Marsha Morgan, Kaiser Permanente’s first Southern California gender reassignment surgery patient, asked for a trapeze to help her sit up. Her suggestion will now be standard for others undergoing the same procedure which includes two of her friends who were the second and third gender reassignment patients. In true Morgan flair, her nails are in keeping with the transgender rainbow at Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles Hospital. Marsha 1.5, normally on her home bed, is at her side. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)
No more envy. Marsha Morgan was always somewhat envious of woman because their anatomy under the stomach was flat. The San Clemente resident endured an 8.5 hour gender affirming surgery at Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles Hospital. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Flowers, humorous cards of support and an “It’s a girl” balloon line Marsha Morgan’s room at Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles Hospital. The effervescent Morgan wound up sharing some of her flowers with friends who had the same sex reassignment surgery just days after in the same hospital. Morgan feels she can now start living her life. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Marsha Morgan, 54, of San Clemente credits her teddy bear, Marsha 1.5, with getting her through the sex reassignment surgery at Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles Hospital. The Navy veteran and school bus driver now dubs herself, “Marsha 2.0.” She gives the staff an “A plus” rating, but she couldn’t wait to get home. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Marsha Morgan, 54, suddenly breaks into singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” for the nursing staff. Therese Javier, left, and Mariel Dumaguin-Velarde applaud as Morgan finishes with, “This is a song every transgender knows” at Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles Hospital. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)
A roaring fire played on a loop with fireplace sounds from a rainbow speaker, a teddy bear, Marsha 1.5, dressed in pink and an attentive staff helped Marsha Morgan remain “calm” before and after her reassignment surgery at Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles Hospital. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Marsha Morgan, 54, of San Clemente cuddles with her teddy, Marsha 1.5 at Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles Hospital. She hopes for the human touch, someone to just hold her hand, during the recovery phase and is considering hiring a cuddle service. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Marsha Morgan, 54, of San Clemente may slip you her transgender woman card to introduce herself or if she feels you need to know the proper pronouns. The flip side reads, Marsha Evelyn Morgan, Transgender Woman, female pronouns please. She is recovering from her gender affirming surgery. Her only regret is that she didn’t have the surgery sooner. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Marsha Morgan, 54, of San Clemente says everything is different and looks different now after her sex reassignment surgery. She notices flowers in a more enhanced way and has several new potted plants which she’s looking forward to nurturing. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Marsha Morgan, 54, dressed in yoga attire, is in discomfort as she gets off her 1948 Ford tractor about two weeks after sex reassignment surgery. It’s parked in her backyard with a San Clemente ocean view. She came out publicly as transgender a few years ago, changed her name to Marsha and started taking hormones on her journey to transforming into a woman. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Marsha Morgan, 54, of San Clemente temporarily uses a walking cane after her sex reassignment surgery. She had just finished a yoga session at her San Clemente home. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Marsha Morgan, 54, tosses aside a walking cane and practices yoga on her quiet San Clemente cul-de-sac. The night before was “rough” for Morgan recovering from sex reassignment surgery so much so that she joked about hurling herself on the freeway. (Photo by Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register/SCNG)
In bed after a major operation, Marsha Morgan lifts her black and pink quilt, looks down and is thrilled with what she doesn’t see.
After living as a biological male since she was born, the 54-year-old Navy veteran has endured 8 1/2 hours of surgery and is now all woman — OK, a transgender woman.
Six-foot-three and with a linebacker’s build, Morgan admits that even in a black dress and matching heels she will remain an unusual looking woman. But, honey, Morgan is the kind of woman who looks ahead.
She promises after a year of healing and with a wig to cover male pattern baldness, she’ll be steppin’ out in style.
Of her, ahem, lower region, Morgan exclaims, “She’s the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in my life.
“I have always believed I was a female. This has completed my psyche.”
Depending on your point of view, her comments either make sense, remain a murky mystery or are just plain awful.
This is the fourth in a series of columns I’ve written about Morgan’s journey, and judging by my emails there is a link between awful and fear of the unknown.
So I promise, without TMI — too much information — let’s figuratively pull back the covers and learn a little bit more about life for the estimated 1.6 million transgender people in the United States.
Eight hours of surgery
It is April 9 and Morgan travels from her home in San Clemente to Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles Hospital. The following day her life will change forever when she becomes Kaiser’s first gender affirming surgery patient in Southern California.
For two years, Morgan has received estrogen treatment, had electrolysis and has openly lived as a woman. Therapy as well as surgery are paid through her insurance.
On this day, there is a huge grin on Morgan’s face. But her past is a circuitous route of secrets, lies, pain.
She collected and hid away girls clothes when she was little. She tried killing herself when she was 10 years old by jumping off a building.
For decades, she tried to live life as a macho man.
She drove a tractor for her father’s asphalt business, served as a sonar technician on a fast attack sub in the Persian Gulf, got married (yes, to a woman), helped raise a stepdaughter, worked as a school bus driver, was named employee of the year.
Then a few years ago, she came out as transgender, changed her name from Marshall to Marsha and started singing in the transgender chorus in Los Angeles — as a bass.
Since coming out, the kids and parents on her daily bus route either support her journey or are polite enough to keep their thoughts to themselves.
Entering the hospital for an operation many people would cringe over, Morgan exudes happiness. “I marched in there like I had a purpose,” she says, “which I did.”
Going into surgery the next morning, Morgan flashes two fingers in a V — and don’t think the V is for victory.
Almost nine hours later, she is wheeled into recovery. When she awakes, seven transgender women from choir greet her. Balloons touch the ceiling. Her favorite reads, “I’m a girl!”
But gender affirming surgery is, well, sex altering. Some plumbing is gone, some is new. There is swelling, discoloration.
The first night, Morgan goes for a little walk in the hospital. She is thrilled with the doctors, the surgery, calls the entire staff “incredible.”
The second night, however, is tough. Morgan breaks down sobbing. Post-op trauma proves too much.
But with support from several nurses, Morgan pops back within hours. She plays music, flips on a small light show with a digital speaker, does a little dance in the hallway, bursts into her favorite new song.
“Oh, what’s a girl to do?” Morgan sings, echoing Pink’s lyrics. “If I can light the world up for just one day. … No one can be just like me anyway.”
Months of healing
Being the hospital’s first transgender patient means that Morgan gets plenty of suit-and-tie visitors. “I have more brass in my room,” she boasts, “than a military marching band.”
Dr. Polina Reyblat is the urologist surgeon. She is backed by plastic surgeon Dr. Melissa Poh as well as a team of dozens of people both in the operating room and out.
“Gender disorder is a real thing,” Rayblat explains after the operation. “We have the means to align the biology with how the mind works.”
Through what Rayblat calls an intermediate- to high-risk operation, she adds, “We have affirmed her identity.”
Each day, Morgan discovers something new. She showers and collapses on the sudsy floor, crying tears of joy, warm water caressing new skin.
“It’s not there,” she murmurs. “It’s not there.”
What is there is a complete set of female features. She shares, “It feels so incredibly right.”
Poh offers, “The goal of the procedure is to achieve both functionally and physically acceptable genitalia consistent with the patient’s gender identity, which requires plastic reconstructive surgery as well as urological surgery.”
“The reason for any reconstructive surgery, including this one,” the doctor explains, “is to allow our patients to feel whole and complete.”
Morgan puts the surgery in further perspective. “This is not a dream come true,” she points out. “This is a nightmare that has come to an end.
“This changes how I feel about myself. Now, I can start living my life.”
To live life to the fullest, however, will take months of healing. First, there are six weeks of bed rest. Then there are months of light activity.
Morgan plans to be back on the job as a school bus driver in August. But intimacy will take longer. She is careful to make clear that whatever dating she does will include honesty.
“On the first date,” she stresses, “I’ll let them know my background.”
What about riding her motorcycle, a black Honda ninja-style rocket?
Morgan laughs. “That could take two years.”
Still a baritone
When it comes to tolerance, Morgan is fond of quoting her mother, “Labels are for soup cans.”
Morgan pauses and gets serious. “Our body parts don’t define who we are,” the Navy veteran states. “It’s what’s behind the eyes and in our hearts that defines who we are.”
What about singing bass in the transgender choir?
She sits on her couch and barks with the deep tone of a grizzled drill sergeant: “Kids! Behave!”
Next, she nimbly switches to a tone she’s had voice lessons for — what her teacher calls the lilting sound of a woman.
Before we part, Morgan offers one more song. She closes her eyes, raises her voice four octaves to the top of her range and croons the song she calls a transgender anthem.
“Somewhere over the rainbow,” Morgan sings in a soft, high voice, “Skies are blue / and the dreams that you dare to dream / really do come true.”
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