During 2018 I didn’t blog as much as I hoped too. I was working constantly, I was constantly on the go with campaigns and hospital appointments – so my aim for 2019 is to post more – I’m going to post about taboo issues, I’m going to share my top surgery journey, and I’m hoping to interview some amazing LGBT+ people from across the globe!
As you can tell I’m getting top surgery this year so my blog shall be full of information, my feelings, my emotions and my personal experiences from it will all be shared on here.
I came out 6 years ago and from the day I knew I was trans I knew that hormones and top surgery was a must. I have really bad dysphoria when it comes to my chest, I can’t leave the house without wearing my binder, I sometimes wear my binder for over 8 hours a day (Please remember that it is important to wear your binder for under 8 hours a day!!), I can’t bare anybody seeing my chest and I can’t cope with my chest.
I remember when I first started developing my chest I was so confused, I was so alone and I was so unsure as to why this was happening. I felt so distant from my body and I didn’t want it to happen. I hid the fact that I was developing for a while, I refused to wear bras, I wore extremely baggy clothes, I wore extremely tight sports bras just to hide it and feel safe. When I came out the first thing I did was bind and it made me feel at ease, it made me feel one step closer to myself and it’s helped me pass.
I started testosterone in August 2017 – I was due to start them in September 2016 but I decided to put it on hold. I can’t cope with change, whether it’s a friend cancelling plans or going to a brand new place. I was moving away from home to go to university, I was meeting new friends, starting a brand new course and starting a fresh life – so I knew that starting testosterone then would be risky so I knew I had to wait. As soon as I started testosterone I knew that top surgery was needed more than ever before. Whilst my body was becoming more masculine – my chest was still there and it made my dysphoria worse.
Why did I decide to go private?
In the last 5 years the number of transgender individuals that are seeking help from the National Health Service has risen dramatically. The NHS has a small amount of funding, services and staff for Transgender individuals within the UK. Wales doesn’t have a Gender Identity Clinic or any specialists that can help transgender individuals so welsh patients have to be seen in Charing Cross for adults, Tavistock for young people or other services within England.
The Welsh pathway to Gender Identity services are very long, and very intense here is the pathway here –
- You need to go to your doctors surgery – You have to speak to your doctors and explain that you’re trans and you’d like to get referred to see a mental health specialist. My doctor didn’t understand what being transgender was, she had no idea. So before I went to see her I printed off some information that she could read and educate herself a little more – So if you need to visit your doctor and you’re unsure on their education on the transgender community take in a few print out leaflets that they can read!
- You can get seen by a mental health specialist – Within Wales you have to get a “yes” from a psychologist. The psychologist goes through everything with you, you talk about your childhood, your family, your birth (I was baffled because I didn’t know any of the answers to the questions he asked). After that they write up a report that says “Alex is showing signs of gender identity disorder so I would like for him to be seen at the gender identity clinic”.
- The next step – you have to wait a long while to get an appointment within the Gender identity clinic but once you’re there the waiting times aren’t as long. At the gender identity clinic you can get confirmation for hormones, any surgeries, you can legally be male, or female.
I first when to my GP when I was 16 years old to seek help and to get onto the pathway for my transition. My GP at the time (he has left now!) didn’t know what to do with me, didn’t know how to help and didn’t know anything. I was the first transgender person my doctors surgery had so everyone was baffled on how to help me. I kept trying to educate them, I kept trying to ask them to refer me to a mental health service and after 4 months of asking they did it. Because I was under the age of 18 I was refereed to the Child Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
When I was 17 I decided that I was going to go private for hormones – as I knew that it would be quicker for me as my mental health was deteriorating rapidly. I booked an appointment with Dr Lorimer, who is a part of Gender Care to see him a week after my 18th birthday – I worked extreme overtime but I managed to get the funds.
When I turned 18 I didn’t hear anything of CAMHS, or the adult mental health services so I decided to chase it up, my GP rang the mental health hospital and they hadn’t received a referral at all. So Again they did another referral and I waited again.
I went to see the mental health team in September 2017 – and I got refereed to the Gender identity clinic in London and i’m still waiting to hear off them – I’m unsure on how long it will be, the waiting lists are extremely long and their still backdating.
Before I started hormones I went to my doctors surgery to see if I could get shared care. Shared care is when you have a mixture of private care and NHS care. For me shared care would consist of me paying for my appointments with Gender Care and I’d get my testosterone and bloods done on the NHS. My current doctor at that time authorised that and said there was no issue with doing that. By July 2017 I went to the doctors to get my prescription and they kindly declined my shared care and said “no plan was put in place for this to happen so they can’t do it” without them having permission of the gender identity clinic.
Ever since I have had to pay for my hormones which is fine by me and my nurse at the GP injects it and does my bloods at no extra cost (my current doctor is fabulous and authorised for this to happen!).
I knew that the waiting list for the gender identity clinic was long, and I knew that the waiting list for surgery was going to be twice as long and I knew that I couldn’t mentally, physically or emotionally wait that long for it all to happen. That’s why I decided to go privately because I can’t wait any longer as the dysphoria is overwhelming.
How I decided which surgeon to have top surgery with
When it came to surgeons there are a fair few around the UK and in Europe who are amazing at their jobs and their results are just mind blowing. I’m not the skinniest guy around and I wanted to make sure I found a surgeon that has amazing results on people that are a similar weight to myself.
In the end I decided to go with Dr Miles Berry who is based in London and has been performing top surgery on transgender individuals for years. His results, his polite manner and his positive attitude was why I decided to go with him.
I’m a part of some transgender groups on Facebook and I decided to see who had been with Dr Berry and what their experiences were like and there was nothing but positive feedback being given so I knew he was the right one, I also realised that the day I met him at an appointment I knew he was the right one too!
*Miles Berry only offers private treatment – Sadly he doesn’t do surgery on the NHS*
My appointment with Dr Miles Berry
I had an appointment with Dr Lorimer on the 15th of September 2018 and this appointment was for my top surgery referral. In this appointment myself and Dr Lorimer discussed how I have been since our last appointment, how my mental health has been, how testosterone is doing and about why I wanted top surgery and why top surgery was the right thing for me. We spoke in-depth for around 45 minutes and I poured my heart out to him about why I need this, and what it will do for me in the future. By the end of his session he said “You are one of the easiest patients I have ever had, you articulate everything in such a nice way” which made me feel extremely positive! He then said he’d be extremely happy to refer me for top surgery and he said I can book the appointment with Miles Berry myself and his referral will be with him by that appointment.
On the 18th of September I had confirmation of my appointment with Dr Miles Berry. It happened to be confirmed on my 21st birthday which was a nice little birthday gift to myself! I booked this appointment on the 18th of September and my appointment was on the 2nd of October which was in two weeks. As you can tell Dr Berry can have appointments for as soon as you’d like them to be, I could’ve had one for the 25th of September but it was too soon for me. Dr Miles Berry has his clinics on a Tuesday if you was all wondering!
On the 2nd of October 2018 I had my appointment with Dr Miles Berry at the Welbeck hospital in London. I walked into the hospital, seen the receptionist then I filled in some forms at the main desk and I had to wait in the reception until I got called up to see Mr Berry. I then got called up to see Dr Miles Berry and once I arrived up there one of his assistance gave me some more forms to fill out – these forms asks about your name, date of birth, address, doctors surgery and the second form was about your general health and any health issues you may have – these forms are important and must be filled out correctly as if you have any health issues or you drink etc can sometimes delay any surgeries that you plan to have.
After another 10 minutes of waiting Dr Miles Berry came out, shook my hand and welcomed me into his room. He was so lovely, and he had such a positive attitude. He started of by asking me what I was doing there and I said “I would like top surgery” and he said “perfect answer” and he asked me what I think the word regret means and I replied “In my opinion, you can say something, do something in a certain way or you may do something and leave it at that and go about your life. But one day you might sit down and look back and think that you shouldn’t of done that, you shouldn’t of acted that way or did the thing you did.” and he said “good answer”. He then proceeded to ask me what I understood about periareolar surgery and DI surgery and which one i’d prefer, here are the basic meanings behind both;
- Periareolar Surgery – Periareolar surgery is a keyhole surgery when it comes to top surgery. It involves in making a marker around the areola down to a more masculine size and then they draw an outer circle of skin to be removed. The surgeon will make an incision into the marker and removes the breast tissue. Periareolar is often used with individuals with smaller chests. One of the big issues with periareolar surgery is that there can be excess tissue left behind so alterations may need to be done at a later date.
- Double Incision Surgery – Double incision is basically where the surgeon cuts underneath the both breasts and the tissue is removed from each breast. The surgeon can then make the nipple smaller by using a “cookie cutter” (I don’t know what the technical term for it is but that’s what I call it) and they can cut your nipples to a more masculine size and they get stapled back onto your chest.
I knew from the beginning that I’d have double incision, and I was more than comfortable to have it. After myself and Dr Miles Berry talked about surgery methods he asked me to walk around the corner, get my t shirt and binder off and sit at the end of the bed for him.
I went over, I got a bit anxious but I knew that I had to do it and I had to get it over and done with. I sat there and he came over and sat down in front of me he said “be careful the bed is quit wobbly so don’t sit to far back” and what did I do – I sat back to far and it went in the air slightly (typical me).
Dr Miles Berry then spent around 10 minutes looking at my chest, making measurements, he had a look and he checked that I had no concerning lumps or bumps which I don’t so it was positive. He then asked me to stand against one bit of his wall so he could take pictures of my chest to do a before and after comparison picture so I can see the difference after woods and then he told me to get dressed and sit back down.
He then proceeded to tell me that I’d need to get my BMI down to 32 to be able to have surgery and I explained that I had been losing weight since March and I’m an awful lot lighter than I was then. He proceeded to go through some statistics that he had about complications, bleeds, infections and he told me that there very rare so I shouldn’t stress about it.
After all of that he explained that he’d be doing a double incision surgery, it would take around 3 & a half hours to complete and the only thing I have to do is lose weight. He then asked me to take the slip that said the above to his assistant and we could book me in for a date!
I went to his assistant and she asked “when would you like surgery?” and I mentioned that January was a perfect month for me, so we both agreed the 10th of January. I walked out of that appointment and rang my mum almost in tears and I finally had a date, I could finally get it over and done with and I was ready for it! I then paid for my consultancy fee which was £100 which is extremely cheap compared to other surgeons within the UK – I was very shocked to find out it was so cheap.
Since my appointment I have had numerous amount of emails from them giving me updates, giving me information that I needed and they asked me different questions. About a month ago I received this package in the post that was full of information about the surgery, what I need to do before hand, what I need to do after-woods and I had to an MRSA swap to make sure I wasn’t a carrier of the illness as they didn’t want me to infect the hospital.
How I managed to save up money for surgery
Going private for surgery can be very expensive, and I knew that would be the case. I was prepared for surgery to cost an awful lot and overall it has cost me;
- Consultation – £100
- Surgery cost (Includes everything including after care and any other surgeries I may need) – £6,495
- Transport from London to Newport – £113 (For myself, my sister and my mum)
- Hotel for 2 nights in London – £164 (For myself, my sister and my mum)
- Other bits that I have needed to get for surgery like clothes and Arnica tablets – £150
The overall price is £7,022 which may seem like an awful lot of money but for me Id rather spend a lot of money and know that I trust the surgeon to do an amazing job!
Around a year ago I was speaking with friends about how I was going to save up for surgery – this time last year I was a full time student working part time in McDonald’s and I was campaigning as often as possible. Someday’s I was awake for 22 hours at a time and I didn’t know how I was going to get there. My friends suggested that Id do a Just Giving page to allow people to help me out if they wanted to, and another friend said “you’ve done so much for the community, maybe they will repay you back and help you out” and with that, I’d set up my Just Giving page. I set a target of £100 to begin with as I didn’t think people would donate – but by the time my Just Giving page had ended I managed to raise over £800 which was overwhelming (I cried an awful lot, so thank you everyone)
As well as the Just Giving page I was working full time in McDonald’s as I left university because it wasn’t for me and I didn’t want to do something I wasn’t enjoying. Some weeks I’d do 6 shifts, or 5 shifts and some weeks id work 9 days in a row to get the extra money to put away for surgery. I became determined to get the money. In March I wanted to have surgery by April 2019 and I wanted to have all of the money by December 2018.
When I was in high school I was so interested in business studies, I loved the concept of making a business, making products and seeing people happy with the products they were buying. So I decided to try some new business initiatives to help me fund-raise some more money. I created tie dye t-shirts, Unicorn T-shirts and lots of LGBT+ badges and they all went wild. I had orders for Canada, the USA, Scotland, Poland, Paris, the UK and even more.
Lastly, I’m so fortunate to know so many individuals and we managed to pull of two amazing fundraising nights to help raise some more funds. We brought the LGBT+ community in Newport together and we had a huge karaoke night. Nathan, Wayne & Dixie – Thank you so much!
After many breakdowns in work, many nights making badges, many days standing in the post office and many annoying social media posts I managed to hit my overall surgery goal in the middle of November.
If you’re looking at going private for top surgery and you think you’re unable to reach your target, or you won’t be able to achieve it I have some top tips for you;
- Ask for help – I was really conscious about asking people for help. I was really ashamed and really nervous but if I didn’t I would still be saving and scraping every penny I own right now! You will get haters along the way, but ignore them as you know this is the right thing for you.
- Sell a product – Selling a product can be so easy, and so cheap. If you have any ideas or want any tips please comment below and I can give you all of the tea!
- Save every penny – When I say save every penny, I mean save every penny. When I got my pay check from work I’d work out what bills I needed to pay for, birthdays, food and other things and the remaining money left would go straight into my savings tin. I kept all of my savings money on a bank card I have – I have two different banks One is where all of my money flows in and out and the other one is for saving only. I gave my Mum my savings card and deleted every app and online banking that was linked to it so there was no way of me entering to take money out.
My thoughts before surgery
Surgery is 7 days away, i’m excited, i’m nervous and I can’t believe it’s finally in my grasp. I have had a few operations in the past like tonsillectomy, I had my grommets put in, I had my jaw broken and put back together and I had another operation on my ear. I’m used to what happens before surgery, the counting in the theatre and feeling very confused after surgery – but this surgery is different to the rest, completely.
Firstly, I’m so excited for surgery. If you told me 6 months ago i’d be this close I would’ve cried. I have been waiting for this day for 11 years now and it makes me so emotional. It may sound silly, but my chest had set me back in more ways than one. I can’t take my little sister swimming, I have never felt what a shirt feels like on my bare chest, I can’t leave the house without my binder on and I’m constantly in my binder. So being able to chuck on a t shirt in a rush, or going swimming topless, or not nearly killing myself during the summer heat is going to be amazing. But overall, to see my true self in the mirror will be priceless because I know that it’s going to change my life forever.
Secondly, I have not mentally prepared myself for recovery. Since August I have had one day to myself where I have lied in bed binge watching TV series. I’m either working, campaigning or doing orders. For years I have been exactly the same, I get roughly 5 hours sleep a night, I’m out all day and I never give myself a break. I know that after surgery I’m going to have to stop everything completely. I’m not going to be able to work for a few months, I’m not going to be out of the house 24/7 so, In the next 7 days I hope I can get myself into that mindset otherwise I will drive myself insane!
Thirdly, I have some deep fears with surgery. I’m petrified in case I wake up during surgery. Although I try not to think about it, I’m constantly waking up panicking in my sleep so consciously i’m not worried but unconsciously I am – and it stresses me out so much.
Fourthly, I’m so ready for this!
I would just like to say a massive thank you to everybody who has helped me, who has encouraged me along the way and those who have believed in me. I cannot thank you all so much, so thank you! Make sure you keep a look out for my future blog post about surgery and other LGBT+ content because 2019 is going to be a magical year!