Embarrassments – Trans People and Surgery

Not too long ago, I went through a series of surgeries involving intercontinental travel to an unfamiliar country, general anaesthesia, significant trauma, and extended recovery time, including the usual post-anaesthesia depression. I was out of work for over a month. At work, I let it be known that the purpose of my absence was surgeries, but I did not specify what they were, or give any other details. A small number of my coworkers have not acted well toward me since the start of my transition, passing misinformation amongst themselves, a process which later bit me in the rear. I did not want to fuel that dynamic.

I am blessed with a tight and supportive family, and with many superbly good friends whom I have accumulated over the years. Most of them reached out with supportive messages. Some rendered assistance with travel and out-of-the-blue expenses.

None of my co-workers contacted me. 1

During my time out of the country, while I was in early convalescence, I corresponded with friends, one of whom was another trans woman, older and wiser than I, who transitioned a couple of decades ago. I mentioned at one point that I felt down that none of my co-workers had contacted me. Her response, paraphrased: “You expected them to? Kids these days. We’re an embarrassment, hon. That’s why we stick together and help each other out. No one else is going to do it. Support from your co-workers? As if.” She told me a story about another woman she met when she, herself, was recovering from similar surgeries, a trans woman who had scrimped and saved and travelled alone to a city she didn’t know to go under the knife of a doctor she had met maybe once before, a woman who planned to recover alone, doling out her pain medications alone, mashing up her food alone so that she could slip it past her healing gums and nourish her healing body, getting up to do her clot-preventing walks down the hall of her rented single-room apartment alone, working through the post-anaesthesia depression and despair and “what have I done?” alone.

Except that it turned out that she wasn’t alone, because my friend was there, then, and afterward, for months, when the daily e-mails my friend sent were the only communications this woman received from another human being.

It was a familiar story. Almost every trans woman I know who has had significant surgery has a friend she met in the hospital, a friend whom she still touches base with regularly.

What are the ODDS?

Pretty good, actually, that you’re going to form bonds like that when you find that there there is one other person who understands, who knows, and you find that there are no other bonds, when you discover that no one in your life can find it in themselves to send you an e-mail to say that they hope you’re okay.

I’m more fortunate than most. I have my entire family, and all of my close friends. So I didn’t need a hospital friend like that, which turned out to be a good thing, since I ended up not sharing a recovery room with anyone.

Sometimes I wonder: what about the people like me who didn’t meet anyone in the hospital, but who, unlike me, had no one else? We don’t hear about them. Partly, obviously, because they don’t have a friend to tell the story about how they met in the surgery suite. But I suspect that a lot of them die in the post-anaesthesia depression, which can rear up and bite you weeks after the actual surgery, long after you’ve flown home and the surgeon is busy with other patients and chalks you up as a success. Some probably kill themselves deliberately, having made it that far but having hit their limit. Some probably just… fade. It would be easy. Just get home, collapse behind your front door, and … don’t follow the post-surgical instructions well.

My friend is right. We are an embarrassment. People don’t know what to do with us, even sometimes people who would seem to be close to us, and so rather than risk the wrong thing, they do nothing. At the same time, she’s wrong. Times are changing. People still screw up a lot toward trans people, but there has never been a better time in modern Western society to be trans; the general population is learning. And, theoretically, police organizations are supposed to be tight and self-supportive, a result which flows from the simple fact that we get critiqued, constantly, from all sides, and so we look to each other for understanding. In theory, this is particularly true of tactical teams, which tend to be very tight.

And, despite my professional calling, I’m an optimist. I want to be able to say, “Yes, people did the right thing. On their own.”

But, of course, in order to be able to say that truthfully, you have to make room for it to be true, which means that you also have to give people the opportunity to demonstrate that it’s false.

For my tiny corner of the world, my optimism turned out to be misplaced. My friend was right. Even though my transition in police work was wildly successful when measured against most previous such transitions… it turns out that I’m an embarrassment. 2

I have another friend, a teenager (call her Teena). We met her when her mother read about my transition in social media and reached out, saying, “Can I talk to you? My kid is trans, and I need information and advice.” Teena is already socially transitioned and needs to access medical care, but her family is overextended handling other, unrelated, emergencies. I offered to help Teena get access to the puberty-blockers she so badly needs, and the therapy which is probably useful in itself and definitely required to access cross-hormone therapy eventually. Her mother accepted. I met with Teena to find out exactly what she wanted to do. She told me. I digested, and then suggested a plan of action. She agreed to it. At the end, she hugged me and said, “Thank you.”

“You bet, hon,” I said. “We have to watch out for each other. No one else is going to. We’re an embarrassment.”

She smiled, safe in a moment of support. Sixteen years old with her body going wrong on her and inexpensive treatment extant which she had not been able to access. There was not a trace of surprise on her face. “Yeah,” she said. “We are.”


[edited to correct a generalization]

  1. Contact methods available to all of my co-workers included work email, personal email, texting, cell phone, home phone, Google Voice mail which gets transcribed to my e-mail address, and of course, a letter to my home address. This was not a problem of access. In the end, technically, one did contact me, though not one I am close with. He sent me a single text, which I did not receive until I landed again in the US, and 99% of the expense, travel, recovery and general terror were done. []
  2. With that one belated exception. []
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8 Responses to Embarrassments – Trans People and Surgery

  1. 1
    Jake Squid says:

    Thanks, Grace. I always learn something from your posts.

  2. 2
    Lady Stardust says:

    I apologize if this comes off the wrong way :(. But I feel he urge to say that my trans friends are certainly not an embarrassment to me!

    A friend of mine is getting surgery in less than two months and we are planning that I will spend a good amount of time with her when she is recovering. We don’t know how she is going to feel but I am still excited to spend time with her, even if she turns out to be pretty sleepy <3. We are not sure how long she will be in the hospital and I live 2.5 hours away but I should still be able to keep her company some of the time.

    We are both so excited she will finally feel alot more comfortable with her body. Even little stuff like her wanting to go to the beach this summer makes me happy. I really do not understand why someone wouldn't be hyper excited for their friends/co-workers getting surgery.

  3. 3
    rimonim says:

    Grace, congratulations on your surgery and recovery. Having followed your work for some time, it is so awesome to know you are living a more and more congruent life.

    It’s true, other people are ashamed of us, and we have to look out for each other, because no one else will. As screwed up as this is, some of the most meaningful experiences of my life have emerged from the profound kinship among trans people. So many times in my life, I’ve reached out in terror to a trans friend, or friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend, and I have been received as a brother.

    Once I was searching for the date of a trans support meeting in my city, and accidentally found a craigslist ad from a young trans man who was new in town and desperately seeking information. I emailed him; we met up the next day and formed a real friendship. I am not the sort of person who normally meets up with random people from craigslist. But I felt absolutely no hesitation in reaching out to this human being, whom I knew to be my brother.

    I recently wrote a lit review on trans people and mental health. Social rejection was, of course, a major theme, and one of the factors most associated with severe distress. The support of fellow trans people was just as major. I often think of the findings of one study, which said that of the large subset of participants who had considered suicide, it was typically another trans person who was there to talk them into life.

    The word “community” gets thrown around a lot, but we really are a community, in all the ways that matter. Like you said, we have to be.

  4. 4
    Elusis says:

    Congratulations on your successful surgery and best wishes for your ongoing recovery, Grace. :)

  5. 5
    Simple Truth says:

    I’m so glad to hear your surgery went well, at least medically if not socially. I hope you get through the rest of your transition well. Thank you so much for being so willing to talk about your own life and provide insight to those of us who don’t know (or have not had the privilege of being trusted with the identity of) any individuals who are dealing with this. I wish you and White Lioness (I think that was her handle?) the best!

  6. Grace,

    This may sound like an odd thing to say, but it makes me happy—not in a simple way, but deeply and soul-satisfyingly happy—to read posts like this. Obviously, I am not happy that you had to deal with being an embarrassment, but I am happy (and happy for you) that you are strong enough to write about it so movingly and compassionately, and I am happy that I have the opportunity to read it, to learn from it, to be humbled by, and even inspired by it; and, more personally, I am happy for you that your surgery went well, that you have the supportive family that you have. May things only get better, and since it’s Rosh HaShana, I will say, may your name be inscribed in the book of happiness and health for the coming year.

  7. 7
    closetpuritan says:

    I’m glad that your surgery went well and that you have supportive family and friends.

    I’ve only had to deal with it in small ways, but realizing your coworkers are not as good people as you thought they were is not a good feeling.

  8. 8
    Ginger says:

    As a cis-woman who has owned up to my own transphobia but is working on it, this made my heart ache. This article is why I can’t just sit happy in my own privilege and ignore trans-people and their struggle, even if it makes me uncomfy. YOU are not an embarrassment, those of us who have not stood up and shown your community the support you deserve are.