I always laugh a little inside when I say the phrase “bottom surgery.” In a way, I’ve already had it once. There’s nothing like sitting on a medical lounger — wearing nothing but a t-shirt, waiting for your nethers to numb — while the doctor tells you how “Just a few years ago I’d have to ask your spouse permission before I did this” as the sharp implements are coming out.
If I knew how the next few years would unfold for me, maybe I would have told the vasectomy doc “You know, I think I can skip the vasectomy and just make a beeline for vaginoplasty. Can you point me to the trans health unit? And where are my pants?” As it was, I went through with the snip only to start my hormonal journey towards ladydom less than two years later. And, once again, I’m thinking of changing the arrangement of what’s in my drawers.
Before I say anything else, gender confirmation surgery (one form of bottom surgery) isn’t the end goal of transitioning or even desired by all trans people. Some people refer to themselves as pre-op, others as non-op, others with “None of your business.” All are valid. Gender and its expression are incredibly individual and varied, after all. Your mileage may vary.
So here I am, thinking about bottom surgery. There’s no “Is a vagina right for you?” pamphlet. I have to work it out on my own. Where it gets weird is when I tell other people what I’m mulling over. Even before I’ve worked out my insurance, set a date, or taken the course of bowel-emptying medicine I know I’ll have to deal with prior to the operation, I’m meeting responses I didn’t expect. Responses that have the melody of “Aw, that’s a shame” in the package of “I want you to be happy.”
Maybe it’s the general discomfort with talking about what’s between my legs at all. Whether it’s the general American unease about genitals, sympathy pains thinking about the procedure, or just not wanting to know, this is the stuff we don’t talk about.
Contrast that with top surgery. I can mention how I might want a little surgical boost after the HRT changes have settled and I usually get a response along the lines of “Hooray for boobies!” But if I talk about my lower half, the reactions are usually more in line with “Isn’t that a big change? Are you sure? What if it makes your life more complicated?” The risk and fear are up front, not affirmation.
But the particular strain of reaction I can’t quite wrap my head around— from people who have a little more insider knowledge — is a kind of “Aww” as if a pet goldfish had just passed away. My present arrangement has served me pretty well in the past, fair, but I’d rather my plumbing be altered into an arrangement more consistent with who I am. Instead of being excited that I’m setting out to feel good in my own body, the sad trombone-style reaction makes me feel like I should eventually build a tiny shrine to my dear departed dick. I’m sure I could find just the right candles for the memorial, but why?
I’m honestly confused by this. Not counting the time I’ll be convalescing, feeding on pizza and taking up more of the couch than usual, no one is affected by this change but me. Yeah, I won’t have the feeling of sliding into someone with that particular part of my anatomy again, but I can live with saying goodbye to that — especially in our 21st century age of increasingly impressive strap-ons.
What makes the difference? Is it that women are generally made to feel ashamed of their parts, while cis men fill entire books with odes to their dangles? Despite the fact that bottom surgery would reconfigure what I’ve got into a new shape — metamorphosis — does this have something to do with the belief that I’m cutting something off or losing it? Is the work of a good phallus never done while a pussy needs to prove itself to be treated with as much reverence?
I feel a touch awkward writing about these things at all, especially when so much attention is already focused below-the-belt on trans people. Whether we’ve had surgery, want surgery, what restrooms we can use, what our bodies say about our sexuality, and on and on. It’s cultural obsession and revulsion all in one, as if everyone wants to play Ace Ventura for a minute. Transfemmes like me can wear makeup and pull on dresses and get breast augmentation and all that, but the second we talk about bringing our pelvic genitals into line the message is “Whoa, stop, are you sure?” I’ve got an insurance company, doctors, and at least two therapists to go over my plans with, thanks. I’m not just doing this because I’m out of things to binge watch.
What makes me the most upset, though, is that I took in these messages early in my transition. I viewed bottom surgery as the One Thing I Could Never Undo. Everything else, even at expense, could be later changed if I felt transitioning wasn’t right for me. But my feelings have changed a little more with each dose of estradiol I’ve taken. My identity is not so fundamentally wrapped up in my genitals that I will stumble around, zombie like, if I don’t have the genital setup I was born with. I really only pay attention to what’s in my pants when the relevant parts are in use. I’m confident that I can sit on the toilet, and I’m confident that sex isn’t just all about what’s situated south of the belly button, so I’m confident that even if my life suddenly did a 180 I’d somehow manage just fine.
Of course bottom surgery is serious business. It’s stress and time and money and care, leaving me to learn a new hardware setup without a manual. But, save for the last part, the same would be true if I got breast implants or facial surgery. All of these things are big changes that shouldn’t be taken lightly and require the support of others to accomplish. The difference is that no one has been mourning the loss of my jawline or my previous wisps of chest hair. And whether or not I ever get the surgery, I’m not cocky enough to make someone feel bad about claiming what they most desire for their body.