Much More Than A Safety Net

A few weeks ago, I received a message from the super lovely dynamo that is Jyllie Jackson, CEO & Creative Director of the Lismore Lantern Parade. There was, apparently, “something” in their new(ish) shed that Jyllie was sure that I would be interested in seeing. Her message was so super vague that I was of course super intrigued. I had only ever been in their shed once before … the old shed that is … I had spent a few hours there with many others that had laboured for entire days after ex-Cyclone Debbie had heartlessly attempted to drown all of the lanterns. We swept filthy contaminated floodwater from the shed floor with push brooms and tap water. We gingerly lifted paper lanterns, upending them to rid them of their toxic edemas that had collected after being submerged by metres of flood water.  We triaged sometimes sodden, sometimes disintegrating, lanterns onto various piles outside, ranging from the surprisingly healthy to the sadly irrecoverable. It was heart breaking work … countless hours had been invested by countless community members in birthing these once gorgeous lanterns. When Jyllie invited me on a tour of the new shed that weekend, I eagerly accepted. 

Jyllie bounded up from her desk to meet me at the front door before I had even had a chance to open it. She was clearly very busy, but also clearly very keen to show me everything … and something. The shed is a fascinating place … a community within a community. Jyllie danced me slowly through the shed whilst recounting stories of the lanterns and of her incredibly committed volunteers. She showed me the open plan administration zone and the wheelchair accessible bathroom. The ethos of the shed was clearly to be as inclusive as possible. I was shown the technical area where all of the batteries and cables are maintained and stored. I was shown where the constituent lantern parts were stored. There were lanterns crammed everywhere in various stages of health and recuperation.  I was impressed at how neat and tidy the shed was, but I also sadly realised that I had been comparing it to the old shed where I had seen dozens of sodden lanterns washed off shelves onto the ground. I was super impressed with their recovery, and awed at how much work must have gone into that recovery.

I was led past the more-carefully-than-was-expected sorted and stacked collections of lanterns, weaving backwards and forwards across the shed, all the while edging gingerly towards the rear of the shed. It was clear by now, if it hadn’t been already, that I was being led towards … something. As we moved closer to the rear of the shed, Jyllie began recounting the story of a local CBD shop owner that had created two rooster bust lanterns and one heart lantern that lived for a time in his shop window during the Enchanted Windows program. The shop owner and his friend had asked Jyllie if she could make the roosters “paradeworthy”, by adding bottom halves to them, including a pair of legs each, and adding carrying frames. Jyllie agreed, but shortly afterwards realised that two roosters simply wouldn’t be able to cohabit the shed, as they would be constantly fighting. Jyllie broached this subject, first with the roosters themselves, and later on with the shop owner and his friend. Everybody was in agreement: one of the roosters needed to transition to become a hen. Right on cue we came to an abrupt halt in front of a towering handsome avian couple … a rooster and a hen … just as Jyllie, whilst beaming as only Jyllie can beam, said “I would like you to meet Rene and Roxana … Roxana the rooster that needed to become a hen”. I was quite stunned and utterly lost for words. I felt like I needed to cry, but tears weren’t to flow just yet. My mind was still grappling with the inter-connecting layers of Jyllie’s story, and what those layers meant for each of the story’s characters.

I have lived in 17 towns and suburbs in my (so far) 49 years. It took me 34 years to get to number 16. All but 1 of my subsequent 15 years have been spent in my 17th town, and if I have any say in the matter, I am pretty sure that there won’t be an 18th. I live in a town where everything that can possibly be named after someone, is named after someone … streets, bridges, carparks, buildings, parks and playgrounds … all named after those that have contributed somehow to our community. Of course I had never expected anything to be named after me. I had spent my whole life until my transition commenced remaining as inconspicuous as it was humanly possible to be. Yet I now have the honour of having a beautiful lantern named for me … a much more auspicious naming than a carpark, I reckon.

Jyllie and I went back to her open plan office and talked for hours about life and love and volunteering. Walking out of the shed heading home afterwards, it became clearer to me than ever that my community was so much more to me than a safety net … a safety net only protects you if you fall … after you fall … what we have here in Lismore is more like a community-sized 3D bamboo, cane & wire support structure, covered with paper for a modicum of privacy and containing an internal light for illumination, providing support at every turn and wobble for many who need it. When I arrived home I sat quietly to consider, and attempt to place into perspective, what had just unfolded. Tears finally flowed.

Six months to go!

I have so many things to achieve over the next six months. I haven’t counted, but it’s a lot!

Watching Marissa Farmer’s video this morning I realised, though, that I hadn’t noticed that I had shifted my focus to the practical simply to stop myself being overwhelmed by my to-do list. It was beautiful to hear Marissa describe not only what was happening to her, but how she was feeling at the time.

The protocol for Marissa’s surgery sounds like it will be fairly similar to mine, though I will be in hospital for 6 to 7 days (until after the equivalent of her first post-op checkup), then stay in Melbourne for another 10 or 11 days before I get the final okay for the flight home. I believe that there are also checkup trips back to Melbourne over the following year, but I’m a bit hazy on that. First things first.

Removing My Cloak of Invisibility II

Transitioning gender is an uncharted heady mix of recasting your relationships with yourself, your family, colleagues, friends & strangers, for most, beginning a course of cross sex hormones to induce a second, more appropriate puberty, and for some, but not all, consulting one or more surgeons to determine what surgeries may be beneficial to your transition.

Earlier this year, I was invited by Plastic Surgery Hub to write a series of blog posts for their website. Plastic Surgery Hub are an award winning patient and practitioner website dedicated to connecting Australian patients with fully qualified and suitably experienced Australian Specialist Plastic Surgeons and practitioners. They have an extremely large presence on Social Media with over 23,000 unique members on their Instagram and Closed Facebook Groups and over 10,000 visitors to their website every week. 

It was an exciting, yet daunting, opportunity to put my words, and my life, in front of so many new readers. Here is my first instalment:

For as long as I can remember, I have been aware of the existence of cosmetic and plastic surgery, and what they meant to their partakers. I didn’t personally know anyone that had partaken, to the best of my knowledge, but I fully supported people doing what they thought best for their own bodies. I had no problem with others availing themselves, though I always knew that it wasn’t for me. But that was back when I thought I was a cisgender* man. Nearly three years ago, in a landslide of emotions and unearthed memories I realised that I was in fact a transgender** woman.  Now I’m on track to pay around $75,000 in surgery and associated costs over the next couple of years.

Nearly two years after first introducing into my body two delicious female sex hormones, and another to block my testosterone (the hormonal transition) and 8 months after I began presenting full time as female (the social transition), it is nearly time to commence my surgical transition. Three years ago I knew nothing about the types of transitional surgeries available, but now, finances notwithstanding, after years of extensive reading, watching and listening, I have a short list (in order of likelihood that each will actually happen) of gender affirmation surgery, breast augmentation, facial affirmation surgery and vocal affirmation surgery. 

Gender affirmation surgery, for me as I’m transitioning male to female, essentially means a vaginoplasty (removing my gonads and refashioning my genitals into a neo-vagina and labia. It involves quite a lot of rest and healing time: 6 to 8 weeks off work, 2 months of only gentle exercise and 3 months of avoiding everything energetic. This surgery I consider will be life saving.

Breasts continue to grow for years after commencing hormonal transition, so it is a good idea to wait until they stop growing before considering breast augmentation. Mine are still growing, so I have parked this decision for now.

Facial affirmation surgery would mean using certain specialised surgical techniques to bring my entire face to within normal female range. Most people haven’t considered this, but there are very few definitively gender based facial characteristics apart from male facial hair. Facial characteristics tend to exist in a spectrum and most people have a combination of both male and female characteristics that our brains use to sort faces into male, non-binary or female. My face, although generally male in appearance, is substantially naturally within normal female range, so any surgery would probably only require forehead feminisation, hair transplants, a lip lift and a rhinoplasty. 

Vocal affirmation surgery would mean using several tiny sutures to join only a few millimetres of my vocal cords together. This would increase the pitch of my voice to within normal female range. As I am currently undertaking specialist voice training that sounds like it will successfully bring my voice to within normal female range, I probably won’t end up proceeding with the vocal affirmation surgery.

To transition fully will cost me around $100,000 all up, and for someone that doesn’t have much in the way of savings (this is common for transgender folk as severe depression has often interfered with our ability to work what others would consider a normal work load), the financial impact is much more worrying to me than the surgical impact. One step at a time though. First off, I’m soon to have my first appointment with my gender affirmation surgeon. Waiting lists for this type of surgery are often around 7 to 9 months, so it isn’t something that is just around the corner for me, but I do have plenty to do in the meantime, so the time should pass quickly enough. Some of the waiting time is to force you to carefully consider that this is what you should be doing with your body … the implications of making the wrong decision are fairly dire. The rest of the waiting time is because although there are many cosmetic and plastic surgeons in Australia, only 1 or 2 surgeons are able to perform gender affirmation surgery for those transitioning from male to female. 2019 should be a very challenging year for me.

*Cisgender:  where a person’s gender identity matches the sex that they were assigned at birth.
**Transgender:  where a person’s gender identity doesn’t match the sex that they were assigned at birth.