This story has not gone how I thought it would. One month post op, my mind now clear of the influence of spironolactone and opiate pain medicines, the words are finally coming to me to talk about my experience with bottom surgery.
I wondered what I would write. I looked back on my original article where I haggled with questions like, “would I be a virgin again?” And those questions feel so small next to the enormity of what I’ve been through. Would I talk about the nuances of the procedure? The pain? The difficulty healing? The mechanics of learning to pee again? The way I feel like a toddler, waddling around in a new and clumsy body? With a clear mind, all of that seems so small. I will write that, but it’s not what I need to say in this moment. And it’s not what I think I needed to hear before I had this surgery. Instead, I’m going to deviate from the plan and write what I wish I had thought about beforehand.
On April 7th, 2021 at 10AM, I underwent a procedure that profoundly changed everything. It changed everything so much more than I ever thought possible — and far more suddenly than I expected. I remember being wheeled into the operating theater. I watched the window panes go by in my periphery as I joked with my nurses about the bumpy ride. The sun was up. I entered the theater, it was so bright. I was moved to a table fashioned in the shape of a cross, it seemed like almost a dozen people danced around me grabbing tubes and needles and small metallic trays and carts. A disembodied hand placed a mask on my face. The last thing I remember is pure bright light. I went into that light without hesitation, without fear.
And then I heard a voice. She asked me if I could hear her. The first words I heard were my name. “Evey, can you hear me?” I felt that I was being moved, but each sensation felt slurred, my drugged body incapable of telling my brain what I was experiencing. I was given instructions that I could barely understand, asked questions that I somehow responded to accurately. I remember being moved to my bed, and I heard my nurse say the words, “your vagina…”
It was dark then. The windows in my periphery offered no light. The people in my room moved around me silhouetted only by the dim light offered from the hallway, there was only the bed and this room. I wasn’t ready for the world yet. When I heard the nurse say those words, “your vagina,” I powered through the anesthesia, the pain meds, and my tiredness to peel back the blankets and look between my legs. I remember the way the sobbing clawed its way out of my throat, every cried-out word felt and sounded like a record scratching out an exorcism of all my fear and hurt. Everything in my body came together in that one moment, overcoming its drunken stupor to give me a word: safe. I was safe. I was finally safe. And because I was safe, I could feel happy. I felt relieved. I didn’t just sleep, I collapsed into myself. I had been running and fighting for so long. When I looked between my legs, for the first time, I knew I could stop. Folks have said that I have serenity in my eyes now.
Until April 7th, I had been pursued. Followed each day by the specter of my suicidal ideation. It kept its distance, skulking behind me waiting for something to go wrong, so it could grab me again. Every day it was there, that worry that I could change back or that I was incomplete. I guarded that worry fiercely to not let that specter find hold in me.
And now it’s gone. I look in my mirror for that specter and I find it conspicuously absent, as thought it never existed at all. Something else has changed, too, not just between my legs.
When I started HRT, it took me almost a year to start feeling at home in my womanhood and confident in the separations between me and men. It was a lot of work and awareness to get myself to that place. I had to do so much mindfulness, compassion, and therapy.
I knew this surgery would be important for me mentally. I knew it would help me be secure in my womanhood. It would save me. What I didn’t expect was the way it’s started to rewrite my internal imagery and even my relationships to memories.
I feel like a whole new lady. It’s getting harder for me to associate with my pre transition pain, to genuinely remember how that felt. When we call up a memory, we are kind of having a small flashback to that moment. We hear and feel the echoes of all the emotion and the words that went into that memory — even the pain. Especially the pain.
And now that pain can find no purchase in me. It’s like that memory required me to have a penis for me to fully experience it. I see the pain. But I’m looking at it through the glass. It cannot reach me. There is a barrier between me and that part of the memory. I am no longer compatible with it. I have distance.
I sit here on this side of the exhibit looking with sympathy and curiosity at old versions of me and seeing them thrash and scream and cry. I see me on the bus with my cheap headphones listening to Faint on repeat, unsure if I was going to survive the night. I’ve lost something that connected me to that memory. It happened. I know it happened. But I can no longer relive it. Not the same way. It has no power over me anymore.
There’s an old story about a general who burnt all his boats to make sure his men had only one choice: win or die. I thought when I had this surgery that I was burning the boats. I was wrong. This is different. I can’t go back, so that much is true — but I see the boats there.
It’s funny. I feel my mind habitually dipping back into my memories to look for something scary or painful. I have PTSD, this has been my life for decades. And when the horror films in my mind have run their course, I find my mind behaving quite like I do leaving the theater. Wow! That was scary. Sure glad it can’t happen to me. Safety.
That same pane of glass now stands between me and most men. I saw a thread of a bunch of men discussing penis problems (bully on them for having body talk, men need to learn to have body talk), and I thought “wow, can’t relate.” Like at all. It’s not just a body part that went missing, I literally find myself unable to relate to their experiences even though barely a month ago my body was like theirs.
Sometimes it’s genuinely hard for me to remember that I actually did have a penis at one point. This body, even swollen and sore as it is, is the most natural thing in the world to me.
Meanwhile, I have never felt so at home in all my feminine spaces. I feel more connected than ever to the cis women discussing their bodies with me, particularly the strange nuances of avoiding UTIs and the dreaded speculum. My nurses at the hospital talked with me about my body, they cheered me on.
I see now that once again, I have died. I went into that light and I awoke in the dark clumsy, hurting, and unsure. I was reborn. Me. Evey Nadia Winters. Being new is hard work, and for the last 4 weeks I have cried and slept and relied on others to care for me. I grow more confident each day, more sure in my steps, and more in control of this body — my body. My heart is not filled with joy. I have a strange, smiling sadness growing inside me.
I feel quite the same way I do in movies where a character, sadly, must move on as she’s outgrown her life in some way. I imagine it is the same in me. There’s a hard line between me and my memories of me. I can’t go back. I can never be that person again. I look back on her and see a survivor, a strong person who put everything into getting me here. But I have to keep her with me in photographs and snippets, a dear friend preserved in memories kept sacred in a shoebox.
This is the right ending to that story. But it is an ending, and I find myself feeling a sense of remorse as I look into a bright, safer future that she built the path for. It’s strange. I love her. I miss her. I’m glad she’s not me. I’m honored she was. I hope I can hold space for her as I move forward. She deserves that for sacrificing and surviving to help me get here.
Note from Evey: I want to extend my sincerest, and most heartfelt, love and gratitude to Dr. Del Corral and the team who did my operation — as well as every person who has contributed via Patreon or helped purchase supplies for my healing and care. You gave me a new life while you saved me from the shadow of an old one. I can never express my gratitude in a way that will satisfy me.