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Physical Disability and the Transsexual

By Denise Anne Fell

Two subjects that currently are considered hot on the talk show circuit are disabilities and transsexuals or gender issues in general. Yet these are two subjects that are considered different and separate.

Take into consideration a disabled transsexual. Is there any reason that a disabled person should not be allowed to have their dreams of becoming the person they were meant to be. What comes first? The disability or transsexualism. Interesting question. It is my intention to show that a physical disability should not deter one from reaching out and grabbing their dreams. I am such a person. I am bilateral amputee. To say the least this has made my transition to date most interesting.

My background is no different from any of the older transsexuals on this board. I dreamed of being a woman from early childhood. I experimented with dressing whenever I could and being the oldest and assigned baby sitting duties I was afforded the opportunity on occasion.

I grew up in the 50's and early 60's. However, during this time this was not a subject for discussion. It might have been discussed behind closed doors, but as I grew up I felt that I was the only person in the world that felt this way. I honestly believed that if I told anyone of this desire I would be locked up for the rest of my life. It was a very frightening and confusing time of my life.

I grew up doing what society expected me to do. I was a male and to my knowledge at that time there was absolutely nothing that I could do about that. I dropped out of high school at the young and tender age of 18 and joined the U.S. Navy and went off to boot camp. I had my GED Equivalency Diploma months before my class graduated and I eventually ended up on submarines. This is something that had always fascinated me. The Silent Service. The exploits of some of the World War II submarines and submarine commanders were legendary. I felt that I had found my notch in life.

One day while visiting a local bookstore I found the book that I was looking for ("The Man With The Golden Gun") and on the next rack a book that caught my eye and forever changed my life. I found Christine Jorgensen's autobiography. The cover caught my eye and I read and re read this book. The relief to find that I was not alone.

My years in the Navy continued and I received a medical discharge on October 1, 1975. The doctors had diagnosed me with a bilateral knee disorder because I had pain in my knees and I was falling down. This was the beginning of a long road of self-discovery, not only to find out what the physical problem was, but finding out who I was.

My marriage ended. I lost my children and I was miserable. My first attempt of discovering who I was failed. My parents totally rejected the person known as Theresa. This was the first name that I chose.

The condition kept getting worse. I had more episodes of falling down and was eventually put into leg braces and crutches to get around. At that point the crutches were more for balance than anything else.

I began to have other physical problems. I began to lose bladder and bowel control. It became more and more difficult for me to get around on braces and crutches and I began to get painful spasms that would cause me to wake up at night screaming in pure agony.

The doctors tried all the medications (beta blockers) on the market for blocking spasms originating in the spinal cord. I had adverse reactions to all of them. I was at convinced that I was going to spend the rest of my life in pain or zonked out on prescription pain relievers. I was taking large doses of Tylox or Percocet just to get by.

I was then told about a procedure that could help stop the spasms. This is called a rhizomoty. This is where the nerves in the spinal cord are burned with radio waves and it is used to help control severe spasms. The only problem being that the nerves can regenerate if they are not burned completely through. I had two such procedures. The procedure is extremely painful and in my case did not last.

About 18 months after the second rhizomoty the spasms returned and the pain was even worse as the nerve impulses were traveling through damaged nerves. I was tired of the pain and I was tired of no help from the Veterans Administration. I went to a private neurosurgeon with my health insurance and after consulting with him I was given two choices. They were a cordectomy or amputation of the lower legs.

Not an easy decision to say the least. Two things helped me make up my mind. Keep in mind at the time I was living as a male, trying to be the person that society wanted me to be. I was not happy, but everyone else was. From my experience in playing wheelchair basketball I knew that people with a complete spinal cord lesion had some very bad problems. The worst being loss of sensation and the pressure sores that were caused by this. Also, I would have lost the ability to have sex. Not a real important issue, but still something to be considered. I opted for amputation.

On September 6, 1990 my legs were amputated through the knees. The amputation is called knee disarticulation and I went home from the hospital 4 days later. I was sore, but I was healing.

I went to some physical therapy and learned to walk on prosthesis, but they proved to be cumbersome and not practical as they were so heavy. I opted for using a wheelchair. I was far more mobile and it really gave me greater freedom.

My life really turned to the pits and I began to realize that the only thing that was going to make me happy was to be me. It took quite a while, but in early May 1992 I wrote the doctor that had interviewed me and accepted me for SRS years before and told him that I was ready to get on with the program.

I received my hormones and gave myself the first injection on May 20, 1992 with the second on June 6, 1992. The injections then followed every other week to this date. After the first couple of injections I really began to feel a sense of well being. I also began to experience the first mood swings. Nothing bad, just wanting to cry for no reason, etc. Life was certainly getting interesting. I also had a lot of tenderness around the nipples and was getting some slight swelling.

In less than 4 months I had so much swelling that it became obvious that something was happening to me. I was letting my hair grow and people began pointing fingers and whispering. I knew that it was time to do something so I went to mid-level management and told my story. In short, I was told that I could begin my transition on my job and that I would not be harassed. My co- workers were told and a tentative date was set for me to begin my Real Life Test. I actually began 4 days earlier than originally planned.

I can honestly say that one of the hardest things that I have ever done was go through the back door of the Federal Building on November 12, 1992. This is the day that Denise made her debut to the world. I went straight from work to the mall and rolled up and down several times. It was a Thursday afternoon and the mall was basically empty. I watched and I noticed nobody staring or giggling. It gave me a wonderful self confidence boost.

I have lived for almost one year as a disabled female. My outlook on life is great. I am accepted as a woman. My greatest pleasure comes when I am addressed as Miss Fell.

I will admit that there are things that I cannot do. I cannot walk in high heels and I can't walk and watch my breasts bounce, and they are large enough to bounce. I can't change my own light bulbs, but I could not do that before I went full time. My point is that I honestly believe that a disability should not prevent a person working towards their goal. It does not matter if it something simple or something as complex as being accepted for SRS.

In my situation, I knew who I wanted to be, I became disabled and now I am on the verge of achieving this life long dream. A disability can come into someone's life unexpectedly anywhere along the way. I sometimes refer to able bodied people as TABs (Temporally Able Bodied) because you never know when you will take a fall, be hit by a drunk driver or be struck by a disease that can change your life forever.

The experience that I have gained has given me great insight. I look at life and I have come to some conclusions regarding the gender issues. I speak from experience. Although a transsexual does in fact diagnosis their own disorder, it should never be done without guidance from a trained professional. No matter what your background is. If you are a doctor, nurse, lawyer, psychologist, etc. You should seek guidance from an outside source. There could be far more involved than just gender issues. Also, one should never experiment with hormones without medical guidance. Hormones are a very dangerous drug and they are nothing to be played around with. You can kill yourself or cause great bodily harm. I know a PhD that is writing a book on hormones and the transsexual. In cases where excessive hormones are taken, taking female hormones can actually work the opposite and masculinize your body, doing more harm than good. This is just a word of caution.

In closing I would like to say that a physical disability or even your physical appearance should not deter you from reaching your goals. There are lots of disabled and quite homely generic females out there. Seek professional help with your hair, your makeup, etc. Most of this help is free of charge. All you have to do is be honest with the sales person and ask. You will be surprised on how helpful sales people can be. Remember, you may have to work a little harder to reach your goal, but it makes it all the sweeter when you reach it.

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