JaiLynn Joanna Desvignes, 44, of the Bronx, is a makeup artist and a trans woman who has been sharing her experiences with gender confirmation surgery though her YouTube channel and blog. She spoke with TODAY about her experience.
This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide please call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.
Even as a child, I knew who I was. I dreamed of walking down the aisle in a beautiful wedding dress. But how I looked on the outside clashed with who I was. So, I swallowed my feelings. As I entered my 20s, I was tired of feeling confused and started my social transition in my 30s. I used makeup and hair to affirm who I was. I took some hormones but not the full hormone replacement therapy regimen. While this helped me look more like myself, it soon became clear that this wasn’t enough.
The struggle between who I was and how I looked wore on me. Though many didn't realize how hard it was for me. I appeared happy and full of life, but inside I felt depressed. After years of feeling conflicted, I attempted suicide in 2016. I survived and realized that I had to be me. Denying who I was had been harming me and I wanted to live. I also wanted to help others. So, I began documenting my experiences on social media and hoped that my videos and blogs would prevent others from suffering like I did. I truly hoped that my words would help someone feel less alone.
Every transgender person lives a different experience and faces a different journey. Not everyone will follow a path similar to mine. Some might feel comfortable with just a social transition. Others might love the results from hormone replacement therapy. Still, others might not feel safe enough to transition in any way.
It feels important to share what was possible and what worked for me. I found the Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and worked with the doctors there to find surgeries and treatments that helped me.
Dr. Bella Avanessian, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Mount Sinai’s Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery, performed my facial feminization surgery, a procedure that softens the effects of testosterone on the face. I say it’s like she sanded my face down, though it’s much more advanced than that.
Even though the healing process was long, I loved the results. Dr. Avanessian also performed my breast enhancement surgery. Along with hormone replacement therapy — which blocks testosterone and provides the feminizing hormone estrogen — my shape transformed. I finally started to look more like the person I always knew I was. Dr. Avanessian did my vaginoplasty and Dr. Mark Courey, a professor of otolaryngology at Icahn School of Medicine, performed vocal feminization surgery to help my voice sound more like I wanted.
While the surgeries made me look the way I wanted, recovery was harder than I ever imagined. The pain that came with the procedures was shocking but manageable. With a vaginoplasty, I needed to dilate my vagina regularly, which is intimate. Recovering from such a procedure feels lonely. I was lucky to have support from a friend for the first month following surgery, but after she left it became tougher to be so isolated. Though, I think of my recovery period as my time in my cocoon and I’m spending time reflecting and growing.
It also felt hard to face other people’s opinions about what I was doing. For so long I had been living my life for other people. I waited to transition because I worried about the impact it would have on others in my life and I wanted them to have the space for their feelings and emotions. While some people took time grappling with their feelings and we became closer, others turned away from me. It has been tough but I felt that I needed to be me. In some ways, this process has allowed me to become closer to many of my loved ones and I feel that now I am aligned mind, body and soul, I can have deep relationships with them.
I feel happy with who I am and how I look now. I don't believe I will undergo any more procedures. I am lucky to have insurance that covered my gender-affirming care. According to a policy brief by the American Medical Association and GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality, trans people struggle to access adequate care and are less likely to have insurance than the general population and other people in the LGBTQ community. And, many trans individuals report that their insurance has denied some gender affirmation coverage.
While I wanted to share my journey to help other trans people to feel less alone, I also hope to show others what trans people are like. We come from various walks of life. We’re your best friend, niece, nephew, brother, mother, sister, aunt or uncle. While we may all be different we all want what so many people desire — love, acceptance and validation.