He will never forget the noise. Lying on the hospital trolley being pushed towards the operating theatre, he heard nothing but a primal wail. He looked back to see his younger sister sobbing, traumatised by the enormity of what he was about to do.
Andrew*, born male, was minutes away from an operation that would make him a woman. Psychiatrists said he had a female brain in a male body. Gender reassignment surgery was the only way to ease the mental torment he’d endured since adolescence.
But as the wheels squeaked towards the operating table he was struck by an unshakeable thought: “It’s not right.” He remembers telling the surgeon: “I think I’m doing the wrong thing, it’s not right, I think we’ve got to stop it.”
The surgeon stroked Andrew’s face, telling him it was natural to feel frightened before an operation. He protested again, insisting it felt wrong. Then it went black. When he woke up he was sure the surgery had been cancelled. The romantic tales he’d read of transsexuals who awoke post-surgery feeling “reborn” convinced Andrew the operation had been halted, because he felt no different.
“Then I remember lifting up the sheets and putting my hand down and feeling it all bandaged and packed. I just started bawling my eyes out and screaming I remember saying to myself, you f–king idiot, Andrew, how could you be so bloody stupid?”
Twenty years after surgery that left him feeling like a “desexed dog”, the grief can still overwhelm him. Now 42, Andrew tells The Sunday Age the operation he had as a confused 21-year-old has shattered him.
It happened to a woman who had been sexually abused as a child:
She recalls punching her breasts and working out obsessively at the gym to “remove anything that reminded me I was female”. She was a 22-year-old university student when she was referred to the clinic by her GP, depressed and struggling with her identity. Dr Kennedy diagnosed her as transsexual at the first assessment, prescribing her male hormones and suggesting female-to-male surgery.
Within months Angela’s body was covered in thick hair, her voice deepened and she had a full beard. She had to shave under the covers every morning to hide the truth from her conservative Catholic parents. Two years later she had surgery to remove both breasts and was scheduled to have a full sex change. Angela could no longer conceal the truth from her family and began living as “David”. Thankfully, she says, she realised there had been a mistake before undergoing full genital surgery.
“I remember at one point looking at myself in the mirror with this beard, my breasts gone and thinking, ‘Oh my God, what the hell am I going to do?’ I felt ugly. I was the classic bearded woman, a monster trapped between two worlds.”
She claims her pleas for help were also ignored by the clinic and her return to life as a woman was a nightmare that involved two years of painful electrolysis to get rid of facial and body hair and surgery to reconstruct her breasts.
Now married to a “wonderful” man, Angela has three young children and has slowly rebuilt her life. Looking back, she acknowledges she gave consent for the procedure but believes it was not informed consent. She feels she was mentally ill and that her childhood abuse played a part in her gender confusion.
Read the whole thing — especially if you have a young person in your life who wants the surgery.
It’s a nightmare situation for everybody. I don’t know what the tort system is like in Australia, but it’s easy to imagine dissatisfied transsexuals suing their surgeons years after the fact. The thing is, the transsexuals in this story all say that they fully consented to the surgery. It’s that some of them think the clinic was too eager to give it to them. It’s a terrible situation for doctors, admittedly. I know of one case in the US in which a health care worker was facing a lawsuit from a male who wanted to transition to female, but was refused treatment by this worker. When last I heard about it, the suit was in its early stages. This was over a year ago, so I don’t know how it happened. Anyway, it’s not hard to imagine doctors and health care providers being sued for not giving treatment, and then being sued at the other end for giving treatment that the transsexual came to regret.
At least they consented to treatment. A German reader passes along this grotesque, heartrending story about the suffering of former East German athletes who were dosed against their will (and often without their knowledge) with anabolic steroids to improve their performance. Here’s a testimony by Katja Hoffman, now 44:
In my sports club in Berlin, I would be given packets of powder. I was 13 or 14 years old the first time. The word Dynvital was on the label. I had no choice but to swallow it. My coach told me they were vitamins. She made sure that I always took it and acted as though she was doing me a favor. I trusted her, but she deceived me. I also know that she was only at the very end of the chain of command.
I would love to talk to her today, but I’m not ready for it yet. I also think that she wouldn’t want to.
My mother saved a packet of Dynvital. She wouldn’t let anyone touch it; she wanted to save it as evidence. Today, it is thought that the powder was STS 646, an artificial testosterone — a substance that wasn’t approved in East Germany for treating people. Poison.
I loved my sport. As a child, I had an idol. Ulf Timmermann was my role model, and, of course, Katarina Witt. I still have an autograph from her. “We are better than the West,” we were always told. It was also constantly said in East German sports that: “Individuals don’t matter.” We were guinea pigs.
I have to live with the consequences today. I would love to work. Up until three years ago, I was still able to work 10 hours a week as an assistant at a medical practice. Now, I can’t even do that, and I’ve been a housewife since February 2015. Even then, I am quickly overcome by fatigue and can hardly concentrate. Just about any kind of housework makes my hands hurt.
I am homosexual. That’s not a problem as such, nor is it an issue for my family and friends. But I still wonder if I might have loved men if I had never been given that powder back then.
Here are the medical conditions Katja Hoffman endures:
- Myocarditis with enlarged left ventricle and inflamed interventricular septum
- Enlarged heart
- Heart arrhythmia
- High blood pressure Thrombosis and pulmonary embolism
- Liver damage
- Impaired coagulation
- Arthritis in the spine, hips, shoulder, ankle and thumb joint
- Ganglion cyst on the right ankle
- Varicose veins from chronic venous insufficiency
- Hypothyroidism with nodules
- Several benign tumors and cysts Obesity Anxiety and panic disorder
- Burn-out, chronic fatigue and depression
- Eating disorder
- Virilization: facial hair growth, male-pattern pubic hair growth, elevated testosterone levels
- Underdeveloped ovaries and uterus
- Pain medication intolerance
- Insulin resistance
Read the whole thing. There are a number of athletes telling the stories of the serious health problems they struggle with today as the result of steroids being injected into them as young athletes by the state.
Just wait till all these kids who were rushed into hormones and surgeries get to be in their 30s, and start breaking down. Malpractice lawsuits are going to make a lot of lawyers rich — but those messed-up patients will never be okay.