Dysphoria after transition

Transition to expressing myself female was what I had to do. It was liberating. After trying to make a man of myself, I was able to be me. And the work of liberation has continued, and been difficult, over the sixteen years since.

I grew up with definite ideas of what it meant to be a man. It meant fighting, if necessary. Being dominant, athletic, not expressing emotion- the concept fits, even fulfils, some folks.

I had possibly my first celebrity conversation recently. “I feel as if I know you,” she said. She had been on the tiered seats at Yearly Meeting, looking down on me as I spoke before hundreds of people, and then read my articles. Modestly, I pointed out the new outreach leaflets which have my words about me in them. Oh, wow.

I want more of that.

So I was telling a friend, and she observed that I am expressive when I am delighted by something: it is always quite clear. Same with dislike. This expressive self might not be 20th century British, with the “stiff upper lip” ideal, but we are all more expressive now. I am not sure it is “feminine”, particularly, more extreme extrovert, or perhaps for those more powerfully connected to feeling- it was a lot of work to suppress my feelings. Given that I am like that, I am glad to be able to express it without an internal censor. Even if it is no more “feminine” than “masculine”, I don’t think I could express it without having transitioned. I was too buttoned-up. Forty years after some teenagers find it, I finally realise I can be Fabulous! And my attempts are as in need of practice as theirs; and my trans woman’s self doubt and judgment are as strong on this as anything.

It is not just my femininity I have liberated, it is all of me. And yet the constraints on me, my own beliefs about what I must suppress in myself, continued to hurt after transition. It has been a long road, and is not over yet. My discomfort and embarrassment at who I am continued. It may be hard for anyone not trained into it to attain dignity, but self-acceptance is essential and transition was only the first step.

I was still embarrassed, and especially in the first year I faced a gauntlet of mockery, derision and hatred walking down the street. That will increase self-doubt unless, with tremendous strength, you ignore the opinions of the haters and decide to love yourself regardless.

Andrea Long Chu, writing in the NYT, says she is suicidal since transition. She is conscious of her appearance- she is a trans woman, so she looks like a trans woman, with some mannish characteristics. She picks on the length of her index fingers, and denies that she is beautiful. Hormones make her weep, and all the pent-up pain of having to present male for decades has exploded. She wanted to be a woman, and she gets to be a trans woman. Her vagina is a “wound”, not a human organ linked to a womb. “There are no good outcomes in transition,” she writes. We are not made well, just made better- it is a choice between two dark shades of grey. So psychiatrists and surgeons should recognise that incremental improvement, and be satisfied with it. It is what we want. It is the way they can “do no harm”.

My hips are narrow, my waist and shoulders relatively wide, and my face mannish. Facial feminisation may be more important and more beneficial than vaginoplasty. I am conscious of my mannishness; but also intensely conscious of being a body, a physical animal, loving to walk barefoot, to cycle, and to feel wind or sun on my bare limbs. Before, I was stuck in my head. And this increase of conscious feeling has involved intense emotional pain. If you want equanimity, not to be troubled by strong feeling, do not transition.

The doubting, blaming and hating of myself continued after transition, and to an extent still does. I am not the woman I wish to be. I am dysphoric. Yet I am more myself, I see myself and love myself better. Transition was what I had to do. I can’t be certain I would be alive without it.

Healing words

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c4/Roses_and_Fuchsia_by_Boston_Public_Library.jpgI went to my counselling session flummoxed and flustered, seeing things as bad, and Yvonne gave me a different way of seeing them, which just might work.

I went in wanting to talk of sex. I am just about over my shame around autogynephilia. I told her something which I had not told anyone else, which filled me with shame and misery at the time. When I still had testicles, I had wet dreams about cross-dressing. The issue for shame is- was that culpable at all? I don’t think so. Sex has the value of uniting two people, and for me it seemed instead to isolate. And- whether that was because of reinforcement activity which was within my control, is the centre of whether it was culpable or not- and I don’t think it was. I am just about over that shame. Yes. That is old pain which I remember, and not current pain.

And- when it comes to relating with others in my sexuality, I am bewildered and shamed and fearful.

I notice how passive and submissive I am. I still have some shame around that- I am a man! I ought not to be! I have just about got over my shame: I tell myself, this is how I am, it is within normal human variation, resisting it is fruitless so I might as well go with it- and- it feels like it can only cause me pain. That encounter traumatised me, and that was miserable, and I can be hurt and if my head gets turned I just make a fool of myself and

I can’t imagine actually forming a mutually satisfying relationship.

Oh, what was it exactly? I came away feeling much better. Something around self-forgiveness. Something around noticing that I am learning. I am, actually. As I approach other people and interact, I am learning.

I am not particularly resilient at the moment. If anything, I am a slightly squishier quivering pile than I was eighteen months ago. Notice every moment of joy- it is transient, and it is there. Possibly, even, it is constant, a ground bass below all the emotional music.

And- there is something around noticing just how badly I am hurt when I make a mistake or something bad happens. It seems it is worse in the anticipation- absolutely terrifying, to be avoided at all costs- than in actuality. Mmm.

I am sitting here, having had my session, walked home and blogged on it, feeling better. Slightly less terrified. A bit affirmed. That has to be a good thing.

Everything is all right.

Doing makeup on the Train!

On the train, I sit opposite a woman entertaining herself with Puzzler magazine, and beside a man passing the time with The Economist, this week on Catalonian independence inter alia. He and his sister are better at conversation than I, talking with the woman about The X factor on the telly, which I never watch, and then with me on whether there really is a St Pancras. Yes, there is a St Pancras’ church near the station, a Roman martyr. St Pancreas, says his sister. What does the pancreas do? We don’t know, and neither does the Puzzler woman, who is silent.

Cuddling with a friend, I find myself thinking of when I am breathing, and holding my breath at the time I decide consciously. Just a cuddle, between friends, and I am completely Controlled, so I stop.

I asked facebook what they think of doing makeup on the tube. J gets funny looks when she does hers on the bus, but what with getting to work, getting the children out to school, she has no other time to do it. M thinks it shows a lack of self-respect: it is like getting dressed, you do not get dressed in public. I got my mascara out, and felt a wave of pleasure and relaxation. I am claiming my space in this carriage, as mine. I like making up. It is pleasurable. If others look, to feel self-conscious is a prey response. What should they mean to me? I do as I wish!

We are getting somewhere with all this, it is not just clearing up odd wee points.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/90/Georges_Seurat_013.jpgAt the 5Rhythms, I do not understand when S says she never really understood Chaos, did not really do it properly, wants to get really into it, and when dancing with someone I am wondering what they think, I should follow a bit, or lead- oh, I am following, is this creative enough, what does she think of me? What do others think of me? Well, what do I think of others? Some of the time I am just moving with the music, and some of it I am thinking and planning. Or comparing. This person is more flexible, this more beautiful, this more creative. And- one must learn before doing, that is a mental activity.

Playing B’s piano. Something about the vibrations in the air- though how could they be different?- makes a piano with strings so much Better than a digital one. I fiddle about with Chopin waltzes, which I have never looked at before. I might be able to make music with these. Oh, that phrase is so subtle and beautiful.

The dancing may indeed be a Spiritual Experience, spontaneously moving, getting out of the mind and into the body, and I think of what impression I make. Doing the makeup was the spontaneous act, doing what I wanted when I wanted to, purely for myself. Do I do something for my own pleasure or just to make a Good Impression? Dancing, ideally, should be both, music should be both, just seeking to make an impression without getting joy myself seems cowardly or treasonable to myself somehow. Or, it is having the experience, seeing how I am, seeing how I am with others, how important the impression is. And there are moments of spontaneity, even enjoyment, in Enjoyable Things.

Twelve Coins

You have twelve gold coins, but one is a forgery. The forgery is lighter or heavier than the eleven true coins, but you do not know which. You have a pair of scales, in which you can weigh any combination of those coins against each other, but not against anything else. You can use the scales to weigh three combinations of coins. What combinations should you weigh, so that you will always be able to tell which is the forgery, and whether it is lighter or heavier than the others?

S told me that puzzle around 1990, and said she used it to get free drinks: in a week’s time she would buy the other a drink if he answered it, he would buy her one if he could not. I took four hours to work it out over two days, and it gave me intense joy. Leave a comment if you work it out.

There is a variant of Oware in which the second to move may always win, if she chooses the steps correctly. I have worked them out, and thought, it takes a special type of personality to enjoy that and be able to function in the world. Not now functioning, I think of that joy in pure intellectual puzzles. I am not using it for my advancement, but in Switzerland physicists have used the Large Electron Positron collider to work out what happened one billionth of a second after the Big Bang, and are now using the Large Hadron Collider to work out what happened in the second trillionth of a second. What is the use of that? Well, hospitals use particle accelerators to create unstable isotopes, which, ingested, produce positrons- antimatter- enabling the doctors to build up images of the brain as a diagnostic tool. This is called Positron Emission Tomography.

When S asks “what are the reasons why we should accept you as a woman?” Nicole says it is a matter of heart and soul, and indeed it is. (Read her post on Daniel, for goosebumps and tears.) And S, having worked through her anger at my barging into Women’s space, and found some liking for me, and still thinking, or feeling, that I am not really a woman, takes this intellectual, reasoning approach. I would rather she did, than surrender to anger. She may even, through reason, talk her own heart-response round.

I am glad to hear of her anger, because I did not feel anger from her, only withdrawal, and in that women’s space last year I felt apprehensive of anger. In January 2010 my ways of hardening myself to cope with the World finally broke down, and I am seeking all means to cope as my unprotected self.

I have played Solitaire obsessively, and this morning spent fifty minutes on one game, my 653rd, repeatedly making the moves and rewinding them to see what order the stack had to be distributed on the layout, and how to do that, to get it out- my 95th win. I found that satisfying, however empty I find my addiction to it normally. Whatever, it is worth spending time finding what delights me, and what, so like it, I falsely imagine delights me.

TEDx: Louie Schwartzberg on Gratitude, with some gorgeous images. Thanks to Jacqui.


The Narrator writes from the perspective of an older man, looking back on his deluded affair with Albertine, leading to their marriage. She never loved him, he never loved her, they were caught in their illusions. And so it seems that there is no joy in any of their meetings. Why are they meeting again, I ask myself.

I thought I wanted something, and thought I might have it, and felt joy. Now I think I probably won’t.

But- even if the perception was wrong, the belief illusory, the joy need not be. There was joy for a moment, even if based on falsehood, and it was real joy. I wish to delight in every scrap of joy, there is little enough of it. Actually, I am not absolutely certain the belief is illusory- and I hate unknowing, I would have preferred to destroy the possibility just so’s I could Know. I have to recognise that, and consciously resist it.

And- that what I wanted is probably illusory does not take the joy from the situation as it is, which has delight too.

In Meeting, Peter ministered on his son and son-in-law walking in Switzerland while he and his daughter pottered about, getting a little worried they were taking so long, and his joy on their return was like the joy of the father of the Prodigal Son, it seemed to him.

Another lesson on being positive rather than negative. Being positive I have so much more delight, so much more motivation and energy. My hurts have nearly overwhelmed me, and so that is the only way to be. There is enough hurt, without dwelling on it.

Trans women in the Kama Sutra: There are two kinds of eunuchs, those that are disguised as males, and those that are disguised as females. Eunuchs disguised as females imitate their dress, speech, gestures, tenderness, timidity, simplicity, softness and bashfulness. The acts that are done on the jaghana or middle parts of women, are done in the mouths of these eunuchs, and this is called Auparishtaka. These eunuchs derive their imaginable pleasure, and their livelihood from this kind of congress, and they lead the life of courtesans. So much concerning eunuchs disguised as females. Thanks to Shiva Shakti.

At the CAB conference, a session for managers, we discussed this scenario: a volunteer who is a wealthy parent tells a lone parent on benefits, “these people should not have children if they cannot afford to keep them”, and then complains when the lone parent goes off on one. How should we handle the situation? My hackles start to rise at the words “these people”- these people are individuals- and I wanted the wealthy volunteer to be persuaded of that. Others say that her attitudes do not matter- as long as she obeys the rules, including not saying things like that, and provides the service according to the rules, she may think what she likes. I want her able to say what she believes, and to be challenged constructively. What do you think?

and- “Admit to what you feel greedy about. It will point to your most tender desire.”
~ Danielle LaPorte, truthbomb.

I love all of me.
I love the greed, and the meanness, and the cowardice
I love the whining and the self-pity,
I love the stupidity and the stolidity
and the ugliness.
I love the lack of spontaneity
and the voice which says I am play-acting.
It is in those parts of myself which I judge and condemn that-

what? Not sure, and I am asserting that because it feels right rather than because I have really taken that into myself. It is at the least, part of this whole human being which I must love and care for.

Added: Rumi wrote something similar:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Learning through Joy

Thoughts provoked by Wisdom Pigeon, who quotes Aeschylus:

He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despite, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.

File:Einstein1921 by F Schmutzer 4.jpg

A good source of wise Internet quotes

So I asked, can one learn through Joy? And Wisdom Pigeon comments on learning through pain: joy is the reward after.

Liz asked if I would like some toast, so I put it under the grill myself because of her physical difficulties. I burnt it, because I was distracted, then I burnt the second lot; then she pressed me to do a third, and I demurred. I really did not want to. I would make do with the burnt lot. She pressed me, and eventually I accepted, and did not burn these.

At the Children’s centre Lucy the manager was listening to my moaning, and she said she would make me a cup of tea. I refused, I should make my own cup of tea: and she was surprised by my vehemence, and insisted, and made me tea.

These two small acts of kindness last March, when I was finding life difficult, did not produce so much an immediate sense of joy as a niggling doubt, a strangeness- the world is not as bad as I then saw it. This was part of my movement towards my greatest learning of last year, moving from negative to positive, glass empty to glass full. So I think one can learn through joy, through glimpses of beauty.

As Wisdom Pigeon says, though the lesson is painful, having learned it is joyous. Much of my pain comes from demanding that the world be other than it is, and there is relief in the moment when I stop.


I commented on the blog of a woman afflicted by suicide, and she valued it, saying, “That should be in the books.” So I offer to you what I said to her:

The suicide was not the most important thing in your father-in-law’s life. It is not the one thing through which you should see him.

I am tempted to write further about suicide, but that is my sole pretence to originality, so I will stop.


British politicians say we are having a hard time at the moment, and appeal to the votes of the “Squeezed Middle” through our resentment, avarice, and fear. Hafiz saw how we are in Abundance, though so many do not see it. Daniel Ladinsky, again:

Dear ones
why let your winsome body act
As if it is living against a tyrant’s knife?

Why pretend your expansive existence,
Your Imperial Nature

Have all been squeezed
into a tiny red hot skillet

That is being kicked by a camel’s hoof
Over the dry sand?

For your friend Hafiz
So clearly sees we are all immersed
In the Soft Brilliance.

In the Quaker meeting

Sunday 8th: I had a strong sense of being who I am, without mask or pretense, in Meeting this morning. I am who I am, meeting I Am Who I Am.

We have the concept of coming to meeting with “heart and mind prepared” or the opposite, “hot from the World”. Five weeks ago, I was “hot from the world”, distressed and bewildered so that I could not sit quietly in the silence, my monkey mind raced, I had to read or I would have had to go out. And that is OK: the worship is a thing which we do together in the silence, some of us in our presence actively deepen the silence and gather the meeting, and when I cannot do that work myself I can rely on others.

Yes, we are only sitting in silence- but the stillness radiates out of the still person, and we all feel it.

And then today, I just felt different. I felt self-accepting, and I felt that because of this I was able to open up in silence to the sense of God, and of the whole of reality around me, and my relationship with it. Thoughts flitted through my mind, sometimes, and they just went. It was so easy.

Derek ministered on “Mindfulness”, the word of the moment: how striking it is that spiritual seekers turn to the mysticism of another continent, rather than ours, to Buddhism, yoga, shamanic practice, rather than Christian mysticism. Christianity is seen as the rules-based, sex-obsessed “religion” which people who say they are “spiritual but not religious” are rejecting, and it can be so much more.

It is my experience that my sitting in Meeting in silence, and my practice at home, makes me more truly me and fits me to do God’s work in the world. Is it just a feeling? It seems more like a perception of how things are.

Monday: the feeling continued. I walked down the sunless ginnel, and was entranced by the setting sun’s bright light on that wall, over the wall. The not  particularly interesting photograph might give the idea of what I saw, which delighted me, and at which I looked for some time. On two hundred yards to the car park, where a tit perched high in a bare tree sang so loudly, “Girls! I’m Here! Girls!” and I stood and listened. Beauty, beauty everywhere.

William Blake

My wise friend advised me to pass onto the next thought. So, because I love Blake, here are some of his images:


My father’s idea that culture is worthy of effort, that if you do not immediately like a piece of music or a painting you should spend time with it and seek to appreciate it, rubbed off on me. I enjoy Bartok string quartets (yes, really) and while I found Bach sonatas for solo violin unlistenable at first, now they are a source of wonder and delight. In the Summer I was 18, I was staying with my grandmother in Greater London, and went to the Tate. It was the air conditioning that tempted me in to the Blake, but I stayed for the images. All human life is here, and a new, complete mythology. I saw the edge of one dark picture in a brilliant blue, and read how this part was covered in a frame- the rest of the picture is faded by sunlight. Oh, to see them as they were, once!

Revelation 12:1-18. The dragon stands ready to take the woman’s child, as she groans in her labour.

From Paradise Lost

From A Midsummer Night’s Dream

From the Divine Comedy.

Escaping the pit

I had this post planned out from the beginning, and it would not have been truthful. Here is my opening quote:

Don’t say there’s nothing to do in the Doldrums
It’s just- not- true

I would have carried on:

Of course I escape the pit. I escape it with television, staring alone at a screen and indulging in vicarious connection, difficulty, effort, triumph, love. No great harm in that, perhaps, I need a little time just relaxing, but the rush of emotion at something unreal is, well, unreal. The escape is not real either.

My friend A escaped the pit in reality. He did not have a particularly fulfilling or rewarding job, though it was skilled labour, but he was churchwarden at a time when in that town most churches were segregated black or white, and A worked with the vicar bringing other black people into my parish church. This is good and worthwhile work.

I block out the pit with fantasy and magical thinking. That is a large part of the reason why I am here, now, because I imagine impossibilities as possible, and moon over them. I make the pit bearable with fantasies, and so do not take the necessary action to achieve what is actually possible and get out of it. I hear all these “inspirational” quotes about following your heart, doing what makes your heart sing, etc, etc, and imagine that all of Life could be an endless whirl of that delight, like the quick achievement- sorted within an hour!- on the telly.

I had got myself right down. So it was good to get the link and photo from Rose, a reminder of real connection with real people, doing something beautiful together. Of course I do fantasy and magical thinking, but in depression it can seem as if everything positive is that, and the depressive thinking is false: there are good and beautiful things everywhere.

I need to be completely truthful with myself. I need to see the delight, and the difficulty, where they are. A wise friend has told me to pass on to the next thought.

Added: someone liked it too.


Christmas in Cardiff has been rather wonderful. Gladys gave me a black leather handbag, and as I consider the contrasting stitching, the detail on the strap, I see that it is designed in perfect taste, enough detail to be worth looking at without being fussy or precious. Rhianwen, who is 13, knitted her grandmother Gladys a scarf with a very fine wool, so that it is light and soft. I played I giorni on the piano. Louise loves it and will get it on ITunes. Rhydian played the first movement of the PathĂ©tique sonata. This has inspired me to get out some old repertoire, and work up Rachmaninov’s C# minor prelude. I played it for a group, and a woman said those three unison octaves made her think “Let Me Out”, but she tolerated my performance: it is a wonderful piece for a frustrated teenager, just bash the piano and get it out of the system.

Is there a tincture of boasting in writing of this? I started the piano when I was six, I have a certain natural talent, and I have done the work to recreate these wonderful works of art in my own living room, or those of friends. Making that recreation, joining my own interpretation to the soul of the notes, gives me great joy and joy for others. Rhianwen has just passed her Grade II, and is getting the joy of it even if she is only practising an hour a week at the moment. All that effort, for that result, it is beautiful and a source of delight.