Another in our series featuring first person narratives about personal LGBT-related issues and experiences.
By Joanna Wagner
LGBT Perspectives TV & Film Critic
SAN FRANCISCO — Recently, someone in an online group setting made the comment, ” Why on earth would one put themselves through all the changes of transition if they weren’t going to have GRS?” It really pissed me off because I’m a member of the group no one talks about — non-ops.
In 2007, I had been in transition for a couple years. I think like most of us, I saw sexual reassignment surgery as the holy grail of transgender womanhood. I would have had it on the spot but for a major obstacle. In addition to gender identity disorder, I also had end stage liver disease (ESLD).
ESLD is bad, very bad, but it doesn’t mean you’re at death’s door. It means you’re going to be faced with a number of serious symptoms that range from minor ones like jaundice to things that are life-threatening like liver cancer. One of my major symptoms was a clotting disorder; if I started bleeding, there was no guarantee that I would stop. My hepatologist said, “The only operation you’re having is a liver transplant.” That wouldn’t happen for three more years.
Legal change of gender seemed to be beyond my reach because at the time California required proof of SRS to obtain one. The DMV had no problem with it, but my bank did. I’d heard that it was possible to get both name and gender change, but it depended on the judge who heard your petition. Those in San Francisco were not so inclined. It looked like a name change was all I would get.
I went to the Transgender Law Center for help doing the paperwork and explained my situation. One of my attorneys thought mine would be a great test case for changing the law. They devised a strategy. My part would be to get notes from my doctors explaining my situation. The reasons included the possibility that I could find myself in an early grave before I could have SRS. The judge who heard my case decided that I deserved an exception to the rule and granted me a legal change of gender. I found out later that my case was an important part of successful lobbying efforts to change the law in California. Now we no longer need “appropriate surgery,” only “appropriate treatment” to effect gender change. HRT is enough.
After the transplant, I was eligible for SRS, but I wasn’t in a hurry to have another major surgery. Two years after the liver transplant, I developed a new problem: debilitating pain due to spinal stenosis. Another major surgery was needed if I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair. Again, SRS would have to wait.
I started to question my initial decision to have SRS. I have never hated my body. I tend to play the hand that’s dealt, and the negatives were starting to accumulate. Because of the transplant, I would be taking immuno-suppressant drugs for the rest of my life. My immune system would be forever weakened, and a vaginoplasty would be a new point of entry for pathogens. I also figured out that I like girls (though I am flexible) and my current equipment might not be such a bad thing. I recently learned there will be more spine surgeries in my future, so I decided against SRS.
This is my story, but there are many other people with similar experiences. Just not wanting to do it is a good enough reason in my book. It doesn’t make non-ops any less transgender.