trans woman

Illustration by Ruth Basagoitia

Health and wellness touch each of us differently. This is one person’s story.

I’m a devoted sister, an appreciative daughter, and a proud aunt. I’m a businesswoman, an artist, and a feminist. And as of this month, I’ve had a vagina for two years.

In a way, having a vagina means nothing to me. It’s the relief from body dysmorphia that makes all the difference, the freedom from having a body configured in such a way that doesn’t make sense to me.

Do I feel more “complete” now? I suppose I could say that. But having a vagina is only one small part of it. Transgender life experience encompasses so much more than any one body part could ever summarize.

I felt conviction that I was female when I was very young. I felt that same conviction when I was an adult, before medical intervention. I feel that same conviction now, and surgery made no effect on it.

Not all transgender people feel this same arc. No two transgender people conceive of themselves in the same way. But my perception of myself isn’t uncommon. More than anything, social and medical transition have made it so the outside world understands me better, rather than conforming or changing myself into something different than I was.

We as women and human beings represent as many ways of being human as there are humans alive on earth.

Society has an unhealthy obsession with genitals and body parts

The human gene expression actually has than the starkly binary physical ideals we’ve been using to categorize people and their experiences. It reveals that a “perfect” man or woman is a socially created narrative that ignores the full scope of what it means to be human.

By categorizing people only as male or female, we also reduce them to statements like “Men have urges they can’t control” or “Women are nurturers.” These oversimplified, reductive statements are often used to justify our social roles and others’.

The truth is, surgery isn’t important to all trans people, and not all trans women consider vaginoplasty to be imperative to their life path. I think all people, of any background, should be allowed this same freedom with how much and in what ways they identify with their bodies.

Some women indeed feel compelled to nurture. Some feel compelled to give birth. Some of those women feel a deeper connection with their vagina, and some don’t. Other women feel a connection with their vagina and have no intention of giving birth themselves.

We as women and human beings represent as many ways of being human as there are humans alive on earth.

Part of my own desire for vaginoplasty was simple convenience. I wanted to be free from the uncomfortable inconvenience of tucking and strapping down my previous body parts to keep them out of sight. I wanted to feel pretty in a bathing suit.

This urge for convenience complimented other convictions, like wanting to experience sex in a certain way, and perhaps naively wanting to feel more female than I already did — to feel closer to the social idea of womanhood after feeling so separated from it for so long.

There’s no right or wrong way to feel about your body, no right or wrong path to medical intervention, and no right or wrong relationship with your vagina or your gender.

These many complicated and varied impulses added up to what felt like an inescapable incongruity between my mind and my body, and I was compelled to rectify it. Still, there’s no right or wrong way to go about it. There’s no right or wrong way to feel about your body, no right or wrong path to medical intervention, and no right or wrong relationship with your vagina or your gender.

A transgender person’s gender doesn’t depend on medical or social transition

Whether out of personal choice, fear, or lack of resources, a transgender person might not ever take steps toward medical intervention. This doesn’t negate who they are, or the validity of their personhood.

Even those who pursue medical transition find themselves content with taking hormones. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is arguably the largest and most impactful component of medical transition.

Taking a prescribed regimen of sex-typical hormones initiates the development of secondary sex characteristics that one would’ve typically experienced in puberty and affects one’s sexual impulses and emotional landscape. In the case of trans women, taking estrogen initiates breast growth, redistributes body fat, reduces or modifies the quality of one’s sexual interest in many cases, and exposes a person to mood swings, similar to the effects of a menstrual cycle.

For many women, this is enough to feel at peace with their experience of gender. For this reason, among many others, not all trans women seek vaginoplasty either.

For me, achieving transgender vaginoplasty meant a long road of soul-searching, therapy, hormone replacement, and eventually years of research into everything about the procedure. The pool of surgeons is growing, but when I began transition, there was a limited number of reputable doctors to choose from and very little research being done within academic institutions.

Recovering from vaginoplasty requires a few weeks of supervision, so after-care facilities and proximity to home are factors to consider, too. Achieving my surgery also required government and social change to influence society’s views on transgender people: In the months leading up to my surgery, obligating insurers to cover transgender services.

Not every vaginoplasty goes flawlessly

Some people end up with a loss of sensation due to severed nerves and find it difficult or impossible to achieve orgasm. Others find themselves traumatized by a less-than-desirable aesthetic result. Some people experience prolapse, and some surgeries result in a punctured colon.

I’m one of the lucky ones, and I’m thrilled with my results. Though I may have some aesthetic nitpicks (and what woman doesn’t?), I have a sensate clitoris and vaginal lining. I can achieve orgasm. And as is common, I now have a vagina that sexual partners may not recognize as a product of surgery.

While some aspects of remain , especially when it comes to the , the psychological realities of the transgender experience are . There’s consistent improvement in the mental health outcomes of people who undergo transgender surgeries such as vaginoplasty, phalloplasty, facial feminization surgery, double mastectomy and chest reconstruction, or breast augmentation.

The same holds true for me. After surgery, I’ve been able to get on with my life. I feel more myself, more aligned. I feel sexually empowered, and I certainly enjoy the experience much more now. I feel sincerely happier and without regret.

And yet, since that aspect of dysmorphia is behind me, I don’t spend my time constantly thinking about my vagina. It mattered so much, and now it only occasionally crosses my mind.

My vagina matters, and at the same time, it doesn’t matter. I feel free.

If society comes to better understand the medical realities trans people face, as well as our journeys from our own perspectives, we may be able to uncover deeper truths and useful tools to avoid myths and misinformation.

I often have the luxury of “passing” as a cisgender woman, flying under the radar of those who would otherwise recognize me as transgender. When I first meet someone, I don’t prefer to lead with the fact that I’m trans. It’s not because I’m ashamed — indeed, I’m proud of where I’ve been and what I’ve overcome. It’s not because people judge me differently once they discover my past, although admittedly, that reason tempts me to hide.

I prefer not to disclose my trans status right away because, to me, being transgender is far from the top of the list of most interesting and pertinent things about myself.

Nevertheless, the broader public is still discovering the details of the trans experience today, and I feel obligated to represent myself and the transgender community in a positive, informative way. If society comes to better understand the medical realities trans people face, as well as our journeys from our own perspectives, we may be able to uncover deeper truths and useful tools to avoid myths and misinformation.

I believe transgender and cisgender people alike will all benefit from moving forward with mutual understanding of the overall human experience of gender.

I want people to interact with me over the music I make, the difference I make in my community, and the kindness I show my friends. The point of medical transition, for most trans people, is to free themselves from body dysmorphia or mental dissonance, so that those mental resources can be used toward simply being human, to interface with the world without the interruption of their discomfort.


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