The trans debate

“Male bodied” people in women’s loos Shock! People with no diagnosis of gender dysphoria! Could they be a threat to women? I commented on the Guardian that I had gone, dressed female, into women’s loos and changing rooms before I committed to transition, before I had a diagnosis. Yet I have a diagnosis now, I am clearly a true trans woman. And someone asked, When you entered women’s spaces in the past, how confident are you that your presence didn’t cause distress or concern to those women who were also present?

I’m not, actually. I can’t be certain. I did get read. I still do. Somebody might be distressed or concerned any time I go into a loo. So, there, is the zero-sum game: do you support my right to be myself, or the right of women, oppressed by patriarchy or being transphobic, to avoid the distress of my presence in women’s space. We have been transitioning and treated as women for decades- should that now just stop? If there are around 20,000 trans women, what harm are we really doing?

There’s an endless harping on about prisons, because some of the trans women in prison have done horrible things. Yet if one allegedly hurts women prisoners, that is not a mark against trans women without a prison record, but against the unfunded, dystopian, drug-riddled prison system. In 2015 there were 89 suicides and eight homicides in prison, as well as a death of a prisoner restrained by officers. In 2016, there were 120 suicides. Trans women, showing fantastic bravery being transitioned in men’s prisons, kill themselves.

The government took nearly a year between announcing gender recognition reform- not any change to the Equality Act, which allows trans women to be excluded from women’s space- and starting the consultation, and in that year the Murdoch Press and others started a sustained campaign of vilification against trans women. Any story, however unimportant, showing a trans woman in a bad light might make The Times or Sunday Times. The Spectator magazine, increasingly the British Breitbart, chimes in.

Yet traditional transition may be dying out. In the Government’s LGBT survey, more people answering identified as non-binary than as trans. If we cannot gain acceptance by transition then living in stealth, as stealth is too difficult, other modes of self-expression become more attractive. The reform necessary is to outlaw discrimination on the ground of gender expression.

Most feminists against trans women, who are being amplified by The Times, would consider themselves on the Left. They are “gender critical”, they say, finding gender norms confused and Patriarchal. Some might admit to being “gender non-conforming”, but often they claim that is trite. No woman really conforms, they say. Yet some do. Feminists make progress, explaining women’s oppression so it changes from just what is, as imperceptible as the air, to things holding women back, a wind blowing against women and behind men. And some women are feminine.

So there are two groups of women, the gender non-conforming feminists and the non-binary AFAB, each transcending conventional femininity, in much the same way, often, but having very different ways of describing it or conceptions to understand it. Rupert Murdoch, upholding the Patriarchy, has set them at each others’ throats. A few of us try to find a way ahead, common cause for people alike oppressed by gender, and we are trampled. The possibility that I might upset a woman in a loo is proclaimed to be far more important. I find the debate utterly wearing and depressing. Rather than finding a way forward, a way to work together to challenge gender norms and make people more free, more caring, more collaborative, the GNC feminists are reduced to crying “No! Not That!”

Per ardua ad astra

At the Greenbelt festival, I loved the Death CafĂ©s the most. We gathered in groups to talk of death, and as there were about twice as many there as we expected Annette asked me to help facilitate one of the small groups each time. In one of those, people seemed more concerned to talk about how to set up a Death CafĂ© than actually participating; in another a priest whose previous professional experience included business facilitation took over, interviewing each participant until I mildly said that was my job (though she was doing great at it), and I borrowed a woman’s umbrella to poke the awning above our heads, to drain the puddle bulging down towards us. We took turns, propping up the awning.

The attitude to talking of suicidal ideation is “how brave you are” (to talk of it). In thee separate sessions, my groups talked openly and fearlessly. What do we think of the Afterlife? At a Christian festival, my disbelief was not agreed with, but was heard without challenge.

I was on stage, to talk of Quaker understandings of God, and how we were changing our Book of Discipline. This was on Monday at 5pm, after quite a lot of festival-goers had left, before an audience of thirty. There were four of us. I have a thank you card, signed by eight, thanking me for my moving, open and honest sharing, and my wonderful presence. It delights me.

I made some contribution on the Saturday morning with the children’s activity. We had pictures of heads to glue onto paper, and the task was to draw a body; twigs to decorate with wool, glue and glitter; and “fairy dust” to play in. I played in fairy dust, making ephemeral pictures in metal trays, and some children joined me.

I met PT, an Italian-heritage New Yorker who spent tens of thousands on gay cures, which inspired his first stage show. Before the festival started, we walked around the field, going up on the Mount to look over the festival ground, almost empty of people but with all the tents and banners, and into venues where he would speak. I found him lovely: clear-eyed, deeply sensitive and courageous. I feared he had a poor impression of me, based on three things he said.

He asked what inspires me, and I felt inadequate, because I have got nowhere with what I love: writing, speaking on a stage. We walked into the Green Room, not guarded yet as the festival had not opened, and they gave him a meal ticket and a copy of the programme. I asked him to get me a copy, and he asked if he could. They told him he could not. “It’s on sale, right?” I did not say I cannot afford one- or can, but money is that tight. He handed it to me, and I carried it as we walked out into occasional light spits of rain. Then he said, quietly as if not expecting, or not wanting to hear an answer, “I gave that to you to look at. Oh, never mind.” I carried it back to the Quaker tent.

Next evening I came up to him after his last evening talk, not wanting to go off together just to talk for a moment- to the other speaker, or someone, about Evangelical ideas of Love, actually- or- and he said he had to go, he would see me tomorrow. As if he felt the need to escape me, I thought.

That hardened into my own depressive view of myself as grasping and boring. And, of course, inadequate, always inadequate. Probably, the viral infection worked with the depression, making me feel greater lassitude than usual. Days after the festival, two weeks ago, I called Samaritans.

What could I do? I could read, I suppose. Queer Virtue by Elizabeth Edman, perhaps, on how authentic Christianity and Queerness alike rupture and sustain us, of how the queer people she knows are in touch with their moral centre, of how Queer theory, Queerness and Queering disrupt binary thinking to get closer to reality.

That sounds heavy, he said. It may be the most accessible book I have in my reading pile- introductions to epistemology and existentialism, a Hannah Arendt reader. I have thought, trying to know myself, that I can work very hard at something; now it seems that though I do almost nothing, when I do something I am working hard. This is a good thing- I appreciate culture because I have spent time seeking that appreciation- but essentially I have two speeds:

Captain! The engines cannae take much more o’ this! and
Dead stop.

All this struggling people do! All the struggling we demand of each other.

A blessing

I had a good day, yesterday. I went into London to Friends House, and met some wonderful people. I might help arrange something worthwhile. Then I went to Tate Modern, and saw the exhibition Shape of Light: it is of abstract photography. Things which I would not consider beautiful became part of beautiful images. My photographs are of things, which I might seek to frame in an interesting way; just now I watched a video, and found myself noticing the light and dark in it more, I think, than I would have. I may change my photography, to consider the light more. I even find myself noticing the light around me more: the best exhibitions change the way I see. I cycled to the station, leaving home at 8.15 and returning after nine; it was a good day, a full day, quite tiring.

What we do in worship came up. I said I am dealing with emotional pain, finding a way of holding it and accepting it, experiencing it and healing it. The healing may be slow. The feeling is teaching me things I did not know, and will continue until I have learned them.

“The meeting can uphold people who need the silence for something else,” said someone. I felt patronised. I said I am aware of the others, and the communal activity. This is my way to communion with the light within, and it may take some time.

This morning I cycled to worship, still coughing after a virus which hit two weeks ago, thinking of that group. John, who is ninety, is particularly beautiful. I am not sure what I can contribute. In meeting, I thought of when I joined Quakers. I needed a place I could feel I belonged, and was not nearly ready for it.

There’s the anger. How could I be so blind, so stupid, never making the connections? I hurt, and so I berate myself. I am enraged at myself, that I could let myself be hurt. That was the start of the meeting. I had failed to bring the bicycle lock, and might have left my helmet lying on the ground outside. I feel stupid as well as tired.

Near the end, I saw it.

I must break the connection between pain and blame.

When I hurt, I feel such anger against myself! It could be my mother’s anger. This is part of it: allowing the pain to be, not blaming myself for it. The blame stops me going out.

Rather, I need gratitude and appreciation for all the blessings. I was in need, and I was showered with


There is always kindness. No-one judges me as harshly as I do. I wept at the pain of feeling that anger, at myself, of blaming myself. I am loosening my bonds.

Orchiectomy III

Testicles have such strong cultural associations. They are the symbol of manliness, in its best sense: the man who toils and does not look for rest, who does all that is demanded of him and achieves his goals. If he doubts his ability to do something he is told to “grow a pair”. Does he have the balls to take on a task? Even women are asked that.

You have committed to transition, and you are taking oestrogen and a testosterone suppressant. My psychiatrist used this as a diagnostic tool: a sexual fantasist would not want to, as their libido would decrease. They would be cross-dressed without arousal, and might get bored of it. Or, the test is whether you like the way you are on this treatment. If you like it, it is right for you.

Unfortunately, some patients don’t see it that way. They have decided that transition is right for them, and they see transition as being a single process, involving set steps. You get hormone treatment, before or after changing your name and ceasing to present male. You have hair removal and possibly facial feminisation or baldness treatments. Vaginoplasty completes the process. We observe that we pass better as we have more practice, so the “real life test” shows life getting better as there is less abuse in the street, and we find presenting male more and more unpleasant.

I was willing to tolerate discomfort, in the belief that life would get better. I also felt that vaginoplasty was part of transition. Now, I want to help others in transition consider it as a matter of discrete steps. It is not just one process, one binary choice, either stay presenting male or change name and have hormones and surgery. It is, what is right for you? One person I knew felt she had to stay presenting male for her career, but had GRS.

I also want it to stop being a question of identity. “I am a trans woman. Trans women need surgery.” I am a human being. Human beings pursue a variety of paths.

The alternatives- transition as one process, involving change of name and presentation, hormones and surgery, where you go through the process tolerating the discomfort believing life will get better, or give up completely and revert; and transition as a number of choices,

Transition is often seen as one process involving surgery: there are reports of people feeling elation after surgery, because the process is completed, only to suffer depression up to a year later, because their lives have not improved.

So one of the choices is whether to have an orchiectomy. This is far less invasive surgery than vaginoplasty. It means you stop needing testosterone suppressants. And, though taking oestrogen with testosterone suppressants will reduce your sexual desire, fertility, and ability to sustain an erection, doctors assert that while fertility changes may be irreversible, changes to erectile function and libido may be reversible. Orchiectomy drastically reduces your natural production of testosterone, and is irreversible.

Cordelia Fine asserts that these characteristics of pluck and determination are seen as Manly not because of the effects of testosterone, but because of Patriarchy. It takes balls to have an orchiectomy- it is a sign of courage and commitment.

What I want, for people considering transition or surgery, is to reduce their symbolic power. As a symbol, testicles are a sign of Manliness. But as Germaine Greer said, “I don’t believe a woman is a man without a cock”. Oestrogen and testosterone suppressant will help you pass better. Orchiectomy will help you pass better. But it won’t make you less of a man, more of a woman, or even less of a weirdo. You can’t escape being a weirdo, I am afraid: that you are considering surgery makes you very unusual indeed. But being a weirdo is not a bad thing.

Why would you want the effects to be irreversible? That’s a symbol, again, of your determination and commitment, and certainty that you have chosen the right path. Symbols are expensive. You have a right to be you without bearing so much cost.

Late transitioners

“Late transitioning” trans women are those who have struggled on to make men of themselves, but in later life transition to female. A beautiful example is in Jennifer Finney Boylan’s article in the NYT: People often ask late transitioners, why now, after all this time? What kind of woman do you think you can be, after missing your girlhood and your adolescence? But those aren’t the questions one should ask.

The question is, how did you manage to go so long? What enabled you to keep carrying your burden in secret, walking around with a shard of glass in your foot, for all those years?

If referring to people as “late transitioners” were only a description, it would be unobjectionable. Some people marry and have children, or do not think transition is possible and go on to build careers in which transition is genuinely impossible. However there is a nasty myth that “true transsexual” or “primary transsexual” women transition in their teens, and are primarily attracted to men; and those of us who transition late, or are attracted to women, are in some way not real transsexual. This interferes with treatment for older trans women, and is a cause of argument within the trans community. Some people want to insist they are true trans, and others are not.

If “Late transitioning” is a way of judging someone, or a way of drawing conclusions from a loveless, judgmental stereotype, it becomes a slur, a way of demonising or rejecting people. If I use it of myself, it is simply a description. I transitioned late according to some people, changing my name and going to work dressed female aged 35.

That is what “reclaiming” means. We decide to treat “queer” as a word which we fit, without seeing it as judgmental. I am proud to be queer. Queer identity is inclusive, and resists the obsessive categorisation of the sexologist. I can reclaim “late transitioning”- the negative connotations have no value, I am a late transitioner and I am a trans woman. Others may insist on the negative connotations, but I may reject them, after which they have a lesser and lesser effect on me until they do not matter at all. Then my example may help others free themselves in the same way, just as the example of others frees me.

Other people seek to control me with their judgment. My answer is to apply my own judgment. I am a person of value.

Summer fruit

Most summers, I have one or two utterly outstanding peaches.
Blackberries have varieties of beauty,
hard and wersh, soft and sweet, late and subtle,
dying my fingers
A meal of them in August, a freak lone fruit in November.
Apples are dependable.
You know where you are with an apple.
The full plum tree ripens all at once
for jam, wine, and a sugar-orgy, our family as animals together.
Grapes are pleasant.
I like it if someone else peels them for me.
But peaches
early in the year they go squishy before they ripen
and they may wrinkle quickly
and some grow blue fur overnight
and I bite one, to find it crunchy-
and just one, all summer, floods my mouth with sweetness
its juice flowing down my hands
It is the only fruit of the year.


I consider the issues for trans men are so different to mine that I want to be a good ally, rather than imagining myself able to speak for them. I am blogging to thrash out what I think; that’s a starting point from which I want to get to being an ally. Knowing where I am, I might find a route towards being an ally.

I have been writing about the vaginoplasty, which I find wrongful in almost all cases; only acceptable where sexual activity is unbearable using a penis, and the person can only countenance being penetrated. I consider that so many people have vaginoplasty as a symbol rather than reality- because it symbolises being a real woman, or at least a real transsexual person, for them; because they cannot imagine a person like them as a man rather than a woman, and cannot imagine a woman like them with a penis. Whereas penises are great. And many people are dissatisfied with the result. Several people talk of those who cease dilation (though some keep it up).

I think top surgery, chest masculinisation, is different. It means you can stop binding, and so breathe better, and I understand binding can cause health problems. You have two large scars under where your breasts used to be, so going topless is difficult, but passing when you have a top on is much easier.

The main difference is that T gives you facial hair, male pattern baldness, and helps your voice break. Sometimes people’s voices don’t break well, but generally unless you are cursed with very wide hips, or being particularly petit, or a particularly feminine skull you will pass. You become gentle, caring men. You gain male privilege. Am I envious? Yes. I would like to pass as normal, I crave straight privilege. Passing is not guaranteed, but there is some indication before you start whether it will be possible.

I know we say, it is not a choice. I know we say, it is irresistible. If you think you might, but are not sure, you are not true trans- and such stories help put off those who desperately want to transition but are frightened and not sure they will manage it. Lots of people who are not sure, or who are delaying transition, will make a go of it. And for anyone it’s a lot of time, effort and money.

So it is a choice. People put off transition, or avoid it completely. This does not make them less trans, just means that their circumstances are particularly against transitioning.

Can I be an ally, and hold out the possibility of accepting being yourself in your own body? And, accepting yourself, you find you are accepted by others- at least enough others, in the tribes and the enclaves you discover? Then you would not be dependant on synthetic hormones life long, with the risks that entails. Not transitioning, in other words, would be the better option, rather than the thing you do because you are forced to. Passing makes being trans easier.

Being an ally would involve separating out my own feelings about myself and my choices. And supporting the choices people make. They are able to make their own choices. Only if regret rates are significant does regret become relevant. Only if people transition, alter their bodies, and then wish they had not in large numbers is it a reason for restricting treatment. That is a number we need to know, and somewhere between 0.6% and 4 in 13 is not good enough. My own regret is not a good enough reason to try to persuade people not to, unless there is robust evidence of others’ regret.

Or, the number who have transitioned is large enough to show it might be right, and yet small enough that if it is wrong it is not a huge disaster, to support transitioning as a course of action.

In summary I am against vaginoplasty and agnostic/guardedly in favour of chest masculinisation. A person like you should be able to live as a woman; but in the Patriarchy, when certain qualities are disparaged as unmanly and projected onto women, that’s difficult. I want you to have the best life you can, and trust you to decide how you will achieve that. Then I want to be a supportive ally.

Vaginoplasty or labiaplasty?

If you are having GRS, should you have vaginoplasty or labiaplasty? Vaginoplasty creates an orifice, perhaps seven inches long, inside you. Labiaplasty creates an orifice about an inch long, which has the urethra, but not a vagina opening onto it. An alternative name is “vaginoplasty without vaginal cavity”, used by GRS MontrĂ©al, which uses the term “labiaplasty” to mean a later alteration to the labia.

The vagina needs to be lined, with the skin of the penis or scrotum. You do not want hair growing inside, so that means either laser or electrolysis hair removal before, or a lengthy procedure removing each follicle as carried out by my own surgeon, which lengthened the time the operation took. GRS Montréal says the surgery without the vaginal cavity takes 1½ hours, with admission on the day of the operation, two days in the hospital after, and returning to sports after six to eight weeks.

Surgery with the cavity in 2004 took seven hours, but in MontrĂ©al it is two. That surprised me, and shows I should check the current conditions before pontificating. Anyway. What about dilation? It seems far less onerous than it was 14 years ago. After my op in 2004, I was told to dilate for two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening, on top of time spent preparing and cleaning up afterwards. I did this early before work, and noticed that even though I was lying on my back, it was not restful. I could not sleep with the stent in. After six months, I had been told that I could reduce it to one two-hour session a day, but that immediately resulted in a narrowing of the opening, which I found so distressing that I gave up. A surgeon in England told me “There are no rules”: you find what you need to do to maintain width and depth, or you stop. Those are your choices. If dilating is not keeping the orifice open, dilate more.

MontrĂ©al recommends four times a day in the first month, but never more than half an hour in total, and after the first year once a week. This is considerably less. If you are having penetrative sex to the full depth- what a friend jokingly called “organic dilation”- you do not need your stents at all.

You need to keep your orifice clean. To the tune of “Keep young and beautiful”:

Whereever you have been
You must keep your new vagina clean
Hibiscrub and betadine, every morning and night
To help you feel serene
Or only just to feel fit to be seen
Hibiscrub and betadine, every morning and night.

MontrĂ©al, however, only recommends salt in the douche, but gives a graphic account of what happens if you don’t do it properly: abundant, smelly and bloody vaginal discharge, deterioration and enlargement of the wound surface, risk of infection.


While it is less onerous than it was in my day, dilation and cleansing is still a significant drain on your time. I don’t know what research they do to check whether the dilation times and frequencies recommended succeed. How many people give up? How many still have the full depth and width, five years later?


Yet, unless you want to be penetrated, why would you have this operation? The comments on my previous post give some clue. Joanna referred to it as “full transition”- so expressing yourself female is in some way not enough, the operation completes transition. If you have a partner, could they accept your body without such an alteration? Can you? Can anyone commit to living in the world as their real self, without altering their body?

The person variously known as “trans heretic”, “sock puppet” and “the sceptic” writes she was “surgically corrected”, because of a need deep within me to correct a fundamental physical wrongness with my body. However badly the cultural concept of trans including surgery fits others, it fits her perfectly. It was right for her. Apparently, it still is. “Transgenderism” is my physical reality, wrote someone on facebook. That was what I believed, then. It is not what I believe now. I see no way of being certain if anyone else would cease to believe it, but if it’s tied up with the idea of yourself as fitting into society alternatives would include becoming able to bear not fitting in, or finding your own tribe to fit. I don’t think we are accepted as trans women, not really. No-one who would not accept you as a feminine man will accept you as a trans woman.

If you want male partners, it makes sense to have the orifice. If you don’t, it is less clear to me. Then the orifice is part of your self-image as a woman. You would have a uterus transplant if you could, but given that you can’t at the moment you go as far as you can. So it’s about being genuine, being a real trans woman, rather than about what the alteration will accomplish. It is about ideas and not reality. It is all in your head.

I fear that the concept of a woman with testicles makes no sense to us. We say we are women, and some say not trans women but “women with a trans history”- trans is crossing over, and that is in the past. I fear that the operation is seen to complete transition, rather than to achieve what it achieves.

I have been mutilated. I wish I hadn’t. If it was a mistake for me, is it for anyone else? Hormones and surgery reduce libido and sexual responsiveness. That was a relief at the time, and now is aching regret. How can you accept yourself as you are?

Here’s Grace Petrie (pronounce Pee-trie, whose pronouns are she and her). If you are not weeping by the time she bites her lip, I don’t understand you. She is trans-affirming, gender non-conforming, and female.