Three and half years on, there is not at lot showing that would give away my vaginal surgery. I still can't take that surgery for granted. It has so drastically transformed how I look down there. It's something that I notice every morning, when I get up, when I wash or shower, when I use the loo, and when I go to bed.
But it's actually not the main thing that, if I were seen nude, a man or woman would fix on. I have developed a belly. And bulges and saggy bits below that. It's all about fat, and the sheer weight of the belly: if I hoick it up - voila! - the bulges and sags vanish, or at least don't protrude nearly the same. So if I could reduce the size of this belly, I'd look a lot less plump and Rubenesque. You've seen his fleshy beauties before, I'm sure:
I'm nowhere as extreme as this, but would definitely describe myself as an 'oestrogen casuality'. Oestrogen will help you pile on the fat if you have a good appetite. You can certainly try eating less, and taking a lot of exercise (an awful lot to be really effective, but any on-your-feet movement is good), and avoiding foods and drinks that will encourage the accumulation of fatty tissue. But in truth fighting the effects of oestrogen is a battle you can't easily win. I've presently stabilised my weight, with room to do better. If you like, oestrogen and me have called a truce. But oestrogen is not going to concede defeat, and I must remain vigilant.
The irony is of course that my HRT must continue forever, both to keep me generally healthy, and in particular to ward off osteoporosis. I can't do without it.
Mind you, if it makes me chubby, it also makes me look younger and less haggard than I might otherwise expect to be at my age. It's swings and roundabouts. And it's always possible to conceal the excess flesh beneath dresses and skirts. That's why I'm wearing more of those nowadays. Meanwhile, were I to be glimpsed naked, I would be notable for my big belly. Which I'd have to laugh off as 'my pregnant look' - although the joke would be very transparent, as I am clearly too old to be pregnant!
Let's get back to my March 2011 surgery. The surgical site recovered long ago, and within months things had settled down nicely. Roll forward to 2014, and I have a genital area that I'd be happy to show off anywhere, provided nobody minded the fat. I have thick outer labia and a very pronounced Mound of Venus. It's not young-womanish. It's plump old girl stuff. But hey ho, it's what I have, and it's all me, with nothing artificial about it. When remodelled, it was simply a question of rearranging my own flesh and tidying up. No implants or anything else. Bits of tissue that hadn't been neighbours before now greeted each other, liked each other, and became very good friends.
Not everything could be remodelled to the 'standard pattern'. A casual peep suggests that I have inner labia, but that's just the way the pubic hair grows: there are actually no inner labia. I've got the streamlined Scandinavian vulva (or Volvo). And my clitoral hood is a bit vestigial, nothing much there really, but it does its job when everything is at rest, so that I don't have an exposed clitoris that is constantly raked by public hair. Not that a constantly-stimulated clitoris is necessarily a Bad Thing - I'm sure some women would love to have one. Personally it think it might be too much of a distraction from the serious issues of life, such as cooking and ironing, washing dishes and making beds.
I have to purse my lips at some of the daft things I used to read about genital surgery, mainly from people who hadn't had it, and were simply passing on things they'd read or been told. Such as that vaginal surgery created an abdominal wound that gaped and bled, and would never heal up. So that any subsequent penetration ruptured it and caused bleeding, pain and infection. What utter nonsense. I hope nobody ever believed that.
Cosmetic surgery in the vaginal area is now common, and trans women have long had the option (if they can afford it) to buy something more than the standard job obtainable in the UK, either privately or free on the NHS. I'm speaking of such items as seriously frilly inner labia, a massive clitoral hood, and a deeper vagina (if, that is, there is room inside for it). For Brits, Thailand and the USA are - or used to be - the places to go if these refinements were wanted. Thailand especially, which offered amazing value for money, even if one selected one of the best two surgeons and a whole month's aftercare.
I did consider Thailand for myself. But there were problems. One biggie was the enormous distance involved. Remember that I'd flown to New Zealand and back in 2007. I knew exactly what long-haul flights entailed. I just didn't fancy an exhausting journey home so soon after surgery. The distance also meant that if any post-op dissatisfactions or complications emerged, getting back there for remedial work might be beyond my inclination or ability to pay the air fare. In any case, I didn't want to wake up from surgery (assuming I survived the trauma) and not find myself in a comforting and reassuring English environment, no matter how kind the local nurses.
And there was something else. It was obvious really. Elaborate surgery (to give one's vaginal area that super-convincing, porn-website look) meant a lot of skin-processing, a lot of stitches to join everything together, a lot of luck in the healing, and a lot of extra-careful post-op maintenance (washing and so forth). It might look fantastic, but one could expect intricate healing procedures (and even trouble) for a long time ahead. One trans woman I knew, well enough to discuss these things frankly, told me that she'd ultimately been very happy with her Thailand surgery, but it had taken ages to heal up properly, it was prone to minor infections, and it remained a nightmare to keep all those amazing skin flaps and so forth scrupulously clean, the tissue being delicate and easily-damaged. She thought it all worth it. I thought what a palaver. After all, I'd be living with this major surgery for the rest of my life. Something more straightforward had a lot of appeal.
So I decided not to risk Thailand for anything. Besides, with the Brighton Nuffield hospital almost on my doorstep, it was as if fate were pointing me in the direction best for me. Why resist?
As I said, there is little sign of the surgeon's knife now. But there is a criss-cross of short white scars on my perineum. Until recently, I was a bit unhappy about their being there. Any surgeon specialising in abdominal procedures, and understanding the various possible techniques, would know what to look for and instantly spot the tell-tale signs of what I had done.
I thought that even an ordinary person might, if in an intimate position, see these little white perineal scars and guess what they meant. It would have to be an intimate position - nothing showed if I were just sitting or standing. These scars were one of those little things that made me reticent about having sex. I didn't want to be asked, in a moment of passion, what the scars were all about. And of course there was nothing simple that could be done to disguise or conceal them.
Then a couple of days ago I finally looked up 'perineum' on Wikipedia, and this led me on to a fact that I'd overlooked. That quite a number of women have perineal scarring. It happens when the skin there splits in childbirth. Occasionally the splitting affects the deeper tissue and tears muscles too. That all requires stitching to bring the ripped flesh together for healing. These links, found with very little searching, explain it all:
And so my own scars, the end result of cutting and stitching, are nothing special or unusual in a woman. That was a relief!
And yet I now see another difficulty. Yes, the scars look like the natural outcome of a difficult childbirth, the delivery of an awkwardly-positioned baby for example. Yes, I can now (if I wish) flaunt my scars, knowing that some men, and all women, will assume that I got them giving birth, presumably long ago when much younger.
But I have no children of my own. That's the problem. Think about it. If I gave birth, but have no living child to show for it, then it means that the birth ended in tragedy. And any woman will at once want to extend her deepest sympathy towards me, for losing a child. And for possibly being so physically or mentally damaged by the birth process that I never again gave birth to further children.
I can't let that happen. It's a dreadful deception.
So if those scars are ever questioned, it'll be explained by 'vaginal surgery' and not by a delivery that went horribly wrong. Because allowing any woman to assume that I suffered like that - and have been living all my adult life with the pain of it - would also be horribly wrong.