The surgery. Nearly everyone with a trans friend or family member has broached the subject. It is usually done whilst discussing one’s transition, their personal journey crossing emotional, legal, physical, social lines to move from one perceived gender to another. “Are you having the surgery?” “Have you had the surgery?” Sometimes though, it is touched upon during heated arguments, especially when coming out to an unenthusiastic family member or friend. “What about risks and/or costs of having the surgery?” “You realize the surgery is mutilating your body and what nature/God gave you?” So often trans people are reduced to one question. Transition can take 2-4 years for basic aspects, such as passing but 6-10 years for a person to really feel comfortable. And as many of us find, we are forever works-in-progress. We learn so many lessons about life, culture, and ourselves, but our lessons go for naught. Our 6-10 years worth of therapy, fighting state and federal government red tape, hormones, new emotions, unresolved conflicts coming to light, more therapy, tears, doctor’s visits, potentially other surgeries, changing relationships with the world and loved ones, failing to meet our own expectations, letting go of those expectations, heartache, surrender, and even more therapy are boiled down to one question. And that one question applies to only a fraction of us and is in regards to body parts the asker will never see.
SRS(sex reassignment surgery) aka GRS(genital reconstructive surgery) aka “bottom surgery” is supposed to be a personal milestone. It is something akin to coming out, passing for the first time, getting a corrected birth certificate, or beginning HRT(hormone-replacement therapy). And just like any personal milestone –be it getting married, having kids, finding a career, or traveling across seas– for some, it is in the mix and for others, it simply isn’t. Corrected birth certificates, hormones, and “passing” happens for some trans folk but not for others. So not every trans person has the surgery. It doesn’t mean they are incomplete or unfinished. It may mean that they are pleased with the equipment they have or are unhappy with the risks and costs of major surgery. There are so many unforeseen factors. Bottom surgery is not a measurement of one’s transition or trans-ness.
This last statement is important, and deserves repeating for emphasis. Sex reassignment surgery is not a measurement of one’s transition or trans-ness. More and more state and federal government agencies are putting policies in place regarding trans people. But they are, knowingly or not, trying to measure the “gender” of someone. They are putting expectations of one’s transition in place. (After all, we have to be a country with some semblance of rules, right? What kind of world would this be if people walked around with their free-thinking minds to govern them instead of
arbitrary* rules. In a place where robots do what they’re told without question, it would be anarchy for sure.) Even with newer awareness, these expectations are still based upon the old antiquated ones. When no one asks and “your physician determines what is clinically appropriate,” the language thinly veils what is implied. Either you are “just beginning” and are on hormones, or you have the tenacity to be a serious transgender by having the surgery.
Living in North Carolina, I have been asked about surgery and my genitalia no less than six times in four visits to the DMV. When it comes to government mandated surgery, it is nothing less than genital normalization surgery and nothing more. If cis(non trans) men walked into the DMV to renew their driver’s licenses and were asked if they had surgery to ensure their penis is of certain size range and they have two testicles, state employees would be getting hazard pay. If in the process of correcting typos on birth certificates and social security cards, cis women were asked about the size of the labia, lawsuits and sexual harassment complaints would be taking up the majority of the government’s time. And government employees would be getting hazard pay. But sexual harassment of trans people isn’t just legal, it’s policy. I had a state official call me from Raleigh to ask me about surgery and lecture me on the importance of genitals. He then followed it up with an email. This is all legal in the name of ensuring one is actually trans. The bizarre part is that until my last visit, I never spoke of what was in my pants. I merely asked why they were using such criteria to discriminate against trans people and the legality. (Sidenote: Don’t threaten the authority of a white cis male, especially in the South. And especially if you’re a “tranny.”)
It is my sincere hope that trans people get to reclaim bottom surgery as theirs again as government agencies at all levels release language that would even imply surgery or a completeness to a lifelong process. And as we move forward, people gather a greater awareness and cease asking their trans friends and family members about it, focusing on support and just being there. Please, hear our stories, listen to our struggles, and rejoice in our victories. I would apologize for this post being so angry, especially since this topic is something so sacred, but life is about having mixed emotions. The tears must come with the clenched fists, and even those must be followed by laughter.
Love and blessings,
PS For those interested in changing your NC documents, your physician’s letter MUST read “has had appropriate clinical treatment” or “has had all appropriate clinical treatment.” If you are interested in fighting for the rights of trans people in NC, don’t give money to Lambda Legal or the ACLU of NC. They do nothing for us here.