What risks and sacrifices are you willing to make in order to nurture your true nature? I asked myself that question after meeting an inspiring woman who, after spending 50 years living her life unhappy and unfulfilled as a man, found the courage within to live the rest of her life with authenticity and happiness.
“I knew from the beginning that I was different,” she told me. Though Geena (not her real name) had been born with male genitals, she always felt that she was meant to be female. “Even in my earliest memories I was playing with dolls and liking to wear girl’s clothing and things,” she recalled. When Geena’s preferences didn’t fade during elementary school, her parents felt that her tendencies were due to a “mental problem” and sent their fourth grader to a psychiatrist.
In spite of the therapy, her feelings never changed. “I remember when girls were starting to grow breasts. I was really envious, but for different reasons from the other adolescent boys. I wanted breasts, and I wanted to be able to dress like the girls. I wanted to be one of them.” Geena’s mom was supportive and would allow her to stay home from school and dress how she wanted — “As long as I would clean the house that day” — but she was not allowed to leave the house dressed like a girl.
Naturally, suppressing her true feelings for so many years had a negative impact on Geena’s self-esteem, self-worth, and identity. She did a lot of drugs to temporarily escape her reality, to find a reprieve from her emotional pain, but they only postponed dealing with the problem and made Geena’s mindset even worse.
In everyday life, Geena did all she could to try to be the guy that society expected her to be. She dated women and eventually married. But after 50 years, she just couldn’t take it anymore. “I just couldn’t live as a guy anymore.” She confessed her true self to her wife in March and they were divorced by July of the same year. The decision hurt Geena tremendously. “How would you feel giving up everything? I had to walk away from my life . . . my home, my family, and most of my cherished processions.” It created a great deal of bitterness in her family relationships that still continues today.
Through all the turmoil her honesty caused, Geena drew strength from the knowledge that her decision honored her authentic self. “I wanted to be happy. I hated myself, and I was mad at the whole world. I really didn’t know why. I just couldn’t live as a guy.”
The first step of her transition brought intense emotional pain — the next would require her to endure physical pain and financial sacrifice. Removing her beard through electrolysis cost $25,000, then another $10,000 went toward the breast implants that were Geena’s birthday present to herself. The “bottom” surgery was $28,000, during which doctors removed the penis and the scrotum and performed painful electrolysis in the bathing suit area. The procedure, called an orchiectomy, severely reduces the body’s production of testosterone and involves construction of female genitalia from the existing male parts. Once the penis is removed, the doctors turn it inside out and use it as the passageway of the vagina to maintain the sensitivity there for intercourse. They then cut the scrotum into four pieces to form the labia. At this point in the procedure, Geena experienced her first complication: “One of the skin grafts didn’t take.” The area is still red and raw and exceedingly painful. The surgery lasted seven and a half hours and the healing process will be a long one.
Amazingly, that was the easy part.
Geena travelled to Philadelphia for facial and cosmetic surgery. “They removed my Adam’s apple by cutting three sides of a rectangle around it then shaving it off with some kind of scalpel.” Geena had the corners of her chin ground down and an implant put in to create a softer, more feminine shape. The next surgery removed skin from her nose and mouth. Surgeons then began her “facial feminization” surgery. “They cut ear to ear on my hairline and pulled my forehead down. They cut the muscles around my eyebrows then ground eight millimeters off my skull to remove old brow-line.” The muscles are just starting to work again there and most of Geena’s forehead is still numb. The nerves are just beginning to grow back.
As I listened to Geena’s stories — the emotional pain of her divorce, the physical pain of her surgeries, and the constant difficulty of dealing with societal prejudice — I had to ask her, “Is it all worth it?”
“People say you have a choice,” she answered. “Sure, you have a choice. You can hold a rock over your head, but eventually you have to let it go.” The pain that came from letting go of that burden, of finally dropping the rock on her head, was devastating for Geena, but it was the lesser of two evils.
“That’s why I’m ready for the next 50 years. Before this change, I could have cared less if I lived or died. I know I’ll want to go on until I’m 100.”
The question, therefore, becomes: How far are you willing to go to achieve authenticity? Geena denied her authentic self for decades, swimming against the current of what she knew was her truth, before deciding that she was worthy of a life filled with happiness no matter what the fallout. By being honest about who she really was, she lost a spouse and many friends and strained her relationship with her family. Continuing to fight her true nature, however, would have caused Geena to suffer for the rest of her life.
I know that Geena’s inner honestly, and courage will inspire me the rest of my life.
Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on February 5, 2017.
Originally published at medium.com