Surgery and Soul:

Merging the Exterior with the Interior


July 2021

Editor’s Note: These are the third and fourth installments of “The Transchick Chronicles,” an on-going series of essays written by newly-out transgender journalist Stephanie Haskins, as she chronicles her transition. Parts one and two can be found here.

 

PART THREE

 

BY STEPHANIE HASKINS

I get up, I get down and I’m jumpin’ around
And the rumpus and ruckus are comfortable now
Been a hell of a ride but I’m thinking it’s time to grow
Bang! Bang! Bang!
So I got an apartment across from the park
Put quinoa in my fridge
Still I’m not feeling grown
Been a hell of a ride
But I’m thinking it’s time to go
Bang Bang Bang!
Here we go!           

–Opening lyrics from Bang!” by AJR 

That’s my personal anthem for my transition. Loud, great tune, lyrics that are dead on.

Bang!

Released in 2020, the words mirror where I was most of the year. Oh, and now in 2021, too.

Bang! Bang! Bang!

My very long, short life as a transgender chick includes (so far):

New boobs.

Rather attractive and (maybe even) pretty face.

Hard body.

Older than shit.

And younger than shit.

You can bounce a quarter off my ass. Or my abs.

True that.

I’m finally starting to grow into my new persona, Stephanie.

Stephanie!

FUCKING STEPHANIE!!!!

I still start to get a little dizzy when I strap on my new wig and slip on one of my hot little sports bras and—my God!

I am this feminine, new, young, somewhat flawless woman. Even though I’m not young. Or flawless. By ANY stretch of imagination.

 

Stephanie Haskins served as a television news executive in northern California for more than three decades. She’s now a member of The Reporters Inc.’s Board of Directors. To read her entire bio, go to our Team page.

 

But goddammit, the evidence is right there in the fucking mirror. I have incredibly smooth skin on my face. Almost NO wrinkles. Ok, so my hair is a joke, but only because I’ve bleached it without mercy and have had two major surgeries in the last six months. It pretty much stopped growing.

I’m currently, as most chicks say in similar circumstances, “growing it out.” Still totally blonde, but sort of a Julius Caesar-ian look right now. Not very chick-like. Yet.

I get up, I get down

And I’m jumpin’ around…

My mind wanders when I’m close to sleep. Am I getting closer to entirely accepting and becoming fully comfortable with this new fem person who stares back at me front of the mirror?

Is that really me? Am I REALLY a chick?

Yes.

I am.

But it’s a really slow process. Re-engineering new bodies and souls often takes at least a few days. Sometimes more.

Thank God I always have my wonderful new hormone friends—Estradiol and Spironolactone—inside my body keeping me level and, dare I say, healthier and happier than I’ve ever been. And more female than I could have possibly imagined.

Know how much it hurts to think of myself as male these days? After not knowing for so many years that I just wasn’t one? That every time I did something “male” or thought something “male” or tried to be male the way I assumed a “male” might be, a little bit of my soul knew that I was fucking kidding myself.

Oh sure, I Ioved my family with all of my heart. My wife. My daughter. As a pretend male. I hadn’t yet considered myself to be a female. The reality is that I was just a shitty version of a male.

It was a feeling I hadn’t been able to shake since I was two or three.

For a lot of years—until recently—I’d wake up each morning, often furious that I did wake up, and stagger into the bathroom to get ready for the day. And on most mornings, I’d avoid looking in the mirror as much as possible.

I just didn’t want to see myself.

If I could have figured out how to comb my hair without looking at my head, then I would have been able to avoid my reflection at all. EVER!

And I would have been delighted.

So put your best face on everybody

Pretend you know this song, everybody

Come hang

Let’s go out with a bang

Bang! Bang! Bang!

My perception of my own (fading) maleness—and even that of most OTHER males—is in a very precarious place right now.

So I need to tell you something. And, I confess, I’m quite embarrassed and saddened by it, and I really don’t understand it. At all. It’s a phobia, and it started coming on maybe five or six years ago, WAY before I acknowledged my female gender.

Ready?

I’m afraid of most men over the age of 40, and they intimidate the hell out of me. Even though, technically, that’s who I am, as my chromosomal array suggests.

I don’t get it, but there it is. Another component to my emerging sense of my femaleness as a real thing.

I had my DNA done a couple of years ago to see if my newly realized inner-femaleness might have been the result of something else. Like an extra x here or there. Or a surplus y.

I mean, who knows, right?

I actually hoped the lab would find some sort of anomaly. And that maybe after a bunch of tests and scans they’d discover a vestigial uterus and maybe a pair of secret ovaries.

But nope. Nah. I was just a transchick stuck in a very, VERY wrong body. I was very disappointed, to be honest. I REALLY wanted to be a female at that point. An actual biological female.

At any rate, I’ve become very, VERY wary of older men. Mostly White men. Maybe it’s because they remind me that I was one, or almost was. Or maybe because I wanted and needed (or so I thought) to be perceived as a straight cisgender male for most of my life, acting and pretending to be one, in order to remain “safe” and closeted. A cis, straight male.

I’ve worked extremely hard my whole life to avoid aging like a cis male, although at various points in my life when I was so miserable and depressed, I just gave up. I put on a LOT of weight, was diagnosed as diabetic, and became perilously close to becoming an alcoholic and OxyContin addict.

I had given up on myself, my true sexuality, and inside—way, way, DEEP inside—my true gender. I was waiting to die. I didn’t necessarily WANT to die. I just didn’t actually give a shit (or so I thought at the time).

So, I think seeing deteriorating versions of what I was becoming—old, defeated White men staggering around seemingly everywhere I looked—shifted my unraveling into high gear.

I was starting to run out of me. Leaking like a crankshaft in an ’81 Yugo. I was angry and desperate to get out of myself—somehow. My aging, white male self. I was just terrified.

The artist Trusty Scribe said it best, and in what I think is truly beautiful and elegant prose: “I don’t want to kill myself, I just don’t want to be here anymore.”

Been a hell of a ride

But I’m thinking it’s time to grow.

Bang! Bang! Bang!

I’m convinced now that my self-hatred and dysphoria (AND certainly dysmorphia) at that point was indeed starting to do in my life-long pretend-male persona. I started to feel that my life as a male—or my phony, pretend male persona—was starting to fall apart. The facade—never terribly sturdy in the first place—was cracking. And fast. I started to have scary little breakdowns and very scary panic attacks.

I didn’t know it, but my time as a supposedly cis, straight person was almost over. I could no longer lie to myself or anyone else, I literally had no idea what to do. But it was either survive SOMEHOW or not survive at all.

I was NOT afraid to die. I did NOT want to hurt my wife and daughter and my magical, sweet little grandsons. But I was absolutely terrified of living—of becoming another grizzled, pathetic, shambling, hateful, uncool, old man.

The hysteria inside my being began to overwhelm me.

I’d tried to be like White men in so many ways, but now—NOW—I began to loathe them. I hated their fucking baseball caps, their shitty, scraggly beards, their aversion to anything feminine. Their irrational disgust with gay and trans people.

You know the type, the awful fuckers with their goofy ZZ Top beards, red MAGA hats, stained T-shirts, pickup trucks (usually a Dodge Ram) bow-legged swaggering, and faint yet disgusting odors of sweat, dried urine and fecal matter. They simply repulsed me. I was and am terrified of these people. Now more than ever.

Please God, don’t make me turn out to be like them!

So, you’re thinking, “Oh, I get it. He didn’t want to turn into an old guy, so now he’s playing at being a chick.”

Such a convenient rationale. And so very, VERY pat, my dear, DEAR Freudian readers. After all, the universe revolves around penises, right?

Well, it’s also total bullshit.

The fact is, for me—and let me repeat that—FOR ME, the uselessness of my natal maleness had simply overwhelmed me. And over the past four years, watching the unbelievably toxic, dangerous, and completely illegal activities of the Trump presidency has destroyed any sense of residual connectedness to older, straight, cis men.

So, you ask: How much of an impact does all of this have on my journey as a transchick?

Maybe not a whole lot, all in all. But some. Absolutely some.

I mean, stop and think about it: The best man I know is a 30-year-old trans masculine person, who is truly one of the sweetest, kindest, most honest, most decent, and yes, most manly humans I’ve ever met. (More on him in the future.)

Man, I’m up to something

Ooh-dee-la-dee-doh

Thank you all for comin’

 I hope you like the show

‘Cause it’s on a budget, so ooh-dee-la-dee-doh

Yeah, come on here we go, yeah, come on

Here we go!

But where?

I’ve spent too many years running in place. As a fake male.

When I finally stopped running, my truth exploded out to my wife, and then to my daughter, and then to people I hoped would be supportive. I knew that everything past was prologue, as Shakespeare wrote in The Tempest.

I’ve finally come to sense myself as more than just a person with a penis, albeit one with almost no actual connection to that penis. I’ve actually come to recognize, accept, and cherish the female essence inside my consciousness that had puzzled me for so long.

It hasn’t happened without consequence. I’ve splattered the emotions of some completely innocent lives—people in my family who knew me and loved me as someone whose inauthenticity was simply no longer sustainable.

But the next few months are going to be amazing. So much has changed, and continues to change. My life is completely unrecognizable when compared to what it was just a year ago.

Yes, it’s been a hell of a ride.

And it’s not over yet.

Bang! Bang! Bang!

I’m way too young to lie here forever

I’m way too old to try, so whatever

Come hang

Let’s go out with a bang

Bang! Bang! Bang!

Here we go!

 

PART FOUR 

 

“So the Lord God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up the place with flesh. The Lord God then built up into a woman the rib he had taken from the man.”

–Genesis 2:21

So that’s how woman came to be. (Well, at least according to an old book known as The Bible.)

Adam’s rib.

Created as sort of a second thought, to be a companion for the first dude.

Eve? Good girl! Sit down. Roll over. Spread your legs. Fetch a 24 oz prime ribeye grilled to a perfect rare-plus. And wash my fig leaf. Oh, and dust out our home under that bizarre tree with a snake in it.

WHO’S A GOOD GIRL?!

Well, not me.

I’m definitely not a good girl.

So, then the question: Who the fuck WILL I be?

As I trudge ever so slowly toward actualizing my feminine soul, I wonder if I’m stepping into a role that has traditionally been marginalized by every culture on this completely misogynistic planet.

Will I feel compelled to mute my expectations and my ferocity because I now identify as female?

I want to finish my journey to femalehood so badly that I ache. I mean REALLY ache. Physically ache.

What exactly am I getting myself into? Although, actually, the “getting” part is now pretty much “gotten.”

At the same time, I occasionally suffer from bouts of deep, deep depression and self-doubt. Not dysphoria, exactly, but close. I ask myself, “What the fuck am I doing?” or “Is this reallywhat you want, Steph?”

Still, I know that the doubts and worries are all part of the process. Because the answer to that last question is always yes. Yes! YES! My aching fuck, YES!!!

I do want to finally live as female, wholly. Completely.

I want to morph into a really valuable female who says and does important things with the rest of her life. Not that I believe myself to have been a complete fuckup during my years as a presenting male—because I absolutely don’t feel that way—but now, hopefully, I can achieve something that really matters to ME.

My life is unbelievably happy for the most part. I love living alone in my cozy condo, surrounded by things I love. My books. The other artifacts of my former life—my comfy furniture, my grandmother’s grandfather clock, my wine, my art, my new clothes and cute shoes.

Some male things, but now female things as well. I feel more complete. WAY more complete.

And as I write this, I’m just a few days out from getting facial feminization surgery—quite handily initialized to FFS. It’s an acronym that stands for something that is hugely important to many of us male-to-female trans people. Our faces and our bodies will finally align with the surging and throbbing females in our souls. Sounds over the top, but that’s how MY soul feels.

My surgery is going to be about as drastic as it can get. It includes a brow reduction, whereby the prominent ridge across the area right above my eyes is flattened; also, my hairline will be advanced down a bit to more resemble a female’s growth pattern. I’ll also get a rhinoplasty, one that I desperately hope will shave away my old male nose and replace it with something I can love and be proud to have inhabiting my mid-facial area.

(I’ve hated my nose since I was 13. When I first saw myself in profile back then, I remember being horrified.)

My jaw will be shattered and reconstructed into a more female-like iteration, and fat will be removed from that procedure and inserted in my upper lip so I can finally have the sensuous, plump lips I’ve always wanted.

I’ve had Juvederm injections in my lips before, and afterwards my wonderful plastic surgeon told me they were “luscious.” She may have been right, but truth to tell, I want them still luscious-er.

I know.

It might sound like, to some, that this transchick is trying to achieve a miraculous transformation from male dreariness to female yumminess by either cutting and slicing and chopping or pasting and gluing female-like parts to my male body in an effort to achieve an always-somewhat elusive illusion of womanhood.

Ummm.

As I wrote earlier, I AM a female person. And I’ve been a female person for as long as I have drawn a breath, even if it’s taken me decades to fully realize that. I just wound up in a body that has no relevance for me. Some transgender people call that incongruence.

But if I’d been born 15 years ago, instead of more than (covers hand with mouth to muffle actual age) years ago, and had parents who actually had some sense of empathy for me, and who would have recognized the gender tragedy that I was, and acted appropriately by getting me into therapy, and put me on puberty blockers for a year or so (not to mention socializing me as a girl), much of this corporeal carpentry work may not have been all that necessary.

But no, that did NOT happen. Not even close. My real parents would have disowned me.

That process didn’t happen to me because, when I was growing up, transgender people didn’t seem to exist. Keep in mind that when I was a sweaty, pimply teenager, the ONLY transgender person who was widely known was Christine Jorgensen. She’d started life as a male, served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and sometime in the early 1950s, found doctors who were willing to surgically transition her into a female.

But she was regarded as something of an oddity. She lurked around the edges of show business for a few years, found modest success as a singer on the cabaret circuit in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and lived a modest life. When she died in 1989, in relative obscurity, her pioneering life was of note only because she was one of the first to break the gender barrier.

Like I said. An oddity. A man who had actually chosen to become a woman.

Can you fucking imagine that, Ethel? Why on EARTH would a MAN choose to become (gasp!) a WOMAN?!

Why indeed?

Today, young trans women who are allowed to grow into their femaleness, and not tortured with the development of unwanted muscle mass, beards, male-like bone and tissue growth, can often easily morph into adult females with surprising grace and ease. Same thing with trans male kids.

Yes, those kids might need some surgery to touch things up a bit, but the stress of the all too real body dysmorphia is so much less. SO much less.

Every day I see young trans women on social media sites like Reddit, mostly in their early 20s, who look unbelievably feminine—even without starting hormones.

It’s almost a miracle.

I’d be insanely jealous of these young people if I wasn’t so damn proud of them and happy for them.

Their young, born-male bodies are still pliable and soft, so that with just the smallest of cosmetic touches, they truly become the young, radiant females they were born to be. By adding in hormones, they become even more so. They don’t need any (or much) physical affirmation for their faces. (For the other stuff, sure—breasts, neo-vaginas, THAT kind of stuff).

I’d been in the gender affirmation program with Kaiser Permanente for just two months when I got a chance to have breast augmentation this past February. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity. I remember feeling so fucking joyous and ecstatic as I was wheeled into the operating room and I realized—fully understood—that my life as a presenting male was over. Gone. Never to be lived again. When I woke up, and touched my new breasts, I started to sob with joy. I knew they would never suckle an infant or six, or that they may never be as sensate as those of natal females, but by God, they were MINE. And when I was able to unwrap them, and SEE them, well, I was just stunned. There they were. Not huge, but perfect. And as perky as those on any mannequin in your local Macy’s or Nordstrom’s department store.

I was simply overwhelmed.

But this surgery is NOT always available to every trans woman.

Without getting into a lot of boring detail, the gender affirmation process—i.e. various surgeries—is still seen by many insurance companies as mostly cosmetic in nature. Many don’t cover all or even most of the procedures, which include breast augmentation, facial feminization surgery, and ultimately, vaginoplasty.

In recent years, medical and psychiatric professionals have convinced many insurance carriers that gender dysphoria (intense anxiety about one’s body not being congruent to one’s innate sense of gender identity) is a very real and hugely debilitating medical condition that needs the same sort of attention that heart disease or cancer or diabetes.

So now, most insurance companies do cover vaginoplasty, which is the creation of a neo-vagina out of existing penile and scrotal tissue. For most trans feminine people such as myself, that’s certainly the major component of our transitions. But, again, many trans feminine people see breast augmentation and facial feminization as equally important markers as well—and coverage is usually denied on the grounds that those procedures are “just” cosmetic.

Imagined dialogue between a trans feminine person and some health insurance agent: Okay, we get it. You need a vagina to be a woman. Fine, we’ll pay for that. But breasts? And a pretty face? Come ON. You want THAT stuff too? YOU can pay for that yourself, sis!

It’s an ongoing battle. Luckily, and I do mean lucky with all of my heart and soul, my insurance covers everything.

Back to my breasts. They would have never even been a possibility without the help of my first therapist.

Let me explain.

I started therapy in June 2019 to mainly deal with being a deeply closeted gay man—or so I thought. I sensed that other issues were also in play, issues that I couldn’t put a name to. I’d always been uncomfortable in my male body, and I didn’t consider myself to be an “authentic” male—that I’d just never been good at playing the role of boy/man. The gay part I understood. Gender incongruity was something else—way more fuzzy and vague.

After listening to me sob for weeks about my emotional torture, this therapist put into words my up-to-then vague (yet lifelong) confusion about my gender otherness. He simply told me, “You’re a woman.”

At first, I thought he was out of his mind. But within minutes—yes, minutes—I knew he was absolutely right. In fact, he was spot on.

I was—AM—a female. That was my “A-HA!” moment. It sounds facile, but there it was.

Those words and that revelation really did save my life. I have no doubt that if I hadn’t gotten into therapy at that time that I would have quietly swallowed 50 or 60 Oxy tabs and dimmed the lights for good. I was seriously just a couple of days away from that farewell.

I can’t explain the sense of relief that washed over me. My spirit was uncaged. My dark, dark, dark secrets and fears were washed clean. I breathed the pure clean oxygen of a snowcapped mountain summit. Oh, and the tears started. I cried all the time, well into the fall of 2019.

Mostly I wept because I felt as if my soul was finally free from all of the internalized homophobia and transphobia that I’d stored in an emotional cargo ship o’ crap that I kept docked in my poor, sad, dumbass. almost-dead being. And I cried because I finally came to understand why I thought I was such a shit-specimen of a male, and why it’d been so fucking hard for me to dig deep enough to discover the truth. MY TRUTH!!!

As hard as it might be to believe, until that therapy session, I’d truly never even suspected that I was a transgender person. I didn’t have the emotional ability to make the connection between my dysphoria and my gender identity.

And I’ve never, not for a second since, doubted that diagnosis. Within weeks, I came to understand that I’s actually been suffering from gender dysphoria for 50 years. At least! I simply didn’t know what it was until then.

Although I felt as if I were gay from the age of 13, and because I tried so hard to deny it for decades, I simply assumed the overwhelming confusion about my inadequacies as a male was related to sexuality, not gender.

With that said, my sexuality has been evolving ever since I started my journey as a trans female. All of the other therapists I’ve seen in the last two years acknowledge that this happens frequently with trans people because, as our brains rewire, we aren’t stuck on binary definitions or realities any longer. They’re continuing to explore questions like, “Does sexuality drive gender presentation—or vice versa? Or is it some combination of the two?”

I admit that I’m still not able to express these concepts and issues as well as some might want me to—I DO wish I could—but again, trans people face a broad array of complicated realities. If you think YOU’RE confused, I’m fucking living it. Understanding my femaleness didn’t just arrive in a package for me to open and subsume. I’m learning a little bit each day about how to be a better female than I ever was as a male.

So, am I ready to be a woman? A year ago, I would have laughed at the question. I didn’t honestly think I’d ever arrive at this point in my life. But now, as I ready myself for facial surgery to eliminate the last bits of my presentational maleness—of my persona as Steven—I can easily answer that question in the affirmative. I dress like a woman, I think I look like a woman (at least people tell me that I do), and I’m now starting to consider my role as a woman in our culture.

I absolutely want to get it right. You may have noticed that up until now I almost never referred to myself as a woman. Female, yes. Woman, no. That’s because being a “woman” was a concept that I wasn’t yet sure I could wrap my head around.

See, I was born, whether I like it or not, as an XY person–I was socialized as a male, and grew to resemble a male. As I wrote before, I never played with girl stuff, and had no sense of femaleness at all except that I kind of envied them. Girls, to me at least, seemed happier and less weighed down by middle-American expectations.

I don’t pretend to completely understand the basic life force of women—that specially charged group of ions and electrons that make up a natal female person. And up until just recently, I didn’t think I could ever—in good conscience—refer to myself as one of them.

But that’s changing. The more I navigate my ordinary, everyday life dressed as one, and the more I interact with other woman as a female, I’m beginning to sense there might be less of a chasm between them and me than I had imagined.

Obviously, being a woman is way more than having a lot of surgeries. But for me, right now, the surgeries will completely sever most of my physical ties as a penis-person. I suppose it boils down to my reflection in the mirror; if I see a woman staring back at me with all of the physical female attributes, then I will BE a woman.

As another example, I love my new, smooth, ripped gut that I attained when I underwent a tummy tuck last November. And yes, ripped IS the right word. I have some abdominal definition I never had before. And I’ve got a brand new belly button! My old one was updated during surgery. This is SO appropriate, because a new navel signifies yet another severed connection to my birth as a (gasp!) boy child.

I’m also becoming hairless on my face and in my genital area. ALL of the hair down below has to be incinerated by way of electrolysis so when surgeons perform my vaginoplasty, they won’t have to worry about a follicle or two winding up in my new vagina. That’s a really bad thing to have happen, I’m told.

Yes, there is dwindling evidence of me having ever been hatched as a male. After my facial surgeries, there will be even less. And, when my sad little penis and testicles are turned inside out and the flesh repurposed, almost nothing of the male me will have survived. Right now, I hope to have bottom surgery by the end of this year or early in 2022.

My god, I’m almost home.

My FFS will be uncomfortable as hell. I know that. But I’ll be in the care of a trans masculine guy from Tennessee who’ll live with me for a week. I’ll be in great hands. Yet another special queer soul I’ve connected with in my journey as so out and so fucking proud. More about him in future scribblings.

The most important and most pertinent question of all, is this: When all of the cutting and pasting is over, am I still going to own the shredded, angry, terrified soul of my past pretend-male life, or am I going to evolve into the very best version of a female human I can be?

All I know for sure is that as my confidence grows and blossoms, as the result of my decisions to transition and live my life as a female, I have way fewer qualms than I did before about who I was, who I am, and whom I want—no, EXPECT—to be.

Oh, and I can absolutely assure you that I won’t ever become the stereotypical version of femaleness or womanhood who was apparently created to keep Biblical Adam company.

I am not, nor have I ever been Adam’s rib. Nor has any woman. What fucking nonsense.

 

Stephanie Haskins is hard at work on the next chapters of  “The Transchick Chronicles,” and we’ll bring them to you when they’re ready. Sign up for our e-newsletter here to be alerted when they’re published. Stephanie can be reached at .

 

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