Saturday, October 26, 2013

THE INTERVIEW

as some may recall, I have been publishing pieces of my life story piece by piece for a while.  after the 20th question, I said that I would put the entire first part of THE INTERVIEW up.  well, here it is...dor anyone who wishes to read.  there is a second part to this, and it my be posted in future updates.



My name is Amber Dunham. I am part of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gays, Bisexual, Transgender) group. I am straight but do believe in LGBT due to my beliefs such as 'do what you want as long as you are not harming anyone else.’ I am interviewing one my mother's friends that had a complete sex change under the category of transgender of the LGBT essay that I am writing.

I will be interviewing Alexis. Alexis is from the Iowa City area and the questions I will ask, she will hopefully be willing to answer. If she feels uncomfortable with any of my questions, I will allow her not to answer them.

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As I begin, Amber, let me discuss the words ‘transgender’ and ‘transsexual.’ The two are not necessarily interchangeable, though they often are used that way. And I am sure I will use both terms during this interview.. In my view, a ‘transgender’ individual is one who feels like they belong to the opposite gender, yet this is more of a mental state or feeling. A ‘transsexual’, on the other hand, takes on the physical attributes of the other sex…..and this is more of a physical nature. And neither of these are necessarily associated with another common term, “transvestite,” which refers to someone who prefers to wear the clothes typically associated with the opposite gender (although the term is generally assigned to males who like to wear female clothing much more than females who wear male clothing). All transgender people will not become transsexuals, and I would also guess that someone could become a transsexual without being a transgender, but highly unlikely…. There is actually a newer term that is seen occasionally, and indeed one of my physician’s refers to me as a ‘trans woman’ in his reports.

When you get into the topics of sex and gender orientation, there are so many more terms and phrases that can enter into discussions,  besides the more typical terms such as “gay,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” and even “gender queer” (sometimes referred to as “gender non-conforming”) who is someone who does not readily identify as either male or female.  For the purposes of this discussion, we won’t need to define those, as non of them really terms that would apply to me at this point in time.

Let me also add right here that many of these questions are interrelated, and as a result, there may well be some repetition from time to time.  It will be difficult for me to keep everything separate as we go from question to question.  I will try to keep my thoughts from wandering.  But this has all been such a major part of my life from the early years to even the present, and I have many feelings to express in many ways.  This should, however, be an interesting experience for both of us.  

1) When did you consider yourself being a transgender?

I’m not sure when I first became familiar with the words "transgender or transsexual." I did know from as early as 5 years of age that I wished to be a girl (whatever that exactly means). Yet I also have a vague remembrance of being caught wearing my mother’s nightgown at maybe age 4. I remember praying many nights that somehow when I awoke  I would be a girl….. Or that maybe somehow my mother would suddenly decide to raise me as a girl. I wasn’t even really aware that a sex change operation was possible until I saw a magazine article in either Look or Life magazine during my teenage years.
Yet at that young age I certainly did not consider myself transgender…..golly, I didn’t even know the word existed. I actually thought that there was something “wrong” with me. After all, normal boys didn’t have feelings similar to mine, did they? I kept my feelings to myself because I didn’t want people to think I was crazy or something. I tried to be “normal” and did my best to act like a typical boy, but I never really wanted to play the games that the guys did. Out of the corner of my eyes I was always watching what the girls were doing, and wishing I could be one of them. Overall, I did a decent job of bluffing my way through life, but in trying to keep “the real me” secret, I resorted to being somewhat of a loner. This, in the long run, caused me many problems in the years ahead.
Beginning at an early age, I would beg my parents to let me stay home whenever the rest of the family would go visit other relatives or go shopping.  Even an hour or two alone was very beneficial to me, as it opened up the opportunity to be my other self for a while, dressing in the feminine clothes that were available…..which were generally my sister’s clothes.  While this might have been good for me mentally, in the short term, it also began to build up barriers between my other relatives and me.  And whenever I couldn’t get out of going to family events, I would never really be with the men or the women.  I often found myself sitting by myself, closer to the women than the men.  I wanted to be close enough to hear what was being discussed in the kitchen or at the dining table, and not in the living room watching sports.

As the years went on and I was living alone, I continued to avoid many family events for the same reason.  I also did the same with those individuals whom I met at work or elsewhere.  Whenever someone wanted to come over, or invite me to join them in some activity, I would find a way to always be busy.  By now, however, I was also drinking very heavily.  Very heavily.  The psychological stress I was feeling at this time in my life was becoming mentally draining.  My thoughts of becoming a female began to preoccupy my mind, and the best solution I had at the time was to drink myself to sleep.  I was still very afraid to let anyone find out this weird thought that I had in my mind.  At the same time I was still not able to accept the idea myself.  I was being torn apart mentally.  And it goes without saying that all of this desire to be alone hampered the development of my social interaction skills, and even to this day I can have a lot of acquaintances, but very few close relationships. 

For so very many years I struggled with what was a major conflict in self identity.  It went right to the heart of not only who I was, but what I was.  The turmoil left me with a very low self esteem for many, many years.  I truly hated myself as I struggled with this, primarily because I continually felt that there was something truly wrong with me, and I couldn’t understand or accept it.  Or maybe I just didn’t want to.  Either way, I was miserable, and continued to withdraw so I could be alone with myself, and drink my troubles away.  Surprisingly all of my alcohol consumption didn’t really affect my work all that much.  And ever since an incident in Ames at one time when I barely made it home when I was riding a drunken motorcycle, I did most of my drinking at home--alone.  The biggest problem with all of this time alone was that I was primarily talking about my feelings with myself, which simply led to a circular pattern of thinking…..round and round in circles, and never really going anywhere.

Should they ever do a sequel to the movie “Home Alone” and feature my story, it would not be a pleasant one to watch.  Oddly enough, I actually look back in retrospect, and wish I would have been able to somehow videotape all of it, as I think those recordings could be made into an extremely interesting psychological documentary.  

When I was alone, I never actually did much except sit, drink and think.  Since I really didn’t like myself at the time, I bought a large pad of paper, and wrote these huge notes to myself.  I was not complimentary.  I would put them up on the walls and doors, so they were always visible when I was either sitting there or walked around the house.  I did slowly begin to reach out to others, either at local crisis centers, GLBT lines, or on the internet.  I truly did have some very rewarding conversations with others, yet I still struggled.  I was still grasping at ways to make “my secret” go away, but it just wouldn’t.  

One thing that is so common with those with thoughts and feelings similar to mine was also an expensive practice.  For me, and others, the feminine clothing is an important part of our lives, despite the fact that we so often have the idea that this just isn’t normal guy behavior.  We like to buy lots of clothes.  Many of us, however, eventually try more than once to just stop dressing in the hope that the desires will just simply go away.  If I recall right, I threw away all of my female wardrobe about 3 times.  This ritual is commonly called “purging” by the trans communities.  It never lasted more than a few weeks, and then I would start to go shopping again.  Eventually I simply decided to stop doing that and save my money.

Sorry, got a little sidetracked there.  Back to my time alone and what sort of existence I lived for so long.  One day or night I remember being on the telephone with someone from the local crisis line when I heard something so simple, yet amazingly beneficial.  The conversation at the time was about my inner struggles, and how it was making my life plain miserable.  I had mentioned different ways I had tried to bury my thoughts of becoming a female, when the woman on the phone simply said something like “Why don’t you just find a way to live with the idea?”  Like I said, so simple, yet it turned my thoughts toward ways I could live in harmony with my two selves……at least for a while, until I could  determine which part of me was going to become dominant----although I sort of already knew.  

I did seek out counseling locally more than once.  The biggest challenge that I faced was finding someone who felt competent in working with me.  I could find those who would like to help, but they weren’t qualified, and wished me luck.  At that time there weren’t many therapists in the country that truly had much experience in working with transsexual or transgender people.  We aren’t exactly a large group of people.  If I was going to find someone with that background, I was likely going to have to travel to Minneapolis, St. Louis or Chicago…….and I just didn’t have the time or the money to travel like that, so I tried to work with a couple of therapists here locally at the time.  It really never worked the way I hoped, so I continued to call various crisis lines and seek out chat rooms or the net.  I actually found that more rewarding, but it wasn’t until I finally reached a point where I could begin to talk with people in person that I could get a better feeling of self esteem and social acceptance.  And, actually, once I began to open up to others, it is really amazing how fast things accelerated for me.  In less than two years, with some special help from one particular person, I had the confidence to plan the transition……and follow through with it.


2) I was told that you were married once before when you were a man. How did this decision of being a transgender affect your relationship or did it? Please explain?

Interesting question….. I did tell my wife before we were married that I liked to dress as a female, yet I am not sure I made it clear how deep my desire to transition.  I’m not even totally sure I knew at that time where this road was going to end.  I was still trying to figure out how I could somehow become “normal,” and be like any other guy. Perhaps, like me, she thought that this would go away in time. She at first went along with the dressing, and we would occasionally go out at night to a large discount store, or to a McDonald’s or something like that. I dressed freely at home, at least when there were no foster girls around, and it was fortunate as we actually could wear the same sized skirts and sweaters….. She even made me a few skirts. She was a fantastic seamstress, and I used to lay out and cut out her patterns for her. She even tried to teach me to sew, and I could do fairly well on an A-line skirt---until I got to the zipper…..after a few tries to get it in right, she finally told me she would finish it before the skirt was ruined----I quit trying to sew after that, but continued to cut the patterns for her. However, as our years together moved along, my desire to transition grew stronger, and I went to the University of Minnesota to be evaluated by a psychiatrist in their gender clinic (at my wife‘s suggestion), and left Minneapolis quite frustrated as I was diagnosed either as a severe transvestite or a mild transsexual….but there was nothing definitive that I could grasp onto. As the years continued on, we gradually grew apart and  eventually parted on mutual terms. She had come to realize that I was not the “man” she thought she had married.  I had finally concluded that the idea I harbored in my mind was not going to go away, and that I should let her go and start the next chapter of my life.  She wanted to start a family and I had no desire to be a father by that time. We really had no sex life during the years we were married, as I never had a desire to act as a male in a traditional male/female relationship.  The little sex life we had consisted primarily not of intercourse, but her bringing me to a climax----which she did for some reason…..I don’t know, maybe she felt it settled me down in one way or another.  I know---it was selfish on my part, but the stress was building within my mind, and the relief was soooooooo beneficial.  Basically, we should never have gotten married, but we were great roommates…… I deeply regret anything I did that might have hurt her, for she was a really great person……………..and I know that hindsight now makes me regret ever having gone through with the marriage. I should have known better, but, remember, I was still grasping for anything that would make me feel “normal.”


While my attempt to get married and hope for a normal life may not have been the best decision I have ever made, unfortunately it is a very common occurrence with those individuals who struggle with their gender and sexual identity.  This is true in all areas of the gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans (GLBT) communities.  Do we enter into these relationships out of any malice?  No, that isn’t the case.  Those of us who deal with these inner conflicts at various times in our lives are simply struggling to be accepted, to fit into the mainstream of life and not feel stigmatized as someone who is different.  Some of us are able to have stable relationships lasting many years, but for others, eventually the reality of who we are becomes an acceptable reality, and we decide to follow a different path.  I have to chuckle when I hear anyone say that “someone decided to become gay, or lesbian, or anything similar to that.”  I’m sorry, but that is rarely the case, and though we are who we are, most of us had some difficult periods in our lives as we came to our self realization, and the times were often difficult to deal with.  For me, though I can now look back on my struggles and reflect on them, I would not wish something like that on anyone.   

3) How did your family and friends react?

It is common knowledge within the trans community that the decision to finally transition is not without many challenges and difficulties.  From my readings on the internet, I was aware that beginning this new lifestyle could lead to the loss of family, friends and  employment.  I also was aware of the potential for physical harm that can come from some individuals who hold certain beliefs.   For these reasons, many people who transition simply quit their job and leave their friends, choosing instead to move to a new city in their attempt to start a new life as a member of the opposite gender. I did it the hard way. Maybe I was lazy, I don’t know. I simply decided that I was going to do this transitioning right where I was and just hope it went well.

Overall, many reactions were not very positive. Well, let me clarify that a little. When you have grown up and have lived among people, be they friends, family, or co-workers, they become comfortable with the image that they see of you. When I finally found the courage to transition from living as a male to living as a female, I wrote a two page letter based on a similar letter I found on the internet that someone else had used, and had given permission for others to adapt for their own use.  I tailored the letter to fit my situation.  It explained what I was going to do, why I was going to do it, and when I was going to do it. I mailed out, or handed out, about 250 of those letters. It was actually a very well written letter and I received many comments on it, however, in some circles it did not go over well. I would say that my true "friends" accepted the change and stood by me. Many people whom I had thought were friends began to distance themselves, so they likely were not true friends anyway. I was let go from my job of over 18 years “because I made mistakes.” Not one person in my family, however, initially offered any positive comments or support. In fact, my mother originally told me I could not come to see her dressed as a female. I was prepared for this.  My mother eventually relented and tolerated the change, as did some of the other family members, and we would eventually even go out in public together after that.  My sister and I also go out for brunch or lunch from time to time, and she has resolved many of the initial conflicts I’m sure she initially had.  And in time certain family members eventually have accepted the transition but the subject is never discussed.  I am still not generally invited to any family functions, outside of those from my sister, and that may well be due to the separation that I kept from them for so many years.  But maybe not.  I am not sure I will ever truly find that out, and I can live with that.  I was somewhat encouraged when one of my second cousins, and much later two of my first cousins, have requested to be friends on Facebook, but we rarely if ever communicate.  One first cousin simply contacted me by email.  I was totally caught by surprise with the two who come from my father’s side of the family, as I haven’t seen them in a very long time, and they really had to do a little research to even find me. 

When I comes to friends, I also lost many who I felt were friends, but realized later that they actually weren’t when they fled.  It really wasn’t different from the way family reacted, and for the same reason.  I still have some friends from the past whom I see at coffee on the weekends.  And though there are many who are no longer comfortable around me anymore (like they think I have a contagious disease), I have also had the chance to meet so many new people who can willingly accept me as who I am now…..and this applies to people of all ages.

The major problem or challenge that I faced in accepting my alternate persona, or in transitioning, was simply the fact the I wanted others to like me, although I realize I made it difficult for them to do that.  I simply didn’t want others to hate me, or think I was strange.  So I kept to myself for so many years as I tried to make everyone else like me.  But on the other hand, in doing this, I made myself and my life miserable in the process.  It wasn’t until I began to open up to others that I was able to be convinced that I should put myself, and my own happiness first, and let everyone else make their own decision.  This was very hard for me to do, as I simply did not think that way.  But by that point in my life I also knew I needed to change something.  I was aware I could not go on much longer living the way I felt.  It was my “living hell.”  And, to be honest, I am really surprised I was able to keep living as long as I did.  The timing of these certain people who entered my life was so critical…………………..I have no idea how I found them, or they found me, but I will be forever grateful for their wisdom, insight and support. 


4) Since you work for a Government contractor, how did your manager, supervisor and co-workers relate to you?

I had already transitioned and had been living as a female for almost a year before I applied for employment where I work now, so the company knew what they were hiring. I had been referred to this company by one of the people who knew me prior to my transition and was working there, simply for the reason that discrimination of the basis of gender identity was not allowed on this government contract.  She was confident that I would get a fair shot at gaining employment, which was not something I felt when I had previously applied elsewhere.  In retrospect, I would have to say that my managers and supervisors at work have stood by me, supported me, and allowed me the opportunity to grow and develop into who I am today.  I am fairly certain that I was thoroughly discussed before the job offer was even extended to me, which I can understand.  I was going to be most likely be their first transgender employee.  When I began work there I was not necessarily welcomed with open arms, though I was accepted. Initially there were few people who would even talk with me, preferring instead to watch and see how I presented myself. I understand, because I was new…..I was different.  You know, it was almost 6 months before I would even eat lunch in the lunchroom with the other employees, preferring instead to go to my vehicle and eat there.   And there were some individuals who tried to make issues out of such things as my usage of the female restrooms, but the management and human resources department held firm, and as time went on I gradually began to become increasingly more accepted as who I am, and I have to say that my past has never been a problem for me in any way. By the time I was ready to undergo the sex reassignment surgery (SRS), I had a lot of support from other employees there. And it has continued to grow from there…..and interestingly enough, some of the people who originally raised the restroom issue became much more receptive to me once I had the SRS surgery….  I think a lot of the initial reactions from others were simply due to the novelty of my situation.  I am well aware that for many people, I am the first transgender individual they have any experience with.  And it is for that reason that I have continually made the conscious effort to try and present a positive image, so that others like myself, in the future, will find their transitioning process easier.  The impressions people form of me will make a difference in the future. 

Looking back over the last six and a half years I have been working there, it would really be hard for me to have chosen a better employer.  Actually, I really would have a hard time finding a more accepting area of the country in which to transition.  The combination of the workplace environment and the community itself has given me the opportunity to grow and develop in a comfortable and accepting atmosphere.  In my public ventures I do not often have any fear for my safety or well being.  At work, I have been able to move up through the ranks over the years based on merit itself, and I now hold the position of Supervisor and oversee a team of approximately 20 individuals. These days there is actually little discussion or concern about the fact that I am transsexual/transgender. I have become a fixture and I don’t draw the attention that I did in the past.

I attribute a lot of my success there, and in my new life, to the simple fact that I have been fairly open and honest about my past and how I got where I was.  This level of openness  surprises a lot of people.  And I the long run I have no doubt that this has been a positive thing for me.  I am telling you now nothing that I wouldn’t tell anyone who wanted to take the effort, and spend the time, talking with me about my life.   


5) Did you come out and let your work place know that you were transgender?

I didn’t need to say anything….people figured it out.  There are some people who transition that are actually so much like a genuine girl that they never have to say anything.  I’m not one of those people.  When I went through the sex reassignment surgery, I had the finances for the basic surgery.  I did not have the money for the cosmetic surgery that can make acceptance easier.  I couldn’t afford the facial reconstruction, the throat surgery, or even and rib-cage surgeries.  No one has ever come out and asked me directly whether I was a transgender or transsexual person. And, in reality, very few questions have ever been asked of me about the subject.  But I know the keen observer will always look twice, but in my case, my confidence with my female role will generally overcome that. I have always been very open about the situation with anyone who was curious, and likely some that were not. When I started to plan for the SRS, however, I did tell a few people, whom I am sure told a lot of others, so that was no secret. I am certainly not ashamed of anything I have done and have always felt I could do more good for others of similar feelings by being open and honest, and trying to be a good role model for the transgender community. This long overdue decision has likely been the best one I have ever made. I am very conscious of the fact that I am the first transsexual the majority of people there have ever come in contact with, and that people will form opinions of transsexuals based on how I act in the workplace. I rarely bring the topic up either, but from time to time I will when talking with some individuals who I know are accepting who I am.  And interestingly enough, I have had so many people tell me that they simply can not ever picture me as a guy.  My attitude and demeanor go very well with my new life as Alexis.  I have been so totally amazed at how smoothly this transition to a new style of life has gone.  I knew I had watched other girls for years, and read the magazines, and looked at the ads in an attempt to learn as much as I could.  But I never imagined it would be this easy.  I guess maybe I studied the right things.

That isn’t to say that some situations have arisen that didn’t pose challenges.  Occasionally, for example, there are people who deliberately or accidentally refer to me as  “he.”  When that happens I have to make a quick decision whether to bite my tongue or to say something.  It’s like any other minority-----you have to pick your battles.  Confront too much, and you are seen in one light, yet if you don’t challenge occasionally, you are seem as weak and wimpy.  I remember a couple instances from work that have arisen over the years.  The first one was when I was relatively new, and taking telephone calls.  When we didn’t know what to tell the person on the phone, we called the “help que” which consisted of our senior representatives and asked them for guidance..  One of them continually referred to me as “he” even though we had never met, and she knew better, and I finally grew tired of it one day, went to my supervisor and explained the situation…and it never happened again.  Another time, several years later, I attended a sexual harassment training, and someone was here from another site conducting it.  The training itself was excellent and presented very well. Then at the end the individual made a joke about guys in dresses, which I am sure many people thought was cute.  I didn’t.  I went back to my desk and fumed for a few minutes, and then I went to out Human Resources department and explained my frustrations.  The next morning I was asked to go to HR, and there was the guest from the other site, who wanted to apologize for his comment.  I was totally amazed, and it just went to show the commitment of the company to their diversity policies.  But on the other hand, there are times when you just need to let a comment go for the moment, and hope for better times in the future.  Most people are basically good, and mean no harm, and they can and will change in time.


6) When did you decide to get the breast implants? 

Interestingly enough, when I first transitioned, I had no intention of having any type of surgery at all. People who transition from one gender to the other can do so in various degrees and stages. It is not always necessary to have surgery if you are simply going to live in the role of the opposite sex, which was my original intention as stated in my letter that I passed out. However, about 18 months after I had transitioned, I began to become unhappy with what I saw in the mirror after I took my silicone breast inserts off night after night….I looked like a ‘boy’ again and I didn’t want to look like that anymore.  My breast inserts were of good quality, and looked well, and as time went on I began to get increasingly more comfortable with my new appearance. So I made an appointment with a plastic surgeon and made the arrangements to have the implant surgery done.  That initial appointment, while positive, was not without some disappointment.  While I was there I found out that I was not going to be able to get the size breasts I wanted, primarily because of a previous surgery I had done at one time, which limited the available skin in which to place the implants on one side.  Additionally, it didn’t help that I had always been so thin.  So, the surgeon and I basically just made an agreement that he would insert the largest implants that he safely could with the available skin, and that he did.  However, at this point in my life, I would like to return to the operating table and have them enlarged--not a lot, but maybe by about 15% to 20% if possible.  Finances, however, will likely keep that from becoming reality, and I can certainly live with the breasts I have now.  

I was planning the breast implant surgery when my mother’s health deteriorated in the latter part of 2004.  On the way up to visit her in the hospital, I did tell my sister what I was planning to do, and she surprisingly voiced no objection to the thought.  I had been struggling with whether even to tell my mother about the surgery, or when and how to tell her.  As her condition continued to deteriorate, I decided not to tell her at that time despite the fact that the day of surgery was drawing very near.  As it turned out, I never had to find a way to explain it to her, as she passed on 5 days before the surgery was to take place, and to this day I will always be able to remember the day she went to a better life in that manner.   


7) Can you explain the process of the breast implant procedure?

This is actually a fairly common plastic surgery procedure in today’s society. Typically, breast augmentation procedures are done on an outpatient basis, which means that the surgery can be performed in an accredited office-based surgical center, outpatient ambulatory surgical center or a hospital. One of the most important decisions to be made between you and your doctor is perhaps the location of the incision. There are three types of incisions that may be used in breast augmentation procedures: under the crease of the breast, through the nipple or under the arm pit. Breast Implants may be placed above the pectoral muscle or below the muscle. This incision is usually done with minimal visible scarring. Another important decision is the type and size of your implants, depending on your desired breast size and shape. The most common types of implants are saline-filled and silicone-filled. 
One thing I learned fairly quickly as I progressed through my physical changes----the doctors do not do this sort of thing on credit. Insurance does not generally provide any coverage for this procedure, or the subsequent sex reassignment surgery . That means you have to pay the doctor cash up front………………….. The major reason for this is that in the early days of the Sex Reassignment Surgery, there were no guidelines on who was a good candidate for procedures such as this, and there were certainly those who had such surgeries, and then decided they weren’t happy as a girl. Oh, well…….. In the case of breast implants, it isn’t that complicated to remove them……but when one goes a little further, you get into a “no deposit, no return” situation.


On the day of the surgery, you normally report to the hospital outpatient surgery department and check in. You change into a gown, and the area of the incision is marked and cleaned. An IV line is inserted. Your doctor and/or anesthesiologist may come in and visit with you about the procedure. As the time for the surgery approaches, you are given an anesthetic to allow you to sleep through the procedure. The surgery lasts perhaps 30 – 45 minutes and you then are taken to the recovery room until you awaken. You then are returned to the surgical prep area where you are observed for a few hours until you are able to get up, walk on your own, and use the restroom. After 5 or 6 hours, the area is wrapped tightly with an elastic bandage of sorts which stays on 4-5 days, and you are discharged and sent home. You are normally off work for 4-5 days, the pain is minimal, but you need to be careful of your activities so as not to pull the stitches out. The normal time off work is 4-5 days, so I had my procedure done on a Wednesday to take advantage of the weekend.
 
In retrospect, however, I believe that most plastic surgeons overlook the psychological aspects of the surgery. The procedure itself is explained, as are any potential risks. Yet I do know that for some reason I had a major psychological shock when I took the wrapping off and looked in the mirror for the first time after the surgery. My first thoughts actually were “OMG, what did I do to myself.” I am not totally sure why I felt like that, since I knew I wanted the implants. I think it was the realization that I was now no longer going to be able to take them off anymore…….but that feeling didn’t last long. Today, I wish I would have gone with somewhat bigger implants…….not a whole lot, but enough to make them more obvious. 
 
 
8) When did you decide to remove the phallus? (penis, but I have to keep this clean)

Cute phraseology….. Again, after I had the breast implants I said I was not going to have any more surgery…… Yet as the years had gone forward I gradually developed an increasing dislike for my phallus (penis), and the associated anatomy. I began checking into the possibility of surgical castration to help lower the male sex hormones and make the female hormones I was taking to have more effect. As I contacted different doctors within a few hundred mile radius of here, I ran into some interesting facts, the most primary one being that it was not something most wanted to do….for whatever reason.  And even when I found a physician, it seemed that the local hospital would insist on what seemed to be unnecessary costs and conditions.  For example, the local hospital itself wanted to charge almost as much to have it done in their facility as the complete sex change surgery (SRS) would cost.  I passed on that.  One physician that I contacted via email, however, explained to me why he would not do that surgery, and the reason was that the skin that would be removed during a surgical castration was needed for any possible future sex reassignment surgery. That made an impression, and I sat down and looked at my financial picture, discovered I had enough saved in my mutual funds for the complete basic surgery, and decided that it was ‘now or never’.  The mental anguish I was feeling was getting to be more and more difficult to deal with, and I simply knew I had to do something.  Did I know that the SRS was the right thing?  No!  I certainly felt it was, but I also realized that until you actually do it, and reach the point of no return, one can never truly know whether you will like the new role or not.  I then contacted that physician and scheduled the surgery.  In my case, the time between my decision to go ahead with the surgery and actually getting it done, was quite short.  Since there are not many surgeons who actually do the SRS, they are relatively busy, and the wait can often be close to a year here in the USA.  I think part of this may be self imposed, and I have little doubt that they just want the person to be sure they feel the right decision has been made.  In my case, this physician was going to retire soon, and wasn’t really taking my new patients, but I was accepted.  And once in the operating room, time goes quite fast, and in a little over two and one-quarter hours I had new genitalia. 

9) Can you explain that procedure?


Contrary to popular belief, the penis is not amputated during SRS. Rather, the internal penile tissue is mostly removed, but the outer skin is left attached, inverted and inserted into the body inside out as the new vagina. The testicles are removed, but the scrotal tissue is also left attached and used to fashion the vaginal lips or labia through standard plastic surgery procedures.

Here is how it happens. Once the patient has been prepped, sedated, wheeled into the operating room and anesthetized, the doctor slits the skin of the penis lengthwise from the head of the glands down to the base on the underside. The skin is then peeled away from around the penis, but since the slit only opened the penis, the base of the skin is still attached.

The penile skin is then turned inside out, much like one might turn a sock inside out. When this is done, the slit is stitched back together, creating an inverted penis, which will ultimately form the new vagina.

Before this occurs, a rather miraculous, yet simple procedure is performed. Earlier, when the internal penile tissue was removed, a small stub of tissue was left behind, still attached. This is erectile tissue, which becomes stiff when stimulated, and also carries sexual sensation.

A tiny slit, perhaps a half-inch in length, is made in the new, inverted penis near the base where it is still attached. The stub of erectile tissue is pushed through the slit, forming the equivalent of a clitoris, and providing the opportunity for complete orgasm and sexual satisfaction after surgery. In addition, a second tiny slit is made below the one for the clitoris. The urinary tube is rerouted to this second slit to create a typical female urinary opening.

Once this procedure has been accomplished, the skin and muscles of the lower abdomen are lifted up with surgical instruments, providing a gap near the pelvic bone. The inverted penis is pushed into the gap, still attached at the base, so that it hinges down and into the proper location for a vagina.

To allow for proper vaginal contractions later, some of the abdominal muscles are repositioned around the new vagina so that they can squeeze in on it, both by conscious control and also automatically during orgasm.

The new vagina is filled with surgical gauze to maintain shape, and then anchored in place with a thin surgical wire which enters the abdomen from the outside, runs under the pelvic bone, through the new vagina, back up around the pelvic bone and out the abdomen again. Once the vagina has healed in place, which takes approximately seven days, the wire is removed by the surgeon, who simply slips it out. To minimize the possibly of damaging the sutures, the new girl is then kept sedated for about 5-6 days after the surgery.

(Above description taken from the Transgender Support website)

Then after the SRS surgery, the new girl still will need to perform a certain level of maintenance on the new vagina. In the immediate months after the surgery, it is critical to keep “dilating” the neo-vagina on a regular basis. The need to do this will diminish as the years go on, but may never be totally unnecessary. The primary reason for this is that SRS recipients do not have a natural vagina as a natural girl would have, and it can, and will, have a tendency to slowly close. That is something that has to be avoided or someone will have a really serious problem requiring additional surgical procedures. The “dilating” can be done with different items----my doctor provided a set of 4 items, but similar items can be purchased at adult stores. Those fortunate enough to have an active sex life may not need any additional dilating. The important thing, however, is to keep the new vagina from closing by following some method of dilation.



10) How did you come up with the name Alexis A?

I’m not really sure.  That is actually a very good question.  I had been researching a name change and what the legal requirements were. At that time, which I believe was 2002, I had discovered that in Iowa, it was simply a matter of paying a $100 fee and filing the papers, and then waiting 30 days to see if anyone filed an objection. As it was about a month before my birthday, I decided to file the paperwork at the courthouse and have the name change become effective on my birthday. So I sat down in the office one afternoon and thought over the names of the young women I most admired at that time, and put the name together.  In reality my new name is a compilation of a nickname I have been using my entire life (which was given to me by one of my grandmothers) and the names of those two women, and then my last name.  I then went down to the courthouse that afternoon and filed the paperwork. 30 days later I had a new name for a birthday present to myself. However, when I applied for an ‘amended birth certificate’ all I received was a copy of my original birth certificate with a typed notation at the top that explained the name change----not what I wanted. So I had actually changed my name over a year before I actually transitioned, and well before I even knew I would do it. I am not sure why I  decided to change the name at the time I did, unless it was a subconscious understanding that my time to transition was indeed coming close.  I have pretty much stopped using the nickname at all, preferring to simply go by Alexis, although I have no problem with Alexis Michelle.  I am not a fan of short versions some people like to use, like Lexi for example.  I’m sorry, just refer to people by the name they wish to be known by…..and forget trying to be cute.


11) How complicated was the name and sex gender change?

This is, of course, tied in with the above question…..and I guess I have covered the name change fairly well. I am not totally sure what you mean by "sex gender change" but I am assuming it is in relationship to legal documents such as birth certificate and driver’s license and so on. Iowa is very kind to those who wish to change their legal sex. After the SRS I actually had no idea what to do about this, but I continued to research the issue on the internet. I found a website that had an email address for someone in Des Moines who worked for the State of Iowa. I contacted her and found out what I needed to do----which basically was to submit my legal name change document, and a letter from the doctor who performed the surgery, describing in detail what he had surgically done, and send it to her.  I requested a letter from my SRS surgeon, and he sent me a very detailed letter explaining all of the physical alterations he had done.  I sent the letter.  And a few weeks later I received a ‘new’ birth certificate with my new sex clearly showing, and with only the new name on the document.  I was ecstatic, and even to this day I still carry a copy of it with me in case there are ever any issues that might arise.  I was then able to take that to the Driver’s License Bureau and get a new driver’s license with my correct gender on it. I was also told that my birth records from the county I was born in had been sealed, and any future inquiries would have to go though that particular State department. I still have to have one major government record changed, as with the Social Security Administration I am still listed a male, which I know will cause some issues in the future if not taken care of. Must make a note to get that done sooner rather than later.  Aside from that, as far as I know, all major legal documents, insurance policies and licenses have me correctly identified as a female.


12) With the procedures that you went through, if you had to do this again in another life would you?

If I understand the question right, Amber, yes I would do the same thing again without any hesitation, but hopefully much sooner in life than I did this time around. I spent way too many years worrying about what ‘everyone else would think’ rather than being concerned about what I needed to do in order to be happy. I went through many years of extreme mental desperation and turmoil because of this. It was not enjoyable, and I would not wish anything like that on my worst enemy. I was miserable. I drank way too much. That decision to be more concerned about what others might think, as compared to what I needed to be happy, had me very close to either committing suicide or contemplating the act of self-castration. Not good! I gradually grew to dislike my ‘male’ anatomy with a passion, and had I not pursued the SRS surgery I am doubtful whether I would have been able to continue with life as it was.

My decision has been very rewarding for me.  In retrospect, I most regret floundering in pity---the :why me syndrome,” for so long.  The procedures themselves were not painful.  The implant procedure wasn’t bad, and pain meds did wonders in the short time it took to heal.  With the major reassignment surgery, remember I was kept sedated for almost 6 days, and was on pain meds, so I never felt any real discomfort there either.  

In my next life, however, I do not plan to have to worry about going through the same turmoil and torment. I’m planning to return as a real girl in my next life and eliminate the need to deal with this situation again.  I have learned my lesson.


13) How do you feel about God? And do you think this is something that God would 'approve'?

This is an issue many people like me struggle with. It is a difficult issue. Some of us were raised in faiths that condemned actions or lifestyles such as mine as immoral or wrong or sinful. Like the similar pressure we receive from society, it often makes us try to be someone we aren't. The problem with religious pressure is that the stakes are higher. Society's disapproval is nothing compared to jeopardizing one's soul, some feel. Transition is about living more truthfully, but many of us set up a massive deception to hide our feelings from others. Sometimes, we even deceive ourselves. When this deception is caused by religious pressure, it can create an emotionally wrenching and devastating dilemma when one realizes she has to transition. 

There are certainly passages in religious writings, such as the Bible, that can be used by some to condemn when taken out of context. The Old Testament is often quoted…….a book like Deuteronomy comes to mind right now. First Corinthians, Chapter 6, is another one. And, there are those who use those words very freely. Many fundamentalist sects here in the United States take a literal interpretation of the Bible and use that to justify hatred of transgender people, among others.

However, there are other examples where there is more tolerance. Several Palestinian pagan sects involved worship where priests would cross dress in sex-changing rituals, eunuchs known as castrati were highly respected singers in European cathedrals. Their full-throated soprano voices were considered an appropriate and inspirational form of praise to God. In many Native-American cultures, those who dressed as the opposite sex were not only tolerated, but highly respected. In some, they were considered spiritual leaders.

So, for me, I eventually distanced myself from religion, organized or otherwise, because I never quite felt that the Almighty would be accepting of someone who had thoughts that I did.. The whole process of self discovery led me to question my faith more than once. Why would God do this (Gender Dysphoria) to anyone? Why God...? is of course the eternal question. The answer of faith is that God has done nothing "to" us only for us. Our roads and journeys are unique and we work out our lives or not depending upon our faith. I have now come to better accept the notion that the “hell” I went through for so many years was an experience I needed in order to become who I am now. I have made peace with my feelings about religion, and in recent years have attended different churches, and even some pagan functions. I am not the most devout believer, but I feel that I do have a good sense of spirituality and use that as a guide to my life today.


14) I know you do not have any children but that you used to be a foster parent. If you were a foster parent today, what would you say to your foster child if she/he would ask why did you do the change?

Basically what I would say to anyone who wanted to sit down and ask about my experiences….. I have always been fairly open with everyone about this matter.  Certainly I would tailor my response and explanations to the audience, but no subject would really be off limits.  From my perspective, younger people are quite capable of coming to an understanding of the struggles I overcame.  I am certainly not ashamed of what I did, and welcome the opportunity to work on educating people about my experiences as a the transsexual, regardless of the age of the persons. I would simply try to have an open discussion with that foster child, much as I am with you, and try to explain why I felt it was the best thing for me to do.  In many ways, I firmly believe that younger people are generally much more accepting and nonjudgemental of differences and individuality than the older generations are.
 
However, the problem with me currently becoming a foster parent, which I tried to accomplish again a couple years back, is actually getting an agency to place a child with you………at least in this state. I went through the foster care training program, passed the inspections, and was actually issued a license by the state. However, the state does not place foster children in this state….. Month after month after month went by and there was no serious request to place anyone with me. I might receive a call and by the time I could return the call, I was informed they already had found another foster home. This was really frustrating, as I heard advertisement after advertisement talking about the need for foster parents in this state. I was never given a reason as to why there were no placements, but I‘ll leave you to draw your own conclusions. 
 

15) What goals did/do you have on becoming a different sex?

My major goal in seeking the sexual reassignment surgery was actually quite simple. It is hard to describe the feelings that I harbored for some many years as I struggled to live as who everyone thought I was, but I knew I wasn’t….that I was not the person I wanted to be. Self image is a major foundation of everyone’s being, and if you are not comfortable with your sex, you are going to have difficulties. I went through years of low self esteem, self-hatred at times, and many years of mental anguish.  I affectionately refer to it as “my years of hell.”  I contemplated suicide many times, and actually had a 3 prong plan guaranteed to succeed if I ever decided to go through with the notion.  But for some reason I didn’t ever lose my will to live.   During these years I grew to I detested my male parts in a major way. As I mentioned before, I had seriously thought about calling 911 and then castrating myself.   I really wouldn’t wish my experiences on anyone else, as I lived a very miserable existence for a long time. I didn’t seek the transition for sexual reasons, surprisingly, as I am fairly asexual and have been for years.  All the many years of struggle with my sexual identity led me to just deciding to avoid sex, period, save for the occasional masturbation.  Summing this up, then, it can readily be said that my overriding goal was simply peace of mind.

15a) And are those the same goals now or are they different?

Basically, yes, Amber. I have become much more content with my mental and physical being since the surgery, and I have grown and developed every day since. I made a promise to myself that I would always try and set an example for those who followed my path and transitioned to the opposite sex. 

However, at this point in my life I feel that I am ready to develop a positive and growing relationship with a significant other. By wording it that way, I realize that immediately begs the question of whether I wanted to have the relationship with a male or a female. Honestly, I can’t really give a definitive answer here. Because of the feelings that I had for so many, many years, I have never actually had a good relationship that was truly more than a good friendship. And I have never had a chance to have a relationship as a female. Because I have lived “on both sides of the street,”  I think about both females and males as possible partners for closer relationships, but I also am willing to continue with my current asexual lifestyle. I don’t dwell on the subject, and I guess I will just see what, if anything, presents itself in the future.  I have recently met some people who have exposed me to the world of porn, for whatever reason…..the primary motivation I feel is more to get me out of my shell and into the world of relationships, whether they be female or male in nature.  In the past, and as a male, I would never watch porn…I hated it.  This new exposure to porn is not necessarily all that rewarding, but is certainly a learning tool.  When I do watch, I concentrate on the actions and behaviors of the girls in the films.  I realize that porn is not necessarily a true picture of reality, but I figure that there is a certain level of authenticity there.  And with my underdeveloped sexual knowledge and experience, I guess I can learn some things about pleasing others in the bedroom. Regardless of the outcome, I know I will enter into any relationship very cautiously and carefully…….

I still struggle with relationships in general, but particularly the relationships between women and their men.  I have been fascinated with this topic for many years.  What do I mean?  It may not be easy to explain, but when I hear people talk, or see what they post on places like Facebook, the women just seem to have such a high level of admiration and devotion to their significant others.  It sometimes almost sounds like a form of worship.  It is so much different than that which men say or write about their counterparts---not meaning to say that men do not write nice things, but there is a difference here.  Maybe it’s just me, but I think I have some learning to do in this area, and if I can get into a more serious relationship, it may become more clear to me…. 


16) What would you say to others that may want to do a change?

Think hard before you do it.  For those who are prepared for the transition, the surgery can be very rewarding.  However, there is so much more to the act of transitioning gender roles than simply wearing different clothes. It is a new way of living, with different opportunities and restrictions that typically are put on us by society.  It can be a unique challenge, and one that is quite rewarding. If you mean ‘change’ in the concept of having the SRS, remember that when it comes to the Male to Female surgery, there is basically no going back. It’s permanent. Years ago, when the SRS began to become more commonplace, there were several individuals who had the surgery and later regretted it, which resulted in emotional problems and suicides. Because of this the medical community developed certain ethical standards that the majority of physicians around the world follow (the previously mentioned Benjamin Standards), though doctors in certain countries may vary them a little. Even the simple act of transitioning is not as easy as it may seem, as there are always unexpected twists that come up that you are unprepared for, and the way you handle it will make or break your acceptance in your new role. Confidence is a priority for success. You need to be able to ’think on your feet.’ And, another point to keep in mind, surgeons who perform the surgeries talked about here insist on being paid in full before the date of surgery. Sex reassignment surgery is covered by very few private insurance policies.

In order to have your transition be a success, you have to not only have the confidence, but the techniques down also----like makeup, wardrobe, mannerisms and speech. You simply can not act like a guy dressing as a girl. You won’t make it. In my mind, your worst critics, and your best friends, are the other girls. If you can demonstrate your sincerity to them, you will be accepted and respected for what you are doing, and they will welcome you. If not, your life maybe a little more challenging.

Additionally, one needs to keep in mind all that you can lose from your life when you decide to transition.  It is not uncommon to lose family, friends and your current employment.  In some parts of the country you may not be readily accepted and need to constantly be aware of possible violence against your person.  Several times a year I read of a trans person who was found dead, often assaulted and tortured beforehand.  It is sad, and a shame, but there are definitely those individuals in the world who believe the person who undergoes the SRS is toying with the will of god---after all, if god had wanted you to be a female, your would have been born that way.  These people have the same feelings about gay, and lesbians and others.  Fortunately these folks are in the minority, and the majority of your friends and neighbors are willing to accept diversity----to a point, and that the individual who transitions needs to know and understand when to challenge, and when to remain passive and learn to go with the flow, so to speak.  As I mentioned elsewhere……pick your battles.  And realize this isn’t just you.  All minorities are forced to do the same thing every day.

On the other hand, what you lose can often be replaced by new friends and new employment, both of which may well be more accepting of who you now are.  I have found this to be very true.  The friends I thought I had in my previous life were not what I thought, and I guess I am not truly missing much since their departure.  Those that remain a part of my life can, I know, accept me for who I am, as can all the wonderful new people I have met since I transitioned.  The end result is that I am a much happier being, and in that respect the decision to go down this road has been a positive one for me.


17) How were the doctors that took care of you? Did they try to talk you out of it?

My doctors have all been able to accept my decision. I am certain that some were skeptical of the idea when they first received one of those 250 information letters prior to my initial transition from living as a male to living full-time as a female.  And, as I mentioned earlier, I was able to get several letters of support for my decision to have the surgery from various physicians to present to my SRS surgeon.  I think that my doctors, like many others, are interacting with a transgender person for the first time in their lives, and are learning from it.  One doctor had known about my situation previously, and had prescribed a low doseage of estrogen, but when I sought additional and higher dosages, he was not willing to do that, and so I then had to find a doctor who would do that. I was referred to a certain gynecologist by a friend at work (your mother, actually, Amber), and I was able to work well with this new physician. Ironically, this choice of doctors has been very beneficial, as I now actually have a need to see a gynecologist from time to time. None of my doctors have ever tried to talk me out of it, and I believe that they have been able to see that I am quite comfortable in my new gender, and sex.

While we are on the subject of doctors, let’s talk about a few other things.  When I go to see one of my doctors, they have to decide how to have any tests analyzed, particularly the sex-specific tests.  For example, though I have had the surgery, I still have the same lungs, so when I go in for pulmonary function tests, they still need to be analyzed buy the computer as if I were still a male.  If the test is run with me listed as a female, the results look so much better, but not realistic.  I also think it’s going to be interesting if I ever develop prostate problems, as I am sure the computer at the insurance company will reject the claim simply because women do not have prostates (or at least not many).  There are also some gynecological tests that I do not need, or require as often, simply because the current SRS capabilities do not allow the successful transplantation of the female sexual reproductive organs into another person-----which I regret so much.  I would love to be able to have those dreaded monthly periods, and to get pregnant, but that’s another story in itself.  I know a lot of girls will say I am crazy for wanting the periods, but for myself, and others like me………………we truly want to be able to be 100% female---in all ways.  It has been a wish and hope we have held for so many years, and currently all we can do is come close, but not quite be what we truly aspire to achieve.  Though I have had the operation, in some respects I still can not escape my male past………………which I can understand, but still consider unfortunate.  But, on the other hand, where I am now is a major improvement on where I was even say 10 years ago.


18) Did you have to go through some type of psychological therapy before the change and after the change? If so, what did the therapist say or do?

Sexual Reassignment in the United States and many other countries is governed by the Harry Benjamin STANDARDS OF CARE FOR GENDER IDENTITY DISORDERS which were first written in 1979 and have been revised 5 times since.. The Standards of care for gender identity disorders are non-binding protocols outlining the usual treatment for individuals who wish to undergo hormonal or surgical transition to the other sex. Clinicians' decisions regarding patients' treatment are often influenced by this standard of care (SOC). Early in the history of sex reassignment surgery there were some unpleasant experiences by some who had the surgery and regretted it later. And, additionally, by the time that I sought the surgery, I had also met the requirement that a candidate must have lived and worked full-time in their new identity. 

Personally, I had a difficult time finding a psychologist or psychiatrist in this area that was qualified to work with transgender/transsexual issues. Gender identity disorders are not exactly a common challenge that most people face. Whenever I would find someone who would attempt to assist me, their initial primary focus was always on how much I was drinking at the time…. They failed to understand that the reason I was drinking so much was that I wanted to escape the unpleasant reality I was living in at the time. As a result, I had no formal psychiatric evaluations before my surgery. The doctor who did my surgery clearly stated in his letter that “ We must have TWO PSYCHIATRIC EVALUATIONS WHICH SPECIFICALLY RECOMMENDS SRS OR SPECIFICALLY STATE THAT YOU ARE A GOOD CANDIDATE FOR SRS OR ANY SEX CHANGE PROCEDURE SUCH AS AUGMENTATION MAMMAPLASTY. These are to be done by Psychiatrist or Psychologists who are recognized, licensed workers in the gender or sex-oriented field. A letter is required from your Endocrinologist outlining the history of your hormone therapy.” Instead, when it came time for me to present these letters to him, he offered me the opportunity to obtain letters from my medical doctors that would contain the specific required wording, and I believe I was able to eventually provide him with letters from 5 local physicians.

Remember that by the time I was ready to progress toward the sexual reassignment surgery, I had already been living as a female full-time for around 2 ½ years.  I was reasonably well adjusted to my new lifestyle, and certainly had no regrets.  That fact also met another condition of the Benjamin Standards of Care, which basically require someone to live the role for at least 2 years before the SRS.  Most surgeons in the United States and Canada who do perform the surgery do adhere to those guidelines, though you can go overseas, say to Thailand, and have the surgery performed once you have lived the role for only a year.  While it is much cheaper to go to Thailand for the surgery, I myself just wasn’t ready for that.  I even had a former friend, a truly amazing person in many ways, who offered me enough of his frequent flyer miles to cover my air fare over and back.  But though I was aware that medical care in Thailand was quite good, I decided to have the surgery done in the USA primarily because of my history of medical challenges.  These issues, primarily heart and lung problems, also required me to obtain a medical clearance before the surgery.  And even tough I obtained it here, the surgeon also had his own physician examine me once I got to Neenah, and before the surgery.  As a sidebar, would you imagine that the biggest obstacle SRS candidates can face is obesity, as it seems that the surgery simply does not heal well in obese individuals.  


19) Did you have any after effects after the change?

Oh, Amber, this is a difficult question to easily provide an answer. I know that there have been changes, but so many of them began even before the change occurred. The most dramatic changes began when I first began to use the female hormones. Once I had been taking them for several months, I began to have more of the typical attributes of females----I became much more emotional, I cried much more easily than I ever had previously, I became much more caring, patient and mellow.

As I mentioned earlier, I was originally given a prescription for a low dose of female hormones (actually 2 mg of Estradiol daily). And, initially this was helpful as it served much more as “mind candy” than it actually provided any major or physical changes. As the original prescribing doctor had left for the University of Chicago, I was seeing a new physician at the time, and was reluctant to discuss too much with him until I felt comfortable with him. So, I began to buy additional hormones over the internet. It really wasn’t that hard. All you needed was a credit card, and a web site. Initially I did not tell my physicians that I was taking these other medications, but as I began to develop other medical issues, I thought that it would be best if the additional hormones I was taking were put into my medical chart, in the event I was admitted suddenly it would help to reduce errors if the doctors knew. However, my doctors were not overly impressed with the fact that I was self medicating without any particular monitoring of the effects of these medication, so that is when I sought out a physician to prescribe the hormones for me. Interestingly enough, my primary physician told me that he didn’t think any doctor at the university hospitals was knowledgeable enough in M-F transitioning to work with me and my situation. That is when your mother, as I have mentioned elsewhere in the interview, helped me locate a gynecologist at an out clinic of the main hospital that would work with me.

Anyway, back to your question….the effects? In my opinion, the effects of the hormones have been mainly mental and emotional in nature. I know the hormones are supposed to make you grow those wonderful breasts, but that didn’t work for me………then or now. I never have checked into why that didn’t happen, because I was taking the hormones typically associated with gender reassignment surgery.  I guess it really doesn’t matter at this point in time. Oh, well, it is a  good thing we have implants available.

One big thing that the hormones did do to me physically was to, in effect, medically castrate me. After being on the hormones for a while, I was no longer able to generate an erection, or achieve any meaningful orgasm. Eventually the penis shrank dramatically. I sort of became, then, asexual……..in that I did not have any interest in sex--period. I still had sensitivity in the area, but there was simply no reaction when caressed, which was actually fine with me at the time because I had grown to totally detest the act of masturbation by then---it just felt so dirty and wrong….

After the surgery, I guess that area initially had no sensitivity in the genital region at all. Remember, this was a truly major reconstructive surgery, and a lot of feeling was lost as many nerves and other tissues were cut in the process.. As the months have gone by, the sensitivity down there has gradually returned. Can I have an orgasm at this point in time?  Yes, it is possible, but it is something that takes a certain level of mental effort, and I am working to be able to achieve the desired result more frequently. Is it better than before? Well, let me just say I much prefer this new version of an orgasm.

The biggest changes since the operation are psychological.  I have never deliberately been a mean person, but as the years passed and my mind became increasingly preoccupied with my “secret,” I became more frustrated, impatient and irritable.  And in retrospect, I guess in many of those years I was not always the nicest person.  The jobs that I held in the almost 20 years before the surgery consisted of managing an apartment complex during the day, and delivering newspapers at night.  Besides the fact that I liked money, I figured that if I kept myself busy I would have less time to sit around the apartment, drink beer, and dwell on my problems.  The newspapers were wonderful, as I truly enjoy the night hours.  It’s quiet, and no one hassles you as a general rule, except for the police who have this notion that anyone driving around at 3 AM is likely wanted, drunk or crazy……yet they eventually became used to me being there and didn’t pull me over any more.  The apartments management job was also something I enjoyed very much, except that it meant being around people---which could be good or bad.  I was primarily responsible for the apartment rentals, the maintenance of the apartments and doing the books.  I had to live on-site, so I was also on call 24 hours a day.  On those days when my stress level was overwhelming, interruptions could really upset me.  After all, I was preoccupied with my thoughts, and when those “intrusions” came I would often respond in a highly frustrated manner----not technically mean, but certainly not in a friendly and helpful manner.  It was like “let’s just hurry and get this done so I can go back and sit on my pity pot.”  Once I had finally transitioned, someone who was working with me at the time pretty much told me that I seemed much happier now, but that I had actually been an a**ho*e in the past.  These days I have a lot more patience, understanding and compassion, and am much more willing to help others when I physically can.  I am much happier with myself now, and I do believe that others are too.

Overall, Amber, the biggest effect of the change itself was simply peace of mind. I no longer had to deal with those male parts that I so detested. I think their present location is a much more deserving place for them to be. I am truly much more satisfied with my image of myself in a mirror than I ever have been before.  I have no doubt in my mind that I am a much better person since I began my new life as Alexis, and I truly hope that I continue to become a better person every day. 


20) Anything you would like to say about this interview or add anything else?
 
Let me take this opportunity to address one aspect of my transition that you did not ask about. That would broach the question of the progression of my eventual decision to have the SRS surgery. This matter was somewhat addressed in Question 1 at the beginning of the interview when you asked “When did you consider yourself being a transgender?” As I said then, I was not even aware of the word “transgender” when I first realized there was something different about me. I was not aware of any such thing as the Sexual Reassignment Surgery.

Beginning at that age of 4 or 5, I did think that I wanted to be a girl. My earliest memories are from that time period. However, not realizing such a thing was even a possibility, I took the long way around. When I was young, I used to take every chance that I had to dress as a girl. I was fortunate in the fact that I had a sister about 3 years younger than me, so there were clothes available. We also lived with my grandmother for several years, and she had an old coal bin in her basement with hand-me-down clothes from female cousins of mine. I sometimes would take the pretty clothes from the bin and walk down the railroad tracks behind the house to a place called Parkhurst Woods and dress there for a while until I became afraid of getting caught. As I became a little older, and when the family had moved into our own house, I would beg to stay home when the others went to visit other relatives. Then I could dress as a girl and have the whole house to myself. This was a good temporary fix for my desires, and I would usually end my dressing sessions with masturbation, which provided a quick fix for my frustrations, but never really satisfied me. This sort of a process actually kept on for many years, yet as time went by, even the masturbation aspect wasn’t satisfying. I eventually reached a point where I detested the act of masturbation primarily because I was increasingly developing a major aversion toward for my male anatomy. Simply relieving myself felt so gross, and didn’t really solve my frustrations. I simply did not want to just relieve myself and go back to being a “stupid boy.”. I wanted to be a girl…….period! 

Feeling as I did, that there was something wrong with me…..I tried hard to be a “normal boy” and bury these ideas. Despite whatever I tried, however, nothing worked….. I kept returning to that crazy idea that I wanted to be a girl. I continued to keep my thoughts to myself.
I went away to college and hoped that maybe I would finally be able to overcome these feelings. That is where I probably made the biggest error of my life by that time. I met a girl, a really nice girl, and we decided to get married…. By that time, however, I knew enough about myself to tell her beforehand about what I still thought was a serious cross dressing problem, and I hoped that this would finally take care of my funny notions……………………but it didn’t work. As I alluded to earlier, we were really nothing more than good room mates. Sex was minimal, and usually involved masturbation. We even tried having foster children live with us, and that in itself was a wonderful and very educational experience. Yet it became obvious that things were not going to work, so after 7 years we sat down, worked out an amicable parting, and we got divorced.
I spent the next many years living alone, and becoming very involved in work, oftentimes working as many as the equivalent of two fulltime jobs----I hoped that by keeping myself occupied I would not have the time to dwell on my feelings. While all this extra work didn’t help that much, the extra money came in handy as it is very difficult to keep two wardrobes current. Yet there were always the times when I came home, and then I would continue to dwell. I began to drink heavily. The torment between my “birth” self and my “desired” self was becoming much worse. When I was not working I became a loner, and cut myself off from family and friends as much as I possibly could, preferring instead to enjoy my “Alexis time” by myself. 

Gradually my desires became the dominant subject in my mind. That’s all I thought about all the time, whether I was at work or at home. By then I was becoming very depressed, and thoughts of self castration and suicide became common. I tried to find professional mental health counseling locally, but it didn’t seem there were many resources available, and the few psychiatrists I did find wanted to focus more on my drinking than on my gender identity. I tried to tell them my drinking was mainly due to the gender identity issue, but that fell on deaf ears, and I quit seeing them. Since I had become a loner, I had no one to talk with about this, and I spent a lot of time talking on the telephone to Crisis Line in Iowa City, and similar ones in other nearby cities. Most of my calls were not rewarding, but I was very fortunate over the years to find two different women at the Crisis Center in Iowa City who would spend a lot of time with me, usually just listening and empathizing. It didn’t solve things for me, but simply talking was so helpful. I would still love to be able to talk wit the last counselor there who helped me so much (Elizabeth was her name) and just thank her for all she did, and let her know how much happier I am now).
Then I began to have a little luck, which was so wonderful because I was really needing to talk to someone……………anyone. Two new people began working with me. The first was brought in to watch the office while I would take care of the maintenance on the apartments where I worked. When I had time, I spent a lot of time with her, and eventually began to open up to her. She was accepting of what I talked with her about, and she encouraged me to talk with one or two of her friends, who also accepted what I was saying, and didn’t reject me. I needed that confidence.
She eventually left that job, though we still remain friends,, and I went back to the office duties and the owner brought in someone else to do the maintenance work. We would spend time talking about so many varied and different things, and we eventually got around to the subject of my identity challenges. I have to say that he was also very supportive in so many varied and unique ways, and it was with the support and encouragement of those people that I finally, and eventually, found the courage to write my letter, pass it out, and start down the road on my new journey. I will always be forever grateful to both of them.

When I did find the strength and willpower to transition, I actually found that my biggest challenge and obstacle to success was myself. When I began living full time as Alexis, I really had no experience in the outside world, as Alexis had basically lived indoors and alone her entire life. This was a whole new world, and I was often very self conscious at first. I always felt like people were looking at me, which made me more nervous. I actually thought about giving this new identity up and just admitting defeat, but I didn’t for two basic reasons. First, I knew from experience that my feelings would not go away. Second, I simply was not going to show everyone that I thought I was wrong for feeling like I did. So I forged ahead, finally figuring out that if anyone was really looking at me, it was likely that it was because I was not acting like a girl-------and that I was acting like a boy dressed as a girl. I learned how important confidence is when you transition. As the months went forward, I had more and more experiences under my belt, so to speak, and became increasingly comfortable in restrooms, in fitting rooms, and simply being in public. I gained much needed confidence. I was enjoying my new life, and once I had this confidence, I no longer felt that people were staring at me that often. I know some still do at times simply because I was not able to afford some of the “extras” when it came to the surgeries---like the facial reconstruction, throat shaping, and so on. I only had the money for the basic improvements. But unless I find more money, I will simply have to be content with what is here now, which is quite satisfactory at present. 

One question that the counselors at the Crisis Line, and my few confidents would ask is “Are you sure this is what you want?.” I had no way to know if the role transitioning process would be a success, or an utter failure. My only answer to them was “I don’t know” but that I had been thinking about wanting to be a girl for many, many years, and that this was no spur of the moment decision. I felt in my own mind that I needed to become Alexis on a full-time basis. But I also knew that the one and only way that I was going to know if I could make the transition successfully was to simply go through with it, and let time give me the answer. Yet, since I had very little actual experience in public, I also knew it would be a major adjustment………and it was. Fortunately I am capable of adjusting to change and challenges fairly quickly, and that helped me so much in making this a successful transition.
 
I learned very quickly that there was so much I was unprepared for. I mean, genuine girls have grown up and had the opportunity to learn hair care, makeup techniques, wardrobe details, and so on from their mothers, older sisters and friends. I had spent a lot of time looking through magazines like Glamour, Seventeen, and Vogue, so I was somewhat knowledgeable on these topics, but not nearly enough. Within a couple months of my transitioning I took a series of makeup lessons from Jen at one of the local beauty salons……….she was very helpful, and she also met me at a WalMart one weekend to walk me through the different products in the cosmetics department. I continue to pay close attention to commercials and advertisements for new trends in makeup and fashion. But most of all, I continue to observe other girls, for there is really no better way to learn. I watch not only the clothes, the makeup and the hair, but mannerisms and speech patterns I still do all of these, simply because trends come and go and I want to try and stay current.  I firmly believe that being a female is a never-ending learning process………………I am continually fascinated with the lifestyle. 

I hope that the answers and information I have given you will be a benefit to those who read it. I realize that most people have had very little exposure to individuals such as myself, and I hope that I have been able to provide a certain insight into my own personal thoughts, feelings and experiences throughout my life. I enjoy the opportunity to talk with people about my life in the hopes it will alleviate any misconceptions that may be out there. What I have provided is from my perspective only, and I certainly do not attempt to speak for all transgender and transsexual people out here, for we each are unique.  There is, however, some very well written and informative information available on the internet, and I would encourage you to research the topic further.  Some of it has been written by psychologists and psychiatrists, but so much of it has also been written by people with experience…people who have gone through the transition and or surgery.  Those who survive this challenge actually develop a lot of insight on many issues.  And while I talk about my male to female transition, there is also a fair level of information available not only on other m-f successes, but also on the female to male process and the surgery itself.  Another area that is getting increasing attention is the transsexual teens and pre-teens, for they face some unique challenges of their own.
 


I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to share some of my thoughts, Amber. I am very happy to have taken the time to answer your questions, as well as pleased that you have chosen me for this interview. You really ask some very good questions, some actually quite pointed, and I thank you for that. In this era of political correctness I do not often have much opportunity to express my inner feelings and thoughts. I feel that transsexuals such as myself are extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to live on “both sides of the street” during our lifetimes. That is something very few people ever have the opportunity to do. It provides, in my mind anyway, a much more unique and broader picture of life and reality than can ever be experienced by the average person. While I did indeed go through so many years of inner turmoil, soul searching and despair, I am not sure if I would have wanted to have my life be any different. By having to struggle for so many years with my gender and sexual identity, I am certain the end result has made me so much more appreciative of who I am now. Is there more I could share---I’m sure there is, but that can all wait until another time.