Patients' Voices

“FFS saved my life, literally”, Maria on gender transition

Four years ago Maria was really struggling with gender dysphoria. She chose to have facial feminization surgery to “remove all those features that made me dysphoric.” 

She still does not regret the decision to surgically feminize her face. “It helped my dysphoria in unimaginable ways and I was gendered female much more. It was the best choice of my life.”

In 2022, she wanted to catch up with the people at Facialteam who played an important role at a turning point in her gender transition journey. So I was privileged to sit with Maria and her dad while reminiscing about their FFS experience.

Her father’s eyes twinkle with pride as Maria talks about her stint in the Navy driving the royal ships, how well she is doing in her gaming job and how she and her twin brother had their own personal babble language before learning to speak. Right away I could see this was a close father-daughter relationship.

The Day of my Daughter’s Facial Feminization

When asked what it was like to accompany his daughter during such an important gender affirming surgery, he jokes, “It was the worst birthday of my life,” as Maria’s surgery indeed took place on his day of birth.  He remembers anxiously, “It was the longest day, waiting and waiting impatiently to see her.” You could sense the angst as he recounts how she came out of surgery after many hours. Listening, I imagine his preoccupation as night fell and he describes watching her through a window as the hair grafts were being placed, one by one, for what seemed like forever until she was finally wheeled to her private room.

“She had these silicone cooling masks covering her whole face and was out of it.” She had vomited and was still under the influence of a cocktail of anesthesia drugs. “The first thing I heard her say was ´Why did I do this?’” He is quick to note that this sentiment disappeared very quickly and the next day she was very happy to be on the road to recovery.  

“I loved those cooling masks,” Maria remembers. “But the facial lymphatic massage was the best. It was so relaxing.” She adds that she doesn’t remember having strong pain, which is fairly common, although some patients exceptionally need a bit more pain management.  “I only experienced what could be described as discomfort and the only thing I ever needed was paracetamol.”

Telling Mom & Dad I’m Trans

Coming to conclusions about her gender identity was not just a temporary fad nor an attention grabbing tactic. It certainly did not happen overnight. Maria says how grateful she was for all the online information and the active trans community online while she navigated through many hurdles.   

“I wish I’d known earlier that I was trans but I just didn’t understand what trans meant. The web helped me find answers.” Her father is also keen to point out the positive side of things, emphasizing how she is not alone in facing discrimination and the consequent desire to retreat from social interaction. So the digital forums offered kinship where she felt safe to learn, think and discover over time.  

When Maria talks about the shortcomings of the Norwegian health system, I’m so impressed with how sensitive her father is with the finer details, balancing his unconditional parental love without being overbearing. 

Yet Maria first confided in her mother, who she says was surprised –and not –at the same time.   “She knew something was up, but thought I was going to come out as gay.” Later, it was her mother who then called to inform her dad. He says it was unexpected too, but didn’t struggle at all with the news. The hardest part was adjusting to using a new name and pronouns after a lifetime of habit. “She is the same person I raised in essence,” he says while looking lovingly across the table. 

Trans Discrimination in Norway

Maria is no stranger to harassment, which she says happens almost daily online by anonymous Norwegians. Despite Norway having progressive politics regarding legal name changes and a public gender identity clinic, this does not mean that it is trans friendly overall. The 2022 shooting at an LGBT club in Oslo that resulted in the cancellation of the city’s Pride event is a hate crime that reflects undercurrents of anti-trans sentiment.

Regretfully, she talks of being the object of gossip in her own social circles, although she is able to talk about it nonchalantly. In one instance, a person was caught bragging about how he had cyber-harassed Maria while he hid behind an alias. Yet Maria continues to flourish as her gender affirming journey comes full circle. “I used to be very stealth and cared too much about what people would say about me. Now I don’t care anymore.” 

Proof of this is the interview she granted to a Norwegian news outlet on how being trans in Norway is still so hard, even allowing her legal name and photograph to appear. She says the online harrassment is worse than ever, with unidentifiable cyberbullies writing horrible things like, “Can you just kill yourself?” 

Her father’s protective side comes out at this point as he complains of the systematic sexism that affects all women, especially marginalized groups such as trans women, who end up forced to leave jobs, even high-powered professionals. 

Incredibly in spite of all this, Maria says she is now more open about her trans reality. This is liberating for her. “I can just speak about everything freely now.”  Her dad smiles and says, “I am so pleased to hear you say that out loud.”

Parent Support when Having Trans Surgery

Public gender clinics in Norway are active, but just as in many other countries, the gatekeeping and long waiting lists are problematic. “It took me 5 years to finally obtain a prescription for hormones in Norway’s public healthcare system. I was discouraged from having any surgery by the Norwegian gender clinic in the meantime.”  

The statistics of trans people who take their own lives while struggling to access medical attention is astonishingly high. With the support of her family, Maria was able to find ways to transition privately. This included HRT and having Facial Feminization Surgery in Spain before even getting that gender incongruence “diagnosis” by a Norwegian professional.  

“Having my Dad there while I was healing was really nice…someone you really trust waiting for you to get out of the operating theater.”

Her Dad helped her find gender affirming HRT options in Marbella during her visit for FFS. She is fortunate to count on parental support for her transition. Not all trans youth can lean on their parents in an environment where just being trans is often belittled, never mind considering facial and body surgery to alleviate gender dysphoria.

Asked for words of guidance for other parents, Maria’s father says, “The only advice I can give is to love your child like you would in any other life changing event. Simple as that, just continue being the supporting parents you have been the whole time.” 

Remembering the FFS Journey with Dad

“I was a bit nervous but, after meeting with the surgeons and staff, that went away. The fact that I could tell just how much they cared really mattered and put me at ease.”

As we talk about her FFS experience, Maria reflects on how few visible scars remain while showing me her barely perceptible line under her chin from the tracheal shave.  “My twin brother actually is the one with all the visible scars from accidents,” she jokes. Her dad, laughing, reminds her of getting run over by her own mom while teaching her to snowboard. The incident left her with a sizable knee scar that she proudly shows me. Fathers keeping it real!

The conversation turns to food as we finish our lunch and Maria remembers her adventures in chewing after facial feminization and the, ironically, tasty hospital food. “Scrambled eggs chewed with my tongue!” Her dad laughs and comments on how she loved the squash soup so much. “I asked for more,” she giggles and then reveals, “I had a steak one week after FFS, I did it, but it wasn’t easy!” 

It is quite touching to see father and daughter laughing about it all now time has passed. The poignant irony doesn’t escape me considering we are talking about something as serious as traveling thousands of kilometers to a foreign country for a costly facial gender surgery. However, it is clear that, for both, it was all well worth the effort and expense.

FFS Saved My Life

As we walk back to their car, I shyly mention sharing their story in this blog. She doesn’t hesitate to answer. “FFS saved my life.”  Her Dad adds in: “Literally!”

“Both Maria and myself were very pleased with the service and treatment we got from start to finish with Facialteam and all of your wonderful staff.” 

Maria explains, “In Facialteam’s Facebook patient group, I see people uncertain about FFS, so I want to tell them my story.”  

Are you a trans woman considering facial gender affirming surgery and want to hear more patient stories? We recommend taking a look at our Patient Peer Group on Facebook, where over 3600 members share tips and advice on transitioning.