Friday, 27 November 2015

Why am I so defensive of trans* issues?

I have just watched a documentary that reminds me why I get so upset and defensive when it comes to non-trans* folk discussing transgender people.

It was painful to watch and it made me feel the need to explain my last blog. I shouldn't need to, but it seems that I do. I get emotional when it comes to trans* rights and understanding. I want to explain why I bang on.

I fear that my message in my last blog may have been lost. There was a distinct quietness and any questions regarding feedback came to begrudging 'allowance' of my views. Clearly it was seen as an attack or lack of understanding of feminism. It wasn't. I don't know all the ins and outs of feminism but the basic premise, equality for all and being thought of as a brain not genitals, are the ultimate goal for trans* folk and feminism - as simplified as it is. And it is simplified, I know that.

My attack was not on ideas or ideals but an attack on any type of talk that may lead to people being hurt or losing their life. Any rhetoric that belittles a peoples struggle is just plain wrong, and if that particular group is significantly at risk then it transcends bullying and becomes dangerous hate speech.

I come from very privileged background. Not rich but not in poverty, white, smart and provided with opportunities, living in the UK and, most of all, supported understood and loved. On the surface all is good.

I spent most of my life trapped by severe depression. Feeling that I was living a lie and pretending to be someone else. My options became transition or give up. Saying that transitioning is an affront to feminism is crazy - this was not a life I chose and it was something that I had to do e from my position of apparent comfort.  

Why would I choose to spend a life where I have to think very carefully where I travel to? Where I give up male authority in meetings to be taken less seriously and have to fight twice as hard to be heard. Where, in part of the US - a 'developed' country - I can be arrested for using the bathroom. Where I walk down the street and get pointed at, stared at, laughed at, have looks of disgust. Where I risk beatings. I don't get them - but I make sure I am not in that position as best I can. As glad as I am to be spending time in Manchester over the coming Xmas weeks I will have to make myself as unnoticed on busses as possible. Where it will be better to have a scarf wrapped round my face till I cannot breath so that folks don't catch whiff on my trans* status when walking around in the dark. Course, this is something females often have to worry about but it does add another layer. If I get attention for being female by some jerk that is not something I want. But if they then notice that I am - in their minds - not female, that just makes it so much worse. All of a sudden I become less than female, less than human. Worthless. Meaningless. Expendable.

This is why we cannot afford to have anyone talk about how much our lives are a joke. I realise that certain folks talk about trans-women and the things we put ourselves through with transitioning as an affront to feminism but know that we have to do that. We have to, for us. Having intelligent people with a respected platform making light of our struggles makes us worthless, less than human. And in that case, those who would physically attack us cannot be blamed for the way we are seen. And if your family, work colleagues or maybe even you yourself as a trans-person buys in to this, how can you see any other option but suicide?

Yes, this is not something that only happens to trans-folk. It happens in many countries based on gender, religion, background. But here I am tackling one issue - that that puts me, myself, in danger.

I come from privilege and yet I held off when it comes to getting on with my life. For fear of ridicule and rejection. For fear of physical harm. Putting myself at mental harm as a result.

I would like to think that I could have achieved much more so far in my career. With so much on my mind, how could I really apply myself and focus? I would like to think that there are some researchers out there wondering why I have such poor output. This is why. And once I knew what I had to do I kinda gave up. I know, having been in industry as a perceived male, what females face in some industries. And also what any LGBT people face. I have been privy to many conversations not meant for me. So industry is out and I knew I had not achieved my potential in academia which meant that my career, worked so hard at for so long, was over.

Or so I thought. I was given a lifeline. I was lucky, so very lucky. The option that came along would not normally do so. I was fully ready to retrain - even convinced myself that it was what I had always wanted. Sure, if I went back time to my first university choice I would change it. But what I do now I can do well and I do think I have potential. I want to achieve that. I have a life line and now I fully hope to be able to start clawing back publications, regain my potential reputation. I'll need help and I hope I have it.

I want to make myself a name in science and show that a trans* person can do that. That any openly LGBT person can. I want to look my peers in the eye at conferences, even as an invited speaker and chair, and show that I have achieved what I can and that being trans* is not something that will hold you back if you decide not to let it.

Again, not everyone has that option - my background allows this - but it is time to use my privilege and lead the way for as many others as I can. I feel it will make a difference. Let's be honest, I have no visions of grandeur, I'd rather just get on and live my own life. But it is not possible for everyone - so I need to fight for those that can't. In my way. I'm not going to spend my evenings campaigning - I just want to paint my miniatures and play board games. But I would like to show that I can have a successful career in science and hope that that is enough to help others.

These are the experiences of someone with privilege. I read so much depressing information regarding the trans* population. I read a lot of things that make my heart bleed. I cannot imagine what others have gone through. But I understand - I know it happens. Over 50% young trans* kids in the UK have attempted suicide - and that is those who come forward - the ones who are already on the 'winning' side of their mental health battles. For comparison, it is less than ~5% for cis-folk. And nearly 20% for the LGB population btw. The figures vary from source to source, but the trends are all rather similar. Murder, well in 2015 we have set a new rate of nearly 1 trans-person killed every 29 hours worldwide despite being less than 1% of the overall population. Nearly one a day. If you are black, you are far more at risk - again, I am so very privileged. Yes, this is disproportional. This is high. This is insane.

So if you wonder why some trans- folks take any trans* hate, or even just bits of fun poked, very seriously, this is why. Because we have a lot of baggage - but very real baggage. Even if it is not mine, it is there in my community. I feel every trans* death in Iraq equally to those in the states or the UK. Trans* is trans*. We are small, we need to stick together. And it may be that some trans* folk go way over the top. Well, this is why. We need to be heard and we are hurting so much that any comment is emotional. It may seem that some trans* people go 'off' over nothing. And you are probably right. We sometimes pick the wrong battle. We make too much out of nothing.

Personally I have just complained about a poster in the women's bathroom at work. It is a small, meaningless joke - but our position in the world is far too fragile to not at least challenge folks and make them think. I should not be offended by this poster that depicts the cross-dressers from Little Britain but I am. Any joke is too much right now, when we are fighting to be taken seriously. To make people understand what transgender means.

Caitlyn Jenner is far from 'woman of the year' (or even trans-person of the year for me, but I digress...) and I understand why a magazine awarding her this has caused outrage.  But understand why this was an important move: not for political correctness or any sort of agenda, but from that of making transgender people be seen as real people.  

Yes, I wish some trans* folk would shut up - they make us look bad. Make us look like we are whining. But know where this comes from. It comes from fear, repression and hurt. Nearly every trans* person has hurt in some way. So things do become over-sensitive.

I'd hope that this is understandable. Please don't attack us. Help us. Once we are on normal murder, violence and suicide rates then we can start debating the crap that we talk. Heck, let us get to the point where we can use bathrooms in the civilised world in peace. Where we have equal rights to those of cis-people. Where we are not questioned for knowing who we are and where those in power still think they know us better than we do. Where folks who are sent to prison for making dreadful life decisions can at least head to the right prison to serve their well deserved time without fear of rape and abuse. Then you can start calling out our over reactions.

But let's get to that position first, please.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Feminism and Trans* folk

This is not an attack on feminism. These are my thoughts on why I think Germaine Greer is wrong to make derogatory trans* comments.  

It is also why the views she has are dangerous –posing real danger to trans* lives. If you are a human being with compassion, you should not be putting people’s lives at risk. If you are an academic, people put more stock in your views and can treat them as untouchable and fact. This will lead to more violence against trans* people, with more deaths and more cases of trans* suicide because they are being told why they are broken by an authority figure. And on international transgender day of remembrance (today) – such dangerous rhetoric hurts with a greater sting than normal. 

Maybe trans-folk get things wrong but Christ, who doesn’t. Don’t we have enough to deal with internally without external attacks?  Maybe we can be given just a little slack to make minor mistakes? Sure, if we cross a line then that is fine. But slightly screwing up a sentence is not going to bring feminism, or the whole world, down – and everyone does it.

So of late there has been a lot of discussion regarding Germaine Greer and her trans* views. You know the ones (or you can find them easily enough). Maybe she has been misquoted – but no, she has repeated what she says and stands by it. Has she been taken out of context – this is possible. But if you make stark comments over and over, those comments will make the headlines and will be what you are judged on. Greer is intelligent enough to know this. So no, I feel her comments are a calculated and, to her, heartfelt, attack on the trans* community. Whether it is just to gain some press in a failing career, I don’t know. Just to be contrary to the trans* freedom and awareness that is going on right now? I doesn’t matter to me. What matters is why the comments are potentially wrong and, worse, destructive. 

To be fair, she has said that we are free to be who we want to be. But then attacks us as poor parodies of our gender. I am all for free speech but this is hate speech. I am fine with people having different opinions – as long as those opinions do not negatively impact on other people. Greer has done a lot for women, and I have long had her as something of a role-model. Both as a woman and as a trans-person. Here is someone proudly proclaiming that we should be free to be who we are. That we should not be defined by physical characteristics. Oh my gosh – this is amazing stuff. 

So why then, has she started to attack the trans* community? I say trans* community. I have not really seen much on her thoughts of trans-men. What I have seen is mostly aimed at trans-women. I may have missed things. It has been a busy month and my free time has been spent painting Star Wars miniatures to take me away from the trans* hate that seems to keep popping up on the internet. 

Trans* people have a lot to deal with. There is the feeling that they have to fit into a gender role which does not fit. We can feel absolute revulsion at our bodies every time we see them. There is a major desire to have just been born correct. I have loved my life, and I would not now trade it. But it would have been so much easier to have been given the right body to start with, rather than one brain and another body – something that studies seem to agree is the case. 

This makes trans* folks vulnerable. We are a small community, with a small voice. This is why we need to support of those we can get it from. I have always thought that feminists would be our natural ally in terms of sensibility. We have the same goals – not to be defined by our genitals. And yet, it is the LGB community that has taken us in and helped fight our cause. There are valid reasons why people feel the T should split from LGB, from both communities. But I will always be grateful that the LGB community is there for us and from a few meeting of late, I know that the T is becoming a higher priority within the LGBT ‘agenda’, which is amazing.

So yes, we are a small community with a small voice, no matter how much the media may make it appear that we are everywhere. How many trans* folk do you actually know? Such a small percentage, I would assume, of all the folks you know. I’m trans* and I know a very small percentage of trans* people. 

We are easily misunderstood and a soft target for hate, and therefore prone to suicide. The likelihood of suicide is so much higher if you are trans*, with nearly 50% often quoted. I do not know where these numbers come from, but it seems that nearly every trans* person I talk to has thought about it because of their gender. Our gender/body mismatch does that. Whether to take that route or not seemed like a very valid option many times in my life and it could have gone either way. 

So when people start picking on trans-women, understand why we are so upset. And if you think it is because we are putting the feminist cause back – you need to understand where we come from.

I whole heartedly agree that women should dress, look an act how they want to. However, I personally want to look how I want to look. It does not matter whether I wear long hair or short hair, make-up or not, dresses or trousers. That is all how I choose to present myself. Yes, it fits to a stereotype, but it is my choice. 

More importantly, these things are strategies for making people accept me as female. If I didn't wear make-up and dresses I would never get treated as female - and this hurts me to the core. I still get mis-gendered even when I do wear my 'uniform'. Just because some women choose not to wear it has no effect on me - that is how I want to look and it helps to be perceived as myself. This is not re-enforcing the stereotype. It is my choice as well as a method of achieving what I need. And using stereotypical ‘tools’ like dresses and make-up help me be perceived right. I cannot be blamed for the way other people perceive me. I just need to do what I can to make sure they do receive me as they should. 

Of course, some trans-women, and trans-men, go to lengths to come across as some sort of 1950s stereotype of their gender. It is their choice and I feel it is misguided. We do not have to go round in polka-dot dresses, with high heels and red lipstick. However, if they choose to do that then they have the right to. Just like cis-women have the right to. If feminism is all about freedom and choice – why are trans-women not allowed to make that choice?

Changing of trans* bodies is a way of reducing the absolute disgust seen in the mirror. Again, this is not about re-enforcing stereotypes. It is trans-folk not hating themselves whenever they see their reflection. I want a female body. I won’t get it – but I can get close. Sure, there is not ‘one’ female body. I personally hate that some trans-women seem to prioritise big boobs – and many really do. Bugger that. That does not make a woman. 

However, there are male and female bodies. Once I started taking hormones, my body did start to change. This is my body changing to fit with the hormones I now have in my system. As these changes are led by female hormones, yes, it is a female body. My female body – not a catalogue ordered body. There are some features that I have that are now permanent because for many years I did have male hormones – this is my male body. If I had intervened early, and this is why I advocate that children should have access to hormone blockers, then I would not have gotten my male body.

This is not a feminist issue – or rather one that works against feminist principals. Yes I want a female body – but mine, not that of a stereotype. Why is this so wrong? I want to look as pleasing to myself as best I can. Why is this undermining the feminist movement? 

And let’s talk genitals. Greer actively has defined women by her genitals. That very comment was made by her at least a few times that I have seen. Maybe there was more to it but let’s concentrate on the issue, not on what she said. The trans* community is always trying to point out that we are not defined by our genitals, that it makes no difference to who we are. Feminists also want not to be defined by genitals. This is the same goal. So why should Greer spend so much time trying to define trans-women by theirs? 

And throwing this in our face is just damn offensive and the cause of so much hurt. It is the cause of so much self-loathing and it is not uncommon that body self-image can lead to self-mutilation. So much so that it is something I was asked about when I first saw a gender specialist psych. We do not want to be defined by what is between our legs, but between our ears – just like Greer. So to poke fun at this is really quite evil. It has so much more impact on our minds that you can imagine. 

Someone pointed out that I often refer to myself as a girl in my blog – and that this is an issue that feminists hate as some women spend so long fighting against people using the term. Well, sorry but after years of being forced into certain pronouns, etc, I have the right to choose how I define myself. You may hate it. I do not. I actually like the fluidity of language; that we can use terms that are clearly wrong. Yes, I am way past 'girl' age, and I look it. So the term has little true meaning.

It may be that it works against feminism, but that is not the only issue I am facing here. I am working against years of gender dysphoria. Why do I have to struggle for years, finally become free and then immediately constrain myself to certain words and images. Bugger that. I am finally free to choose – don’t repress my choices. Sure, it may be I get a few things wrong and it may be that one or two things could be better. But I need to learn this so give me a damn chance. 

For now, I will refer to myself as girl if I want to. And I like that for myself, now I finally have it as an option. You are free to choose otherwise. But if feminism is the right to choose how we look and act, so it is also the right to choose how we label ourselves. Maybe in time I will find the drawbacks. But for now it is something I revel in. Let me finally live my life.

So no, this is not an attack on feminism. 

No, this is not an attack on free speech. 

This is not an attack on Germaine Greer as such. 

It is an explanation of who we are and why we should be allowed to be ourselves. 

When you fight for a cause and then start to discriminate and bully other folks, you undermine all you stand for. 

And when you pick on a small and vulnerable community – you are just a bully. 

Telling people that you have no right to make your decisions, to live how you need to live, is oppression. 

Platforming this is hate speech – it will only encourage others to take matters into their own hands and trans-folk are already at high risk of abuse and murder. Fact. 

Telling me that I am imagining it, making it up etc. That is your view. Many people disagree. Including doctors and scientists. Maybe you do not know everything.

As women have the right to be judged for who they are, not how they were born – so do I. And if I choose to wear a short skirt, high heels and red lipstick with platinum blond hair – this is my choice. Heck, every single person can choose do this regardless of their gender. When I get to correct my body, this is my choice and my way of living with myself – I don’t care what you think of it. 

It is not about you. It is about me. Why is that so wrong? 

And if you want a fair society – treat other fairly too.

Sunday, 1 November 2015


So last week was all about love. This week, babies. I want to raise a family. I have done so for years. Me and an ex had baby names picked out - and we split 5 years ago. When I came out to my sister, one of her first questions, well statements, was "but, you want kids". Yep. And as she realised, transition makes that tricky.

Before I start - no. It is not just trans-folk that have things to think about to gain a family. This is my take on the difficulties I face as a trans-woman. It is also not meant to be whiney, as a proof read makes it sound. It is actually just me stating the situation as I see it. The decision to transition was the best thing I ever did and it just happens to have a few kinks to it. I am actually very upbeat and hopeful for the future! So don't go offering cheese to go with my whine - although I won't say no to some cheese...

So, first, the standard baby thoughts. Am I ready for kids, well... I'm not quite sure. How can you ever be really ready for such a life changer? But I know I am closer than I ever have been. I am now me, in a country and city I feel settled and that I think would be great to raise kids, and I am doing an adult job (finally, sorta). On the down side, I get tired a lot. I run around and wear myself out. At the moment I can have the luxury of having a lazy evening or lazy weekend. I am not sure I am physically ready. Mentally I am probably better than ever, but heck, I have a social life for the first time since pre-PhD, 10 years ago, so that would be a lot to give up.

So swings and roundabouts, as it is with kids. But the idea of doing it alone, as I said last week, scares the heck out of me. I'll need the support and help. With two, at least the tired can be shared a little. And let's face it; critters are expensive so sharing the financial burden would be almost essential. This is the blog I started writing last week, and it should make sense why I decided to cover love first. And I think I showed that that has it's own trans* issues - but I still ain't gonna jump in with the first person that shows interest and wants kids. Sod that. I want love, not just a family route.

Partner aside, it is complicated for a girl like me. At the moment it seems that a lot of the trans* YouTube vloggers that I follow keep bringing up their 'parental desires'. I have no idea if it a domino effect, with one vlogger watching another and becoming inspired to talk about it (just like me). Maybe it 'nesting' season now, as it gets cold. Maybe I am just sensitive to it. Who knows. But one thing is clear, being trans* complicates having kids - or at least certain routes.

I hear many trans-women talk in major anguish about not being able to carry children. In fact, they can be real nasty about girls who talk disparagingly about periods. But as with most things, that is just born of hurt. Me, I dunno. I cannot imagine carrying a child and the pain of giving birth. Plus all the other nasties that come with the 'gift' of being able to carry life. It is far from an easy thing. But if I could, yes, I would. 

Science is a million miles away from letting me do that. I have heard that a womb transplant recently went ahead, for a woman who could not conceive (I forget the actual reason why). This is amazing, remarkable news but this is a long way from being experimental - and further from becoming an option offered to trans-women. I will be way past old when it does come in, if it even happens in my lifetime.

Well what about the male ingredients? Well, ya see, girls like me take a lot of hormones, including testosterone blockers. These do exactly what they say on the tin - which means that all the stuff coming with T also disappears. T is responsible for so many generally masculine features. Facial / body hair growth, muscle mass, receding hair line, sex drive and, of course, sperm production. And that last one puts a real crimp on certain baby making routes.

When you start taking hormones you are told that all changes are reversible with the exception of breast tissue growth. However, fertility always comes with a question mark. It is not known how long it takes to lose this but after 1.5 years, it seems a reasonable assumption - backed up with certain observations. 

There is just not enough data it seems to tell me whether or not stopping hormones would lead to a return of fertility. If so, how long do you need to do it for? Medical guidelines do, literally, leave this as a question. I guess a big part of this is that trans-girls cannot get themselves off the hormones. I think it would wreck my head. Trying it on the off chance - it is such a hard thing to do. I did watch a vlog from a girl who experimented stopping hormones for a week, just to see how it affected her. The result was that she did not want to do it for longer or ever again. Add that to the knowledge that you have no idea if it will actually do anything for fertility then it may prove totally pointless.

I guess it would depend how desperate you are for each goal, which is more important. But some medical idea of the actual result would at least make it easier. Plus as time goes on you get closer to what is, for some girls, the ultimate stage of transition, gender reassignment surgery. Once that goes ahead there is no going back.

At his stage you are probably saying to yourself "hang on a second, why did you not take precautions against this and store yourself a sample". Simple reason, expense. Sure, if it means everything to you then you pay for it which is great unless there just is no money to pay for it. Maybe in England it is different - I do not know. But it is expensive in Switzerland and I just could not work it out and coming to England just did not occur to me. I found it really difficult to get any info on and maybe it was there but hell, I had a LOT on mind. I just could not cope with more things. Plus, it was not actually brought up so it didn't really seem like a real thing to sort out. So you choose the important things and deal with them one at a time. Now that I am settled, it is easy to come back to this but at the time I just couldn't. I would not do anything differently: I did what I could.

And let's not forget - this is all based on the assumption that it is a cis-girl I end up with, who is both willing and able to have a baby. It is not just trans-women that cannot mother children, and my heart hurts for cis-girls in that position. You could use a surrogate mother of course, but the baby batter has to come from somewhere. So at this point, is this really a viable route? Or, if you are in a straight relationship, then the male ingredients could easily come from the partner without the anguish of stopping hormones. These can be circumnavigated but the route becomes less and less 'natural'. So yes, it is a real mind-bender.

So why all the bother about making babies? There are other ways. True. I am just very sentimental. I like to think that I will pass on my mother's genes and keep them alive just as my sister has. This might sounds really dumb but it means a lot to me. It makes me sad to think that my DNA will die out. I am far from perfect but I hope I have my good qualities. My mum made me - me, and I would like to let a bit of that go on. Not in some type of God complex. Just, to have a legacy. To not be forgotten.

And maybe there is some part of me that knows that this is all because of actions I took. I say action, because there was never a choice - ever since I learnt about transition I never felt I had a choice. It was a decision - live or die - and that is not any sort of choice. No one decides on a trans* life whatever Germaine Greer and her hateful bigot supporters think. But at the same time, I would not swap 'me' for anything.

So, anyways, on to the good news. There is adoption. I was reading a little while ago that the UK adoption agency are really happy to have trans* adopters, even when they are single, as they are more likely to take slightly older children. Now, this is great on two levels - that I could adopt and that some poor kids get a home. I mean - how awesome is that: to give someone the chance of a better life. I do wonder how flexible the system would be if it was a single trans* person trying to adopt a new born - but let's not think about that and take the good from it.

I had grand plans, way back when choosing baby names, that at least one child would be adopted. Yes, I hoped for a 'naturally conceived by me' child, but I hope I would have followed through with the rest of the plan. Adoption really is an amazing thing to do. And it means that yes, I have options and possibilities. My future is not yet written.

If it gets me out of changing nappies, maybe this has all worked out for the best!