A transgender man desperate to get rid of his 42GG breasts before his wedding was forced to raise the cash for private surgery with food challenges – including eating worms, chillies and dog biscuits.
River-Jay Waterson, 29, formerly Jodie, from Gateshead in Newcastle, had proposed to his girlfriend Kelly Waterson, 37, on April Fool’s Day in 2016.
However, they decided to put the wedding on hold because River didn’t want to tie the knot while living as a woman.
Desperate to help, devoted Kelly began a series of online challenges on TikTok to raise funds for a breast removal surgery.
River-Jay Waterson, 29, formerly Jodie, from Gateshead, Newcastle, had been desperate to start his gender transitioning, so instead of waiting on the NHS he went private
River in his teenage years. He said he never felt like a typical girl, always enjoyed doing up cars, loved football and hated girly clothes
After three months of fundraising – including River shaving off hair and eyebrows as well as downing raw eggs on camera – the couple raised over 2k for the procedure.
In June 2021, River finally had the procedure in Wroclaw, Poland, after forking out £2,820.
And he was finally able to marry his ‘love of his life’ partner, Kelly in an intimate family ceremony near their home on 11th December 2021.
But River now faces a battle to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria on the NHS, meaning he can have bottom surgery and complete his transition.
In June 2021, River finally had his 42GG breasts removed in Wroclaw, Poland, after raising £2,820
Even if River opts for private treatment he cannot have the operation unless he has received an official diagnosis.
River, who is stepfather to Kelly’s daughters from a previous relationship, said his transition so far has been ‘a hell of a journey’.
He said said: ‘We met as women and we were in a lesbian relationship, but she [Kelly] has been nothing but supportive of my transition. She insists she loves me for me – regardless of gender.’
‘We did some mad dares to raise the cash we needed, Kelly has been such an amazing support ever since I told her I wanted to transition.
‘We were in lockdown so it was all online but we had amazing support. I couldn’t believe some of the dares Kelly did to help me raise the cash. She knows how important this transition is for me and my mental health.
River (right) and Kelly before he transitioned. The two met online in 2015 and hit it off straight away
River (left) with Kelly before he had his 42GG breasts removed. River said his breasts were so big he could never tape them down to try and hide them
‘The top surgery especially was a game changer – it wasn’t like I had small breasts easy to disguise, they were really big. Getting married as a man felt totally right.
‘I’ve got a long way to go though as there are other surgeries I need, so it’s not going to be easy.’
River during surgery in June 2021, in Wroclaw, Poland, which cost him £2,820
River after breast surgery with his surgeon in Poland in June 2021, he said after he felt more confidence than he’s ever felt before
Kelly said: ‘I would’ve done anything to make sure River became free from the chest he had. I ate eggs raw and oxo cubes on top of critters, it was gross but his happiness is my happiness.
‘We’re soul mates and have an incredible connection, regardless of his gender.
‘I patiently waited to get married because I knew how uncomfortable it would be for him without the first surgery and the hormones. Finally we are Mr and Mrs and that’s all I ever dreamed of!’
River (left) and Kelly during their wedding in Newcastle in December 2021, they had waited five years to finally be married
River (centre) with members of his family on his wedding day. He wanted to be a man when he got married to Kelly, and it was so important he was willing to wait
River and Kelly, who is currently not working due to ill health while River cares for her, met online in April 2015 and ‘hit it off’ right away.
After just a year dating they were engaged but River wasn’t ready to plan a wedding whilst still living as Jodie.
‘I was hiding from myself, I was scared I’d be judged,’ he admitted. ‘I’d always known I was different, I loved fixing cars, football and hated girly clothes. I didn’t know any other trans people or have any role models.
River (right) and Kelly, on their wedding day. Kelly is currently not working due to ill health while River cares for her
‘It wasn’t until I joined TikTok during the first lockdown that I saw other transgender people speaking out and it gave me so much confidence. I came out to Kelly and she accepted me immediately.
‘It was like I’d finally found a purpose for myself. Luckily my family were really supportive too, I just wish I’d done it sooner.’
Desperate to start transitioning, River contacted his doctor but was shocked to discover how long the NHS waiting list was for gender referral.
Instead of waiting he took matters into his own hands and began fundraising for private surgery whilst also purchasing testosterone online – something not recommended by doctors.
River now feels happier than he ever has. ‘Living as a woman had made me really depressed for years, some days I couldn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t spend two years on a waiting list.’
He said: ‘I just didn’t want to wait. Living as a woman had made me really depressed for years, some days I couldn’t get out of bed.
‘If the NHS couldn’t help straight away I had to do something as I couldn’t spend two years on a waiting list.
‘Although this situation isn’t ideal I do get up every morning with a spring in my step. It’s way better than the mess I was in before.’
Kelly and River began their online food challenges in May 2020 on TikTok, taking dares from strangers who then donated to their fundraising page.
After raising over £1,000 Kelly’s dad, Ken Loyd, 70, matched their efforts and coupled with their savings, River was finally able to book his surgery.
River (right) and Kelly. He’s now waiting for bottom surgery and is raising funds to make it happen because on the NHS he could be waiting up to ten years
He travelled to Poland in June 2021 for a five hour operation which cost £2,820. Along with flights and hotels the trip cost the couple nearly £4,000 in total.
On his return to the UK, River and Kelly were finally able to start planning their dream wedding before finally tying the knot at Gateshead Registry Office in December.
Despite overcoming several obstacles, River is still battling to have bottom surgery – and may face a 10 year wait on the NHS.
He has looked into an operation in Belgium which will cost £7,000, so the couple are doing their best to keep their fundraiser alive.
River said: ‘I won’t be happy until I’ve had it all done and I can live fully as a man. I’m ready to start my life again.’
You can donate to River and Kelly’s fundraising drive here.
Gender dysphoria is a term that describes a sense of unease that a person may have because of a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity.
Some people, for example, may have male genitals but do not feel masculine or identify as men.
Alternatively, some people with female genitals may not identify as women.
For others, they may feel they do not conform to having a ‘binary’ identity at all and will describe themselves as gender diverse or gender non-conforming.
Sometimes they will refer to themselves as ‘non-binary’.
Gender dysphoria and gender identity
Many people with gender dysphoria have a strong desire to live a life they feel ‘matches’ their identity.
Some people with gender dysphoria, but not all, may want to use hormones and sometimes surgery to express their gender identity.
Gender dysphoria is not a mental illness, but some people may develop mental health problems because of gender dysphoria.
Signs of gender dysphoria
People with gender dysphoria may have changed their appearance, their behaviour or their interests.
They may also show signs of discomfort or distress, including:
- low self-esteem
- becoming withdrawn or socially isolated
- depression or anxiety
- taking unnecessary risks
- neglecting themselves