There is currently a lack of practical information and advice available for trans women (and trans men) who have undergone realignment surgery. In this extract from ‘Queer Sex,’ Juno Roche reflects on how she felt, emotionally and physically, after her realignment surgery, and how the after-care involved affected her relationship with her new ‘neo-vagina.’
When I had my realignment surgery, I sat back and somehow expected my vagina to do all the talking, all the walking, all the work and all of the flirting. I imagined, ‘Hey presto world, I have my vagina, let the pleasure begin.’ I naïvely thought that somehow my sexuality, my desire and my pleasure would be located in my neo-vagina, my vagina rather wonderfully fashioned from the bits and pieces I was keen to let go of – my penis flesh now made sense. I imagined that my new vagina would have an inbuilt sense of self and purpose, like a microchip embedded just under sensual skin. I genuinely believed that after surgery, after the healing, there would be no more work to do. Surely my neo-vagina would take over from there on and do her stuff.
Of course it didn’t happen like that. It’s just flesh, penis and scrotum refashioned – different tissues sewn together to create a rather beautiful neo-vagina that resembles a cis vagina, but actually it works entirely differently. My vagina is crafted from penile and scrotal skin but has entirely different qualities and drawbacks than a cis-vagina. It is beautiful and it feels unique but it never came with a handbook or a set of illustrated and labelled diagrams. Its construction confused me. I felt like ‘badly prepared trans woman’.
Prior to surgery I’d never heard any trans women talk about their sex lives and seldom have since. I imagined a mystical space in which satisfaction happens and genitals – new and pre-existing – all of a sudden collide beautifully and sensually with others in the great mix and melting pot of worldwide sexual experiences. I just assumed it was so because I didn’t hear any different, and certainly no one told me any different, I thought that after recovery the juices and feelings would descend slowly but surely to snuggle in the V at my vortex, that I would lubricate and experience earth-shattering repeat orgasms just by being feeling more at home in my body. I assumed multiple tiny, growing explosions that would shake my body to its core and shake away all the dust of dysphoria. I imbued my vagina with mythical powers of eroticism, of alluring beauty and of problem solving. Somehow, in an incredibly uncreative and lazy way, I just lay back and assumed that the world would come to me and my pleasure centre.
It all started going wayward in the Pink Ward – the feeling that somehow my ideas about simplicity and ease were setting me up to fail, I started to realise that somehow I perhaps wasn’t going to be the alluring goddess I had planned and shopped for. Brazilian thongs and wispy heels remained unworn. When you go in for surgery, they advise that you take in a hand mirror to examine and celebrate your new addition, your brand new pussy. I forgot as I’m pretty useless with lists, I make them and lose them and make them again. I remembered my phone, my phone charger and chocolate, lots of chocolate.
Anyway, the rather lovely specialist nurse loaned me a mirror that she fetched from a box that looked a little like the ‘lost and found’ box in a primary school classroom. Instantly its shape reminded me of my grandmother, who always wore pearls and died way back in the seventies. I actually didn’t realise that you could still buy a hand-held mirror that resembled something from a Victorian morality painting, but you could, although my borrowed mirror was plastic not tortoiseshell and was a tad shabby, slightly grimy. I took the mirror, cleaned it with a wet wipe, propped myself up on a couple of sweaty hospital pillows and gazed at the reflection of my fantastic pussy. The mirror was smeary, but still what I saw looking back at me was much more like an incredibly red and angry monkey’s bottom, not at all like the woman’s opposite who’d showed me her vagina, which I have to say was almost perfect. A perfect, pitch-perfect pussy, symmetrical, neat and subdued pastel pink, unlike my angry, reddened, swollen vagina which appeared to have been painted in a hurry by Edvard Munch.
I instantly felt a little, maybe a lot, silly.
I handed back the mirror, pulled up the sheet and tried to understand how the monkey’s bottom between my legs would magically become a vision of floral enticement.
Still, despite all of its angry posing and roughly hewn surfaces, I realised that this was the first time in my life that I had shown the world my lower half without any care. I had just pushed down the standard blue sheet, opened my legs and without a care let the world experience my nudity with me – the first time I felt at ease about my body, my genitals. It was truly a magical moment.
My angry-looking and swollen vagina was the most beautiful and freeing thing to have ever happened to my life. She wasn’t traditionally beautiful or perfect but she was, and is now, utterly amazing and I thank and salute my old genitals for the sacrifice that they made offering up the sum of their parts to create such a dear friend to me, there, down there between my legs. Such generosity. Their discord quietened.
But in the lead-up to surgery I had been incredibly naïve, almost as if I never expected there to be blood, stitches, pain, swelling or tubes. I had also been incredibly unrealistic about the procedure, the recovery and the work I would have to do to achieve a Grade A vagina.
Five days after surgery the dilation began and I struggled. There were three of us on the ward and we would dilate at around the same times each day until we were sent home to experiment and plunge alone. In those first days and weeks dilation had to be undertaken three times a day for around 20 minutes a time.
One of the other women seemed able to slip the dilator in with almost silky ease – she had six inches of depth. We knew because she had told us, making a ward announcement. The other seemed to breezily dilate as if it were a convoluted walk in a sunny park, but I squeamishly found penetrating my monkey-bottom pussy a strange sensation, a little like trying to push a sizeable cucumber into an incredibly slight gap, but a gap that was now there between my legs. I know it sounds naïve but dreaming about having a vagina is a million miles away from having a vagina. My bodily senses weren’t quite prepared. Now it’s become as much a part of me as my ear or my lips, but then it was so incredibly different. Where once there had been a penis there was now a cavity I could push my fingers into.
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