In my first book, I Was Born a Boy, from Venus, I wrote my autobiography, stories about the great life experiences I had, about the struggles I went through, and about the beginnings of my transition. This book, Coming Home to Venus, is about my transition, from the first steps I took up to gender reassignment surgery, what happened, the changes I went through, the lessons I learned, the changes in and to my environment, the similar experiences of others, and what I expect for the future. Some fiction is included, and names have been changed. The book contains such themes as gender dysphoria, hormone replacement therapy (HRT), acceptance, procedures, gender reassignment surgery, and ID changes.
This book is not only a sort of guidance for transgender people who are transitioning but also a book for those who are not transgender, cis people. For them it’s about understanding,
acceptance, and compassion for us. (I have lived through some interesting experiences, so I also hope the book is entertaining!)
For both of my books, there are several reasons for me to write about the transgender theme. One of them is that I would like to share my extraordinary life with the people I know and love, my family and close friends. Another is that I would like to inform those people with whom I do not have much contact about my transition. Finally, I want to show all readers, whether they are transgender or not, an example of what transgender people go through to find themselves. It is not an option; it’s the way we are born.
At this point, I would like to thank all my friends for being there for me, especially some special people who have a special place in my heart: my daughter, Victoria, and her great husband Tommy; my son David and his incredible wife, Gabby, who is the mother of my first grandchild; and my son Raphael and his girlfriend Julie. I would like to thank both of my ex-wives for the great times we had together. To my Portuguese family, in particular my sister, Luisa, I’m sorry I have not been there much lately. Last but not least, I would like to thank all the friends that have supported me for a short or a long time; there are many, many of them in the latest phase, mainly Missy, Bonnie, Bianca, Jessmarie, Jessica, just to mention a few. Another incredible set of people for whom I have a lot to thank are my counselors, Dr. Carol Clark, Lisa Shapiro, and all the others, as well as all of the doctors and their incredible staff that helped me so much, including Dr. Chettawut, Dr. Jason Cooper, and the late Dr. Greenwald.
Everything to be an Addict
Fernando opened the door of the large, white SUV and said to his wife, “Thank you for the lift.” He walked to the back of the car as the door was power-lifting, took his luggage out, pressed the down button of the rear door, and said again, “I will call you when I get to the hotel. Bye, love you.”
His wife, Kate, told him, “Have a nice trip.”
The white SUV started rolling away from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport’s Terminal 3, and Fernando walked to the check-in area for US Airways. It was a beautiful Floridian day, hot with a temperature hovering around eighty-six degrees and low winter humidity. He printed out his boarding card, and with it in hand, he walked over to the check-in counter.
I Knew I Had Gender Dysphoria
Well, depression was at home. One-night Fernando got drunk and played so much poker that the next morning he felt really bad. His head was spinning, he was feeling lonely and lost, and his guilt went through the roof; he could not see himself anymore. He had to do something about it, get some help, and I mean professional help. That night he thought to himself, ‘I cannot live like this anymore. I am losing all control. My nerves are getting out of hand. I have to do something about it. Tomorrow I will look for help.’
The next step was finding a counselor that could help him, someone who knew about addictions, about sex, and about transgender issues. It did not take long to find someone on the internet called Dr. Carol Clark.[i] She knew a great deal about all the issues for which Fernando was seeking answers.
The Magic of HRT
It was time to change, to start the transition. I was diagnosed with gender dysphoria, meaning I was experiencing distress as a result of the fact that the gender assigned at birth did not match my gender identity. Officially I was a transgender person. The next step would be to adjust my body to fit my gender Identity, starting with hormone replacement therapy (HRT).[ii]
The first step was to find an endocrinologist. I made an appointment with my regular practitioner in Boca Raton, a normal doctor for normal people without transgender experience nor understanding. I went to the doctor’s office, and after the usual waiting time, they brought me to the examination room.
After a short time, the doctor came in and said, “Hi, Fernando, what brings you here?”
Becoming My Real Self
I felt just like all the other transgender girls and guys who had come before me, and I always said, “It is easier to be born a girl than to become one; obviously it’s similar for transgender guys.”
I sometimes thought I had to be completely nuts to go through this transition. I don’t really think that people realize all the pain, trouble, danger, risk, and sometimes losses you go through to achieve it. Some face more than others, but for all of us it is a tremendously big change, and why do we do this? The answer is very simple: just to feel right; to look in the mirror and see myself and not some kind of weird person. Not to feel depressed and sad like I did for most of my life, but instead to think progressively and positively. And we go through all of this despite the risk of losing everything, the risk of discrimination, the risk of being turned out, and even being brutally treated. Yes, despite all this, if you are a real transgender person, transition is the only alternative; it is the only way to go, to be at truth with oneself, to stop your internal battle of hating yourself, and to evolve to the next step. Society does not always understand, although it is much better now. When I see statements like, “It was his choice to become a woman,” I just feel sadness for the poor, ignorant person that said it.
Acceptance, Fears, and Demons
I started to organize dinners for transgender people and our friends. All these dinners were held in a very nice restaurant called Rosie’s in Wilton Manors, the second-most LGBTQ-friendly town in the US, so nobody really looked at us—that is, unless someone ever deigned to go naked. This town is regarded as a safe place and a place of acceptance. So many people that would come out for the first time as transgender would come to those dinners.
One night there were about twenty transgender people at the table, some very passable and some barely recognizable as if they were in their preferred gender.
“I feel really bad. People keep misgendering me, all the time,” a not so passable woman named Tina said to me.
In fact, I was contemplating some surgeries. Soon after I started transitioning, I began investigating my options. The first surgery I was looking for was facial feminization surgery (FFS).[iii]
One morning I drove to an FFS specialist in South Florida.
In the waiting room, a nurse handed me two binders full of pictures and said, “Here, please look at some of the work Dr. Gen has done. These are before-and-after pictures.”
One binder was dedicated to cis women’s before-and-after pictures; the other was full of transgender women. I started to look at the photos in detail, and it seemed that some women had quite amazing surgeries. As a result, they looked so young and beautiful but somehow lost their character. Meanwhile, others just had little changes done to their faces but remained themselves. I had already been living as a woman for one year, and sometimes I presented as a man, so a drastic change would not be acceptable. Looking at those pictures I regretted not having done this about thirty years before, so that I could present as a woman in my youth, as I was just starting out in the world of business.
“Hi, Manuela,” said Dr. Gen as he opened the door to the waiting room. “Come with me. We are going to the examination room.”
Good looks, perfect behavior, and speech patterns that match up with your real gender are unfortunately not enough to live life as transgender people wish to do so. Paperwork can also be a real issue. For instance, if you’ve been transitioning and a policeman does not recognize you in the picture on your driver’s license, there can be some issues coming. The gender marked there and the difference in name can be killers for transgender people.
In some Bible Belt states in the US and in many countries around the world, the degree of discrimination against transgender people is very high and they are not protected by law. Imagine the following scenario. This was true for some time in the US and, chillingly, could become so again.
Breaking the Ties
“Hi, everybody, how are you all doing? Glad you made it for this transgender support group,” said Jan, the host of the Lake Worth group. There were about twenty different people in attendance and only two were cis. After the usual introductions and statements concerning the rules of the meeting, Jan said, “Who wants to start?”
I was eager to speak because I had something big on my mind. I stood up and said, “Hi, everybody, I would like to talk about family ties when you transition. What are your expectations and experiences? In most respects I have been blessed; my family has been very supportive. My sisters, my children, and in the beginning of my transition even my ex-wife was a great support. She knew about my tendencies and little escapades for a long time, actually since I met her, over twenty-five years ago. All went well for a long time, so I expected to be able to transition and still have a stable relationship. Well, things deteriorated, not only because I was a changing but also because her expectations grew away from the nest. The details are very tough, and the last six months of our marriage were devastating. But this is somehow a common fact of life for us. Many marriages break down, and with transitioning things can get worse. I just thought for a while that we would be an exception.”
New Life, New Beginning
Now I was divorced, I had found a new place to live. Now it was time to be myself and start a new life. As a matter of fact I had gone through a tremendous change not only in my private life but also in my business, because one of the companies I was working with was sold and I lost the contract to work with them.
With my new life, new people appeared. It is true that many were from the transgender community, though others were cis people. The divorce and the changes in the business brought a lot of worries and uncertainties, so I tried to look for job where I could still have and continue my own business. I found a job selling insurance, which was not really the most interesting job in the world, but it gave me the opportunity to have strong business exposure as a woman for the first time.
On a Monday morning, I started my new job in the insurance industry.
The Final Step to Venus
The idea of the three of us going to Thailand and having our surgeries at the same time had been broken.
One day Missy and I got a text from Jane: “Thought I had a cold, but the doctor sent me to the hospital in Sarasota, apparently I have cancer.”
We immediately took the car and went to visit our friend in the hospital.
“Hi, what is going on, girl?” I asked.
“Yes, how are you feeling?” said Missy.
“Well, you know I thought I had the flu, so I went to the doctor. He told me there was something not right and he told me to go the hospital to have it checked. I got there, they did some checks and told me I had to stay there. Since they could not find a place for me, they sent me here with an ambulance. They diagnosed me with cancer, leukemia, so here I am. I will have chemo tomorrow.”
Opening to the New World, Being on Venus
I returned to the hotel room, still in pain, but it was getting better every day. The first night I was alone, and I managed to take care of myself quite well. The next day Missy came to the room; as you can expect, she was tired and in a lot of pain.
“Hi sister, how do you feel?” I asked.
“Doing better, still on some painkillers. The surgery went on for approximately nine hours, but my butt hurts a lot,” said Missy.
“Well, girl, same surgery, same symptoms,” I said.
During our time in the hotel, Missy and I helped each other heal, and we both became more autonomous on a daily basis. As soon as my catheter was removed, there was more freedom of movement, and we started to venture outside for short walks. Soon we met all the girls who had also had surgery with Dr. Chettawut. The doctor performed about one surgery per day, and there were girls from Australia, England, Dubai, all over the world having the same procedure. Most of them were not alone; some had friends with them, and I must say we understood why. Things like food and groceries were delivered to the room, but a good helping hand was always welcome. The nurses would come every day at the same time to see how we were, to look at the progress, and to help us with dilation. That was certainly a new experience. In the beginning it was very painful and had to be done on a regular basis to make sure that your new organs were kept in the right shape and size. Out of some seven girls in the hotel that had the same procedure done, only one had a small issue, and the doctor corrected this immediately. We started to be friends with some of them, Elisa was an English woman, Charlese was from Australia, other girls were from Slovakia, there was an Indian girl, well it was like the united nations.