What is trans*? I mean - what actually is it? Clearly it is some sort of screw up, medically. I don't really see it as having any advantage evolutionary speaking. Course, maybe a few thousand years down the line that will change.
(Do I need to note: just because it is maybe some sort of screw up, it does not mean we are there to be gazed at, despised, and poked at with a stick or something – we are still people!!!)
But what is it? I think the reason that trans-folk cause such an acceptance problem for cisgender people is that it is not a medical or physical condition. Just like being LGB - it is not actually a condition. No, seriously, we just ARE who we ARE. Does this mean that we cannot find a root, a cause for our LBG or T nature, no. Not to me. I think we can find a source. But does it need to be corrected? Don't get me wrong, being trans* causes a whole host of issues that need sorting, both mental and physical. But these are results, not causes of the circumstance.
Maybe we can find a cause, ok. Let's look at that. It could be some sort of genetic mutation I guess. But, as I say, it does not seem to provide any obvious evolutionary advantage. The fact that numbers are rising could be an indication of mutation. Maybe we are the true homo-superior? The next evolution of mankind. Stan Lee may have ad it all wrong with the X-men. But it may be that numbers are a constant percentage of the population and there are just more people ‘out’ as trans*, screwing up the stats. That happens…
What else? Well, it seems likely that it is to do with chemical releases in the womb. The thought being that DNA provides the bodily, physical sex and chemical/hormonal released in the womb instil the sense of gender identity. I do like this - it would provide a lovely 'explanation' for trans* folk, as well as non-binary, gender neutral, etc. by extending the argument. In some ways it would be nice to have a medical explanation for who I am. To shut up the deniers and haters. My being should not need justifying.
But this brings us back to the question, if the hormones control the identity (a mental thing), and DNA the physical identity, which is the one gone awol? I'd suggest that humans live by the brain and as a result being trans* varies from the standard gender binary norm physically, not mentally. This is certainly how we medically treat trans-patients, with changes to the body not the brain.
I cannot imagine this idea gaining much traction with republicans!
Now, if it is to do with chemical releases in the womb, it is sorta an interesting situation. Again, are numbers on the increase? Because if so, is this some by-product of society. You may have heard of studies suggesting that the increased levels of female hormones in water are turning all fish female. The idea being that we are artificially producing extra female hormones, e.g. birth control, and these are working their way into our water sources. I am a scientist but I have not looked into this deeply enough to put much credence in it. However, it does make sense, could be valid, and is an interesting idea.
If we are messing up fish genders – could this be having an indirect effect on humans too? Note, yes – there has been gender variance noted way down the ages. I am just speculating that we have increased the numbers with things we are doing as a society. Oh, and I am not advocating a ban on birth control – just better environmental responsibility – especially from the manufacturers of such products.
Either way, I actually get worried that there MAY be some medical explanation found to ‘explain’ trans* and gender variant folk. Something that can be measured.
There are trials that have been carried out to measure brain patterns. These seem to show trans-women have cognitive brain patterns similar to cis-females, and significantly varied from cis-males. So, yes. A way to test us.
Sure, this justifies who I am.
Unfortunately it can also lead to a method of judging us. Assessing us. Scaling us. I'm not worried that I will be judged 'non-trans*' or 'not trans* enough'. But surely some would. Would it be something that would get used as a measuring tool? What about those with various levels of gender variation? It would be the equivalent of tests that say 'smart OR dumb only' - a black and white yardstick. A binary test. And the implications of that do worry me.
Back to “what is trans*”? Many experts agree that it is not some sort of mental condition, so what else? I just ‘know’ I am female. I would speculate that gender identity is very much similar to genetic memory – the sort of thing that means that birds just know where to fly in winter. Not an abnormality, just part of our make-up. It is something we really do just know - and this is why children as young as 5 just 'know' their gender identity, as I did. Sure, society presses gender roles on us to huge impact, but more and more it becomes clear that gender is not just a physical and social thing. If it was only a social construction there would not be so many of us fighting against the binary-norm because we feel we have to.
I would not say that gender identity is a mental health issue, it is a state of self awareness. But it has does have some similarities: it is a non-visible problem. Well, it does have serious physical visibility, but I’d suggest that you can only really understand that if you are trans* – having a healthy but wrong body is not easy to grasp. It is not easy to empathise with.
Yet trans-folk are known for higher than average mental fragility. So it should be stated strongly: This is a result, not a cause. Being trans* gives you a lot of stuff to deal with, given how society is. If society would stop imposing gender binaries, accepted roles and general distain to difference, I would have suffered much less from trans-related depression.
You want an idea of some of the things that cause me pain and worry? Look at my quickly drafted list of guilt complexes below. I will leave out the worries and fear of ridicule, social out-casting and fear of physical abuse:
I feel guilt that I hid who I was from all I care about for so long, locking them out of who I am for so long.
Then I put them in a situation where they have to come to terms with something they may not understand in a short space of time, when I have had years to work it through.
The worry that my family may think I had to hide who I am because of them, even though they didn’t.
That my family may actually feel responsible for me being trans*.
The knowledge that I cannot have natural kids, which I really want.
Also, this may be a source of pain for anyone who would let me share their life, as well as my mother who is an awesome grandmother.
How difficult life would be in general for any partners because I am trans*. How can I honestly commit to a relationship and put someone through that? Heck, there is that one special person who maybe I could have given a great life to, had I not been trans* and made it all so damn complicated.
I feel guilt because I take up medical resources sorting out something that is so intangible and inexplicable - if I lost a limb at birth or had some hideous medical complication, I'd have a 'thing', something to empathise with, but all I have is a sense of misplaced gender.
There is also guilt because I cannot just 'get on with it' - people with medical conditions often do get on with it, there is nothing really wrong with me, why can't I do the same?
I get the usual guilt too but this is different; this is guilt due to my trans* status. Whether I am or am not right, I have many things I feel guilt about. The list could be longer. I move on, because I have to. Being trans* is not my fault, and is not anyone else's fault either. Yet these guilts will stay with me, follow me round and absorb some of my quiet time.
Imagine, holding something inside, hiding who you are against everyone for years. Imagine your skin crawling when you look in the mirror. Your body doing exactly what you wish it wouldn't when it grows according to your sex. These things cause damage. It is not something you can just get over by throwing on a dress and makeup (if you're m2f). It isn't about clothing. It isn't about looks. It is knowing your entire body is the wrong damn body.
Another thought, but on the positive side; if being trans* was a mental health issue I would never have seen such an improvement in my mental health as quickly as I did after coming out / starting transition. Sure, it is a slow process and you can wish it would hurry up. But that is the same with most things. Sure, I wish my boobs would grow bigger- but that is not a trans* thing. I have 'ugly days' - who doesn't? Bad hair days, totally. And for those of you, of any gender, that do not worry about these things – sweet. But I do and I am not alone.
Being secretly trans* for a long time does take its toll and there is some residual damage. I have talked to trans-women for whom transition did not fix everything. I have met some very bitter women. But in that case, being trans* clearly is not the only issue. It is not a 'one-pill-cures-all'.
One major cause for concern for me was my career – and this screwed my mental health right up. Recently I was in discussion with someone following an E&D meeting, the emphasis of which was barriers to career progression. The statement was made that ‘at least being trans* does not have any impact on the career’. I quickly pointed out that my job options are limited because I am trans*. Sure, there are rules in place but I think we all know how realistic those rules are in protecting folk like me. I have two degrees plus years of experience - and I really thought that that would be thrown away when I transitioned. I spoke to someone last week who had lost their job for ‘a reason that was totally not their transition…’. I would love to think being trans* has no impact on my career – yet this was the main topic I discussed during my transition with my psych.
Let’s not get into the fact that I did not progress as well with my career as I should have done due to the mental strains put on me trying to decide to come out/transition. I like to think I could have achieved so much more than I have – but a person can only deal with one major thing in their life at a time and my career had to take a backburner.
But this is who we are. We have a lot to deal with, and things like guilt are bloody futile and pointless. If you hear trans-folk preaching, getting over-protective, going too far - know why. Sure, it makes me cringe as much as anyone, but I know where it comes from. By the time we come out, it is far too easy to come out fists swinging and assuming everyone is an enemy. Thus the need for therapy - not because being trans* is a mental thing, but because it causes lots of mental things. We may need help to see that not everyone is an enemy.
But as with any LGBT person, sometimes there are lots of enemies - be it family, friends or just passers-by. Being LGB has a real chance of making kids homeless and abandoned. It has a high physical abuse risk factor on the street. If you are trans*, those factors multiply.
This is why, even though being trans* is not a mental health thing, I really would recommend a serious amount of counselling to anyone looking, or starting, to transition. We have a lot of baggage.