Did I make a mistake? A transgender woman's journey of transition

Vancouver’s Carolynn Dimmer shares the questions she faced before—and after—gender reassignment surgery

Did I make a mistake? Am I doing the right thing? Is this the path for me? These are questions we usually ask and, if not, should be asking ourselves. Gender transition is not for the faint of heart. Early in my transition from male to female, I gave little thought to those questions. I was very busy buying new clothes, coming out to family and friends, and getting ready to return to work after a lengthy absence.

I was working on name changes, birth records. I was preoccupied early in my transition. There was a lot of ground to cover if I was to come out and be my true self. Endless doctors’ appointments. Sometimes I felt as though I should have had a tube from my arm connected directly to the blood lab. I had more blood drawn from me in my first year of transition than I had in my entire life, and I was under the microscope of psychiatrists, every move scrutinized. Should I sit in the blue chair in the doctor’s office? Should I sit in the pink chair? I felt like I was under constant surveillance, and worried my male side would pop out. It didn’t. I did a very good job at covering the male side of who I was. After a few years of this—the real life test—I received a letter saying that I was eligible for and had met all the criteria to move forward and have gender reassignment surgery. To say I was happy would have been a gross understatement. There it was in my hot little hands, the brass ring! The letter I had been working toward for the last four years.

For a brief moment, I hesitated to pick up the phone to book my surgery date. I read and re-read the letter countless times. Then it went into my file, and I didn’t look at it again for at least three months. Those three or so months were when the questioning began. I tried approaching people in my support system. Each of their answers was almost scripted: “Well, if you have any doubts then you’re not really trans!” I thought to myself that “You’re not really trans” was an odd thing to say. My question was still not being addressed. I had a new brass ring to reach for. “Is there anyone who has any doubts or second thoughts?”

One would think this would be a very easy question to have answered. It was my experience that it was the hardest question that I ever asked to find an answer for. It would appear that by the time I reached that stage in my transition, the medical community felt I was ready to move onto the next stage—surgery. I was supposed to be ready to take the final plunge into the mystery of becoming a woman. Hard as I looked for one person to say, “Yes, I had doubts; yes, I was terrified; and yes, I questioned if I made a mistake,” I never found them. That one person never appeared.

I knew they were out there. They didn’t speak. Now I had a new question. Why weren’t they coming forth with their experience? Shortly after I pulled the letter from my file again, I made the call to the surgeon and booked my flight. I was very excited to be on my way to have this correction taken care of, but that one question still haunted me. What haunted me even more was where were the ones that had gone before me, that were supposed to help guide me through this rocky period. It wasn’t long after I had returned home from the surgery that I found the answers I was looking for. I found where most brothers and sisters had gone; I found the answers to those nagging questions. The real work began upon my return home. The rigid schedule of dilating, the inability to get to the bathroom without assistance, the blood, the pain. I’ll never forget the pain. My hips and halfway up my stomach were yellow and black from the bruising. The simplest act of trying to watch television became agony. The deed had been done; there really was no turning back. I couldn’t go home now .

I was now in this surgically created wonderland that I called my female body, laying awake at night still asking, “Did I make the right choice?” Right choice or not, this was where I was! Life carried on seemingly uneventfully, get-well cards came, flowers arrived, people phoned. It was almost like I had celebrity status, but that was short-lived. Then again I was alone with my thoughts. That one nagging question rang through my head. Did I make a mistake? I felt a bit depressed so I made a couple of phone calls trying to find a counsellor to speak with. Oddly no-one would accept me. I called my old shrink and he said, “Our work was finished. I was only there to help you until you had surgery. You’ll need to find another doctor.” The hunt began for another psychiatrist. I thought it would be easy, but it was not. Depression by this time had taken deep root; eventually I was diagnosed with chronic depression. What followed was not at all what I had expected. I stopped going outside, I quit playing softball, I closed my kickboxing gym. I became a recluse, subjugated in my own home by no one other than myself. My depression deepened. My rigid schedule of postsurgical care went out the window. Then another nail struck into my coffin of depression! My surgical area had grown shut!

I had less than two inches of depth. I was horrified. What had become of that soulful, full-of-life woman that I had known at the beginning of my transition? Where did she go? How could I get her back? The question of whether or not I had made a mistake was secondary at this stage; my priority now was to find the real Carolynn again. This was a daunting task to say the least. I was lucky enough to have been referred to a doctor by a dear friend of mine. He saw me, and I would love to say that we got off to a great start. We didn’t. He called me obese and said I needed to exercise. I didn’t see him again for at least a year. When I finally did return to see him, I was a complete train wreck. I had put on 40 to 50 pounds, and I was depressed. I still had the problem of the surgical area having grown closed. After some time with this doctor, things started to look a little better. Over the next few years things began to change. I felt my old self returning, I re-opened my kickboxing school, and started to socialize again. Then my doctor threw this at me one day in a session. He said, “Carolynn, you know you can go for a surgery revision and get that fixed.” My jaw hit the floor. I was in shock. I thought it was a one-time shot, and if, like me, you screwed it up—well, you were screwed forever after.

I felt this little fire of hope begin to burn in me again. I had purpose in my life again. This time, I wasn’t going to screw it up! I jumped through all the hoops, made all the phone calls, and reattached the tube from my arm to the blood lab. Honestly, I felt happiness shine again in my life. Finally, the day came for me to head off and have my surgery revision. I remember arriving at the recovery house and seeing another group of me’s from six or seven years ago. They were all driven. They were all happy and they all had no clue what was going to happen after.

Not from a place of ego, but rather a place of a caring sister, I took it upon myself to inform the other guests that this was not my first time. I had to go around and return their jaws to the closed position. I became very close with two of the girls there. One very young woman was maybe 17 and there with her mother, and another was my own age and all the way from the U.K. They listened intently as I told them my story and the pitfalls to be aware of. My young friend even went so far as to take notes. Our surgery days came and went. We all returned to the places we respectfully called home. A few days later, I got a phone call from my friend in the U.K. She was in tears and panicking, saying, “I don’t know what I have done.” We talked for what seemed like hours until she said she was feeling better. It’s been some time since I have heard from her. As for my young teenage friend, I got a call from her mother on several different occasions telling me what her daughter was not doing, and how she was feeling depressed. Considering myself somewhat of a hip person, I started to text my young friend. We worked out some things via texting and email. My life continued fairly normally. I was again into my routine of dilating and postsurgical care. Only this time I had a new-found appreciation for what I had been given, and the question had finally been answered.

Did I make a mistake? The answer is No! I did not make a mistake. Do I have regrets? Yes, of course, I have regrets. I do not feel I would be classified as human if I didn’t. Do I miss my old self? Sometimes. The question of whether or not I made a mistake at this stage is irrelevant. The more pressing and more important question is, am I able to be happy living as I am? At time of writing, I have an afternoon appointment coming up with a personal trainer at the gym. Later this evening, I’m going out for dinner with some friends and there is this very handsome man I met who asked me on a date.

The answer is, yes, I am happy and can live this way. The question I had chased and tried to have answered was the wrong question. After a few years of wrestling with it, the question “Did I make a mistake?” became irrelevant. The question I should have been asking myself all along is, “Can I be happy after I have made these final choices?” People have surgery everyday. Most don’t ask themselves, “Did I make a mistake?” If my own personal experience is of any use to anyone, then ask yourself the right questions first. Don’t ask “Did I make a mistake?” or “Am I doing the right thing?” Ask yourself, “Can I live happily once these decisions have been made?” That question is far easier to answer than the others.

Comments (30) Add New Comment
BibleBeltAtheist
Thank you for sharing this deeply personal story. I wish more trans persons would share their experiences - good and bad. It would be much easier to understand what you folks go through if more would speak up about their real-life experiences instead of telling the world to "go educate yourself".
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Vespa chick
Sharing your story is such a personal gift for those in or out of the LGBTQ community, the gift is "self-exploration" ... I as a peer support worker hold such value to personal stories whether they relate to my own experience in Mental Health or not ... relating those experience are the riches in life ! ... Thank you
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ID
Thank you so much for telling your story. I am a trans man who is experiencing much the same and have not started my medical transition because of it so thank you for speaking up and out.
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Katrina Payne
You sound like the sort of person that had issues with members of the transgender community that generally drive me 100% completely nuts.

This is why I generally do not bother talking with most transgenders (which might have been why I wasn't there to answer).

There is the all too common attitude that having enough surgery to look like a Barbie Doll will cure all their problems in life. Most "transgender" discussions are more around what parts to chop off, rather than, "hey, women have stuff to deal with that most men do not", and stuff that generally seems at home in feminism groups. If you are switching your gender station (in your case, lowering your station) there is stupid social situations to deal with.

Yet in the group it is all, "bigger boobs will solve all my problems", "remove my man jaw" (never mind a lot of cisgender women live fine with so called man jaws) and a bunch of other bullshit that got you into your current place.

It really doesn't help that me and Summer really never seem able to see eye to eye on anything. So I go off and do what I usually do: get most of my help from cisgendered women I know.

Which is why I get people thinking I am not really transgender, I just say I am for attention... or that I am post op, or a bunch of other statements about my general level of passing.

On a related note: I am trying to think of a valid reason to get the surgery. Something that is not hateful to women (a woman is only her vagina, nothing else), something that doesn't seem frivolous(because I totally can) and something that doesn't seem spiteful (will I still have people liking me without my trap parts?).
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TH
Thank you. I am the mother of an almost eight year old girl who will have the same choices to make sometime down the road. I'm going to save this article for her. Thank you.
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anonymous
thanks for being brave and telling your story. who would not take the time to think carefully about the sanity of such a major decision?
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Deanna Paladina
Thank you for your story. I'm glad you had your revision, and I'm glad you've come to terms, and found your true self after your 'trials', if I may use that word.

Also, thank you for helping others, in so many ways. You are an exceptional person, and an excellent role model.

Thanks you again, and be blessed. :-)
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BLR
I have met several people who were not ready to have surgery when they had it. Some of these people had their surgeries scheduled based on when their health care system would pay for it - NOT when they were ready to have it. If you have ANY doubts at all about ANYTHING then you are NOT ready to have surgery!!

I had surgery over two years ago when I was 50-years old. I simply could not get on that operating table fast enough! I had very little pain after surgery and have had no problems. My surgery day will always be the GREATEST day of my life and I cherish every second of the time I spent in Montreal! Today everything functions perfectly and I am a normal, legal woman -- and I couldn't be happier!!!

My point is that while there ARE a few people who may have "jumped the gun" and had surgery before they were ready to do so, the vast majority of people who have surgery are very happy and have NO regrets at all. I know MANY people who have had surgery and have never met a single person who regretted they did. I can honestly tell you that GRS saved my life!
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Maggie Cochrane
As one of my closest friends I am honored, proud and humbled by your journey. Your honesty, humor and "ginger ways" ;-) have helped in a very big way to erase my judgements and replace them with respect and love... Thank you beautiful!!!!
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josephine
i am in the middle of transitioning it has been a long journey for me 40 years. now i know where my Journey is going i had questions i am glad i asked them . my friends and partner never left my side my family have been good . My work place has also stuck by me, i have met some real friends in the transgender community, so in my case i have gained friends and not lost any. i am so happy i have made the right choice in my life for once .if there is any Questions people want to ask because they are not sure where they are at i am always available. this is just a little of my story

Josie
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randy
Carolynn, I commend you for your honesty and courage in writing this. I have also had similar feelings of doubt and regret, being ftm, but you have articulated so well the idea of relativity, and whether we can conduct better lives with the decisions we have made, than if we had not chosen surgical intervention. I am looking forward to the day when ftm individuals have equal access to surgical choices, in terms of genital reconstruction. Again, cheers to you for your candid and brave writing.
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Changeling
Thanks for the really honest writing, Carolynn. I transitioned 14 years ago and though it all went well for me I was surprised at the lack of support after the fact. You go through this huge thing, and arrive like a traveller to a new land, alone, and there are almost no "elders" around to talk to, and the medical establishment is done with you. When I did this pretty well everyone disappeared into society completely, but hopefully now that being trans is so much more accepted there will be better community for transitioners after the fact. There is so much we don't know; what health problems do we have as we age for example? I know almost no people who transitioned before the 1990's; I wish we knew more about their lives and how it has all gone for them.
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Kimberley Prance
Thanks for sharing your story Carolynn, I applaud your openess and honesty, as a genderqueer without any real male or female anatomy I have asked myself often weather I would rather be a functioning male or female and the conclusive question it came to is, like you have found, "would I be happy afterwards". And maybe that is the basis of more important questions medical professionals should be asking all pre-operative transgender and intersex patients before surgeries.
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Li Kay
So proud of you Carolyn. I wonder how many people you've touched with this candid look inward? Probably more than you will ever know. Well done, courageously done, and well written.
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Dawn Renee Radford
I'm still early in the hormone therapy, and am becoming comfortable with the "gender-nonconforming" thing. I expect to be in a sort of 'tweener-land for a while. I'm living full-time female, but there are rough edges. lol

I expect I'll still want vaginoplasty, but I can handle exercising a little patience. ;-)
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Anne Beon
Thank you for writing this. I had my surgery 4 years ago now, I didn't have the best result and went through the pain and bleeding and other problems, as well as the almost total loss of family and friends and employment. I have had to rebuild my life at 58 years old. On balance I would do it again tomorrow. Transitioning is like walking through a door into an unknown world no matter how much you research before entering. The questions you need to answer before hand help but it will still take all you have to see it through. I have spent much of my time since working with others on there journey even going with them for surgery, taking in homeless trans-girls and doing outreach in the main stream speaking at events, on stage and TV as a proud Trans- Woman. This has given my post retirement life meaning. Again thank you for you efforts on our behalf and good luck in the future, Anne Beon
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Gia
@Dawn: patience is key in transitioning as well as surrounding ones self with support of family and or friends or both and it always help to have a few other like-minded trans-women or trans-men or both to help keep you grounded and to speak about things you may be going through that may be able to better relate with.
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AshleyChristine
It seems to me that the physical part of my transition was easy compared to the mental. I am heartened that you, as I, had the courage to ask yourself the hard questions. I have found that I am a lot less girly than when I started transition. I am not regretting my decision and know that I will never be a cisgendered woman...I feel wonderful breaking out of the dichotomy of the male/female box...
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Charlene (Chuck) Heilman
Good job Carolynn. You are very brave and this road you are on will surely have many great twists and turns. I look forward to many conversations regarding gender non-conformity!
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Brenda Louise
Good write. People shouldn't be afraid to ask themselves if they really need to have GRS or SRS as some people might call it. Ask now before you get it 'filleted, and turned inside out'. Once that's done you'll have to continually maintain it, not fun, and be subject to UTI's and yeast infections. And, if the operation doesn't work out wellness wise, life can be a real bitch. Check your options. Perhaps breast augmentation would be better and get an 'Orchi' procedure instead. Check and see if the State you were born in will change the gender marker (M or F) on your birth certificate. Many states won't change that, but instead leave the gender marker as 'blank', or 'O', or '-'.
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