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Your LIFE: I GAVE UP EVERYTHING TO BE A WOMAN.. It was the biggest mistake of my life; REAL LIFE.

Byline: By DENISE PFEIFFER

PAULA Vendyback is a post-op transsexual who was born a boy called Paul. Here Paula, 40, from Leicester, tells how changing gender has meant sacrificing a lot more than the obvious...

'FOR as long as I can remember I knew I was different. Even in school, I didn't fit in. On paper I seemed like any other kid. I loved sport and was on the football team.

But inside I was a mess. I can't explain it, I just didn't feel like I should be a boy.

I remember from a young age seeing women in the street and wishing I could be one of them. When I was 13, I even started to sneak back home in lunch breaks and try on my sister's underwear. I loved the feel of the fabric, it was so much softer than men's clothes.

Don't get me wrong, I felt disgusted with myself for doing it. I was unable to explain these urges and I knew I couldn't tell anyone about them. But there was no way to stop myself.

I left school at 16 to become a painter and decorator. I loved the job but it just made me feel even more uncomfortable in my own skin. The building trade is very male-dominated and I didn't belong.

In the end the urge to speak to someone about it became overwhelming and I finally confessed to my boss that I liked to wear women's clothes. He was understanding and even said he knew people who liked to do the same thing but he said he didn't want other staff to know.

As it turned out, I didn't have a choice. Gossip spread, my clients found out and one by one they stopped booking me. Before I knew it, I no longer had a job and my life started to spiral downwards. I went from successful to suddenly being unemployed and living in a bedsit barely bigger than a cupboard.

In the end I turned to a psychologist for help and she diagnosed me as a transsexual. I can't explain the relief of finally having someone who understood what I was going through - but it was to be the start of further problems. I decided to undergo an operation to change my sex. I was so desperate to be a woman and thought this would finally solve my problems.

I didn't have pounds 8,000 to go private so I agreed to have it done on the NHS, which had a four-year waiting list. In the meantime I had to live as a woman. That meant dressing as a woman every time I went out, and working as a woman.

The transition began. I had electrolysis every two months to get rid of my facial hair and was given oestrogen tablets.

By now I had a job at a care agency so I went shopping for clothes to wear to work. I'm 6ft 2in so it was difficult to find things at first. In the end I opted for long floral skirts and women's T-shirts. I remember shop assistants looked at me oddly and sniggered as they put the clothes through the tills. But that was nothing compared to other people's disapproval.

My eldest brother, Craig, was so ashamed of seeing me in a skirt he stopped contact with me. Even at Christmas, he will send cards to the entire family except me.

When neighbours found out, some reacted badly. Someone put a brick through the back window of my car, some kids put a flaming piece of paper through my letterbox to try to set the house alight (luckily all it did was burn a hole in the hallway carpet) and one man even forced his way into my flat and threatened me with a gun - the police arrived just in time and arrested him.

I became frightened to go out at night. Every time I left the house local kids would shout "cross-dresser" at me. Life became very lonely.

Many people think transsexuals are gay, but the majority of us are actually asexual and have no desire for sex. All we want is an acceptance of who we really are inside, and to be able to live in peace.

Relationships, however, were the least of my worries as I waited for the operation. I knew it was a big decision - I'd even heard of one transsexual who died on the operating table - but I was determined to go through with it. I felt so frustrated that I was ready to sacrifice everything to become a woman. I wanted it all to be over.

The night before the operation in November 2002, I couldn't sleep, I was just imagining how it would all feel afterwards and I could hardly wait for them to begin.

My mum came with me to the hospital but she didn't want me to do it. She was worried about the risks and began to cry as we walked in. It was horrible but there was nothing she could do to change my mind.

I remember as I was being wheeled in, thinking: "This is it, there's no going back now." That's my last memory of being physically male.

When I woke up in the recovery room I immediately screamed. The pain was agonising. It was at that moment I thought: "What have I done?"

They put me on a morphine drip, but I was still so uncomfortable. I had thick padding on, like a nappy, and had to go to the toilet through a tube leading to a bag at my bedside.

I spent 10 days in this room, alone with just a TV to keep me company. I lost half a stone because I wasn't able to eat and could only feed on a drip.

The skin from my scrotal sac had been used to create a vagina and the tip of my penis was left in place. When I finally dared to look, I was horrified. The whole area was purple with bits of skin dropping off. Even my doctor said he had never seen anything quite like it.

After being discharged, I got an infection that made things even more painful. I spent weeks after the operation in real pain. Just walking was agonising, and I couldn't sit down for at least three weeks.

It's now five years since the surgery and I am still suffering. Sometimes the stabbing pain wakes me in the middle of the night, but more often than not, it greets me as I wake up in the morning, a constant reminder of what I've done to my body.

The hormone tablets I have to take on a daily basis leave me with frequent and intense migraines and sporadic mood swings. I've lost five stone due to the pain and developed anorexia as a result of the stress. I now weigh just nine stone.

I am attracted to women but have no real hope of finding one who would understand, especially now I've had the surgery. I can confidently say having this operation has ruined my life, but I've been told there is no chance I can have a reversal.

After all the years of waiting, all the counselling and all the risks I've taken, I'd sincerely love to say that it's been worth it. But it hasn't.

I don't feel any more a woman than I did before. In fact, I just feel like a man with no penis. I can't bear to look at myself in the mirror naked. I've removed all the big mirrors from my house and only have a small one in the bathroom for when I brush my teeth.

When I go out I still get called "sir" or "mate". To everyone else, I'm still the man I was.

My advice to other people in my situation would be: "Don't do it." I now realise that nothing less than being a woman can make me feel whole. And since no operation can make that happen, I just have to learn to live with myself as I am - the closest to being a woman I will ever get.'

When I was 13 I started to try on my sister's underwear. I felt disgusted with myself

THE FACTS

TRANSSEXUALS are women and men who are born physically normal, but who feel as though they should be members of the opposite sex.

This feeling of being 'trapped in the wrong body' sometimes leads transsexuals to undergo a 'sex change' operation which involves the use of hormones and surgery to alter their appearance and sexual characteristics. Gender reassignment only changes the outside of a person, not the inside. It is not actually possible to change sex.

It is not known how many transsexuals there are in the UK - because of the stigma attached to it many don't admit it.

Estimates put the male-to-female transsexuality rate at around one in 10,000 of the male population. The number of known female-to-male transsexuals is significantly lower, typically being around a third to a quarter of the rate for male-to-female transsexuals.

For help and advice contact the Gender Trust helpline: 07000 790 347 (Monday-Friday, 7pm-10pm).

CAPTION(S):

AT HOME: Paula touches up her lippy; SCHOOLBOY: When Paula was Paul Pictures: JOHN FERGUSON
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 13, 2007
Words:1554
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