Imagine waking up every morning in a body that doesn’t feel like yours. It seems like a nightmare, but for a lot of men and women, it’s a cold hard reality. And if that internal struggle isn’t enough, there are hundreds more problems they face every day. Being transgender or transsexual is still taboo.
Some men are born in their bodies. Others have to fight for it.
Recently I heard from a friend of mine that the average age expectancy of a trans person is maximum 35. She read that information in an article. And although I started looking it up and it turned out not to be true in the end, the average age expectancy for transgenders and transsexuals is significantly lower than for others.
Many trans people struggle with their identity and this leads to enormous health and mental problems. Often they can count on so little understanding from the people around them that they end up committing suicide. Others are abused by family members or friends, and in extreme cases even murdered. Unfortunately, for most transgender people the great danger lies not only around the corner of the street, but just within the wall walls of what should be their safe place, their home where they grew up. In 20% of the cases, queers are put on the street after their coming out (see results queer survey). For trans persons, that’s number rises to almost 65%.
What follows is the story of K (21), who prefers to remain anonymous for reasons that are obvious. In this story she talks about her transition from man to woman.
If people can’t put a label on my identity, they often have a hard time with it
I just didn’t know how I wanted them to call me, man or woman. I just didn’t know. As far as I know, I’ve always struggled with who I am. I also lived as a heterosexual man for a while and had a girlfriend. But that wasn’t who I am. I didn’t feel good about it, although it was easier to be accepted into society. The story didn’t add up. I didn’t know at all what feelings I had. Being transgender, that was something I hadn’t heard about at all. I didn’t know it was an option.
Anyway, I was experimenting with what I looked like and what I was wearing. If one day I felt like putting on a red lipstick, I just did. But at home it was really hard to figure out what direction I could give to my feelings. My father didn’t want to know about it, he also said, “If you’re gay, I’ll put you out with the garbage. I never want to see you again then!”. I often went to sleep with the thought of waking up in the morning in the right body. Or at least to be satisfied with the body I was in, but that never happened.
I’ve often been on the verge of putting an end to it. At one point I didn’t have to anymore. I really had to be honest with myself. I went for a lot of consultations and saw a lot of psychologists, but they didn’t really help me much. So I had to do most of it myself. I had to dig into my own thoughts and feelings.
The sex change
I made the decision three years ago. Then I finally took the step to tell my mom what I wanted. That step was very difficult, because I knew I would lose a lot of people anyway. I was also afraid of being laughed at or declared crazy. That period was really dark. It then took another 6 months before I had my first interview in the hospital to initiate my transition. Between the period of my first conversation and my sex change I started with hormones and voice training.
My transition itself went really fast. Once the decision was made, I really chose to do surgery after surgery. Every surgery is a big step that brings about serious change. Change how you see yourself, but also how others see you.
Perhaps the toughest operation is the sex change itself. After the operation comes a hellish period of a week in which you can hardly sleep, very difficult to go to the toilet, barely move. For almost a week I was stuck in bed. But no matter how much the surgery hurt, the first time I saw myself completely as a woman, I was really happy. It finally looked the way I wanted it to.
The period after the operation was really hard, because if anything hurts it is a bladder catheter. I couldn’t pee, so they had to take it in and out three times. It was clogged and very swollen. My stitches started loosening and I got an infection. It really felt like everything was dying off. I had never had so much pain.
In the meantime, I’ve lost a lot of people, especially family. Also with, for example, my godmother our bond really isn’t the way it was before my transition. Sometimes I call my family and they consciously still talk to me with my old name. They find it very difficult to adapt.
Not only within my own family is a lot of misunderstanding, but also outside on the street I have to deal with a lot of negativity. People look at me and swear at me. People aren’t ashamed either. They would literally come out on the street in front of me to take pictures or film me. In the meantime, my transition is over and that’s still there. They used to look at me out of disgust, now they stare at me because I am a big woman with long legs.
My goal was to be able to look myself in the mirror and not to be disgusted
For a period of time I also hesitated to do other aesthetic interventions besides the typical sex changes. And that has nothing to do with being transgender or anything else. Especially under the pressure of social media, in which perfection is pursued, a lot of people suffer from it today. You constantly see what others look like and then you start to doubt yourself. In the end I thought it’s ok, there are women who are uglier than myself. That self-acceptance is really only recent. I’m at a moment in my life where it’s really quiet in my head. After lying awake for so long and asking me so many questions. Now it’s ok.
I’m afraid to end up alone. Afraid no one can love me enough and accept me for who I am. And that chance is very real. I’ve had relationships with men since my transition. But you have to be a really strong person to have a relationship with a trans person. First of all, you have to ask yourself if you can live with the fact that the person you are in love with has switched sex. In addition, there will be a lot of other problems. Family and friends are often not so open-minded and that can weigh heavily.
Dating is really not easy because you know that at some point you have to be honest and tell that you are a trans woman. I chose not to do that right away as I know you’re gonna be rejected anyway. I usually wait until a second or third date. The reason I do that is because I don’t want to be labeled a transgender right away. I want someone to like me for who I am first. Do I have to say it all the time? No, you don’t. But I’d always do it. I’ve almost lived a lie for 20 years. I don’t feel like doing it for the rest of my life. But I’m careful who I say it to. Why would I say it when I find out after one or two dates that that person isn’t lying to me? I don’t think that’s necessary.
For me, a relationship with a person really also requires a sexual attraction. I’m also a sexual person and I don’t want a relationship based on just an emotional connection. My first time sex was painful and a bit dissappointing. I thought it was going to be different. But I think it will still change a lot in the future, because even today a great deal that feels numb.
Before my sex change, I was also given the choice to freeze my sperm if I ever wanted to have children. That was a really strange event. I also chose to donate my sperm if I don’t want children myself. Because although I would like to have a child, I don’t think I want a child to grow up in today’s society. The world is so hard. I know how difficult my childhood was and I don’t want to do that to my child.
A huge ‘thank you’ is in place for the University Hospital Ghent (UZ) because they helped me so quickly. After barely 6 months of taking hormones, I got a phone call that they could help me further and I could visit them for my operations. I’ve really been so lucky that it went really fast for me.
Even if you’re not 100% sure yet, I really recommend talking to them. Both to talk it out of your head and to look at the possibilities together.
Thank you K. for the open talk and courageous testimony!
If you yourself are struggling with identity problems and have questions about being transgender. Then, in addition to the Univertity Hospital Gent, you can also contact the Transgender Infopunt.