Thank you to those of you who sent me questions. If you read this and realise you have a burning question, let me know, on FB or in the comments here. I’ll do my best to answer honestly! Please remember that all FTMs are different and will have different views on these issues…I cannot speak for anyone except myself.
What does it mean to feel like you’re trapped in the wrong body? (Or do you even identify with that common statement?)
The simplest answer to this is that I really don’t feel this way. “I feel like a man trapped inside a woman’s body” may genuinely be how some transmen feel, but for a lot of us those words are merely the ticket to the medical treatment we need. However complex your self-identification, you cannot afford to be ambiguous in what you tell the doctor when you want to be referred to a Gender Identity Clinic. Perhaps especially so in the UK where treatment is free, and doctors are under pressure to keep costs down. Also, whether speaking to your doctor, or your friends, sometimes you have to say something that is easy for people to relate to. Resorting to a cliché can just make life easier.
People are often keen to ask “but how do you KNOW you’re transgendered”. My best answer is simply that “I just know”. Ask anyone, trans- or cis-gendered (non-trans) how they actually KNOW that they are whatever gender they identify as, and few could really tell you. If you strip away the physical characteristics, the socialisation and the way you are treated by others, what do you have left? Just the knowledge that you are who you are. So whilst I would only use the “man trapped inside woman” description in the most hopeless situations, where I really don’t feel the person I’m talking to will ever grasp the nuances of gender identity, I trust myself to know who I am, and to acknowledge that the more I shed the vestiges of femininity, the happier I am.
Don’t you make of your body what you want it to be? For example, there are plenty of very masculine women and very feminine men, so is it specifically the body that has to be changed, or do you think it has to do more with personality/trait characteristics?
I completely agree that we must make of our bodies what we can. Certainly one of my biggest issues as a transman is having a very feminine body, and for years I have done my best to work with what I have. I grew up believing that if life dealt you a particular hand of cards, you just put up with it and did your best to get on with living. However, the dysphoria that comes along with this is massive, and damaging. As an example, I cannot stand my breasts. Not in a ‘they’re really annoying’ kind of way, but with loathing. When I used to dress as a woman, I would try to hide my chest as much as possible. On the occasions when I braced myself to try to ‘make the most of what I have’ and be feminine, I showed them off. And felt like crying. And hated myself more.
These days I go to extraordinary lengths to hide my female shape. Not because I’m particularly vain, but because if I don’t I can barely go outside my front door. I wear a binder, which is a strongly elasticated vest-like garment which comes down to my thighs. It completely flattens my chest and compresses the hips to a degree. It hurts, overheats me, threatens to break down my skin in places and restricts my breathing, but is necessary for me to have the confidence to go out with my head high. Some transmen have broken ribs wearing binders. So why go to these extremes? As I was asked very early on in my transition “why not just dress in a masculine way?” If I didn’t achieve changes in my body, largely through hormone therapy and mastectomy, the dysphoria I feel towards my body would stay, whatever clothes I was wearing.
There are many ‘masculine’ women, and ‘feminine’ men. People identify in many ways on the gender spectrum. The Butch community is strong, particularly in the US. They may dress and act in what a lot of people would consider a ‘masculine’ way, but ask the average Butch if they are a man, and I guarantee they will say no. That’s the real difference between ‘masculine women’ and transmen. We identify completely differently. I could no more continue living as a woman than a Butch would consider themselves a man.
So yes, a lot of this is about physical change. With regards to personality traits, we are all who we are, and I am not looking to change my personality. Testosterone certainly produces changes of a less tangible nature than just moulding flesh, such as emotional response, and these do impact on one’s behaviour, but the longest battle I face is unravelling the effects of 39 years living as a woman, and being treated as such by the rest of the world. If I want to unravel it, that is. I firmly believe that it is possible to acknowledge one’s past as well as creating a more positive future, so this is definitely a work in progress.
I think gender is very fluid, with the exception of genitalia. So why is genitalia so important? Is it not rather insignificant? Couldn’t you be who you are today with breasts etc instead of no breasts and a penis?
A transguy’s genitalia are mainly important to the outside world. As mentioned before in my blog, people have a fascination with what’s in our pants. I have been asked yet again this week by a total stranger (another nurse – do they think that gives them the right?) “When are you having The Operation?” In truth, there isn’t a clear cut answer to The Penis Question, largely due to the fluidity of gender-identification and experience. To some transmen, the penis is some sort of Holy Grail. To very many more, it is just not that important. A lot of transmen transition happily and successfully leaving their genitals alone. It’s not all about the penis, nor is FTM transgenderism some sort of extreme penis envy. There’s a whole lot more to transitioning than a pretty piece of flesh.
Do you watch Hollyoaks? If so, what have you thought about the Jasmine->Jason storyline?
I don’t watch Soaps, though my partner does enjoy Hollyoaks and has kept me posted on the Jasmine/Jason storyline. Dislike of the genre aside, I have avoided watching any of this storyline very deliberately. I just can’t watch trans storylines on TV or on film for a number of reasons. Firstly, because TV producers so often screw things up. They are making their programmes to get ratings, and however sensitive they may be to the issues, drama sells. The process of a young transguy coming to terms with his own gender-identity, the coming out to his family, dealing with the impact this has on his (male) partner, seeking and receiving ongoing treatment, would normally take years, not the few months Hollyoaks was able to spare in its scripts.
I have read that the actress taking on the role of Jasmine/Jason had a lot of support and advice from young transguys at different stages of transition, which is definitely a good thing. Saying that, the few times I did see Jason on screen, he did seem to be wearing a woolly hat a lot and saying “I’m a boy” in a faux deep voice. Less good. The trouble is, you can’t actually depict the process of transitioning with any sort of realism. Witness Max on L-Word. Sorry guys, but we don’t suddenly turn into abusive, rage-ridden people, sporting “beards” that look suspiciously like gravy browning. If you’re going to do it, get it right.
Another reason I find trans storylines so hard to watch is that when they DO get things right, it can be very painful to watch. Transitioning, and other people’s reactions to it, can be very dark, and lonely at times, and seeing this on screen can be almost unbearable to watch.
I believe Waterloo Road has recently introduced a MTF character. I avoid Waterloo Road like the plague, being an ex-teacher, but it will be interesting to see what happens. Sadly, Soaps tend to ‘dip into’ an issue, then it sort of disappears. Like Jason’s storyline – lots of drama, then nothing: everything appears to have been resolved. Anybody remember poor old Sonia in Eastenders? She came out as a lesbian, was rejected by family, humiliated by her ex-boyfriend, got a girlfriend, was happy for about 3 seconds, regretted her “decision” to “become” a lesbian, got back with boyfriend, storyline over. Bada bing. Soaps need to learn that LGBTIQ storylines CAN be ongoing and dynamic, not just leading either to regret, or violence, or both.