The past 6 months has been a whirlwind of life-shattering revelations, but I suppose I should start at the beginning.
I am a very messed-up -- not a woman, as I've very recently found out -- but man.
How's this: I am a very messed-up person.
What I have is a very rare condition called "cloacal exstrophy." Yes, I won some kind of genetic lotto.
Being born as I was, with a bladder that was both inside-out and outside my body, presented some challenges to the resident doctors in my tiny birth town in Wyoming.
At the tender age of 3 days old, I was taken on a jet ride to a Children's Hospital in Denver. Over the course of surgeries that followed, I ended up at Johns Hopkins. My condition was so severe that no rectum had ever formed; my colon didn't connect to anything.
Eventually the surgery cycle ended after the medical experts determined this was the best they could do. The result left me with a permanent colostomy and no reproductive system.
No vagina, no anus, no hormone producing glands, and no clitoris. It looks like I have one, but it's just a fleshy nub that's there for cosmetic reasons.
Growing up with a colostomy sucked hard, but I survived. I have hundreds of tales from my youth dealing with the petty cruelty of children toward things they don't understand.
Some days I still get depressed thinking about the accidental leaks that led to kids writing “Kara shits here” on my chairs. Unfortunately, the cruelty of teenagers over randomly smelling feces pales in comparison to the experiences that followed.
I knew from a very young age that I could not have children.
I don't recall the initial conversation about it, but it was never a mind-blowing revelation to make that discovery. When I was in middle school, I started going through sex ed. Standard sex ed curriculum with all the diagrams and heat maps of penises filling with blood and stiffening up. I remember seeing a picture of the doggy position and thinking, “Why in the heck would anyone do that? They can't kiss in that position!”
One day I was talking with my mom about pregnancy. Knowing that I couldn't have children, I made the comment that at least when I had sex, I wouldn't get pregnant. I still remember the expression of pain and sadness on my Mom's face as she realized that she hadn't been clear enough with her explanation of “can't have kids.” She explained that I could not have sex, and at the time I didn't really understand the social implications.
I started getting depressed. A combination of a colostomy that I hated in every possible way mixed with the realization that I didn't have the appropriate milk shake to bring the boys to my yard left me feeling extremely isolated.
In a normal situation, a girl can turn to her friends, people she grew up with, people she trusts. Unfortunately for me my family had just moved from Illinois to Michigan and I had no connections any more. The isolation and depression almost made me completely fail high school. I ended up graduating with a 1.7 GPA.
It wasn't that I was stupid. I just didn't give a shit.
The next fall I started college. At first, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I eventually decided to go to a tech school, one of those not-actually-accredited-but-we'll-take-your-money kind.
I put in almost no effort. I aced some classes that I thought were fun, like math and geometry. But I barely passed others because while they were required, I just didn't care. I skipped classes all the time with the two good friends that I had made -- Jake and Andy.
Jake and Andy were the best friends I'd ever had, and even though I haven't seen them in over a decade, I'll never forget them.
Jake and I shared the same sense of humor, the same taste in food, the same pretty much everything. When I first met him he got a crush on me and asked me out. I was absolutely not ready for anything like that, so I made excuses. I became his friend.
Two years later, we were close to graduation, and he was most definitely my most trusted friend. I told him about my situation "down there," and about my colostomy. To my amazement, he didn't freak out. We had a real conversation about what it meant, and what is actually important in life. I explained to him that I was incapable of orgasm.
He said that the best thing about not being able to orgasm was that "I didn't know what I was missing." To this day, I can't decide if that was a fucked-up thing to say or some real Yoda-level sage advice.
After graduation, Jake and I drifted apart. He ended up getting married and having kids. But oddly enough, his advice got stuck in my brain.
Over time, years in fact, I just started to accept that I would never be normal. I would never have sex.
It wasn't a process I undertook on my own. My family is very religious (in a good and loving way, not the Westboro Baptist Church way). Through my childhood, church was compulsory.
In church or not, I had so much anger and rage in my life over my situation that I wasn't “mad” at God -- I downright hated him. I blamed him for everything. If the Bible was right, and I am fearfully and wonderfully made, it made zero sense to me that God would do this to me.
I wasn't just some cookie in an Easy Bake Oven that he could just say, “Oops! Burnt one!” and forget about. It took over a decade of soul searching, exploring, reading, praying and crying to finally get to a stable state of acceptance. Eventually I started feeling like there was a reason behind everything.
That feeling of not being worthless and an accident went away and was replaced by motivation to have a real life.
I decided to go back to college and get an actual degree that was worth more than the paper it was printed on. I was on a path -- and I had a goal.
Now that I was starting to feel at peace, I felt it was finally time to look into reconstructive surgery, just to get some semblance of normality. Through this time, in my twenties and thirties, I did date several men. I was coming to terms with myself in the bedroom, but you can't begin to understand how difficult pleasing a guy on a regular basis is when you can't have sex, or anal sex, at all, ever.
As a consequence, the "sex" I did have was always very penis-centric. Sexy time is not truly pleasurable for me on an orgasmic level, as I lack the required equipment. It's completely for the other person's benefit.
There is something cathartic about it though, like I'm having fun at a party I wasn't invited to. But maybe, now that I was in my thirties, it was time to get some artificial equipment, yes?
As it turns out, hell no.
My doctors did an exam where they shoved a camera inside my bladder to have a look-see at what was actually happening down there. After the disgusting radioactive barium stuff they made me drink, they took x-rays and pictures and pieced together what I did and didn't have in terms of building materials for my new woman cave.
Unfortunately, they informed me that I don't have any of the spare tissue required for the process (they'd have to put these cup things on my thighs and stimulate some tissue growth; it's a gross and weird process). This struck me as odd because I had always been under the impression that I didn't have a vagina because I was too young for the process, and when I wasn't too young I was just too poor.
I went to my mother and asked for my old medical records. If you've seen those cop shows where the perp is in the interrogation room and the intimidating cop slams a giant folder of records on the table -- that folder was actually my medical file.
I read over it and kept reading.
I didn't understand most of it, and large chunks were written either by a doctor or someone with Parkinson's, so it was really hard to read. Then I saw something I shouldn't have seen.
In a tiny box in the corner of a page of lab test, were the letters “XY.” That couldn't possibly mean what I think it means, can it? A one sentence conversation with my mother, and just the look on her face confirmed what I had never even suspected: I was male.
That is one hell of a thing to discover after over three decades coming to terms with what it means to be a woman without a vagina.
I completely lost my mind for a while. They had informed my mom as I left the hospital as an infant, but she never "found the right time" to tell me. To be fair, she was 22 when she had me.
To a first-time parent of a brand-new baby, I'm sure, “We don't know” ranks toward the top of the most horrifying answers a doctor can give to the question: “Is it a boy or a girl?” I do think my mom should have found the right time, but to this day she is still one of my closest friends, and I have no doubt that I would not be alive today if not for her always positive attitude and relentless love for me.
After the initial shock wore off, I realized that I had known all along.
I had never really felt "in love" with a guy. Sure I said the words, but it was always just words. I have had female friends that I was completely in love with, but I always rationalized it as "best friend" feelings that were probably normal. One thing that this revelation has allowed me to truly accept in an open and honest way is that I am, in fact, attracted to women.
I have no idea how I managed to suppress it for so long. I think I was in denial because I wanted so desperately to be normal that I was willing to bury my own feelings for the sake of appearances. It was a skill I was forced to learn at a very young age from the cruelty of children.
Coming to terms with this new information has been an at times overwhelming challenge.
My condition affects less than 1 in 400,000 babies, less than half of which get the privilege of growing up with the wrong kibbles and bits down below.
I don't think there is a “normal” for people like me. Maybe I'm not a woman, maybe I'm not a man. I don't think I can really check any boxes in that department. But yes, technically, I am a man. And I'm learning to accept that.
No, I am not going to change my name. No, I am not going to change the way I dress. No, I am not going to change the way I look.
But yes, there is one thing I am determined to change.
I always had trouble giving myself the love I deserved throughout my life. And I refuse to do that to myself anymore. I want to be a better man.