Let’s be honest. Transition is damned scary. You’re taking a leap into the unknown and doing something most people can’t even contemplate. You’re changing one of the most fundamental characteristics of who and what you are, one many people regard as the most immutable of all. You are actually changing your sex, not just anatomically, but emotionally and personally, socially, legally … Take a moment and let that sink in for a bit. You’re doing alchemy here. Transformation. Like real, actual magick. You’re changing reality.
So why would you go and make it harder for yourself than it already is?
And yet, that seems to be what people end up doing to themselves way too often when they do take the plunge. Time and again I’ve read of or met people who have lost everything during the course of their transition – Friends and family, career, income, home. It’s tragic and painful to watch, and such an easy trap to fall into.
I mean, finally coming to terms with being gender-variant, you want nothing so much as to burst out of the closet and RUN. You’ve hidden yourself from the world your entire life, and so the urge to do a complete 180 is overwhelming.
But as much as that urge to change the past and remake yourself drives you, you can’t let it control you. Transition is a major undertaking, and unless you approach it with some kind of a plan, you’re going to get into trouble. Probably a lot of it.
SO DON’T DO IT. (Don’t put tuna in the mix! ^_^) Patience is the keyword to a stress-free transition, patience and self-discipline. You need to make provision for unforeseen circumstances. You need to give people the time and space they need to come to terms with your changes, especially Significant Others like spouses or boyfriends/girlfriends or children/parents, not to mention the people who pay you. The more preparation you make up front, the better-equipped you will be for your actual transition and your new life afterwards.
Introducing the Band
The Transition 101 series is a kind of “ideal guide” of how I would have liked to tackle the whole process if I’d had the benefit of hindsight. I’m not even going to pretend like this is a particularly good guide – I don’t know that good or bad even really apply to something as subjective and personal as transition, but what I’ve shared here served me well, and I do hope that everybody who reads it will find something of value in here.
I divide transition into five distinct phases, and I’ll cover each in turn over the next handful of days, followed by a couple of additional articles on specific topics such as transition resources on-line, terminology, etc.
On a final note, I’m a Male-to-Female Transsexual person. Which of course means that this entire guide is written from that point of view. While I hope a lot here might prove useful to the FtM community, or to Neutrois transitioners, or whomever else, I can only write what I know. I would be absolutely DELIGHTED if I could find some guest writers to add other perspectives to this guide. (hintnudgewink! ya interested?! email me!)
So anyway, Welcome to Transition 101, Mina Magpie’s (Really Rough) Guide to a (Mostly) Stress-Free Transition (For Girls)! ^_^ See ya tomorrow for Part One: Knowing Me Knowing You.
Okay, so I ended up being gone a while, but in my defense, it’s been a busy, eventful, wonderful month. March that is. 😉
I’m now legally Mina! (Well, the real name I use in real life IN PLACE of Mina anyway ~_^) After a fair bit of fighting with Home Affairs, my name change came through last week, and on top of that, I got referred for an orchi … which happened 5 days later! Sometimes it’s amazing how things can just … shift literally over the course of a day or two after months of nothing so much as bashing your head out against a wall.
So yeah, I’m over the moon … and really sore. But the sore will pass, and in the meantime, Tramaset FTW! ^_^
Probably won’t be writing regularly again for a while yet – now the next priority becomes to find a job as a matter of urgency, but once that’s out of the way …
Transsexual and transgender people often get accused of threatening the very survival of the human species. Groups such as Focus on the Family single us out as the last gambit in the “Homosexual Agenda of Death”, tasked with nothing less than destroying the very foundations of the family and continued human existence. By turns we’re sinful perverts, demoniacally possessed or simply pure evil. Secular critics are a bit kinder: to them we’re just nuts.
These accusations tend to be extended to chromosomally or endocrinologically intersex people as well, despite irrefutable proof that they are simply biologically different. Even physical intersex gets dismissed as, at best a deformity, at worst the physical manifestation of original sin. (Yes, I’ve actually heard that as an argument for why people are born intersex. More than once.)
At the end of the day though, we’re all disorders and deformities. When sex evolved 350-odd million years ago, male and female were mutations, disorders that seemingly threatened the very survival of their species because these individuals needed to pair up to reproduce, unlike their ancestors who basically just cloned themselves. But because sexual reproduction allowed for greater adaptability and faster spread of advantageous traits, sex proved successful and became the dominant form of reproduction in both the plant and animal kingdoms. Sexual reproduction turned out to be a brilliant survival mechanism and it became the new norm. From the point of view of asexual creatures though, every male and female on this planet is a freak.
I’m not saying that intersex conditions fall into this category – the entire spectrum of intersex and transsexualism and transgender may be developmental dead-ends. But variation is the essence of evolution, and there is no way to predict what new variations add to our species as they develop. The fact that bisexuality and gender-variant behaviour is so widespread amongst animals, especially mammals, points to there being a definite survival value to it, otherwise these behaviours would long since have died out.
As a species, we are quick to label developmental variations as disorders or even as immoral or sinful, but I would argue that the disorder lies more in our society’s inability to adapt to and deal with these variations, than in any objective assessments of value. We fear what we don’t understand so we attack it, destroy it or hide it.
Take autism for example.
Autism is still regarded by most of the general public as a horrible mental disorder characterised by severely impaired social ability, repetitive behaviour, and mental retardation. Historically, autism and other neurological variations were regarded by turns as demonic possession or punishment from God. There are a few societies where such people were regarded as holy innocents instead, but the majority view was deeply negative, as it overwhelmingly remains today.
In reality though research is starting to show that autistic people are actually hyper-intelligent, and that it is our failure as a society to communicate with such people effectively that’s the problem.
The latest understanding of Autism Spectrum (AS) disorders is that people with AS have extreme male brains. They simply have a different way of thinking, hyper-systematizing and ordering. Under this new understanding, people with AS are actually hyper-intelligent in areas such as spacial and technical ability, and this is reflected by the fact that fathers and grandfathers of AS kids are almost twice as likely to have been engineers. Students in science tend to have more relatives with autism than the general population, while mathematicians tend to themselves be autistic more often. Asperger Syndrome, a milder form of autism, has even been called the “Geek syndrome” because sufferers tend to be extremely intelligent when it comes to science, math and other technical subjects, but lacking in social and empathic ability.
And then there are the truly amazing examples of this intelligence: Savants.
Stephen Wiltshire is an architectural artist with the ability to draw landscapes after only a single glance. He has featured on various television specials, has had collections of his work published and once drew the entirety of central London after a single helicopter trip over it. Yet he only developed the ability to speak around the age of nine, having been diagnosed with autism at the age of three.
Our society simply doesn’t know how to deal with these hyper-intelligent people, how to educate and interact with them, so we label them idiots, stick them in institutions and forget about them. Their amazing technical abilities go to waste and we are all the poorer for it.
Likewise, gender-variance is a poorly understood phenomenon, and despite mounting evidence of biological causes, still regarded almost universally negative by modern society. And yet people with intersex and gender-variant “conditions” have been around for at least as long as we’ve been writing things down, and in many cultures such people often came to be valued as mediators, medicine-people and priests. Falling “in-between” in a sense was seen to give such individuals a unique perspective on both sexes, and that perspective was valued.
Many gender-variant and intersex people see their “condition” as a burden, something to be ashamed of or angry about, and I can understand the sentiment – in our world it is a burden that isolates us and singles us out for ridicule and attack. And yet, in many other societies it was a gift, and in the same way that autism actually masks genius, who knows what gender-variance and intersex really is?
This is the last of my reprints from en.gender, so I promise there won’t be any more blasts from the past. Yay!
When Taysia Elzy and Michael Hunt were murdered late in 2008, a huge amount of attention was focussed on the fact that Taysia was transgender. Reporters made sure to point out that “he” had not had “the surgery” yet, that “he was living as a woman”. Commentary by readers was similarly obsessed with Taysia’s gender, and if the fact that the two of them were murdered was mentioned at all, it was mostly as an afterthought. The Huffington Post has a good summary article detailing events around the case.
Unfortunately it’s an all too common complaint against reporters covering trans-related stories. There was a rash of murders last year of trans people in the US, especially amongst black women, and yet most of the reporting was much more concerned by their gender than by their murders. Closer to home, the Sunday Times in South Africa ran a feature called “Tranny Day” in October of 2008. And most recently, I came across this little gem:
from LA MetBlogs:
I went to the tranny session and out of all the minorities struggling to find their voice in the LGBTI movement, none is between a bigger rock and a harder place than trannies. Generally considered a liability – as in, “You Buffalo Bills and walking Thai surgery centres represent that slippery slope argument they keep talking about” – trannies are the black sheep of the LGBTI family. My group was stymied as to how to make their social and political challenges relevant to the movement without alienating the public and indirectly hurting the gay community as a whole. What I took away from this was: that’s how non-white gays and lesbians used to, and still do, feel!
Nice huh? I thought the “Silence of the Lambs” reference was particularly classy.
Journalists don’t have the greatest track record when it comes to presenting the concerns and circumstances of transgender people sensitively. Granted, there’s still alot of misunderstanding and lack of knowledge around transsexuality and transgender people, but one can only excuse so much through ignorance before the argument falls flat. There are plenty of resources out there for journalists who care to look … sadly it just seems like many of them don’t.
The Associated Press updated its style guide in 2006 to take modern terminology and common usage of language around the LGBTQI community into account. Good style guides are also available at various places online:
- GLAAD Applauds Updated Associated Press Stylebook Entries
- GLAAD Media Reference Guide: Transgender Glossary of Terms
- NLGJA Stylebook Supplement: T
Just in brief, some basic guidelines and definitions to follow might include:
- Gender identity is a person’s internal sense of him or herself as either a man or a woman. For transgender people, this gender identity is in partial or total conflict with their physical gender.
- A transsexual person is somebody who’s gender identity is in direct opposition to their birth sex. Transsexual people sometimes do not identify with the broader term “transgender”, so use the term the person you are interviewing is comfortable with.
- An androgyne person is somebody who’s gender identity is an equal mix of male and female elements, or else is in flux. Use gender neutral pronouns such as zir/zie or singular plurals, unless the person in question uses different pronouns.
- A neutrois person is somebody who has no sense of gender identity, or else regards theirs as a distinct third type. As with androgyne people, use gender neutral pronouns unless otherwise okayed.
- Transition is the process by which transgender people bring their bodies into alignment with their gender identities. This may include any or all of the following: counselling, hormone therapy, surgery, electrolysis and voice training. Transgender people do not always want to transition to the sex opposite that of their physical body. This may be especially true of androgyne or neutrois individuals. Most transsexual people do, though they may elect not to or be unable to have certain treatments due to costs or medical risks.
- Terms such as “tranny”, “she-male”, “he-she” and “it” are all deeply offensive. Avoid using them.
Beyond language usage there’s also the question of … tact. Understandably, journalists are always looking for something to make their piece stand out and draw readers, but there are certain boundaries that need to be respected:
Obviously, the first and most important rule is that you respect the person. You’re talking to an individual, a human being, not a gender. Ask the person how they want to be referred to and stick to that, and respect boundaries they set on what they are willing to share or discuss.
- Refer to a person by the pronouns and conventions of their gender-identity, not their physical sex, and use their chosen name. So if somebody identifies as male, use male pronouns and conventions, whatever their biology and/or gender presentation at the time. The same goes for a person who identifies as a woman, as androgyne or as neutrois.
- Trans people are born the gender they identify as, so don’t refer to the past in terms of “when you were a “guy/girl”. If you have to bring up the past, which is a touchy subject to most trans people to begin with, stick to “before you transitioned”, or something along similar lines. Similarly, a trans woman might have been born physically male, but that doesn’t equate to her being born a man. She was born a woman, though with a male body.
- Gender identity is not sexual orientation. Gender identity is who you are, sexual orientation is who you are attracted to. Just as there are straight, gay, bi and asexual non-transgender people, trans people also exhibit all orientations. Sexual orientation is expressed in terms of the person’s gender, not their birth sex. So, for example, a trans woman attracted to women is a lesbian, the body she was born with notwithstanding.
- Privacy. Besides the obvious that there are certain things people will not be comfortable discussing, not respecting a trans person’s privacy can have devastating repercussions. Most transgender people blend completely into society in the gender they identify as, with nobody the wiser. Publishing sensitive information can not only compromise this, but place a transgender individual at serious risk of losing a job or a home or of being targeted with violence.
- Do not discuss genitals. Ever. How would you like a perfect stranger asking you about yours? Whether the person has had surgery or not is similarly none of your business. The only people who have a right to know these things are medical professionals and intimate partners.
- Most importantly, don’t treat them differently. A woman with a trans history is simply a woman with a medical history. The fact that she had to have a birth condition medically rectified has no bearing on who she is. Treat her as you would anybody else.
In a post entitled “The Taliban of the GLB Movement” over at tgnonsense, Leigh Smith argues that transgender people are largely responsible for the backlash gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual people are currently experiencing in the US and in some regions elsewhere in the world. She goes on to explain how they provide a huge big bullseye for a resurgent Religious Right to take aim at, and consequently elicit hatred and bigotry against everybody in the LGBT “community”.
I don’t think anybody can realistically disagree with her. Transgender people are indeed singularly visible, and to an ideology so rigidly conformist as religious conservatism, gender variance is like a huge big red flag.
But to blame the target makes no sense.
I’ve been watching the whole transgender vs. transsexual thing in the US for a couple of years now, reading blogs and articles and forum posts that sometimes get so nasty (from both sides), you expect nothing so much as bloody murder.
Once you look beyond “American” shores (always loved how you guys appropriated the entire continent in naming yourselves) it seems to become something of a non-issue. The “great divide” between transgender and transsexual nearly never even occurs to most people, and with obvious exceptions, gender-variance is accepted legally and medically, and for the most part tolerated. Way-out transgender people might be seen as odd or weird or “out-there”, but most people just go about their lives with a wry grin or a sneer and a shake of their heads on the rare occasions that they actually encounter one.
It only seems to be in the United States that acceptance of GLB and especially T has become no less than a battle for the very fate of all mankind, emphasis on the MAN.
And I suppose that’s a big part of it. America seems to need enemies, to be locked in a heroic struggle of good against evil. At least if you judge by how quick it is to name them. In the 50’s the big evil was the Communist Threat. Before that, “Japs” and Nazi sympathisers were undermining the very fabric of the United States. Not too long ago we had an “Axis of Evil” knocking on the door and today the Gay Agenda threatens no less than the destruction of America in righteous hell-fire and brimstone. And let us not forget the dark threat of Al Qaeda and “Islamic TERROR”…. which the US just so happens to have created, trained and funded way back when they were fighting the Commies.
Whatever the cause, those “enemies” breed fear, and fundamentalism thrives in that sort of environment. Add climate change and an economic collapse that spells uncertainty for all of us, and fundamentalists are going to look for scapegoats to blame their woes on. If transgender people didn’t exist it would be black people or women, both popular targets in the past, immigrants or just foreigners in general, or they would invent a new group to hate. Anything rather than to accept responsibility for their part in creating the circumstances we face in this world right now. And of course, you have to be the good-guy if you’re going to be fighting the Great Enemy.
I understand the urge to be normal, to sanitise ourselves and become as acceptable and palatable as possible, but no matter what we do, whether we are “true transsexuals” or screamingly genderqueer or just garden-variety gay, we’ll never conform closely enough to their idea of what a man or a woman is supposed to be. After all, most cisgender men and women don’t either. Indulging in a bit of scapegoating of our own won’t change that.
Religious fanaticism isn’t part of the problem, it is ALL of the problem. Ignorance at least can be reasoned with, most of the time, but fanaticism has to be opposed. Because as long as we’re all busy scratching one-another’s eyes out, with transgender accusing transsexual of being deluded in their binary identity, or transsexual accusing transgender of subsuming and subverting the plight of “true transsexuals”, or GLB really not wanting anything to do with either group ’cause they’re well, weird, the fanatics will be taking the United States away from everybody, and that influence will spread beyond its shores, as is the case with everything that happens in “America”.
I have on occasion been accused of a slight case of paranoia. I’ve even been called a “chicken little” once or twice in my life. Now this is understandable, since my particular way of dealing with dysphoria before I came out was to latch onto anything that might change the world FOR me. Pole Shift? Oh I’m there! Apocalyptic Alignment of Planets. Bring it on! I ran off into the wilderness no more than three times, intent to find solitude amongst the beasts, the birds and … well, you get the idea. I was nuts.
It did leave me with a very well-developed sense of “Things are going pear-shaped here”, and it’s true what they say: Someday the sky really is gonna fall. So with climate change looming and peak oil knocking on the door and collapsing economies all over the place, my thoughts turn once again to the single most important consideration on the planet: WHAT ABOUT MY HORMONES?!?!
Call it paranoia, but I have sleepless nights thinking about the drug companies folding or distribution channels collapsing or, or, or, and until I have some kind of alternative I can fixate on, this is going to keep happening.
Now, I’ve read up on herbals, and they’re kinda … iffy, it would seem, though I’d love to be corrected. The more serious idea I’ve been toying with is, well, why not just make my own? I mean, they synthesise Oestrogen and Progesterone from soya and yams! I don’t know about Testosterone, but I’m sure that’s synthesised from, well something too! How hard could it be?! I mean, if a compounding pharmacist can do it, why not me! …
Ah Mina, shoulda stayed in that advanced biochem class huh?
So, let’s put the hypothetical out there, put yourself in my paranoid-delusional shoes for a moment and consider how you would deal if the HRT dried up? There’s a wiiiiide open comments section down below ladies, gentlemen and others. Please fill it.
Oooooh. Better yet. Any chemist/botanists out there who’d like to undertake a wee project? (^_^)
Spend any length of time in the trans … community, and you’re gonna come away with the distinct impression that everybody hates everybody else. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, just a wee bit, but the ill-omened “transgender-as-umbrella-term” community sometimes makes a Taiwanese parliamentary session look like a game of bowls between Harriet’s Harriers and The Knitting Circle.
I was prompted to write this post after a slew of “us vs. them”-type discussions recently on various discussion boards and on some of the blogs I frequent. After a while they wear you down, and you just get tired of the nastiness. And while each side will claim the other is wrong or misguided or even insane, everybody gets emotional eventually, nothing is achieved … and next week we do it all over again once we’ve had a chance to cool down and catch our breath.
It’s not all that surprising though, I suppose. We all start out alone, not knowing who or what we are. Our mind says one thing, but everything else – our parents, our friends, our teachers, our own bodies are all telling us different. So we try so very hard to listen to all of them, but we just can’t ever shut out that deepest part of us that keeps on shouting.
So when we do finally find other people like us, it’s just such a relief. And suddenly you’re not crazy anymore, ’cause “Look Ma! I’m not alone! I’m not the only one.” or “There’s a reason for why I’m like this! It’s biology so you can’t blame me anymore!” and you gradually start to piece together your identity and your sense of self and your self-esteem.
Of course, you soon realise that the best you can hope for is similarity with some of them and support from some more. And then you start to notice the differences, and that fragile sense of self confidence you just started building takes some hard knocks again, ’cause what, you’re supposed to be like THEM now?! Worse, what if other people confuse you with THOSE people?! You’ve worked so hard at trying rebuild not only that sense of yourself, but the life you were denied before. You’ve found a community that accepts you, be it queer or gay or female or cisgender or male or whatever … and now the freaks threaten EVERYTHING, because your community might just decide you’re more like the freaks than like them after all…
The thing is, the bigots in your community only ever compare you to one person: themselves, and if you don’t fit that mould closely enough, you will be something to be hated, no matter how similar or different you are to that other freak over there. It’s a losing game no matter how you play it, because you will never conform closely enough, and you’re always only a slip or an accident away from discovery.
On the other hand, most people discriminate purely out of ignorance. They don’t understand us, so they fear us. We’re different, so we’re something to be wary of, to be kept at arms length. The only thing that’s ever going to change that, is to show them that the differences are cosmetic at best. The only way to do that is by living authentically, confidently, whatever that might mean to you, and not relying on your similarities or your differences to be accepted.
Live your truth and people will learn to trust that truth.
We have enough people out there who want nothing so much as to drive us into the sea. Between the religious conservatives and their dogged literalism around Adam and Eve, or the Autogynaephilia gang suddenly in a position to subvert the DSM, or the reparative therapy snake-oil sellers building an audience through daytime-television, we have no shortage of enemies. The last thing we need to do is go look for more enemies in groups of people that could be our allies. Transgender, classic transsexual, HBS man or woman, androgyne, stealth, queer, crossdresser, open, whatever … they may all be related or they may not be – ultimately only time and research will settle that question, but there is no reason for us to be fighting one another. Not if we consider ourselves any different from the people who hate and fear us. And not if we want to survive.