Asterisk Not Obelisk

2001 obelisk at sunrise
I’d like to share an interesting example of trans social histories and the subjective nature of “stories” that I participated in a few days ago, after posting something on Facebook.

I came out as trans nearly 5 years ago now, and I joined a big online trans forum (which I ended up as a mod on for a while, until the forum infighting made me run for cover – but that’s another story).

There was a nasty phenomenon going on all of the time that I was there, of (mainly) trans women who’d had, or intended to have, surgery thinking of themselves as the “TrueTrans™” people, and making a distinction between being transsexual (which they thought of as “really trans”) and transgender (which they treated as “the lower classes”).

In response to that hierarchical nonsense, the label trans* (with an asterisk) started being used by people, who meant by it specifically “trans+whatever (-gender, -sexual, whatever, none) is simply trans and simply valid – nobody gets to police anyone else’s identity or labels anyway, but surgery is no yardstick of the validity of someone’s transness.” So having been a part of that movement, I associate trans* with equality as well as inclusivity.

Meanwhile, it turns out that in other trans circles and communities, trans* got coined too, but with several different and competing meanings and intents, all of which were different from the meaning/intent we were using. And now there’s been a strong backlash against using trans*, because for many people it has apparently come to represent the exact opposite of what it meant to us. To those people, it means “trans people are the TrueTrans™ people, and everyone else is merely trans*” – or/and it’s come to mean somehow that the voices of white, entitled transmasculine people are heard at the expense of everyone else (this is what I’m being told, anyway).

So I innocently used the phrase “supporting trans* young people” in a post the other day, and got strafed by someone for whom this is a slur. We sort of discussed the matter, I did some reading up (this, and this, and by way of balance this), and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m no longer going to use I still can’t decide whether I’m going to stop using the asterisk, since though it means something really positive to me and a load of people, there are another load of people out there who feel very disenfranchised by it.

Actually, I’d be very content for trans to become the default term, if it meant we moved on from transgender/transsexual (and that godsawful “transgendered” that people use sometimes) altogether (and all together). Shortening of terms is a good sign of cultural assimilation, according to sociolinguistics.

I’m also fascinated by how each group of us had no idea that trans* meant anything different to other people from what we were used to it meaning, and how easy it is to assume that “my/our story” must be the “true story”.

End of ramble.

Edited to add: An interesting thought just struck me: to those of us with a computing background, the asterisk very much symbolises inclusivity, as it means “anything at all can go here” – whereas for non-computery folk and/or academics, the asterisk perhaps implies “not important enough to include in the main text, but worthy of a footnote”. I’d never even considered the possible differences in asterisk-affect.

The discussion in that fb thread continues, and it’s clear that there are as many people who value the asterisk as there are those who cringe at it. Perhaps it’s time for trans[*] – or for a new word.

I am not worthy…

I want to bow down and pay homage to Asher over at Transarchism.com for this amazing introduction to trans issues, written away from all the usual cis-centric and binary language. It’s called Not Your Mom’s Trans 101.

I kept finding myself saying “Yes! Bloody right!” whilst reading this, more than in any other intro I’ve read – but the star sentence for me is this one, penned in amongst advice to cis* people wanting to know how to behave as “allies”, after telling them not to keep telling us how well we’re “passing”:

Passing generally means “looking cis.” Not all of us want to look like you, thank you very much.

Yes! Bloody Right!

That is all.

*****

*It occurs to me that not everyone reading this will know what cis means. Basically, it means people who are not trans, in that term’s broadest sense. Taken from the Latin meaning “on this side of”, as opposed to “trans” meaning “on or to the other side of”, cis has been adopted by gender theorists, and the trans community in general, to indicate people whose gender identity matches their physical body. The idea behind having a term is to make the point that cis people are not “more normal” than trans people, they’re just more common – so why should we trans folk be the only ones with a label? The downside of the cis/trans language is that it’s still very binary, of course.

Cause? Effect.

As someone who’s trans and who was sexually abused as a child, I’m amazed how often, when these two bits of information reach people’s ears, they assemble them into one, and ask me, “So… do you think you’re transgender because you were abused?”

For sure I’ve needed to ask myself that question. In fact, when I first began growing my decision to transition, I asked the therapist I was seeing at the time (for my PTSD) what she thought about this, telling her that I was a girl way before I was abused, I was pretty sure. Her reply was very interesting: “You know, statistically speaking, it’s much more likely to be the other way round.”

What did she mean? Being gender non-conforming as a child makes you more likely to be the victim of the various kinds of abuse inflicted on children. Your ambiguity about your sense of identity that gender non-conformity causes makes you a lot more vulnerable.

This isn’t just hearsay, science now backs this up – this recent study shows an increased risk for people who were gender nonconforming as children not only to be abused, but also to have PTSD.

It was a pretty weird experience for me to read this for the first time, being someone who was abused and has PTSD as a consequence of that, and of bullying and homo- and transphobia since childhood.

There’s a lot of pressure on people who are open about being trans. Pressure from the trans community to go for it, but often pressure from friends, family, loved ones, not to. This latter group is often looking for reasons why you don’t have to make this change they find unsettling, and can be constantly demanding that you justify yourself – or more accurately, that you “admit” you’re not really trans.

When people ask me (as they still often do), “Don’t you think you might be going through this gender stuff because you were abused?” these days, I just smile and say, “No, I was probably abused because I was a girl but looked like a boy – oh, and because my abusers were abusers.” I’m confident enough in my own experience not to doubt that, as I did early on in my transition, when I was unsure of everything, and my friends wanted me to be unsure.

In any case, it shouldn’t be down to us to have to justify ourselves – but it’s good to have backup.

Labels, libels – postscript

After my online altercation yesterday with said knob-end (and this is the last time I’m going to be calling anyone that here, it’s a bit wrong), we made up and clarified a few things.

Something that hadn’t occurred to me: in the same way that being called “queer” makes me uncomfortable (no matter how much reclaiming-the-term™ has gone into it) because it was used as a weapon against me as a kid, for some people the word “tomboy” has similar overtones. This could apply to a lot of trans men, for example, who went through a phase of being called a tomboy while they were figuring out who they really were. Some people who were called tomboy liked it, some really didn’t.

So – I’m still going to call myself Trans Tomboy, because it fits me really well – but I’m now aware that it might push some people’s buttons.

One person’s label is another person’s libel, innit.

The joy that is anti-androgens

Well, this afternoon I had what felt like a gallon of paint injected into my right buttock. Now I ache all over.

To quote Snoopy, “Some of us prefer to sacrifice comfort for style.”

What was this magical shot in the arse? A slow-release anti-androgen – I’ll need this every 3 months until I have my GCS (Gender Confirmation Surgery) about 15-18 months from now.

Anti-androgens: essentially, they come in two varieties, bringing about the same outcome (low testosterone levels) by different routes. Some of them (such as Cyproterone, which I was taking until recently) don’t suppress T production, but prevent its uptake by the parts of the body affected by it. Others (like the Triptorelin I’ve just had slammed into me) directly prevent production of T in the first place.

Why is a low testosterone level desirable? If, like me, you’re going through a male-to-female gender transition, then you’ll be wanting your hormone levels (specifically estrogen and testosterone) to shift from a normal male balance (lots of T, not much E) to a normal female balance (lots of E, not much T). The problem is (for most trans women) that having high levels of T prevents the body from taking up E properly, so the E level won’t rise sufficiently unless the T level drops enough. This can leave you with lowish levels of both, which not only prevents your body from feminising (one of the purposes of HRT for trans women), but is also quite unhealthy. This happened to me when my gender clinic doc took me off the Cyproterone a couple of months ago (telling me categorically that this wouldn’t happen, humph) – so once I’d confirmed that my levels had gone all wrong, I just started taking them again, while he got around to agreeing that I needed an anti-androgen. The one I’m having now is less potentially harmful than the other one, so I’m fine with that.

For many of us trans women, the anti-androgens are vital. I’m very grateful to have access to them again. But I’m very sore!

Oh, a postscript: when you first have these injections, one side-effect is to have your T level jump way up for a couple of weeks (ecchh). By a strange coincidence, the treatment usually given to counter that is the other anti-androgens I started taking again a couple of weeks ago :).

You’ll never take me alive, Testosterone!!!!!! Ahem.

Trans cred (pff…)

We just can’t help it. The world wants, and many trans women want, us to put a pin in our lives and say: this is when I first knew I was trans (I’m going to stick with using the word trans because transgender/transsexual, it’s a whole battle thing – I prefer transgender myself). And for many, there’s some kind of weird cred/affirmation in it being as early in life as possible, because there are knob-ends out there who think that the only “true” trans person is one who’s known about it since potty-training.

That said (written), here’s my pin :).

I didn’t let myself know consciously that I wanted to transition until I was 23. There’s a good reason for this. The week I realised I wanted to transition was the week I decided I wasn’t going back home after college. Because home wasn’t a safe place (abuse stuff – enough said). I spent 3 weeks feeling really happy for the first time in my life, after I realised this is what I needed to do – then I told my best woman friend, she freaked out (because she was a product of Greenham-Think) and talked me out of it, and there it lay for another 25 years. I’m not blaming her (mostly), I wasn’t ready yet. It was the 80’s, I was still trying to come to terms with being bisexual, AIDS was just happening, and I had (as it turned out) a whole lot of work to do on recovering from abuse before I was ready to accept that I’m actually a woman, and start doing something about the structural anomalies…

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my childhood, and seeing in what ways my transness was sneaking in without anyone noticing (especially me). Mostly, the big clues are in the literature I was reading. There were a whole load of books I read and obsessively re-read all the way through my childhood and teens, and they almost all had gender/transgender themes. The 3 that most stick in my mind are (in reverse order) Triton by Samuel R Delany (a social scifi novel in which the main character gets changed from a man to a woman in around 20 minutes near the end of the story); Venus Plus X by Theodore Sturgeon (in which the Ledom, the people the main character finds himself in the middle of, are all both sexes physically, and don’t do division of gender-roles); and earliest of all, The Marvellous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum (the first of the sequels to The Wizard of Oz, in which the boy Tip, its main character, discovers at the end of the book that he’s actually the Princess Ozma, hidden as a baby by turning him into a boy – and he agrees to being turned back after being reassured he won’t lose all his friends, and becomes a kickarse princess who sorts out the problems in Oz).

And the thing is, I never really wanted to do boy things – but I never really wanted to do girly-girl things either. I never wanted to dress up like a princess or whatever. And in my early time of transition, this bothered me, because it felt like I didn’t have the “cred” – or more significantly, it made me wonder whether I was “really trans”. but the more I’ve felt my way into who I really am, and accepted that I’m the hippy dyke I like to call Womandrogyne, the more obvious it is that things haven’t changed since I was a kid – I’ve always wanted to be who I now am. I always liked bright colours, but I’ve always turned up my nose at girly-girl clothes. Even now, almost all my clothes are women’s clothes (well, shoes are hard when you’re a size 11), but none of them are feminine, I’m your basic tomboy.

It’s a happy thing to look back across your life and see yourself continuous in this way, even though I did a very careful job of hiding my womanhood from anyone who might do me harm, until I was big enough and strong enough to be that vulnerable and take my shields down.

It feels like I’ve spent my whole life “passing” as a man, and now I’m done with “passing – I can just be me, and damn the torpedoes, we don’ need no steenkin’ cred. Here I am – a lot of trans women can’t make head or tail of me (and my lack of interest in being heterofemme) – but lesbians get me straight away.

Let the festivities commence…

It’s like this. I’m 49, and in the middle of a gender transition from male to female. But I’ve been “forced” to coin for myself the term Womandrogyne as a shorthand for saying this: I’m female, but I’ve never been feminine – or masculine, for that matter, unless I’m just a mixture of the two and they cancel each other out, or summat.

People seem to expect that because I’m transitioning, my dearest dream is to look like Liz Taylor or Judith Chalmers – but I’d much rather be Heather Peace (I’d say “Shane from The L Word”, but I’m way, way too old to pull that off). The truth is, I’m just a hippy dyke who happened to get born with the wrong plumbing.

Oh, and something about me transitioning has brought a strong dose of PTSD to the surface – that’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, if you can’t be arsed to google it. (Yes, these maroon things aren’t links, they’re just pretty highlights…)

PTSD – for me, this consists of scary flashbacks (basically like being a child whilst being an adult, and not just in the usual way people do that), and having what I like to call my Inner Meerkat – my fight-flight mechanism that trips for no apparent reason on regular occasions, leaving me with a pulse rate of 100 while I’m lying down reading a book, for example. No, I’m not surprised I’m now single either.

I thought I’d start this blogthing to write about what it’s like to be a trans woman who isn’t feminine, and probably some stuff about dancing with PTSD too. Let’s see if I ever get past the post…