“Being Male”

This is something I wrote in my personal blog, and I just thought I would share it here as well. It is a reflection on how I felt about my life as a “male” and how I experienced that life.

The concept of life as a male, that life before transition and even during transition, has been on my mind lately. I have been considering what it must be like to actually fully experience ones gender, rather than to exist within in the social construct of one’s gender in order to survive.  I think back to my childhood and my young adult years, and I realize that there was so much of life that I was never fully able to enjoy and experience.

There were periods of time, some of them fairly long, where I was able to suppress my dysphoria, but even in those times, I still never fully experienced life as a male. Instead I lived with a constant uncomfortable feeling about what I was expected to do, the things that were going on around me, and even the things that I was doing. I went through the motions, living life the way others wanted me to live it. Never really fully engaging myself in life, unable to fully engage. Instead I was left to look at what was going on around me with the constant feeling that I was an unwilling participant, looking from the outside in, looking in at a life that was not mine, one that I did not fully understand.

Yet, I was able to build a successful life, but the joys of my successes were often shrouded by that constant uncomfortable feeling. The feeling that something was not right. There were periods of time where I acknowledged what it was, I acknowledged my feminine self, but hid it away. Afraid to express my true inner feelings, I hid inside this “male shell” and continued to play by the rules that were set for me, the rules that were set by the gender I was assigned at birth because of the physical appearance of my body. Rules that ignored the relevance of my mind, my spirit, my true self. Even though awareness came around the age of 5, I am sure that it was not something that arose only at that age. Memories before that time are few. I think in many regards I attribute not knowing before this time to not remembering a lot of life before that age.

How does one experience life when they feel so disconnected from it? That is the question that has been on my mind so much. How did I experience life when I was young, fighting the knowledge that my body did not match my mind, fighting the urge to express my desire to break out of the mold that I was expected to fit into. I think about it now more than ever, the desire to break the mold, and all the while the fear that arises with the idea of being found out. I continue to laugh at the male jokes and partially entertain the “male” conversations, all the while thinking that I would not be a part of these conversations if I were presenting as a women. I stand there thinking that, then, I would be spared the low brow humor, the constant testosterone driven conversations, the things that men talk about when they think there are no women around. Sometimes it makes me feel like a spy, like I am a woman disguised as a male infiltrating male culture and observing male rituals.

The reality of it is that I am a woman masquerading as a male, only this is not by choice. I was born with the body, and until my transition is complete I must live with it. I will continue to be the spy, observing, and not totally understanding. If anything, that lack of understanding is what often made life difficult. I never understood why guys do the things that they do, why they behave the way that they do, why they say the things that they say. If someone were to ask me what it is like to be a guy, I would honestly say that after 34 years of living in the male world, I don’t know and I don’t really understand it.

What I do understand is what it is like to feel trapped within a social construct that does not fit with who you truly are in the inside. I look forward to the day when I can live fully as myself, and interact with the world as the woman that I am. I look forward to the day when I no longer have to feel like I am putting on my disguise and venturing out into the male world for more field observations. I can then get out of the spy business, and get on with the business of being me.

There are times when I wonder what it is like to experience life with without feeling this disconnect. I look at men walking down the street, in the store, or out at the park, and I wonder what it is like for them to interact with the world feeling like a man on the inside and being one on the outside. I look at women, and wonder what it is like to have your outside match your inside, to not just be a woman in your mind and soul, but in your body as well. I guess you could say that at times I feel envy for those living in the cisgender world, those who have never had to question their gender, those who have always been able to pursue their passions knowing who they are.

This journey, for me, is not just about aligning my physical body with my mind and soul, but about being able to not have to pretend any more. To be able to finally live life and interact with the world as the woman that I am. I know that transition is not a cure all, and I will, more likely than not, be out about my being trans and probably be an activist, but at least I will finally experience what it is like to look in the mirror and see the woman I am reflected back to me.

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!!

Review: “My Secret Female Body” on BBC America

Having reviewed “Transvestite Wives” earlier, I felt it was only fair to give a similar treatment to “My Secret Female Body”, another in the ‘Reveals’ series that premiered on BBC America on June 22, 2008.

This documentary focused on a twenty two year old transman, Danny. From the BBC America web site:

Born as Katie, Danny has been living as a man for four years and has had male hormone injections every two weeks for a year. Now, at 22, Danny undergoes a dramatic surgical transformation, which physically changes his body from female to male. This documentary sees Danny embark on the first stage of this irreversible procedure – a double mastectomy, followed by complicated penis surgery.

Like “Transvestite Wives”, Danny has an amazingly supportive girlfriend who loves him in his pre-op body, and is fully behind him in his decision to undergo SRS. We also get to hear from Danny’s mother (“I had a wonderful daughter, and now I have a wonderful and happier son”), sister and best friend who talk frankly about their initial misgivings and current acceptance. There’s very little discussion of social intolerance – just a couple of anecdotes about altercations “down the pub”.

Much of the focus is on the physical transformation. We see Danny’s doctor administering his testosterone shot, and discussing the bodily changes these have already brought about. We’re also there for Danny’s first consultation with the plastic surgeon who will be doing his top surgery. A note to sensitive viewers – although BBC America did blur out some visuals, probably to bring the show into line with American censorship guidelines, there’s still plenty of detail to the scenes in the operating theater and the descriptions used by the doctor made me squirm just a little.

When the surgical results are not as perfect as they could have been, the viewer is spared none of Danny’s anguish and emotional turmoil. At the end of the hour, we are left with the impression that there is no fairytale ending for Danny and his girlfriend – and yet Danny’s life is clearly a happier one even though he faces more procedures in the future. Just from watching his face as he listens to his friend discuss how his new phallus was fashioned from forearm grafts, we can tell what’s on the horizon for Danny…

This documentary is highly recommended for any FtM pre-op transsexual who is considering the next step. It doesn’t sugar-coat anything, but still manages to convery a message of hope.

For those of you with access to BBC America, this will be shown again as follows:

Wednesday, July 2, 2008 at 8:00 PM and 11:00 PM
Thursday, July 3, 2008 at 1:00 AM
Sunday, July 13, 2008 at 5:00 PM

“Transvestite Wives” will also be shown again on Sunday, July 13, 2008 at 6:00 PM, if you missed it the first time around.

A recent study that we all should read!

I found the link to this study along with a copy of the paper at Transgendernews, a yahoo group. Here’s the link.

http://www.intersexualite.org/Zucker_boys.html

I think you’ll find it quite enlightning about Zucker’s real agenda, but you should read it and make up your own mind.

Amber

Mercedes Allen responds to accusations of scaremongering

On a post to her personal blog, and cross-posted to Bilerico and Transadvocate, Mercedes Allen reflects on the responses to her original Uh-oh post, including several that have been reported here and elsewhere.

I and others have been accused of scaremongering in the ongoing debate(s) surrounding this issue. Dr. Forstein has some excellent points for us to examine. Some of the other aspects and debates, though, I still stand behind.

Mercedes goes on to respond directly to Henry Hall’s comments:

Henry Hall accuses me of scaremongering with regard to my concerns about removing any diagnosis of GID from the DSM, without some better model to replace it…
…I am not fearmongering: I am saying, don’t cut the trapeze rope until we know that the next bar is within reach.

She also acknowledges the importance of Dr. Marshall Forstein’s statement by saying:

I can admit that my own personal panic led me to overlook the fact that the DSM itself does not recommend treatment. I was wrong and my inexperience got the better of me. This is not a small point, and we need to take some comfort in that. Scaremongering? Perhaps, though not intentionally.

Read Mercedes’ thoughtful and comprehensive response here.

Are We Maladaptive?

Okay, so I got myself into a bit of a tiff with Abby down below. Here’s the link.

In general, the conversation is about how GID should be classified in the DSM. The tendency, obviously, is for us to want a kinder, gentler revision…one sensitive to our feelings, and easier to schlep to the public than something like “autogynephilia”. Ideally, we’d get it removed entirely.

That doesn’t seem likely to me, of course. Unlike homosexuality, transsexuality requires treatment (currently that treatment involves hormones and surgeries…hopefully that will always be the case). And as long as treatment is necessary, the doctors will need a set of diagnostic criteria…hence the DSM.

But maybe I’m wrong.

Maybe gender dysphoria is a physical ailment, as I’ve so often heard said, rather than a mental one. Maybe it’s like having kidney stones. Kidney stones often require surgery, but I’m pretty sure they’re not listed in the DSM.

Maybe we can prove that gender dysphoria is like kidney stones.

Harkening back to my undergrad days and my Abnormal Psychology class (thank you Ms. H.!), along with the help of Google, I was able to dredge up the criteria for mental disorders.

For a given behavior to qualify as a mental disorder, it must meet these four points:

  • Statistical Infrequency
  • Deviation from Social Norms
  • Personal Distress
  • Maladaptiveness

The first two are obvious…we meet those. No argument here.

Personal Distress seems obvious. Yes, the dysphoria we suffer causes us distress. The same was (and still is, occasionally) said of homosexuality. Is it the dysphoria itself that causes the distress, or the way the rest of the world treats us? I suppose that question can only be answered by the individual.

The one that really gets my goat, though, is the maladaptive piece. According to one website I looked at:

A behavior pattern or characteristic is “adaptive” when it is constructive, helpful, healthy and contributes to the person moving in a valued direction.

A maladaptive behavior is the opposite then…a behavior that is destructive, unhelpful, unhealthy, and contributes to a person moving in a non-valued direction. The site gives the example of heroin use as being maladaptive (duh).

So what behavior are we talking about here? If we’re talking about having gender dysphoric feelings and not acting upon them, then yes, I’d say that’s a maladaptive behavior. But shouldn’t we be looking at it the other way? Shouldn’t we wait until a person does act upon a feeling, then judge whether it’s adaptive or maladaptive? To use the example above, the urge to use heroin is only maladaptive when acted upon; to not act upon it is responsible, and therefore adaptive. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the same standard should be applied to all such observable behaviors. And most times that I’m aware of, acting upon gender dysphoric feelings results in a person “moving in a valued direction” (except, of course, where Personal Distress rears its head).

Is this going to be the case for everyone? Probably not. There may be people out there who meet all four of these criteria. And there’s no reason the DSM can’t include an article that addresses the needs of these individuals…they did it for homosexuality. But for the rest of us – and every successful transition is another case study the DSM crew should look at – is there a way we can be excluded from the onus of GID and still receive the treatment we need?

To be perfectly honest, even I’m not convinced by my argument. Obviously, being transsexual is not like having kidney stones. And while I think the whole adaptive/maladaptive thing is interesting, I’m sure I’m not the first person to think of it. Sadly, it’ll take more than an hour’s worth of Google research before I’ll be able to completely repudiate decades worth of mental health research, but in the meantime, there are a few people out there who can make those kind of claims.

News concerning the DSM – V. (a.k.a. “uh-oh.”)

The following was posted on Transadvocate.com website. I’m reposting it because like Mercedes, I see this as a very consequential and momentous event in the psychological and medical treatment of transgendered people. — Lori Davis
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

(crossposted in several places, and people are welcome to forward this on freely to others in the transgender and GLBT communities, as I see this as being very serious — Mercedes)

A short time ago, I’d discussed the movement to have “Gender Identity Disorder” (GID, a.k.a. “Gender Dysphoria”) removed from the DSM-IV or reclassified, and how we needed to work to ensure that any such change was an improvement on the existing model, rather than a scrapping or savaging of it.

Lynn Conway reports that on May 1st, 2008, the American Psychiatric Association named its work group members appointed to revise the Manual for Diagnosis of Mental Disorders in preparation for the DSM-V. Such a revision would include the entry for GID.

On the Task Force, named as Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders Chair, we find Dr. Kenneth Zucker, from Toronto’s infamous Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH, formerly the Clarke Institute). Dr. Zucker is infamous for utilizing reparative (i.e. “ex-gay”) therapy to “cure” gender-variant children. Named to his work group, we find Zucker’s mentor, Dr. Ray Blanchard, Head of Clinical Sexology Services at CAMH and creator of the theory of autogynephilia, categorized as a paraphilia and defined as “a man’s paraphilic tendency to be sexually aroused by the thought or image of himself as a woman.”

Drs. Blanchard, Zucker, J. Michael Bailey (whose work has even gone so far as to touch on eugenics) and a small cadre of others are proponents of dividing the transsexual population by sexual orientation (”homosexual transsexuals” vs. ”autogynephilic”) and have repeatedly run afoul of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH, formerly HBIGDA), and openly defied the Standards of Care that WPATH maintains (modeled after the original SoC developed by Dr. Harry Benjamin) in favor of conversion techniques. Blanchard and Bailey supporters also include Dr. Alice Dreger, who re-stigmatized treatment of intersex, controversial sexologist Dr. Anne Lawrence, and Dr. Paul McHugh, who had set out in the begining of his career to close the Gender Clinic at Johns Hopkins University and has been one of our most vocal detractors.

An additional danger that gay and lesbian communities need to be cognizant of is that if Zucker and company entrench conversion therapy in the DSM-V, then it is a clear, dangerous step toward also legitimizing ex-gay therapy and re-stigmatizing homosexuality.

I am not familiar with others named to the Work Group. It would be worthwhile looking into any history with WPATH that they might have, to know if we have any positive advocates on board, or just more stigmatizing adversarial clinicians. They may be appointed primarily to address other listings categorized as ”Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders,” I don’t know. They are:

* Dr. Irving M. Binik, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
* Dr. Peggy T. Cohen-Kettenis, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam
* Dr. Jack Drescher, New York Medical College, St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, NY
* Dr. Cynthia Graham, Isis Education Centre, Warneford Hospital, Oxfordshire, UK
* Dr. Richard B. Krueger, NY State Psyciatric Institute and Columbia University, NY
* Dr. Niklas Langstrom, Karolinka Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
* Dr. Heino F.L. Meyer-Bahlburg, Columbia University, NY
* Dr. Robert Taylor Segraves, MetroHealth Medical Center, Cleveland

The APA press release states that for further information regarding this, to contact Rhondalee Dean-Royce (rroyce@psych.org) and Sharon Reis (sreis@gymr.com), though it’s possible that they may govern the press release only, rather than have any involvement in the decision to appoint Zucker. The APA itself is headquartered at 1000 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 1825, Arlington VA, 22209. Their Annual General Meeting is currently being held (May 3-8, 2008) in Washington, DC.

I’m poorly situated (Western Canada, with no travel budget) to lead the drive for this, which I see as a very serious danger to the transgender community. So I am calling on the various Transgender and GLBT organizations to band together to take action on this, and will assist in whatever way that I and AlbertaTrans.org can.

I am also calling upon our allies and advocates in the medical community and affiliated with WPATH to band together with us and combat this move which could potentially see WPATH stripped of its authority on matters regarding treatment of transsexuals.

– Mercedes Allen, May 5, 2008