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When I was growing up, I never knew what to say when someone asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I couldn’t tell them the truth, of course, that I wanted to be a woman, that I was a woman already. I couldn’t tell them that what I wanted most was to have a body that matched how I felt inside, so I just told them “I don’t know” instead.

I could hardly sleep the night before my surgical appointment. Some part of me felt like I was just going through the motions, like it was all just a fancy dress rehearsal and the day would never actually come. Just three days earlier, I’d received the call I’d been waiting for: my exact time to report for top surgery. I was finally getting implants.

I set an alarm and took a brief nap to rest my eyes. All told, by the time I got to sleep, only an hour had passed. My partner and I got up, dressed as lightly yet warmly as possible, and headed out into the falling snow.

We huddled together for warmth during our early morning journey. Starting at 3:45 a.m., we made our way to the surgical department at Denver Health. Because we don’t have a car and took public transit, we had few options: arrive an hour early or five minutes late for my surgical time.

The snow was still coming down when we arrived, just after five in the morning. We walked into Pavilion A just to get a short break from the cold. After some fussy interactions with building security who profiled us as people just coming in off the street, out of the cold, we eventually made it to Pavilion M for outpatient surgery.

Everyone during intake was lovely about the reason I was there. Everyone used the right names and pronouns to refer to me, even in passing. Before I knew it, there was an IV in my arm and my nervous man sitting by my side. He would later tell me he hadn’t been able to force himself to eat. After patients who’d arrived prior to me were leaving their procedures, he’d sat nervously watching the screen for updates which only said I was still in the procedure.

They gave me something for anxiety as I rolled away from him into the operating room. Soon I was extra giddy, and then, nothing.

I went to sleep and woke up with a problem fixed, hopefully forever.

I was hungry and nauseated all at the same time, but the pain was minimal.

My chest hurt like someone had been sitting on my ribcage for a few hours. That was the worst of my complaints with all the painkillers still in my system.

Since then, my partner has been taking care of me. I still feel a little fragile sometimes; moving in certain ways tugs at where I know the incisions were, but that’s the worst of it. I can’t complain anymore, and my outlook moving forward is great so far.

The best part is, I’m not self-conscious about my breasts anymore. That part of my gender dysphoria seems like a faraway memory, like it was from another life entirely. I can look back on it, maybe fondly someday, but for now I’m trying not to think about it at all. It feels good to take a short victory lap before I get back to work and look forward to bottom surgery.

I’m starting to connect with the woman I wanted to be for so many years. That little girl who had nothing to ask for during her birthdays is finally coming to the surface. Not that I have any better of an answer, now that my biggest dreams are coming true, of course. But at least I don’t have to hide myself from anyone anymore.