Counselor Hunter referred Danielle to an endocrinologist within a few weeks even though the Harry Benjamin Standards of Care recommend three months of counseling before hormones are started. Danielle was well into puberty and time was of the essence. The first endocrinologist did a complete physical and lots of laboratory tests and prescribed the estrogen, Premarin. His charge was $360.00. The doctor owned the lab, and this made me wonder a about conflict of interest. Danielle was thrilled and anxious to get the prescription filled so she could start the estrogen.
It did not work any magic, but she began to have some breast tenderness, and the growth of her facial hair seemed to slow down a little. Her voice had only begun to change, and we hoped the hormones would keep it from getting lower. But there was also a downside to taking hormones. She experienced fatigue, nausea, and emotional ups and downs as she started down the long and rocky road of side effects from hormone therapy. She became hypersensitive to people looking at her, not paranoid, but just very aware that people seemed to notice her. She became anxious even around people who were loving and accepting of her and needed to get away to rest after several hours with them.
During her first check-up, I questioned the endocrinologist about the fatigue, but he didn't think the Premarin had anything to with it. Her testosterone was still not down to an acceptable level, so he prescribed even more Premarin. On the lower dose she was already missing days of school because she was tired and didn't feel good.
After networking with other transgendered persons, I learned that fatigue is a very common side effect as is clearly reported on the information sheet that comes with the Premarin. They also told me there was another endocrinologist whose prices were better, and he prescribed an androgen blocker, spironolactone, in addition to Premarin.
During her first visit with the new endocrinologist, the doctor asked Danielle why she had come to him, and was very surprised to learn that she was a transsexual. He lowered the dose of estrogen and added spironolactone. He also said he did not think that fatigue was connected to the hormones. His charge for the complete physical and the necessary laboratory tests was $160.
After reading all the books I could find about hormones written by experts, and talking to several others, I came to the conclusion that there are several choices in the treatment of transsexuals, and each has its advantages and disadvantages. It seems that every doctor has his favorite type and amount of estrogen that he prescribes. I was really amazed that the endocrinologists were not aware of the emotional toll that their patients were experiencing because of the estrogen therapy. They do tests for liver damage and heart problems, but they have no way to measure fatigue, depression, and distraction. Our transgendered friends had found what worked for them including hormone injections or additional non-prescription hormones from Mexico. Everybody experiences a different degree of benefits and side effects from hormone therapy, and some feel neither fatigue nor depression.
Danielle did her own research and reduced her dose until she could handle the fatigue and emotions, but it was not enough to give her breasts. She finally decided that she would rather buy her breasts from a plastic surgeon and stay on a hormone dose that allowed her to function.
The first therapist (the hippie) we saw about the gender dysphoria made a good impression on me, but Danielle was not yet ready to see a counselor. She felt she had no emotional problems, she just wanted to be a girl. However, we found we had no choice in the matter because we needed a counselor's referral for hormones and later for a recommendation for surgery. Although I would have trusted the first counselor to work with Danielle, we could not waste our time on a therapist who could not refer us to surgery, no matter how nice he was.
After waiting three months with no word from Counselor Hunter, I called to ask him if there was anything else we should be doing. He set up another appointment at which time Danielle reported that she was having unusual fatigue, and cried easily since being on the hormone therapy. He thought she needed Prozac for her depression; he too said hormones would not cause fatigue. I rejected the suggestion of Prozac because of its reputation for treating mental dysfunction, and I was reluctant to add more drugs to her young body. From the questions he asked, it was apparent he had not looked at the information questionnaire we had returned to him (with $150) three months earlier. I couldn't see that we were getting anything that could be called "counseling." We left without any return appointment or any mention of seeing him again.
Danielle wanted surgery, but I needed to know the costs involved, and whether anyone would do Sex Reassignment Surgery on a young transsexual. I wanted a realistic time frame before raising Danielle's hopes.
We found there were only four or five Sex Reassignment surgeons in the U.S. and Canada who were well known. One surgeon would not treat anyone under age 21. Another was not well known in our area so there was little information. The surgery cost less in Canada, but we heard rumors of postop complications. This was no time to scrimp because I wanted the best for my daughter. When I talked to post-op transsexuals, Dr. Schrang in Wisconsin was given rave reviews by all his patients, and I learned that he had treated younger patients. We felt it was important to have the operation soon to give Danielle the best chance for adjusting to young adulthood. When we contacted Dr. Schrang and he learned of the circumstances, he said he would be glad to work with Danielle. He named one price that would cover his fee, the hospital stay and all expenses involved with the actual surgery.
I had been without health insurance for years, betting that my children and I would avoid any catastrophic injury or illness. When I learned of the expected expenses of Danielle's hormone therapy and surgery, I inquired about insurance coverage for her needs, even though I knew we'd probably have to wait a year to satisfy a waiting period for pre-existing conditions. Several companies never returned my call. The representative for one company said the expense for hormones could probably be taken care of if the doctor cooperated, but there was no way surgery could be covered.
I applied for Crippled Children Funds through the State of California, and learned that non-necessary medical expenses could not be covered. I talked to the Shriners and several other groups who help with special medical needs for children. They were very polite to me on the phone, but their organizations did not cover this situation. I talked to one group who would only fund medical expenses for children who had a terminal illness. There are many "feel good" programs available for teens in an effort to prevent suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, but there were no funds available for my child. Finally, I figured my financial resources would cover the cost of the surgery in the next year or two if I used credit cards for some of the cost.
Now that we knew that surgery was possible, we needed to seriously pursue counseling in order to get our two surgical referral letters.
Since I hadn't heard from Counselor Hunter in six months, I called to set up a third appointment. At that time we discussed the psychological testing that he had previously mentioned at a cost of $700. The tests included:
MCMI-III (Million Clinical Multiaxial Inventory)
The Draw A Person/Family
TAT (Thematic Apperceptual Test)
MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory)
I questioned the need for testing since he had written me a note stating that "Danielle seems relatively stabilized all things considered." He said, "There is no pass or fail to the testing. I just have to do it to protect myself against law suits. I don't have to defend myself. All my previous associates have gone out of business due to lawsuits. My wife does the testing and it is a real bargain at the $700 price that I am giving you. It would cost twice as much at the University."
Somehow I kept feeling like a victim. He was taking my money and doing no counseling. I appreciated that he did not make us wait for three months of counseling before sending us to an endocrinologist, and he was not wasting our time with many appointments. But we were getting no help from him and he seemed to only want money.
As we learned more about the situation, we learned that we had few choices. If we went to another counselor, the six months of counseling required (at $100 an hour) before surgery would have to begin again. To save time, we might as well pay the $700.00 to Counselor Hunter and get on with it. I called the counselor and undiplomatically told him. "OK. I'm ready to be screwed.
He called back to say, "I really do not want you as a client, but I will send your records to Counselor Bell."
I had previously met Counselor Bell when I attended a transsexual support meeting which he was conducting with an associate, Counselor Jenny. At that time I had the opportunity to ask if there was anything more that I could be doing for Danielle. They said I was doing very well with Danielle, and had no further advice to give me. When I told them that I felt Counselor Hunter was not doing any counseling, Counselor Bell told me he could not see us unless Mr. Hunter referred Danielle to him because of professional courtesy. I continued to attend their support meetings and became part of the support system. Counselor Bell suggested that Danielle attend the support meetings in order to meet others like herself. Danielle went only once. She had already met several transsexuals whom I had invited to our home to chat, and she and Laura were fast friends by then.
The counselors discontinued their meetings at the end of the summer, but Danielle continued to see Counselor Bell privately. He was a very quiet, soft spoken man, and I was well enough acquainted with him to feel comfortable having Danielle see him alone. Danielle told me she had to save up things to talk about during the sessions since the counselor didn't say very much. Danielle always referred to being transsexual as her "situation"; she never called it a problem. After her first session, the counselor told me that Danielle seemed to be doing fine, and he could see no problem with referring her for surgery when the time came. He would also arrange for the second opinion by another associate in his office. Counselor Bell believed the psychological testing was unnecessary.
The date for surgery was finally set, and we had the first surgery referral letter in the bag. Dr. Bell referred us to Counselor Wolf for another letter, but that was not as simple as it sounded. Our encounter with Dr. Wolf is well documented in the two letters that follow:
[Illustration - 'Letter from Tim Wolf Ph.D.']
Tim Wolf, Ph.D. 7-23-96
Individual, Child, Adolescent & relationship Psychotherapy
25 Park Boulevard,
Suite 207 San Diego, Ca 92116
I need to address several issues with you about teenage Gender Dysphoria, and my teenager in particular. These are the facts as Danielle and I perceived them about our encounters March 15 and March 29.
We were referred to you by Dr. Chris Beletsis for a 2nd opinion letter for SRS surgery. You quoted a 2 hr minimum at $90.00 an hour and $25.00 for a letter. We filled out the standard consent forms, you said you would be doing some testing with Danielle, and you said you would contact us to set up the 2nd appointment.
After the first hour, she said she had talked to you for a few minutes and then had done some kind-of dumb tests where you asked her questions about hypothetical situations and also had her put pictures in order, which she felt could have been correctly placed in several orders with an explanation.
Since you did not seem to need my input at the first appointment, she felt she could go by herself to the 2nd appointment and I would not loose the time from work.
She called me about 4:30 the afternoon after her 2nd appointment, which did not last even 1/2 an hour, to tell me of her 2nd experience with you. She wisely waited until my work day was almost over because she knew I would be upset. She said that you told her that you did not believe that anyone under 21 should have SRS surgery, but if they tested above average you might consider it. You then told her that her scores showed that she was below average intelligence.
I called and asked you for a written summary of your evaluation of Danielle, which you sent. In the letter you said "Danielle appears to be experiencing alterations of mood, impulsivity of behavior, social oppositionalism and peer adjustments. "And you recommended that she wait 2 years before making a decision on SRS
Danielle has had a learning disability that we have been dealing with for many years. I have worked very hard to maintain a positive self-esteem about her intelligence. Her two older brothers have always done really well academically and she felt bad because she could not keep up with them. I always emphasized other talents that she has. Since her transition, she has progressed amazingly in her academic abilities and had been feeling really good about herself. She was crushed by you telling her that she was below average intelligence. She was very discouraged at the thought of facing another 2-4 years of having to tuck her penis, of having to take the megadoses of hormones, that she herself knows alter her moods and makes her physically nauseated. The thought of not being able to date as her peers are doing. The fear of being discovered. A teenager with any less maturity might have thought of ending her life.
1. You knew she was 17 when we came to you. You should have been honest with us about your apparent preconceived belief that anyone under should not have surgery
2. I thought you were going to base your decision on an interview with her, not on standardized testing. I did not know there was a pass/fail situation with standardized testing.
3. I thought you understood that people on mega hormones, are emotional and impulsive. It is the equivalent to PMS or worse.
4. If you had talked with me at all, you would have understood that she gets her social oppositionalism from me. Which is one of the reasons that she is doing so well in the situation that she is in. I have always promoted being an individual, questioning authority, not paying any attention to what others might think.
5. You should never have told a teenager who is struggling with so many other issues that she is below average intelligence. That to me is unforgivable. Especially when you are supposedly an expert on adolescent & relationship psychotherapy. I am sorry that I exposed my teenager to you. You did more harm than good. Several times since she met with you she has asked me for reassurance that she really is intelligent. Shame on you.
6. if you had taken the time to know her at all personally, instead of basing your opinion on testing, you would have understood that she is doing really well under the circumstances. She attends a regular high-school full time with a B average. She is not on drugs, does not smoke, or drink. She has a job doing peer counseling through "Planned Parenthood". I often have to be out of town overnight and she is responsible enough to be left alone without getting into trouble. I feel she is wise beyond her years in the insights she expresses in dealing with her situation and the real world around her. (Not hypothetical situations.)
7. My daughter and I are well known and respected in the gender community and our opinions matter. A copy of this letter will be widely distributed. Your name will go on the list of those that take advantage of our community and are enriching themselves at our expense.
He never responded to my letter.
When I complained to the State Medical Board about Dr. Wolf, I learned that he had completed the education for his Ph.D., but was not licensed to practice psychology with that degree.
The Harry Benjamin Standard of Care Guidelines say that a therapist familiar with the program and the transsexual will be able to help during the process. In Danielle's case, we found that most of the therapists seemed to be there to impede progress rather than to assist. The counselors, who admitted they had very little experience with teen transsexuals, were still willing to charge like experts. None of the counselors seemed to care what I thought and tried to ignore me, maybe hoping I would go away.
The date for surgery was quickly approaching, and the situation was getting desperate. We still did not have a second referral letter, and I never, ever wanted to see another counselor, but we had no choice. In tears, I shared Dr. Wolf's letter with Counselor Jenny. She and I had been speakers at the educational outreach speakers' bureau on several occasions, and we once investigated an alternative school for Danielle in another city together, so she knew both Danielle and me. She carefully considered the matter, and decided that she could probably write a letter for surgery although she had never written one before. We were relieved when she wrote the second opinion letter for us after only one session with Danielle.
There were other counselors in our community. One believed in the Nurture theory - absent father, domineering mother, or a mother who really wanted a girl - with which I disagreed. She believed that transsexuals are all homosexuals who can not deal with being gay. This is an outdated theory for it is now understood that sexual orientation and gender identity are two entirely different issues. Some transsexuals look for a partner of the same sex as they are after surgery. Some counselors believe that Gender Dysphoria is usually just a phase when it occurs in younger children. I wonder if it is just a phase or do children learn very quickly to hide feelings that others disapprove of.
In this world, there must be some good counselors who really care and help the transsexual community deal with their issues. Because the HBIGDA Standards of Care require counseling in preparation for surgery, the transsexuals become pawns in the conflict of interest game. The Standards are maintained and continue to be revised by professionals who are qualified to do the counseling and who stand to gain financially. Although counseling before an important decision such as Sex Reassignment surgery could be beneficial, it would also be beneficial before marriage and having children. The benefits of counseling is questionable because transsexuals soon learn to give answers that the counselor wants to hear.
[Illustration - 'Harry Benjamin Standards of Care']
I hope to see the HBIGDA Standards changed in the future to take into account that some transsexuals (and perhaps most) are not psychologically unbalanced. If transsexuals are psychologically handicapped they probably would not be able to get enough money together for surgery. There is no proof that a transsexual with perceived psychological problems would be worse off for having surgery.
Recently I have had some correspondence with therapist Jude Patton who said, "I am not at all like the other therapists you encountered, nor are many other experienced therapists who deal with gender issues. I may have an advantage in empathy, because I am both a professional AND a peer. (I am female to male, post-op transsexual for over 25 years.) My own care givers certainly 'bent the rules' to get me the care I needed at the time, and I've never forgotten it."
He explained, "Each client should be the 'Captain of their own ship' with the therapist acting as a 'Navigator.' Not a gatekeeper, but a guide, educator, support system and advocate. The treatment goals should be a joint effort of client and therapist with the client a full partner in the planning of the treatment."
I fully concur with that philosophy, and I believe that there are some who do not need emotional therapy during the gender transition process especially if they have supportive family and friends.
A friend loaned me a video tape showing the sex reassignment procedure planned by Dr. Schrang. I told Danielle that it was available, but doubted she would want to see it, but I was wrong - she was very much interested. It was I who was not anxious to know the details of the surgery, but I felt that I should watch with her in case she had any questions. When we played the video, she became totally engrossed, and even rewound the film to watch several segments a second time to be sure she understood everything. I was not impressed by the after pictures that showed the final results, but Danielle commented, "Everything was so neat and tidy afterwards. All the stuff is gone."
Then Dr. Schrang presented another obstacle. He would not operate on Danielle without the signed consent of both parents, or from a parent who had sole custody. My marriage and divorce had both taken place in Mexico where the subject of custody was never addressed. Danielle had lived with me since she was two years old and I had paid the bills, so I figured she was mine. "Possession is nine-tenths of the law." I sought the advice of a lawyer friend concerning the cost and ramifications of getting a legal custody order. With such an order, perhaps I could collect child support for all the past years although realistically there was little hope of getting financial assistance from her father now any more than it was in the past. I learned that the sole custody order, even if not protested would probably cost $400 or ore.
Having her father sign the permission for surgery would be the best ay, but not necessarily the easiest since he was still upset because his son was living as a girl. Without much hope, I called him to give it a try When he refused to sign, I begged, threatened, and tried every angle
"I will go to court and get sole custody," I said, "But it will cost me some money."
He said, "I will contest the court order."
"That will be fine with me, because then the judge will make you pay child support for all the past years when you have paid nothing."
If he thought he deserved to have a vote about Danielle's future, he would have to pay for the privilege. The next day he called to say that he was ready to sign the papers, and I arranged to meet him right away at a Notary Public's office before he changed his mind. With her father's signature in hand, Danielle and I had passed a huge milestone.
We scheduled the surgery for early summer 1996 between her Junior and Senior years in high school when she would be 17 1/2 years old. Two years would have passed between the time that I found out she was transsexual and the time of surgery, and I presumed we would have finished the required counseling.
Danielle had a steady boyfriend at the end of her second year of high school as we prepared for surgery. He often spent time at our house because life with his own family was apparently difficult. It was all right with me because I liked the young man. He took her to the prom, and even spent the night several times at our home. As we made arrangements to go to Wisconsin for surgery, she finally told him about herself. She could not lie to him about why she was going to be gone for two weeks and then recuperating for several more. He was quiet and withdrawn for a long time, and then commented that it only made her more interesting to him.
When she told another boy she had dated, he quit dating her in a romantic sense but continued being her pal and friend. Some boys lost interest in her because she was prudish and did not allow much touching. She never encountered violence because she was transsexual, although she had to run away from a situation in Mexico because a guy thought he could have his way with this young girl.
I had to work extra-long hours before we went to Wisconsin in order to be away for the two weeks required for surgery. I could feel the stress taking its toll as we made our last preparations. Danielle was getting excited as the time drew near, but seemed quite calm. However, during the last two weeks before leaving, she had several anxiety attacks. I kept searching my soul, wondering if this surgery was the right thing to do.
During our flight to Wisconsin, I thought of the serious consequences of our trip. The others on the plane had no idea that this beautiful teen girl was on her way to a hospital for very complicated surgery in order to gain inner peace. I wondered what other parents would think of me for facilitating the sex reassignment surgery. There could be complications, and I worried about that, too. I was on the verge of tears the whole way, but did not want Danielle to know that I was stressed out. It would be wrong for me to add to any anxiety that she might have already. Danielle appeared to be calm, but I learned later that she had tried to keep me from knowing of her anxiety.
We landed in the huge airport at Minneapolis/St. Paul with only a few minutes to make connections for our flight to Appleton. As we left the plane, the stewardess directed us to our departure gate at the other end of the airport. Danielle went ahead to get us checked in because she could get there faster than I. When I caught up with her she had bad news - the gate we wanted was actually back where we had come from, close to our arrival gate. I knew it was too late to get there, but Danielle went ahead again to make the arrangements in case the plane was late. The thoughts that went through my mind are not fit print. Why does it have to be so difficult to change planes? I condemned the airlines and lots of other people and things as I went cussing and crying the long way back to where we started.
As I had feared, when we arrived at the proper gate we had missed the plane. I lay down on a bench and fell apart. I told Danielle that I just couldn't do it - I was going home. She chased off the solicitous airport personnel, calmed me down, went to get tickets for a later flight and then to eat and look at the airport gift shops.
My family and many of my acquaintances had admired me for maintaining a calm and reasonable attitude through this whole gender change situation. I was glad that they couldn't see me in a puddle of tears in the airport. Although I knew I had been under stress, I had not realized the extent of it. One of my mottoes is "Lie down and cry awhile, then pick up the pieces and go on." This stress management system had worked before and it did this time too. After a good cry, I pulled myself together and we went on to Appleton.
Once in our rental car, it was not difficult to locate the doctor's office, hospital, shopping center, and motel in the small city. After we were settled, we went to a local restaurant for Danielle's last meal before surgery.
When we met Dr. Schrang in his office the next morning, he was very pleasant. He appropriately addressed Danielle as she was the patient, almost ignoring me. He emphasized that the proposed operation would not change the way the world would treat her, nor magically change her life, nor solve all her problems. Danielle must carefully follow all the post-op instructions, and take responsibility for her "aftercare". He could do the surgery, but it was up to her to make the outcome successful.
After checking into the hospital, we toured the floor where the sex reassignment patients were housed. At one end of the hall was a sitting room overlooking the Fox River - a peaceful area that became my favorite spot. We met Danielle's roommate, Gloria who had just returned from surgery, and her very attentive wife. They were impressed with Danielle's youth and beauty. During the next ten days we became quite close to them as they encouraged and helped us. We discovered that most of the transsexuals on the surgical ward were alone with no one to support them during the ordeal.
Danielle appeared to be calm and unafraid throughout the necessary preparations that evening and the next morning, and she went off to surgery having never expressed fear, but only looking forward to the future
(I had planned to give this poem/prayer to the surgeon but lost my courage.)
May you be blessed as you correct the errant ways of Mother Nature.
May your hands be steady as you do your artwork that may be seen by few.
May your eyes be clear as you put finishing touches on our dear one's life.
May your mind be sharp as you make your masterpiece decisions.
Bless you as you care for those misunderstood by many and loved by few.
Accounts of the step-by-step process of the actual surgery are available from other sources, so I will not include that technical information here.
My Mom arrived while Danielle was still in surgery, and we talked and put together a jigsaw puzzle in the waiting room to pass the time. I had brought the jigsaw puzzle with me because I knew I would not be able to concentrate on reading, and making puzzles has always been a very calming and restful pastime for me. My mind was with Danielle and what they were doing to her, but the die was cast, and now we just had to deal with the results of our decisions.
She was returned to her room, and as she came out of the fog of general anesthesia, she asked me, "Is it all over?"
When I said, "Yes," she smiled from ear to ear. She looked very pale, and the sight of so many attached tubes and wires was distressing to me, and I started crying, for a mother suffers too when her child is in pain. Still I knew that this pain was temporary and far better than the mental anguish and misery of soul that she had suffered during the years she was locked inside the wrong body. Gloria's wife and others thought I was crying at the finality of no longer having my son. They reassured me that my son was not gone, but was still there as a new and happier person, but I had already accepted this new person, and had almost forgotten that she was ever anything but a wonderful daughter.
The next few days were pretty rough for both of us. I thought that I could sit and write a lot of this book while she slept, but there was not much time for rest because she needed help with so many little things. There were many phone calls from well-wishers, and flowers from our friends in California and elsewhere. We even received a call from a young transsexual in Australia whom we had met on the Internet, and who would soon be having surgery. Danielle did not seem to comprehend the tremendous outpour of love and hope for her. I felt as if she was the poster child of the transsexual community. Danielle had an opportunity that many could only dream about - the support of her family, and surgery when she was young. All those advantages were not lost on Danielle, for she repeatedly expressed her gratitude to me, and her thankfulness that she had been able to go through the surgery.
Her grandmother stayed two days after the surgery and gave Danielle a cuddly Teddy bear which seemed to give her some comfort.
[Illustration - 'She grinned from ear to ear']
Danielle's roommate Gloria wrote a poem for her:
TODAY WE ARE BUTTERFLIES
We have traveled our respective roads as caterpillars, we consumed I of the information we could about our confused lives and we learned and we grew.
Finally our roads that we have traveled have joined for our final journey. We've spun our cocoons and with much nurturing and love we entered the pupa stage. And through the hands of a skilled Doctor we were able to break out of our pupal bonds and at last we were born to live the lives we were meant to live.
As we dry our wings and prepare to go forth in our new lives
as beautiful butterflies we pause to give thanks.
Danielle suffered from post-op vomiting which was not serious, but she lost enough blood over the next few days that she had to be given three units by transfusion. Although many people offered to donate blood, the facility did not participate in a donor program; however the cost of the transfusion was small. Dr. Schrang did things very quickly without explaining them to Danielle beforehand. He didn't say more than two words to me the whole nine days we were there. I had the feeling that we were nameless, faceless bodies to him. He came and went so quickly, we joked that the only reason we knew he had been there was the lingering sent of his cologne. The nurses Were very attentive and we appreciated their help.
When we returned to the motel, one of only two in town, Danielle started the process of the frequent dilating of the new vagina following the doctor's instruction meticulously. It would have been almost impossible for Danielle to have managed alone. Going out to get supplies and finding food that Danielle felt like eating kept me busy. Since Danielle had had to stay flat in bed for seven days in the hospital, it took several days to get the tangles out of her hair. After a while, I began to suffer from cabin fever. Following our return visit to the doctor, we were both glad to be heading for home.
The trip home was long and exhausting. Danielle's boyfriend met us at the airport to help get her home and situated. Danielle was too tired to do the dilating that night and wanted to give up completely, but after a good night's rest she was ready to go on with the demanding schedule. During the next few weeks her time was spent taking care of herself according to the instructions she was given. She could only leave the house for an hour or so between treatments, and when her boyfriend and others came to visit she had little time to spend with them because she had to be back in her room dilating. There was an infection at the site where a tight wire suture had been, and she still has a scar in that area, which is now pretty well covered by pubic hair. Scars on the skin donor sites on the hips on both sides were much bigger than I had expected, but she didn't seem to mind. I was pleased by the visual results of the vaginal surgery at least from a casual glance. Danielle frequently paraded around the house in the buff or close to it in order to enjoy the way she felt without all the "stuff" down there. Another surgery (labiaplasty) would be necessary at some future date to give the finishing cosmetic touches to the genital area.
After a month of dilating, Danielle was supposed to graduate to a larger circumference dilator. The surgeon had given us a brochure that offered five dilators in graduating dimensions for $90.00. These dilators were solid and did not vibrate, and two of them were smaller needed. Since I knew that I could buy many types and shapes of dilators at the adult book store in our area, we did not buy the expensive set. After buying two different vibrators that did not meet Danielle's desires in shape or color or size or something, I gave up in frustration and told her I just didn't understand what she wanted. She said she would go buy what she had in mind. She was only I7 and not allowed in such stores, but she set off anyway with the admonition from me not to give my name if she got caught. She dressed in her best looking "mature" outfit and went on her mission. At the store she found what she wanted and asked the cashier if he knew the circumference of the dilator that she had chosen to make sure that it bigger than what she already had at home. He went to check the catalogue and came back to announce in a loud voice across the store, "It's one size fits all." She paid for her purchase and no one asked her age or for her ID. I was 40 before I was brave enough to go into an adult store.
In Canada both surgeries are done during one procedure and they do not need to use donor skin. Laura later had her surgery there with a quicker recovery, a less vigorous dilating schedule, and great results. Some of our community have gone to Oregon recently with good results. Dr. Schrang required the longest time in bed, and the most rigorous dilating schedule, but the results from other surgeons seem be just as satisfactory. Both Canada and Oregon have residential facilities for post-surgery care which is an important consideration for someone going alone.
All the transsexuals that I have met are so thankful for the surgery that they rave about the wonderful experience and are happy with the results. They quickly forget about any complications or unpleasantness accompanying the experience. I call it the "Savior Syndrome." They put the surgeon on a pedestal and are not always objective when asked about their surgery experience.
I made the best choice I could with the information I had at the time, but if I had it to do over again, I might come up with different results. Surgeons are always trying to improve their performance based on more advanced knowledge, and by experimenting with different techniques.
Danielle's hormone therapy continued to cause her mental and emotional ups and downs that were very distressing. We did everything we could to try to stabilize her emotions including a good diet, lots of rest, a positive attitude and natural remedies. Finally, after nothing else seemed to help and after much research I encouraged her to try Prozac even though we had not wanted to use it before believing the myth that people who take prozac are crazy. It has helped her by taking the edge off her anxiety and her feelings of being overwhelmed.
At Christmas, Danielle and I went to visit Ben. He was now a sophomore at a Flagstaff college and was sharing a three bedroom condo with another young man. Danielle and Ben enjoyed being together while skiing, shopping, and watching movies during the short vacation. Her big brother was gallant, protective, and proud of his sister. They conspired together and came up with a plan. Danielle should move to Flagstaff to get a new start where no one knew her, and Ben thought it would be nice to have her as his third roommate. He didn't admit it, but he was probably a little lonely for some of his family.
Although I looked forward to the time when the children would all be grown so I could regain some freedom and privacy in my life, I was not ready for it right NOW. But I could see the excitement and adventure in their eyes, and after much discussion, I decided I must not let my feelings slow my children's quest for happiness and a future. It was heart-warming for me to see a new bond developing between them.
I knew in my heart that this would be a positive move for Danielle as she had just turned 18 and was exhibiting many nesting instincts.
If she could cook and clean for these boys, it might postpone the time when she would fall into housekeeping with a boyfriend. She and her previous boyfriend had parted ways when she became busy with high school and he had gone on to college. There was another compelling reason for her move. My frequent activist efforts in the transgender community gave her little chance to forget the ordeal that she had been through as she settled into her new life as a girl. I had seen other transgendered females leave the community after surgery to blend into society and get on with their lives as women. After all, being able to live as a teenage girl was the purpose for Danielle's surgery.
Soon after we returned home from Christmas vacation, Danielle packed all her belongings into her pickup truck - a television, her bicycle, her feminine bed, many of our kitchen supplies, a large garbage bag full of shoes (a true female) and more stuff than she could possibly need.
"You can come home anytime you want," I told her, "but you can only bring one suitcase."
Danielle disappeared like a nomad into the desert with her truck full of everything she owned. She called me several times along the road but forgot to call when she arrived safely. That was a very long day for me and my seldom-used apron strings. At first I called every day, but was gradually weaned as it became harder and harder to catch her at home between high school and social activities. Danielle was gone for now, and I moved into a small studio apartment.
Since she had to take such low doses of hormones due to the emotions, she did not develop much breast growth. At 18 she still was not endowed enough to notice. Some think breasts will come if you wait long enough. Some are sure there is some magic combination of hormones that produce breasts. There are those who think flat is OK, but Danielle really wanted breasts. I remember how much I had wanted breasts as a teenager, but I did not get them until I started having children. Since that was not an option for Danielle, we decided to go ahead with breast implants during the next summer. She made all the arrangements for surgery after consulting with several plastic surgeons in Phoenix. One surgeon required a current psychological evaluation. I thought that was unfair since anybody else can have breast enlargement surgery on demand. Some women probably need counseling to discover why huge breasts are important to them. Why should transsexuals be presumed to be unbalanced just because they want breasts?
I went to Phoenix to be with her before and after surgery. Again she was very brave - she never complained. As she was coining out of the anesthetic, she said amusing things. "Be quiet. You are talking too loud. Don't touch me. I don't want my breasts anymore because they hurt." Then she apologized for being rude. I didn't know why she thought she was being rude, but later she said she was sorry that she told us to be quiet and leave her alone.
The surgery was done on an outpatient basis, so we returned to our motel in Phoenix a few hours after it was completed. Those two days in the motel were very long and uncomfortable for her because she had trouble keeping food and liquids down, yet she needed to eat something when she took the pills to relieve the severe pain. Every time she wanted to move, I had to help her change position, and rearrange the ice pack on her new breasts to keep the swelling down. I only slept for an hour or so at a time. Her brother had volunteered to take care of her after surgery, but I was glad that I was there even though she needed more attention than I had anticipated. But we did it.
Now she is happy with her body that matches her mind, and I am happy that we were able to do all the things to make her whole. Danielle continued to live in Flagstaff with Ben and started her Senior year there. One day my pager showed an Arizona area code but I did not recognize the number. Police, hospital, accident, flashed through my mind as I dialed the number. It was Danielle's high school, and the vice-principal wanted to talk with me.
Is this Danielle's mother?" he asked.
"I just want to confirm something that Danielle said in class today."
"Yes." I waited expectantly.
"Today she told her class that she has had sex reassignment surgery."
"Well," he said with a chuckle. "I guess that confirms it."
"Do you know how this came about?"
He said, "There have been rumors and Danielle evidently felt the time was right to let people know about her past so they could get over it and quit whispering."
"I wish she hadn't told everyone," I said.
"She has a right to tell. She has a right to be safe at this school and finish her high school here. We like her very much, and are going to help her in any way we can. We will guard her confidentiality if any press or other parents inquire about her. We are going to make sure she is not made fun of or harassed here on campus. I have already talked to her about not isolating herself. Do you think she is strong enough to handle this?"
"Some days she is stronger than others," I said with all honesty. "I'll call and talk to her."
I thanked him profusely for his understanding and help, and said I would get back to him. My stomach was churning. Would she never be able to get away from her past? Had the move to Flagstaff been in vain? If she had to move again, there was still David in San Jose. He had moved there for a good job after graduating from collage, the same year Ben graduated from high school.
After the vice-principal Called me, any hope of concentrating on job for the day was gone so I called Danielle right away. She said the had not called me because she didn't want to worry me. "Anyway," she assured me, "it's no big deal."
She told me more about the circumstances leading up to her revelation. She had recently become aware of rumors about her. One girl had asked her if she had had sex reassignment surgery. Danielle countered with, "That's a stupid question to ask anyone." For a sociology class assignment she wrote an autobiography, but without revealing the truth, she knew it made no sense. She was sad that she could not reveal her real self, especially when she received a D on the paper. After much consideration, and all on her own, she decided to ask permission from a substitute teacher to make an announcement near the end of the class period. It was then she told her story to her classmates and the teacher, then left immediately since it was near the end of the school day.
Within five minutes the story had spread through the whole school.
As soon as the principal and vice-principal heard, they visited her at home to see that she was all right and was not alone. Ben was already there because one of Danielle's friends had called to warn him that Danielle might need him. The school representatives talked with Ben and Danielle for some time, then returned to the school, at which time the vice-principal called me. Even after talking to the kids, he could not quite believe that Danielle had once been a boy.
While she was telling me about all that had taken place, she kept reassuring me. "It's no big deal, everything is going to be fine, so just don't worry."
"I'm your mother, that's my job.
I wanted to get in the car, drive eight hours to Flagstaff and bring her home to safety, but I realized that I could not give her safety anywhere. She had to work through this for herself. She could either be brave and proud by sticking it out or move to another new place and keep her mouth shut, thus denying part of who she is.
When I called a friend for support, he said, "You should be proud of her. She is turning out to be an activist just like her mother, and I didn't expect any less of her, for I have seen in her the courage and determination to be herself."
I called the vice-principal the next day to tell him that Danielle thought everything was going to be fine. I learned that he had a meeting with Danielle's teachers to let them know about the situation and to request their help in assuring that she was not made fun of nor harassed in any way.
He did have a question. "Is her surgery complete so I can say that she is legally a female?"
That was an important question since she was in a girl's gym class. I assured him that she was legally a female. I also told him I would send him a packet of information about transsexuals.
I said, "Be proud of her for me."
He added, "We are all proud of her."
The next day I watched the clock while trying to keep my mind on my work until I could call Danielle after her first day "out" at school. She told me, "My day went really well. People gave me notes and letters of support. One girl even brought me flowers! Total strangers came up to me to say how brave I was. They call me by name, but I don't know who they are."
A week later I called the vice-principal again to see if he had survived. He told me, "There has been no press, no parents, no problems. Danielle seems to be doing fine. No big deal. I warned the principals of the two other high schools in town to confirm with me any rumors they might hear about this high school, but they haven't heard a thing."
He thanked me for the packet of information on transsexuals which he had passed on to his administrative superiors and to his staff We both agreed that this was a tremendous learning experience for students and staff. I thanked him again for his care and understanding. The high school had handled the situation in a very exemplary manner. Finally I had found a school representative that was truly concerned about and considerate of his students' needs.
The Mexican American Club voted Danielle their president. A boy she had dated came to her house to watch movies again even though he knew about her past. Danielle kept telling me, "It's no big deal. Nobody cares." I wanted to tell her it was a very big deal. It may have seemed like a small step for her, but it was a big step towards the better understanding of those with gender dysphoria.
The subject of transsexualism is misunderstood by the general population whose thinking is still in the dark ages. I was born an activist and now I have a cause.
My local school district has a committee to deal with gay and lesbian issues and to educate teaching staff about methods of protecting students from discrimination. The organization Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) needed a representative on this committee and I volunteered. At one of the first meetings I met Ellen, the school district employee who had talked to me when I was trying to learn the school district's policy on transsexuals. The only information she would gave me at that time was, "we do not discriminate." As I suspected at the time, she was instructed by a supervisor to say nothing else. Ellen told me that she felt terrible that she had not been allowed to be more helpful, and was very glad to know that we had found a safe school for Danielle.
I joined the team that talks to teachers in elementary and high schools in our district about treating all students the same and making school a safe place for everyone. I share with them the instances when teachers and counselors did not know what to do with Daniel. My goal is simply to let every teacher at least hear the word transsexual. My hope is that in the future every school will be a safe place for Danielle and others like her. We leave written information at the school that includes resources and people to contact for more information.
Teachers in many of the schools have already seen students with gender issues. Although there still is not much that a teacher can do, they can at least be accepting and try to protect the student from teasing and ridicule. Unless the parents are involved in the student's situation, the teachers' hands are tied.
International Conference on Transgender Law & Employment Policy, Inc. (ICTLEP) is a group of lawyers & professionals working on the legal and employment issues for transsexuals. I attended one of their annual meetings in Texas and found it very interesting, although most of the subjects addressed concerned transgendered adults: employment, child custody, marriage, legal papers, etc. There seemed to be no one dealing with matters important to teens and students. Again I was impressed by the transsexuals, who were well-adjusted ' working professionals, as well as the movers and shakers in the transgendered movement. Although Danielle just wanted to be a girl, there are those who want to be androgynous, or bi-gendered, (sometimes male, sometimes female), or want to establish a third sex or five sexes, or to do away with gender altogether. I learned about the intersexed or hermaphrodites and their quest to choose their own gender, and not have some surgeon decide at birth.
As I became more involved with Neutral Comer, I joined their Speakers Bureau, talking to students at various college classes. One or two transsexuals or crossdressers and I would show these students that the transgendered population is human, and won't hurt anyone. Students are in college to be educated and we want to add to their education. We want people to understand that gender identity is not a choice. Who would choose to have such a difficult life? We emphasize that this is not a mental illness.
Unfortunately it is in the best interest of the counseling industry to perpetuate the myth that it is a mental or psychological problem. There are support groups for the transgendered individuals so they won't give up and hurt themselves through drug or alcohol abuse or in drastic cases, by suicide. national PFLAG organization has invited me to speak several times to help educate their members. At present there are few parents who understand the problems, but we hope that there will be more in the future.
Everywhere I go and tell the story of Danielle and her need to be a girl, someone tells me "You are such a wonderful mother." That statement still surprises me because I have always felt that I was not particularly good at mothering, being a rather unconventional and haphazard parent. I have only done what any mother can do, give unconditional love to my child.
When transsexuals hear my story they tell me that they knew they were transsexuals when they were teenagers, but were afraid to tell their parents. As I became better at using the computer and the internet, I joined several listservers dealing with transsexualism. There is now a group of parents ready and willing to contact other parents through the internet. There are also a few teen stories and other relevant information available through these means.
There seems to be an increasing number of younger children telling their parents that they feel they need to be the opposite gender. I hope we can spread the knowledge that these children need love and understanding.
When Danielle was living at home I always told her where I was going to speak and invited her to come with me. She went with me once or twice but was not comfortable talking about her situation in public, or she had other things to do that were more important to a teenager. I respected her wishes not to talk at her school, and she understood my need to try to change the world.