty damn cute as a chick. I figured I’d clean up pretty well for the casket, in a new black-knit dress.
Eventually, the emotional fog lifted, and I began to heal. Several weeks later, I’m happy to report that I’m better.
The Covid has cleared my system.
So. What now?
As I get my strength back, I’m determined to become the fiercest transgender advocate that I can be. Having been so sad and afraid and so completely alone during my post-surgery, Covid-riddled recovery, I’m determined to never allow another transwoman (or man) go through any surgeries—or any other crises—alone. If I can help prevent it, I will.
My name is Stephanie Grace Haskins and I’m a proud transgender woman.
I’m a WOMAN.
My inherent feminine imperative is to nurture others.
And nobody better fucking try to stop me.
Stephanie Haskins is hard at work on the next chapters of “The Transchick Chronicles.” Sign up for our e-newsletter here to be alerted when they’re published.
To read her previous installments:
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