Ask Aunt Fran: The plumbing

Well, the hits just keep on coming. Hence, the latest installment of Ask Aunt Fran, where I either demystify the transgender experience for you non-trans folks or just really confuse the hell out of you. (Hopefully the former.)

Anyway, if you have a question about this whole gender trip thang, email me at (or my personal email if you know it). All questions will be answered anonymously unless you want the exposure. And remember: I might be a firsthand expert, but I’m no shrink or doctor — all my answers are based on my personal experiences.

So here’s one I get a lot, especially when people first meet me and want to hear my life story (and here’s my gratuitous Monty Python line for the week: “Half a denari for me life story?”):

“So … are you planning on having the surgery?”

The surgery. Which only really means one thing, of course: altering the plumbing of my nether region to match the wiring in my brain. Or, to cut to the chase, so to speak: Am I gonna get it cut off?

An uncomfortable question in more ways than one, to be sure — downright painful — but one I can answer.


Last year, Shanny, a dear longtime friend and ex-girlfriend — and charter member of my girlie fan club, as well as mother of Cameron, the coolest 15-year-old girl in the universe — gave me a paperback novel as a birthday gift: “Trans-Sister Radio” by Chris Bohjalian. Hated the cover (who wants to see feet in their faces?) but loved what was inside.

It’s the story of Allison, a divorced schoolteacher in a small Vermont town whose ex is the manager of the local NPR station and whose daughter is just going off to college. (And the story, to an extent, takes the form of a fictitious NPR feature.) She enrolls in a film class at the local college, where she falls for Dana, the professor. And he, in turn, falls for her. Which complicates things for the both of them because this is August going into September, and Dana has to break the news to Allie that he’s always felt female inside, and that he already has booked his sexual-reassignment surgery for the beginning of the year in Trinidad, Colo., where many such surgeries take place. She’s angry that he didn’t tell her; he’s sad and frustrated because he had the surgery planned before he met her, didn’t plan to fall for her and didn’t know how to tell her.

So how do they navigate a relationship when he’s about to become a she? And to complicate things more, lest you think all people in Vermont are hippie liberals and so-called liberals, just him crossdressing and being out with Allie causes trouble for them — especially Allie, who comes up against a shitstorm of resistance from school administrators and parents who suddenly see her as unfit to teach sixth-graders. It’s a very well-written book which takes great pains and sensitivity to show as many sides of a touchy subject as possible.

Anyway, I digress, though you should read the book. (The only thing that rings untrue here is that Dana is still in boy drag at the start of the book, only four months away from the surgery. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health’s Standards of Care, the protocol many gender physicians and therapists go by, state that a patient undergoing genital surgery should have 12 months of successful continuous real-life experience — that is, living full time as the desired gender.)

The reason I brought up the book is because Bohjalian includes a chapter on Dana’s surgery itself. And, as someone born male, and someone with a vivid imagination, I squirmed my way through the entire thing, closing my legs a little tighter the more I read. (The only book that made me squirm about as much was another one I read last year: Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” — I won’t go see the film because the literary cinematic version in my head is so horrific.)

For the uninitiated, altering the plumbing in male-to-female SRS isn’t castration — it’s much more complicated. Essentially, the penis is cut open, turned inside out and inserted into the body, where doctors in Trinidad and Thailand and several other major SRS centers, with the deft touch of a plastic surgeon, can craft a very credible-looking who-who out of a wee-wee. And maintain all the sensitivity so that the patient can still experience climax in her new sex (or just fake it), like a genetic girl — and without the risk of getting pregnant, since surgeons haven’t gotten to the point of uterus transplants yet.

Yes — for the price of a nifty new box on wheels ($25K can get you a Mini Cooper), you can have a nifty new box on heels. But the recovery is very slow and painful, as Dana experiences (graphically, I might add) in the book. And besides, I need a car much more than I need a vagina.

As I’ve written at various points along the gender trip: 1) Sex and gender are similar but different — sex is what’s between your legs, gender is what’s in your brain, and sexual dysphoria, like I have, is when the two don’t match; and 2) I’ve always liked girls, though now I’d be open to a trans girl as well as a genetic girl. I’ve always felt like a woman spiritually, hence the gender transition and the hormones to match. But at the same time, I never wanted to get rid of the male plumbing. I never looked at the penis as some loathsome appendage that needed doing away with. I never thought with the wrong head much, but I never minded having it, either.

Yes, it’s a little confusing unless you’re living it, but the spectrum of trans girls’ experiences is pretty, ahem, broad. Some girls plan on the full surgery; some don’t plan on any surgery at all. Some girls are post-op transsexual, some are pre-op trans, some are non-op trans, some are crossdressers who only get femme part-time — either as a fetish, a sexual turn-on, or because other concerns (i.e. families, societal pressures and fears) keep them from living full time. As pour moi, I fall somewhere in between pre-op and non-op: I won’t get the full surgery, though I plan on getting a couple body enhancements down the road if I can get a goddamn job: electrolysis so I won’t have to rip my face apart every day anymore, a tummy tuck and maybe a small breast enhancement if the girls don’t grow big enough on their own.

When my doctor, a post-op male-to-female, started me on hormone replacement therapy in the spring, she told me, “Don’t think of doing any physical modifications for two years, in case you were planning on having the surgery.” “I’m not planning on the surgery,” I told her. “Never say never,” she retorted.

Maybe she knows something I don’t. I have allowed myself to think about what it would be like to have female plumbing on occasion, but I’ve never seriously considered it. As a hardcore, middle-of-the-period Gemini, I do like, even thrive on, the ability to experience two worlds at once.

So there you go — a long-winded answer to what often comes out as “Nah, I don’t want to get rid of the plumbing — I still like girls” in verbal conversation. Besides, it gave me a chance to plug a very good book.


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3 Responses to “Ask Aunt Fran: The plumbing”

  1. Jackie Says:

    ” I need a car much more than I need a vagina.” Me too Frannie

    …although dont underestimate the power of the va-jay jay….it has landed many girls a bright new Beamer! haha

  2. Sheryl Says:

    I wish I could give you mine. I’m not using it!

  3. It's Drew! Says:

    “Yes — for the price of a nifty new box on wheels ($25K can get you a Mini Cooper), you can have a nifty new box on heels”

    I laughed so hard the cats ran away.

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