This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands
TRANS is an annual Dutch magazine about gender identity, made by trans editors and photographers. Below is an excerpt from a recent issue.
My earliest memories are from when I was a toddler. I would lie in bed, convinced that I would grow a penis overnight. My older brothers all had one, so mine, I was sure, would come soon. I also remember how, later, I would pull the blankets away every morning and look down to see that nothing had changed. 'Maybe tomorrow night,' I'd think to myself.
When I got a bit older, I understood that you're either born with a penis or you're not. But I stayed hopeful every night and remained disappointed in the mornings.
That was until the morning of the 12th of January, 2017, in a hospital in Belgrade, Serbia. The day before, I had been admitted for the final part of a two-part phalloplasty operation – a procedure that constructs a penis for trans men. That morning, it felt, in a way, like I had finally grown a penis overnight.
It's hard to describe how happy it made me. After feeling incomplete for 20 years, thinking of myself an ugly freak, that feeling was suddenly gone. I always explained my aversion to my vulva as if it felt like I had an open wound between my legs instead of male genitals. And I've had to live with that idea of myself for two decades. Despite the post-op pain, I was ecstatic. It's the small things – feeling a bulge when I put my underwear on, urinating in a urinal, scratching my balls; mundane moments that make my heart leap.
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So you would expect that, after that phalloplasty operation, I'd be forever living on cloud nine. The thing I'd been dream about all my life had finally come true. Unfortunately, I felt the opposite. I became extremely depressed.
When I went back home to recover, I was alone – my dog was staying with my boyfriend to give me some time to rest. It was in that lonely state that a deep sorrow came over me. I would just cry uncontrollably until the tears ran out and a breathless squeak came from my throat. After a few hours I phoned my boyfriend in a panic – I needed him to come to me right away with my dog. I couldn't work out what I wanted, but all I knew was that I needed a friend. I'm glad he answered his phone, because all I was thinking about was jumping from my fourth floor window.
In the period that followed, my then-partner couldn't really help me. In fact, nobody could. I was no longer working with a psychologist or psychiatrist, and was spending my time alone at home with my dog. In the end, it took seven months for me to accept that this was the body I was going to spend the rest of my life in. I'm not sure exactly how this acceptance happened; I just told myself over and over again that I couldn't change anything now. With those words, I think I finally found a kind of peace.
I was unhappy all throughout my childhood. All of the psychologists and therapists over the years blamed my depression on my gender dysphoria. Back then, I accepted that, though I was unhappy, I would eventually turn 16 and be able to take male hormones. When I turned 18, I could get my top surgery. There was always a next step – an excuse for not having to be happy now, thinking that after the next step life would automatically get a bit better.
But then I took that last physical step, and life didn't automatically get better. Suddenly, the realisation hit that this was it. I would always carry my past with me – the first 14 years of my life in the body of a girl. The fact that I can't get an erection or make semen, and I'll always have to explain things to new lovers. I'll never be able to bring a baby into the world.
I had to accept that I am transgender, no matter how much I look like a cis male. And I should have started doing that much sooner. If, at 14, I had spent less time worrying about how to become a convincing boy and more time on learning to accept my body, I may never have experienced this kind of post-op depression.
Back then, I struggled to accept reality after a hospital psychologist literally told me – an insecure 15-year-old transgender teenager – that I "will never become a real man". I was so angry and felt totally misunderstood. Today, I think I understand what the psychologist was trying to convey. She was trying to protect me from the depression that would hit me eight years later.
Online, I've spoken to many other trans people who went through the same thing. It can be very hard processing the reality that, despite a successful transition, you're still not exactly the same as a cis man who was assigned male at birth.
Let me be very clear: if I could travel five years back in time, I would still go through with my transition. I have absolutely no regrets about my operations. They were necessary for me to feel complete, and to feel ownership of my own body.
In the meantime, things are getting better – I'm growing more and more accepting of my body. What helps is that people see me as a man. I can sit in a sauna without getting weird looks and can share a bed with other men without them noticing I'm trans. My partner has no issues with it either, and my sex life is fine.
During my transition, I clung to a vision of an imagined future. Now, I have accepted the reality of being trans. My body fits much more with my gender identity, but I also realise that while I have more or less reached my physical goal, I'll always have some unfulfilled wishes and desires. But that's just part of life.