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MSNBC’s ‘Born in the Wrong Body: A Change of Heart’

[Update to the review: Josef has contributed to the discussion forum on the show here. Worth a read. ]

I knew that I wanted to write a post about ‘Born in the Wrong Body: A Change of Heart’ before it even aired, especially so because many of my friends told me they were reluctant or nervous about watching it for themselves. As someone who has not made a gender transition even once (let alone twice, or even three times!) I felt I could view it dispassionately and objectively.

However, after seeing it, I found myself affected in quite unexpected ways. The aspects that I expected to feel negatively about were just not there, and my overall reaction was very mixed – finding both positive and negative emotions rolling together leaving me … somewhat neutral. I have decided simply to write a synopsis of what we were shown, and leave it up to the reader to come to their own conclusions. I’m sure if this spurs you to watch the show, you can find it on YouTube, or coming up in MSNBC’s frequent re-run schedule.

I’m going to use the pronouns that (mostly) match the current gender presentation of the two people shown in the documentary. (If this offends you, I’m sorry – in a case like this, there simply is no “right way”.) Without further ado, here’s what we learn:

It was stressed up front that of all those who transition, only a very, very tiny proportion ever “go back”. In fact, I suspect the two subjects we follow were the only ones who could be identified and were willing to have their stories told. Most similar documentary programs feature three or more subjects to give a wider experience.
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Ma’am or sir?

Getting “ma’am”ed or “sir”ed can really make a difference in the mood of a day of a trans person!  Yesterday, I went to a service call to replace light bulbs on a juke box and as I was opening my tool box to get my work keys, the cute young (female) bartender came around the bar and said to me, “hey juke box guy,….”  Ouch!  I wasn’t presenting as female at the time (still working on that issue, I present as close to it as I can without augmentation or makeup) but it still bugged the crap out of me!  What an ego killer!

Now today, I went to a campground that we provide games to, to work on the plush animal crane.  There was a group of girls there, and a boy, all about 8-13 years old, that age group.  Anyway, as I was working on the crane, the kids were watching me, and I kept hearing “she” in relation to what I was doing.  Now, that was really weird!   Again, I wasn’t presenting as female in particular, but I wear a ball cap to cover my receding hairline, I have no visible beard shadow, and I have dark red hair now, to match my wig.   Also, I try to practice my voice in public to get used to the sound of it in my own ears.   My mini-boobs may have been showing a bit also.   I guess, for them, it added up to female.   I was interacting with them, I even traded them a couple animals that they had won for other animals that they wanted from inside the crane.   All the while, when the kids talked to each other, it was always “she” this or “she” that.  I left there feeling kinda weird, it’s the first time that’s happened to me.  It was nice, but really weird!  And, of course, it really pushed up my desire to properly look the part!  I think it’s going to be harder to be patient as I work my way toward full time at work.

Has anyone else run into these kinds of situations in public?

Children as a Weapon

Here is something I wrote on my personal blog, it is something I felt was important and needed to be shared here as well.

I have been thinking about children and transition again. I wrote about this before after I had read a blog post suggesting that not telling our children right away can be harmful to them. In the last week I have come across a few other things that have bothered me. For those who don’t know much about me, I have two young daughters, ages 2 and 4. To say that the topic of transition and children is one that is close to my heart is an understatement. I absolutely adore my girls, and I would do anything to protect them from anything I think would harm them. I am not over protective, but I am protective of them. They are part of the reason I left law enforcement, I want to be there for them. The other reason I left was because I could not go on being Mr. Macho anymore. Two years later, I came out and started transitioning.

Anyway, back on topic here before I veer off into a whole other topic. There were really two issues sets of circumstances that I read about. One involved a friend whose spouse insinuated that her being trans might be turning one of their children trans. The other situation involved some saying that they stopping transition, and putting it off until their children were grown. The reason being that their spouse and family said it would damage the children.

Both of these situations bring up some very strong feelings in me. In both of these situation, it feels to me that the children are being used against the transitioning spouse. Anyone of us who have children know how strong the parental protection instinct is. We want to protect our children, and we would never do anything to intentionally hurt our children. Our spouses and family know these feelings and emotions too. In some cases, they try and use these against us. After all, I doubt any of us would do anything to intentionally hurt our children. I know that I would not.

Why do family members do this? I think part of the reason is because of the strong emotional bond. The fear of losing our children. Many people hold off transition until late in life because of their children. I am in no way saying this is a bad choice. It is, however, not one that I can make. I have, in the short time since I came out and began transitioning, witnessed my children flourish even more. They are happier, more self confident, more loving, and just seem better adjusted. They do not yet know that I am trans, but they do know that I am happier and that I am more involved with them. I am no longer distant and depressed, I am now more fully engaged in life.

Some family members see children as a means to stop someone from transitioning. They fear losing the person they have known their whole life, they fear the transition process, they fear transsexuality, in short, they do not understand. I have heard time and time again how well children handle transition, especially when the non-trans parent is supportive. The difficulties arise when that spouse is negative and actively and outwardly resists the transition. In these cases, the non-trans spouse often tries to put the children between the trans spouse and transition. They use the children as a weapon against transition. The fear of the unknown can bring out the worst in some people.

I don’t know if there is an answer to preventing such reactions. Education is certainly a start. There are several resources about children and transition, such as:

http://www.colage.org/programs/trans/kot-resource-guide.pdf

http://community.pflag.org/NETCOMMUNITY/Page.aspx?pid=413&srcid=380

I think that any person who is contemplating transition, and who has children needs to be prepared. There are going to be enough fears about losing “you” and those may end up being projected onto your children. Be prepared to talk about the effect it will have on your children. My spouse asked me how I thought it would affect our children. I told her that I believed it would make them better more accepting people. That they would understand diversity more fully and learn to judge people not for how they appear, but for who they are. Not transitioning would have meant years of depression for me, and this would have not only taken its toll on me, but it would have had a negative affect on my children as well. Our children don’t care how we look, they love us for who we are. Why not let them see more of who we are.

At what age should our bodies be ‘put right’?

The copy below is to what I think is an excellent article from The Guardian newspaper in Britain. My own opinion is that under 18 is possibly too young to transition, however I knew full well who I was inside at that age, and if I’d transitioned my life would have been far more productive and easier! (Sadly, it’s so long since I posted on here I’ve forgotten a lot of the tips!)

News : Society : Children

‘My body is wrong’

Should teenagers who believe they are transgender be helped to change sex? And if so, what about the four-year-olds who feel the same way? Viv Groskop meets the parents and doctors in favour of intervention

Viv Groskop – The Guardian, Thursday August 14 2008

‘She was our first child,” recalls Sarah (not her real name), a mother of two who lives in the south of England. “But from age three we knew something was wrong. She was very introverted, isolated. When she started school at four she came home and said she was a freak. It seemed a strange word for a four-year-old to use. She was always quite a sad little person.”

Sarah’s daughter was born and grew up as a boy. Now 19, she is far happier in a woman’s body as a post-operative transsexual. It took two years for the family to get used to calling her “she”. Her mother says her daughter experienced her childhood as mental torture, especially during puberty. “Looking back, we could never find any tape in the house. It was because she was taping her genitals up every day. She said to us later that she thought it would all go right for her at puberty, that her willy would drop off and she would grow breasts. She said she was going completely crazy because she knew in her head that she was a girl.”

One day, when her daughter was 14, Sarah walked in on her in her bedroom. “She was there in front of the mirror with her genitals tucked away. She was very embarrassed. I said, ‘I don’t know what’s happening here but if you want to talk to me, you can.’ About 10 minutes later she came and lay on the bed next to me and said, ‘I want to be a girl. I’m not a boy. My body is wrong. Everything is wrong.'” For Sarah, this was more than shocking: “I had watched programmes on transgender, I’m very interested in people, it’s part of who I am to find out about these things … But you never imagine it’s going to happen to you.”

Sarah sought help from her GP – who laughed. Eventually, her daughter got a referral to the one London clinic that deals with gender identity disorder in children and adolescents. But obtaining treatment on the NHS in her daughter’s mid-teens was slow and difficult. Several suicide attempts followed and the family remortgaged their house to pay for private hormone treatment. Once Sarah’s daughter was 18, they also paid for an operation abroad.
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The power of friendship

I’ve been thinking about the subject of friendship and transition for a while now, but recent events and a few other blogs on the subject of friends that I’ve read in the last couple of weeks prompted me to write my own blog about it.

Early on in my therapy sessions, probably a year and a half ago, my therapist suggested that I should look for an on-line support group of some kind for people with trans issues, as there’s nothing anywhere near my area.  I ended up on CD.com, which was cool for quite a while, meeting on-line with many other people like me.  I connected with several other trans-girls there and eventually met with Teresa last year.  It turned out that we had a lot of interests in common besides the trans issues and we went to a couple of big events together, a civil war reenactment, and the big yearly airshow in Oshkosh, WI.  She went “Teresa-fied” as she called it, and I went in “dis-guy-ze”.  I learned a lot about confidence from watching her just be herself, and the best part was that no-one that we walked past or dealt with got weirded out about either of us.  No confrontations!   It got me to thinking that maybe, just maybe, I could do that also, and maybe it would even work out ok.  Fear has a way of slowing down the whole process of transition, so I wasn’t in any hurry to confront my own fears, but I now knew that it was possible.

Teresa was already in the process of attempting to sell her house in Traverse City, MI (an entire story by itself) and was looking into other places to move to, and my house was empty 4-5 days a week with me living at work so I figured “what the heck, she wants to get out of Traverse City, I have an empty house with 2 bedrooms, maybe she’d be interested in living there for a while until she figures out where she wants to go.”  So I asked, she thought it was a good idea and, in November of 07, we moved her stuff with a really big U-haul truck to my house, about 300 miles away.

It’s interesting how a person can slowly build up their courage when they have an example to follow.   For me, that’s Teresa.  She’s out there every day, just being herself, not having any problems with other people, just doing the stuff that people do, except she’s Teresa about 95 % of the time.

For those of you who’ve been following my 360 blog or hers, you’ve read about our various exploits together, with me pushing the gender envelope further and further until I could finally go out and be Amber in public.  At this point, I’m almost full time when I’m home (work is a different issue, LOL) and I intend to be full time, no exceptions, at home within the next couple weeks.   I’m waiting for my background check to come back to the courthouse so I can get my court date set for my legal name change, hopefully soon.  I’ve faced most of my transition fears, such as going to the bank, and the biggie, the bathroom, last weekend.  That’ll be part of my next blog, “the chronicles of Amber”.  The McDonalds bathroom full of women was a particular highlight of the weekend, talk about anus clenching adventures!  LOL

Anyway, back to the subject, friendship.   Never underestimate the value and power of friendship!  Come out of your shell and connect to some other people if you haven’t yet.  Find someone that you can talk to about your shared trans-issues, but also, shared non trans interests.  Hang out together, go share some anus clenching adventures of your own!  Start living again!  (and, no, I’m not talking about anything sexual, mine doesn’t work anyway.)

I can tell you that I know that I would not be where I am now in my transition if it were not for friendship!  Of that, I have no doubt!

The Outing

Over on my personal blog, I just posted the story of how I came to be a student of A Course in Miracles and how, last week, I came to the decision to tell the weekly study group I attend my story of growing up trans. Because of its length, I’ve decided to just give you a taste of what’s in it. If you want to read, the whole thing and hear how it turned out, you’ll have to go here.

As I prepared to transition, one of my hopes was to be accepted as a woman among circles of women. (I talked about this with Lori recently on one of her podcasts.) Unity Church has turned out to be one of the places where that dream has been realized.

The principles of Unity Church and A Course in Miracles share many basic ideas, but the Course is rarely mentioned, at least at Unity of Prescott. In July 2007, however, a retired Unity minister and student of the Course started a study group at the church on Thursday mornings. I wanted to attend that group from the beginning, but I was afraid about whether I would be accepted there, especially since I didn’t feel then (and still don’t) that my voice is very feminine. In August, however, almost exactly one year ago, I overcame my fear and began attending that group. Although men attend from time to time, the group fairly quickly became almost exclusively women. It also became one of those places that I had dreamed of where I am accepted as a woman among women.

When I began attending that group, I expected that, at some point, the fact that I am transgender would become known. (None of the people attending the group had known me before my transition.) At the same time, however, I had no desire to make myself the center of attention or distract the group from discussing the lessons that we were all trying to learn from the Course. So, I waited, expecting that, at some point, the subject of my transition would become relevant to whatever we were discussing and I would mention it as an example of how I have applied the lessons of the Course in my life. That moment never arrived, however. Instead, I felt increasingly constrained about talking about my own life because these women did not know that important part of my story. At one point, I remember thinking about sharing a story about my childhood. However, when I realized that the best way to start the story was to say, “When I was a little boy . . .,” I held my tongue. As I have said before, I didn’t spend the last 13 years of my life trying to find out who I am and what I need to be happy to turn around once I found those answers and hide the truth about who I am and how I got here.

I also realized some time ago that I want the world to know who I am. I am proud of who I am and believe, rightly or wrongly, that sharing my story can help people understand what it means to be trans and that, like them, we are simply striving to find a way to live with peace and dignity. Consequently, the fact that these women, with whom I have become very close, did not know about my journey began to rankle more and more.

* * *

Finally, I decided that the time had come to share my story with the entire group and that the only way to do it was to simply ask for the opportunity outside the group’s normal routine.

The story continues here.

Pretty/Handsome and A Little East Of Reality

I first came across the rumor of a TV show (based on GID) called ‘Pretty/Handsome’ buried in the comments section of the excellent ‘Being T’ (Thanks, Bitsy!). I was intrigued, but heard no more about it until yesterday when I was checking out the personal blogs of some other ‘Being T’ commenters and found Chosha, who had watched the pilot episode and reviewed it, and added some interesting thoughts and observations of her own on the topic of transgender:

In the end what I know for sure is that I don’t understand the hatred some people feel/show towards transgendered people. Even if you don’t understand it, even if it freaks you out a little, why does that translate into painting ‘die freaks’ on their house? (That’s what happened in the show.) ‘Freaky’ often just means ‘something I would never do’ or ‘something I don’t understand’ and that isn’t enough reason to hate on someone. It just isn’t.

I encourage you to go check out Chosha’s blog. I love how she’s taken up the challenge of educating herself on a topic in which, at first glance, she has no personal involvement.

And she’s a fan of the Riftgirl too! Yay!!