How a Worldwide Pandemic Enabled Me to Have Top Surgery
By Jackson Johnson
Every kid has a dream of what they want to be when they grow up. Some want to be astronauts, others aspire to be doctors or veterinarians. At a very young age, I knew I wanted to be a boy.
I was raised in a strict, Christian, conservative family and knew they would never understand, at least not at the time, and it would be in my best interest to wait until I could support myself before sharing these feelings with anyone. Maybe if I ignore these thoughts and feelings, they’ll go away. But ask any LGBT+ person and they’ll tell you they never go away.
By the time I had my own apartment, I also had a small circle of friends and coworkers who supported my decisions and respected my pronouns (he/him). Over time that circle rippled, and I found encouragement in places I didn’t expect. One of my friends recommended a therapist she knew, and after enough time would write my clearance letter to begin hormone replacement therapy.
All of this meant I had to tell my family.
It went as I expected — my only support came from my two sisters. My parents initially accompanied me to a few sessions, and it became clear I would lose many people in this process. I was heartbroken and my pain transformed into hate; I wanted nothing to do with them if they couldn’t try to understand what I was feeling. I wish I could go back and handle that differently, and I’m sure they do too. If I could give any advice to someone struggling with their family accepting them, it would be to find patience. Rejection hurts the most when it comes from the people who are supposed to love you unconditionally, but everyone needs time. I’m blessed to be able to say my parents now support me 100 percent even though It's hard for them to relate to how I feel.
My first testosterone injection was February 29, 2016 — the only reason I look forward to Leap Day every four years.
My endocrinologist doesn’t specialize in transgender care and most of her patients have diabetic or thyroid problems, but from the day I walked into her office, I felt welcomed and safe. A few months passed and my life began to change right before my eyes. After years of what felt like being a prisoner trapped in my own body, I finally could feel the shackles loosen. For the first time, I felt like I was living my life and seeing through my eyes rather than disassociating to ignore my self-consciousness.
Top surgery has always been my biggest goal to achieve, but it’s also been the hardest.
Early in my transition, I found a clinic in Plano, Texas that specializes in transgender care and accepted CareCredit. It was perfect, but I had little savings and no preparation to take the time I needed off from work. So I decided to wait. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I was one of many who’s employment was impacted and collected unemployment benefits while following the stay at home order. Texas lifted the order weeks before Louisiana — I thought if I acted quickly, I might have a chance to have surgery before Louisiana began Phase 1.
It was a shot in the dark, but I made the call.
Two days later I had a consultation with a surgeon and his assistant over Facetime. They gave me instructions on what I should do before going into surgery and emailed paperwork I would need to complete before my surgery date, just six days after my consultation. This was happening faster than I imagined. The next six days felt like Christmas Eve. I was constantly thinking about the whole process and could barely contain my excitement.
My wife dropped me off at the clinic at 9 a.m. on April 30. I signed some final forms and was eventually taken back to a preoperative room. I changed into a surgical gown and a nurse administered an IV and checked my vitals. My heart rate was 120; needless to say, I was extremely anxious about being under anesthesia. The entire staff was so kind, and I knew I was in good hands. My surgeon came in, examined my chest, made a few markings, and ensured me it would go well. Shortly after, I was rolled away to an operating room.
The next thing I remember is waking up in a different room, and the first thing I did was ask a nurse to help me to the bathroom. I was back in Shreveport the next day resting in bed. My wife was also home from work and acted as my caretaker. During the next few weeks, I received so much support from friends and family. They checked in on me every day and made sure I had plenty of food. One of my favorite gifts was half a gallon of the best chicken and dumplings I’ve ever tasted from the head chef at my job.
After a few days, I would need to take off my bandages and post-op compression vest so I could clean the area and be sure everything was healing well. The pain was moderate, but I was awfully swollen and bruised. That didn’t distract me from what I saw in the mirror. I looked at my chest at all angles in awe and disbelief. I felt like I was living in a different world, or maybe I was a little high from the pain meds.
But this was real.
I began taking vitamins, drinking protein shakes, and walking the block every day and used my arms as little as possible to give myself the best recovery possible. It has been overwhelming at times, but mostly with joy and appreciation for everything. I am fortunate to have an abundance of great people and resources in my life.
I have spent thousands of dollars and years dreaming of being where I am today. I have worked hard and learned so much along the way. So, what now? I’ve reached this incredible goal, so what do I do next? I have always tried to be a branch of support, advice, or education to anyone struggling with their gender identity or sexuality, and I want to do more. I want to be a person someone can look to and think to themselves “If he did it, so can I.”
The future is unknown, but now I can face it with absolutely no limitations.
Jackson Johnson is a 24-year-old trans man living in Shreveport, Louisiana. He enjoys reading, video games, playing music, and cooking. When he's not working in the kitchen with his full-time job, he's dreaming about owning his own restaurant.
If you or someone you know is considering hormone replacement therapy or surgery, feel free to check out this resource guide provided by Louisiana Trans Advocates.