Four days after having gender reassignment surgery, Kyle Hollingsworth couldn’t stop smiling as he waited to see his new chest in Dr. Charles Garramone’s waiting room in Davie, Florida. The surgery removed his breast tissue and created a male-contoured chest that, along with his growing facial hair, would match how he felt on the inside.
The day of his chest unveiling, Kyle and his mother, Sandra Mathis, laughed and took selfies in the waiting room. They swapped phones to see which camera provided the best angle and lighting (his mom’s did).
As Kyle looked in the mirror with Dr. Garramone by his side, his voice became louder with excitement.
“I am physically the person I knew always existed,” he said.
Kyle Hollingsworth, center, waits for the surgery center to open the day of his top surgery with his aunt, Terry Mathis, left, and mother, Sandra Mathis, right. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder
Kyle came up with creative ways to pay for the procedure. He received $3,695 in donations through GoFundMe, a crowdfunding platform. In August 2017, he moved in with friends to live rent-free, which allowed him to save an additional $2,500 in three months.
He borrowed $1,625 from his retirement savings to pay the surgery center fee.
“Honestly, I didn’t even think about the debt,” Kyle said. “All I cared about was the surgery. I’m technically in debt, but I’m in debt to myself because it’s my retirement.”
Kyle Hollingsworth smiles as his new chest is revealed by Dr. Charles Garramone . Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder
The morning of his surgery, the sky was still black but Kyle, his mom and his aunt, Terry Thomas, joked as they made their journey to the clinic.
“I’m going to be so attractive,” Kyle said as he laughed.
“I’m just ready to do it,” Kyle said as he was being prepped for surgery.
“I want my mommy,” Kyle whimpered as his IV was being administered.
His mother gave him a kiss on the forehead before he was wheeled into surgery; she was by his side when he woke up after.
At home, she placed compression socks on his feet, brushed his hair into a ponytail because he couldn’t lift his arms, and made his breakfast.
Sandra Mathis places compression socks on son Kyle Hollingsworth’s feet after his surgery. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder
The day after the surgery, Kyle sat in a reclining chair, drifting in and out of sleep, as he watched “The Great British Bake Off” on Netflix. Then there were bursts of laughter.
“When I look down and I don’t see boobs, it was like just this emotion I can’t even describe,” Kyle said. “It felt so good. The physical pain is definitely worth it to not feel the emotional pain anymore.”
Kyle Hollingsworth places his hands over his chest to soothe the throbbing pain from his surgery. “You know how when guys flex? That’s what it feels like it’s doing,” he said, describing his chest pain. “It feels like it’s doing that, but it doesn’t feel good.” Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder
Kyle’s next goals aren’t about his transition from female to male. He wants to pay off his $10,000 in credit card debt.
“I will have the first credit card paid off by August, and then I’ll pay everything else off within that year,” Kyle said. “By August 2019, I should be debt-free from credit cards.”
Kyle says his surgery taught him how to save money. He used to spend money as soon as he got it. He would even get payday loans occasionally to help fund the things he wanted.
“I think I feel so many things at once,” Kyle Hollingsworth said as he was prepped for surgery. “I mean, I feel anxious, nervous, happy, excited, sleepy… I feel all the dwarfs.” Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder
“I was like, there’s gotta be a better way to live,” he said. “I make way too much money to be living paycheck to paycheck.”
He figured out his income and how much he needed for his bills, groceries and basic necessities. From there, he started putting the rest of the money into separate bank accounts: one for miscellaneous spending, one for bills and one for his surgery.
Teriana Horn, 3, gives multiple high-fives to Kyle Hollingsworth as he recovers from his surgery. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder
Kyle found unexpected encouragement through social media after he changed his name on Facebook.
“It was just this overwhelming support that I did not know I had,” he said.
He started posting videos about the progress of his transition, from taking hormones to the days leading up to the surgery, the day of the surgery and his recovery.
“That really helped me continue be to be so open about my transition,” he said.
Kyle Hollingsworth has a tattoo that pays tribute to those who died in the Pulse nightclub shooting. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder
When Kyle came out as transgender, he told his ex-wife and his close friends first. “I think the most nerve-wracking [thing] was coming out to family,” he said.
He first told his mother, then his extended family.
Sandra Mathis holds Teriana Horn on her lap as Kyle Hollingsworth looks for chocolate-covered fruit to give to Horn. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder
Throughout his transition, he noticed his mother developed a new outlook on life.
“She’s kind of like this you-do-you-type of person now, which is cool,” he said. “I love my mom’s new attitude in life. I’m very appreciative (of her).”
Not all of his family share her new outlook, but he remains hopeful they’ll come around.
Kyle Hollingsworth becomes groggy after taking medication to ease the pain from his surgery. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder
When people use the pronoun “she” instead of “he,” Kyle can’t shake it off with laughter.
“It’s a worse pain than what I’m feeling right now,” he said, referring to the pain from his surgery. “It makes you feel not real. Not seen. Not valid. And it hurts. It’s just like, why would you want to hurt me? I don’t want to hurt you?”
His younger cousin, Teriana Horn, 3, calls Kyle by his name and by his proper pronouns. It’s like a reflex for her the way she corrects people when they call Kyle she or get his name wrong.
Two months after his surgery, Kyle moved back into his rented room in Orlando. Then in March 2018, he moved back home to South Florida.
“There was nothing left for me in Orlando,” Kyle said. “I was divorced. I lost my job. I have no family up there. There was nothing keeping me there. I wanted to come back home, be around my family and save money.”
Kyle Hollingsworth, right, spends a Saturday morning at Universal CityWalk with a friend, Lawrence Lambakis, left, who is also transgender. They spoke about Lambakis’ transition and the struggle of being accidentally misgendered in public.
After moving back home, Kyle moved into his aunt’s house. He’s living there rent-free, which will help him pay his credit card debt off quicker. His new job also pays him $6,000 more a year than his previous one.
“The universe has lined it up for me to get out of debt,” he said. “My goal this year is to save half of my extra income and pay off debt. By the end of the year, I’ll have less debt and more savings.”
As Kyle Hollingsworth leaves Universal CityWalk, he continues to smile. Strangers used the proper pronouns that day. “It was my first time out in public in a really large crowd like that,” Kyle said. “It felt nice to be seen.”