Category: May


Compare and Contrast

15th July 2010

to

28th May 2011

I would like to introduce a new character to the strange land that is my transition. You’ve met Madam Oestrogen and the Cankle Pixie. Now I would like you to meet the Hairy Fairy.

I have never been a very hairy person. Even back in the day when I bothered about leg hair, I only shaved every year or two. I did shave my armpit hair, but more so that other people wouldn’t comment on it than actually wanting to have bald pits. My one claim to hairyness was the single, solitary hair that grew on my chin, and that my partner insisted I pluck. Quite rightly, as it did look odd. I briefly harboured a plan to let this hair grow and grow until I could coil it into an avant garde beard.

I have started to shave, though this is mainly tidying the bum-fluff that has become more apparent since starting hormones. Some lovely friends have offered to show me how to shave properly, but for now I am happy in my solitary ritual, that leaves me feeling smooth of chin and very grounded. Strange how a simple thing like shaving is so good for my head.

My past history and my genes both point to the likelihood that I will never be very hairy, even on testosterone. Despite this knowledge, I still pore over my body regularly, seeing what has sprouted, thickened and spread. Whilst I am quite happy to spend the rest of my days as a bit of a baldy, I would still dearly love to see hair growing in a more ‘manly’ way – chin and upper lip, chest, arms and legs and that ‘treasure trail’ that leads from the belly button down.

And lo! The Hairy Fairy has provided. In the stupidest of all places. I have a patch of hair growing on my tummy. I am monitoring it closely, like my own personal Farmville, and it is coming along nicely.

When you start transitioning, you are plunged into a world with a different language. I am used to bandying about terms like ‘Cisgender’ and ‘Queer’, but I recognise that it would be useful to include a bit of a glossary with my blog. I’ve chosen words that I either use regularly, or are likely to crop up in future posts. This is by no means an exhaustive list. I have cherry-picked information from a number of sources, and added bits myself. Language is political, and I know that some people won’t agree with the explanations I have given. I welcome comments and additions to this list.

Androgyne or Polygender (other words are also used to describe this)
These are terms used to describe people who find they do not feel comfortable thinking of themselves as simply either men or women. Instead they feel that their gender identity is more complicated to describe and non-binary. Some may identify their gender as being a form of combination between a man and a woman, or alternatively as being neither.

Cisgender

This is the opposite of transgender. That is, someone whose gender identity matches up with their recognised biological gender. This word is used a lot in trans circles, in my experience, but is not without its critics.

Cross-dressing
This is a term used to describe people who dress, either occasionally or more regularly, in clothes associated with the opposite gender, as defined by socially accepted norms. Cross-dressing people are generally happy with the gender they were labelled at birth and do not want to permanently alter the physical characteristics of their bodies or change their legal gender.

Gender dysphoria
This is a recognised medical issue for which gender reassignment treatment is available. Gender Dysphoria is distress, unhappiness and discomfort experienced by someone about their biological sex not fully matching their gender identity. Transsexual people usually experience intense gender dysphoria and other transgender people may also experience various degrees of gender dysphoria, especially when unable to fully express their gender identity.

Gender expression
This is an individual’s external gender-related appearance (including clothing) and behaviour (including interests and mannerisms). A person may have masculine, feminine or androgynous aspects of their appearance or behaviour.

Gender identity
This is an individual’s internal self-perception of their own gender.

Intersex
This is a term used to describe people born with external genitals, internal reproductive systems or chromosomes that are in-between what is considered clearly male or female. There are many different intersex conditions. In many cases, an intersex person will simply self-identify as a man or as a woman. However, in some cases, an intersex person may self-identify as being neither a man nor a woman.

LGBT
This is the acronym most commonly used to talk about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Transgender people can be lesbian, gay, bisexual or straight. Having the T in with the LGB is subject to a lot of debate, as sexual orientation and gender identity are such different things, but as groups of people facing similar prejudices and struggles there is strength to be found in working together.

LGBTIQ

This acronym includes Intersex and Queer people.

Queer

A political statement, as well as a sexual orientation, which advocates breaking binary thinking and seeing both sexual orientation and gender identity as potentially fluid. As a word, ‘queer’ has a loaded history but many people identify with it as a positive statement, with inclusive implications. I like the word queer, and use it to describe myself.

Transgender
This is an umbrella term used to describe a whole range of people whose gender identity or gender expression differ in some way from the gender assumptions made about them when they were born. Often shortened to Trans. It is important to acknowledge that while some people may fit under this definition of transgender, they may not identify as such. I use the word ‘transgender’ to describe my overall gender position and philosophy, though I also consider myself transsexual. You will often see the word ‘transgendered’ used, particularly in my blog. It is, however, considered grammatically incorrect (my bad) so I’ll be trying to drop the ‘ed’ in future!
Transsexual
This is a term used to describe people who consistently self-identify as the opposite gender from the gender they were labelled at birth based on their physical body. A transsexual sometimes undergoes medical treatment to change their physical sex to match their gender identity through hormone treatments and/or surgically. Not all transsexuals desire surgery. It is important to acknowledge that while some people may fit under this definition of transsexual, they may not identify as such.

With thanks to:

Gender Equality Resource Centre

NHS Scotland website


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.

Have you ever considered how hard it is to book a smear test when the computer system at your doctor’s surgery has you listed as male?

Gotta laugh…

People who know that I am trans tend to fall into two categories when they want to know more about me. There are those who start any question with “I really hope you don’t think I’m…I mean, if it’s ok, I wondered…I don’t want to offend, but….”. And then there are those who think it’s ok to ask about the geography of my genitalia within five minutes of meeting me.

As you might have gathered, I am a very open person. I don’t mind being asked just about anything. It just depends how you ask, and how happy you are to accept “no comment” as the answer. I do have my limits, though. The first rule of Pants Club is, you do not talk about Pants Club. Well, something like that. Rather like people who automatically assume that it is ok to touch a pregnant woman’s stomach, too many people assume it is ok to ask if/when I am going to have genital surgery. I’ve had practical strangers ask me that. As an example, I had to have a drugs test for my new job (nothing dodgy, I promise), and had to ‘declare’ my testosterone, which, along with my name, outed me completely. Two minutes into the test, the nurse started asking about my surgery plans. Nothing to do with the testing, she was just curious.

Now I’m not stupid. I KNOW that as soon as most people meet a trans person, they start thinking about what’s in their pants. It is as if they think that the only thing that trans people have to do to “change sex” (sic) is go and have an operation. I’d like to give people the benefit of the doubt and assume that this is largely because the process of transitioning is not something most people are familiar with, so their questions veer towards the over-personal. With that in mind, I would like to devote next week’s blog to a Question and Answer session. If you have questions, however odd or basic, please get in touch. If you know me on Facebook, PM me your questions. Otherwise, leave them as a comment. I do reserve the right not to answer, but I will be polite about it. And remember the first rule of Pants Club is, you do not talk about Pants Club, so I won’t be answering any of those pesky genitalia questions. Not this time.

I recently put a new video on my YouTube channel (MrHerbertTurtle). It was a ‘Manliness Test’ – if you haven’t seen it already, go have a look – it’s silly. It was VERY ironic – please be assured that I know my masculinity does not rest on my ability to suck a sour sweet. And I’m not just saying that because I lost.

I’ve been told by a couple of people that I looked ‘not very manly’ and ‘quite feminine’ in the video. At first I was worried – after all, I’m a transgender man, and want to read as manly, so I watched the video again. Yes, I can see that whilst squirming around, snorting and giggling, I wasn’t channelling my inner Phil Mitchell, but then – why should I?

I think when a lot of people consider my transitioning, they think of me in hugely over-simplistic terms as  ‘a man trapped in a woman’s body’. Therefore I believe there is an expectation that I will, as time and testosterone go on, suddenly unveil the fully-developed male persona that has been ‘trapped inside’ all this time. Sorry, but it just doesn’t work like that. I have been brought up and socialised entirely as a woman. I have learned, mainly subconsciously, how to move, speak and react to others, as a female. That doesn’t detract in any way from my knowing that I am a man, but it does influence the way I am today.

So what to do? When I first came out as trans, I was keen to be seen as manly, to try to react in what I considered to be a manly way. I think a lot of that was about confirming to other people that my decision to transition at all was right – see, I AM a man! As time has gone on, I have realised that trying to act in a way that does not yet come very naturally is stupid. Time and testosterone will help me to match my inner masculinity with my mannerisms, but trying to force things will just make me look like I’m trying too hard.

And if I still do read ‘quite feminine’, well so be it. When I was first considering transitioning, a friend (also FTM) said “There are so many models of masculinity out there, don’t just try to adopt the stereotype”. Maybe I won’t end up as the hardest bloke on the block, but if I want to giggle like a girl when I’m sucking a sour sweet, I will.