A 60-year-old who transitioned from female to male 15 years ago has bravely labelled his sex change “the greatest mistake”.
Lee Harries was born Debbie Karemer but after years of struggling with his sexual identity – he asked for gender reassignment aged 44.
Shockingly, he claims he began private testosterone treatment a DAY later and had his breasts removed after just three months – starting an 11-year journey to become a ‘man’.
But after years of counselling he has finally discovered he wasn’t transgender – but instead was a woman suffering with horrific complex PTSD, after years of sexual abuse.
It was too late for Lee, and now he feels like a woman trapped in “an approximation of a male body” and is on the NHS waiting list for an operation to reverse the re-assignment.
He’s speaking out on the “taboo” subject of surgery regret – gender reassignment reversal – to encourage others to seek talking therapy before surgery.
He said he should never have been allowed to transition – claiming his dissatisfaction with his female body stems from sexual abuse at the hands of his father.
Lee, from Hemel Hempstead, said: “I look in the mirror through the eyes of that terrified 15-year-old girl and see this funny little man staring back at me.
“I’m a woman, I’m still Debbie.
“I wish I could turn back the clock and just have the foresight of what the nightmare the next 15 years would be.
“I’m a woman I’m not meant to be a bloke. I’m trapped.
“It’s a complete mess – where do you even start? I just regret the decision.
“There is this myth that when an individual ‘changes gender’ they go into hospital one gender and come out ‘all done’.
“That isn’t the case, there are years of surgeries and hormones for the rest of your life.
“I know things are a lot better than they were when I had my surgeries, but there is a big lack of talking therapies.
“I should have been helped.
“I’m sure a lot of transgender men feel the same too but I’m the only one honest and brave one to come out and say it.”
Lee said his dad left their home when he was two and they were estranged until he was 14 and they met outside his school.
Lee – then Debbie – claims he stayed at his dad’s that night, and was raped and sexual abused by his father.
He struggled with his sexual identity for years, even developing objectum sexuality – sexual attraction to objects.
He had a ‘relationship’ with a white Fender Stratocaster and later becoming romantically involved with a fishing rod and an amateur radio.
“The thing with objectum sexuality is they are addictions and I felt compelled to have them,” he said.
“Looking back it was just a way of coping with the trauma.”
Lee married his one and only long-term friend Alan in December 1997.
The self loathing became so extreme he almost cut off his breasts with a pair of kitchen scissors.
He first heard of transgender and gender reassignment surgery in 2002 while watching an episode of chat show programme Kilroy in his living room.
“The programme was introduced as a ‘special’ where transgender men and women were on,” he said.
“At the time it was a state of mind no body really spoke about.
“I remember seeing them on the TV and thinking ‘that’s me!’
“I suppose they seemed confident in themselves and seemed accepted.
“That’s all I wanted.
“This was at a time when trans issues was still a taboo.
“It was as though I had a way out of feeling so low.
“I had never heard of female to male.
“I had spent years feeling I couldn’t live in my own body and hating every single moment.
“I thought the female body was disgusting.
“When I showered I used to gag at the sight of my body.
“Suddenly I saw the answer on Kilroy. It felt like the only answer. It felt like the only way forward.”
Later that week Lee researched transitioning online and discovered a local F2M support group in Camden, London.
There he was given the number of a leading private psychiatrist specialising in gender identity disorder.
Later that week he booked an appointment with a private psychiatrist and was given a two-week course of testosterone to start the very next day, he said.
Just three months later he underwent a private double bi-lateral mastectomy.
Having lived off benefits since living his factory job, Alan paid for the initial consultation and double bilateral mastectomy costing £3,500.
Lee said: “I just wanted my breasts gone. They were the epitome of femininity.
“I think at the time I was dissociated from the emotional and physical toll of the surgeries.
“I just wanted to become as male as possible, as soon as possible. I was prepared to go through anything to get there.”
In November 2004 Lee had his uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes removed, and a Metoidioplasty – the beginning of surgery to create a penis.
In 2005 he had prosthetic testicles created and in 2008 he had his vagina removed, and a few months later surgeons created a penis using fat and skin from his arm.
In May 2010 excess breast tissue was removed and in April 2013, more surgery was performed on his testicles.
All but the first op – the mastectomy – was performed by private hospitals paid by the NHS, he said.
He said he had some counselling sessions before one of the ops – but that the funding had already been agreed and it was a ‘box ticking exercise’.
“At the time it felt like the right thing to do and I was really glad it was happening,” he said.
““I remember when I started waking up in the morning and seeing stubble on my face, thinking ‘this is the start of a new life’ and I’m no longer this traumatised girl.
“I wanted to start this life as a new man so I enlisted myself on a computer course.
“It’s a bit ridiculous as I was a 48-year-old growing stubble.
“People behind counters used to mistake me as a teenager.
“After the second operation I had an infection in my vagina caused by the testosterone upsetting the ‘normal’ flora of the vagina. Puss and blood kept coming out and I had to wear sanitary towels again!
“The infections left such a terrible smell – as if something had died.
“I lived with the smell of rotting flesh for years.
“I’ve had countless infections with my body rejecting what is happening to me.
“I now suffer with recurring bladder infections as all the invasive surgeries have left it incredibly weak.”
With hindsight, the first step towards his realisation was when he approached the police in 2012, to report the abuse at the hands of his father.
Prompted by the Jimmy Saville scandal, he gave statements but his father died from emphysema in 2013, before he could be charged, Lee said.
Lee had sought the help of a private counsellor in 2009.
He thought that his feelings about his body might stem from transitioning “too late” but after four years, in 2013 – after his final op – he realised his mistake.
“She started to mention the words ‘childhood trauma’ and it fell into place,” he said.
“It became apparent that transitioning was a big mistake.
“The session where I realised this was so bad that I had a complete break down and panic attack because I realised it was a huge mistake.
“It should never have happened. It was a big wake up call.
“I was traumatised by what had happened in my life and it was misdiagnosed as being transgender.
“I was vulnerable, I just though that if I wasn’t a girl my life would be different, I would be different, I would be accepted and that would be it.
“I thought that becoming a man would make me worthy and I would become a different person.
“Looking back now I realise that it was simply a feeling that if I didn’t have a vagina, I couldn’t be raped.
“But I’m not a man, I am an approximation of a man.
“I feel completely ‘mutilated
“I wish I could wake up as Debbie and realise that the last 15 years were just as bad a nightmare.”
Lee primarily blames his father for what has happened to him – but then the private psychiatrist who started off his journey.
“What should have happened differently? Having a different upbringing,” he said.
“But I think that the psychiatrist should have picked up on the fact that I was abused.
“I should have had help somewhere along the line.
“Nobody ever raised the idea that I could feel like this due to trauma. Not once – until it was all done.
“I have spent my life despising my own body.
“It’s so inhumane to feel that was about your own body. But the fact is I now know I rejected my body because of the way my father treated me.
“I was seen as a piece of shit on the bottom of a shoe – and that’s how I then saw myself.
“I can’t fathom the huge increase in gender reassignment surgery.
“There is a huge lack of talking therapies, and that’s a problem.
“I know a couple of trans men from when I was going through it and I know they were doing it for the same reasons as me.
“Trans-men and women come out of hospital saying everything is great – but that’s not always the case.
“If they are doing it for the right reasons then that’s fair.
“But nobody is honest when it goes wrong.”
Lee went to see his GP about becoming a woman again at the start of the year, and said he is awaiting an appointment at a specialist gender identity clinic.
“On the inside I’m just not me,” he said.
“I’m a different creature on the outside.
“Inside I am still that young girl calling out but I miss looking in the mirror and seeing my feminine self.
“The thing I dream and long to do is to go out for a meal.
“But most of all I just miss the old Debbie.”