[Description: a human figure with breasts and long hair wearing a red long sleeve and navy blue pants, has grey skin, a wind up key in their back, and they’re flopping forward with their arms hanging down. Above them is a battery icon with only a small amount filled in all in red. This is supposed to signify “low on power”.
Taken from: https://www.liebenswert-magazin.de/burn-out-dann-hilft-eine-therapie-mit-vitaminen-499.html ]
The third month post-op was exhausting. I wasn’t informed how exhausting it was going to be. After two months at home with the occasional exertion outside, I was expected to be healed enough to start working again. And still be dilating three times a day. While I was overjoyed to be finally out of the house doing stuff and back to work, I would often come home and collapse into bed or on the couch and veg because I was so exhausted. And it was a struggle to get 3 dilations in a day.
My work day would look something like this: wake up, eat breakfast, make supper, dilate, shower/douche/clean, head to work. After work, I would crash, dilate, drag myself to the bathroom, bathe, and go to bed. It was very difficult to get a third dilation in there. And it was getting harder to dilate. When I said that I wasn’t able to dilate three times a day to my healthcare team, I was promptly told how important it was. And was suggested that I dilate the moment I got home, then dilate again a couple hours later before I went to bed. But that was a challenge I could rarely accomplish. It was just too exhausting to work then do two dilation sessions. And on top of work, I had a lot of writing projects (like this blog) I was neglecting. Namely, the SSHRC applications. On the days I didn’t work, I tried to focus on writing and getting in that third dilation. It was a challenge and exhausting. Dilations became so difficult that I could barely get the smallest dilator in. Then I bled one day and I found dilation easier. Over those next few days, I found little bits of goop in my bath water and was fascinated by it.
Dilations really never got any easier. I cheered when I began my fourth month that I was down to twice a day officially. This meant that I had a little more energy and thus could do more. But with the ability to do more meant that I was taking on more things again. Work, writing, parties, events, organizing. I took on the same level of stuff I would have done pre-op but without the usual level of energy. I estimate that I was (and still am) running on about 50% of my usual energy. So with all the things I was doing, it was hard to do everything I wanted to do. Writing piled up. Chores went undone. I’m fortunate that I have kin that has been continuing to do care work for me. And I’m fortunate that I’m not doing a PhD right now. With the amount of work I’ve seen my kin do in their first year of their programs, I doubt I would have been able to work at that pace with the amount of energy I have.
Dilations became harder and more painful. I was (and am still) terrified that it’ll end up closing up. My depth and width wasn’t very extensive and I felt like I had no way to stop it from happening. I felt inadequate because my vaginal depth wasn’t extensive and I was surrounded by all these post op trans women who boasted how much they could take. I mean, great for them. But it really doesn’t make me feel good about myself. At the same time, I knew that cis women don’t obsess over their vaginal depth. They just accept it as is. Neo-vag are less stretchy and don’t open as easily which is why post-op trans women obsess over vaginal depth… But it also creates a hierarchy. Instead of who has the biggest dick, it’s who can take the biggest dick.
The thing that I realized about being post op: there really isn’t a guide for troubleshooting what to do when things aren’t going so smoothly. While my vag was healing, the tissue that had previously been infected was confirmed to be granulated tissue. It reduced with time, but I was told that I needed to think seriously about applying silver nitrate soon. For those who don’t know, silver nitrate is used to chemically cauterize/burn flesh. It would burn away the granulated tissue and thus improve my healing. The pain from silver nitrate was described as “stingy” by my healthcare team. …So I planned for intense pain. As of the time of writing this, I have not undergone the silver nitrate and am treating it like a tattoo session; I’m bringing something to bite down on, chocolate, water, and someone who will let me dig my nails into their (gloved) hands.
It sucked (and still sucks) being exhausted all the time. Even though I live in a house of disability scholars, I felt like I was a burden and unproductive. My mood dipped during each dilation and it wasn’t uncommon for me to be in pain after a dilation. It took a while for my body to stretch enough to accept the smallest dilator and I stopped measuring how long I dilate. If I continued to time myself, I would never maintain what depth I could. The only thing that lifted my mood enough to function was (and still is) chocolate. This had an impact on my health. For the first time in my life, my cholesterol was elevated. Even though I identify as fat and subscribe to fat politics, I didn’t like how I gained weight. Some of my clothes no longer fit well and I wanted to lose those few pounds so they fit again. I felt (and still feel) ugly and even more undesirable. Because my vag is still healing, I felt like I’m broken and that Dr. Brassard was right. Fat people have slower healing times and bad results. But then I had to remind myself that I received sub-par post-op care and my healing time was delayed due to the UTI and topical infections that went untreated for a month and a half. I wanted to be able to do what I want again. I wanted to be able to swim. I wanted to cum. I wanted to be able to touch my body and feel like that it’s mine.
Even though I’m happy to have had surgery, I felt weird about it. I don’t know anything about having a vulva. I don’t know how it works, how to care for it, how to experience pleasure. I’ve been experimenting, learning, and asking people, but I wish there was more I could read about it. I’ve learned from cis women who’ve had hysterectomies and vaginismus. There is just so little information out there for post op trans women. I found this and just recently, this. Even though I’m part of an online support group for post op trans folks (only women at this point) who’ve gone to Brassard, it doesn’t fix all the gaps in my knowledge. Like, how do you orgasm post-op? How do vulvas work? Is it normal for there to be so much goop? How do you stop all that goop from soaking through your underwear and ruining your pants? Is getting soap in between the labia a bad thing? Does my vulva look normal? Does it smell normal? Is it too smelly? How do vulva owners sit on things naked without leaving ooze everywhere?
I’ve had to come to terms with the differences between my body pre and post-op. My brain is still trying to get around how things are in different places. What felt like my testes are now my labia. And the glans is now my clit. And when I flex my kegel muscles, it contracts the anus, vagina, and makes my clit move. When I get aroused, it feels like I’m getting a hard on. I can’t connect to my body well. I’m often sore and dealing with random shocks (which I’ve heard from trans men is a thing they get) as nerves re-connect. It’s sore and I have to torture it constantly with dilations. It’s hard to feel sexy and aroused when everything you do feels like it’s medically necessary. It’s also hard to associate penetration with pleasure when your not-dealt-with sexual abuse history makes life taste like ash. I’ve bought some sex toys and tried them out to varying degrees of success. But I just can’t seem to feel amazing and whole.
Saying all this negativity doesn’t mean that I regret surgery. I just hate where my life is at the moment. I’m so tired and I want it to be over with already. This is the sacrifice that I must make. The only thing I wish is to have been better emotionally prepared for surgery. There’s so much focus on knowing what to expect medically from the surgery, but nothing about the emotions. It’s hard to measure the emotional impact, but I wish it was better supported.
One thought on “Months 3-4 Post Op”
Thank you for writing this amazing blog and sharing your story. I’m thinking about going into the medical field (mental health) and – while I was aware of how it was difficult to get surgery funded – the lack of medical knowledge about post-op trans bodies was something I wasn’t fully cognizant of. Additionally, your article made me realize how there must be a lack of accessible (in all senses of the word) counselors who would be able to counsel someone on the psychological impacts of surgery. I will have to keep this in mind in the future,especially if I do end up going into that particular field.