While immensely grateful for having undergone a complication-free phalloplasty surgery, I return to pondering my place in society – do I still fit in community with fellow transgender men, even if I no longer relate to a popular theme in the conversation?
Prior to phalloplasty, a form of bottom surgery I underwent summer of 2016, I found myself reluctant to openly identify myself in transgender spaces – afraid if someone saw me, the life I cultivated over the last several years being read as my correct gender would die, my ashes would regroup into a burst of rainbow otherness believed to invite questions regarding my genitalia and how I do or do not have sex. Fear and prior experience warned I would fail to simply be another graduate student struggling to discover the mythical living wage if people knew. I simply did not want to be on display though I greatly related to the day-to-day struggle many transgender men have in getting dressed, positioning our crotches just so, harvesting shame in using the stalls even if nobody noticed.
So I sloppily reconciled all this by advocating for those queer in gender to a degree, though mastering my best confused face when certain terms came up, specifically about transgender men, lest someone decide I simply knew too much to be cisgender.
In the months before phalloplasty, I stalked Tumblrs and lurked Instagrams of those crossing off days to their own phalloplasty journey. I was comforted by the familiar anger captured in poetic captions beneath filtered selfies tagged “ftm.” I smiled before bed, marveling at the new problems I might have as a man getting bottom surgery – which underwear to contain bulges and finding skinny jeans with generous crotch room. I noticed those appearing to be queer in my customers at work — I tried to say something, anything, as I longed to find a likeness in others beyond the glowing screen of my phone at night as the day drew near for my big day with Dr. Mang Chen, a surgeon who would change my life forever.
The day came and soon I was four weeks, twelve weeks and then six months out from this momentous day. I no longer forgot my penis outside the toilet while pooping, peeing on the floor. I mastered much for only having this penis for 6 months. I began blogging more, becoming brave and meeting up with a fellow transgender man.
I continued to seek out more community with others –though never more than three or four of us in one setting. Some of these trans men asked to see photos of my penis, my scrotum – their eye-catching my scarred forearm. Some inquired about the length and girth, how did my orgasms feel – did they exist? Besides this, much talk focused upon binders, scar strips for top surgery scars, whether or not one would get a hysto, bottom surgery and frequently of course, the topic of dysphoria.
Surely, my life is not void of suffering though I’m privileged to say my dysphoria is largely gone. I occasionally mourn not being able to father children as many other men can, or the absence of erections upon waking up – though as I approach my one year post-op, I do not remember how it felt anatomically pre-bottom surgery. I am very content with my body. I was in much turmoil for so long with anatomy I did not feel remotely comfortable with, that it wasn’t until it was alleviated that I realized how unhappy I was beforehand. I now see how, for many, the transgender experience can largely unite around the relatable and intense inner pain, something that has seemed to have packed up and left post-op. This of course does not begin to touch upon the social, cultural, racial, religious and economic battles many of us battle regardless of surgeries or hormones.
I am immensely grateful to have gotten this surgery and wouldn’t have changed my choices for anything; still, I return to pondering my place in society – what is my role in community with fellow transgender men, when I no longer relate to much of the conversation in my part of the world regarding dysphoria? I tell myself I will always be transgender and certainly, constantly in transition. I think how being incorrectly perceived for 18 years of my life has given me insights on the type of man I strive to be; still, I constantly find this strange position in which I wish folks would have urged me to prepare to constantly forage my own spaces — there will never be a community which captures every element and that’s ok. Transitioning is not to relate to this dude’s post or that one guy’s YouTube narrative — this journey is after all, about finding the position most comfortable for one’s self as individuals in this larger, chaotic world. Today it means sharing my journey with folks online, though tomorrow it may mean finally going to a meet-up… but both invite resisting the pressures to conform to what I perceive to be the norms of either cisgender or transgender folks for the sake of feeling like I belong when I have done so much to be true to myself.