I’ll tell you how an RBMK reactor explodes

“Sex” by Cheat Codes
Do it on the counter, we’ll fuck for hours (let’s talk about sex)
Any way you want it, you can have it
Talk about sex, baby
Do it in the shower, pussy power

“This Woman’s Work” by Kate Bush
I should be crying, but I just can’t let it show
I should be hoping, but I can’t stop thinking
Of all the things I should’ve said
That I never said
All the things we should’ve done
That we never did
All the things I should’ve given
But I didn’t
Oh, darling, make it go
Make it go away

I was holding my breath for a week.

I still acted like I had a dick. I wouldn’t let myself look at my vagina. The packing felt like it was just tucked, I was just in “too long of a tuck” and I was sure the instant the packing was gone, my dick would be back.

The packing came out. Oh my god it was like a clown-car. Just kept going and going and going. And then it was out. And then the catheter was out. And then I peed, with my junk in the configuration it should have been in for 43 years. And it was amazing. I didn’t cry yet. Then the PT person came in, and we dilated. I had a mirror to hold up to my vagina. Seeing it, that was intense.

In the car on the way home from the hospital, I drove. I felt so good. I felt like me, a new me, in a way I had never imagined. Mental barriers that I didn’t know existed came crashing down left and right. Certain behaviors that were “wrong” when I was a boy, I started to realize that they were right, they were default, they were “just how it is for a girl.” Wearing a bikini. Wanting to be seen, wanting guys to want me, wanting to be a mom. I don’t want to be essentialist, but girl let me tell you.

To have these mental loops in your head playing for your entire life, suppressing things, even when you have transitioned, still suppressing things and behaviors. I couldn’t talk like me before. All of a sudden, without effort, I started to be able to talk like me, how I knew I always should have talked. To have that mental bandwidth suddenly freed up by this situation. My mind grasped for an analogy.

The only thing I could see was technicians trying to avert some crisis. Desperately flipping switches to try to save the situation. And they can’t, because some of the switches are too small for their fingers to flip, little dip switches. So they get out the tweezers, but it’s not fast enough. And then in walks the doctor, with a giant flat piece of plastic, and just flips all those switches from “off” to “on” with one motion. And then the day is saved. More than that. A day that has never existed before in the history of the earth now exists for me.

This torture loop of “this thing I’m doing right now is not what a woman would be doing” is gone. I don’t have to think that any more. I don’t have to metathink about the thing that I have to hide any more. This is the biggest gift anyone could ever receive. Is this what it feels like to be a human being? Oh my god. I have been missing out.

I cried so much. This could have happened years ago and I would have been pain-free. Girl, let me tell you that it couldn’t. It took the length of time it needed to take and not a second more or less.

Innie

If you’ve read this blog, you probably know that I put a lot of personal details out here. There are three reasons for this: One, I think adults probably are used to dealing with pretty tough topics. Two, I hope that by putting a bunch of this out here, it will start to be de-stigmatized. This is normal stuff, human being stuff that all of us go through. Just different stuff for different people. Three, I really do appreciate and need your help, kind of now more than ever.

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That said, if extreme realness isn’t your bag (and I don’t blame you) probably best to stop reading here.

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OK.

If you are still with me, here’s what’s up. On February 8, 2022, I am having “bottom surgery” or “genital reconstruction surgery” or “gender confirmation surgery” or “gender reassignment surgery” the last two names are pretty problematic for a number of reasons. In any case, I am getting my “outie” turned into an “innie”. It turns out that women’s and men’s sex organs are mostly embryologically very similar and/or develop out of the same tissues. So… they are just going to put things back to how they used to be.
The thought of this surgery used to horrify me. I thought they “cut off your penis” or something. It turns out it is quite delicate and they are able to preserve sexual function. You can have the same level of fun afterwards that you had before. Usually more so because you’re not ashamed of your junk.
For my entire life, I have felt ashamed of my body, and this is a significant part of that shame. I am so excited for this to happen, and also quite scared. There are serious complications that can happen, many of them quite gross and painful, and in some very rare cases, death can happen. I hope that I have little to no complication, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take, in order to be me.
I know that not every trans person wants or needs this kind of surgery, and that is completely valid and they should be accepted absolutely as the gender they present as. In my case, this is a life-saving surgery. My mom is coming to Denver for six weeks in order to help me recover. In some ways, this is sort of like a second birth, and I’m so grateful that she can be here.
If I could go back in time to December, 2019 and talk with my pre-pandemic, pre-transition self, and tell that person that this was going to happen, I wouldn’t. They would not be able to deal with it, they were still firmly in the closet. On the other hand, if I could go back in time and tell 8 year old me that I would be able to grow up to be a woman, I think that person would probably break down crying tears of joy, because that is all they wanted. They wouldn’t believe how it could happen, they’d be very sad about how long it would take, and the emotional and physical pain involved.

Threshold

The first time I injected myself with estrogen, a wave of calm washed over me within 20 minutes. I was driving to the UPS store to drop off a package, and I had to pull over into a parking lot half way there, because I thought I was going to pass out from the feeling of joy. For my entire adult life, my brain had been flooded with a hormone that made it think and feel in ways it was not built to. It was immersed in what, for me, is a poison. Estrogen broke upon the shore of my consciousness like an orgasmic tsunami of encapsulated patience and joy. There is no way to describe the feeling other than being able to drink a cold glass of water after crossing the hottest desert you can imagine surviving – for four decades. The person who injected herself with estrogen that day had no idea what the future held, but she was no longer afraid.

Five minutes after I jumped

Who I am is deeply connected to September 11, 2001. The image of those people jumping out of that building. They were trapped between something so terrifying they had to jump, and the terror of the hopeless jump itself. I lost 140 pounds not very long after that, because I realized that I had been given a gift, and I couldn’t waste it hating myself. After I lost the weight, I remember a very specific time, on the corner of two streets in my trailer park, standing there thinking, “if you can do that, you can be a woman.” Then, the terror of the two places I was trapped between forced a decision. I stayed in the burning building for fear of the jump. I stayed there for 20 more years.

Last week, when I saw those people at the Kabul airport, so terrified of something that they would cling to the side of a C17, knowing it would go to 40,000 feet and there was no way they could survive, still desperate to escape the terror. And then falling to their death, I thought again about September 11, and of jumping off that building. I’ve jumped, and I’m still in mid-air. I’m sure the ground is rapidly approaching. The terror of free-fall trapped me in a reality where I was forced to lie to myself and others, or risk losing everything. I chose to lie. Now that I’m being honest, no one believes me, I can see it in their eyes as they pity this confused soul and strain to… deign to, call it ‘her’.

DC82A40CD16773F13D9C085394B17FF856CB9574

When I was a child, I was enamored of the babysitter. I wanted to be the babysitter. Specifically, I wanted to be a girl. I felt a strong affinity for the feminine. As I grew older, I learned to suppress this feeling. There was no way to change who I was, and I thought “nature doesn’t make mistakes like that”, and “you’re a boy, be happy being a boy.”

As I got older, the girls started changing and I was jealous of them. I hated my body. I rejected my body, first dressing in baggy sweatpants and sweatshirts to hide it. I was depressed. I had no idea why. I saw a child psychiatrist, who diagnosed me with seasonal depression. I’m sure there’s a seasonal component to it, but I was depressed all the time to some extent. Now I realize it is because I hated who I was – physically. I started to over-eat as a self-medication for the depression, but also because I hated my body. I was punishing the body I hated.

After college, I decided I needed to stop being depressed and overweight, and I started eating better and exercising. I lost 140 pounds. I started dating girls for the first time in my life. I started really loving my life. I felt good.

Fast forward 15 years… I’m married, I love my wife, I love my job, I love where we live and our life together.

But.. I had fallen back into a severe depression after a particularly traumatic job experience, and the horrifying and soul-crushing experience of losing my dad to cancer. I started dressing all in black, every day. A uniform of grief. I gained a bunch of weight again. I started vaping. And then the fucking Coronavirus hit. I needed to do something to kick myself out of my funk and get healthy again, so I started running again in March, 2020. Colorado is such a great place to run, there is sun nearly every day. Even in the winter, it doesn’t stay cloudy or cold for very long. I started running along the trails in our neighborhood, and started to feel happy again. I stopped vaping.

And then one day in April, I was running along the High Line Canal trail and started to remember my wish to be a gender other than the one I became. I thought, “maybe my name is Lisa.” I started wearing women’s running clothes, and I felt good in them. Outstanding, actually. Confident. Feminine. I started to think about other appearance changes. I cut my hair in a specific way, with the intent to grow it out. I started dying it – first, gray. Then gray and blue. Then all sorts of fun color combinations. I started wearing brighter colored clothing. Running further and faster every day.

I came out to my wife as genderfluid and non-binary. I was terrified of doing this, but I had to. I am extremely thankful that she took it quite well. I am definitely still attracted to women. I also am at least partly a woman!

I started painting my nails – this was a big deal for me, because you can kind of explain away hair color, but there are certain gender signifiers that are less easy to explain away, and makeup is one of those things. Painting my nails felt liberating. I felt closer to who I actually am. I am slowly coming out to people at work, and they have also all been supportive. I love where I work, and I love my colleagues. I started wearing eyeliner and mascara. I am not sure where it goes from here. I feel like a tomboy. I am athletic, I like camping, knives, motorcycles, shooting guns, but also makeup, and I’m starting to care a bit about fashion. This is quite a change for me, I always rejected fashion, much as I rejected my body. Now I’m rejecting less of myself, and I’m only sorry that it took me 40 years to get there.

Today, I went to Costco with painted nails and eye makeup. I got compliments. I have gotten probably 20 compliments from random people over the course of this journey so far. I think this is because I’m confident, and people see that. I never, not once, got a compliment about my appearance from anyone other than my wife or family in the preceding 40+ years of my life. This is interesting, and maybe it’s because I’m letting the real me be seen.

Pain, Depression and The Winter

I recently took a work trip to the San Francisco Bay Area, to attend a conference.  The trip, the conference, the people, were all great.  I enjoyed it, it was uneventful.  A number of people at the conference started to fall ill toward the end of the week.  The day after I returned home, a Saturday, I got a high fever and started to have flu-like symptoms.  I stayed in bed that weekend and the first two days of the next week.  The aches, pain and fever of the flu turned into a sort of general late-fall malaise that stuck with me the rest of the week.  By Friday afternoon, it was warmer weather (the 50s), but rainy.  I was so worn out I had to go and work from home – I could not be in the high energy environment of the office.

Earlier in the week, my wonderful and caring wife had left town for a conference of her own.  I was home alone, and started to feel really low.  On Saturday, it was cloudy, colder and gray.  I woke up with a terrible cough and took some cough syrup.  I started to get odd, sharp pains in my neck, back and left arm, very sharp and atypical for my normal migraine symptoms.  I thought I was having a bad reaction to the cough syrup.  The pain was so unusual, I did not identify it as migraine related pain.  The pains would last for 5-10 minutes, and recur every 30-45 minutes.  This was like the worst ice cream headache you can imagine, but behind my left ear and eye, and in a way that’s almost indescribable, simultaneously very distant and immediate, like it was happening to someone else and being transmitted from them to me.  The pain was metallic and so intense I could taste and smell it.  In the afternoon, the weather changed rapidly, the wind started blowing, and it snowed.  Finally, at about 10 p.m., the pain was so unbearable I decided it must be migraine related.  I took my migraine meds and fell quickly asleep.  My migraines have always been tied to weather, so far as I can tell.

Today, Sunday, I awoke feeling better – it was a clear day.  By 10 a.m., the wind had really picked up.  I started to feel dread and panic.  Not depressed- downright panic and fear.  I took some deep breaths and decided to take a drive across the valley to calm my mind down.  That actually worked until the sharp, odd, intermittent pain that I had the day before returned.  I went home and took more migraine medication.  I fell into a deep, dark depressive funk.  All my lifelong friends, and my parents, were in Iowa.  My wife was away and I needed a hug terribly.  I felt I had made a very bad mistake leaving home to come work in Pennsylvania.  I wanted to run but couldn’t because the pain was so intense.

I came to a sudden realization: This panic, depression, fear and anxiety were all related to my migraine.  It was a mental manifestation of some neurochemical cascade that was in progress in my brain.  While I could not control it, I could try to understand it.  I had experienced a panic attack before, and my friend Ryan had picked me up from work and drove me around and talked to me to calm me down.  While few things in life are as terrifying as a panic attack when you have no one around to help you through the fear in a rational way, I had succeeded at understanding this reality.

I still find it incredibly strange and unfair that specific combinations of sunlight or lack thereof, heat or cold, and changes in atmospheric pressure and wind can trigger such intense chemical reactions in my brain and the rest of my body.  At times, I am nearly powerless before the cruel tricks of serotonin and norepinephrine.  This realization gives me more tools to fight back, so long as I can remember: it’s the genetics talking, and it will go away if I give it time.

I’m looking forward, intensely, to Thanksgiving with my wife and her family in our house.  I’m looking forward to driving home in December and spending a couple weeks with my parents and wife, and seeing old friends.

The Part of Me That Could Cry

All text and images copyright (c) 2013 by Nicholas Roy. All rights reserved. No duplication or reuse without written consent of the author.

Gilbert Street, Iowa City, Summer
Gilbert Street, Iowa City, Summer

I remember crying easily as a child. When a grandparent or family friend died, I remember crying for a long time. In high school, I remember sobbing in the stairwell because I got a C. I had a long bout with depression between the ages of 8 and 22.

By the time I was 25, I was dangerously overweight, from eating, from the depression. I remember thinking: I’m going to kill the part of me that is sad. I don’t know how I did it, other than to say that through some force of will, I stopped being depressed, and I lost about 140 lbs. I have kept the weight off and have not been depressed for over 10 years now.

Evening summer sky above an Iowa prairie
Evening summer sky above an Iowa prairie

This afternoon, I came the closest I have since been to falling back into that despair. My wonderful wife is across the ocean doing her research. I have not been able to hug her in over two months, and there is more than a month left before she is back. I’m in a new place, with a new job. The new job is the hardest I have ever had. I’ve easily been able to think my way out of tough spots in jobs before, but this new one challenges me in ways I have never been challenged before. I miss my wife, my parents and my friends.

The sun sets over an Iowa tallgrass prairie
The sun sets over an Iowa tallgrass prairie

This afternoon, I missed Skyping my wife because of a dumb problem at work that really isn’t a problem. I haven’t Skyped with her in nearly a week. I missed her going to bed by 13 minutes. I know, because I have the Facebook chat record to show it. I was driving home when she messaged saying she was going to bed. I was so angry at myself for missing this chance to see her face. I was so angry and so sad. I felt the welcome point of a dark gray cone of despair1 puncture my sternum from the outside, the point pressing against my heart. I felt the tears well up inside. I let out a muted shriek of disgust and pity.

And then it was gone. I did not cry. I could not cry. I had killed that part of myself in order to save the rest of me.

My Parents' Garden
My Parents’ Garden

1 Dark gray cones of despair are about 8 inches long, with a vertex angle of roughly 10 degrees.  They are nicely Gouraud shaded.  Yes, I saw the cone.  It was a “Donnie Darko” moment.