If I have been quiet over the past few weeks it’s because I’ve been busy gearing up for my first attendance at the Gender Odyssey Conference in Seattle. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend this four day event for the first time since it was started back in the Spring of 2001.
With about 500 attendees, the conference is an opportunity for transfolk across the US and Canada (with some attendees from other countries) to mingle, connect and share experiences. The conference was a good mix of keynote speakers, workshops and discussion groups. In parallel with the general conference was a family conference for parents dealing with gender-non-conforming children. It was inspiring to see parents in attendance who were truly interested in doing the right thing for their children.
The first session of the conference I attended was Ryan Sallans’ overview of his experience getting the metoidioplasty done in Belgrade, Serbia. Sallans is an author and sex educator; he recently published his memoir Second Son.
In 2008, he flew to Belgrade to have the procedure done as the costs were significantly lower than they would have been in the States. He stressed the importance of doing the emotional work of preparing for surgery, as the procedure itself was extremely painful and the recovery period long and drawn out. Be prepared for the worst, he said, so there’s no surprises.
The procedure he underwent included the meta, a urethral lengthening, a scrotoplasty and a vaginectomy and altogether worked out to just under $27,000 for 4 round trip tickets and all the supplies he needed afterwards. He highly recommended taking someone with you as after the procedure you are not able to move around much at all and you are responsible for feeding yourself and buying groceries at one of the apartments where the doctors put you up for your 14-21 day recovery period.
The doctors themselves were extremely helpful and supportive. They make a point of taking out their patients for dinner and hand you a cell phone once you arrive so you can call them whenever you need them. He noted that it was worth going early if you could, as the culture is quite different and going early is an opportunity to explore your surroundings prior to the surgery.
As far as complications went, he had a few of them. He acquired Strep B during his stay there but it was successfully treated with a round of penicillin. He also had a few bouts of urinary tract infections (UTIs) and two stitches pulled loose during the flight back home. The pain, especially those first few days after the surgery was excruciating and he advised learning the word for pain (Boli in Serbian), as this guaranteed you a shot of painkillers in the butt – much welcomed. He said that the entire procedure was the most painful thing he’s ever gone through in his entire life.
Aspects that caused particular pain and discomfort were the stint that jutted out from the superpubic catheter that exited the body about 3 inches below the belly button. Walking around with a catheter bag for 30 days was no fun. Sallans described experiencing some leaking when he finally tried to pee through his urethra – an apparently common occurrence but one that resolves itself on its own in most cases.
The procedure itself was fascinating to hear him describe: the doctors used the inside of his cheek to form the urethral extension (presumably because it is self-cleaning tissue?) and then used the inner labia (labia minora) to create the penis shaft. Turns out female labia minora are made out of the same tissue that men’s penis shafts are made of. We are all born with the same toolbox; but the chromosomes make them develop differently. The doctors used the labia majora to fashion two scrotal sacs for his new testicle implants (18cc). The implants come with a lifetime guarantee. While Ryan decided against it, some folks go back for revisions to have the two scrotal sacks united into one for a more natural look.
In December 2010, two years after his original surgery, Ryan returned to Belgrade to get a mons resection (where they moved the penis and testicles up and outward). He is happy with the final result.
His main reason for getting the surgery was because of severe body dysphoria. He wanted to be able to stand and pee. The surgery has given him a lot of confidence and it has changed the way he walks and moves. While he decided against pursuing the phalloplasty, he was told that it is very easy for someone who has already had a meta to later get a phallo. In terms of the size of his penis, he said it was comparable to the size of his thumb. While he is unable to deeply penetrate his partner, what he now has is enough for him to psychologically feel like he is penetrating his partner.
What I got from this session was that you really need to be committed to getting this procedure if you’re going to make it through it. For me, I do experience body dysphoria but so far I am able to overcome it: my non-traditional genitalia work just fine in the bedroom. And I really do not want to risk losing any sensation down there.
Stay tuned for more feedback on the conference in my upcoming posts.