The Most Important Transition Question

I haven’t posted anything here in a while, normally I just use my own blog for stuff.  I thought this video was worth posting here because it concerns the entire trans community.  I’ve been wanting to make this video for a while and I finally got around to doing it, so here it is.

Who I Am and Why I Do What I Do

I have participated in the Arizona Transgender Alliance (AZTA) since its inception. Like any organization, it has struggled to define itself and its purposes in a way that unites, rather than divides, us. Nonetheless, it continues because people see a need to join together. One of AZTA’s current projects is to produce a calendar with photos and biographies of trans women and men to help educate the public about who we are. I volunteered to participate and wanted to share here the biography I submitted because I think it expresses some of the most important aspects of my transition and who I am today. This is what I said: Continue reading

intervention and gender

On one episode of the Tyra Banks show they discussed public intervention in situations of need. One section of the show dealt with the different attitudes shown towards couples of various gender combinations. Couples (male and female here refer to their presentation) – one male/female, one male/male and one female/female – staged an argument where one partner was clearly more powerful and more threatening than the other.  The results indicated that:

The male/male couple were largely left alone. The conclusion many came to was that a guy can look after himself and that a domestic violence situation between them was basically a victimless crime. This was in spite of the fact that one man was significantly more burly and threatening than the other. No-one intervened.

The female/female couple was treated like a sideshow and many passersby found the angry and violent exchange (threats/pushing) funny.  The conclusion reached after the comments were analysed was that this reaction had something to do with lesbian couples being sexually objectified and therefore seen as less a real couple. It also may have had to do a with a perception that a woman would not really harm another woman (something that statistics show to be untrue). Again, no-one intervened.

The male/female couple attracted the most attention from passersby. This was the only scenario where someone (a NYC firefighter) stopped and clearly told the male that he had to stop what he was doing immediately. However, when a few police cars arrived on the scene it became clear that others had called 911 after seeing the exchange.

I’m curious to know the opinion of transgender people on this issue. You may have had the opportunity to see both sides of this scenario, particularly in terms of the expectations of other people on you, depending on whether you were presenting as male or female. Did (or do) you see a shift in how you are perceived in terms of your power and whether or not you need to be defended or aided? Did your expectation of assistance or support from others (particularly in situations of conflict) change when you transitioned?

Fluid Gender

I recently read a blog posted by an online friend which included another post-op trans woman’s regrets of transitioning and having GRS.  She had described how her feelings to transition and being a woman were more sexually motivated, and that after surgery she could not have that satisfaction.  She mentioned that she misunderstood the drop-off of sexual desire due to hormones as a sign that she was doing the right thing.

My first reaction and thought was how it was a good example of why the real life test or real life experience is important.  I assume the person lived as the gender she wanted to be before having the surgery, based on the comment of her “following the rules”.  If she had, then I wondered if she truly did the necessary soul searching — the second-guessing and what-ifs playing in her mind over and over.  When it comes down to it, the physical aspects of transition are not as important as the emotional aspects.  Being emotionally ready for the changes is very critical to anyone’s successful transition.

I started my transition almost two years ago, and if I had had the money, was single, and could have had the operation sooner, I probably would have jumped in head first and had GRS.  But with my therapist’s guidance, I slowed down, following her suggestions to explore my femininity and get out in society presenting as a female.  I also wanted to do the changes in steps, where I could evaluate each step to see if it was enough for me.  First, I had facial and body hair removal, as it was one thing that always seemed to bother me (and guys have it done, so no harm there).  Then I attended several transgender conferences to “live” as a woman 24×7 for one full week.  I went out to public places in the daylight, such as a shopping mall and busy restaurants.  I wanted to get a feel for how I would be treated and how any negative reactions would make me feel.  Would I feel more like a “man in a dress”, or would I feel like a woman, regardless of how people treated me?  These exercises are very important, as they can let us know that if we are uncomfortable as a part-time woman, then we’re not ready to be full-time.

My soul searching has been going on now for quite awhile.  There are days when I think I just need to stop stalling and move forward with it all.  But I am very cautious, as there is much at risk.  I question myself over and over about what is right.  Am I that uncomfortable living as a man?  Can I just keep hiding this for the rest of my life?  Would cross-dressing periodically be enough, especially since my wife would be accepting of it (as long as I do it discretely)?  Would being on hormones but continuing to live as a man with no surgery be good enough?  Twenty years from now, would I be happier living as an older man or as an older woman?  These are just some of the questions I have asked myself over and over.  For me, I need to be as sure as I can that the distress and discomfort I experience is impacting my life enough to move forward with transition to full-time and eventual surgeries.

In my honest opinion, I think that gender is fluid and NOT binary.  I think there are many who are on one end of the spectrum, where the difference between body sex and gender identity are so polar that they absolutely know that they are “in the wrong body”.  Then there are others who are somewhere close to the middle, with just enough feminine-mindedness that they experience some discomfort and have a notion that something is out of whack, but can otherwise function in society as a man.  There are days when I think I fall into that category.  I had an acquaintance recently tell me that you should know you are a woman inside if you are truly transsexual.  I have to disagree with that, as that may be true with some but not all.  I think we all have within us, both natal male and female, a degree of masculine and feminine nature (and when I say nature, I mean born with it and not learned).  Those balances are different in each of us, and could even change based on how much we suppress or allow those natural tendencies.  It comes down to really understanding ourselves, to find the “true self”.  Once that is done, then the surgeries and other aspects become window dressing.

I hope we all take the time to fully understand ourselves, as that is the true journey.

Tiana 🙂

The UK NHS Postcode Lottery

I am Stephanie Butterfield, and I am transitioning on the UK PCT-led NHS system. Whilst i feel fortunate to have had my trachea shave/vocal cord surgery and facial hair removal already, with my GRS also guaranteed when the time comes, I do however feel very frustrated at the UK postcode lottery, not just for me, but for others too.

The PCT’s (Primary Care Trusts), often treat transsexual procedures as unnecessary, or simply cosmetic, not thinking beyond their small mindedness and thinking about the TS patients’ quality of life.

The postcode lottery works like this – one PCT will fund a girl’s breast augmentation and facial hair removal, whereas another PCT will not. How, you may ask?  If it is the NHS (National Health Service), we should get even and equal access to funded treatments and operations available on the NHS.

However, each PCT has the right to decide funding at a local level; it’s this which allows the postcode lottery to thrive, leaving many transgirls and transguys frustrated at the unfairness of it all.

Another irritating feature of the NHS transition route is the waiting one has to do, from GP (general practitioner) to GIC (gender identity center), from 1st opinion to 2nd opinion, from 2nd opinion to the operation itself.

I am currently at the waiting for my 2nd opinion stage, an 8 and a half month wait as I write, and my latest frustration is being blocked from seeing an endocrinologist.

Stephanie

Gender Bias in the Workplace

I came across this interesting article in the New York Times: Before That Sex Change, Think About Your Next Paycheck.

You might expect that anybody who has had a sex change, or even just cross-dresses on occasion, would suffer a wage cut because of social stigmatization. Wrong, or at least partly wrong. Turns out it depends on the direction of the change: the study found that earnings for male-to-female transgender workers fell by nearly one-third after their gender transitions, but earnings for female-to-male transgender workers increased slightly.

As a cisgendered female who has always worked in traditionally male jobs, I find this interesting, but not surprising.

I was also amused (but not surprised) by the last two paragraphs:

Ben Barres, a female-to-male transgender neuroscientist at Stanford, found that his work was more highly valued after his gender transition. “Ben Barres gave a great seminar today,” a colleague of his reportedly said, “but then his work is much better than his sister’s.”

Dr. Barres, of course, doesn’t have a sister in academia.

The Few Who Shine

What’s with some people?

There are the kinds of people who can only handle a limited amount of pressure in their lives and then crumble and fall under the heavy weight. They are the ones who, even when the little black cloud that once hovered and rained over their every deed, refused to turn their face to the clear blue sky and become encouraged by the sun’s warmth.

These are the people who, in an auto accident, completely freeze and though may remain uninjured, are worthless in coming to their feet to help out others who are in worse shape. They end up becoming an added burden to the problem instead of rising up to shine over others. If they are witness to the accident, they may pull over but only stare in awe and amazement while others risk their lives to pull the injured to safety.

Why do some people’s fatalism make them indifferent in pursuing a path toward happiness?

Then there are others who, no matter what life throws their way and regardless of their economic status, their positive spirit rarely fades. Though they have their share of adversity, nothing except death eventually befalls their enduring spirit.

Their spirits illuminate the darkness that surrounds them.

Take for example, a recent visit I had to my state’s Department of Economic Security. I had an appointment with the state acting on behalf of a less fortunate relative who needs the state’s help in receiving healthcare and monetary assistance. The building is typical for a large government facility, its massive brown rectangular shape outside opening to reveal dozens of cubicles on the inside for its employees. Upon entering, I had to take a number and wait my turn among the many downtrodden and disadvantaged people.

The playfulness on the children’s faces was a sharp contrast to the sullen droopy faces on the adults who nervously awaited their turn. Oh to be a child without worry again!

After several minutes of waiting, I was finally called by an employee to follow her back to her tiny square with desk and chair inside the bright fluorescent monolithic room. As I sat down, Maria greeted me with a warm round smile. I explained to her that I was not the person on the application but was present and acting on her behalf because she could not be present for the meeting.

While answering question after question, I began to take notice of Maria’s cubicle. Its 7′ x 7′ space was full of bins and folders full of applications requesting state aid, but it was surprisingly clean and tidy, and there were awards posted in frames all along the inside walls. Yet the awards were given to her by her employer for “Most Organized Employee” and “In Recognition to Your Years of Service to the State.” Also on the walls were hand written certificates drawn by her three daughters in crayon like “Best Mommy in the World” and “Mom is #1.” One would think she had not accomplished anything substantial, but I began to see differently.

Throughout the meeting, I would ask her questions about her working with a state agency for eleven years and about her children. All the while she maintained a posture of grace and had an amazing bright smile despite her having to deal with the less fortunate on a daily basis.

“Doesn’t it get to you? I mean, working for the government like this, and having to deal with so much despair and people demanding assistance?” I asked her politely.

“No, it doesn’t. Management sometimes gets to me,” she joked. “But I love living in this community. I love taking care of my daughters, and I love helping people. I even love my job and I take pride in my area here. My coworkers always laugh at me because I’m so tidy.”

Just then, the phone rang and she answered what seemed like very direct questions with a stern “yes” and “no.” Then she told the person on the other line who I was and gave them the case number. She promptly hung up and looked over at me with a sigh.

“Who was that?”

She sighed again. “It was someone from the state at their headquarters in a different city calling us at random to find out what we’re doing and making sure we’re staying busy.”

I was bothered by that. I thought she would be too. But she seemed to shrug off the inanity of a micromanaging agency and completed the paperwork cheerfully. As I got up to walk out, I thanked her for her kindness and encouraged her to never let anyone or anything take that away from her. I told her that I knew her simple smile and gentle spirit would be a tremendous source of comfort to those who sat in my chair. My words seemed to impact her with an affirmation she wasn’t used to hearing.

There was clearly something different about Maria that blew me away. Her teflon-coated optimistic spirit really made me think about my own personal difficulties, and I wondered what I could do to walk with the same light she had in her life.

Maria, and those with kindred spirits like hers, give me purpose in my circumstances.

I may struggle with transition. My circumstances may create chaos in my life. No one ever said being true to myself would be easy. No doubt there will be days where I’m tempted to give in to sit on the curb and watch the accidents surrounding my life injure and terrorize my family, my friends, and me. But I am alive, I’m still breathing, and I need to find that same illiminous spirit that has lurked in the shadows of my heart for too long.

It’s time to be like Maria.

It’s time to get off the curb.

It’s time to shine.