The years leading up to my gender reassignment surgery were filled with preparation for the procedure.
As well as having monthly counselling sessions, I also started taking hormone tablets a few years before my surgery. I’m now on these for life, although I stopped taking them for the 4 weeks prior to my surgery, which is a necessary step.
I also had laser hair removal, including on my face, and voice therapy at a local hospital for a number of months, although my voice didn’t really bother me as I’m quite well-spoken with a relatively feminine voice anyway.
My main focus was on the surgery, which the NHS would carry out. I did find the prospect of having it quite daunting. When I turned 21, I went to Brighton to see the surgeon at my consultation, and he explained what would happen. My second visit to Brighton was for blood tests and my pre-operative assessment, which made sure that I was fit and able to proceed. The appointments were nerve-racking, but exciting at the same time. This surgery was something I needed, and it was going to be the biggest part of helping my gender dysphoria.
There is no cure for gender dysphoria, but it can be supressed in ways such as using hormones and having surgery. I’ll always be transgender, so you have to learn to accept yourself, love yourself, and not see being trans as a bad thing. After all, everyone is special in a different way.
Surgery was never something I wanted to have to go through, though. It was upsetting that I would have to undergo this complex and frightening procedure because I hadn’t been born with the correct outer body. But I was incredibly grateful, because I knew I’d finally be able to start my real life afterwards - I wouldn’t be in limbo any more, feeling incomplete and uncomfortable. I’d be able to go on holiday and go on dates - do all the things that 21 year-olds do.
I was pretty young when I had my gender reassignment surgery, and I suppose I was a bit naïve too. I’d never had any kind of procedure before. Looking back, I can see that I probably hadn’t done as much research on the psychological effects of what I was about to do, though I was completely aware of the risks and complications of treatment. I guess part of me didn’t want to know the risks to mental health beforehand in case they scared me off, so I didn’t research as much as I should have. I figured that everyone would have their own experience, and I didn’t want other people to influence me or give me false ideas of how I may or may not feel afterwards.
I had my surgery in April 2015. My dad was incredibly supportive and came along with me, staying in a hotel so that he could be there for me. My mum joined my dad for a few days, too. I didn’t understand at the time just how hard it was for them to see me go through this, and I’m so grateful that they were there for me. It was the ‘end’ of the son they once had, yet the start of my new life as the real me.
I was in hospital for 10 days. When I woke up after surgery, I was surprised that I didn’t feel much different at all, just a bit strange. I hadn’t realised how much pain I’d experience.
I think I’d expected to physically become the woman I was inside with that one operation. I’d read stories of other girls’ experiences after surgery, so believed it would be just like how they described it and that I’d wake up feeling complete. In fact, I was underwhelmed - I really struggled with my face and parts of my body not matching the image of who I wanted to be.
For years I’d been researching the differences between male and female bodies and face shapes, and there were still masculine elements I disliked. Men’s skulls, for example, are a different shape to women’s, so men are more likely to have a square jaw or chin and a receding hairline. Women have softer skin, round chin, high cheekbones, a different distribution of fat, and wider hips.
The hormones I was taking helped, but from the age of 14, I’d always hoped to have facial surgery as well as my gender reassignment surgery. After my procedure, I still felt that outwardly I looked the way I always had – just like the old me.
I didn’t really have breasts. What I did have were an A cup size, which was due to the hormones I’d been taking. I knew that boobs were my next priority once I’d recovered from my surgery. Although I also wanted facial feminisation, which is not available on the NHS and is very expensive, it would have to wait.
I spent 4 months recovering, and I didn’t go outside much at all. Looking back, I think I suffered post-surgery depression. I don’t know what I’d have done without my dad throughout my recovery from the procedure– although I’d always felt closer to my mum before I transitioned, afterwards I became a lot closer to him. He’s ended up being my biggest supporter, although my gender reassignment surgery was hard for both my parents and the rest of the family. I guess they saw it as a ‘goodbye’ to Evan, so they went through a grieving process while still trying to support me. Dad and my brothers, for example, found it very, very hard to call me by my new name, Ella. They must have felt like they’d lost a child or brother, even though they’ve gained a daughter and a sister. And because it was me who took him away from them, I felt a sense of guilt.
I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but I’ve had a lot of counselling and support, whereas my family and friends had none at all. It’s no wonder that they struggled after my surgery.
My recovery was full of medical aftercare and dilation, to keep everything working and open. It was painful and time consuming, the swelling and bruising was extreme, and you have to learn how to use this new body part, which was like learning to walk again. But I knew I had to take the good with the bad and go through the process to reap the rewards of finally having a body that matched with how I felt inside.
When I returned to work, I was initially on reduced hours because I couldn’t stand up for long periods of time. My employers were accommodating and understanding, even though I’d been off for longer than they’d expected. But I am so fortunate that they were supportive, as the follow ups to the procedure that are required mean you need several times away from work during the day.
I’d booked a holiday to Los Angeles before my surgery and going away was the push I needed to recover mentally. I travelled there 3 months after my surgery, around the time Caitlyn Jenner had just come out to the world. People were starting to listen to trans activists, and it was ironic that the day we arrived in LA, she received a ‘courage’ award at the ESPN Sports Awards.
The holiday was just what I needed. I could be me and feel comfortable in a bikini by the pool. I started feeling a lot happier, putting on makeup for the first time in the months since my surgery.
My life was changing beyond all recognition, but there was still more to come.
Read Part 1 - Little Evan here.
Read Part 3 - Being Ella here.