Sandra Bullock spinning wildly, freely in space. ‘Untethered!’ – she remains professional, following communications protocol, completely unable to control her spin or direction. There is no traction in space, hurtling weightless around the planet. One person (George Clooney) has the capacity to save her, because he has a jet-pack. But he has too much to do, with what little resource he has … I won’t spoil the story if you haven’t yet seen the film Gravity, but I will recommend the 3D version, for the tears in space. The gravity of gravity I work in a place where the value…
- being out
- Bramley Press
- Charing Cross
- coming out
- conversion therapy
- cross dressing
- gender dysphoria
- gender queer
- genital surgery
- Grrl Alex
- marriage vows
- muesli love
- name change
- raw sex
- real life experience
- trans children
- transgender poetry
I was staring at thousands of emails in my inbox a few nights ago. Virgin Media seems to find it impossible to connect me with myself, or my old broadband account with my new – and will therefore delete my old email address in 30 days. No problem, except my laziness over I.T.-related geek-mails on doing stuff better, and old but interesting subscriptions on environmental issues. Nothing personal at all, just stuff. So why not make sure there’s nothing I really need in there, and delete the lot now? I never send on this email (for obvious reasons) so perhaps I should be thankful. Mind you, I used up most of my month’s phone allocation last month, in phoning Virgin Media about my current email address, which they also could not associate with the fact that they take money out of my bank account for broadband every month!
So, deletion it was. You will be familiar with that moment, when you don’t know for sure if ‘delete’ really means delete? Is this really gone forever, or just in trash/recycling? (And own up, have you never rescued a crumpled up email from the trash bin on your PC?) And bit by bit, all those old and largely forgotten or unwanted emails flew away (you do know that if you hold the Shift key while pressing Delete, there are no second chances?). Job done, and less risk of my emails blowing apart from overcrowding in the folders.
I relived this today. Off I went to Charing Cross (Gender Identity Clinic), in elated expectation that I might get a bit of a schedule for surgery. It’s been four months since I had a full diagnosis sent to my GP. No more questions, I thought. Finally, I have been understood. I’d been given the impression that I was looking at spring 2014 for an end to all this. I was really excited that at last, this would all be over. I was imagining dancing in leggings without the tunic, sitting on the beach in a swimsuit, swimming again, maybe even finding an intimate relationship …
Instead I found myself going over the same ground all over again. I can’t remember how many times to how many people I’ve rehearsed the same things. I even had to sign a form saying I’m white, British, for the umpteenth time. OK, ink is cheap, but my life isn’t. I really couldn’t believe it. No, the clothes were never a fetish; no things I wore from the age of 14 were not sexual. No, I repeat no, I do not doubt this. (You know, some people feel just like you do, and then decide it isn’t for them?) I have not thought for a fragment of one moment that I am perhaps after all, not a woman. Not one fragment of a fragment. You see people every day, you hear their stories, but you will never know what it feels like to know what you are, in this way, to be of a gender at odds with your bits. Have I noticed any body changes after taking hormones for 15 months? For fuck’s sake, these are my boobs!!
Nothing was contributed today, other than to satisfy yet another person that I should be referred for surgey. OK; I think I get it now:
- You go to your GP.
- Your GP refers you to local psychiatry (you wait 2 months).
- Your local psychiatrist recommends your GP refers you to the gender clinic (you wait another 2 months for this letter to travel 3 miles across town).
- You get the referral date – in all, a wait of 6 to 9 months to see a psychiatrist at the gender clinic.
- The first psychiatrist agrees you should get a second opinion, so back to the beginning of the same queue … (you wait 7 months for this appointment).
- You see a second psychiatrist, who confirms a diagnosis as transsexual and recommends your GP prescribes hormones.
- You stop buying your own hormones …
- 4 months later you go back to the gender clinic and see another psychiatrist, who agrees with the previous one, who agreed with the one before, who agreed with the one your GP sent you to … who agreed with your own diagnosis of gender dyspohoria.
- 4 to 6 months later you see the surgical team and once more (with feeling) you go through the options and risks that you’ve already researched in gruesome detail on the Internet and with post-op friends.
- (At this point I shall get my GRC (gender recognition certificate), followed by a replacement birth certificate.)
- 6 to 9 months after that, you probably get your operation date.
That’s how it goes in the very best scenario, and, to be fair, mine has been. I didn’t present to my GP until I was 100% sure about myself. I attended the clinic long after self-prescribed hormones. I received my full diagnosis 14 months after transition. I had my final referral out of mental health, into surgical, 18 months after transition. I shall have full legal recognition of my gender, down the very last deletion of my male assignation, six months before surgery. The whole journey to finding out that gender dysphoria was a diagnosis that fitted me, to the end, will be four years.
And you know, in all that time, no-one has asked or offered a blood test? My GP won’t do anything without explicit instruction from the clinic, and no-one has looked at my breasts to see how development is progressing. Gender transition is 95% do-it-yourself. (They don’t hand you the scalpel!)
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ungrateful in any way, just very, very frustrated, that after a lifetime’s struggle, at the age of 56, I’m still being asked today:
‘Do you really want to delete?’
‘Are you really sure?’
’If you press delete, you will, in fact, be deleting this file. Are you sure?’
I am holding my Shift key down very firmly and pressing Delete even more insistently.
The only other option is Ctrl+Alt+Del
I think you know what that means.
For trans people living in the south (no, I said trans not trains!) the name Charing Cross carries a lot of emotion and feeling. I also remember it from the book 84 Charing Cross Road, but of course the place in question is in Hammersmith. And today, in the rain. A lot. You first learn of it as a place many (and some very well known) people have traipsed their years away to, and found resolution for their gender identity. Then you realise that it is part of West London Mental Health Trust, responding to gender dysphoria (or rather the physiological state of having a brain in one gender and a body in another) as a mental disorder. OK, since DSM V dropped the disorder bit, it isn’t that, but it is still in the mental health diagnostic manual, not in the physiological/hormonal disorders manual.
And so you are placed in the hands of psychiatrists. I saw my second psychiatrist today. When I see my third, for a Charing Cross second opinion, they will finally draw the conclusion that I am of perfectly sound (female) mind – and that the reason I have spent so much money, time and emotion (and pain), come to the edge of suicide (and backed away), lost pretty much all I hold dear, and live alone happier than I could have imagined, supporting myself in a full-time job where I have only ever presented as a woman – is because my body developed with male attributes while my brain didn’t.
Frustrating. People aren’t always as clear as I am, and some transition partially, retreat, reconsider, transition again, have doubts, cling onto things they feel more important, and maybe never decide to physically transition. But they do this after many years, not just after a short while. And so the conversation online today has gone over the value of what is called the ‘real life test’ or more accurately now, ‘real life experience’ (RLE). Basically it means you prove, through witnesses like employment, and people who can vouch for you, that you have lived exclusively in a gender not assigned at your birth, for two whole years.
And it is a dangerous frustration. For a mental health approach, insisting on persisting with the cause of all the distress, indeed placing it all under some unreasonable pressure and risk, hardly seems conducive to good mental health. Why? Because people like me seek out medications before they are available on prescription. Losing hair matters when you are older, and entering puberty matters when you are young. These things are irreversible. Nowadays, young people can have their puberty arrested. But no-one is going to give me anti-androgens while my hair recedes. But also because we have to go many months without seeing anyone at all, during which time we are given the task of unsupported RLE. I was asked today if I would like help with my voice. Of course I bloody would! ‘Sir’ on the phone is immensely hurtful, especially when you have to explain. And yet you can’t even get voice therapy until the third psychiatrist has approved your status as genuinely being the gender you are already living in, for one year.
OK; so you pay for your own laser, electrolysis, prosthetics, wigs, voice therapy, counselling, hormones (this is not a personal endorsement of the practice, just that so many feel compelled to) etc. and do your best, while your world is collapsing around you – and call it real life experience. I suppose if you get through that, you get through anything. But not everyone is as strong or resilient as I am, and I wonder how many ‘fail’, suffer or perhaps die along they way because it becomes too much. I am not alone in finding that I may well be able to obtain my Gender Recognition Certificate and change my birth certificate gender, before I can complete surgery to correct things.
I do understand that for some, being given time and space is important for self-understanding. Let’s not rush anything; maybe you aren’t completely sure, or able to be. But some of us really are. Waiting for treatment is wasted treatment time.
Is this the best way for the health professionals to make sure they aren’t sued for passing anyone for surgery who isn’t prepared to sign an indemnity instead? Yes, I would sign in blood that I would rather die as a woman within a year, than have to live ever again, and for however long, as a healthy man.
Real Life Experience
Could it be anything other than Life?
Is life ever either not real or not experienced?
Do we ever experience anything other than real life?
I have been tested. For around 40 years I did not know what was wrong, why I was an outsider among men, why I wanted what I hated myself for. That was real. Very real, and very uncomfortably real. At times it tore me apart inside, it was that real. And it was life, and it was my experience. Ultimately, I failed at ‘living as a man’.
For around 18 months I tried to live a dual gendered life. To hang onto the person I loved most in all the world, to a partnership I valued above anything else, to a shared life that was safe and mutually supportive. I tried. It was life, and it was my experience, and again, ultimately, I failed. That’s two tests, thoroughly lived and experienced that could have destroyed me. What else can I try? Supposing as a woman I fail again. What else could I be, without losing reality, losing life and therefore ending experience?
This is not Real Life Experience for me. This is what happens when all the tests are already done and over. I failed at all the other options, whereas this one has given me a sense of reality, of living, that I never knew I was allowed to experience. I know what I need to complete this picture, and that knowledge gets harder to live with, without resolution, each day. And yet, without any support, I must continue, waiting for appointments for opinions, for treatment, whilst doing my best to convince the world that I am not forever in a transition, but really what I say I am.
There is nothing else. That’s what makes me so … Charing Cross!