You are currently browsing the monthly archive for February 2010.

I’ve engaged this topic in other places, but I thought I might say something about autogynephila here on my own. I’m not interested in debating the utility of the diagnosis, not really anyway, as I think it maybe *does* make sense for some people. Maybe not trans people per se, but that’s conflating a patient’s real problems with imaginary ones; it doesn’t mean that autogynephilia is complete hogwash, just maybe not applicable the way that some people think it is.

I bring this up because there’s a new draft of the DSM. (Thanks to Zoe Brain over at A.E. Brain for the heads-up.)

There are really good analyses elsewhere on the web that look at this concept in excruciating detail. For starters, there’s Zoe’s blog (in the parenthetical link above). She does a fantastic and thorough job of examining the intellectual incestuousness of the DSM GID working group, looks at the problems inherent in the revision, and gives a nice step by step analysis of the good and the bad. There’s also this site which outlines the actual differences in the diagnostic criteria for GID between the DSM IV and the draft version of the DSM V, but without a lot of the commentary.

As general primers on autogynephilia, there’s this website maintained by Dr. Wyndzen, and of course, ts roadmap. Those are all excellent resources, and if you spend any time looking through them, you’ll notice that a lot of trans people take exception to Blanchard’s pet idea.

Specifically, there are allegations that the theory isn’t supported by data, or at least that there’s enough bias in Blanchard’s sample selection methods that the theory is basically supported only through sloppy methodology. I think that maybe presumes a little *too much* bad faith on Blanchard’s part, but I don’t actually know him, and won’t stick up for him the way I would a friend or colleague who maybe can’t just see the forest for the trees.

The main problem is that a lot of trans women don’t like being treated like they only want to transition because of misdirected sexual desires*. Come to that, I don’t either. I’m not transitioning because I’m a pervert. I hesitate to say that transition isn’t sexually motivated at all because I think it’s impossible to say that any of our actions aren’t influenced at least to a small degree by our sexual(ized) behavior.

Let me explain a little bit: when we talk about transvestic fetishism or autogynephilia, and we use a person’s sexual arousal as a diagnostic criterion, there are going to be false positives. Transvestic fetishism is a type of crossdressing that is sexually motivated. Autogynephilia is a paraphilia where the subject is aroused through thoughts or images of himself as a woman. Those are the definitions for those terms, and as long we rely on a person’s sexual behavior for the diagnosis, we’re going to miss some of the subtle nuances within each individual’s sexuality.

For myself, and I apologize if this is TMI (though I think I crossed that boundary about two months ago), some of my earlier experiences with crossdressing definitely had sexual components to them. For example, when I was in my twenties, I had a great collection of fetishwear– latex skirts, six inch platform heels, corsets, even a pair of ballet boots (great for wearing in bed, not so much for walking around). I think, personally at least, that it’s impossible to not have a sexual reaction to wearing clothing that is explicitly sexualized. That’s part of the whole point of lingerie in general: the ConRev down the freeway does *damn good* business every year around Valentine’s Day because of it. Lingerie is supposed to be sexy, alluring and arousing. The woman wearing it is supposed to feel desired, sexy, alluring, powerful. The woman (or man) for whom this is displayed is supposed to be aroused, attracted to their partner, and pretty much want to shag them all the time.

To bring this back to transvestic fetishism, if we put a man in lingerie, he might feel silly. If we put a crossdresser in lingerie, they might feel turned on, but that’s certainly not the only emotion crossdressers ever experience. Lastly, if we put a transsexual in lingerie, they’re going to cry (or at least they might. Or at least I did, sometimes.) because the clothing fits with their internal identity but not with their body. As someone who identifies as female, lingerie makes me feel gorgeous and kinky. I hate the way my body is, and wish, as I’ve said before, that I could just be a normal girl, hence the tears. But there’s more to clothes than feeling sexually aroused: they’re an attempt, through the social construct of gender, specifically what society deems to be gender-appropriate clothing, to express something about myself that I feel internally. Sometimes a skirt is just a skirt. Even among crossdressers, trying to simplify this to the point of making it all about sex is an example of reductio ad absurdum: if a person were so controlled by their sexually based behavior, they’d essentially be unable to function, and that doesn’t explain most of the crossdressers I know.

Based on that explanation of sexualized crossdressing, you can probably guess at what I’m going to say regarding autogynephilia: I’d say that every woman is afflicted with this at one point or another during their lives. Let me explain by way of asking some personal questions: what do you think of during your sexual fantasies? Are you male or female? Would you say that you’re turned on by your femininity (or masculinity, as the case may be)? Part of making sexual activity into an ego-syntonic act is having a body that coincides with your sexual desires.

For example, a woman may not think of herself as being turned on by her own femininity, but if she were inappropriately masculine, she might be turned off by that. And I think that’s how it is for a lot of us trans people. The fantasies that we have involve us having bodies that are congruent with our gender identity; the amazement we feel in our private fantasy life over what it’s like to have sex the right way is life altering. Experiencing sex is not our primary motivation for transitioning, but I think it would be dishonest of me to claim that it wasn’t in the “Pro” column when I was trying to figure out if I should transition. Sometimes, there’s nothing I want more than my wife to finger-fuck me, and we can’t, I can’t, and it’s all spirals into sadness and depression from there.

What I’m trying to say is that sex is important. It’s ridiculous to try and claim that it’s not, but it’s equally absurd for Blanchard and the other proponents of autogynephilia to pretend that it’s the entire story. The ways we view, understand and feel about our bodies are important, too. I hate needles, shots and the thought of surgery makes me cringe. I don’t know if I like sex enough to go through all the blood tests, hormone injections and ultimately a life altering surgery just for sex. I mean, I like sex, but I don’t think I like it that much. Rather, feeling at home in every experience, like this body isn’t completely foreign to me, makes the needles and the anxiety worthwhile. It’s not just about sex: it’s about getting up for work in the morning, having lunch at a restaurant, or going out to dinner or a movie or the supermarket or even sitting on my couch at home and not feeling like there’s a wrongness to the world, to the way I relate to my wife, or to me.

* The reason a lot of trans women take issue with this etiological theory is that this obsession over our sexual desires can be (and has been) used against us. Previously, a heterosexual male who thought she was a transsexual female would be classified as an autogynephile under Blanchard’s criteria. In other words, there are no lesbian transsexuals.

Most recently, the IRS accused Rhiannon O’Donnabhain of being an autogynephile (and not a “true transsexual”) and that her transition-related expenses shouldn’t have been tax deductible because they were not medically necessary (that was the court case she won, and the autogynephilia slander was the IRS’s defense for the deduction denial). In other cases, trans women have been denied access to transition-related care (such as hormones or surgery) because their medical professionals bought into this concept of autogynephilia and decided that they weren’t true transsexuals and therefore, shouldn’t be transitioned. I think doctors should be involved in the decision making process, but come on, we’re not petulant children. Treat us like adults and let us make our own choices about the best way forward.

I’m almost at the point of getting approved for surgery. I have about two more months of RLE to go, and I’ll have satisfied all the eligibility requirements from the SOC, but that doesn’t mean that I’m actually ready to take the big plunge. We’re still short on money, for one, and that’s the biggest obstacle at this point. I haven’t done all of the relevant hair removal, either, but that’s going to happen either this year or next. Lastly, I just think that I’m not quite ready for it.

It’s not uncommon for trans people to think about the lives that we used to live, remembering them as being much better than they really were. I think that’s something that all people tend to have, that bias in memory. This isn’t regret or doubt related to transitioning, it’s just that I’ve had Joshua on my mind and mourning what isn’t or can’t be is a natural part of this process.

For a long time I treated my feminine identity as a secret. There was a part of me that feared (dreaded) other people finding out, and so I kept that aspect of myself hidden as best I could (maybe too good, if the number of people I shocked when I came out is any indication). But I always thought of it as a separate part of me, like a hobby. I would say to myself that I was going to be Jane* tonight, or that I would “dress up” when I got home from work. When you train yourself to divide your personality in that way, it becomes easy to fall into the trap of referring to yourself in the third person.

The way that my life has changed may have even encouraged that kind of thinking—I’m arguably not the person I used to be, but I’m certainly not someone else, either. The illusion of division, treating those identities as separate entities, makes it easier for others (IME) to adjust to transition. I don’t know why, but it seems easier for some people to treat me like a whole new person rather than someone they already know.

Part of the difficulty is that people alternate between “seeing” the new me, and seeing the old one. They feel like they need to get to know me all over again, and some are almost shocked when they see how much of my personality has remained intact. Alternately, they may be shocked by the fact that I’m suddenly into fashion when I hadn’t previously displayed any interest in the subject. Part of that is I tried really hard to make sure that people wouldn’t get the kind of clues from my behavior that would enable them to guess what I was keeping secret.

Some people are surprised, for example, that I read Vogue, or they might be convinced that the time I spend every day on my makeup and hair is an affectation, part of an effort to pass myself off as a woman when I’m really just a man. But those are things I’ve done before. They’re just not things my parents or roommate knew about until I came out. I think, sort of like adultery, that some people feel an element of betrayal when the secret is revealed. I changed– at the very least some of what I used to do privately is now expressed publicly. As a result of my changes, some of my relationships changed, too.

Part of the mourning process involves the realization that these changes are permanent, and that I can never recapture what’s been lost. All we have left are memories. My memories, I make a point of reminding myself. Those things happened to me.

Christine and I still have our wedding picture on the wall in our bedroom, along with an engagement photo. They’re excellent shots, and I always wonder whether I’ll ever be able to make Christine laugh like that again.

Our physical relationship has changed, too. Sex used to be easy. Now, it’s fraught with complications. If I hit the right combination of emotion and hormones, I might start crying instead of reaching orgasm. I never used to worry about being rejected by a partner for having the “wrong parts”. Now that I’m presenting as a female, not having a vagina is sort of like “false advertising”. It’s one of the problems with cissexual assumption, a problem very few people have to deal with, but something I’m acutely aware of each time I catch a man staring at me or each time I use the restroom. Even the notion of bringing body and mind into congruency is something of a cissexual construct: women should have vaginas, men should have penises. Getting surgery is a way of reifying that way of thinking at the same time that it validates my gender identity.

That doesn’t bother me as much as it should. But then again, I always wanted to be cisgender. Either male or female, it almost didn’t matter, as long as I wouldn’t have to worry about it. For as long as I was still Josh, I held out hope that it was still possible. I longed for the day when I’d be whole, no longer trans, cured by love, as Jenny Boylan put it. I’ve been happy before, really happy, lying on a beach in Hawaii, the sun warm on my skin, the crunch of crushed coral sand under my feet. That I was a guy at that time didn’t matter, I didn’t care about anything other than being on vacation with my wife.

In other words, my gender identity used to work, at least some of the time. I’ve had experiences where it wasn’t the most horrible thing in the world to be a guy– not having to worry about being clocked or misread, whether I was going to be challenged in the bathroom, or whether it would be okay to hold my wife’s hand or kiss her in public. Is my voice the right pitch? Did the waiter just call me sir or ma’am? Are those people staring at us? There are so many things I never gave any thought and now it seems like I can’t ever escape them.

As that realization sinks in, something else occurs to me: I’m never going to be whole. I’ll always have to be a woman with a transsexual history, and that’s something I’m always going to have to disclose. I’m never going to be better. While it’s definitely their personal decision and I’m not trying to say anything about my way being right, I disagree with trans women who ditch the trans label after surgery. The thought of doing so feels disingenuous to me, for some reason. I understand why a person would do it, why they would want to, and why that’s an attractive idea. It sucks to be actively reminded every day that you are less than, not real, or not authentic. It may be that after surgery, I’ll find myself eschewing the trans label, too. It’s degrading to have to deal with all this othering even when trying to conform to society’s gender norms.

This is a mourning process for what I will never have or be, the person that I wish I could have been, but I’m not unrealistically holding that up as some model for genuine living. I can wish and pretend that I’m not trans but that wouldn’t change the reality. I am trans, and that makes transition my best option, my best choice, and while it’s not going to solve every problem I have, and while I will have to deal with the loss of some dreams, I hope that there is going to be some peace from living as authentically as I can in every facet of my life.

Over the course of our marriage, I’ve not been the best husband, not by a long shot. I’m cruel and manipulative. When we’ve gotten into fights, I’ve said some things to my wife that are probably unforgivable. Sometimes, I’m not sure how much of an asshole I really am, and how much is just bad relationship habits I learned from my parents. I think that I’ve gotten better as I’ve transitioned, partly because I’ve spent so much time in therapy. Some of it comes from simply being happier, and not having a lot of pent up anger and frustration to take out on other people.

Through transition and therapy, my marriage continues to evolve. I have no idea how much more it will change once I actually get surgery. I don’t worry as much anymore that she’s going to leave me, but I also wonder whether surgery will resurrect some of those concerns and fears. At this point, I look different and feel different, but I think there’s still something fundamentally familiar that my wife is comfortable with. I fear that whatever familiarity in which she finds sufficient reason to stay will disappear when she finds my landscape irreversibly changed.

As we talked last night, it seemed like she’s worried I’m going to be dissatisfied with her, for essentially the opposite reason. She worries that I’ll gain some new confidence and decide to explore the world where I can more or less move around in stealth. Post-surgery, I really won’t need to out myself to anyone, except a doctor, and even then, under only some circumstances. I won’t need her familiarity, her solidity. In the analogy of a bird learning to fly, I think she’s worried that I’ll forget to come back to the nest. I think it comes down to each of us worrying that the other will be unhappy as a lesbian. We’ve kind of been playing at it for a while now, but this will be the real thing, no more practice and no going back.

Throughout transition, I constantly reminded myself that if something was too much to deal with, I could always go back. But surgery is the final point of no return. There will never again be Josh, and all the things I’ve experienced with that identity can never happen again.

I said at the beginning that this had nothing to do with regret or doubt and it doesn’t. What I leave out of the warm and fuzzy remembrance of being a man was the confusion over being transgender and not admitting it, even to myself. What we remember is not always the whole truth. Things change, and rather than being the end of the world, it seems like it’s just another part of living. I think change is both necessary and unpredictable. That my marriage may change, irrevocably, for the worse, is something I just don’t think we can extrapolate.

Sometimes, in the dark, my wife and I have held each other, crying. The only thing I can say at those times is, “I know. I miss him, too.” At some point, we must entrust ourselves into the love that has gotten us this far and hope that it’s sufficient for what’s to come.

* I went through several different names before I picked (and kept) Jessica. Okay, story time: I started out, several years ago, referring to the feminine ‘part’ of myself as Jane. It was generic, the resemblance to Jane Doe was intentional, the point being something like my activity as a crossdresser was similar to being a proto-female. The name was anonymous, and I could have been anyone.

When I started thinking much more seriously about transition, I decided that Jane wasn’t a name I wanted for the rest of my life. My parents have never told me the name that I would have had if I had been born female, so I had to come up with something suitable on my own. For a while, I called myself Jocelyn, but also liked Noel or Holly. I had scrapped loads of other decent names: Jaclyn, Lisa, Carol, Anne, Stephanie and Eowyn (just kidding) because I already knew people with those names—I wasn’t going to pick the name of an aunt, cousin or ex-girlfriend because that’s just…. well, kind of weird. Believe it or not, there were no Jessicas at my work, none in my family, and I never dated anyone named Jessica. So far, so good.

Two things happened that made me keep the name. First, I found a website that had a ranked list of baby names by year. Jessica was the name equal in popularity to Joshua for the year and state in which I was born. Second, while Jessica was a name invented by Shakespeare for The Merchant of Venice and is commonly translated to mean “foresight”, one of its alternate translations is “God beholds”. One of the hardest things about being trans has been reconciling my faith with my transition. Something of which I’ve become convinced is that God sees me, that He understands what I’m going through, and that He doesn’t hate what He has created. My name reminds me of that. It’s a bit more meaningful for me than Jocelyn which means “a member of the Gauts tribe”. What?

So. I found this. Even though it’s a few months old, some of the aftermath is still floating around on the Guardian’s website here and here. I don’t know Julie Bindel from Eve, so I’ll accept the word of others that she’s a stand up feminist. Also, I intended originally to put this as a comment on my previous post—it really started out as more of the same, and some of Julie’s writing is an antagonistic precursor to that posting of mine. I tried to show that my gender identity wasn’t only something a doctor diagnosed me with. Unlike Bindel’s portrait, transition isn’t something I undertook to escape legal discrimination, not some brutal avenue into which I was forced.

My decisions have always been my own: I called up the therapist, I decided when I was ready to start hormones, I’m deciding that surgery is something that I’m really starting to look at in a much more serious way. In fact, I’m writing my recommendation letter for my gender therapist to review and edit. It’s an interesting exercise. The point is, my identity has led me here, not some diagnostic manual with a dichotomous key. The journey feels like it’s been very roundabout, or at least not very direct, but those constant course corrections make me confident that this is exactly the right place. Not over there, or there, but here.

Ultimately, this is going to end up being a post of its own. There’s just too much going on that doesn’t fit with that previous topic. Through the course of her referenced article, it’s as though what I see of Bindel’s writing is entirely overrated. From strawman arguments to her comments about gaming the NHS for our own happiness, Bindel demonstrates what can only be described as either ignorance or a deliberate level of obtuseness when it comes to understanding transsexuals.

For starters, I don’t think I would classify GRS as a way of manipulating the system for my happiness—a lot of us view surgery as a medically necessary procedure to alleviate a very targeted depression. And yes, my penis has made me want to kill myself in the past. The thought of having to wait has made me want to kill myself. Now, I may be using an overly broad definition of health here, but I’m quite certain that wanting to kill myself is not a very healthful attitude. Bindel can complain about subsidizing that treatment with her tax dollars, and that’s certainly her right, but I think there are probably bigger and more expensive draws on the NHS than gender reassignment surgeries.

The Guardian review that Bindel cites with respect to the efficacy of surgical intervention is a problematic reference by her own admission—half the participants of the reviewed studies have disappeared. That’s hardly a refutation for the efficacy of surgery, but it’s also no wonder that she couldn’t shore up her position with anything more authoritative than an inconclusive review—all the papers I’ve read myself or heard about second hand directly contradict the point that Bindel is trying to make. Regarding the inconclusive review, it’s common for post-op trans women to just blend into society, no longer needing to out themselves once their bodies, presentations and legal documents are all congruent. Who can blame women for not standing up so that that they be included in the group of Bindel’s targets? The women she stereotypes with fuck-me shoes and bird nest hair are the trans women she clocks, not the ones around her who probably pass right under her radar. Given the option, I wouldn’t out myself to her, not based on the welcome I would expect to receive.

Bindel further reveals her own bias over surgical efficacy by talking only about the people for whom surgery wasn’t the right choice but never examines the counter-position or even admits that it might exist. I can go find people who think evolution is a crock, too, but that doesn’t make it untrue. The fact is that surgery does work for a lot of trans women, and pretending that one exception invalidates the rule is just disingenuous. I understand that she was making an argument and that the crux of her article was to state that surgery is just so much unnecessary mutilation, but it seems to me that she came up with her conclusion first and then found all the supporting evidence afterward, which feels a little too much like Creationism or Intelligent Design or just a plain old case of (Social) Science Done Backwards.

Continuing in the vein of disingenuousness, Bindel goes on to conflate terms such as transsexual and transgender—things of which she ought to know better if she’s even half the gender expert that she’s touted to be. An effeminate boy who dances ballet could very easily fall under the umbrella term transgender, just as a masculine girl who likes football might, too. Those children ought to have the freedom to participate in the activities they like most, not feel denigrated for wanting to do something that others might consider atypical, and I don’t think a lot of people would disagree with that sentiment. The reason I say Bindel is disingenuous in her treatment of this subject, that she’s writing in bad faith, is that no one would advocate forced gender reassignment for those children without additional indications. A girl who likes football is hardly a case where one ought to automatically be labeled as a transsexual.

My point is that surgery isn’t a solution that gets thrown around, no matter how many people got referred to the Gender Identity Clinic in the UK. Gender variance is definitely more acceptable (than it used to be, anyway) in society, and it doesn’t surprise me that more people might seek help or guidance to work through something that’s potentially very confusing and difficult. What Bindel doesn’t offer though, is a statistic relating to how many actual gender reassignment surgeries are performed each year. What we have is the number of people that receive treatment, but the word treatment isn’t defined for us anywhere. Is that the actual number of surgeries being performed? It’s implied to be, and assuming it, has the relative proportion of patients to surgeries gone up, down, or stayed the same? According to Bindel, 75% of people receive treatment under the NHS. More people may be receiving referrals, but if the proportion of those people being ultimately referred for surgery is consistent, that’s hardly an overdiagnosis of GID. What we also don’t see is a breakdown of new patients by age group. Are the majority of new patients young or is there a temporary upwards flux of thirty-somethings that have had enough of pretending to be cis when they’re really trans? Claiming that a diagnosis is so much bullshit requires a little more work with the statistics than Bindel provides. In that case, she’d have been better off leaving the stats out of her argument entirely, or using only the ones that actually support her position, but I’m doubtful that the stats could be massaged to do that anyway.

The reason I say that is that I know stats and I know trans people. Statistics fail to account for all kinds of mitigating factors, the bias inherent to an analysis easily leading to incorrect conclusions. For trans people, surgery is our option of last resort. We pray to be changed, we pray to be healed. We go through therapy and some of us endure decades of denial, desperate for what Jenny Boylan calls the mystery to a solution: we’re always trying to find a way to be happy in this life that feels so wrong.

It’s that point, the actual efficacy of GRS that Bindel completely fails to understand or deliberately ignores. It is *the* solution for trans people, and unless Bindel has a better alternative, something that *actually* works, I think it’s time for her to STFU on subjects she doesn’t know enough about. She might be an expert on gender and feminism, but that doesn’t make her an expert on GID; acting as though she is bears an analogous similarity to pretending that I can run the Federal Reserve just because I balanced my checkbook last month.

The one thing I might agree with Bindel on is her assessment that if men and women were really equal then there would be no such thing as GID. I don’t know if we would agree about the reasons why that would be so, but here are mine: if men and women were treated as equal, then expressions of femininity in men wouldn’t be regarded as less than, wouldn’t be stigmatized, and wouldn’t carry the repercussions that are all too common—humiliation, denigration, or violence. I’m talking about a range of feminine expression, ranging from clothes to mannerisms. If I were able to associate with women, to be accepted as one of the group without having to undergo expensive and painful medical treatments, maybe I would, and maybe that would be sufficient.

But it’s more than a little difficult for me to imagine that fantasy world. I think that’s all well and good, but what about my beard, my genitalia, my body form in general? What about the dysphoria? What about the tears? I think that in an ideal world maybe those things wouldn’t have mattered as much, but it’s impossible to say that, and I’m skeptical of a solution that claims to be able to hand-wave away all of those difficulties that don’t feel related to a societal construct. Besides, that brave new world doesn’t exist, and unless (or until) it does, we must make do with the solutions we have, however imperfect they (and our understanding of the problems) may be.

Rather than repeat the same arguments that you can find all over the internet about Prop 8, the SOTU, or DADT, I’m going to write about what I was thinking about on my way back from Subway at lunch. I thought about the times I walked up the same road, dressed like a guy, convinced in my own mind that I was one. This time, as I walked up the same road, my bra was bugging me, my boobs were bouncing a little bit (not nearly as comfortable *or* as cool as guys seem to think it is), and I noticed something about the other pedestrians I saw—the women would usually make eye contact with me, we’d exchange a wordless smile and continue on our ways. Men might look at me, but avoided eye contact and smiles as we got closer. I remembered what it was like to be in that isolated little world, an island unto myself. I started thinking about the ways that things were different back then and how I had changed.

A few minutes previously, while I was still in the Subway, I got called ma’am twice. It still surprises me even though everyone I know tells me that I pass. I have realized that one of the hardest adjustments has been internalizing my gender of identity: I’m so used to being called sir that I can’t quite deal with being called ma’am.

I can’t help but wonder why that is. There are people with persistent and lifelong feelings of being the other sex. The adjustment I describe is a really affirming experience for some—they’re finally being identified by others the way they’ve always seen themselves. Then there’s me, looking around for the woman that the sales clerk has just addressed as ma’am. It’s five more seconds before I realize who he’s talking to.

The way I see myself leads me into remembering feelings from further back. I’m not sure that I could say I felt like a girl when I knew was a boy. I understood that I was male bodied no matter how much I didn’t want to be. But something was still wrong with me. Many transsexuals have an “A-ha!” moment when they’re young, realizing that they’re supposed to be the sex opposite what they were born. It seems to frequently be some kind of disassociation or disidentification with men. Why would I wear shirts like my father’s? Jenny Boylan wrote in She’s Not There. I don’t know if I ever had that kind of epiphany.

What I did have was a copy of Penthouse that my older brother had gotten hold of. The first time I ever saw a picture of people having sex, I understood, identified with the woman in a way that I did not identify with the man. I didn’t want her, I wanted to be her. While that sounds like it was my defining moment, I didn’t understand those feelings. There was no one to help me sort through them. Working through on my own, it never occurred to me that I was a girl, and wouldn’t for many years. I would frequently pretend to be a girl, and I would pray for God to turn me into a girl, but at some point I gave that up, at least on the latter point.

What I never did give up on was the crossdressing. If I experienced any kind of dysphoria when I was younger, it was over the fact that I wasn’t free to express myself or my gender, as I chose. As a boy, any expression of femininity was treated with contempt. If I was in the house baking with Mum, I got teased by my brother. After I got caught crossdressing, the subject never came up again until I was starting transition.

I think the issue of choosing how to express myself is really important to understanding my trans identity. To what extent do we choose to be the way we are? In one way, I almost feel like I chose this route (I did choose to transition, after all) but that’s not entirely correct.

Or at least, it doesn’t tell the whole story. I feel like other trans women have a well of experiences, and when examined through a certain lens the trans identity is easy to see: crossdressing, insistence on being a girl in spite of the male body. I feel like I never let myself have some of those experiences, or at least that I didn’t make proper sense of them when I did. What I mean is that I would shame myself over my gender variant behavior, and I think that prevented me from understanding the meaning of the experiences I had. With the shame clouding my judgment, I was more concerned about whether God would save me from my sins, whether my parents would catch me again, whether I would be forced to have counseling (or an exorcism!) through the church. Making sense of my identity and realizing that I was transgender wasn’t something I gave myself room to do.

I would meditate on St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians about being a child versus being a man and realizing the time to put away childish things. What I failed to realize is that crossdressing wasn’t childish, it was just feminine. That distinction didn’t matter– I tried to quash every ounce of me that wanted to be a woman, and by the time Christine asked me “Do you want to be a woman?” there wasn’t enough of a woman left in me to scream the affirmative. I threw away her clothes, her makeup. I cursed her; I disowned her in front of God. I cut her.

After my 30th birthday, when I started crossdressing freely again, I made a promise to myself that I had never made before. I promised that I wasn’t going to throw away any more clothes. I made room in my life for this part of myself. This is where I feel like I am separated from my sisters by choice, but in reality it’s a choice that we all make: I was determined to figure out why crossdressing was such an important issue for me and to make some kind of peace with it.

I think most trans people make a similar choice at some point in their lives, whether it’s coming to terms with crossdressing or being transgender: it isn’t so much the imperative of our internal identities as much as an exploration and letting our identity lead us to its own appropriate expression. I think that’s part of the reason why the transgender community is so diverse (among just trans women there’s a whole spectrum from ultra-feminine to ultra-butch). As my identity led me on to understand that there was something wrong with me that “Rayon couldn’t cure,” I started understanding more and more that I might be transgender, but was also too afraid to really come out to myself.

Within a few weeks of that birthday, I had started what would eventually be a two month course of black cohosh extract—I was too nervous, too afraid to see doctors and start the process towards getting on proper HRT, and so I tried an herbal treatment on my own. Taking the pills wasn’t much different than taking a multi-vitamin except I didn’t even get an energy boost. They did nothing for me, but I swore that my breasts looked bigger (which they didn’t). Even though they did nothing for me physically, the pills had the effect of making me feel more confident and better about myself overall. I don’t think that had anything to do with black cohosh as much as a placebo effect. I felt like I was doing something rather than waiting for something to happen. The act was like a way of testing myself—if I was willing to choke down these herbal pills for two months, to hide the purchase from my wife, then it must be serious. I wanted to do something real, something to really start the process rolling, and so I started seeing a gender therapist.

It took me several months of therapy to be sure that I wanted to start transitioning, to really be sure that it was about more than clothes. I started with clothes, as so many women do, and went on from there. I thought I might partially transition, go on low doses of hormones, dress more androgynously, and see how I felt after that. I had originally started a lot of these processes with the intent of trying them out and seeing how they made me feel. I remember making a list of the things I wanted to try: clothes, hair removal, hormones. Taken separately, none of those things would have been very bad. Together, and by the time I realized what I was doing, I was transitioning. I was being gendered as female even in places where I wasn’t presenting as a woman.

I know that sounds ridiculous, like my transition got away from me, but it felt like that sometimes. I would do things I was comfortable with, pushing the envelope just enough but never uncomfortably so. There were plenty of times I didn’t pass, but there were also plenty of people that still treated me like a human being at those times. While I’ve been fortunate to have only a few negative experiences, I find that I can’t count the number of people that have been decent to me, and it was all those decent individuals that gave me the confidence to keep on. There were times where I felt so fragile and shell-shocked that if someone had said so much as “boo” to me, I’d have run straight home and not gone out for a week. There were, in fact, a few times that did happen. But there have also been times where I’ve been accepted as a woman by other women, and it makes me feel like I found a place where I belong.

But this is really about more than how I look or how other people treat me. There’s something about my female identity that feels more authentic to me, like I’m not hiding something from people anymore. Everyone hides something—but I’m not talking about little things like admitting that you didn’t clean up before you had guests come over or what your natural hair color is. I’m talking about something fundamental to your understanding of yourself. I used to present myself as a man when I was only marginally confident in the belief that I was. There were always things I felt like I couldn’t share with others–I always stressed out over days like Halloween if I was going out crossdressed because I didn’t want the pointed questions to which I only had awkward answers.

And that sort of brings me to where I am now—I feel distinctly female now, but my past memories feel more decidedly male. Or maybe I just used to protest too much, coloring those experiences with a brush that society falsely claimed to be appropriate. A lot of the time, it felt to me that I would have to make a point of thinking “this is what men do” or “I should do this because I’m a man” or “men don’t do (or say) that”. I was much more aware of my gender then than I am now. I know that sounds weird, but it’s one more thing that makes me certain that transition is really the right decision—gender is supposed to be something that we take for granted and aside from the adjustment of realizing that I’m being addressed by that store clerk as ma’am, I really do give it less and less thought.

There is one other exception: sex. My penis used to bother me because it got in the way of being able to wear certain clothes, but that was mostly superficial, and I never really had a lot of negative feelings about it. My distaste has grown by leaps and bounds as the rest of my appearance has become increasingly feminine. It’s the most discordant part of my anatomy, and as such I now hate it more than anything else.

The development of that very targeted dysphoria brings me back to the point of this post: I never went through life thinking I should have had a vulva—the paradigm of being trapped and “should have been” didn’t resonate with me in my earliest experiences. What I did understand was that I liked being touched a particular way—all about pressure, not stroking. I never even equated the way that I liked to be touched with the way other girls liked it. I’m sure I would have preferred a vulva, and while that would have been a much more syntonic experience, this also has never been about what I prefer or want. It’s about something equally ineffable and simple as this is how I like to be touched. It’s a place I’ve been led by some internal compass, not a declaration of destination.