July 27, 2018
This past Wednesday, July 25th, marked my one year anniversary living as my true and authentic self. It wasn’t just a lap-marker for my journey as a transgender woman; it also fulfilled one requirement, an important requirement, in the medical transition of a transgender person. W-PATH Standards of Care (V.7) state that:
“Genital surgery should not be carried out until…patients have lived continuously for at least 12 months in the gender role that is congruent with their gender identity.”
Similarly, my insurance company’s guidelines for gender confirmation surgery require that a potential candidate must:
“Complete at least 12 months of successful continuous full-time real-life experience in the desired gender.”
So this is monumental in my journey to become my authentic self and in feeling normal in my body. But it’s not just a light switch date. Like all good things it’s a process and a journey. Like any other journey, the journey of marriage or the journey of education, or the literal journey of a trip, it’s filled with activities and events that help get you to that point, and I’ve had my share of activity this past year.
One year ago I traveled to visit one of my “Besties” in California. It was a two-fold trip to see her and also to solve a major problem with being able to begin living full-time as a woman. About 10 years ago I started suffering from the common problem of hair loss. I have the all-to-familiar “widows peaks” and a thinning crown. With a buzz-cut I could play a monk very easily. Not a very feminine look, Sinéad O’Connor jokes aside, so I went to visit my friend and also find a hair solution. She asked a friend of hers who is a make-up artist in the entertainment industry to recommend wig salons. We hit a jackpot with the first one we visited, The Wig Shop on Wilshire Blvd. I walked in, explained my situation, and a wonderful woman named Amber helped me with the perfect crown topper that matched my hair color perfectly. She set me up with shampoo and conditioner and details on how to care for my new purchase. I was so elated that I wore it out of the store and I felt so much better about my appearance even though I was presenting make that day. The next day I went to my friend’s stylist Sara for a trim and style to blend my new hairpiece with my actual hair. It was perfect! It is what I wear today and is virtually undetectable. It was exactly what I needed to feel comfortable presenting female full-time. I flew home the next day ready to begin the first step of my new life.
July 25, 2017 was my first day living and working as Tiffany. I hadn’t had my official name change yet but I was finally living full-time, 24/7, as a woman. At that point I had only been through half of my laser facial hair reduction sessions. I was going every 4 – 5 weeks to have the 15 minutes procedure performed. Because I still developed a “shadow” when it got close to my next appointment it meant I was wearing a pretty good coverage of foundation. I continued the laser sessions until February of 2018 at session 11. I had to cease the treatments prior to my facial surgery, but all-in-all I have achieved about 95-98% reduction in facial hair growth. I still shave every morning with an electric razor but only to catch the minimal growth which amounts to about a dozen or so hairs that pop-up. Now, unless I am going to a formal event, I don’t even wear the foundation makeup or even powder. I’m pretty confident in my appearance.
I remember feeling nervous and excited that first day at work. Everyone at my job had known for months that I was going to be transitioning so it was really that anxiety of doing something for the first time that was making me nervous. There were even a few work parties previously that I had attended as Tiffany. I survived that first day of work, and the next, and the next… It has taken some getting used to. My strength has steadily decreased as the Spironolactone has been working on suppressing my testosterone. That part has been an education for everyone. Using the women’s room was also an anxious event for me at first. The medication I take is a diuretic so I make trips to the loo quite a bit. But that too was no big deal. I had been accepted by my coworkers already and everyone was wonderfully supportive.
In October of last year I had my legal name change. It’s not an easy or quick process. There’s the usual paperwork to be submitted and a court date that is scheduled in the near future. The most ominous part is having to publish the court date in the newspaper for three consecutive weeks declaring that you are changing your name. It makes you feel like you’re the bride or groom at a wedding when the officiant says “if anyone has reason why this union should not happen…” and everyone holds there breath and looks around. Those three weeks I felt like someone was going to come out of thew woodwork and declare a reason why I couldn’t change my name to better align with my identified gender. It also makes you feel like you’re under the microscope because in the newspaper it clearly states that you (male name at birth) are changing your name to (female name that aligns with your preferred gender), and it makes you feel, well it made “me” feel, like I was going to be put on a list of “those” people, the “transgenders.” But I survived and had my court date. On Tuesday, October 17th I sat in a court room, just the judge, the court clerk, the court reporter and me (my wife was travelling out of the country and couldn’t attend). The session is very legal and formal in nature. Everything is recorded. Your voice is amplified by a microphone which you need to speak clearly into. It feels like a senate hearing and you’re the one on trial. After the legal part was over the judge said, off the record, “That’s such a formal process for such a momentous event. Congratulations” I cried. Later that day I was able to get my new Driver’s License with a corrected name and gender. It was a little more involved with Social Security. For that I had to obtain a letter from my Doctor stating that I had satisfied specific requirements for him to declare me legally female even without surgical procedures. According to my endocrinologist, more and more transgender people are forgoing gender confirmation surgical procedures. There is more acceptance in a person keeping themselves biologically intact while still identifying as the gender opposite to which they were assigned at birth. The amendment of other records have different requirements based on the state in which you live. For my birth certificate to be amended with the correct gender I have to wait until I have genital surgery. This is the State law in Wisconsin. I do have an amended birth certificate with my new legal name but the gender still states male. That’s OK. Baby Steps!
In March 7th of this year I underwent facial feminization surgery or FFS. The procedure[s] involved having the most prominent and telling male characteristics of my face softened so that I would not be misgendered. For this I traveled to Beverly Hills, California to the skilled hands of Dr. Toby Mayer of the Beverly Hills Institute. I had researched several plastic surgeons who specialize in FFS, but I really liked Dr. Mayer’s work. He seemed to be able to keep a person looking like themselves but softer. I think a lot of people thought that I would come out looking like a completely different person, but I still look like me. I certainly don’t look like the person I have lived as for most of my life but I still look like the person I was born as. I look like the female version of myself. I had my brow ridge shaved down and eyebrows raised to place them into a more feminine place. My nose was re-contoured and straightened. And my upper lip was lifted and augmented with fat from my thigh. I am extremely pleased with the work that was done. I do have some other features that I would like softened but I need to wait a full year from the first surgery so that the changes that were made are fully healed. In the future I want to undergo a scalp-hair transplant to “fill-in” those thin and bald areas that are requiring me to wear a hair piece.
In mid-April I had a visit with a plastic surgeon in Madison, Wisconsin at the University Hospital. Not only is she a surgeon but also faculty at the University. She focuses on gender affirming surgeries from top and bottom surgery to facial feminization. I really like her and am proceeding with my plans for gender affirmation surgery before the end of this year, which brings me full-circle to the beginning, specifically to the point that I “have lived continuously for at least 12 months in the gender” in which I identify.
And so I continue on my next 365 days and the continued alignment of my body, mind and heart. Thank you all for listening and encouraging me on my journey. I hope that my openness to present my transition helps demystify and humanize the transgender community. No matter if we are male, female, black, white, gay, straight…we all want to belong and be accepted.
Thanks! – Tiff