Drew Cordes

A 'Thank You' Note After Reassignment Surgery

Filed By Drew Cordes | June 08, 2011 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: surgery, thanks, transgender

ThankYouNote.jpgThis post will not contribute much to the intellectual and political discourse on queerness/transness. As much as I am predisposed to analysis and rationality as tools to understand our world, I believe there is also need for personal, emotional truths in shaping perceptions. What I have to say will fall in that category. For in addition to my (perhaps somewhat naïve) belief that it's important for positive expressions and testimonials from our community simply to exist within a culture that's often hostile toward it, I also feel the selfish need upon completion of my sex reassignment surgery to thank publicly all those who helped make my gender transition happen. Transitioning is not something one can do alone.

Most immediately, thank you to my surgeon, Dr. Pierre Brassard, his assistants, and the staff at his clinic in Montreal. The attentive care and hospitality they showed me could not be surpassed. Having a body that reflects my truth is certainly, as Brassard himself has put it, "the cherry on the cake."

Thank you to Capital District Physicians Health Plan. Thank you CDPHP for taking a stand for trans tolerance and proper patient care by covering my surgery! You're one of very few health insurance companies that recognize the need to cover SRS, and I love you for it!

Thanks to my facial surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Spiegel, who deftly reshaped my skull and face in 2008, which allowed me to pass as female while simultaneously leaving me still looking like myself. Every time someone tells me I'm pretty, his name flashes through my mind. Without facial feminization surgery, I don't know how I could have transitioned. In many ways, that was the surgery I needed the most.

Thank you to my therapist Arlene Istar Lev, who was not only able to put up with my former "anti-therapy" tendencies but who trusted me enough to let me transition my way - taking the only path I felt was tolerable, despite it being far from the recommended treatment guidelines. I thank her also for the seemingly bottomless resources she's able to recommend and her willingness to help me fight frustrating bureaucracies and obstinate health care snafus regardless of how long I've been out of her care in an official capacity.

Thank you to Dr. Rachel Hopkins and Dr. Jay Watsky, my endocrinologists, who both provided me with compassionate quality medical care. Special thanks to Zoe Isdell, the endocrinology office manager at my local hospital who years ago helped me to resolve a billing error (when no one else would) that would have cost me thousands of dollars and derailed my transition. Thanks also to the relative smallness of Albany for enabling a chance meeting between Zoe and myself in a bar one day, which led to us becoming friends.

Thanks to Colleen Butler of Clifton Park Certified Professional Electrolysis and the whole staff at Electrology 3000 just outside of Dallas, Texas. As a redhead with sensitive skin, electrolysis was a struggle for me. The pain and my flailing attempts to cope with that pain did not make me an ideal client. Colleen in particular showed me infinite patience and tried to help in any way she could. Electrolysis was one of the most difficult parts of my transition, but the people who administered it were themselves far from difficult.

Thanks to Dr. Jack Pickering, Daniel Kayajian, and the College of Saint Rose, who, after my inquiry about speech therapy for my unique situation, enthusiastically met with me to discuss my goals and the possibility of starting a speech program for other trans individuals. That was in 2007, and the program is still going strong today, helping trans people develop passable voices and educating and familiarizing students with futures in the health care field on how to care for trans people. Not bad for a Catholic school.

Thanks to David Lean and Peter O'Toole for my favorite film, Lawrence of Arabia, which I watched roughly 10 times in the lead-up and aftermath of surgery to calm my nerves. Its meditations on the elusiveness of personal identity, controlling one's own fate, and the difficult process of accepting what cannot be changed not only speak to me in a way that no other piece of art ever has, but they provide the comfort that these problems are not just relegated to me or other trans people - they are universal, and, in fact, an important common thread in the definition of a human.

Thanks to my current employer and bosses for being so tolerant, accommodating, and understanding. In our office, my transness is a non-issue, which is the greatest compliment I can offer. Thanks to my former employer for being somewhat tolerant, accommodating and understanding. While the brass was sometimes a bit nervous, fumbly, and unknowingly inconsiderate, my immediate peers were a wonderful group of people, full of humor and camaraderie. Special thanks to then-colleagues, now-friends, Todd Kehoe and Andi Majot for both reacting to my coming out with an unblinking "OK. ... And?" Also, special thanks to Shannon MacCue, who responded to my coming out by literally clapping her hands and saying, "Oh, yay!" I wish all queers could have that coming out experience.

Thanks to everyone I knew or encountered at Vassar College who made me feel welcome and loved, regardless of which queer identity my constant confusion placed me in as time progressed. Coming from a fairly conservative small town, the atmosphere, openness, and acceptance toward gays was a revelation my freshman year. In my senior year, when I started openly crossdressing (poorly) and questioning my gender, the extent of that same openness and acceptance astounded me yet again. Thanks to my male friends, especially the close ones - Rob Dean, Ryan Brown, Keith Doughty, Pete Malaspina, Jon Campbell - for not batting an eye at my experimentations. Very special thanks to my female friends for trying to help me as I blindly grasped for my identity, particularly Danielle Gordon, Lindsay Schulz and Megan Davies. They loaned me clothes, bought me clothes, encouraged me, comforted me, taught me makeup, put up with me ... they treated me like one of the girls long before I was one. I honestly don't know where I'd be today without them.

Thanks to all my friends in Albany for making my life better and happier than I ever thought was possible as a child. Our little Center Square crew is a delightful mix of queers and straights that always has something going on. Thanks to: Melissa Mangino, for her incredible openness and hospitality; Heather Maloney, for her genuine enthusiasm and warmth; Aela Mass and Sara Hill, who are both remarkably caring and a charmingly complementary couple whom I hope to see married someday soon; Alex Rosney and Laine for talking me down from my presurgery nervous freak-outs; Alyssa Hackett, Jessyca Howard, Trevor Ehmann, Josh Rosenmann, Melissa Nazar; the Bing Bamboo Room and Scooter Pie At Midnight burlesque folks; all my friends in the kink community; and everyone else in the greater Albany area who flits in and out of my fun, adventurous life.

Thanks to my extended family, none of whom ever said anything negative to me about my queerness - not in my "gay male" years, nor in my trans years. All of my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents never voiced anything but concern and support. Special thanks to my aunts Mary Ellen Hennessy and Judy Sullivan, who took personal interest in my medical care. The latter went so far as to attend the trans conference First Event with me to help research facial surgeons and then housed me and my mother in her Boston apartment during my recovery from said surgery. The saying "You can pick your friends, but you can't pick your family," is true, obviously, but I think if given the opportunity to choose, I'd pick my own anyway.

Lastly, and undoubtedly most important, thanks to my parents, Dr. John and Janet Cordes. I hit the jackpot as far as parents go, I know that. My mom and dad are remarkable for any number of reasons. I could relate that in a culture where divorce and loveless marriages are rampant, my parents are not only still married, but still very much in love. I could say that when any of my friends meet my parents, usually at some social event, I always hear the same refrain - "Your parents are so cool!" The tone and delivery is consistent - amused, with a hint of disbelief that always spurs the same brief, insecure thought in my head that my friends might rather hang out with my parents than me. I could recount how after graduating college I moved back home with them for five years so I could save up the excessive funds necessary to transition. If they didn't welcome this, my transition would never have got very far. I could tell the story of when I had a minor nervous breakdown 40 miles from home en route to what felt like my billionth painful electrolysis session, and over the phone, my mom told me, "Find a place to park. Just breathe. I'm going to come get you." Or the time I received insertable fake breasts for my birthday. I could recall more instances like this and list the hundreds of little things they did to support me. But the simplest and most effective way of communicating the kind of people my parents are is by sharing that no matter how full of confusion, sadness, shame, and self-hatred I felt at any given time, it never for one second entered my mind that my parents might cease to love me or accept me for who I was. Thanks, Mom and Dad. I love you both very much.

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Congratulations ! and well to the good side. I'm been post-op for 8 yrs now and it truly has made all the difference in the world it terms of completeness for myself as well as acceptance by others.

Congratulations, Drew, and Godspeed in the next steps of your journey.

I just love this posting. Yes, I skimmed through some of it and don't even know these people about whom you are clearly so grateful, but your joy and happiness about your life and your transition shines through with such delight.

I think I am used to, as you allude to early in your post, hearing from transgendered people in the context of their political or societal troubles, and what I have rarely had the pleasure of hearing is the pure joy and gratitude that comes from being able to embrace a new identity and a new body.

And, may I be frank? I appreciate that transgendered people are having a frustrating (and often dangerous) time of it, socio-politically and otherwise. But this one burst of pure celebration of your new physicality put a smile on my face, empathy in my heart, and put the needs and challenges of transgendered people in a whole new light for me. Thank you, and congratulations.

Excellent! Glad you had a supportive network.

You know, this is a wonderful post and the way it should be for everyone. It's a narrative which needs to be heard to demonstrate clearly how, with a supportive family and social network and all other things being equal, medical transition is no more than a tedious necessity which needs to be got through and out of the way. But this is just one fortunate story and I can't help be reminded of all the many more thousands who don't have that social or family support, who don't have the education or the financial means ... and who are condemned to live out their lives in limbo.

Excellent testimonial. I'll be writing a similar letter, soon I hope.While I am not lucky enough to have the extensive support network Ms. Cordes has, I do have people to thank for getting me as far as I am. One definitely cannot Transition alone. Congratulations, Drew! I can imagine your feeling of completeness. Just living in my true gender, I feel so true, I can only imagine after SRS. Enjoy life, Ms. Cordes!!