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Real life experience

  • Posted on December 29, 2013 at 4:35 pm

I am just emerging into the third year of this blog, and yesterday, wanting to reflect on the past year, accidentally jumped back two years in looking for what I’d written. That was three months before full transition, and yet every bit as clear as now with regard to my gender, so at first I was confused. Then I went back to last year, as intended. Ah yes! I began dancing … and even that seems a lifetime ago.

Running through the grief and grouse that life has often been in the last few years, is a thread of great happiness to have resolved a lifelong threat to being an otherwise nice person. A while ago I left a short photo-trail on Facebook that sort of filled a gap between leaving my last job and starting this one. In three different hairstyles, through to my own hair growing out, I can be seen finding my new appearance, but always looking happy. I’d forgotten the pictures until a new Facebook friend was leafing through and ‘liked’ one. So the picture resurfaced, and attracted some lovely comments. There, I was happy; attractive enough, but different – not as relaxed and natural as I am now. But it was from only a couple of months after I left my last job, and at the time my family did not see me like this at all. I left a comment that I am glad I didn’t know what lay ahead of me at the time.

This time last year I was deeply happy to have discovered dance, after the trauma of my first Christmas unwelcome in my own family. I had a lot more to go through in the following months, but I did emerge with a full diagnosis as transsexual in the summer, and an autumn referral onward for full clinical treatment. Since when I have heard nothing. At this point, I have only three months to go until I have completed what is endearingly referred to as two years ‘real life experience’ for the benefit of Charing Cross Gender Clinic, and three full years since that early happy photo.

Smiles like that wear thin when you are left in limbo three years on. I have learned and gained a lot in this past year, not least to let go of what is not mine in this life to keep or expect. I feel well-grounded, relatively secure, grief is mostly in that ‘drawer of tears / for when the wind blows’ (poem). But following on from recent blogs, and as we enter 2014, allow me to ask you:

‘How is your real life experience going?’

Do you understand the question? Do you have a real life as opposed to an unreal one? Do you have an alternative life at all? Do you have any experience other than life? So how can anyone have a real life experience of anything other than themselves?

Of course I know it is a convenience for: ‘can you live permanently as you say you want to?’, which some people still refer to as ‘living in role’. But I have never regarded my life at any time as role-play either. Have you? So it is a curious construct that for people who identify as trans*, we create a bizarre idea that they can ‘try out’ gender as if it is an act, and see if the act feels real enough to perpetuate, and if they can perpetuate it, after two years it ceases to be a real life experience and becomes … what?

The photo of me, looking happy, on the rather lovely reclining leather sofa I was to leave behind, was, if anything, the end of an act, of living up to other people’s expectations. Life had been real enough, and certainly an experience, but in many ways it had been living in fear of being found out for being bad.

If 2011 was my biggest revelation, then 2012 was the most difficult of my life, and the most hurt. But 2013 has been a healing year in many ways. Friendships have been tested (and held, no thanks to me), and I have moved in new circles doing new things. I’ve read my poetry in several places, including Brighton Pride, survived pneumonia, and improvised dance without second thought in front of my peers. If anything, I have been more free to discover myself, express myself, and find people who understand. Not in a trans* world or community, but simply as myself in the world.

Maybe this is real life experience, and maybe it’s what we all should have, without a horizon, a milestone, a box to tick off. I like it, so why give it a beginning or an end? And what, if anything, has it to do with being trans*?

My other new year thought is for everyone out there who in the last 12 months has finally set out to be authentic after a life, however short or long, of being misgendered. It is a lovely thing to see people find themselves, against their personal odds, and stick with it.

And to everyone who reads this: enjoy your real life experience.

Yes, it is a diagnosis

  • Posted on December 24, 2013 at 7:12 pm

‘Diagnosis?’, she queried.

‘You say it like it’s a disorder.’

How do you reply to this? Actually it is a disorder, if the opposite is order. Certainly it is a condition, but we all have conditions. Who defines order, who defines a normal condition and a less usual condition and a rare condition, and in all of this, when is treatment enforced, when is it an option, and what (and who) is treatment for?

I explained that being transsexual is a diagnosis without which you don’t benefit from prescription hormones, let alone elective surgery. It was a very ordinary conversation in a way, and I reassured her that I don’t ever mind talking about the way I was born, if it helps another to understand it as normal, if variant. But I guess that her understanding has been that for me to live ‘as a woman’ is a choice, not that I am a ‘real’ woman.

It comes across in the way people treat you. As we left the party, we women hugged and wished each other a happy Christmas. The men shook hands with each other. Those with a little more wine inside, or who like to feel the ladies like them, hugged the (chosen) women, and shook hands with the men, or slapped a shoulder. One of the latter held a hand out to me … OK. Right. The second hand, I refused, hugged him, and said, ‘No, don’t do that!’ (I mean, one doesn’t flirt with a transsexual woman, does one?) So how does it feel when a transsexual woman flings her arms around you, pecks your cheek and wishes you a happy Christmas? It must be worse than sitting on Santa’s knee.

This week there was a news story of mixed origin but a sufficient reminder that transsexual women not so long ago were admitted to mental health departments and administered electro-convulsive therapy.

This week Uganda enacted draconian laws against homosexuality. An African academic delivered a lecture on homosexuality being part of very old African culture. Somewhere between the two, Judaeo-Christian doctrine and dogma has planted hatred with ideas of what is natural, divinely-ordained and ‘normal’.

This week Alan Turing, convicted of homosexuality and ‘chemically castrated’, and subsequently taking his own life, was ‘pardoned’. What?! He committed a crime, and has been forgiven? Because he (not the many thousand others) was still famous after 60 years?

And in the week since my last blog about ‘parental controls’ to protect children from the evils of the Internet, many voices have been raised, because children questioning or discovering their own gender or sexuality might discover that this is something bad that they should not know about. And if they come close to taking their lives, Samaritans may also have been blocked.

Also this week, I read a blog by someone born intersex. In respect, they used the term ‘hermaphrodite’, and at birth parents and doctors decided to allocate their choice of genitals. A lifetime of surgery later, this person feels abused and mutilated.

This stuff happens. This is humanity.

We do not all develop in utero to a societal dictat, and we are not deformed if we don’t fit it. Some are innately attracted to others with similar genitals. Some have ambiguous genitals, or none, and some have no thought about sexual relations at all. Some like to have sex with people with different genitals. Some have brains of one gender and bodies of another. Some of these desperately want to match them up, whilst others just want to be accepted.

You might expect a degree of anger. In one scenario I am calmly explaining how the centre of self and the brain knows your own gender – whatever that is felt to be – to someone understanding, and in the next I am facing a society that tells me I am inappropriate, disordered, a mistake of birth, not to be found online by children, and in some places a criminal.

People are kind; sometimes they offer help, to talk, or to express my difficulties. It’s lovely; really. But I don’t need help as a ‘problem person’. The only help L and G and B and T and Q and I and whatever people need, is to be allowed to live as ourselves without question, without a second thought, defined only by our own self-awareness, not by false conformity. I mean, who said or defined that human beings are binary heterosexual unless deformed or corrupted in some way? I lay much of this at the door of Western religious monopoly, which tainted philosophy for centuries, and psychology, and even the background to other medicine. And it is this which infects so many countries of the world where non-binary-hetero people are vilified, imprisoned and killed.

So who said that the human race is ‘meant to be’ binary-heterosexual? Have you ever regarded this as a condition you suffer from? Because if you aren’t grandiosely-lettered by LGBTQIA etc., this is your condition. You were born this way. Accept it. Take the label, if you want to label anyone else. And hey, if you could see this clearly, you might not limit yourself to your declared label either.

Christmas brings families together but also divides them. It is a complex time, not least for families where someone non-binary-hetero is excluded, treated differently, rejected, anything but accepted and loved. If yours is a family with someone who does not share your non-binary-hetero condition, and who is not fully included, think about how you feel about them, and above all, why. Maybe your condition is causing you real and unnecessary problems.

‘Yes, it is a diagnosis’, I said, removing my party hat. I didn’t say: ‘It’s just that society decided I needed one and that you didn’t.’

What’s your diagnosis?

Let’s talk over T (testosterone)

  • Posted on December 21, 2013 at 10:13 am

I don’t know which of us said it first. Three of us were discussing medical issues and lack of clinical care (well, interest, actually). Suddenly we were in complete agreement: blocking testosterone and the male sex drive was a huge relief. A single molecule has such an enormous impact – I’ve seen what it does to a male to female trans person, and envied it’s speed of transformation. But yes, losing that urge, the imperative to respond constantly to it, is heaven-sent.

Time and again over the past few years I’ve spoken with trans people at all stages and every variety. It’s a tough call when you have a contented relationship and good sex: if I lose my drive, will everything else crumble around me? Hell, I need sex, I love it! And what, you’re saying my libido will dive?? And yes, it’s a big thing, among all the other big things.

What is desirable?

I don’t believe that libido is the main factor in relationships and marriages destroyed by transition. Many marriages cope with that. The same applies to impotence; marriages survive. ‘Becoming the same gender as me’ is far bigger, and a partner unable or unwilling to explore the potential in a context of love may include libido in that deal. Which is interesting. Loving marriages survive impotence, lack of libido, disease, injury and surgery affecting genitals. Not always, but love does overcome. Nobody calls you (and you don’t call yourself) gay or lesbian or bisexual for finding new ways to be intimate and mutually satisfying for what has been lost, altered or rearranged. Being trans seems to be quite different.

So we also talked about orgasms. Yes, the female orgasm is different, yes we still achieve it, differently, and we understand it. And we still want it, though nothing like as much. Phew! In some ways I question whether I have lost libido, or just lost drive. Do I want sex? Hell, yes! But not because I am driven, but because I want that kind of loving sharing in my life, that kind of giving, that kind of being wanted.

Is it inappropriate to quote Shakespeare ‘Aye, there’s the rub!’ (appropriately from Hamlet’s ‘To be or not to be?’ soliloquy. Interesting, do read it!)?

Blockers and blockers

If this information is useful to you in your trans decision point, well and good. I sometimes meet people reaching the point I did three years ago, uncertain of what transgender and transsexual and gender dysphoria mean, and how prepared they are to discover their own position. These things are seriously important. I discovered the female orgasm long before I lost my sex life, and attracted hugely more attention in online comment than from anything else I wrote later about being trans! But now I have to worry that people who need to read these things will actually never reach my page. The idea of protection through Internet filters may seem good, but it is now blocking access to young people especially, from good information about their sexuality and their gender.

The message appears to be quite plain: learning about sex is bad, finding your gender puts you at risk. Web pages that talk about sex are bad for you and we can’t trust you. Why can’t we trust you? Because all those human beings with testosterone in their blood (like you, mainly) are out to corrupt you. Jane Fae has written about this (link at the bottom to one of her articles, do read it), pointing out that the cultural context of good and bad has also slipped out of our national hands. And this is in a month in which India and Uganda have been added to Russia and Ukraine in the news for savage repression of gay and lesbian people and issues. Precolonial societies had fewer problems with homosexuality and with transsexuality than after our western imports with their male god and male standards, based of course on testosterone, power and guilt.

Pornography

In the middle of this stands pornography. As old as drawing itself, sex is a human activity that has been portrayed as naturally as hunting and building houses. It becomes secretive and dirty when boundaries are stretched, when consent is absent, and when guilt is woven into it. ‘Have sex, but don’t look at anyone else having it’ is a curious construct that is about a lot more than privacy and monogamy. For very many young people, it is the only way to see what another person’s genitals actually look like, how they work and are used. Don’t most of us look at it and use it this way at some point? If we could do that objectively with grown-ups in the absence of embarrassment and guilt, maybe it would not be seen the same way. Can we not accept that male and female responses are a bit different? That it’s OK for you to find a naked male arousing, and for you to find a naked female arousing (whatever you are)?

Underlying much of our guilt and societal dysfunction over sex, pornography, sexuality and gender identity is something that we just don’t seem to want to let go of: testosterone is the power driver of western civilisation. And we allow it to be so. How many women remark that wars would not start if women were in power? That society would be calmer, fairer and kinder? I won’t digress into feminist politics here, but there is real truth in this. Women are subjugated, denied, reduced and treated as second to men, everywhere and every day. Testosterone makes men feel stronger, bigger, more important, driven, and also competitive and yet insular.

That, not the pictures within pornography per se, is the problem. The choice of portrayal, the manner of procurement, the route of delivery, the potential addiction, and the refusal to grasp the issues, are what result in the blocking, that may stop many people reading this page.

Back to blockers

The three of us like the effect of blockers, necessary until surgery relieves us of the underlying cause. No, I am not recommending this for all men, only recognition of this fact in our lives. And here is an interesting illustration (found here), if you would care to compare the top right (progesterone) and bottom left (testosterone) molecules. That little adjustment highlights how close our differences are, and yet what a world of difference they make:

compare hormone molecules

Let’s have the right kind of blockers then, supplied to those who need them, and understand what is being blocked and why. I’m glad you are able to read this. Some people won’t be able to.

 

Jane Fae’s article: Three embarrassing truths about Cameron’s porn filter

Straight talking

  • Posted on December 15, 2013 at 9:43 am

A week ago I was privileged to share time with a few friends to talk plainly about the more physical aspects of transition. I am still gobsmacked by the complete absence of clinical advice, guidance and care in this process. Google is our best friend, as indeed is YouTube. That also is scary, because in some countries and places Google is censored and YouTube belongs to Google, and the content we need is all about sex, genitals, gender expression and so on. Some things we really do need to see, and viewing late-onset pubescent breasts and a post-operative vulva is not just a curiosity but a necessity for us. It can all feel a precarious position to be in.

Care and share

Care itself is variable. I would hate to slate the NHS, because it is a doorway (and for me the only one) to full surgical treatment. But I also know that post-operative infection rates are higher than they should be, and that many people return for subsequent corrective surgeries because things weren’t right first time. This isn’t a criticism of the surgeons, more of aftercare, and the protocol differs between Charing Cross and private hospitals.

And still no word of an appointment to see the surgical team, only an answerphone call that wasn’t returned …

And so it was, 21 months after my transition that my breasts were seen by somebody else for the first time. No, nothing more than seen, but I wanted to know that my progress was normal, acceptable and OK. I learned what I needed to through comparison, and had some advice on good bras to buy for that bit of enhancement. Without embarrassment we talked about the surgical outcomes and about how a neo-vagina performs and compares. It is important. Surgeons won’t tell you that any more than the referring psychiatrists understand what it means to be trans.

And inevitably we talked about relationships: that is, family, friends and potential lovers, and how we find ourselves in a place, supported only by each other, with no support for the others to understand that we are a natural occurrence.

So it is all a mix of joy and frustration and slogging through doing our best, always hoping to be loved at less than arm’s length.

Straight talking

There has been another side to speaking this week. An earlier conversation revealed (or confirmed) that I am perhaps not exempt from sexist gossip or opinion in the more manual regions of my workplace. Why should I expect it? Other women experience the same, I just have another handle they can pull. Last night I walked in to play for a band I haven’t been with for maybe two years. Of course for some it was a double-take, others didn’t recognise me. But we are all friends, and great kindness and welcome was shown rather than curiosity or distance. But the male-dominated workplace can be different. Vocabulary, social place and expectation are all very different, and I have no pretensions about being the ‘odd’ person upstairs, the woman ‘who used to be a’, and maybe the T-word.

I don’t see them much and they don’t see me (it’s an upstairs-downstairs world). On Thursday I had to give a presentation about a project I initiated that will, hopefully, really benefit the whole company. It was to the whole company. Downstairs comes upstairs to hear from the MD the latest state of play in our fortunes and about major projects. I teetered on the brink of business suit style, looked at myself in trousers and jacket, and said no. I don’t need to bow to male privilege and presentation, nor to distract by being too pretty, so it was the smart skirt, blouse and scarf.

So why did I even think about it? The MD and another director weren’t smartly dressed, why should I even think about it? I guess it was in the back of my mind that I was going to be completely exposed in front of people who may talk about me but who don’t see me or work directly with me. I didn’t want to be compared with what a transsexual is supposed to look like. I wanted to leave an impression of complete normality.

The presentation went well, there’s a lot of hard work to do, and I fully expect that I was talked about rather than my project, and the place of my project might, by some, have been treated with less commitment than had I been a senior male manager. How can I not be treated differently?

A new colleague (very nice gay male) has seen a great deal more of the outside world in his first few weeks than I have seen in 18 months. I worry a little that I have been over-protected, or that I may be a slight embarrassment. I know that up until now, new colleagues have been told about me, to protect me from curiosity and misunderstanding. Very nice, but I don’t actually want this any more.

Honesty

All this boils down to straight talking and honesty. Let’s accept that transsexual people are not an object of curiosity, our issues are not about sex, and as people we are not somehow complex and troubled, except by the differing levels of acceptability by others. Here is something very simple and very accurate:

If I have a problem, it is only because you have a problem with me, and that problem is in you, not in me.

I believe that if I was treated as less anomalous, my clinical needs would be treated with the same seriousness as an achilles tendon, or an ear infection. Someone would look at my ankle or into my ear, would enquire about the outcomes of physiotherapy or the effect of my antibiotics, would be concerned with prompt treatment. These things would be spoken of between others with sympathy and concern, they could simply ask me how I am, how things are going, even with direct reference to the bits concerned. Maybe being trans is regarded like mental illness, unspeakable? Perhaps, with the added complication of some thinking their way under your clothes too.

But I think all I am trying to say is that the whole business of gender transition is only as bad as it is because as a society we have yet to talk about it as a naturally-occurring human condition that has nothing to do with ethics or morals or personality or anything other than the way we were born. We are not objects of curiosity, we are not dangerous or subversive, and we can speak for ourselves. But it is entirely reasonable to talk, dispassionately and with understanding, so that our lives can be better integrated.

Truth and reconciliation

  • Posted on December 7, 2013 at 10:26 pm

The whole world learned this week of the death of Nelson Mandela. I’ve heard and read a lot of opinion, recollection, reflection and analysis over the last few days, some seeking balance about a man who refused to renounce violence. But no-one can refute or deny that here was a man who changed the world. It wasn’t just his incomparable role in dismantling apartheid, nor his fortitude through 27 years in prison, rather it was his ability to seek reconciliation rather than revenge, and working together rather than division. He became the paradigm for truth and reconciliation, to be used as a model elsewhere and into the future.

Beyond politics, beyond nations, there is a principle in truth and reconciliation that was unique at the time, but which speaks in many situations now.

I tried writing a letter. I rewrote it. I asked myself how much I was writing for myself, and how much for the recipient. My expression of care and concern: was it because I wanted to be heard, or because there was something that did need to be said? Was it my place to speak? Or even be concerned? Was it more my seeking to be understood, or genuinely to help the other, where understanding might be helpful?

It was quite a quandary, and in the end the letter went into the recycling. I wasn’t sure about the motive, and in the end it became a much reflected-upon telephone conversation. It was, I felt, much-needed communication with my almost-ex wife who, I felt, has not really worked much out in a deep way about my transition. I shall never know what it is like to be faced with having an unexpectedly transsexual spouse. She will never know what it’s like to face up to being transsexual. Between us we have very deep questionings about the nature of love and the role of the body in showing and sharing love. Some find it easy, some impossible, some in-between. I guess that’s us.

Truth

I guess we both know the truth as we see it. I feel utterly rejected and betrayed because the worst I did was understand the way I was born and adjust to it. The best I did was to love in the same way as always and hope to continue. But what was forced upon me was the deepest and most honest assessment of my identity, my self, my expression of life itself, and I fell into place, looking and sounding somewhat different from the husband-as-was. I shed fear and self-hatred but gained the agony of losing the love of my life.

She was never rejected, nor her love, but must have felt my rejection of the male role that defined her role, quite keenly. It’s not really for me to say on her behalf. I do know that my female presence felt competitive rather than complementary, and must have challenged her sexuality. But she was not obliged to dig as deep, as I was, into her furthest recesses, and I expect has surfed the loss in order to keep going. Don’t we all do that much of the time? Yes, it’s easy to over-analyse, but it’s also a lot easier to cope with things by skating lightly on thin ice, hoping to get to the other side.

We each have truths to face full-on, if we are to remain balanced people. Mine is to recognise that even the most in-loveness and commitment does not signify unconditinal love. I have to accept that the reality of human love truly can be entirely contingent and dependent on being what’s needed. Yes, I was to a sufficient degree wanted for my body more than my loving, for my means more than my self.

It’s a truth, and it’s hard for me to chew on.

Her truth is that if indeed I was born female with male body bits, as per my complete clinical diagnosis, then she was married for over 30 years to a woman. That neither of us knew this possibility is immaterial. The truth is that I have not become a woman, I am just a woman who is finally aligning her way of life and body to what she is.

It’s a truth, and it’s hard for her to chew on.

Isn’t truth a difficult thing sometimes? It won’t go away by not thinking about it, or by making excuses for prior beliefs, and the best thing you can do with it is to speak to it, voice it and embrace it. We have to change to fit the truth, because it won’t change to fit us.

So why am I blogging this? Isn’t it just a tad unfair to be the one who always writes, and about pretty personal stuff? These dialogues are very one-sided when I write them out, and maybe I am inventing what my wife is really thinking, presumptuously and unfairly. I don’t know, because she hasn’t expressed these things as I have. All I can do is try my best to imagine what it must be like (see also, from earlier days: Who does she think she is?).

And that worries me on her behalf, and I know that she will be no more alone as a spouse/partner of a transsexual person, than I was as an emerging transsexual person myself. For every one of us who is married, there is a spouse coming to terms. As transsexual people, we get to know each other, go for diagnosis and resolution. They have little or no real support or help, no reason to meet, and have less to invest than we do. They can walk away and rationalise it as they wish. We can’t, and that makes it different.

And yet we reach a truth that makes sense. We are leaving fear, self-hate and denial, and finding self-love and acceptance. They may never do that, and rather find themselves feeling diminished, self-doubting and fearful, or in denial.

That’s why I write – to observe and present these difficulties as issues to properly resolve rather than avoid.

Reconciliation

I have sent over-long texts, emails and letters. I have been overwhelming in my self-explanation and insistence that I, myself, me, am still here. That what is in my head and my heart, my soul – is unchanged. More openly understood and expressed maybe, but not different. Don’t I deserve to be loved for myself?

I try to be honest about my motivations, but yes, I have often written just hoping for a touch of that old love, affection and partnership. Wrong fishing line, wrong hook, wrong bait. Truth must precede reconciliation.

So what is reconciliation? It means no more nor less than bringing together again. I don’t expect anything more than friendship, but it does imply acceptance of truth and being able to step beyond old understandings and beliefs into a shared space.

And divorce? Isn’t that about irreconcilable differences? Or is that also about unwillingness to face truths? Our grounds, for pragmatic reasons of a gender recognition certificate, had to be those awful declarations about my unreasonable behaviour in wearing women’s shoes (among other things) and being seen in public!

No, somewhere beyond all that crap, I hope that there may still be the kind of friendship that only 30 and more years of shared memories and parenting can give. But we shall not get there unless the truths are faced. My plea therefore, is that attention be given to spouses, partners and relations to properly understand that having a transsexual partner does not change you, and that recognition of the underlying nature of another human being does not change their intentions towards you. At present there is absolutely nothing available. If you are diagnosed with a debilitating disease, there is support available for carers. It is respectable to be related to someone who suffers. Not so if that someone is transsexual. It reflects on you, makes you feel you must be something you don’t like or respond to (OMG – don’t even suggest that I may be bisexual, let alone lesbian!!). It is not obviously OK to tell your friends and family that your beloved is trans. (See my early poem: Not like a bone.) But it is almost exclusively the response from friends, that leaving a trans partner is the only reasonable thing to do. How can you explain? No pressure there, then!

For me, reconciliation requires the wholehearted recognition that I have always been a woman, unknowingly having the wrong outward appearance. It is also a wholehearted recognition that human love is not what we idealise, but is (perhaps most commonly) contingent on outward forms and meeting expectations.

The Mandela motif

To the last, Nelson Mandela was kindly, warm, smiling, human, both ordinary and somehow supreme. He achieved world-betterment through both truth and reconciliation.

Dear partners, wives and husbands of transsexual people everywhere: your truths may be unpalatable and force changes in the way you see yourselves and the world, but they are truths. They alone stand between you and reconciliation. You don’t have to want that, of course. But they also stand between you and peace with yourself. Whether you stay in partnership or not, there is no point in not being reconciled with yourself, and no future in not resolving your truths, between you and yourself.

Sometimes the world is just not the way you have been used to seeing it. Sometimes it is not black and white.