I had my reproductive organs voluntarily removed at twenty-two years-old. I’d like to imagine they’re pickled and floating in a jar waiting to be dissected. This is not the first time the distance between myself and my body has become literal; my perfectly healthy flesh and blood are my own worst enemy. My body is company I can only hold at this distance, like a prism against the ceiling light, a spectrum full of indecipherable color. A piece of me, somewhere, is gone.
There’s a lot of hand-wringing about what it means for a transgender person to have surgery. I had to refuse any and all food and liquid, a seemingly impossible task for raging coffee-addict. I gingerly walked up the women’s and infant’s clinic front-desk alone, and told them that I was indeed, the patient being operated on this afternoon. To any passing stranger, I was a young man asking about his partner, wife, child. The reality was I stumbled over my words, with sweat on my forehead as the clerk found my name and said I needed to sign paperwork.
“Are you the patient?” the clerk asked me. I don’t recall anything unique about her. She looked me over with the type of familiarity she might give an unpleasant co-worker’s child.
I say yes. At this point, there’s no going back.
Cue me being asked to follow the dotted yellow lines into a room where I’m met with a dark hallway—not unlike the one from Barton Fink. It was surreal and slightly off-putting, like a dim forgotten corner of a movie set. I walked into the office to sign the consent forms and am asked to follow more yellow dotted lines to another department. In a matter of hours, I would be put to a sleep and operated on, as if none of this preamble ever happened.
I couldn’t help but be reminded of the yellow-brick road Judy Garland and her dog dutifully traveled on to see the wizard, a mystical hermit in his emerald towers. The Wizard of Oz was an obsession in my single-parent household. The stripes on the floor are intended to guide patients and their families, but I went through this all alone, feeling like Dorothy after her house crashed on top of a poor witch. I want to apologize for intruding, for bringing this body into a women’s space, but because of my sex this is where the surgery must take place. It’s frustrating introducing myself; I’m ready as I’ll ever be for the procedure.
When a trans body enters a hospital, it’s as easy as being sucked up into a tornado. It’s swept away from a sepia-hued world into a hyper-visible, technicolor land of prying eyes and confused stares. It’s enough to give anyone cold feet. But there are medical fees for that. There are dollar signs flying like winged-monkeys everywhere. Legal paperwork saying I’m someone else might as well be a house dropping down on my head. That it clearly says they have the wrong patient.
But I had a letter saying I was supposed to be here, for this, I emphasized to the clerk, being as vague as possible. The surgery. I’m piss-broke and have just signed away a significant amount of money to pay for a surgery I would never be able to afford without my Ivy League college insurance.
Nice people get what they want and I wanted to have my organs removed to become a better, more whole person because of it. I was determined to find my ruby slippers, slap them together, and walk out to attend class next week like nothing happened. In retrospect, this is the apex of the overachiever mentality: going in for major surgery on Friday and talking about Foucault the following Monday.
I was used to trying to appeal to others for respect, so I smiled and nodded with every well- intentioned “miss” and “m’am” knowing all too well that the clinical description of “gender identity disorder” was stamped on every page of my paperwork. This was the nature of the beast, and I was lost in this Oz world, stumbling my way along, doing my best not to make myself too noticeable. All I wanted was to go home, metaphorically, into a body I could better recognize myself in. I had a big house crash in on my life and it was the body I lived in.
The DSM-5 now calls “gender identity disorder” “gender dysphoria disorder,” which supposedly lessens the stigma attached to transgender people. But bodies are messy and on principal, they’re subject to change regardless of how we choose to talk about them. This is inherently a problem with language and how culture violently twists and depicts trans bodies. I’m not here to entertain baseless arguments about people wanting to cut off limbs because they “think they should be an amputee.” Here was the brick wall in my transition: squishy organs, ripe for the picking.
Fixating on what people ought to do to their body isn’t new or exciting. I’m interested in the visceral messiness of the experience, the bureaucratic ritualism that preludes any endeavor to present ourselves to medical institutions. The mechanical process of sex-related surgery isn’t exciting. I doubt those other than the morbidly curious and skeptical would find the technicalities illuminating. It’s boring being a transgender person going under the knife. Waiting for surgery is like watching grass grow—nothing ever happens. It’s miles upon miles of dotted lines, signatures, and the sound of your own urine splashing against a measurement cup minutes before you’re on the gurney.
I spent my recovery watching gross, schlocky movies. It’s comforting losing myself in the screen, doing my best to get into another person’s head. It’s a good enough distraction from picturing the sinews of my abdomen healing together, my pelvic muscles recoiling after being sliced open for the surgery to take place. My gruesome tendencies go wild—I want to imagine all sorts of morbid transformations taking place where my uterus once was. I pictured it like the scene in The Fly, where Jeff Goldblum realizes he’s growing tiny insectoid feelers on his forearms. This scene is not unlike my own discoveries of individual chin hairs after years of injecting testosterone.
Compared to most transgender men, I’m about as masculine as a naked mole-rat. My body will now require synthetic hormones to be injected on a weekly basis in order to maintain itself. This is something I of course discussed at lengths for months with my doctor. There’s no problem here—I became obsessed with my own boredom waiting for my body to heal. I felt abnormally well.
I fantasized about a creature inside of me ready to burst out like an Alien parasite, announcing that I’m here, finally in this new home I call my meat and flesh. But no abomination will come tearing me open from the inside-out. Only my own ennui ready to swallow itself whole like Ouroboros.
The monster analogies are easy—Frankenstein, Chimera, test-tube creatures. Walking through the world with this body is the equivalent of hiding the fact you are, partially, the product of someone else’s handiwork. This is how I’ve come to terms with own sense of monstrosity, the jagged edges of my body that don’t quite all fit together.
Scholar Susan Stryker describes the trans body in her essay/performance piece My Words To Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix:
“The transsexual body is an unnatural body. It is the product of medical science. It is a technological construction. It is flesh torn apart and sewn together again in a shape other than that in which it was born.”
The trans body is both the site of medical and technological impact, crashing into each other violently to make beautiful results. The Frankenstein-qualities of a body that will need hormones to survive is admirable to me—it’s a powerful announcement of my own autonomy, the desire to live in a world constantly trying to kill me. I cut ties with the old biological demands of my old body for a new one, tailored to fit, in a form from “flesh torn apart.” This cycle began when I had chest reconstruction surgery and my hysterectomy is another symbolic middle-finger to the world. I have the agency to sew this body back together, transform it an optimized, beautiful living being.
When I inject my weekly hormones, I feel euphoria. I feel my body re-organize itself when I complete a dose. It’s an all-consuming experience that demands a concentrated up-keep of syringes, doses, needles, and gauges. To reject what I was given, I reach out for the tools at hand, become my own cyborg, someone who builds out of what’s despised.
From Testo Junkie by Paul B. Preciado:
“I’m not taking testosterone to change myself into a man or as a physical strategy of transsexualism; I take it to foil what society wanted to make of me, so that I can write, fuck, feel a form of pleasure that is post-pornographic, add a molecular prostheses to my low-tech transgender identity composed of dildos, texts, and moving images; I do it to avenge your death.”
Letting myself be used, medically, is an act of freedom. In his introduction to Testo Junkie, Preciado announces an “low-tech transgender identity” in conversation with the death of those he knows and loves. The consequences of dying, either on or off the surgery table, are all the same: the muscles give out and the body finally rests. Preciado and Stryker speak on the dissociation and pain of the trans body better than I ever could—the body isn’t one object, but a collection of “Frankenstein-qualities” and “dildos, texts, and moving images.” It’s an amalgamation of lost pieces sewn back together to make a façade that lasts just long enough, a shelter that endures just enough rough weather to survive. It’s a house, albeit one that crashed from the sky long ago.
Strewn on my bed, with my flesh bending itself back into shape, I couldn’t help but return to the image of bloodied meat. The recovery process is blinding, painful, and full of medication. My mind wandered to Elvira Weishaupt’s monologue in the climatic slaughterhouse scene of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s In a Year of 13 Moons, in which a transgender woman recounts her childhood nostalgia with a friend. The scene is brutal, with vivid, long shots of cows being partially decapitated, their bloody flesh bare as Elvira speaks. Elvira is abused and traumatized by the men in her life after genital confirmation surgery, after which she commits suicide. The film, released in 1978—only one year before Janice Raymond published her hateful The Transexual Empire—explicitly associates the transformation of Elvira’s body with the carnage and violence that comes with production-line slaughterhouses. The transgender body is a site of mutilation and damage—surgeries only leave emotional and physical gashes that cannot heal, according to Fassbinder. The sentiment of the film is not empowering nor approving of transgender people’s autonomy in determining their own biology. It’s a moment of disgust and the re-opening of traumatic wounds by recollecting memories of a past body, one that the speaker cannot cling on to anymore.
The body is easily destroyed. It is also easily rebuilt, as sinews and connecting tissue regrow, the body regenerates itself, waking up again after being dormant. It’s amazingly resilient. A new flesh can spawn from the shrivel and bloodied remains of the last occupant—the meat of the body isn’t a dying thing. It grows and becomes—my scars now are just that now, only scars.
I still don’t know what the proper response is when people ask about the surgery.
It’s just a pinch, I want to tell them. A snap of the wrists. A crack of the skull.
A bullet to the heart. A fist to the eye.
That word, transsexual, hanging heavy and wet on a company’s tongue, because you had the dollar to your name and the will to live. Sticks and stones.
My body is vetting itself down the yellow brick road, hitting all the speed bumps along the way. It’s as good as broken. I like it this way.
Blake Planty loves crawling the web at the witching hour. He has fiction and essays published and forthcoming in Nat Brut, DREGINALD, Heavy Feather Review, Waxwing, The Fanzine, Tenderness Lit, and more. Find him talking about cyborgs and coffee at @_dispossessed on Twitter and online at catboy.club.