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Trans Children

  • Posted on October 30, 2016 at 8:32 pm

What nobody knows, is that I was a trans child.

Correction: what nobody knew.

And yet, no correction: I doubt if anyone, even now, can imagine that I was a trans child. I was confused, troubled inside, private. I misinterpreted everything about myself, I misunderstood, and coming into puberty, came to hate a kernel of myself. Ah, but I was a child.

‘Children can be so confused. Phases. It takes time. Don‘t make it worse by telling children about sex, about gender, about emotions.’

This last week or two, there have been trans children in the news. Or rather, there have been the parents of trans children in the news. If I want to be scrupulously fair, there have been parents of children who have said they are trans, in the news. And in the news because the parents are accusing others of telling children that they can be trans, and therefore confusing them.

Experts? Who needs them? A refrain of our times, it seems. A lefty plot is undermining our values …

But at least these children are being made aware of their possibilities. Children are not harmed by allowing them to find an expression they find more in alignment. You cannot make a boy wear girl clothes in any way that will leave them compliant and happy, if they feel it is completely wrong. You cannot make a child trans any more than you can make them gay or lesbian. Trans is not a behaviour.

They will not, they cannot, be clinically harmed through this freedom, because at the very most they will be given hormone blockers to slow down puberty while they find their identity safely. The alternative, to grow breasts that must be compressed and later removed, or to drop a voice that can never be ‘unbroken’, and a skeleton that will proportion wrongly – is a cruelty far in excess of potential ridicule for perhaps having worn a dress for two years, then changing their mind. Gender queer is also OK. Gender denial, and binary enforcement, these are the attitudes that do the harm.

And we know from children surgically assigned a convenient gender from birth (accident – look up David Reimer, for example – or intersex), that nothing will change the felt gender of an individual. This is the true abuse of children in matters of gender and sex: to presume you know better than they could tell you about themselves.

I was a trans child

When I was growing up, a giraffe was a giraffe. In fact until this year, no-one realised that there are four species, which makes the surviving population of each much smaller. Most people still don’t know, but would believe you when presented with the scientific analysis. And yet transgender research? Why should that be different? I also remember the catch-you-out joke at school: ‘what was the world’ biggest continent before Australia was discovered?’

We could continue teaching the single-species giraffe in schools. We could ensure schools never talk about gender, that they never separate it from sex. We could go on ignoring that maybe as many as 2% of the population have an intersex condition. We could go on teaching that gender is just a personal preference, that it can be induced or socialised. But it just doesn’t work that way. To teach otherwise is to distort the facts. To not teach it at all, is to leave society to make its mind up, as if our existence were an opinion, or to be erased. To forbid teaching the true nature of gender would be to consciously damage the life chances of many thousands of children.

Nowadays, children can look up online how they feel about themselves. They can communicate with other children and come to understand themselves in context. They can even find that being non-binary, or queer, is a perfectly acceptable state of being, even if that, too, is tough to live in a binary world. Schools and teaching are not just about the trans kids, but all the others growing to make the next generation. Their understanding and acceptance matters just as much. They need not to be the haters and hiders of the future. We need honesty.

No-one was directly dishonest with me. I honestly think no-one around me knew anything at all. Girly boys were sissies, or worse, might be homosexual. Tomboy girls were just that, and joined in boys’ games more easily anyway. A girl could wear jeans, women wore trousers or ‘slacks’. Only a Scotsman could wear a kilt. Anything else was seen as a fetish or a perversion. In this context, no child (like me) was ever going to risk talking about the inseparable sex and gender.

This is how I was a trans child who was never seen as a trans child. I did not become trans because I discovered the diagnosis of gender dysphoria. Australia was there long before Captain Cook appropriated it. And there were always four species of giraffe, maybe more.

So whenever you read or hear about, or meet a transgender person, whether they are ‘out and proud’ or secretive, you are seeing a trans child grown up. Many will be able to express clearly that they knew from a very early age. Many will have made the transition much later in life. Most will have either lost the childhood they could have lived, or suffered and struggled for not fitting in. For most, parental understanding or not, will have played a major role. This means that you will find it hard to picture the trans adult as a child in their current gender.

My birth certificate says that I was born a girl.

I still think that most people will feel that this is not quite correct.

I was a girl, who played with Lego, Meccano, made radios, had a model railway. I had ‘Action Man’, but preferred the frogman and spaceman, and medic, to the guns. He married my sister’s Sindy doll, if I remember right.

I was a girl who had to wear grey shorts and school cap, envying the skirt and beret my sister had.

I was a girl who was sent to (achieved …!) a boys’ grammar school. Which thankfully later went co-ed and moved into the girls’ grammar school buildings.

I was a girl who wanted to spend break times with other girls, and who partnered another girl in chemistry practicals, and played French horn with another girl on piano. (Quite normal now, this was not how it generally was then.)

I was a girl who desperately needed the close company of other girls above boys, and others worried about this.

Knowing you’re not like other boys, is not good enough. Knowing you are not a boy (and that this is OK) is important – even if you eventually work out you are not a girl either.

Let me be that girl

Even now, I want you to understand that however you dressed me, addressed me, or thought about me, it was wrong. Not deliberately, back then, but still it was mistaken.

Un-knit your memories and allow me to fully own that girl.
I need better than two separated lives,
held in your perceptions.
I need to be Australia before Cook.
By your best endeavours, recognise that
I am not your discovery.

And when you read, hear or see about transgender children, please denounce the media who perpetuate their own distaste and hatred, and understand that many like me did not survive – because of course we all know there is only one giraffe. And we all need to know, share and teach this, properly.

What about the children?

  • Posted on June 20, 2015 at 10:48 pm

OK, so there’s a lot going on in my life still. My partner and I are stepping into another phase of not so much coming out, as realising that disclosure is a complicated package. Disclosure in this case is unwrapping the fact that we are a same-sex couple from two different countries and back-cultures, of very different age, where one of us is transsexual, a matter requiring explanation in its own right. That’s difficult when I am unfamiliar with German websites that tell a clear and factual account of what trans anything or everything means. I wouldn’t want to introduce any confusion over cross-dressing and drag and how I am. I even need still to explain to people in English that half the trans spectrum is what you do and half is what you are.

My crash course in learning German from the rudiments of 30 years ago will not equip me in time to hold that meaningful sensitive conversation with the other family …

The bigger problem may actually be our age difference. We have to acknowledge our own anxieties about the distant future, because the raw numbers are unavoidable, and temper them with ‘now’, and ‘love’ and ‘kindness’. It is an interesting perspective in its own right, because I suspect we both eschew the standard expectation of ‘meet in your twenties, marry and live happily ever after’. We both start from base-points different from this, we both look at our pasts and wonder why it took so long to get where we are, and want to do or achieve so much more. What we have now in each other is much more than falling in love, and we want to do something with it, not have to worry about decades ahead, nor have to explain our unusual combination as partners. We must use our time well, and make these the best years of our lives, because they are dynamic and good.

Whatever parts of our unusual partnership cause others concern (lesbian, intellectual, mixed-age, mixed-nationality, transsexual etc.) we should have no requirement to make anyone else feel comfortable with it. This theme has run through a lot of my blog narrative from the start. I have been very open in order to avoid misunderstanding, to inform, and to head off opinionated gossip. I have been an education, and now together, we are being an education. Bugger ‘what’ we are in any aspect – we have a deep respect and love for each other, and a great ease in living together. That in itself is more than many have. But whether it’s my ‘Midas touch’ description, or last week’s disingenuous interjection in the theatre, we are always among people who would prefer us to conform to their ideals, even if they say we are not problematic.

Which brings me back to the ‘think abut the children’ phrase that gets trotted out as some kind of moral protectionism, when all it is in fact is a human shield against adult prejudice and fixity. Whether the concern is about gender or sexuality, it matters for all those transgender and transsexual children whose status is at last being understood, and all those children who are educated and informed enough to know that being born non-heterosexual is not immoral. Gender and sexuality are not acquired and are non-contagious. People who are non-cis-heteronormative are not a movement or a lobby and we do not undermine society. And yet we are compared to nuclear weapons, blamed for earthquakes, and for violence in society through undermining the moral fabric. We are not actually liked for being the way we were born, because we challenge cultural ideals.

We are not the children our parents thought we were, so often. They, who were once children too, acquired an idea of what would make them ‘successful’ and applauded parents, and we may disappoint them. If we are very young, we place them in an awkward position with other parents and with their own parents and friends. If we are adult, we challenge their expectations of being proud parents, or perhaps grandparents. The core message to all of us is that we must listen to children and not assume we are right and they are too young to know. Further, that by impressing our negative views on them about sexuality and gender being a lifestyle choice, we are suppressing the truth and risk making them repressed as individuals. Children need no protection against same-sex couples, nor against transgender people. They need to know, so that they don’t repeat the same prejudice and fear, and are free to find their authentic selves. Only by doing so can they grow up as whole people, without the struggles that I and my partner are still facing as mature adults in family, peer circles and society at large.

Dressing up, dressing down

  • Posted on November 1, 2014 at 12:56 pm

Last night was Halloween: all hallows (saints) eve, originally for remembering the saintly dead. It has gone from a remembering or an honouring, to a commercial amalgam of all kinds of festival elements and large-scale imports of US activities, that currently is dishonouring of the dead and, increasingly, dishonouring of the living. The misuse of cultural identities in fancy dress has now extended to parody of disability and mental illness.

I would rather go with Samhain as it was (elements came into Halloween in order to Christianise it, including moving the date of All Saints Day). It is still useful to recognise that the old dies so that the new can come, revitalised. And even that the dead stays away. We may not doubt it, and ensure it with ritual, but being actively reminded of the cyclical nature of things in my opinion is good. This year in the UK the autumn season is blurring summer long past its expected end; the year is refusing to die in some ways. Shopping in shirtsleeves in November doesn’t seem quite right, and bees and butterflies are still around. The interwoven cycles that depend on the seasons and their timing will be distorted, and some dependencies of one species on another will break down as expected food sources aren’t there later.

A few weeks ago it did get chilly, and I swapped around my wardrobe and seasonal suitcase, pulling out the warmer clothes. There’s something of old friends about this: clothes you haven’t seen for a good six months. But outside my window, just as I feel uncertain about what to wear, the trees are still very green, some only just starting to turn yellow. They are just going with the flow: if the sunshine and rain are both there, it’s leaf time. Dressing down for winter will come, and I will dress up.

What is it with dressing up, though

I have rarely been to fancy dress parties, including Halloween. Quite apart from the gore and horror, I actually don’t like doing it! Ironic, surely? One of the big not-so-secret things about Halloween in the USA, is the occasion it has long provided for people to wear clothes of the ‘opposite’ gender. For some it may be opposite, but for people with unanswered gender identity questions, or who are closeted transgender, it is a chance to be hidden in plain sight, especially if they do it rather well. A friend showed me a photograph of his great grandfather, and friend who is dressed as a woman in a European national costume. The friend looks so completely natural that we have our doubts as to whether this is indeed just fancy dress. I included a poem Found Images in my first collection Realisations, on this theme some time ago.

And then so many trans* people can remember their earliest days of shucking around in their mother’s high heels, wearing girls’ things from the dressing up box. I did, a bit. And yet for some reason I always found dressing up (when other people were around) hugely embarrassing. Even the thought of it made me feel awkward. My wife might speak about dressing up as meaning dolled up, glad rags and all that. Of course, if you aren’t about to get your best dress out, there isn’t a lot you can do. Suit? Loud tie? Least-worn shirt that isn’t just a stripe? The jumper you would never wear for work?

The first time you fully dress to go out (or even share time with someone else) in clothes not of your assigned/presumed gender you can feel a mess of mixed feelings. Are you doing it inconspicuously; are you prepared to be noticed; are you comfortable? Because for sure you are making a statement and opening yourself up to anything from surprise to ridicule. If dressing up is already a hugely embarrassing thing anyway, allowing yourself to feel natural can be very hard. But what are you doing?

I can’t remember how many times I trotted out: ‘They aren’t women’s clothes, they’re my clothes!’ I was not dressing up at all, I was just wearing what felt right. My very first description to my wife, the day she returned after a weekend away, during which I had bought and worn women’s (outer) clothes for the first time, was simply: ‘it just felt perfect’. Fateful words.

Over the following two years, I felt too painfully close to the world of cross-dressing (transvestism), which I came to see clearly was not the right description for me. It was a curiosity for me that some would go to events dressed in male clothes, where ‘dressing facilities’ were available. They would socialise in clothes of their preference, then change and return home. Being dressed ‘as a woman’ was not dressing up (maybe sounding too child-like) but simply ‘dressing’. For me, that all seemed very sad, and I could never be comfortable with ‘dressing’ any more than I could with ‘dressing up’. Surely, all my clothes were simply my clothes.

What is it with dressing down?

More verbal ambiguity in English! Dress-down Friday is a workplace idiom (again from the US and Canada) meaning to go to work casual, instead of in business attire. It’s a relaxation to make people feel more comfortable and less formal. A dressing-down, on the other hand, is a reprimand of military origin, where insignia of rank are stripped off as punishment and demotion.

Being myself was never a matter of dressing up, fancy dress, or feminising. It was just a matter of getting used to clothes with more variety, more shape and style, more colour and pattern, and that felt right. But I wrote here long ago about how female to male transition increases the honours, whereas male to female transition is a removal of status, privilege and rank. So if anything my ‘dressing up’ was ‘dressing down’, even though it increased my own comfort enormously. My style at work was not executive (a woman dressing ‘up’ to look as important as a man) nor dressing down (jeans and tees), because I had no inclination to look like a man in either direction. I wanted actively to look different to how I was before, and so for three years I almost never wore trousers or jeans. And to be honest, female-cut jeans can be awkward!

Dressed up? Dressed down? Oh, the Grand Old Duke of York … and when he was only halfway … he was neither.

There are huge quandaries for people in transitioning. Your sense of identity is changing on the inside, and may not settle for some time. You may be gender queer, or androgynous – or anything. Are clothes too certain a statement, or not certain enough? Don’t go buying an expensive dress if you soon decide you are trans-butch! But people do worry about presenting at a gender identity clinic saying they are female, but dressed in jeans and jumper. Are you really full-time? Full-time what?

The bottom line is that for other people seeing you around, your clothes signify something, like feathers on a bird: brown=female, colourful=male (yes, birds are largely the other way round!). This should not mean, however, that you have to dress to impress. ‘Today I am dressed as a woman dressed as a man!’ should be OK, and in fact you might feel perfectly female in a suit, or in jeans and tee. But it seems that even ordinary clothes are a form of dressing up to communicate. I’m in this party.

Finding a balance

This morning there will be people around here who are exhilarated by cross-dressing on Halloween. This morning there will be wives, partners and friends breathing a sigh of relief that the clothes have gone away, and that the clear pleasure shown last night need not be seen again for some time. Grayson Perry is OK because Grayson/Claire is a flamboyant artist. Drag is OK because it’s mainly part of flamboyant gay culture. It’s dressing up. But please, please don’t tell me that what you did last night was not really dressing up at all.

Clothes define no-one, and they don’t classify anyone. They don’t give you an identity and they don’t change you. You change them. Some of us need to work with clothes freely, in order to find what really fits. Not to add insignia or status, but to dress down to what is really comfortable. This changes, and sometimes we need to be assertive (all the times I was the only woman in the room wearing a skirt) and sometimes we need to be clear. But it is for no-one else to use your clothes to define or categorise you either. Maybe you need to be smart and presentable for work, maybe you want to do fancy dress (but please think about why you are choosing what may be a parody of someone else’s life), maybe you want to be safe and practical. Be prepared to change as well, and to allow clothes to express you, not define you, because who and what you are is your business.

I objected a year ago to wearing a sexist brass band uniform, stood by my principles, and left. At the time, a compromise would have damaged my sense of identity. The first thing I did after surgery? I bought trousers; and now I wear trousers and jeans quite a lot. They fit, not just physically, but mentally too, and I am never mistaken for wearing them.

Dressing up? Dressing down? I just get up in the morning and get dressed. And I do have a posh frock or two, ready for those still-hoped-for special occasions with someone special. Ah well!

Writes, rights, rites

  • Posted on October 13, 2014 at 9:49 pm

Yesterday I got round to a browser tab I’d been saving for a week or so. It felt like it needed time, and I’m glad. It was a survey by Loughborough University on the revised ICD-11 diagnostic criteria, very thorough and thought-provoking, and took two hours. It was all about the terms and words used to treat gender dysphoria (in current nomenclature), and whether ‘gender incongruence’ is better or worse. And about whether a clinical diagnosis is relevant, necessary, and if it should be classed as psychological. All this, divided by under-12 children, adolescents 12-15, and adults.

Writes

I had by this time also expressed another niggle on Facebook about gender recognition (the Act, Panel, and Certificate), because last Friday the Gender Recognition Panel met with my papers in hand, to decide whether I met the criteria of being a woman. I shall know in the next few weeks. I’ve written previously about the indignity of this, not least because my gender is of no consequence to anyone else but me, let alone a subject to be policed by people with no experience of gender dissonance, dysphoria or incongruence. And at my expense. I have also signed up for another survey, on my experience of the impact of the Gender Recognition Act. It has all been on my mind recently, since the Act contains unfairness, injustice, verbosity and bureaucracy.

It also came at a time that a news story has been circulating in print and on UK morning TV, about someone detransitioning. The media coverage has been bad, in terms of sensationalism, gross inaccuracy, misleading information, and undermining the 99 per cent successful outcomes of gender treatment. Here, a man (who still says on TV ‘I am a woman’) says it has been too difficult (after 10 years) to live as a woman. Their treatment has been testosterone-blockers and oestrogen, coupled with breast augmentation (reported – I guess wildly exaggerated – as FF). Their treatment was described as costing £10,000 (‘of taxpayers’ money’), which is the standard figure quoted for genital reconstruction surgery, despite this surgery never having taken place. Media preference for inventing a good story aside, this person had a choice, and still does. There is nothing disgraceful or sensational about that. This, to me is just a marker of being gender queer, not gender dysphoric in the more common binary sense. It’s a bit like a prominent lesbian writer who has recently said that she chose to be lesbian. That to me is a clear marker of being bisexual. Where there is choice, even where there is preference, there are people who fall outside the binary view. Surprise, surprise! The binary is an invention of a simplistic world that does not encompass the breadth of human experience.

The point, however, is that all this writing (yes, like this blog) is but one viewpoint, given an appearance of authority by the media. The detransitioner urged massively more psychological screening at gender clinics, which might drive more to suicide than it would save. Let’s hear more from those whose lives are saved than the tiny minority who feel the need to blame someone else for their decision.

Rights

And so, on several fronts, there is this big issue: who decides on another person’s gender, on which criteria, and what should be the rite of passage from their former opinion (at birth: this is a boy/girl) to their revised opinion (we formally accept that we were mistaken at birth)?

To say that it matters to anyone but the individual, is like saying there is a rule whereby a flower may not be described as purple, only as either dark red or blue. If the flower is happy to be regarded as one or the other by the observer’s definition, well and good. But if the flower is purple and regards itself on the blue end rather than red, or steadfastly says it is purple, why should it matter? Gender queer and bisexual exist, and we know what we are in ourselves anyway. Yes, really.

More than that, why is it in anyone’s gift to say that I am not a woman, female? All that exists of male in me is a skeleton that has a form directed by a small chemical during growth (testosterone), and a prostate (because the risk of removal is not worth it). I have yet to see a reason, based on equality of rights. The only arguments derive from male primacy in our culture, and that is not a right, it is a wrong.

The arguments people have tried on me against this view are all about deceit and disguise for the purposes of intrusion. Trans* people do not do this. Gender dysphoria is not a behaviour.

And so back to the business of diagnosis, terms and criteria.

I observed, in completing the survey comments, that the only task of a psychiatrist in the whole process of confirming that someone’s gender is not indicated accurately by their genitals, is to eliminate psychological indicators for anything else. The psychiatrist who finds nothing permits the diagnosis of a physiological problem. The dissonance (or incongruence, if you prefer) does not originate in the mind, but in physiological events that stimulated development of primary sexual characteristics at odds with the sense of self.

Once more: gender dysphoria is not a behaviour, and that is why I also baulk at the use of the term ‘transsexualism’ in the definitions of gender dysphoria. This is not about rights to do anything, it is about the right to be authentic.

When it comes to rights (maybe Rights) society has to recognise the way things really are, decide how to act on this, and ensure that treatment is fair and applied. The problem with the Gender Recognition Act, is that the importance of being ‘a man’ or ‘a woman’ has been over-emphasised. You must decide! And show such decisiveness that everyone knows unmistakeably what you are and why! Dear Ms God: Why? Can people not just ask each other and leave it at that?

Rites

Since we are all assigned a gender descriptor at birth (again, I can’t quite understand the necessity for this, unless we are destined to be treated differently) the first rite of gender is naming. After that we all have the right to write the name we want, and to have this changed officially and easily.

Over our first decade, we can experience a variety of feelings about whether we ‘feel like’ a boy or a girl. It isn’t just about toys or clothes, but where we belong. Being a tomboy, or a girly boy defines nothing either. But in ourselves we have feelings about where we do and do not belong, and sooner or later these settle.

Puberty isn’t exactly a rite of passage in Western Europe, but menstruation or a breaking voice are part of ‘becoming’ a man or a woman, and ambiguous, or non-happening aspects of puberty are troubling to parents and worrying to children. But for the trans* child, this is a rite of passage that terrifies. Who holds the rights now? Parents? Clinicians? Or the child themselves?

The problem with rites, formal or otherwise, is that they fix things that then have to be undone. The greatest favour an adult can do for a trans* child is to listen, believe and stop the clock. Delayed puberty is the least harmful outcome. So why do we so often hear an outcry about children being manipulated, with misunderstandings about treatment methods? Yes, we need proper diagnostic pathways and expert professionals, the right terminology for the most transparent description, and we need it not to sound trivial (I think ‘incongruence’ is), so that treatment is taken seriously.

The final rite we face in the UK, is the appeal under the Gender Recognition Act, to the Gender Recognition Panel, for a Gender Recognition Certificate. This enables a new, revised, correct, birth certificate to be created. Having had almost zero professional support for the past few years, my paperwork is presented as a testimony to endurance. I have no right, without scrutiny, to formally identify in my true gender. I can call myself what I like, write what I like, but officially, until I can prove and explain what I have done clinically and why, or what I have not done clinically and why (even though what I have done clinically, or not, does not affect the outcome of my application), I am still officially a man.

Tell me, as I write, is this rite right?

Summary

We still desperately need good writing, by diverse trans* people, to explain the reality of gender dysphoria, however we variously describe it. We need our rights to own our own gender without interference, suspicion and policing by people who have not lived this. And we might even benefit by better rites of passage than exhaustive documentation of how we have survived transition with very little support or help, in an expensive plea to reverse that birth certificate bestowed on us with so little thought or necessity, so long before.

And if you read the stories in the media about those of us who transition young, or old, or unwisely, or cheaply, or expensively – please remember that each of us is every bit as human and a person as you. We are not separate, or other, with fewer rights, or to be viewed as deceitful or fraudulent, or psychologically disordered.

No; just imagine that you are the one instead, who has to prove their case for their own sense of self, and buy a certificate to say they really are what they say they are. Right?

Pride

  • Posted on August 3, 2014 at 10:45 am
Pride flags

I have only actually fully participated in one Pride event. I never knew in advance when it was. My mother always knew: ‘Pride comes before the fall’, she used to say. Maybe that’s it. Pride was a bad thing, signifying arrogance. It meant putting yourself above others. And to be honest, being brought up like that, where even to say you loved yourself was a sin, I could hardly look at gay men in weird strappings and think I belonged in any way. That was before I knew what a lesbian was. That was before I knew why I didn’t…