‘Barren at Last #3: Crippled and Dry’ tackles hysto-caused symptoms and chronic pain

Barren at Last #3: Crippled and Dry

Perzine, Charlie Birch, 28 pgs, charliebirchzines.wordpress.com, $5

What happens when you have a major, gender-affirming surgery, but the surgeon doesn’t tell you about the side effects? Hard to imagine. Fortunately, San Diego-based zinester Charlie Birch shares their experience with such a procedure, and provides invaluable information about the realities of a hysterectomy in this zine series.

“After the hysto I immediately felt better. I felt truly reproductively neutral and no longer had menstrual dysphoria or pain,” writes our hero. As this is the third zine in the Barren series, the focus on this zine is primarily on the months following Birch’s hysterectomy — a note in the introduction states the hysterectomy is detailed in Issue 2 of the series.

A content note on the inside front cover perfectly sets the tone for the following two dozen pages: “Detailed descriptions of medical symptoms and treatments, pan, fear, anger, poop, genitals, reproductive organs, sexual and nonsexual vaginal penetration, curse words, internalized transphobia, and internalized ableism.” Personable yet unflinching, the author details their post-hysterectomy life and the treatments they explore. To manage their symptoms, Birch ventures into non-institutional and alternative treatments, creating and consuming tinctures and adding more phytoestrogens — naturally occurring compounds to their diet. The author includes a list of resources related to these treatments in a section at the end of the zine.

Barren is a straightforward half-page zine printed in black-and-white. The author took a lot of care with their page composition, with every page featuring a different cut-and-paste collage. Most pages feature a photograph of a flower in full bloom, a nod perhaps to the paintings of the late Georgia O’Keeffe — an artist well-known for her paintings of enlarged ‘flowers’.

As a cis-person, gender-affirming surgery is not something I have considered for myself. In wanting to be a better advocate for trans folks, I feel zines which discuss this subject are extremely important: they better our understanding and challenge our assumptions. I hope this zine finds its way in the hands of another person who benefits from reading it.