Augmenting reality

Jen in her hospital bed

Waking up after surgery with my cuddly hippo

I’m aware I’ve been neglecting the blog a bit, but I haven’t really had much transition-related news to write about recently…  I think things have slowed down a lot because there’s not much left to do!  Last week however, I took a big step forward and went over to Manchester for breast augmentation surgery.

My breasts, or lack thereof, have been one of the main sources of my dysphoria over the last year.  That’s probably because I’d been able to fix many other areas (Adam’s apple, facial hair, etc) but never had much luck with breast growth.  Any weight I put on seems to go straight to my bum, which is nice but leaves me a little lacking up top.

Since going full-time 15 months ago I’ve been pretty much permanently wearing super, mega, triple-cup-boosting A cup bras to give my chest a bit more shape.  The observant bystander might have noticed that my breast size would change dependent on the bra I was wearing, or that sometimes the bra would go for a wander and reposition my breasts to right up under my chin.  I also felt I needed to avoid low-cut tops as any visible parts of my chest would be completely flat.

A breast augmentation seemed like the natural next step, so I started reading up online and talking to private surgeons.  I was particularly interested in if there would be any differences in the procedure due to me being transgender and not having much breast tissue.  I was aware that some surgeons might require a transgender patient to have had lower surgery first (as this can cause hormonal changes which might result in breast growth) or have been full-time and/or on hormones for a certain amount of time prior to surgery.  One reason I waited until this year to explore options was because I wanted the letter from the Gender Identity Clinic saying I had been diagnosed as transsexual before talking to surgeons.

I chose a surgeon who had good reviews from other transgender people, and had an initial consultation which went really well and made me much more confident about the procedure.  The surgeon completely understood my motivation and was able to answer all of my questions.  We discussed my goals for the surgery and, as I wanted a natural look, he suggested anatomically shaped implants rather than round.  He was even able to take a series of photos and create a 3d computer model of my torso, to which he could apply different shapes and sizes of implant to show me how they would look.

A few days after the appointment I phoned up and was told there would only be a two month wait if I wanted to go ahead with the surgery, so I booked it in!

We had a second consultation two weeks before the operation date, where we finalised implant size and shape and the surgeon was able to answer all the questions I’d come up with since the last appointment.  I had also talked to the endocrinologist and counsellor at the Leeds GIC to check they were ok with me going ahead.

The surgery went well and, after a night in hospital, I’ve had a quiet week at home in bed to recover.  It’ll take a few months for everything to fully settle down, but overall things are just a bit uncomfortable rather than painful, so that’s good.  Hopefully it won’t be too long before I can get measured and find out what cup size I’ve come out as.  Looking in the mirror though, I think I can rest assured that I won’t be needing my A cup bras anymore🙂

Transitioning at work

Jen dressed as a cow

On my way to work, dressed as a cow

It’s been a year since I did the whole full-time thing, so I thought it might be about time to write a post about transitioning at work.

I know a lot of people who keep their work life and trans life separate, but when I did this I started to get frustrated and felt it was holding me back too much in my transition.  Making the change definitely wouldn’t be the easiest thing to do, but the desire to progress made me decide to push myself outside my comfort zone. 

I did need a few things to fall into place before I felt able to proceed however:

1) Being comfortable in my environment
I changed jobs in late 2013.  While I could probably have transitioned in my previous workplace, I don’t think I would have felt comfortable.  Starting the new job enabled me to be more open about myself, but even then it took me two years to feel comfortable enough to come to work as a girl.

2) Confidence
One of the problems with transitioning at work is that there is no place to hide.  I have up days and down days, everyone does.  But when I’d just gone full-time, and was lacking in confidence and full of self doubt, it would make it a lot worse that I was sitting in the office while feeling this way.  I waited to go full-time until after I had done a lot of other, smaller steps to build my confidence.

3) Expectations
I did try and reinforce the idea with my colleagues that I wasn’t a different person and didn’t need to be treated any differently.  All I was doing was changing my name, and then wearing clothes which would match that name a bit better.  Thinking about it in this way meant I wasn’t piling unmanageable amounts of pressure on myself to be something else.  I hope this attitude helped my colleagues adapt to the changes as much as it did me. 

Before I transitioned at work people used to tell me I shouldn’t be afraid and it’d soon feel normal.  That used to frustrate me a bit as I thought they clearly didn’t understand the fears that were in my head.  Funnily enough, if someone were to talk to me about it now I guess I’d say the same thing.  I couldn’t have imagined it with all the worrying I was doing beforehand, but after a few months it had stopped feeling different.  I can barely remember now how things were before!

Welcome to the Care Pathway

Roadsign pointing towards 'Transition complete'

Looks like I need to take a right at the next roundabout

After my diagnosis back at the start of the year, I had a sit down with the Gender clinic counsellor to map out where I go next.  There’s a number of services they can offer, so they wanted to find out what I might be interested in.  The choices went something like:

Vocal training
I declined this as I’m not that bothered by my voice at the moment.  And if I was, I think I’d be better off spending some time working on it alone at first.

Laser sessions
I already had 8 sessions on my face last year, so there’s nothing much left to laser😉

Hormones
I said yes to this one!  So I’ve ended up at the back of a waiting list for the hormone clinic (a waiting list… who would have thought?!)

Lower surgery
While this is technically an option, it’s not something I’d be eligible for this year so not really worth stressing over for a bit.

Although there weren’t that many options that the clinic could provide, one of the nicest things about this meeting was that it highlighted to me just how far I’ve come.  It really doesn’t feel like there are that many obstacles left on my transition roadmap after all🙂

Five things I’ve realised since going full time

Jen in 2012, and again in 2015

Now and then… Real hair vs blonde wig

Before doing the whole ‘full-time’ girl thing I worried about a lot of the big questions.  How would work react?  How do I go about changing my name?  What would I do if people used the wrong pro-nouns?

I realised these worries couldn’t hold me back forever and I had to go ahead with what was right for me, so I did.  Since then however, I’ve discovered quite a few other things that I hadn’t even considered before.  So here are five random things I’ve realised since going full-time…

1) When your hair is the same as your first wig
It’s taken me a few years to grow out my hair, going from a number 3 all over to shoulder-length.  I’ve also spent a fair amount of time and money making it (and trying to keep it) blonde. Looking in the mirror recently,  I realised my appearance is pretty much the same now as it was when I first started out… in my £17.99 blonde wig!

2) Women’s toilets aren’t all that
I can imagine some people go through life and never see inside facilities ear-marked for members of the opposite gender.  For some reason I used to think the ladies loos would be a stark contrast to the smelly men’s.  Some kind of luxurious, carpeted, toilet temples no doubt.
Well they aren’t…
And the queues are usually way longer!

3) No more impromptu nights out
There was a time I could grab a jacket and head out if I needed to.  These days going out requires a good deal of planning in advance, and the evening starts long before I leave the house.  Things were simpler in the past, but not nearly as fun😉

4) Communal changing rooms
Back at the start of the year I was wondering about some kind of keep-fit New Year’s resolution.  Maybe I could join a gym or take up swimming.  Then I realised communal changing rooms could present some challenges… I think I’d rather avoid that situation at the moment.

5) Accidental factual inconsistencies
I’m not embarrassed about my past, but there are times when I don’t really want to get into that conversation.  It gets kinda awkward when I’m halfway through some witty anecdote about my childhood and I remember the punch line revolves around the fact that I went to an all boys school.  Either I bail on the story, or get a bunch of confused looks from my audience.

Transbians?

Jen and Jen at an event

Out with my girlfriend. Image ©Warren Archer

I was at the theatre earlier this week watching a show which explored faith and sexuality.  A questionnaire was handed out to the audience, and one of the questions asked if you identified as LGBTQ.  It’s not the first time I’ve been asked that question, and it’s always tricky to get me to give a straight answer (there’s probably a pun in there somewhere!)

I’m definitely a T, but being T is not mutually exclusive of being L,G or B (and I’m not going to get into the transgender is a gender not a sexuality thing right now…)

I used to go out with a guy and I identify as female, so that would make me straight.  But now I go out with a trans girl.  Both of us identify as female, so are we lesbians?  But I’m not that into cis-females, and both of us are trans, so would we call ourselves transbians?  Although that would perhaps suggest I’m only attracted to trans people, which would not be true.  So maybe I’m not an LT, maybe I’m bi?  Am I a BLT:/

There are plenty of other words out there I’m sure which could be better used to answer the question, but I’m not that fussed about labels.  In fact, this year I think I’m giving up labels for Lent.

A day in the life of a transgender person… Jen style!

Jen in hopefully eighties-esque style

In my defence, I was on the way to an eighties party!

Back in December I kept seeing the same article popping up on Facebook and Twitter.  It was a summary of ‘a day in the life of an ordinary trans person,’ and discussed the distress that the author felt on a daily basis just going through her normal routine.

Now don’t get me wrong, I can empathise completely with a lot of the things she said.  And I’m very aware that I’ve perhaps had things a bit easier in my transition when compared to some other people’s situations.  But ultimately I found the article to be a very negative and bleak read, and this is a trend I’ve noticed in a lot of the trans-related stories online.

It is definitely important to publicise the struggles that trans people face, that’s the only way we can raise awareness and make change happen.  But I do worry a bit about the affect this can have on people at the very start of their transition.

I went through a long period of feeling very lost and confused.  I was scared about how coming out as trans could impact on my life, I worried that it was wrong and should be kept hidden.  If I had read at this point that going fulltime would mean I would get stared at everywhere I go, be abused and laughed at in public, and generally treated as a lesser member of society… Well, it probably would have taken me at least a few more years to bite the bullet, and made my decision an awful lot harder.

It’s important of course that people aren’t naïve and that they understand that many things will change.  But, for me at least, going fulltime hasn’t made things that different.  If I were to write a ‘day in the life’ article it would go something along the lines of:

0630 – Wake up, grumble a lot, crash around my room half asleep and get in the shower.
0700 – Quick splurge of makeup, I’ve got the routine down to 10 mins now.
0900 – Start work.
1200 – Lunch.
1700 – Go home, eat, snooze on the sofa in front of trashy tv.
2200 – Sleep.

I guess my point is that it’s just a normal day.  Yes I still struggle with confidence, hate talking on the phone and sometimes feel awkward in toilets, but most of the time things are pretty mundane and the fact that I’m trans doesn’t really feature.  There are many transgender people out there just living their lives, and it’s a pity that it often seems to be the more discouraging, depressing aspects of being trans which get all the air time.

Officially transgender…

Jen adopts a thinking pose

Just before Christmas I had my third and final Gender clinic assessment.  The first two appointments had been with a counsellor, whereas this time I was in with two doctors as well. Once again, they dug deep into my past to look at my journey to this point.  I could see them building up the picture as they probed different areas… When did I start feeling this way?  How did I respond to puberty?  What was my relationship like with my you-know-what?

At the end of the appointment the doctor confirmed that I have a diagnosis of Transsexualism, and they’ve subsequently sent my GP a short document explaining the diagnosis and summarising my physical, mental and social health.

So what does this actually mean?

The diagnosis hasn’t come as a surprise of course, although I suppose I might feel some validation now I have a more official looking note in my medical records.

The main change is I’ve been moved from the assessment stage to the Gender clinic care pathway proper, although the doctor mentioned that there isn’t actually much they will be able to offer me as I’ve done most of it myself.  They have a hormone clinic I can attend, and then after a year of hormones I might be eligible for lower surgery… and that’s about all that’s left!