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% Leah Rowe % 2018-09-21
I was initially going to write purely about my surgery experience, but then I decided that I would write my entire life story.
This is a continuation of my littleleah.html article where I have pictures of my surgery.
TRIGGER WARNING: sexual topics
TRIGGER WARNING: depressing shit
TRIGGER WARNING: suicide
TRIGGER WARNING: basically don’t read this article if you’re at all traumatized and/or really sensitive
My name is Leah Rowe. As of now, I am currently 26 years old. I’m a transgender woman, living in the UK.
Transgender? That’s right. I’m trans.
The rest of this article is going to talk about my early experiences, and about how I came out as trans. It will go into depth about my transition.
It’s difficult for me to write this, because I feel good about myself for the first time ever. I’ve recently (8 weeks ago) had gender reassignment surgery (I have a vagina now) and I’m a very, very different person to who I was only a few years ago. Writing about my past feels strange, because I no longer feel connected to that past. Some of my early memories are very painful.
My earliest memories associated with female gender identity are very early on in my life. I didn’t have much inclination to believe I was trans at a young age, because I grew up in a culture that is biased towards and dominated by men. To this day, the UK is still a very male-dominated society, with many pervasive forms of sexism still ingrained into society. Since I was born with a penis, the doctor declared It’s a boy! when I was born, and nobody ever even contemplated that this might be wrong.
I was taught to be male from birth. Moreover, I never learned about transgender people until much later in my life.
My earliest memories of my gender identity are during childhood, between the ages 5-10, mostly in school. I generally preferred to associate with girls, and I regularly did so in the early years. As the years went on, as was typical of British schools back then, girls and boys started to become more segregated, to the point where I was unable to mix with girls.
My childhood was fairly uneventful, and I don’t remember feeling depressed in any way. I knew I was different, but I didn’t know why.
My teenage years were much harder, when puberty started to kick in. At this point I started to become more and more depressed, and I didn’t know why at the time.
The first concrete evidence I had of my female identity was at the age 13, when I literally pictured myself as a woman regularly. At the time, these thoughts were scary to me because at that point I had been brainwashed into thinking that trans women were drag queens which had a negative image associated with them (and I wasn’t that into drag anyway). Naturally, I went into denial about this and simply rationalized it; I told myself that this is how all people feel.
Sexual thoughts made me feel depressed. Getting undressed made me depressed. Gym class was the worst. As the years went by, I became more depressed as I had masculinized quite a lot by the time I was 16.
Despite being depressed, I was highly intelligent and got straight As at school. I was quite lucky to have supportive parents, and I went to a decent school.
Materially, I’ve never had any complaints. In fact, my upbringing was quite middle class. I’ve always had enough food, shelter, warmth and the luxuries in life such as internet, decent clothing, access to information, resources… and I grew up in a part of the UK that was fairly well-off.
I was unhappy, and I didn’t know why. Objectively, my life was good. I didn’t even recognize it as depression at first.
Only later in life did I realize that I was suffering from extreme gender dysphoria. I had begun to suppress my emotions, to cope with the reality that was my existence. Where I was once a happy child, I was miserable as a teenager and as an adolescent. More so as an adult.
I had no friends. I didn’t think I needed them. In highsight, I was avoiding others because I didn’t feel right about myself. I learned to disassociate heavily.
Entire years went by, which felt like an eternity. I simply existed, but I wasn’t alive. And I didn’t know how to change.
So…. during teenage years I mostly went to school or stayed at home and played computer games. I had computer programming and art as hobbies, which was good for me in those days because I could practise them in relative solitude (parents and sibllings notwithstanding). I would continue this during college, though at that point I was too depressed so I failed most of my classes.
After college, I sat indoors all day for 7 months and did nothing.
Again, to put this into perspective: I was privileged in most aspects of my life. After college, at 18 years old, I was able to get an interview with IBM for a job, which would have been a sponsored degree where I study computer science. I didn’t get the job (but I very nearly did. There was a shortlist of 5 of us and only 2 could get the job. I was one of the unlucky 3). After I failed to get that place, I applied elsewhere and did an apprenticeship in computing instead. I was financially secure, in an industry that was recession-proof (this was during the 2007-2011 financial crisis).
I finished the apprenticeship and then quit my job, because I was depressed. I went freelance, and from the age 19-21 I drifted. I did various freelance jobs, and had a short (5 month) employment at a company writing software, before I again quit for the same reason.
My life before I was 21 was very boring, and very uneventful. At age 21 I still believed I was a cisgender heterosexual man, due to suppression of my gender identity. I still felt weird, still didn’t know why, still felt depressed, still didn’t know why. I simply used my magical powers of disassociation and isolated myself even more, becoming a total recluse. Fortunately, I was into computer programming where it’s possible to make a living entirely from ones bedroom, which is exactly what I did. At the time, I could cope well enough that I was genuinely happy in my own company, isolated from others. I worked on all kinds of crazy computer science projects; emulators, games, I even attempted to write an operating system. On the side, I did freelance web development. I lived with parents, so I didn’t have any bills to pay.
The world that I grew up in was extremely homophobic and transphobic, and didn’t begin to improve until around the time I was around 18, when equality legislation was introduced for the first time. Movements for LGBT equality began to gain traction all over the world, at least in western europe and north america. Naturally, at this point I was still suppressing my gender identity and sexuality, so I was unaware of being a pansexual transgender woman. (pansexual is a non-insulting way to say that one is bisexual. the term bisexual is offensive because it excludes non-binary people. Since I’ve had actual relationships with non-binary people, it would also be factually incorrect to say I’m bi, although I am very much attracted to men and women)
At age 21, having spent many years indoors (since around age 14) on my computer, I had taught myself programming. Although I never went to university, at that point my computing knowledge was equivalent to or greater than that of a university graduate. I stumbed upon coreboot, a free software BIOS implementation. I’m a long time believer in Richard Stallman’s Free Software philosophy, and I’ve used GNU+Linux since I was about 14.
There is a huge community of Free Software enthusiants online that want entirely free systems, where all the software is free (as in freedom), unrestricted. I saw potential in this and started selling laptops with coreboot and GNU+Linux preinstalled. The Free Software Foundation noticed what I was doing, and approached me. They were looking for a company that could sell systems which comply with their specifications; basically a system that Richard Stallman would use. One that is free of proprietary software or backdoors.
Long story short, the Libreboot project was formed and overnight I had a full-time job selling a lot more laptops. Initially, I was just doing it to make a bit of money, not expecting it to be big and I certainly wasn’t planning anything like Libreboot. You can read about Libreboot on the Libreboot website. I take great pride in this project, even to this day. For many years, it also served as a distraction. I worked relentlessly on it, over the course of many years, often to the exclusion of all other tasks. I would sit for days, weeks and sometimes months working on it non-stop. I did this for many years, and I took great satisfaction from it. The Free Software Foundation was heavily promoting it, and I was able to make money selling it preinstalled on laptops, to fund my work.
That began in December 2013, and ended in November 2015. From November 2015, I began to go downhill. My gender dysphoria (back then I simply thought it was normal depression, but nothing helped it improve) had gotten to a point where I could no longer cope, and not even Libreboot could distract me anymore. By this point, I had met a transgender person and I was fully aware of what it meant being trans. However, I was still in denial about my own gender identity. Subconsciously, I was drawn to that person because they were coming out and starting their transition. I lost my virginity to that person. I won’t mention them by name, for concern of their privacy. The exact details about how I met that person, and what happened later are also irrelevant. All you need to know is this: I figured out my sexuality from that person, and from that figured out that I’m trans.
Before that point, I had suppressed all sexual thoughts. The way I lost my virginity was that this person sat on me and hugged me while upset. I saw no harm in this, but I wasn’t expecting to get a massive boner while they did it. Twice, on two separate days. After the 2nd time, I told them about this and that I was confused about my sexuality. We then played with each other.
This person was a trans woman, and she wasn’t out to anyone except me, her parents and a few other friends. She was in guy mode when we had sex. Without wanting to be transphobic, I have to clarify: I, even at this time, fully respected her identity and thought of her as a woman, but that’s my conscious mind. Physically, my body detected a male body. That’s what gave me a boner. When I started humping her, I was thinking about her penis and wanted so badly to put it in my mouth (she didn’t want it touched, of course, since she had dysphoria about it).
I then began exploring my sexuality for the first time. Keep in mind that I hadn’t yet figured out I was trans at this point. Long story short: I concluded that I’m bi (and later found a better term, namely pansexual, to describe my sexuality). However, this felt strange because even though I was sexually attracted to men (which I physically experimented with, and confirmed), I could never bring myself to imagine sex as a man. I was into straight, heterosexual porn and lesbian porn. This made no sense to me. Why was I, a cisgender bisexual man into lesbian stuff?
At this point, I knew everything there was to know about trans people. I’m highly autistic and I have a habit of absorbing knowledge, often to the point of obsession, so when something interests me I study it in great detail. I knew more than my transgender friend about transitioning, and I was giving her advice on a few occasions! I stopped talking to that friend for a while, but I was still looking at trans stuff. It fascinated me, though at that point I still thought I was cisgender. In hindsight, subconsciously I was reading about myself.
I existed in a state of mental limbo for about 6 months, until one day I was editing a photo of myself in GNU Gimp, an image editing program that I use. I didn’t like my selfie, so I started editing it to make myself look better. While doing so, I was watching a video about dilations for post-op transgender women and I was smiling. It made me happy, to see her (a trans woman in the video. Total stranger, just someone on youtube) being happy about her new pussy. It then occured to me: why the fuck am I watching this? So I turned it off. But then suddenly I looked at what I was doing to my face in Gimp: I was removing facial hair, smoothening my skin using the spot healing tool and generally making myself look very feminine. Here is that photo (the feminized version):
My first thought was “Holy shit, am I trans?”. Long story short, I spent the next month intensely reflecting on my past life. I analyzed myself as honestly and brutally as possible, non-stop. I started to feel lightheaded and dizzy many times, because for the first time I wasn’t disassociating. I was confronting myself and being honest with myself for the first time. I regard this now as the honeymoon period of coming to terms with my gender identity, because my life after that became quite chaotic for a long time, when I actually began my transition.
I bought a bunch of female-assigned clothing articles, and I experimented in my bedroom in absolute secrecy. I felt good. I felt sexy. It made me feel relaxed.
After a week of this intense self-reflection, I came out to one of my friends who was also trans. My exact words to her were:
I’ve been lying to you, and to myself. I don’t want to lie anymore
I then paused for about 5 minutes, and finally sent this to her:
I’m a woman
To which she replied:
I’ll keep it quiet
She gave me the link to an IRC server where transgender people were. It was an IRC support group for trans people (peer support). I got to know myself in there, since IRC offers relative anonymity. I found it liberating to express myself there, because I was expressing feelings and emotions that I’d suppressed for years, feelings which I at that point did not want to share publicly.
Three weeks later after that discovery, I was scheduled to do a talk about the Libreboot project at LibrePlanet 2016, in Boston MA USA. This is a Free Software conference held at MIT university by the Free Software Foundation every year. I was going to cancel my trip, but then I came out to one of my friends who lived in Boston at the time. I didn’t know she was transgender. She eventually confided in me that she herself was trans, and she helped me out while I was in Boston. I ended up staying in the US for several weeks, long after the conference had ended, because I didn’t want to be at home. I spent several weeks with one of her friends, who was also trans. I spent this time away from home writing a journal, which I won’t publish here. I learned a lot about myself during this time, but even in a foreign country where nobody knew me, I was terrified of coming out publicly so I didn’t present as female at all, during this time. This all happened during March 2016.
Come April 2016, I return home to the UK. At the time, I was living with parents. I dreaded going home, because I’d go back to being called Francis, addressed with male pronouns, and I was terrified of how my parents might react if I came out. The whole journey home was 15 hours, not just including the flight but everything else. The exact words going through my head as I put the keys in and opened the door to my parents house, were: Now hell begins
I was going to bottle it, and suppress my gender identity again. I had given up at this point. I had contemplated transition, and I believed that it was impossible. I was terrified that I would be beaten up if I went outside as myself (a fear which would later never materialize. I had no problems coming out). I was scared of all kinds of problems. Most of all, I feared what my parents would say. At that point, I’d never lived by myself and mentally I was unprepared for the worst, and I feared the worst. I just wanted to forget about everything and go back to how things were again. I knew what the closet was like, and I wanted to stay in it.
My grandmother was visiting, though she had already left by the time I got home. I had just missed her. She left in the morning, and I arrived in the afternoon. My grandmother likes to drink. She’s Irish. She had left half a bottle of whiskey under the kitchen sink. A few days later, I noticed the bottle. My parents were out for the day, my brother was at college and my other brother was away. I decided I’d numb myself, so I drank the whole bottle and I became very drunk.
I cried, and repeatedly told myself I’m a woman, but I was angry because I hated being trans in those days. Then I cried some more. Then I drank some more. And then I called my mother, while I was blind drunk, and came out as trans over the phone. I was a mess.
I sobered up after a few hours. My brother arrived home, and my mother had already told my dad and both brothers that I was trans. My brother was fairly neutral in his response.
Initially, my parents were completely unsupportive and hostile. They’re OK now, but it wasn’t always good. At first, they tried to convince me that I wasn’t trans, not because they were transphobic but because they themselves were ignorant about transgender issues and they were fearful about how others would react to me if I came out.
I wasn’t right in the head at this point. This is not to say that being trans is a mental health problem, because it isn’t, but I was extremely unstable at this point in my life. The honeymoon was over and now I had just come out, for real. That day went by really quick, but then I woke up the next day and I dreaded getting out of bed. My parents didn’t take me seriously, and initially went straight back to misnaming and misgendering me. I was furious about this. I initially believed they were hostile (in hindsight, they weren’t, they were just scared themselves). I decided at that point that I needed to leave, which I did. I found a small bungalow to rent out, and I moved out from my parents house. 3 weeks after coming out, I moved out.
I wasn’t ready to move out. I was in the middle of a period of extreme depression. I regularly contemplated suicide, and I even knew of a way I’d do it. I spent the first three months after moving out, being a complete mess. I didn’t do any work, so orders (I sell laptops on the internet) weren’t fulfilled. I let my house become a mess. I didn’t even unpack my things for several months. I wasn’t eating properly at all, so I lost a lot of weight. When I did eat, I ate tinned foods or I went out to eat. I was on the verge of suicide. I didn’t talk to my parents for months. I was even thinking of disappearing completely, so that they couldn’t trace me. I was angry, and on a very self-destructive path.
I was drinking heavily. I spent almost all hours of the day in the IRC chatroom which I mentioned earlier, and I was regularly drunk while talking in there. I’d wake up on the ground, having collapsed and passed out in my chair. This happened all the time. Sometimes covered in vomit when I woke up. I never developed a chemical addiction to alcohol, though I was on the way to becoming an alcoholic.
I wasn’t presenting as female at all, during this period. This period lasted between mid-April 2016 (when I moved out) until mid-July 2016. I wore feminine clothing indoors, but I got changed into masculine clothing when I went outside. I limited the amount of time I needed to go outside. I was living in hell. Too scared to live, too scared to die (I almost did).
There was this one time when I was on my bicycle, at speed, zipping down a narrow street at least 20mph, and a car was approaching me from the opposite direction at 30mph. I nearly crashed into it and died. While nearly doing so, I smiled and literally thought this is it. I was disassociating heavily, and luckily the car slowed down. I swurved around it while the driver honked the horn aggressively at me. It was in the freezing cold, and it was raining so the driver only just saw me in time. It was literally a near-miss scenario. I literally nearly died… and I didn’t care.
I had already been to my GP at this point, and had myself referred on the NHS pathway for gender reassignment. However, the NHS is highly underfunded and understaffed, so it would be at least 2-3 years before I could get hormones or anything else that I wanted.
It’s entirely possible that this photo could have been taken on the same day that the near-miss scenario occured. Although this period of instability only lasted 3 months, it didn’t feel like 3 months. It felt like only a week or two. When you’re lonely, depressed and desperate, and feel like nobody will help you, time gets heavily distorted.
In June, I realized that I needed help, so I hired my brother (begrudgingly) to run my company for me. He was shit, but at least it meant I had someone helping me, which he did. I eventually made peace with my mother (her decision to start gendering me correctly greatly helped me to make this decision), and started paying her to clean my house. A job which she still has to this day, especially while I sit here recovering from my surgery.
I didn’t want to wait for hormones, so I started self-medicating in June 2016. I had found a decent website to purchase them from, and it was legit. When they first arrived, I freaked out because it was all so sudden. The first dose was scary to take, because I didn’t know what to expect. Well, nothing really happened at first, but over the course of a few weeks I noticed my mood begin to shift. I had become much more sensitive emotionally.
One day, out of the blue, a total stranger on the IRC chatroom I was in wanted to come visit me. I don’t know why (probably because I was very lonely) but I decided on a whim to allow her to visit me. It was the best decision I ever made. This person was also trans, and she encouraged me to go outside presenting female for the first time. This was in mid-July. I cried into her arms the first time, but she acted with tough love and more or less pushed me out my front door in a dress. We went out for the day. We went to the seaside and hung out for the day. We ate fish and chips. We spent 2 weeks together, until she finally went home. During her stay, she had encouraged me to the point where I could now live full-time as myself. I hid nothing after this, and my mental health began to improve considerably.
I went back into a temporary depressive state during the winter, and I felt increasingly lonely again. It was at this time that I started thinking about other aspects of my transition, and I began seeking out private trans health services. I found one, but it was highly restrictive so I stopped using that service. I simply continued self-medicating, and waited patientlly for my first appointment on the NHS.
From July 2016 to October 2016 I was becoming increasingly lonely. I began seeking out partners, though in the wrong places; on some chatroom online. I had several one night stands. Luckily, I didn’t get any diseases (I didn’t use protection).
Eventually, by pure accident, I met someone on IRC, who actually became my full time partner for almost a year. She was from Portugal, and also a trans woman like me. She was out to her parents for a year at that point, and she lived with her mother. However, her parents were extremely hostile as was the culture she lived in. We quickly got into a relationship (in highsight, too quickly) and since I myself was lonely and desperate at that point in my life, I saw nothing to lose so I offered her to move to the UK and live with me. She contemplated it for a few weeks and I went to visit her a second time, which resulted in her accepting my offer. And so began my current journey.
Before I met her (I won’t mention her name, because she has not provided me with consent to reveal her identity), I was extremely lonely and not really on track at all. She was even worse than me, so I ended up essentially being a mother. It became a symbiotic and very unhappy relationship, where we were just dating because we thought we needed each other. I became increasingly frustrated and, long story short, the relationship fell apart in September 2017. It was borderline not a total disaster while it lasted. I loved her, but I was very unhappy and so was she.
During that year (2017), I booked my surgery and I managed to get my appointment at last with the NHS, for gender services. I also began laser hair removal on face and body.
Living with a partner and especially being a carer for her for a whole year was torture, because it was a bad relationship, but it hardened me. When the relationship ended, I was ready for anything, because I had been doing that on top of my transition which was also very tough. I just about managed to stay sane during this period.
I had been banned from my other IRC chatroom, over a disagreement with one of the moderators there (basically, I pissed her off one day). I decided to make my own IRC chatroom (##transit and ##transit-social on freenode IRC). I also made a website for it at https://transit.org.uk/.
After the relationship ended, I pursued some more passions of mine that I previously either didn’t have time or mental energy for. I became involved with the British Labour Party in my local constituency (I later became disillusioned with it, because my local CLP’s leadership is reactionary and right wing), I became more productive in my work and my finances started to improve. At this point, I had begun preparing seriously for my surgery. I booked my surgery with the Suporn Clinic in Thailand, and my surgery was done on August 1st, 2018.
All things considered, I was happy with my life, relatively speaking, at this point. I was much more organized, much calmer and generally had my shit together.
From September 2017 to July 2018, I worked relentlessly hard to afford my surgery, but I still couldn’t. In April 2018, I started a crowd funding campaign to pay for my surgery. I had initially believed it was doomed, and I resigned myself to the thought that I wouldn’t get my surgery. I was desperate at this point, so I applied for several different loans. All of the lenders refused to lend to me, because I had no tangible assets to secure the loan against. I started to suffer extreme anxiety, to the point where I was having panic attacks. I started on anti-anxiety medications (fluoxetine, prescribed by my GP) just to cope.
Months went by and I received little to no donations. I was ready to give up, and then suddenly the fundraiser started to gain traction. I came close to not being able to pay for my surgery in time, but 5 days before the payment deadline I had just enough money raised to pay for the surgery (but not the flight, food or hotel room for a month); even so, I paid for the surgery. At the bank, I was under a lot of stress because I worried that the money wouldn’t get to Suporn on time. Luckily, it did.
During mid-June to late July 2018 I was also worried about my weight, so I doubled down on what was already a strict vegan diet, and I exercised relentlessly. I lost 5kg in a month. I was able to get to a healthy weight for my surgery. I also worked relentlessly hard during this month, to make enough money so that I could pay for the flight and hotel (food in Thailand is cheap, so I wasn’t worried about that aspect, but the hotel room was about 50 GBP per night).
One week before my surgery, I was just about prepared. I had everything organized, and now all I had to do was get on the plane. I had spent all this time working so hard and worrying so much, that I didn’t even have time to think about anything else.
On the day I left for Thailand, I was disassociating heavily because I was genuinely afraid. I was excited, and happy that I was getting surgery, but I knew that if I allowed my emotions to control me there was a risk that I would turn around and go home, something which I knew would be a mistake. At that point, I knew I’d come this far and I wasn’t going to step back.
My parents drove me to the airport. We ate a nice meal there, at a nice restaurant inside the airport. I hugged my parents (a weird experience, since they’re not huggers - especially my dad). Both of my parents had tears in their eyes.
They weren’t coming with me. I boarded the flight alone.
When I arrived in Thailand, going through customs, I was paranoid. I was worried that I wouldn’t be allowed through the border. Going through security felt like an eternity. Fortunately, nothing bad happened and I was allowed through.
This is where the real fun begins.
I’m still going through recovery at the moment. It’s a Saturday afternoon and I have other things to do today: I will write about my experiences in Thailand and about my post-operative experiences in a follow-up article :)
This article is much longer than I expected it to be, so I feel like it would be wise to write about my post-operative experience in a separate article.
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