By Maddy McKenna
Twelve months ago in a cold operating room, lying on an even colder surgery table, I was preparing to go to bed and wake up to the answer to the wish I had begged for every night for the last 18 years. I’ll admit, though, that it was mortifying to have six doctors surrounding me and knowing that for the next seven hours they were going to be focused on the one thing that I would never want anyone to see — even myself. I lay there thinking, “They better put me out good!” I was convinced that I was so excited about the coming reality of waking up to a brighter future that the anesthesia wouldn’t work.
But it did and when I woke up, my eyes immediately filled up with tears. Even though I just went through such a major ordeal, I had never have felt so painless as I did when I realized I was at one with my body. My body wasn’t my enemy anymore and for the first time — as cheesy as this sounds — I felt free. I don’t think any minute I have left on this universe can compare to the first minute I had with my neo vagina.
Yeah! You haven’t heard? A neo vagina. A what-used-to-be-a-penis and was constructed into a vagina. Okay, I get it, if you’re a natal cis-gendered dude, you’re probably so confused as to why anyone in their right mind would want to get rid of God’s trophy that He bestowed on you but, for me, that thing was never wanted to begin with. I’m transgender and even though a sex change isn’t something that every trans women desires, for me it was a necessary step in my transition.
Twelve months have passed now and every day is a new, exciting experience for me, although nothing compares to those first few minutes. So these are twelve things that I’ve learned so far, in my first twelve months with my vagina.
1. Looks aren’t everything.
I think I watched too much porn when I was younger or I stared up too many dresses of Barbies. Prior to my surgery, if I’d had a choice to design my kitten, I would’ve asked for very-little-to-no definition of my labia. I wouldn’t want any suspicion in a swimsuit that my vagina may be a penis. But vaginas are like snowflakes, okay? None are identical. It would be weird if they were! Some women have more definition than others; some may have a visible clitoris; and with others you may have to do a little more searching. My left labia is puffier than my right and my right labia is a bit darker in my peachy salmon shade. Am I considering labiaplasty? No!! Because she’s cute, she has character, and she’s mine!!
2.) Orgasms are kinda really difficult to achieve, but maybe- OH HEY THERE YOU GO.
I was one day short of eight weeks post-op when I thought I would give things a go, completely clueless as to how I even operate, now. Wikihow? No help. You have to experiment, you have to feel ridiculous for a little while, and you have to go through not feeling a thing. It takes trial and error and really, ultimately, it’s mind over matter. Forget about what new modern gadget you’re convinced will send you over the moon if you aren’t into it, or you’re too focused on getting that finale: you’re just going to find yourself frustrated. If it starts to feel like a chore, you’re doing it wrong.
3.) Climaxing makes you question the purpose of life.
Masturbation used to be terrifying. I was never into it; it always felt awkward and forced, and after I would finish, the biggest wave of guilt and shame would crash over me. Now? Not every time, but Ioften cry afterwards. It feels THAT sensational, and not even just physically. The way my body aligns with my mind and sends my body into complete shock for a few seconds makes me feel like my spirit literally beams out of my body.
Seriously, what is up with orgasms??? Why can’t you compare that feeling to anything else in existence? Why do they feel so good, and why do they remind us that we’re alive? How crazy is it to think when you’re with someone and you both climax, and have that feeling of LIFE, ultimately, in that moment, you just physically created life with that person. The big bang theory.
4.) Commando is the way to go.
Before my surgery, on average, I had to spend 20 minutes every morning cutting out strips of duct tape, wrapping my penis in toilet paper, taking that tape, sticking it from my shaft, pulling it all the way up into my ass and repeat. I used to call this joyful routine “tucking.” Oh? My testicles fell out of their inguinal canal? Time to rip the tape off, and start all over! Now when I wake up, after I peak under the covers to confirm that my vagina is still, well, there, I brew coffee, and prance around in nothing but nothing. And it feels so good. When I walk to the store I sometimes put underwear on underneath my dress and sometimes I don’t. But when I don’t, I feel THE BREEZE. Total. Liberation. Thank you, Mother Nature for stopping by and saying “Hey girl!!”
5.) This isn’t fun and games. This is dedication.
I feel like my eyes almost get stuck in the back of my head every time I read a comment online implying that men just get to throw on makeup and hair and be accepted as women in society. They think we’re full time drag queens, having a blast.
First of all, let me assure you that we trans women are not transitioning for anyone but ourselves. Yes, it’s nice to walk out my door and be identified as a woman by the public eye, but I had to see that for myself before they could.
A typical day for me might consist of shaving not only my face but entire body. That includes my arms, my cute butt, my knuckles, the back of my neck, etc. (Thanks for the genes, Dad!) Then, if it’s due, I Inject myself with estrogen, which is something I will do for the rest of my life and has cost me thousands of dollars just in the last four years. Then, after putting on makeup to conceal any little detail that hints “man,” I head to work.
No, I don’t work toward vacations, or to go to the movies on a Friday night with my nonexistent boyfriend. I work towards saving money for my surgeries, for my electrolysis, for my therapy sessions, or for my future surrogacy/adoption fund. I always have a bill to pay, just to feel content with where things are for me in transition.
If I really cared about what society thought of me, I would still be a man. This is for me, not you. Don’t flatter yourself, America.
6.) It’s easier to tell guys right away.
I’ve never been in a relationship, although I have had a few (although not so proud of) sexual partners, and I don’t have a huge social circle. I’m trying, though! I have a not so useful dating app and I manage to stay in the bars past dinner, into the night scene. When meeting someone new, I always find a way to drop that I’m transgender into the conversation and on Tinder I list it in my bio.
I just find it easier to get it out there before becoming too involved because I hate anxiety of the unknown and I like people to like me for all of me. I leave no room for misconceptions. I get that I’m a woman and I owe no explanation but I’m a trans woman who is also proud of her gender identity. Plus, telling them later on always makes it come off as a “secret” and saves me the “I have to tell you something” spiel. SO, I just let them know and with that information, they can do decide if it’s their thing or not.
The reveal usually comes a bunch of questions, mainly physical. Questions like how I have boobs, if my voice is real, if I used to be the star quarterback in high school, and most importantly, whats going on “down there,” if you get what I mean. A simple flirtatious conversation turns into a interview. Which I’m fine with; I get that people are curious. But most of the time, they just end up congratulating me for them finding me fuckable. They don’t want to bring me across the bar to introduce me to their friends, and they most certainly don’t want to get coffee with me the next morning if we have a sleepover.
7.) “Tranny chasers” are real — and gross.
Most men are just afraid of transsexuals, because of the social stigma that comes with dating one of us. God forbid he brings me out in daylight and someone calls me a man and them gay, because then they are emasculated. Even though he may find me beautiful and charming, his ego is what’s most fragile and worthy.
I do not shame someone for what they like in the bedroom and I get that it’s not just a issue I deal with for being trans but for being a woman — because people do shady stuff in general. Also, shaming trans-attracted men would be internalized transphobia. However, it’s hard when you’re a person who goes through dysphoria only to find out a guy is only attracted to you and your friends primarily for the one thing you hate most about yourself.
8.) Dilating is not great, but it’s worth it.
The only part in my vagina self-care regimen that differs from a natal vagina is that I have to dilate. I like to think of my vagina as an ear piercing. It’s cute. and fun to have things inside but without attention, it can close up! When I first came out of surgery, my body naturally registered my neo vagina as a wound and, because of that, it wanted to heal and close up. No thank you!
The solution is that for 30 minutes, three times a day with a nine inch medical dilator, I would insert and apply pressure to prevent losing vaginal depth. Today, I am down to a dilating only a few times a week, for 30 minutes, and will keep that schedule for the rest of my life. The only bonus it that if I have a sexual companion, 30 minutes of sex counts as 30 minutes of dilation.
9.) If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck…
A neo vagina, and a natal vagina are basically the same except… They aren’t. The vaginal wall was created from the inverted shaft skin of my penis, leaving the nerve endings intact. I have a sensitive, functioning, clitoris, which was constructed from what used to be the head of the penis. The mucous tissue from the urethral extension in my penis was used to create my labia minora, so from that, I get a little wet, although not nearly as much as an average natal women would. My testicles were trashed. Adios! It feels the same to men and I’m prone to yeast infections and STIs, just like natal women.
10.) Periods > Penises
So given the fact that my vagina is 95% aesthetic, periods are something I miss out on in this lifetime. OMG. LADIES I KNOW. I’m “SOooo lucky.” Yes, Having a giant shark chomp on my lower abdomen is something I’m fortunate to not have to wake up to every month, but having a period is nature’s way of reminding you that you can carry life! Being a mother is the biggest dream I have, and as is the case for many women out there, knowing you will never be able to feel life grow inside of you and having that special connection to your child is heartbreaking. I fear my children won’t feel like I’m their mother. I fear that, as babies, I won’t be able to nurture them the same as their birth mother will, because they know I didn’t bring them into this world. So yes, cramps are something I’m happy I don’t have to bare, but I would take it in a instant, if I could bare a child.
11.) But just because I don’t have a uterus doesn’t mean there won’t be a mini-me.
Early in my transition, prior to hormone replacement therapy (HRT), my mother took a 14 year old Maddy to a sperm bank. We definitely got side eyes from people wondering why on a earth a mother and her very, very androgynous daughter were there. Well, little did they know that I wasn’t there to rub one out to make an extra buck but because I’d strategically planned a way to have biological children. So yes, I can’t carry a child, but I can still conceive one!!
When you start to take testosterone blockers and estrogen, your penis becomes dysfunctional, your penis as well as your testicles shrink up, and your sperm count becomes very little to nonexistent. As you read before, being a mother is a dream of mine, and even though I plan on adoption, I would love the privilege of being able to have a child from my own string of DNA too.
So, I went in and did my little thing. When I’m ready, I can find a surrogate mother and try to make that happen If I choose to. I’ve also been very fortunate to have sisters, one of whom has told me numerous times she would love to be an egg donor for my future husband. Seriously! My support system is beyond this world.
12.) Having a vagina doesn’t confirm my femininity.
I was no less of a woman when I had a penis than I am now with a vagina, and I’m not more of one just because I had surgery. Like I said, not every trans woman desires to have vaginoplasty. Some don’t mind their penises, some love them and others are ambivalent about them. Surgery isn’t the cure to our trans-ness and it does not confirm that we are “real women.”
Gender is so beautiful because it feels different for all of us and if society didn’t police what categorized us as male or female, our gender presentations would be as diverse and fluctuating as everyone is on this planet is already.
I still go through the same experiences that my pre-op/non-op trans girlfriends go through. I still get clocked on the street, and have some days where I feel more uncomfortable in my body than usual… And thats okay. I don’t know why people think you have to have it all figured out and that if you’re unsure with yourself and your body that your identity isn’t valid. It is. I’ve come to appreciate that with every new day, I’m learning and coming to get to know the person I am. I am open to failing, hurting; I’m open to love; I’m open to change. Surgery opened those doors for me. It’s given me the peace so now I can focus on who I am, rather than what I am.
Through my struggle, I appreciate the journey with my body, from being a child who couldn’t bear to look at themselves naked, to a woman who flourishes on social media with endless sexy selfies. I am so happy, and I can’t stress enough how important it is to become comfortable with our bodies. Do what you need to do, to feel you, and know that you’re going to get there.
Author’s note: these experiences are strictly my own and do not necessarily reflect the experiences of other trans women.
Images: Giphy (5); courtesy of the author (7)