Weathering the Changes

What a piece of worke is a man! how Noble in
Reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving
how express and admirable! in Action, how like an Angel!
in apprehension, how like a God? the beauty of the
world, the paragon of animals; and yet to me, what is
this quintessence of dust! Man delights not me; no,
nor Woman neither; though by your smiling you seeme
to say soThe Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (Act II, Scene ii)

Precedent Bone Spurs Pussy Grabber in charge now, having just completed his first year in office (may the gods grant it is his only year, please!), and the second Women’s March has recently taken place.

Among the hilarious and thought-provoking signs spotted in the various marches: a child with the sign reading “I’m not allowed to act like the President”, many inclusive and support signs on issues that are intersection with all people, not only women (yet I don’t recall seeing even a single “Not All Men” type among them, though undoubtedly there was at least one, perhaps on the sidelines, in protest), but the one that has hit me the hardest is actually not inclusive, which was the intent of it in the first place. Many call it transphobic.

Pinknews has an article about it with the sign, here. There’s been a lot of reaction to the sign, and the intent of it, much of which is summed up in Penknews’ article.

Aside from the signs, there’s another aspect of the Women’s March that upsets some people: “Not My Pussy Hat: Why I Didn’t Participate in the Women’s March This Year” A lot of gender non-conforming/non-binary folks feel much the same way.

Many of these same issues were raised last year, at which time I wrote the following:

I didn’t attend any marches or planning meetings. I was somewhat confused by some of the comments on social media as to why some transfolx didn’t participate, as nothing I was seeing indicated any deliberate exclusions.

Several of the posts I saw by those expressing exclusionary feelings were from non-binary people. I can sort of understand why they might feel that, especially if the only people they were seeing wearing the hats were women (and for the most part, I don’t distinguish between cis and trans women or men, unless it’s actually relevant to something, and I don’t see this issue that way.)

However, as a non-bearer of a uterus whose birth certificate states I am female, I’m not going to say they should have joined in or stayed away, because their perceptions and feelings of safety and inclusiveness are theirs, not mine, no matter how well or poorly I may be able to relate to them.

Me, personally? Had I been physically capable to attend any of the rallies or marches, I would have. The physical emblems are not nearly as important as the underlying issues (which in my world includes racial equality as well as all of the other issues others have mentioned.)

However, as someone else mentioned to me, “exclusion doesn’t have to be deliberate in order to be real.”

But there’s something about that anti-trans sign with which I agree: “Woman is not a ‘feeling,’ a costume, or a performance of a stereotype!”.

No, it isn’t. Nor is it a “state of mind”, or a “life choice”, any more than having a nervous system is a life choice or state of mind. It’s not something that we put on and later take off, and if transgender people are stereotypes, it’s largely because the Gatekeepers have demanded it of them.

Yesterday, I was interviewed for about two hours as part of a survey and study on transgender veterans and their mental health care. Among the many things the interviewer and I discussed, was the topic of how we identify. Given my preferences, I identify as female. Not trans-female, not MTF. If it’s relevant to why it’s being asked, I can add “transgender (although, as I explained, I still prefer the older and now-more obsolete term “transsexual”.)

I’ve always been female. I pretended, badly, to be male for many years, and failed miserably. I was miserable, the people around me were miserable, and I hated the pretense – for nearly 60 years. I was depressed for most of those years – suicidally so. I have no idea how many attempts I made, from the first hanging attempt (before school-age) to the knife through my wrist and beyond.

There are those who claim that reality is a shared perception. Our minds often perceive things differently from others, however, and thus our realities may not be quite as shared as some may think.

As a child, I spent a few years trying to correct others when they would call me a boy. One afternoon in 1960, my father came home early from work; the neighborhood kids had a game of flag football going on — and I was dressed in my sister’s clothes, being the cheerleader. … for Christmas that year, I got a football uniform. Up until just a few years ago, I could come across copies of the one and only photo of me wearing the damned thing, and get physically ill. I think I have finally burned most of the existing copies, save those held by long-distant relatives. I finally learned to stop trying that, it was successfully beaten out of me by the time I was in second grade. My only real respite was when I stayed with my paternal grandmother and aunt. They would let me be me. And I could take off the boy and be the real me.

By my teen years, I was seeing a psychiatrist for my “issues”, as my father grudgingly referred to them. I was diagnosed with what is currently called GID – Gender Identity Disorder – sometimes referred to as transexualism. My parents remained convinced until the end of their lives that “it’s just a phase”. After a while we just didn’t bring it up anymore.

In my senior year of high school, I began correspondence with a person in Kansas City, MO; the plan was to move there upon graduation (she would send me the tickets), live with her and work on transitioning from male to female. A few months before graduation, I panicked, and broke off communication with her. I’ve often wondered whatever happened to Florence.

Instead, I went to college, dropped out of college, enlisted in the Navy, got out of the Navy four years later, almost became a Country-Western DJ, returned to college, met and married the woman who would become mother of my three children …

But throughout the years, the desire never went away, the knowledge that the core of my personal being, My Being, was female. It reared its head at times and roared for attention, and I would spend hours looking at transitioning guides and start pricing hormones.

But the Gatekeepers. Always the Gatekeepers would be there, blocking my path, with their arbitrary and nonsensical requirements that must be followed like a checklist.

Until recently, the “gatekeeper” model of trans care was standard, and it meant that who could or could not change their bodies was ultimately up to therapists. From the 1960s through recent decades, patients had to live as their target gender for two years before medical intervention.

“They were required to supply documentation that showed they were actually living out in the community as the opposite sex and not just ordering pizza delivery and putting on a dress,” Blanchard said. “By today’s standard, that would be incredibly oppressive.”

And that was before you could even start Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). Over the decades since Harry Benjamin first developed them, the Standards of Care have periodically been update and revised, to reflect current research and understanding, and now allow for “informed consent”, much as with other medical procedures. (The original SOC were published in 1979, and revised in 1980, 1981, 1990, 1998, 2001 (6th version) [20], and ultimately in 2011. The 7th version (2011) of the WPATH SOC is currently available from the web.)

However, back to stereotypes … and that sign.

“To me, a gatekeeper in the traditional sense is kind of like a check box of things you need to say, or think, or be, in order to be what they think is appropriate for someone to start hormone therapy, or have surgery, or whatever,” explained Marti Abernathey, a trans woman and the founder of Trans Advocate, a news and commentary website. Abernathey went on to describe the narrow stereotypes that medical professionals once expected trans women to conform to in order to merit a medical transition: They would need to be sexually attracted to men, for example, and they should be very feminine. Informed consent sidesteps these kinds of biases.
“Informed consent is a medical provider laying out your risks and benefits, and the most current information they have about those risks and benefits, and giving you the choice about what to do with your own body. For me this is a basic human right, a matter of bodily autonomy,” Abernathey said.

Dr. Green, WPATH current president, puts it this way. “In the past, the belief was that people couldn’t make these decisions on their own, and the mental health screening could be brutal. It could go 2 or 3 years before you’d have any access to [hormone] therapy. The SOC acknowledge that it’s unethical to try to change someone’s gender identity, and they don’t require a year or more of therapy before you can get hormones—one or two visits is fine, as long as the therapist you’re seeing is comfortable. This is a complex and difficult thing, and if someone wants surgery it can be important that they slow down just a bit and think about what they’re doing. And, surgeons don’t feel qualified to evaluate who will be a good candidate for surgery—they want a therapist to do that.”

It’s a huge step forward, and one I encourage and welcome. But Informed Consent is only a part of the issue that needs to be resolved.

Because of the stereotyping of (especially) transgender women, we are often expected to dress and behave in certain ways. As Germaine Greer is so fod of putting it, “Nowadays we are all likely to meet people who think they are women, have women’s names, and feminine clothes and lots of eyeshadow, who seem to us to be some kind of ghastly parody, though it isn’t polite to say so.” She seems to be mistaking being transgender with being a drag performer.

Greer is also (in)famous for her statement, “Being a woman is a bit tricky. If you didn’t find your pants full of blood when you were 13 there’s something important about being a woman you don’t know. It’s not all cake and jam.”

No, transgender women didn’t wake up with “blood in our pants at 13.” But I can almost guarantee that a vast majority of transwomen would have gladly traded every nocturnal emission, every classroom (or elsewhere) erection, for a single day of menses.

No, our experiences are not the same. We are the girls who did not bleed, and who wept every month when the realization that we would never bleed sank in. Instead,our bodies betrayed us in different ways; our voices broke and deepened, hair grew on our chests, our backs, our faces, and anywhere else it could – except on top of our heads, where more often that not, it went away.

Instead, we are forced to continue the charade of being “real men”, and other, real, men note us as different. Our disguise of far too often penetrated, and we are denied promotions at work, made the butt of jokes, derided as “sissies”. Sound familiar? Too many other women experience that as well.

We are prone to be assaulted for those perceived differences, and gods help us, whether or not we be dressed AS OURSELVES, assaulted, raped, and murdered at rates just as high as other women, if not more so. [Victims of Sexual Violence: Statistics: 21% of TGQN (transgender, genderqueer, nonconforming) college students have been sexually assaulted, compared to 18% of non-TGQN females, and 4% of non-TGQN males. (citing David Cantor, Bonnie Fisher, Susan Chibnall, Reanna Townsend, et. al. Association of American Universities (AAU), Report on the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct (September 21, 2015). (“Victim services agency” is defined in this study as a “public or privately funded organization that provides victims with support and services to aid their recovery, offer protection, guide them through the criminal justice process, and assist with obtaining restitution.” RAINN presents this data for educational purposes only, and strongly recommends using the citations to review any and all sources for more information and detail.))

2015,2016,and 2017 all reported record high numbers of transgender murder victims; the numbers are known to be under-reported, due to misgendering of victims by police, news media, and family, who may not have been living “full time” or were early in their transistion.

There’s a widely touted statistic that 40% of transgender people have attempted suicide. What that number fails to account for is the WHY.

I knew I was different at an early age. I didn’t have a name for it until I was a teenager, but the realization of being different was enough to spiral me down into depression,because unlike my dreams, there wasn’t any magic wand to make the changes happen. I know I wasn’t yet in school the first time I tried to hang myself. I made several attempts over the next few years, and eventually came up with the plan that has been my plan ever since. No, I won’t share with you what it is, it’s my plan, and should I ever reach the point “When All Else is Lost, and Not until Then, Prepare to Die with Dignity.” (Yeah, that’s a quote from British witch Robert Cochrane, but it’s as an apt expression of it as anything else.)

Most of the depression that transgender people experience is due to dysphoria and non-acceptance of others – family, friends, whomever is important to the person. The lack of access to adequate treatment. The lack of funding for both treatment and surgery if surgery is desired (and not all desire it; some are able to achieve an understanding between their body and their mind, and pursue only some aspects of transition.) Better access to treatment, and better options, in general, can go a long way in reducing that 40% number.

I’m not a huge fan of the phrase “living authentically” or “authentic selves”,but I don’t have a better set to use, so it will make do for now, and I quietly cheer on those who have made the leap, at younger and younger ages, and cry for those who, like myself for so long in my life, can no longer jump.

As my birthday present to myself, on my 59th Birthday, I legally changed my name and resumed my transition which had been “on hold” for nearly 40 years. A few months later, I began HRT, changed the gender markers for my driver’s license, and completed my transition process in the late summer of 2015, not long after my 61st birthday. The day that I received the Court Order changing my name, it was as if a huge weight had been lifted from me, and years of resentment towards that name and the history associated with it began to fade away. Beginning hormone therapy made changes to my body that were finally in consonance with how I had always felt about myself, and the surgical procedures furthered that. I no longer fall asleep at night with the thought of “okay, it wasn’t today, maybe tomorrow.” and waking with “Wonder if this will be the day I do it.”

2015 Photo of the author Friends who have known me for 30+ years sometimes comment how much happier and at ease I seem to them, and that I no longer have that “tired, pained look” on my face all of the time. While that’s certainly true, it’s still not been a “magic wand” journey. But it’s certainly been a better trip.

[This post incorporates portions from a 2011 post entitled “What is man, that thou art mindful of him?”,  as well as quotations from other articles, not all of which are cited in the text. All credit for those quoted portions belongs to the original authors, and no infringement of their intellectual property rights is implied nor intended by their inclusion herein.)