Monday, 12 October 2015

For my bully.

I was wasting time on Facebook and thought I might look up people from my past. I clicked on my ex's profile and read some stuff. I found a comment from a woman I remember from high school, who was nice. I chuckled that she's a grandmother, and then realised that could so easily be me. I clicked on her profile, and then had a look at her friends list (there were so many!) to see if there was anyone else I once hung out with, so I could reminisce.

Then I saw you. Right there. What the fuck are you doing being the friend of someone I once cared about? You're looking back at me from the screen of my tablet. Middle aged. Balding. I see you don't share much, except your profession: Accountant. That seems... Appropriate.

While looking at your picture I feel the hair on the back of my neck rise. My stomach knots. My pulse races. My body reacts viscerally, fearfully. I feel shame for feeling this way. Why can't I control my emotions?

I hate you. I hate you for singling me out for your ceaseless torment. I hate you for hitting me. I hate you for your swearing and abuse. I hate you for your scorn piled on anyone who showed friendship or kindness for me. I hate you for making my school life a misery and for making me want to die.

I fucking hate you. I especially hate you for the power you still hold over me, even 30 years later.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

It's the subtle invalidations that shatter

Rachel got me thinking of the down-side of support. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but in my experience the very environments that are the most supportive and accepting can often be the most limiting and toxic for some transsexual women.

Before I go further, I've got to put up the standard disclaimer. The only life I can speak with any authority about is my own. The only thoughts that I can claim ownership for are mine. I can't talk for other people and really try hard not to. I have a very specific identity that shapes my thoughts and actions, and lots of other people have very different identities and thoughts, all of which are just as valid as mine. Just because I feel a certain way about things doesn't mean that anyone else feelings are in any way lessened, at least when those feelings are of self identity. If you're forcing an identity on someone else, well then you're fair game. This is where I get nasty, and really that's the purpose of this post.

I've made it pretty clear that I identify as female. I've been as feminine as I could without being beaten for it for my whole life (actually I've suffered more than my share of beatings), and my gender identity has been and is female. This is the core of my rejection of transgender. I don't identify as transgender because I don't feel my gender identity has changed. My sex characteristics (breasts, body hair, fat distribution, external genitalia) have certainly changed, hence my usage of the term transsexual. My gender, not so much.

Now as I acknowledged straight up, lots and lots of people don't see things the same way as I do. Lots of people are rejecting of the whole trans anything position, and will, once they find out a trans person is trans, utterly invalidate their gender identity, through abuse, aggressive mis-gendering, using deadnames, etc. These people aren't at all accepting, and they're the ones that trans people run a million miles to avoid.

More recently, coincident with the rise of transgender, there's been a rapid upswing in support and acceptance of transgender people. Lots of communities are actually quite nice to us, as long as we don't ever go to the bathroom or want a relationship, at any rate. There's been a latching on to the very concept transgender that's liberating for a whole bunch of people.

Trouble is, much of this support and acceptance is phrased along these lines:

You make an awesome woman, for a man. I would never have known.
In my somewhat limited experience, this quote summarises the length, depth, and breadth of queer thought on trans women. Accepting communities, be they transgender, gay, lesbian, BDSM, all feel pretty-much the same way about trans women. This is liberating and wonderful for trans women who identify as male, or as trans, but if you identify as female it's a poison chalice. It's a wonderfully supportive environment that is at the same utterly invalidating, and will limit your growth, forcing you to spend all your time at an awful half-way point, feeling like an imposter.

One of the really neat things about living way out in the bush in a small country town, as I do, is exactly due to it's problems. The nearest scene is many hundreds of kilometres away, and there's just no concept of trans here. Women in my town are butch, femme, dirty, clean, tall, short, fat, skinny, but unquestionably women. No subtle invalidations, ever.

Monday, 28 September 2015

She's leaving home

I've had my mind blown just a little bit this week, and been forced to revisit a whole pile of my preconceptions as a result. It started with comments appearing on my blog from the author of "parenting the transgendersexual teen", a blog focussing on issues surrounding DJs (a transsexual teenager) experiences, as viewed through the eyes of her incredibly supportive mum. Her comments were cool. She herself had had something of an education regarding language around trans people's experiences, and had changed the title of her blog as a result. All cool. I felt like perhaps the stuff I write here is perhaps doing some good.

Then last night I was browsing transsexual case law in Australia. It's something I occasionally do, as it keeps me up to date on what's going on. Years ago it was fighting around getting identifying documentation (driver's licences, passports, birth certificates) updated. These days, it's.. Parents petitioning the family court so their transsexual kids can go on hormones.

WTF. Where did this come from? Parents. Facilitating their kid's transitions. Going in to bat against an incredibly opaque and cruel bureaucracy so their kids can have a decent life.

I'm not so young. When I was a teen the accepted method of transitioning was running away, working for a while as a prostitute, pretending you weren't for your psych, saving the huge pile of money that transitioning, surgery, etc. etc. entails, living in abject poverty, and hopefully emerging from the other end of that with your sanity intact, without HIV, and without a drug addiction.

I ran away twice. Figuratively, anyway. I left school earlier than I should have so I could get a job and get away from my abusive parents. Then I had to do it all again. My girlfriend fell pregnant a few months later and I swallowed the "I'm going to buckle down and be a father" pill for a couple of years. I managed to avoid prostitution. I managed to avoid HIV. I managed to avoid drug addiction. That's not to say I didn't take drugs or have risky sex. I did, and I was incredibly lucky. I have my husband to thank for quite a lot.

Anyway, we lived in abject poverty for my twenties and thirties. While my workmates and straight friends were saving their house deposits, I was paying for psychiatrist, endocrinologist and electrologist bills. I was saving every spare penny so I could afford breast augmentation and genital surgery. I was (rather ironically) paying child support for kids that I wasn't allowed to see, at least until they were teenagers with their own agency discovering themselves. I managed to work my way through a degree part time, despite everything. My workmates see me as irresponsible, because I'm in my forties and still renting. If only they knew.

So, now I'm reading of transsexual kids who's parents are determined and tough and fucking incredible, going up against a bureaucracy that's intent on causing as much harm to kids as it can, and paying legal and medical bills in the tens of thousands, so their kids can live normal lives and not go through the years of hurt and pain that my generation did, and it makes me want to laugh and cry and punch the air with the joy of it all.

Anyway, I just wanted you guys to know that what you're doing is just. fucking. amazing. Power to you.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

The standard narrative

The issues I've been having with my GP of late has me critiquing my relationship with the gender industry over the years. And then it's had me critiquing my own actions, and wondering how I've shaped my own recollections and thus myself now due to the need to conform to the standard narrative.

The standard narrative is a stereotypical storyline that transsexual people (transsexual women in particular) often report. You'll see and hear elements of the narrative on supportive news reports. Conversely less supportive news reports about a transsexual women will highlight the areas where her experience clashes with the narrative. Think before picture in army uniform.

The narrative isn't something that transsexual women own. It's imposed on us by the psycho-medical establishment, primarily as a filter to limit the number of transsexual women who were able to access treatment. It was created primarily to protect society from an onslaught of, in the sexologists and psychiatrists minds, men in dresses.

Some of the elements of the standard narrative:

  • Rejecting your assigned sex at as early an age as possible - preferably as a toddler. Presenting at a gender clinic as early as possible, with extra points awarded for showing up before adulthood.
  • Stereotypical feminine play and mannerisms as a kid. Making a bee-line for the dress ups, playing tea party with your dolls, make believe, barbie, pink.
  • Rejecting "boys" activities such as football and rough play. Being bullied as a result.
  • Being into boys, but in a very measured way. Importantly not being attracted to women, and not bisexual or asexual or slutty. Demure, feminine, liking cock but being shy about it.
  • Physical femininity and attractiveness. Bonus points if your shrink can't believe you're in possession of a penis.
So the narrative is essentially a slavish adherence to a nineteen fifties view of femininity, viewed through a misogynist lens. Stepford wives. Old white cis men like Harry Benjamin, who studied us transsexual freaks in the 1960s and wrote all the seminal papers and books on the topic, essentially decided who was legitimate and who wasn't based on whether or not we gave them a boner.

Of course transsexual women aren't generally stupid, or at least any more stupid than cis people. We are reasonably quick to cotton on to the rules of the game, and we "adjust" our stories accordingly. Everyone has all sorts of life experiences, so by being a little selective, fudging bits here and there, you can make your history fit what the listener wants to hear, and as a result get exactly what you want.

There's even an on-line test, called the COGIATI, that you can use to help hone your answers to the sort of bullshit stereotyping questions you're likely to hear. "Oh, I'm hopeless with navigating. I can never figure out which way up to hold the map!", and "I love stories!". Yeah, you get the gist.

By the time I had dealings with the industry in the nineties, things were getting rather nuanced. The shrinks had cottoned on to the idea that people were gaming their system, so you had to be really careful that you didn't overdo it. I found, for example, that deliberately wearing jeans to counselling sessions would get my shrink to go on about "modern women" quite nicely, and tell me I "looked like his daughter". Because that mattered. Of course I made sure to still occasionally wear a skirt, as I didn't want to push the boundaries too far.

In my experience, my level of femininity has varied a lot. It's the primary tool that I employ to ensure that I'm correctly gendered. Early on, as a young adult who was eminently springable, I wound up the gender cues to help people along. After a while on the gear, I found I could relax quite a bit without people misgendering me, and developed my own style and presentation. Getting past the gatekeepers was a huge help, as I no longer had anyone to satisfy but myself.

From everything I've read of late, it's not as bad as it used to be. Young transsexuals don't have quite as much reading and learning to do as we did in my time. Still, knowing what you're likely in for doesn't hurt.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Raising a glass to Kevin

Today's my wedding anniversary. I've been married to my wonderful man now for right on nine years. Prior to that we were engaged for nearly ten years. That's a long time to be engaged, I know.

The reasons were all legal. Kids these days don't really understand how much society just refused to acknowledge or accommodate trans people even just a few years ago. I feel like so much of my early life was spent arguing, writing letters, pushing, to get the most basic rights. Its easy to forget these days, but a whole lot of stuff that we can take for granted was fought for, by a whole lot of people.

When I initially transitioned, finally finding a sympathetic GP to refer me to a decent shrink etc., and officially getting on the hormones, the next step was to change my name and update my ID. Changing my name was straightforward. Here in Australia you can do so via deed poll. Changing everything else... Not so much.

So like a lot of trans people then, I got good at harassing bureaucracies. When an initial request to change details was refused, I'd try another tack. I'd write letters, engage allies, push, write more letters...

Anyway, I wasn't the only one. Kevin (not his real name) was also doing his bit, and in a big way. Kevin was pissed off that the law wouldn't allow him to marry his girlfriend, so he took the government to court, and won. In a ground breaking judgement of the family court, justice Chisholm found that Kevin was male, and could therefore marry. The government of the time didn't like it, so appealed to the full bench of the family court, where the original decision was upheld, creating incredibly powerful precedent that's been used worldwide ever since.

It took another couple of years (more letter writing) before Victoria changed their laws to allow transsexual people to get amended birth certificates, but when the did, I did so and married my man soon after. So every year since, on July 22, we raise a glass to Kevin, who made it all possible.

Here's hoping that everyone can soon marry their partners, regardless of sex.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Craving community

So this is where I admit to the limits of my assimilation. As I've mentioned previously I don't disclose my transsexual past to my neighbours, my workmates, my friends, or anyone in my town or even in this whole state, with the exception of my husband, and my GP, who is in Perth, a full day's drive from where I live.

Much as I hate to admit it, that can be a problem. I often have trans thoughts and ideas rattling around my head, and no sensible way to get them out. I can have a go at talking with my hubby, but he's a much more straightforward person than I am, so generally I'll not really get much past "that's nice, dear".

It used to be easier. When I was younger I lived in Sydney. When I wanted to connect with other trans people I'd ring one of the few trans friends I had that had made it through the vetting process (young like me, assimilationist, not clingy), and organise stuff. It could be a night on the town, or just lunch, or whatever. It worked well. I'd work some stuff out of my system, so would they, and we'd go home happy. A really good arrangement.

I also read. Voraciously. If you've written a book on teh trans, I've probably read it. Like all of us, I'm trying to figure myself out, and reading other people's words helps. I don't just confine myself to trans authors though (truth be told the retelling of the standard narrative often makes my skin crawl), I also like to read more critical works, by partners of trans people, both supportive and horrified, by radical feminists, by anyone.

So now that I'm living in the sticks, community is a little harder to come by. The Internet is an obvious place to find people to bounce stuff off, but because things are so open on the net there's a very real risk of losing cis privilege in real life.

You may not have come across the term cis privilege before. All dominant groups have privilege, with white males being the obvious example. Cis (non-trans) people also have privilege, being able to go about their lives without their gender ever coming into question.

It's reasonable to ask then how I, as a transsexual woman, have cis privilege. It's simple. Although I'm transsexual, I'm cisgendered. I don't display any particular gender variance. I fit most of the established norms of accepted femininity pretty well, and don't scare the horses. So as long as I never disclose, I get to enjoy all the yummy and delicious benefits of cis privilege.

That's conditional, of course. If people find out I'm transsexual, I'm fucked. So hence the quandary with the whole seeking community on the net thing. People on the net can be really nasty. Or just really clueless. So you've got to take precautions. It's fairly straightforward to do, and I'm sure plenty of people employ many of the same techniques as I do to maintain anonymity. It just involves a level of compartmentalisation. Keeping a separate account for teh trans stuff, using a pseudonym, never looking at any trans websites on the work computer or even via the work network, etc. Sometimes I've got to hold back on sharing details that could identify me in real life, but that's a relatively small price to pay.

It doesn't mean you can't get close to people. There are a good dozen people around the world that I've met on forums (my husband Betty) who I've met in real life while travelling. Like the transsexual friends I have back in Sydney, I trust them. It works well for me.

Friday, 15 May 2015

That to me would be success.

I've been spending a fair bit of time of late putting my CD collection on the computer, as one does. It's prompted me to revisit many of my eighties favourites. As a child of the seventies, I was a teenager during the eighties, when some of the best music ever was made. INXS, Dire Straits, Foreigner, The Bangles, Cyndi Lauper. All awesomely wonderfully good stuff.

Two artists particularly stand out for me, because they released incredibly good albums that really resonated with my mood and my angst right when I was particularly moody and angst-ridden. The Pretenders and Suzanne Vega. As a fifteen year old, I bought an LP of The Pretenders "Get Close". Two tracks on there blew my mind. My Baby, and Hymn to Her. From My Baby:

I want you to love me, That's all I want from you
I want you to love me, One day

I know I'm a peasant, dressed as a princess
But that doesn't mean you have to take my clothes away

If I could show you some happiness
Then I would feel like a real princess

That to me would be success

Now Hymn to Her felt like Chrissy Hynde saw straight through my charade and wrote a song just for the real me:

Let me inside you, into your room
I've heard it's lined with the things you don't show

Lay me beside you, down on the floor
I've been your lover, from the womb to the tomb

I dress as your daughter when the moon becomes round
You be my mother when everything's gone

Yeah, there was plenty of shit inside of me that I was never showing anyone, then. This song was like an anthem for my hidden feelings, and I played it over and over.

At much the same time Suzanne Vega comes along and releases her self titled album. From "Small Blue Thing":

Today I am a small blue thing
Like a marble, or an eye

With my knees against my mouth I am perfectly round
I am watching you

And from "The Queen and the Soldier":

The soldier came knocking upon the queen's door
He said, "I am not fighting for you any more"
The queen knew she'd seen his face someplace before
And slowly she let him inside.

He said, "I've watched your palace up here on the hill
And I've wondered who's the woman for whom we all kill
But I am leaving tomorrow and you can do what you will
Only first I am asking you why."


And she said, "I've swallowed a secret burning thread
It cuts me inside, and often I've bled"
He laid his hand then on top of her head
And he bowed her down to the ground.

"Tell me how hungry are you? How weak you must feel
As you are living here alone, and you are never revealed
But I won't march again on your battlefield"
And he took her to the window to see.


But the crown, it had fallen, and she thought she would break
And she stood there, ashamed of the way her heart ached
She took him to the doorstep and she asked him to wait
She would only be a moment inside.

Out in the distance her order was heard
And the soldier was killed, still waiting for her word
And while the queen went on strangeling in the solitude she preferred
The battle continued on

I rather liked that she had him killed at the end. It was somehow proper.

Back to My Baby. The last couple of verses go something like this:

C'mon, c'mon, c'mon baby, take my hand
C'mon, c'mon, c'mon show me to the love land

Can this really happen in this day and age
Suddenly to just turn the page, like walking on stage
My baby

There's a slowly rising audience cheering just after "Like walking on stage" that still gives me goosebumps. They just don't make music like this any more.

Anyway, buy these two CDs, listen to them over and over for the next six months, and then you'll understand just a tiny bit of where I'm from.

And that to me would be success.