WARNING: CONTAINS GRAPHIC CONTENT / IMAGES


The most moving element of Caitlyn Jenner‘s very public gender reassignment wasn’t her story so much as the stories of transgender kids she spent time talking to – their personal demons were heartbreaking, most driven by the simple yet profoundly thorny realisation they were born in the wrong body.

Billy-Joe Newington, a 26-year-old from Wales, was born Connie but has identified as a male since the age of four; in recent years, he’s been taking various steps to become his ‘true’ self.

Billy started taking hormones when he was 23 and underwent a double mastectomy last year, but didn’t consider his transformation complete while he lacked a functioning penis – something that requires a full-on surgical procedure called ‘pubic phalloplasty’, which only one hospital in the UK actually performs and is as yet unavailable in Australia.

Aussie director and producer Nicholas Sweeney got to know Billy very well over the course of filming a three-part documentary series on transgender kids, the finale of which – ‘Girls To Men’ – documents the first stages of his sex reassignment surgery and airs tonight on FOXTEL’s LifeStyle You at 8:30pm.

Speaking to P.TV, Nick details the confronting process, which will require Billy to undergo four painful operations over two years (he’s had 1/4 so far):

“During operation one, the skin from under his bellybutton was rolled together – like a Swiss roll – and stitched up again to make the main part of the penis. Then they cut skin from the sides of his stomach to cover the exposed flesh.

 

Operation two will create a urethra from skin on his right forearm. The third will connect the bladder to the urethra. The fourth will install the erectile device; a pump inserted into the shaft allowing him to attain an erection by using a prosthetic testicle to pump saline water from a bag in his stomach into the new penis.

 

Basically two straws beside the urethra fill with fluid when he presses a pump button, and Billy has been assured this is what will get him ‘rock solid’. This lets him have sex (and also maintain the erection for days, if he wishes).”

It goes without saying that filming the operation was an *intense* experience.

“I occasionally found myself wondering “could this really be worth it?”. But in the film Billy says, “If I’d gone on living as a woman, I wouldn’t be here”. I believe him, and for me, that line alone explains the lengths he goes to,” says Nick.

Billy during surgery #1

Billy after surgery

Very few transgender males opt for the surgery, and that comes down to a couple of different reasons:

1) Many don’t feel they need it, arguing being a man is about more than genitals.

2) There are so few clinics performing penis creation surgery – as in, only one for the UK’s entire transgender population – that the wait times are ridic.

3) The cost; while it’s covered under the NHS in the UK, pubic phalloplasty can cost upwards of $90,000 in the US.

Then there’s the question of recovery time, which can be six to seven weeks (as it was for Billy) and make it hard to hold down your average 9-5 job unless you have a very generous amount of annual leave up your sleeve.

Nick says the filming process has made him 1,000,000x more appreciative of his own penis, and the mental and physical pain members of the trans community who opt for sex reassignment surgery endure just to feel like ‘normal’.

“I’ll never forget Billy, doubled over in pain after penis surgery, barely able to talk, croaking,” he says. “He said, ‘I wonder how many natural born guys would go through this, because I don’t think they would’. He’s right: many of us non-transgender people take our bodies – including our penises – for granted. We never have to think about the things that transgender people deal with every day. I hope that “Girls to Men” shows some of these experiences so that the wider public can be more empathetic.”

Billy’s story airs as part of the documentary ‘Girls to Men’, TONIGHT on Foxtel LifeStyle YOU at 8.30pm. If you’re affected by the issues in this article, there’s always someone you can talk to at QLife. Call 1800 184 527.

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