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Archive for the ‘General Trans Thoughts’ Category

A topic that inevitably comes up when people grapple with understanding transsexuals is the “decision” to transition from one sex to the other. That word – decision – is quite a hot button for transsexuals. It’s often even a hot button among transsexuals.

Because, you see, there is a strong belief among many transsexuals that we didn’t decide anything. We were born with a condition not of our choosing. It wasn’t any kind of decision to be who we are. Transition, for many of us, wasn’t so much a decision as it was a coping mechanism trying to make life bearable after it had become intolerable to live as a person we knew we were not.

I fear I’ve previously been a bit flip about this issue. The most directly I have spoken about this in the past has been to say, “I didn’t decide to transition. I decided not to kill myself. Transition was simply the result of that choice.” I’ve said that more than once.

While that statement is true, I now recognize that characterization as a kind of evasion. It’s a truth that fails to enlighten, and that latter part is not accidental.

At the age of 37 I suffered a total breakdown. I was barely able to leave the house, and when I did I was either drunk or severely hungover. This was not an event. It was my life. And it was getting worse. No end in sight. And I didn’t care.

Here is a comment I placed in response to a nearly identical question on the (incidentally excellent) blog Is This Me?

(in response to the question: “What exactly was the problem you had with being a man?”)

“It wasn’t any one thing, in the end it was everything. I literally couldn’t function anymore. Total breakdown. Psychological, emotional, and physical.

At the time I didn’t attribute this to “being a man,” I attributed it to my life not being worth living. Being a man just seemed like a reality I had to accept, like I accepted that I had to breathe and eat and sleep.

And I did accept it. And also I didn’t want to live any more. It didn’t occur to me until lots of therapy later that these two things were related.

It was through therapy that I came to see that this one embarrassing secret – the thing that turned out to have the name “transsexual” – was at the root of all the rest. I knew I had weird emotional baggage around gender issues, but I was still not my therapist’s most easily convinced patient on the topic. I didn’t tell her I wanted to transition. I insisted it was impossible, so what else could she offer?

But gradually I made baby steps toward transition – purely mental ones at first. Allowing myself to believe hypothetically that such and such was possible, and such and such was true. What would that mean? And I realized that if those things were true I would actually want to live. So that told me those things were pretty important.

It STILL took a lot more convincing to believe those hypotheticals could be possible in reality, but that was the nature of my decision process leading to transition.

So for all of that, I leave it to those who read this to decide for themselves what exactly it was I “decided.”

Edit: p.s. If you want more detail – mine and others – there’s more good stuff in the comments section at the blog I linked above.

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A recurrent theme I’ve observed lately on trans blogs is the mis-application of Harry Benjamin’s Sex Orientation Scale (S.O.S). This scale was published in 1966 with the release of Benjamin’s groundbreaking book The Transsexual Phenomenon.

With a few significant corrections (e.g. later researchers have noted that sexual identity and sexual orientation are certainly not as closely correlated as Benjamin’s initial scale implied), I think the scale holds up surprisingly well. But it doesn’t hold up well at all in the case of people who want to use it for purposes divorced from Benjamin’s intent.

The S.O.S. was developed to address the need for a diagnostic tool which accounted for a group which, at the time, was entirely unrepresented in the medical literature. Previously when seeking professional treatment, transsexuals had been (mis)classified as either homosexuals or transvestites and (mis)treated accordingly. Benjamin wanted to call out, in practical terms usable in clinical practice, a more suitable set of guidelines for accurately diagnosing and effectively treating transsexuals.

He knew it wasn’t a perfect tool – in fact he took pains to point out some of its known flaws. Here is a telling excerpt from Benjamin’s introduction of his S.O.S (all emphases below are mine):

“The following chapters will make use of the types from I to VI in relating case histories and in establishing a diagnosis of the respective patients. Referring to Table I will then enable the reader to get a somewhat clearer picture of the particular individual and his or her problem. It should be noted again, however, that most patients would fall in between two types and may even have this or that symptom of still another type.

Or, in laymans’ terms, these are approximations. They’re intended to help physicians establish patient diagnoses. Don’t expect any single individual to fall neatly and perfectly into any of these types. They’re intended as practical guidelines, not hardbound rules.

He goes on to say:

“It has been the intention here to point out the possibility of several conceptions and classifications of the transvestitic and the transsexual phenomenon. Future studies and observations may decide which one is likely to come closest to the truth and in this way a possible understanding of the etiology may be gained. If this etiology should ever be established through future researches, classifications may have to be modified accordingly. In the meantime, the S.O.S. may serve a pragmatic and diagnostic purpose.

Layman’s translation: This ain’t gospel. It’s a work in progess. I’m relying on you – medical professionals – to keep this thing in harmony with the best available evidence. I hope you find it useful. If not, please make it better.

Here’s a quick flowchart showing Benjamin’s message about the purpose of the S.O.S.

Another item of note: Benjamin didn’t put much stock into the whole “early” versus “late” transitioner when it came to his standards. And he most definitely did NOT see these types as something any given patient must fulfill to the letter from initial presentation through final treatment. He observed patients initially diagnosed as one type who dramatically shifted to another over time, based on the totality of the evidence. He accepted this as a natural part of the diagnostic process.

Unlike less reputable researchers into transsexual lives, Benjamin didn’t assume that a patient was a liar for revealing something which challenged his preconceptions. He always assumed his own understanding of all the intricacies of how this condition affected individual lives to be incomplete.

Benjamin makes it pretty clear how he himself used these standards in relating examples of three different types of transsexuals. One such story begins with the patient showing up at Benjamin’s office at the age of 28, married, father of three children, a successful salesman, and asking for help because his recurrent transvestism was threatening his marriage.

Type III transvestite, you might think? Benjamin implies that was his initial diagnosis. But as more evidence came to light his diagnosis changed. That person described above is his example of a Type VI “high intensity” transsexual. They don’t get any more transsexual in Benjamin’s book.

If an expert like Benjamin could err so dramatically in diagnosing a patient, why do others seem so certain they can grab a few facts about a person – like marital status, age, and crossdressing history – and make a slam-dunk, unchangeable diagnosis every time?

Benjamin’s work was all about helping people. He found transsexuals a miserably unhappy and tragically underserved segment of the population. He didn’t look for someone else to blame. He rolled up his sleeves and made fixing this problem his life’s work. Those who use that work as a basis for belittling, mocking, and abusing others could not be more divorced from the example of Harry Benjamin himself, and do his legacy no favors.

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Just a quick link to share today. It’s not a new article. But I’ve been returning to it recently as a resource for countering some of the usual “transsexuals are unnatural” arguments, and I thought others might find it helpful for the same purpose.

It’s from The Organisation Intersex International (OII) Australia:

“I believe that transsexuals are intersexed individuals.”

Incidentally, the article’s position regarding the proper role of science in addressing these questions is one I strongly share. How come so many people who want to use “nature” to refute our existence seem so resistant to actually examining the natural evidence?

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Recently I’ve been wondering how much longer I can keep this gender transition-themed blog going. When I started the blog, just a few weeks from one year ago, transition seemed to be an endless well of ideas and experiences capable of fueling the blog’s engine for all time. But now?

I’m frankly running out of steam on the topic. While I don’t claim to be finished with transition my any means, my life isn’t about transition any longer. The distinction is important.

I still read a lot of transition blogs – though admittedly not as many as I once did. I keep looking for some hook to make writing about the same kind of stuff seem relevant to a life which has moved into normalcy. I haven’t found it yet.

This revelation pains me in a way. I never intended to become someone who transitioned and then disappeared. While I have longed for a normal life, I have always maintained strong empathy for those who still suffer from the condition I’m increasingly looking back upon.

But I’m struggling to find any relevance in joining the life I am now building with the transition culture I’m unexpectedly leaving behind. These things, I am finding, are not alike. You cannot live in them both at once. One will win out.

I don’t want my life to all be about the “trans” aspect anymore. I understand how and why that stuff remains important to some. But that isn’t what I’m about. After a certain point it isn’t remotely descriptive about the kind of person I am.

I would like to think there is nothing about my new life which is closed off to anyone – the trans aspect is neither excluded nor required. When it comes to anything important I have to say, I welcome any and all challenges to this belief.

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Monsters

I had a post for today. But I can’t post it now. This thing is all that my mind can process at the moment.

What happens in that video is still, as far as I can tell from the internet discussions about it, fair treatment for someone like me . Or at least, it’s worthy of debate (if the victim is a real woman, string the abusers up. but if she’s only a tranny…). I mean… you wouldn’t want to be “politically correct” and rule these kind of beatings out in all cases.

Tonight, I’m emotionally in the bunker. The rest of the human race who doesn’t  automatically condemn this seem like monsters to me after seeing this. And right now the world seems full of monsters.

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I don’t often post directly in response to other people’s posts. If I agree, it seems redundant. If I disagree it seems confrontational. But in this case I’m going to make an exception because I suspect my reaction is neither redundant nor confrontational – it’s just different.

A post from Chloe Prince this morning gave me a little jolt because I had been thinking about a very similar topic during my morning commute.

In short, Chloe is having trouble being herself without feeling like she’s falling short of her standard of what a woman should be. If she’s drawing upon her male-upbringing in her new life, she feels it challenges her legitimacy as a woman. No doubt she speaks for many in this regard.

But I have to tell you, I talk to a lot of women and I hear this same concern quite a lot, regardless of their circumstances of birth. Women are increasingly called upon to not back down from doing the “guy stuff” from an early age. Some women learned to change their own oil. Some are good at fixing the plumbing or doing electrical work. Some grew up the only girl in a house full of brothers being treated like “one of the boys.” In all cases they have more masculine experiences than a lot of their peers, which can sometimes set them apart.

There’s an inevitable friction between the traditional image of feminine meekness and vulnerability, and the modern image of powerful women who can do anything men can do (backward and in heels, no less). The notion that those born female navigate these choppy waters naturally and easily is mistaken. Whether you were born into it or transitioned into it, the struggle to reconcile feminine vulnerability with female power – and in a form that will please everyone from your mother to your co-workers to your lovers to your friends – is a challenge. But it just doesn’t feel right to me to assume the correct answer is to feign ignorance where none exists, or weakness where you’re truly strong.

Chloe further elaborated her point:

“In truth, it takes a life time to enter and live in the female world to grow into a ‘woman’.  Normally, a child goes through all these awkward stages of social grooming into their gender roll, early on in life.  As a transgender woman, I feel like a 6 year old girl right now with the life experience of a 32 year old male.  And that hurts, some days. Other days, its been a blessing to be able to navigate a situation with my ‘privilege’ of my former experience of having lived as a male.  But again, your average woman would not have had that privilege.  So am I a woman? Or am I a Transgender woman with male privilege?  Admittedly, this is deeply troubling.  But why?”

Not long ago I thought in exactly the same terms. I was applying a fieldwork standard in cultural anthropology to the gender transition experience (why yes, I am that much of a geek). In ethnographic fieldwork you’re supposed to assume that one year in the field gives you the understanding in that culture of someone born into it of equivalent age. You spent five years with the Yanamamo in Amazonia? Consider your understanding the equivalent of a Yanamomo five year old. Chloe describes the same mindset above.

But recently I started to realize it’s a bad analogy. Gender transition – for me anyway – is nothing like that. It may be like that for others, and I don’t want to discount their experiences, but that concept totally fell apart in my own transition experience.

Transition for me has been more about learning to trust my own instincts, and strip away the artificial and the phony. If I approach it like I’m trying to learn something foreign to me, what was all that gender dysphoria about? Surely some of this stuff has been trapped inside me for ages waiting for the chance to come out. I’m finding that in most of the important cases, this has been so.

My shift away from being “intrepid ethnographer in gender-land” came when I discovered that my presumption (that I must be clueless because I didn’t grow up in a female role) was itself holding me back from being authentic. The lack of authenticity more than the lack of experience kept me separated from being accepted as a woman by others. When I embraced my own life – including the unique experiences and perspectives brought about by a cross-gendered life – the artificial wall I’d placed between myself and others quickly crumbled.

It sounds to me like Chloe – like myself not long ago – is looking for acceptance to come from others first, in order to justify her own self-acceptance. I’ve found that approach didn’t work so well. Far better to start with self-acceptance, and work outward from there. After all, if you don’t accept yourself – and you know yourself far better than anyone else can – why should anyone else accept you?

I think some people who transition have a kind of courage problem. It’s not a lack of courage. It takes incredible courage to face down everyone in your life and insist your gender role doesn’t fit and needs to change. I would call this particular courage problem one of misdirected courage. They have loads of courage to face other people despite their admitted imperfections. But that courage is no where to be found when it comes to confronting their own self-doubt and shame.

Way back in one of my early posts on this blog I wrote about how living as a male felt like a never-ending acting job. In the end it exhausted me and I simply couldn’t go on with it any longer. Perhaps that’s why I am so determined that my post-transition life cannot fall into that same trap. I refuse to “act the part” of someone I am not. One consequence of of that means I have to lose the shame. I need to be able to show my authentic self without harsh self-judgement picking apart my own confidence and self esteem before others even get the chance.

In short, I have to find the courage to be myself – and be okay with being myself. I have to love myself first before I can ask others to love me. I have to stop shaming myself as being “not good enough,” or “not pretty enough,” or “not feminine enough,” as if there is some external standard of perfection I’m obligated to meet.

I have faults – plenty of them. So does every other woman I’ve ever met (and men have even more of them *rimshot*). Last I checked, a woman with faults is still a woman. A woman sheltered from experiences common to other women is still a woman. A woman who doubts herself and wonders if she measures up well with other women is all too much a woman.

Transition should not be a form of the question: Am I good enough yet? Instead it should be the exclamation point following a line of self-discovery stating: This is who I am! In fact, that’s a pretty good way to live even if you’re not inclined to gender transition.

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Lately I’ve found exploring blogs, forums and articles written for transsexuals by other transsexuals a dispiriting and even angering experience. So many basic human flaws on never-ending display: Elitism, groupthink, factionalization. Then there are even more basic mammalian tendencies on equally proud display: marginalization of undesirables, alpha assertion, and dominance displays. These same sort of places seemed full of good advice and support back when I was looking forward to transition. Now they seem to be more full of harm rather than good. I’m sure this is more a result of my own transformation than theirs, but I feel the need to address it all the same.

Transsexual transition is a dramatic example of a life journey toward self-acceptance and self-realization. At some point the “transsexual” part becomes less important than the “self-acceptance and self-realization” part. And, as I am now discovering, in some cases the “transsexual” part inhibits the “self-acceptance and self-realization” part, and would be better discarded.

Our lives are just like other lives after a certain point. We all – trans and non-trans alike – seek to live authentically and honestly. Once the transition bugaboo is largely licked, why should we assume trans people have any special insight beyond what other people in similar situations can provide?

In way of illustration, here’s my transsexual life story writ in general terms:

I grew up under severe pressure to repress my self identity. I had to play a role which never felt like myself. I never thought anyone could ever love me if I showed them the person I truly was inside. As a result I was incredibly lonely and isolated, despite any appearances to the contrary. Learning to stop playing that role meant embracing my greatest phobia – being truly vulnerable. I was almost willing to die rather than ever do that. Learning to live another way has been rewarding and terrifying in equal measures. But I could never go back to living as before.

That paragraph above applies to a hell of a lot more people than the trans community. I’ve been encouraged learning about other individuals and groups who deal with this sort of thing better than anything I’ve seen within the trans community.

It helps when you start from the simple assumption that we are all worthy beings deserving of love and respect. We make mistakes. We’re not perfect. And still… we’re worthy of love and respect. Anyone who says otherwise is wrong and ought to be disregarded.

 

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