The Interview: Thomas Manning, America’s First Penis Transplant Recipient

He has a lot to say.

You kept the fact that you were planning to undergo transplant surgery a secret from your family until just before the procedure. Why is that?

I initially had told some people, but then the doctors canceled plans for the procedure. I didn’t want to tell my family again that I was going to do it, and again have it not happen. I wanted to wait, and for them to know that it was really happening. I had been telling them for four years how I wanted a transplant and I think many thought I was just blowing smoke. I just didn’t want it to be a false alarm. That would’ve been a huge disappointment for me. I knew this was going to be a big deal.

What was your family’s reaction?

Some of them didn’t find out until they saw me on TV talking about it. I don’t know how they all feel about it. Some of them came to the hospital.

Were you concerned about being stigmatized, given that this is such a rare procedure and such a socially sensitive part of the anatomy?

Any time you’re dealing with the penis, vagina, or breasts, it’s sex, sex, sex. Everything gets blown out of proportion and becomes “dirty.” When you’re dealing with this straight up and bluntly, it’s really just life itself. Life is dirty sometimes. I really wasn’t concerned with it too much.

Walk me through the first time you looked at your new penis. What was going on in your head and what was your initial perception?

It was tough. It was black and blue—and I mean black and blue. I was all cut up—I had stitches everywhere. I took one look at it three days after the surgery, and I was in shock. It knocked me down and I couldn’t believe it. I looked at it a couple of times and then I didn’t want to look at it anymore. I wanted it to heal and do what it’s supposed to do. If I were to keep looking at it and dwelling on it, it would’ve gotten to me and I didn’t want it to. So I gave it time, and when it was ready, it would be ready. I didn’t look again until a week later.

Where are you in terms of recovery? Is there still a chance that your body could reject the transplant?

It’s not like you’re dealing with a kidney or liver. You can see if it’s working or not. My doctors tell me your body can reject it at any point. But so far, so good. The doctors tell me I’m doing well.

So is the team of surgeons closely monitoring you and documenting your progress?

I won’t have full feeling there until March, but they think I’m ahead of schedule. I’m at the hospital frequently.

Many people would shy away from talking about this. Why are you so candid, and what has the response been?

I have a choice. I can be up front or I can hide. If I lie about it, then it turns into another lie after another lie. I’m just not in the mood to cover up something that I just don’t have to. If other people can’t deal with it, they can’t deal with it. I mean, it’s always going to be there, so what am I going to do?

What was it like to go on national television to discuss your experience?

I was on The Dr. Oz Show, and people still stop me and ask about it. You get so many different responses. The majority of people are pretty intrigued and don’t give me grief about it. I know people have jokes, but I won’t let anyone joke about the donor. I won’t tolerate that. That donor can’t fight for himself, so I have to stand here and be his surrogate and speak for him.

Is there any type of physical therapy that you have to go through?

No. The only physical therapy I had was initially getting out of the hospital, and whether I could walk up the stairs. There’s not a lot of physical therapy you can do for this, if you know what I mean.

How does it work? What is a successful outcome in the eyes of your doctors, and what is a successful outcome in your eyes?

The first milestone was, could I use the toilet? They didn’t think that would happen for a while, but they were very, very happy with the progress because it happened so fast. They say I’ll be able to do everything I’m supposed to do—go to the john, have a sex life, and regain full sensation. In my eyes, if I have to live without one of those things, then I learn to live without. I’ll learn to live with what I have. I expect to be in and out of the hospital for a long time. There are so many things involved here.

Based on what you’re telling me, I assume you’re not able to masturbate or have sex with your new penis?

Not yet, and I’ll tell you up front, I’m not even going to attempt to do that until March, maybe longer.

Are you nervous about that?

I’m not dwelling on it. You know, it’s important to me that I can do that. If [sex or masturbation] does happen, it would be a miracle, if you really think about it. I mean, when you think about what I had four years ago compared to what I have now—that’s a lot. It’s emotional for me. I get emotional about this. I sometimes want to be alone to think about how I really feel about this. I belong to a very exclusive club.