That’s me, uncomfortable and giddy.

In the puritanical United States, we don’t really talk about our genitals. While I generally think this is to our detriment, there is such a thing as too much information, and everyone deserves some privacy. But as a trans person in a transphobic world, especially a world particularly obsessed with trans people’s genitals, there’s a different calculus at play. If I keep information about my genitals private, I can reinforce the fact that no one has a right to know what’s in someone’s pants, including mine. That’s an important line to draw in a society that seems to define trans people by the shape of their bodies. At the same time, there is a price to keeping my experiences private—I’m in a position to make trans stories more visible, which can help make change, and I feel a responsibility to do that when I can. Trans people also need their stories told to dismantle the culture of silence that has led to so much isolation and shame. So here’s the deal: if you don’t want to read about my genitals and experiences with sex reassignment surgery, then don’t; you can draw that line yourself and go read something else. However, if you feel like hearing my story might help you be a bit more conscious and humble about the assumptions you make about trans people—or you’re trans or non-binary and curious about my experiences with surgery—read on.

Jobie comes out to her MySpace boyfriend while the audience jeers.
TGStorytime, an archive of trans fiction that helped me imagine a different life.
  • Find two therapists who would affirm my need for surgery. I already had one and she had no problem offering a letter; but finding a second required contacting dozens of therapists and months of phone calls. I finally found one that specialized in minimizing gatekeeping, only requiring a single appointment to get a second letter, rather than having to establish a redundant therapeutic relationship.
  • Find a doctor who would affirm that I’d been on hormones for a year. My doctor had written countless letters like this, but I was lucky: most doctors have never written such letters. But requiring hormones for a year seemed awfully arbitrary.
  • Complete 60+ hours of painful genital hair removal. Every three weeks for a year I met my electrologist for two hours, where she meticulously inserted a needle into several hundred hair follicles on my penis, scrotum, and perineum, electrocuted them (sometimes twice) and then tweezed them. It was the most painful treatment I’ve ever had; I often came home (and sometimes to work) exhausted, wincing. This was all on top of laser and electrolysis to remove facial hair.
  • Find at least 4 weeks away from work. As a professor who makes commitments sometimes 2–3 years out, finding a month off is nearly impossible, because it requires planning that month a year or more in advance. I only got my August 24th, 2021 surgery date in February, and so I spent most of Spring and Summer working extra hours, breaking promises, and finding people to take over my responsibilities to carve out about 5 weeks away from work and a quarter off from teaching.
  • Find someone willing to be a 24/7 caregiver for 2 weeks. I wanted my wife to be my caregiver, but that required a multi-month FMLA approval process (which, among many other things, required multiple denials by an outsourced FMLA management company because they’d assumed that my wife and I weren’t married because the name change addendum on our California marriage license is on page 2). It took 5 months to get approval.
  • Save up $25,000 USD for surgery. I didn’t know how much it would cost, and insurance, the surgeon, and the hospital couldn’t tell me. This was the cost that most people paid in the U.S.; I was hopeful that I would just pay my out of pocket maximum with Kaiser. This took me two years to save.
  • Save $5,000 USD for 2 weeks of hotel, food, and supplies for recovery. My surgery was out of town in Spokane, Washington, and I so I needed to reserve lodging for 2.5 weeks to be able to go to the mandatory pre and post-op appointments with the surgeon’s office.
  • Go off hormones for 3 weeks before and after surgery. This was my worst nightmare; hormones had made my gender situation bearable and made me feel like myself. And stopping them meant menopausal symptoms like constant headaches, fatigue, hot flashes, and interrupted sleep, not to mention a return of hormonal dysphoria.
  • Seattle had record heatwaves in the month prior to surgery, reducing our home to a single air-conditioned den. Hot flashes and night sweats in a heatwave are not fun.
  • A friend and colleague died of heart failure in the weeks before surgery, and I spent several weeks grieving and dealing with various work crises created by his passing.
  • Record wildfires blanketed Seattle in smoke, making it impossible to go outside, and severely triggering my asthma. My surgery was in Spokane 5 hours east, where fires ranged even stronger, and the air quality was often 150+.
  • My wife ended up having to go to care for family, leaving me home alone for the week before surgery. I also had to fall back to my mother as my caregiver.
  • I was co-chairing the ACM ICER 2021 conference the week before surgery. As fun and rewarding as it was to help bring our community together for a second time virtually, it wasn’t really a great time to be in charge of my community’s major research conference!
  • The delta variant was surging throughout the country in the week prior, leading many hospitals to cancel elective surgeries such as mine. My date could be moved at any time because of vaccine and mask refusal abundant in rural and red eastern Washington.
Road trip with mom!
My lovely wife!
Freedom!

Professor of programming + learning + design + justice at the University of Washington Information School. Trans; she/her. #BlackLivesMatter.