We’re back for the fourth installment of Congratulations, She’s a Boy, following Wellington writer Felix Desmarais’ female-to-male (FTM) transition. This month: a life-changing operation.
What a difference a month and a bit makes.
Last time I wrote my column, I had breasts. Now I’m sitting here writing having just seen my new nipples, grafted on from my old ones. My chest is as flat as my singing voice.
How did that happen?
At the beginning of the year I started hanging out with a bunch of other trans guys, about once a month. I refer to them as DA BOIIIIIIZZZ (always yelled, always head thrown back). At one of these meetings I found out about the Bowen Trust and how they fund top surgery for trans men in Wellington. It’s a word-of-mouth kind of system (though I s’pose it won’t be after this column is published) and I currently know very little about it besides from the fact that it’s enabled me to have life-changing surgery. Here’s how it worked for me.
I went to my GP and said I’d heard of something called the Bowen Trust and that it funds top surgeries for trans men in Wellington. All I knew is that I needed to apply via my GP for top surgery in the public system (the DHB) in order to get the inevitable rejection letter.
With that rejection letter (and I added in referrals from my GP, and my psychologist who referred me for hormone replacement therapy) my GP applied on my behalf to the offices of David Glasson, plastic surgeon, at Bowen Hospital in Crofton Downs.
Mr. Glasson’s rooms then scheduled me in for an initial consultation (which I had to pay for – it was $110) to assess my eligibility for surgery. That, I presume, is an assessment of my need for the surgery as well as my candidacy in terms of my general health and wellness for surgery.
Then, when Mr. Glasson believes you are a good candidate for surgery, he applies to the Bowen Trust, which, as I say, I know nothing about besides from that they fund medical care for people who need it and are somehow attached to, presumably, Bowen Hospital, which is in the private system. Then the Bowen Trust accepts or rejects (I guess) the request for funding (which is limited per financial year) and Mr. Glasson’s office gets back to you about booking a date.
So that’s what I think happened.
At my initial consultation Mr. Glasson warned me that demand for surgery through the Bowen Trust is starting to outstrip supply, and I might have to wait until 2019.
Then only a week later I got a call from Mr Glasson’s rooms.
“Hello Felix, how are you? I’m about to make your day a whole lot better.”
“Oh wow, awesome!”
“Your application for funding with the Bowen Trust has been accepted, and we can set a date for your surgery.”
“Oh! … So… roughly when would that be?”
“I just need to check the calendar…”
She put me on hold. I held the phone to my ear and looked at the ceiling in disbelief, my eyes prickling. It was actually going to happen! She comes back onto the call.
“We could do Wednesday next week.”
At this stage I hadn’t quite finished my studies for the year, so though that following Wednesday would have been wonderful, it wasn’t so convenient. Plus, six days isn’t a lot of time to mentally prepare for the first surgery you’ve ever had in your life!
“…Or the 7th of November or sometime in January…”
Something about end-of-financial-years and cut offs. No pun intended.
So the date was set for the 7th of November.
The Bowen Trust fully funded the $17,045 for my surgical costs, but none of that would have been possible without friends, family and strangers helping me out with approximately $1300 additional funding through my GiveaLittle page. All of the associated costs to do with having surgery were covered, and without that I would not have been able to accept the Bowen Trust’s magical and life-changing offer.
The feeling? Almost indescribable. When my voice started to change from testosterone, I said to friends that it didn’t feel that foreign, because how my voice sounds now is a lot closer to how I always imagined it sounded in my head. It’s the same with my new chest – it’s exciting and thrilling at the very same time as feeling like this is how my chest has always been in my mind. It feels very natural.
I WASN’T CRYING, MY EYES WERE JUST SPARKLING
The strangest part of it was figuring out how to say goodbye to The Girls. Unlike some trans guys, I personally didn’t hate my breasts. It was just that I was never meant to have them. But that doesn’t negate that they were a part of me, and I was removing a part of me – something that can be quite difficult to face. We’ve been through some times together.
If society didn’t see that I had breasts and therefore assume I was a woman, I probably wouldn’t have had them removed. It was like an amicable break up with my breasts, though kind of harder in a way because you can’t resent them, blame them for all your faults or avoid them when you see them in the street. Pretty glad I won’t be bumping into my tits on Cuba Street, to be honest, even if we are on friendly terms (though maybe we aren’t, since I so unceremoniously dumped them. I never know with my exes.)
I feel like a lot of people assume all trans guys just can’t wait to be rid of their chest, that it repulses them. That is definitely the case for some trans guys, maybe even the majority. But it’s important to point out that things aren’t always that black and white. Just like when I was nervous about going on testosterone, it is okay to sit with that feeling and allow yourself to feel it. There’s no right way to transition.
I was nervous and a little unsure, but based on how much time I’ve spent giggling at myself in the mirror while trying on my favourite t-shirts to see how they look on me now, I know I’ve made the right decision.
I MEAN THEY’RE LITERALLY THE SAME NIPPLES BUT NOW THEY’RE FAMILY-FRIENDLY WTF INSTAGRAM
It’s lovely. I feel so much more comfortable. I feel so much more me. It’s changed my life.
The Bowen Trust is amazing for what they do, and so is Mr. Glasson. But shouldn’t this be a publicly funded surgery? It’s only by the grace of Dog (praise be) that I know about the Bowen Trust – I’m lucky. But the Bowen Trust shouldn’t have to provide this life-saving funding in the first place.
That’s what our public healthcare system is for – providing vital health care to those who need it. I’m chuffed that my tax dollars go towards saving people’s lives in the public healthcare system. Top surgery is literally life saving. It is vital, and it’s not elective. I wouldn’t have chosen to have top surgery, but I had to, to survive. So it makes me angry that even though there are wonderful safety nets like the Bowen Trust, trans people shouldn’t be falling off the cliff in the first place.
I presume there is very little political gain in enabling better care for trans people. There’s relatively few of us we have very little sway. But improvement in this area would literally save lives.
Cisgender people call us brave and inspirational all the bloody time – how about brave and inspirational policy change for trans people too?
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