I had it all: A loyal, bright and loving wife. A devoted son who is a published and tenured major university professor. Two adorable twin grand-daughters. A successful career as a senior-level marketing consultant earning six figures annually with stock options and a company paid BMW. Self respect earned by serving as a church elder and board member on non-profit boards. Then—in just one year—I lost everything after undergoing a series of irreversible gender reassignment surgeries. So how did I get to where I am today?
Until I became Jennifer in late 2008, nobody except my devoted wife and a remarkable psychiatrist knew of my periodic struggles with gender dissonance. Despite hiding my gender confusion, I once took a leave of absence to experiment secretly with living as a woman. I also periodically experimented with estrogen and painful electrolysis. Fortunately, every time gender dissonance surfaced, my so-called “old school” psychiatrist pulled me back from the brink. He helped me cope by stressing what gender assignment surgery would actually cost. And I’m not talking about the more than $50,000 I ultimately wasted on comprehensive gender reassignment operations.
Even more astutely, my psychiatrist believed that my gender identity problems were formed as a sensitive child, who abhorred the violence, cruelty and bullishness of boys. As a result, I over identified with women, placed them on a pedestal and desired to be one with them in every way possible. But fearing social rejection—coupled with a deep-seeded desire to be “normal”—I worked hard to mask my feminine identity until 2007.
I likely won’t ever know or understand why my gender dissonance surfaced stronger than ever in 2007. By then my psychiatrist had died. So I turned to professionals who specialize in transsexualism. Without verifying anything I told them (e.g., I lied about living the mandatory full year as a woman), they immediately prescribed female hormones for me. Instead of receiving psychological testing and being forced to realistically evaluate the downside of gender reassignment surgery, we focused on where to have my eyebrows trimmed and completing electrolysis.
I know some people truly can benefit from gender reassignment surgery, especially if done early in adulthood. I know it can be their only realistic option. And no one rolled me into the operating room with a gun pointed at my head. But I question whether some medical professionals dedicated to helping transsexuals too easily take people at their word without requiring them to work through some deep soul searching?
Doctors working with self-identified transsexuals must do everything within their means to verify everything their patients tell them. Because people like me, who believe surgery is critical to their survival, fear that being truthful could mean surgery being denied them.
But sometimes—as in my case—surgery should be denied.