Category: November


Chinese+Gin=Success?

 

 

I saw a beautiful car the other day – I don’t know what make it was, but it definitely looked expensive. It was sleek, and purring, with tinted windows, and I felt like one of those little ragged street-urchins you see in black and white films, staring at it with undisguised envy. My immediate thought was “I’ll never be successful enough to drive something like that”.

The thing is, I don’t have a car because a) I can’t afford to buy, insure and run one, but also b) I believe in trying to lead an ethical life, and have deliberately adapted my life to not include a car. So really, with all this in mind, I shouldn’t envy Mr Tinted Windows.

The trouble is, if you lay all the ethical stuff aside, there’s a big chip on my shoulder about my lack of success. I am very-nearly-40, and I live in a rented house, buy the majority of my clothing 2nd hand, walk everywhere, haven’t been on holiday for over 3 years, take so many pills and potions that the pharmacist treats me like an old friend, have made a giant mess of being a parent, and have a Curriculum Vitae that reads like a shopping receipt.

The chances of me ever having enough money to pay a deposit on a house are laughable. And I KNOW that things like that aren’t a measure of success, but actually, when people I know are doing ‘normal’ things like buying houses, upgrading their cars, planning holidays, etc., I feel really, really small.

But what has any of this to do with transitioning, I hear you cry? Well, I used to have a “good” job, with quite a high wage. Not so monumentally high that I didn’t have to be careful with my pennies, but high enough not to have to worry so much about getting by day-to-day. Unfortunately, that job made me miserable, and ill, and ultimately there is no way I could have transitioned in that role. Well, not and retain any of my fast-depleting sanity, anyway. So I left, and hit the job market. I got by on temping, and when I wasn’t doing that, I was tramping round every single recruitment agency in the City, dressed smartly, with my biggest smile on, trying to persuade people to look at my CV. I felt like a whore, and not in a good way.

I now have a job that I love doing, but I bring home less than half what I used to. Some time ago, my daughter complained that I’m always worrying about money, and said “But it was YOU who decided to give up a perfectly good, well-paid job”. She’s young, and will hopefully one day understand why I did that, but at the back of my mind, there’s a little part of me that’s terrified that what she said is what other people think as well.

I can’t blame being transgender for my lack of visible success. There’s some very successful trans guys around – I’m just not one of them! However, as well as the immediate financial impact of giving up the job I used to do, it is also possible to look back at the last…ooohh….let’s say 30 years of my life, and see that success is unlikely to come to someone who is deeply unhappy with themselves, beating themselves up on a daily basis about their inability to fit in, and feeling like the body they have been born with is made of clay. None of these, in my mind, are likely to lead to success.

It’s easy to say “Yes, but success isn’t about jobs and houses and cars and holidays…” and I know that is true. Success is also about people, and I have many lovely people in my life. But what else is success? You know, at the moment, I am really not sure. So I am looking back at today’s successes. Small they may be, but you’ve got to start somewhere:

Today, I:

  • Woke up  at 6, realised it’s a Saturday, and rolled over with a smile on my face.
  • Got changed at the gym without going beetroot-coloured around all the nakedness in the changing room.
  • Did my first yoga class since surgery. Believe it or not, it’s much easier to do Uddiyana bandha when not wearing a skin-tight lycra binder.
  • Bumped into two of my friends, who are all loved-up and lovely.
  • Went to the first Norwich Veggie Fair, and was recognised by someone I know online, without me having to go up and introduce myself.
  • Went to an art exhibition that was showing a friend’s work, and decided that I much preferred his stuff over anyone else’s.
  • Treated myself to a takeout from Norwich’s absolute best Vegan Chinese Takeaway. Ok, Norwich’s ONLY Vegan Chinese Takeaway. Where the lady recognised me. No, NOT because I go there a lot…
  • Popped into a shop to buy a drink to go with the Chinese, then decided to try another shop a short walk down the road…and saved nearly £3 in the process.

Small, small successes. I need to focus on them, really, because I’m pretty sure the other sort has eluded me!

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20th November 2011 is the 13th Annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. It is a sobering day on which we remember the hundreds of trans people across the world who have been killed because they were transgender. According to statistics summarized in a 2010 report by the Transgender Europe (TGEU) Trans Murder Monitoring Project, every second day a homicide of a trans person is being reported. According to the same group, 116 transgender people were murdered globally in the first nine months of 2011.

Reports of the deaths are often horrifying. Trans people have been raped, stoned, stabbed, shot, strangled, burned to death, because someone somewhere did not like their gender identity or presentation. More often than not, someone they knew, even a family member.

Many of these people’s murderers are never caught. Sadly, in a lot of cases, not a great deal of effort seems to go into finding the perpetrator, or charging them appropriately. If they are caught, some are proud of their actions, others claim that they have restored family honour, and more again claim a “trans panic” defence. In this, a defendant claims that when discovering that someone was transgender, he or she acted in a state of violent temporary insanity because of a little-known psychiatric condition called “Trans Panic”. Give me a break. Fortunately, this defence is rarely upheld in court, but the fact that it even exists as a defence in the first place sickens me to the core.

You want to know how many trans people have been reported as murdered since 1998 (when records were started by concerned organisations)? Please spare a couple of minutes to look at this list: Remembering Our Dead 1998-2011

Now bear in mind that these are only the murders that have been reported. And that it doesn’t include suicides. Thousands of trans people globally have committed suicide over a similar timescale. Because of fear, harassment and lack of understanding from their families, friends and those they come across day-to-day. Because of rejection, sexual abuse, violence and being made to feel that they are perverted, freakish and crazy.

We need to see an end to the objectification and villification of trans people. We need to see an end to the idea that being transgender is just about your genitalia. We need to see an end to the idea that somehow some trans people deserve to be killed, for crossing whatever social or religious line someone thinks they shouldn’t have. We need to see a radical change in police attitudes towards the deaths that are going on, and the seriousness with which reports of harassment, abuse and threats are treated.

More to the point, people need to realise that it’s not just the murders that are the problem. It’s the trans people who are afraid to leave their homes because of threats of violence. It’s those who lose out on work when people realise they are trans. It’s those who are beaten because they don’t fit in with society’s rules of what it’s ok to look like. It’s people who are rejected by their families for being honest about themselves. The ones who have names shouted at them by people who think that’s ok, because they’re not, somehow, “proper people”.

People like me are being victimised, abused, murdered and left believing that the only way out is suicide, every day. We are just people, like anyone else. The senselessness of these crimes is that a lot of people actually think they’re justified.

For more information about the Transgender Day of Remembrance, please take a look at the TDOR website.

I’m sorry this post is a little later than usual. I’m usually quite a punctual type, but this week’s ramblings have drifted a bit. I was away for the weekend, and whilst I probably had time to do a post on Friday, before leaving, my head hit a blank, trying to think of something fresh, zingy and exciting to write about.

This normally isn’t a problem, as things usually crop up during the week that make me think/make me angry/make me laugh, so it’s easy to pick a topic. So far in my transition, there’s usually been something happening that has been uppermost in my mind (preparing for x, worrying about x, explaining x, recovering from x, etc), but actually, this week, life has just been, well, ordinary.

I have been asked by a few people about what my future plans are, and they are currently pretty simple. I just plan to get on with my life. I am on testosterone, which is going well. I have had my chest surgery, which went well. Now I plan to enjoy living with myself for a while. Enjoy the changes as they happen. Now, don’t get me wrong, there will still be plenty of things to write about. It’s Transgender Day of Remembrance next week and I also have a whole post on Masculinity in development, to name just two things. I really enjoy writing about things that people are interested in, so message me if you have a request!

But being trans, even though it can often seem like there’s lots happening, is largely just about being ordinary. No more drama than anybody else, really. I’ve been told my life is interesting. Whilst I can see that some of the stuff I do is out of the ordinary, I also go to work, clean out the litter tray, worry about spots, lose entire evenings to dreadful television shows, etc. etc.

Most of all, trans people are ordinary people. Whilst the media still wish to make us freaks (witness this recent headline: “INCREDIBLY, 39 year old Hannah was BORN A MAN”), we won’t be seen, or treated, by others, as normal or unremarkable. The day when something like that fails to make it into a newspaper, not because we’re being censored, but because we’re just not that interesting, is a day, in my opinion, to look forward to.

Now, I’m off to CONTROVERSIALLY SMEAR MY NAKED BODY IN TESTOSTERONE, then pack my lunchbox for work…

It is a bit tricky to comment on the health issues facing transmen, as we’re not always very good subjects for studies. Firstly, there’s not all that many of us, and many of us are not the ‘signing up for research’ type. Secondly, whilst people have been transitioning for decades, it is still hard for researchers to be able to put together enough statistics to be reliable. In short, they don’t really know what’s going to happen to us in the long-term.

That said, there is enough evidence to be able to make some broad statements about the effects of transitioning through hormone use. I will do my best to talk about a few of them, but please bear in mind that I am not medically trained, and if you’re worried about any of this, you should go to the doctor for a more educated picture of what’s what.

Taking testosterone (“T”) can have some interesting effects on our bodies. T increases the number of red blood cells swimming around your system. This has two main effects – in a minority of people this can lead to Polycythemia, or excess thickening of the blood, which can cause potential health problems. On the scary side, it can lead to thrombosis, haemorrhage or heart failure. Less scarily, this can be dealt with by looking at your testosterone dosage. I believe immediate problems can be sorted by drawing some blood off, which sounds a touch mediaeval, but hey, if it works…

The other thing caused by all these extra red blood cells is higher blood pressure. Mine was always pretty low, so increasing it hasn’t affected me (other than being a bit red in the face!) Again, scarily, this can lead to strokes or coronary heart disease, but just as not every man with naturally occurring testosterone is about to die horribly, neither is your average transguy. A healthy lifestyle and regular medical checks is all you really need to do to keep on top of most of this stuff.

T also destroys ‘good’ cholesterol and increases ‘bad’ cholesterol. This can lead to similar problems to those outlined in my last paragraph, but again, with sense and medical supervision, there’s no reason why your average trans-Joe should have to worry too much.

Testosterone can increase the body’s resistance to insulin, and also has been documented as causing liver problems and a potential increased risk of some cancers. The trouble is with this ‘documentation’ is that (as mentioned earlier) we are a very small group of people, even internationally, and also it is often the case that factors such as previously existing conditions, and lack of access to healthcare have not been taken into consideration. A lot of studies take place in the US, where healthcare is largely expensive to access. It is also the case that a lot of transpeople fear to seek help because of discrimination (both perceived and very real – both lead to a fear of seeking care, and cannot be discounted). This is not to say that the studies are therefore worthless, but you need to be sensible before taking them as gospel.

Now here’s a quick biology lesson, which may also explain ‘Bodybuilder Moobs’ to you. As transmen, we take testosterone, but also have some oestrogen swishing around in our bodies. This is generally ok. However, if we take too much T, it turns into oestrogen. Who’d’ve thought it? That’s why bodybuilders who take very large quantities of testosterone indeed, in the hope of becoming very manly, can end up with quite large amounts of oestrogen in them. And moobs.

So where is this going? It is thought by a lot of medical types that excess oestrogen can increase the risk of a number of cancers: endometrial, ovarian, vaginal, uterine, cervical, to name but a few. This is why it is SO important to get your testosterone levels checked regularly. Quite apart from not wanting to slow down masculinisation, nobody wants to increase their risk of cancer when it could be avoided. Transguys, if you’re not masculinising as fast as you’d like, don’t be tempted to increase your T dose. Not worth it.

Speaking of moobs, even after chest surgery, breast-tissue cancer is still a risk. After all, it’s not just women who get it, so keep checking for lumps, bumps, crinkles and changes.

Another vitally important thing is to keep getting cervical smears while you still have a cervix. Believe me, it’s cripplingly embarrassing to try to book in a smear at the doctor’s surgery when the system has you down as male. It’s scary as hell having to reveal your testosterone enhanced ‘bits’ to a nurse. Being penetrated by a speculum when the last thing you want to do is identify with any femaleness ‘down there’ is awful. But while you still have the equipment, you need to get it checked.

This hasn’t turned out to be a very positive post, has it? However, I believe in honesty and being informed, and I really believe that by knowing what we’re doing to our bodies, and looking after them as best we can, we have the best prospects for a healthy future. Eat well, drink sensibly, pleeeease don’t smoke! Exercise, have regular blood tests, talk to the doctor about this stuff. The average GP in the UK (I can’t speak for elsewhere) knows next to nothing about the health of transpeople, so knowing yourself what risks you face will help you keep up a useful dialogue with your doctor.

I don’t mean to preach. I do want to be healthy, though, and enjoy my new life as long as I can. Which brings me to longevity. We all know that men tend not to live as long as women, and whilst studies on trans mortality rates aren’t that advanced, most medical authorities acknowledge that a transguy will probably live around 5 fewer years than he would had he not transitioned. I’ll take that.

I won’t go into a lot of detail here about hysterectomies, as it’s something I want to cover in much more detail further down the line. Many doctors do recommend that after a few years on T, transguys consider having a hysterectomy, with one idea behind this being that this will remove some of the organs at risk of cancer. Another aim would be to reduce naturally occurring oestrogen, amongst other things reducing the need for as much testosterone. Other doctors argue that this isn’t necessary. It’s a tricky one, and a question that I will be considering very carefully before deciding how to proceed.

I have written at length about transhealth today. However, I am also currently involved in “Movember”, a month-long charity event raising money and awareness of prostate and testicular cancer. Not conditions I will ever have, but a charity worth supporting nonetheless. A close family member had testicular cancer recently. He has survived, but he and his family went through hell in the process. Movember is a light-hearted way of raising money for research and support, with men across the country growing moustaches for money. However much testosterone I may be on, my top lip is not yet up to that challenge, but as you can see, I have taken an alternative approach to growing my ‘Mo’. Crochet rules. For non-Norwich supporters, yellow and green are my local team’s colours.

To support my fund-raising efforts, please consider donating to my support of the Mo at http://www.movember.com/m/1481124.

Whether we are transgender men, cisgender men, or their families or lovers, we all deserve to have the best health possible.