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Disclosure and choice

  • Posted on August 30, 2014 at 4:34 pm

This blog is long, but here are the headings: Return to work; Being the anomaly in the workplace; Confidentiality and the Gender Recognition Act; Social media; Disclosure; Advice.

Many happy returns!

I had fondly dreamed of a triumphant, joy-filled, regathering with my colleagues, dropping my handbag on my desk and announcing ‘I’m back!’ I mean, is that not how it goes? Not to applause, but at least welcomed back with a sense of belonging?

Well, no. Return has in fact been a very stressful and hurtful time for me. So I thought it may be helpful for you to know a few useful things when it’s your turn to negotiate this – from either side, employer or trans emloyee.


I wish to make it abundantly clear that here, on my blog, I make a point never to name anyone, nor to speak against anyone or any organisation personally, but only to observe as factually as possible, the experience of transition in its many aspects. I do not even identify my place of work on Facebook, where I exchange life with friends. But I do feel there are important principles about being a trans person, and that we must be free to speak about them, share them, improve things for the next generation. This does not make me disloyal or uncommitted in any way, nor do I ever make personal attacks on anyone, even if I were to feel I have a grievance. Even I may have genuinely misunderstood. But I nevertheless feel vulnerable because I know there is next to nothing to protect me, and you should know that too. Our voice is valid, but we are vulnerable.

Being the anomaly

I was reminded (by a trans friend) that we are an anomaly at work, and that therefore we are treated differently. We create an issue simply by having had gender dysphoria, simply for being transsexual. Nobody really knows what to do, what to expect, and they certainly are not going to take our word as the living expert on ourselves, for anything.

If you are trans, you are different, so expect to be treated as if you have a little-understood disability, perhaps like a disfigurement. Yes, HR will go out of its way to protect you from adverse treatment by colleagues. But you in turn must express gratitude for this accommodation. You are the anomaly; don’t assume that the rights you have to equal treatment are simply about human respect. No, any protection or accommodation you are afforded is because your employer will want to protect themselves. And of course they do, quite rightly. But I sort of think I am not just a possession of the organisation, but also a person, and that normal respect applies. That you have a clinical diagnosis of gender dysphoria usually has no bearing on your ability to do your job, and adds no additional special or concessionary management requirements.

Accommodation of your needs at work? You mean acceptance as a real person with equality of treatment? Someone said to me recently that rule number one for the trans person is never to express gratitude, never to apologise for what you are.

In the early stages of transition, awareness helps ensure that there is protection from harassment. After that it is simply not relevant. At the point of surgery, I maintain, it is nobody’s business other than yours and a single point of reference in HR.

At the same time you will quite possibly experience sexism at work. So that means, for the trans person, normal sexism as a woman (or man) plus cis-sexism (i.e. the compartmentalising or othering of trans people as not quite included in the normal world, neither one thing nor another). Expect it; I hope you may be lucky.

Some while ago, and for several months, on top of the normal sexism, I had a female colleague whose questioning, in open plan office, in front of colleagues and manager, was quite intrusive, very personal, and at times disconcerting. I, as you know since you read me here, decided to take it head on, simply to demonstrate that I am just another person, capable of stating my case, clarifying that gender dysphoria is a medical condition, not a behavioural trait, and that in every other respect I am just another woman. I did not silence it, though perhaps I should. I did not complain, though perhaps I should. I do not want special treatment, and I am not a natural complainer, except in cases of real unfairness. Argue my case? Oh yes; but not to create waves or to play games.

As a trans person, you do not need ‘accommodation’. You need fairness and equality. As an employer or HR person, you are not accommodating the trans person. If having a trans person on your staff is an awkward thing, the problem is the people in your organisation, not the fellow human being who is inconveniently not quite like you. Do not see fairness and equality as a special effort you must make, for a person who is ‘difficult’ simply for being misgendered at birth.

Like me, you should indeed be thankful for correct treatment during early transition, and yes, always be thankful for correctness. But gratitude for being treated fairly and equally? Think about this a moment, if you yourself do not have a ‘difference’ of any kind.

  • Is your gay or lesbian colleague expected to be grateful for being accommodated in the workplace, for being non-heterosexual?

Point made, I hope.

Confidentiality and privacy: Gender Recognition Act

The first point to understand in the UK is that you have few rights at all until:

  • you have lived at least two years in your identified gender
  • sworn a declaration
  • legally changed your name and title
  • supplied documentation proving your medical diagnosis from two qualified professionals
  • supplied detailed (intimate) proof of surgery and/or hormone treatment – or jolly good reasons why you have not
  • provided documentation in the form of passport, driving licence, bank statements, utility bills, employment documents, wage slips, letters etc., that consistently show your deed poll title over the entire period
  • submitted all the above with a fat fee to a panel of experts to express their opinion as to whether you are the gender you identify

    and finally:

  • received from the panel, a Gender Recognition Certificate!

It does, however, apply, if your employer knows that you have applied for a GRC. Therefore you must put this intention in writing. Mine was, if I remember right, merely verbal, but we did discuss it and the patronising nature of the process.

Until this point, protection of your personal data, details and status under the Gender Recognition Act need not always apply. After this, records relating to gender change must be sealed. All disclosure then legally becomes entirely your own. But, let’s also be clear, anyone disclosing your gender history who claims they honestly did not know that you had, or had applied for, a Gender Recognition Certificate at the time (I mean, the more you flash it around the more you are telling everybody? Right?) may claim they are not culpable (Gender Recognition Act, Section 22 on data).

If they do know, then clearly disclosing surgical descriptors (i.e. GRS) is disclosing part of your protected gender history.

  • Dear HR: please be aware that ‘need to know’ in the case of sickness absence, can be covered by ‘gynaecological surgery’ (accurate and sufficient for all purposes) and that once you state ‘gender reassignment surgery’ you are disclosing the person’s previously assigned gender, and this does contravene the GRA.

See also GIRES on the Gender recognition Act, Section 22.

But you exposed yourself!

I have two levels of expectation about disclosure. Among friends, and here on my blog where everything is explained and contextualised, I am open about gender dysphoria (which I no longer have). At work, in public spaces, in my everyday life, it is nobody’s business but my own. Of course this causes ambiguity, but I do only need to be asked if it’s OK to reveal and discuss my gender! This is called respect.

The same probably applies to very many, probably most, trans people, especially those who have fully transitioned, put it in their past, but wish to remain supportive of others. Few go ‘deep stealth’ (totally invisibly trans), and I am an example of those who are open to talk about it, but for whom it has little to do with everyday life.

If you find me on Facebook, and if you friend me and if I say yes, you will see that I belong to a number of transgender groups, some with closed membership. What a giveaway! I have been open on Facebook to my friends throughout my transition. This is probably true of most trans people.

I write a personal blog every week, to relate this whole journey. What a giveaway! Yes, but if you are reading ‘Observations of gender dysphoria and beyond’ then you are in a context, a serious one that looks not just at me, but the issues surrounding transition. Maybe you have a blog too.

Let me then make it abundantly clear that this does not mean anyone can use it to do anything other than observe that I was born with gender dysphoria. It is not an excuse to disclose anything not essentially and legally necessary to people, as if it were relevant to a situation where it is not.

But of course, with so much social media, everyone is much more personally exposed than ever before, and some employers use it more in order to find evidence against than evidence for. I would bet more people have fished in my blog for comment, or my Facebook pages, than my endorsements and skills on LinkedIn, for example. I’m just saying, be aware.

Disclosure and the law

The question is, just because you are detectably transsexual on social media, does this mean that the Gender Recognition Act protections are done away with? Not quite, but it is there to ensure that information exchanged in the workplace (for example) is strictly on a need to know basis. I shall quote here from the UK Equality and Human Rights website:

Gender Recognition Act 2004

The Gender Recognition Act (GRA) gives legal recognition to transsexual people in their acquired gender.

If an application to the Gender Recognition Panel is successful, the transsexual person’s gender becomes for all purposes the acquired gender and they will receive a full gender recognition certificate (GRC). The GRC allows for the creation of a modified birth certificate reflecting the holder’s new gender.

In specified circumstances the GRA prohibits disclosure of the fact that someone has applied for a GRC or disclosure of someone’s gender prior to the acquisition of the GRC. Such disclosure constitutes a criminal offence liable to a fine.

The privacy provisions apply in most circumstances where the information is received by someone acting in an official capacity. The exceptions are very narrowly drawn, so it should generally be assumed that if you are a employer, manager or colleague; or if you are working in any capacity for an official body or service provider, the law will apply.

Unlawful disclosure applies not only to direct word of mouth communication but also to uncontrolled access to paper or computer files. A transsexual person may consent to you disclosing the information if they decide that it is in their interests to do so. However, such consent must be explicit. It may not be assumed.

As a general rule it is best to agree what to do with information when an employee or service user informs you that they have applied for or obtained a Gender Recognition Certificate. This may often necessitate physically destroying records that reveal inappropriate information, or sealing them for use in specified exceptional cases.

Advice for transitioning at work

I wish I had read all this before, but there are some definite points for attention, if you are heading this way:

  • Be crystal clear, in writing, about your preferences regarding who can know what, and at every stage. What you are prepared to disclose when you are obvious (coming out, early days, or with an existing employer) is not the same as being at the point of surgery or beyond.
  • Give this information to the most senior person in charge of personnel records, explaining helpfully.
  • Let your HR contact know each stage you are at, because this alters things: intention to transition, engagement with clinical services, diagnosis, intention for surgery, application for a GRC – everything.
  • Ensure that any documents that may reach other than your HR contact do not disclose anything unnecessary for the purpose. For example, my hospital sicknote simply stated ‘Surgery’ as the reason, whereas my GP’s fit note clearly stated ‘Gender Reassignment Surgery’. (I was told this had subsequently been seen other than by HR.)
  • No-one wants to be paranoid, but like me you could end up feeling quite distressed if anything goes wrong. Therefore keep records, and if necessary record communications.
  • Be very factual. Grievances are not about stories, they are about actions. They are not personal either, they are administrative, for which people hold responsibility.
  • Assert, don’t argue. You may well hit a wall. Speak to it, don’t hit it. I hate bureaucratic justification and it raises my hackles every time. But it doesn’t help. If you have done the above, and if you have a grievance, state it clearly and back it up. Even if you do not wish to make an official complaint about it.

I wrote this piece because I could not see the relevance of the nature of my surgery to my return to work under a new line manager. My surgery was disclosed, and I observed that no woman in the organisation would wish the nature of her gynaecological surgery to be disclosed to a male manager, unless that detail was directly and specifically relevant to her ability to resume her work (i.e. cover the employer’s liability).

The complicating factor here is that post-surgical maintenance for gender surgery needs initially to be done three times a day. This requires privacy and washing facilities, and if not available at your place of work, you will need to negotiate working from home, at least to cover a mid-day half hour. Now this does not take a lot of imagination as to exactly what you are doing, so how do you request a degree of working from home for a short period (so you don’t need to stay off sick longer than absolutely necessary)? For me it is perfectly sufficient for any manager to know that you have had surgery, need a recovery period, and can return to work making allowances (lifting, maintenance etc.) for confidential reasons.

Am I right? Please tell me if I am not, especially if you are in HR, and I can correct this blog and this advice.

Back to the post-operative maintenance: by telling anyone else in the organisation that your surgery is gender-related, immediately tells your manager (what, a man?!) that you wish to work from home in order to dilate your vagina!

This is why extra sensitivity is required by HR when deciding just how relevant it is to tell another member of staff that the nature of your surgery was to do with your genitals. I don’t care how understanding or empathic the man in my office is, or how discreet he may subsequently be. It is none of his business; it is intimate and personal to me, and most of all, it has no bearing on my work situation whatsoever.

Please, so that you do not suffer the same distress, explain this to your HR contact well in advance, otherwise these unnecessary accidents will happen.


Phew! Finally … If you are in UK HR, and anything I have said is inaccurate in its interpretation, find me on Facebook and tell me so that I can correct it. If you have useful things to add, please also find me and tell me. We all need to know these things and ensure better handling than I feel I experienced.

For families: a summary

  • Posted on August 25, 2014 at 3:28 pm

I have written a number of times about family issues. Just click the family tag below on the right for all of them. But here I want to summarise because I may not revisit; maybe I have no more to say.

First of all, the support for transsexual and transgender people may be poor and pretty much do-it-yourself, but support for families and friends is much worse, in fact almost non-existent. This is why I’ve written these past two and a half years: to observe, take apart, relate and describe, for better understanding at each stage.

If you are a friend or family member, partner or spouse, there are a few basic facts, which you may not like, but one way of another have to face, or live in denial of.

Your first fact: gender dysphoria exists

This means that transsexual people exist. Sometimes we say transgender, and maybe there isn’t a lot of difference, it’s just language after all. Whatever we do in response to our self-identity, whether transition, live a mixed-gender life, a non-binary life, or in complete suppression, does not affect this truth, that for perhaps one or two per thousand of the population (any country) the assignment of our gender according to birth genitals makes no sense.

This is currently termed gender dysphoria. Like autism or a fractured femur, and any other diagnosis, it is applied to people who are aligned with certain clinical criteria, and like a lot of diagnoses, the cause is not clearly understood. But it exists. You may not like having an autistic child, because it can turn your family life upside down. But if anyone suggests you should have had an abortion, you may well be the first to say that this is the most terrible, inhumane, unloving suggestion you could ever hear. You might not. You may resent an autistic sibling, or even parent. On a lesser scale, you may resent the family member on the eve of an ideal long-planned holiday who has broken their leg. You can blame their carelessness, or curse bad fortune – the leg is broken. There is nothing you can do about this in either case. And whatever you like or not, this person, this fellow human being, exists and if it messes up your life, that is for you to deal with.

It is just as true that society in general has little awareness of, and sympathy for, people with gender dysphoria. Don’t let that ignorance or indeed bigotry make you a less caring or loving person. Society can be very cruel over things it doesn’t understand. Worried about your children, as a parent? Their friends at school? The truth can be tough but it is still the truth, and hiding it is worse. Understand, and pass it on. Most of all, don’t be the one that places stigma on your own children, by blaming the trans person, making it all their fault just so you can avoid responsibility for facing the facts about gender dysphoria.

See also:

Your second fact: there is no cure

So someone in your family finally announces (previous clues and disclosures or not) that they are trans, that they have gender dysphoria. What is your reaction? That this is their choice? Or that this is a diagnosis of something true since their birth? You can argue that someone is not really autistic, or that a leg is not really broken. Your first reaction may be to ask if it can be cured. In the case of autism, there are strategies that can help the person fit in, socialise, and live with their autism. In the case of the leg, almost certainly there will be things that can be done so that it mends, even if not perfectly.

What you want as a cure, probably is not! Your idea of a cure is like the broken leg. In this sense, gender dysphoria has no cure. Rather, like asking the autistic person not to be autistic, the female person can’t be asked not to be female, and to behave like their genitals say they should (or vice versa, the male person). Gender identity is so innate that it can’t be changed by drugs, electric shocks, cognitive behavioural therapy, or anything else. Think about yourself: imagine a bank of therapies being tried on you to convince you that your gender is not what you say.

No, the only ‘cure’ is to allow the person to live in the gender identity they know to be authentic. Frequently this means hormone therapy, often followed by surgery to modify incongruent parts of their body. This is the only way to remove the gender dysphoria; it is not a psychological thing, it is a physiological thing. Like autism or a broken leg. And in all three diagnoses, we have learned a lot about how to get the treatment right.

See also:

Your third fact: the body is not the person

Sometimes it is the body that you want and love. It looks right in your home and out there with friends, and so long as a nice person lives in it, that’s OK with you. Whilst that might sound cold and nothing you would ever say, please ask how much it might be true for you. How did your romance begin? Love at first sight? Handsome/pretty person across a crowded place? Just looks nice, and interested? Visual prompts play a very big role in the way we partner up, and we shouldn’t deny it. But life is not just about partnering up, not if the person is a friend or a sibling or a parent, certainly! But a partner of many years?

This is not the body I chose to touch, hold, trust, be seen with, known to love.

Ask yourself, whilst these thoughts are churning in you, what that sounds like if you substitute ‘person’ for ‘body’. If the body has to be right for you to associate and love another person, then this is your truth, but the person with gender dysphoria is the same person at birth, as when you met them, as when they come out and tell you, or receive their formal diagnosis. Try to think of all the things you have found attractive about them, or likeable, or have respected, that perhaps make as much sense now, or more, now that you have listened to what they say about their dysphoria and their gender identity.

See also:

Your fourth fact: disclosing gender dysphoria is emotional

Typically, people with gender dysphoria have felt wrong or different, ‘not belonging’ perhaps, for a very long time. They have struggled to fit with what they were supposed to be according to everyone else. The only exception is people with gender dysphoria who have voiced this, and have been believed, at a very early age. The rest of us have lived with this all our longer lives, and probably suppressed it with self-hate and denial all that time, probably in isolation.

Of course understanding you have gender dysphoria is emotional! Very few people are jubilant about standing up at the start of this realisation and shouting ‘I am transsexual’. For many of us it is a journey characterised by stigma, rejection and significant material loss.

Yes, it’s emotional, and it isn’t because of the hormones! They may help us to cry at last, and more freely, but they don’t cause the emotions. You are never more vulnerable as when you tell people you love that you are not the gender they have assumed you to be. This is also a cork out of the bottle moment: a pressure release of a lot of pent-up energy. For them, a relief, but knowing that the consequences are entirely unpredictable, including telling you.

See also:

Your fifth fact: this is all about them

If your child is born with any congenital abnormality/difference, this is about them, not you. Yes, you become the parent of the child-with-a-difference, and you get right down to being a good parent. Is this just because you feel you have no choice, that this is the hand of fate? Whatever you believe, part of your resolution resides in your capacity to see the child, see the person, feel the love, accept the change in your life.

So no, this is not about you, about what your friends will say, your family will feel, or the way you look out in public, your child visible, or any stigma you may feel from people who don’t understand.

And this is exactly how it is when someone you love, or who simply is part of your family, or is a partner or spouse, discloses their gender dysphoria. It is about them, not you.

Now how you respond to that is up to you, but let’s get this straight, they are not there to be suppressed in their identity for your sake, to make you comfortable, or to avoid the stigma you feel by association. Your needs are just as valid, but you must find your resolution within yourself, not through denial, rejection or refusal to see a gender dysphoria diagnosis as real. Yes, it will challenge your self-perception and the nature of your love for the other. The dysphoria, however, is theirs, not for you to challenge or change. What is about you, is your capacity to understand that the person is not their body, that they are inevitably very vulnerable and emotional, and that the only resolution is to allow the person the self-respect of their own identity, not how you want them to be.

You both have deep needs at this point, but the diagnosis is theirs, your response is for you to sort out.

See also

Your sixth fact: this includes you

A disclosure (coming out as trans) changes you. You can never again be the person who does not know someone with gender dysphoria. Always the child of a transsexual parent, or the brother, or sister. Forever the person who married someone transsexual, or transgender, transitioned, transitioning, or complex-living. This is not an adjustment, it’s something that will never un-become part of your life, part of your explanation, defence – or denial: even that will stay with you. The trans person didn’t choose this, they were born with it. It’s nobody’s fault, so stop blaming or cursing the universe. The reasons why they could not understand and accept and disclose themselves before are very close to the same reasons you are finding this so difficult now. They were not lying to you just because they were struggling with something unknown about themselves.

Find out as much as you can about what might justifiably be called a ‘condition’. There is plenty of information. You can’t avoid this, or pretend it isn’t there any more, so at least respect the person you care about and get knowledgeable rather than defensive or opinionated. What you do after that is your choice, but it is more a choice than the trans person ever had. Right now they may feel the choice is either suicide or to live in their true gender; nothing exists in between. Which way are you going to push?

Yes, you matter too, but accept the foundations of your choice. These include love, respect, social stigma, inflexibility, sense of sexuality, ability to cope with change, and many more. But you are here now, and if counselling will help, or meeting transitioned trans people (rather than what can seem a bizarre initial process of change), or family members of transitioned people, or reading, or finding people like you online, please, go do it – and stick with it until you know what you need, without placing coercive pressure on the trans person.

See also:

In light of the facts

First of all you can do this together. You might not agree, but you don’t have to fight. Respect each other’s feelings, and recognise that one of you has been living with this a long time, the other has probably been hit hard and fast by the unexpected. Things are not going to go back the way they were. Whether you interpret this as broken, or as an opportunity to rearrange, is for you to work out, maybe with outside help. This much is your choice.

You have to sort this out between you, but accept the facts, not how you would have liked life to have been. Life is not as you were brought up to believe, and gender is not what you thought. You have to get over this, because the family member or friend you knew before is still there; all of them, with thoughts, memories and aspirations, and a shared life with you that they had no intention of losing. Whether you can change and accommodate the new reality is up to you both, but accept the facts, and see the person. Do you have the love to go through this with them?

Please search this blog site, it is the tale of my own transition, and is only me, observing my situation, not a paradigm. If all it does is inform, help you understand and make you think, then that is good. Stay honest with yourself, and communicate as much as you can, as openly as you can, listening as much as speaking. None of us chose to have gender dysphoria, and we feel it to different degrees, but we are still the people you used to love. Let’s be kind to one another.

Passing: please be honest

  • Posted on August 25, 2014 at 10:03 am

As one who has been there, please take this as sound advice, not as criticism. I too stood behind my own front door wondering what would happen if I opened it and walked down the street. I too spent ages doing my make-up, trying to work out when too much was more obvious than not enough. In the shops, I too had to scan the skirts racks dressed as a man. I too walked the same direction of the traffic to avoid passengers’s eyes. I too took selfies and doubted myself, sat in the back corner of cafés and still got noticed.

I too played the passing game.

This week, just to show everyone I was doing fine after surgery, I quickly popped a picture of myself wearing flowery trousers, on Facebook. It wasn’t to invite or ask anything, just to say I’m OK. 60 ‘likes’ later, I thought: that’s nice!

And this week I dropped out of a transgender group on Facebook because I’d had enough of the constant parade of cellphone selfies (cellfies?), either in mirrors or at arm’s length, all captioned: ‘Do I pass?’. It isn’t that I don’t appreciate the feelings, no, it’s the intended kindnesses that are unhelpful and disingenuous.

‘You look gorgeous, hun!’ can be true, but only in exceptional cases. What we really want to say to each other at this stage is, ‘Well done for trying, chin up.’ What we need to really say, is to share some tips on getting past the dead giveaways. We need to point out the obvious that we’d prefer went away, and tread an honest line between the knock-backs and the sound advice. This week I did read one honest and kind response, extensive and helpful.

What I really want to say is, don’t tell someone they are ‘passing’ when they clearly are not, because they have some things to urgently learn. It does them no favours to have a false impression, so is not a kindness at all. This is a very practical business, not a bundle of fun, however liberating owning your own gender feels.

I’ve written this from the MTF point of view, because to keep writing the alternative FTM in can be unreadable, and this is the way round I am most familiar with. But much applies both ways; don’t feel slighted.


Passing is a poor term that is supposed to mean ‘convincing in the gender role intended’. It is important, because you’re never going to gain confidence if everyone thinks you look, sound or behave like a man when you’re trying to live as a woman. If you are ever going to gain confidence in your gender, whatever it is, then looking like you’re in disguise, rather than natural, will not help. This is not to reinforce the binary model of gender, but to say that if you are trying not to stick out, do try to blend in. You will only do this through keen observation, not of other trans people, but cis people.

If you hold yourself as a man and dress as a woman, you will stand out. If you walk as a man, or gesture as a man, you will stand out. If your clothes feel unnatural to you, or if you dress inappropriately for your age or your social setting, you will stand out. If you speak (verbalise) like a man, and make no attempt to modulate your voice or change pitch at all, you will stand out. It’s a lot to do all at once, so go and use the Internet, scour YouTube, and practice out of public gaze until you understand what it takes. Find a cis friend or a trans friend prepared to weather your storms and need for attention, but only if they are prepared also to be honest.

And understand this: you will not be great when you start, you will need to grow a thicker skin, but that one day you will look back and cringe – because you are no longer like when you began. We are not gorgeous, hun, we are making do, trying our best. But we need the truth, matched by the determination to get each new thing right. And in the end a selfie on Facebook will not be about passing, but about looking happy and natural.

The biggest lesson to learn is that when you have tried to blend in, nothing makes so much a single difference as your own confidence. You will probably never be a paradigm of the femininity you have in mind (though you might), but that does not mean you can’t be just like a lot of other women your age. They are not all idealised magazine models either. But you can tell they are comfortable in their own skins and clothes. That is what you are aiming for first.

I see ‘passing’ much as I see transition: it is a process that you think about at the beginning and forget about at the end.

What about non-blenders?

This is an equally important perspective: those who almost belligerently assert their right to look different, even odd: ‘I am being true to myself, I don’t care what people think, why should I?’

Maybe for you this is important, at least for now, and indeed you have every right to walk safely, looking however you like. Attacks on goth-attired youngsters are not unknown, just as on any LGBT person. If being different is important to you, please just look out for yourself and play safe in places where violent and/or drunk people have been known to attack. No, it isn’t fair or right: the street is as much yours as anyone’s. No attack or abuse is your fault; just recognise things as they are, when you need to be safe – and report all hate crime, if not for you, for the next person.

But also recognise that not all of us are like this. Many of us going through transition do go through the ‘exciting phase’ – after all being set free feels pretty damn good. But to get on with life, whether it’s working, entertainment, shopping, meeting up with friends or whatever, we want to ‘arrive’, by which I mean becoming naturalised in our felt gender. For us, going out with friends who are non-blenders can make us very self-conscious. It isn’t transphobia, it’s just running counter to what we’re trying to achieve. We might be the most supportive person you’ve ever met, but that doesn’t mean we want to be blatantly outed by association. If we support you, try also to support us, and if that means trying harder, being more careful, blending (you may think it’s compromising), then at least think about your impact on other trans people.

But this is a digression: ‘passing’ means blending, not asserting our right to be immune from opinion. Some is unavoidable. Some of us do not want specifically male or female identification because we’re non-binary. People of all kinds and ages encounter problems when others can’t tell what we are. But this is not what I’m writing about here. Uncertainty is one thing, and society has to get over it. Being a non-blender is your choice, and all I’m saying, non-judgementally, is that standing out affects blending trans people too.

What about non-transitioners?

It is perfectly legitimate to see yourself as fluid or dual gender. Just because I have transitioned into what I guess is a binary way of life, does not mean that I have forgotten my early earnest assertions to be two-spirit, both in one person. If this is you, then the same applies. If you want to just live a natural blended existence, your aim is to feel comfortable in your own skin. It might be you like wearing a pink tutu at Sparkle, but just don’t expect not to get stared at for wearing a mini skirt and showing your stocking tops, in a too-shiny synthetic wig in the city on a Tuesday afternoon. If being dual gender is you, then why stand out in the female part, when you don’t stand out in the male part? If you like the attention and stand out in both, then feel free, but don’t protest society’s raised eyebrows. Maybe one day we shall embrace flamboyant lifestyles wholeheartedly, and maybe you can be an agent for change, but if you do not want to, as above, observe keenly, YouTube, practice and learn what it is to live and move as your fellow-gender friends and groups.

If non-transitioning is your holding-place, while you work out what you need to do, perhaps facing family problems, breakups and so on, you may find critical break points. Do you go for that permanent laser treatment on your face? Do you get your ears pierced? Do you pluck your eyebrows? Remove the hair on your body or legs? Or even grow your hair out? Only you can decide, but recognise that in these times of compromise you will need workarounds.

Most of all, this is a time to be working out just how far this will need to go, and if you don’t get it right enough to avoid stares, comments or worse, it will ruin the confidence you need to go the distance, or make a decisive change. Going ‘full-time’ without confidence is a psychological disaster. If you row your ducks up: name change, clothes to the charity shop, all your documents in order, gender clinic, counselling, support groups, etc., you need to roll over quickly and with certainty. Then is not the time for people to be telling you you’ll never make it, because you look ‘like a man in a dress’. And even if you have a fair idea that this is what they’re thinking but not saying to your face, it will make the whole process anything up to and including unbearable.

If you are not intending to put yourself through this kind of trauma, don’t do it to anyone else by suggesting they are ready and presentable when they are not.

Honesty, please

Honesty is not cruel, if it is constructive. Don’t tell someone they look crap, tell them too much pink doesn’t work on it’s own, try balancing it with a bit of grey. Tell them to learn to hold their head up and smile. Tell them about better foundation, or pan-sticks, tell them to moderate the eyeshadow, hint with mascara rather than plastering it. Tell them to brush their hair the other way, or to have it cut to the shape of their face. Tell them that to alleviate a square jaw, wear a lower, rounded neckline. Tell them that a really nice necklace is more distracting of an adam’s apple than a black polo neck, or that a lower heel would be really elegant.

Tell them things that have worked for you, point them to websites that help you learn to change your voice, or walk differently. Tell them that fun as those tights are, women their age tend not to wear them to work. Tell them that their body shape can’t do stripes, or to practice a gentler smile, a head tilt. Tell them what you have found to be different about the way that women speak, discuss, ask in shops, and gesture. Tell them how you have learned to observe, where has been better to go when in the learning phases, tips on discrete behaviour on public transport.

Tell them all these things, because that’s how we get there in the end. But don’t think it’s a kindness just to add your ‘gorgeous, hun’ to the Facebook accolades.

This is confidence game, not a pageant, and it’s hard work feeling natural. You grew up learning to imitate other boys and men so that you would fit in. There is a lot of undoing to do. You didn’t copy the girls’ mannerisms; they were doing it to fit in with each other too. Natural behaviours and fitting in only come with confidence, and the only confidence worth having is that based on honest self-appraisal and learning the work-arounds for the things you can’t change.

It isn’t about ‘passing’, it’s about confidently being yourself, with a bit of (honest) help from your friends. Don’t ask if you’re passing, ask what the most immediate giveaways are, and take it on the nose.

Being, as entertainment

  • Posted on August 19, 2014 at 12:10 pm

There was a time when people with congenital deformities accepted that the only way to survive was to accept a place in a freak show. A woman with a lot of facial hair would be the ‘bearded lady’ and sit to be stared at, talked and laughed and wondered at, rather than try to live a difficult life in the mainstream. The circus at least meant acceptance, and probably the friendship of other ‘freaks’. She probably had polycystic ovaries.

Accepting being different, knowing being different, exhibiting being different was a response to misunderstanding and exclusion for being different. We aren’t there any more, are we?

I remember the pain of watching Little Britain, and the falsetto cross-dressing sketches: ‘Aim a laaydee! Come orn Emily, let’s do laaydees’ things!’. Long before, I remember the awkwardness of Monty Python and the very popular ‘I’m a lumberjack’ and the transvestite bit of the song. These and many similar jests were all saying to me that I could either laugh with it (and everyone else) and be a secret freak, or expose myself as a freak and be laughed at. Where was the in-between recognition that a joke was being made out of valid non-binary, non-heteronormative identity?

I recall documentaries: don’t show too much interest in wanting to watch the programme, or you might give something away. Don’t show enough interest, and there is no opportunity to introduce an aspect of yourself and have a sensible dialog. There was My Transsexual Summer, the Channel 4 series in 2011, just as I was coming out, where six people of mixed age range and stages of transition came together over a period of weeks to share their experiences and aspirations. This was unavoidable, informative, presented to retain an audience, not quite entertainment, not quite just factual. ’You don’t want to do that though, do you?’ Scary.

How many tabloid front page headlines have we seen, exposing a ‘sex-swap sensation!’? I know several people who have been that person on the page. How does this make other people feel, who have any questions about their gender identity? Safe? At risk? Normal? Bizarre? The only difference between headlines and TV series, is the duration. Last week’s headlines get forgotten because it isn’t this week’s news. A series – with personalities, celebrities, oddities – becomes part of social dialogue, workplace conversation, pub sharing with an edge of inebriation. This is the point where the trans person, suspected trans person, gender queer, ambiguously-identified person gets drawn in for comparison.

The power of social comment

It has been a good season in the media by and large, with prominent trans personalities receiving awards and accolades, and significant articles being written that situate gender identity in objective sociological contexts where it can become mainstream and ordinary. We have also just had a tabloid turn towards the better. Two tabloids were kept at bay by legal injunction from outing Kellie Maloney until she achieved a deal on her terms with another. The big difference? The media expected a real sensation as the boxing world turned on the freak man-become-woman sex-swap fantasy. Only it didn’t. Kellie was embraced and accepted, better still, supported. End of story. Almost.

Predictably, however good the story was as it rattled around, and however reassuring the story about the non-story became in the wider media, comment threads online continued to feature hatred and bigotry, ridicule and rejection. Any trans-emergent person breathing a sigh of relief over Kellie was at once confronted by obvious and unchanging social hostility. This level will take a long time to resolve, just as despite social acceptance in LGB matters has brought almost complete social acceptance, has not deterred attempts to sensationalise sports men and women coming out, nor the comments people feel obliged to leave online. Nevertheless, when it comes to LGB issues, bigots really do look like bigots. Hatred is seen as hatred. Religious intolerance is seen as sickening.

I wonder if we are anywhere near this with trans issues though. It’s back to my ‘midas touch’ theory. Anyone can defend a top sports personality, in regular conversation, and accuse a friend of being homophobic or intolerant, because they know that (a) their friends won’t respond by saying ‘oh, so you’re gay too then?!’, and (b) even if they were gay themselves, it would not matter. Joke over, sensation over. Mild surprise; end of. The trans scenario? More likely a jest about secretly wearing a dress on Friday nights.

Transsexuality, less-known as gender dysphoria, is still viewed in the popular mind as a sexual thing: fetish, intrusive, threatening. It is something that you cannot align yourself with in understanding, because you don’t. Accepting that society has a substantial peppering with trans people feels unsafe. Despite the triviality of the figures, there are always comments that ‘I hope they’re not expecting me as a taxpayer to pay for their surgery’. Ignorance is rife, objectivity is a stranger. If it isn’t this, then it is seen as a psychological disorder: wrong in the head, even if it’s getting better described in the DSM manual of diagnosis (the universal Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders issued by the American Psychiatric Association). Transsexuality remains a curiosity, an embarrassment by association. All of this makes the trans person in society a thing rather than a person, unlike gay and lesbian people.

‘I saw Conchita Wurst [Eurovision winner 2014], and thought of you!’

‘I see Keith, er Kellie, Maloney is on Big Brother! Isn’t that good? I thought of you.’

And the ensuing conversation:

‘Did you see Big Brother last night? And Kellie! Not surprised she’s scared. Nadia did alright though didn’t she? Still, being transsexual is a bit freaky isn’t it? Is she gay?’

‘Oh yes, and didn’t you know, that woman who works upstairs, Andie. She’s a transsexual.’

‘Oh, is she? Has she still got her bits – you know?’

‘Don’t know. The Mirror says Kellie has. You can have it done on the NHS.’

Of course it won’t happen. Of course. I don’t mind if it does. Just don’t stare at my crotch. I’ve been in hospital and away a few weeks. Work it out.

Really, I don’t mind that much, except that the chatter goes round and the focus drifts away from whether I can do a professional job without this junk going on in the background. Nor do I want you to download that plug-in, called ‘acceptance’. Do I have one for you, to accept that you are normal, cis, hetero, gay, whatever?

I’m lucky, it probably won’t happen like this at all, but what I am illustrating is that participation in the media as a trans person does not make you a good representative, or ambassador, and does not necessarily help other trans people, closeted or otherwise. Too few trans people writing and presenting reduces the perception of our natural diversity. Being young and with a stimulating back story of incarceration, drugs, prostitution, is great for people in that zone. But the ordinary middle-aged person who simply loses their lifetime of family, prosperity and love? They lost it because society is not ready for them, and the story is boring. What do you expect, sympathy? No. I just want you to know how many of us there are, who remain invisible, disadvantaged, lonely simply because all you know about us is that we are separate, different, challenging. Even knowing us, changes you. And I’m simply asking: why?

The way to change popular perception is through education, not entertainment. Unfortunately, even news has become entertainment, and I for one, was very glad when trans people walked away from BBC Newsnight, refusing to be part of an entertaining debate on the validity of the trans identity.

More fundamentally, why is any trans person, famous or otherwise, a story at all, let alone a component for entertainment? The Victorian bearded lady had polycystic ovaries. I was born with whatever caused my gender dysphoria.

The maternal trans woman

  • Posted on August 16, 2014 at 11:17 pm

This is a really difficult area, but one I don’t want to duck. There is no simple answer, but it does contribute to the acceptance of trans women as women. In essence, are trans women being accepted as women (e.g. in feminist circles) whilst simultaneously being implicitly told that they are not ‘real women’, because their bodies, and hence physical experiences, are not complete as female?

The question fundamentally is whether transwomen can be included in discussions surrounding conception, pregnancy, fertility, giving birth and nursing, or whether because they cannot, they should step aside and keep quiet. Is it an intrusion or a presumption to enter these discussions? Is it seen as invasion of the male patriarchy all over again, if only psychologically? Is it entering a unique preserve of ‘womyn born womyn’? I was intending to use this phrase throughout, but it is too redolent of trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) so let’s settle on women assigned female at birth, or cis.

Sexism, feminism, identity

I have written twice recently about sexism at work, because I receive it. But this is at brain level: I cannot be worth as much in my abilities and knowledge because I am a woman, and until proven exceptional, am inferior. I therefore feel comfortable taking a feminist stance, and indeed many men do the same. It is a matter of equality and fairness that anyone could see and participate in.

When it comes to matters of child-bearing though, this is physiological. I ventured to say that I felt closer now to the issues that mothers feel on returning to work after childbirth: the diminishing, the setbacks, the presumed loss of commitment to work, the distrust. I shall soon return to work, not with a baby at home, only with my own kind of ‘maternity leave’ (because I have queried whether my experience was nearer to being born or giving birth). That in itself is only a thought experiment, not about actually giving birth to a baby.

Nevertheless, it did raise the matter in my mind about the mother-identity among trans women.

When people with gender dysphoria express themselves as having the wrong body (however fundamental or not that is experienced as being), it means just that. Not the wrong genitalia, but the wrong everything. We may just as much resent facial hair, larynx, hand size, head shape as the genitals, and indeed as the missing bits. Faces can be reshaped, bones modified for more gracile features. Breasts can easily be developed, because they are already there, if dormant, and indeed can lactate. Penile inversion to create a neo-vagina is routine and satisfactory. But whilst testes can be removed, and thereby the source of testosterone, ovaries cannot be implanted to avoid the need for pills, and the post-surgery trans woman still has no uterus.

This may leave the trans woman with a degree of residual gender dysphoria, but most of us have already grown to accept that there is nothing that can be done. Younger trans people may live in hope of future transplant techniques, and some meantime at least seek to store their gametes before surgery so they can be blood-parents at some stage afterwards.

In my mind, this places us in a similar position as women born infertile, or without a uterus, and women who have had a hysterectomy before being able to conceive. We all identify completely as women in ourselves, and none of us will ever know what it means to be pregnant, or give birth.

Maternal instincts

Or maybe it isn’t about bodies at all? Is it about the maternal instinct that only cis women can experience, and therefore we as trans women cannot?

Initially I am reminded that many women have little or no maternal instinct. Some only develop it during pregnancy, and many lose it afterwards in post-natal depression. Maternal instinct may also not be so distinct from paternal instinct. Both seek fulfilment and both give rise to powerful nurturing urges. It is fairly common for fathers to envy their wives’ abilities to breastfeed, and this is only partly alleviated by bottle-feeding, even with the mother’s own expressed milk.

I am therefore unsure that I can honestly affirm that the maternal instinct is there in all cis women, and if not, why it should not be present and genuine in trans women. It may well be stimulated by hormones (hence increase during pregnancy and loss in postnatal depression), but there will be other factors, including socialisation, the presence of similar-age siblings, other caring experiences etc. I don’t believe it is genetic or a product of the absence of Y chromosomes.

What I can say is that I have heard enough trans women speak of their maternal feelings to know that it isn’t an invention to support their sense of authenticity.

Trans parenthood

There is a clear difference between the younger transitioned woman and the transitioned parent. For the former, there is a whole life ahead that may never include your own genetic children, which in itself can be quite a devastating and unbearable thought. This is no different from the cis woman facing the same reality for similar biological reasons. For the latter, there may be custody battles, severance, separation or rejection that cloud the joys of the parent-child relationship, and the loss of a very young family can be traumatic. Alternatively, a whole new positive relationship can evolve into a kind of belated or adoptive motherhood. But in retrospect, does one re-remember the maternal/paternal experience? I think it may well.

What do I remember? I can’t claim to be representative, but I do very clearly remember being present at the birth of both my babies. Seeing my wife in pain, then joy, and then in pain requiring some surgical repair, and then nursing, expressing milk, but only to a small degree able to include me in the initial nurturing. I remember the shared things: changing nappies, burping, jogging to sleep, bathing, singing, dressing, changing … I don’t suppose my remembering is very different in these things.

I do remember the feeling of exclusion from a powerful experience, and I can’t claim that to be different from any father. But it wasn’t that feeling of losing the focus of attention and affection. It was just that of ‘I can never do this’ and a sinking feeling.

So my contribution to the argument that unless you are a cis woman you can’t enter the discourses of pregnancy or motherhood, is to say that being trans is not the only way of being excluded. You also have to exclude every infertile woman and every woman who had declined motherhood for any other reason. And indeed any other woman yet to conceive. Instead, I invite you to step into the skin of the trans woman who knows that her incomplete body is an accident of birth, and feel her grief of knowing that she can never conceive, carry a baby and give birth – even if she could lactate and nurse.

In retrospect, I may remember early days in a more motherly way, not to usurp my wife’s role, but because I actively feel different now about babies and about motherhood. Maybe it’s the hormones, but if so it isn’t because I am a trans woman, but because it’s the same hormones as any cis woman. But what I will say is that it isn’t a pretence to bolster my proclaimed authenticity as a woman, nor a cover-up for a patriarchally privileged upbringing in order to be more included. My maternal feelings are real, because they are also part of my identity, my sense of self.

Apple pie

OK, so it’s obvious? Maybe. But it can also be enough to cause real upset and misunderstanding, when a trans woman engages in dialogue over fertility, pregnancy, childbirth and sexism or feminism, and is excluded because she can never know the experience first hand. I feel it is tantamount to saying that a trans woman is fully accepted as a woman – until it comes to the unique experiences of cis women, in which case the trans woman is, of course not quite a ‘real woman’.

And all I am inviting, is for this aspect of trans womanhood to be fully acknowledged, not as usurping the role of ‘real’ women, but as a tragedy every bit as real as for any infertile woman wanting to conceive. We may have the comfort of having our own genetic offspring, but this an amelioration, not proof that we are not real women.