Correcting yourself

Do you have an inner critic that persecutes you, or does it help you improve? When I think of the inner critic I think of it calling me Worthless, so the idea that it might correct me, or give valuable criticism, surprised me. And yet I notice when I do something not as well as I might, and how I might do it better; and the realisation is not always kicking myself. It could be rueful, and it could even be hopeful, seeing a chance for improvement.

I thought of the “inner critic” merely as a persecutor, so that I thought of this process of assessing my actions and ways of improving as a different thing. I still do. Though that could be a way of hiving off anger at myself, the most negative self criticism, and conceiving it as separate from me. I think it is introjected, so in a way it is.

A self-criticism scale has seven heads which are classified as self-persecuting, fourteen as self-correcting. Some are clearly persecuting- “to punish myself”. Some are clearly correcting- “to remind me of my responsibilities”. Yet I think that inner critic persecutor, which feels like a small child, if it articulated its purpose would claim to be correcting me. I experience it as always enraged and terrified, but it wants to improve my relations with others, just has no idea how.

Who can define “overconfident”? I feel Mr Johnson and Mr Trump have too great confidence, and it makes them act badly, but some risk taking is necessary. So “to stop me getting overconfident” could be self-restricting rather than self-correcting, holding me down. Who defines what is overconfident? Luck and hindsight can affect that.

I feel I have a fairly adult way of recognising that I could do better, see better, know better next time, with a proportionate regret, and separately an inner critic which berates me, turning my hurt into anger against myself.

That persecutor also brings strong feelings to consciousness. When I berated myself as an idiot for a comparatively minor mistake I became conscious of anguish I felt.

It is interesting to read the list. “To stop myself being happy”. I get happy occasionally. I tend to realise that it will pass, but I don’t think it makes me particularly self-critical.

“To stop me being lazy.” I notice that I ought to do cleaning and tidying, but do not do it. I don’t know I would call myself lazy. Lacking self-care, perhaps. I kick myself a bit about it, but it does not generally have the effect of making me do the task. Too rarely I feel desire to do it or an anticipated pleasure at doing it. These things can become habits, I understand, strengthening pathways in the brain through repetition. I have never done that, though.

“To stop me being angry with others.” That fits. I hold myself in.

“Because if I punish myself I feel better.” That sounds like self-harm. Cutting, one lets the feelings out. I feel pain I can only acknowledge as physical. Releasing and acknowledging the feelings brings relief. Again distress is turned inwards.

One, “to make me concentrate” seems to consider current action rather than past mistakes. Concentrate! I tell myself. That would be better as encouragement than criticism or correction. You can do it!

I can’t suppress the inner critic. I don’t think it a good idea to fight it. I feel a rueful acknowledgment is the best way: notice the anger, fear, hurt, desperation, consider that this is the negative inner critic speaking, and that I do not believe what it says. No, I am not a worthless halfwit.

Then notice and practise productive self-criticism. I could improve.

I went to the library to ask for The Testaments. I was in a poor quality t shirt and found myself patronised. The woman said they had not acquired it yet, and could not say if they would get it, nor take reservations for a book they had not bought. She asked if I had read The Power and suggested that I read Vox, a feminist adventure novel. Women are silenced-one woman fights to speak out. No, I don’t want a feminist novel, I want the latest Margaret Atwood. I am not reading occasionally, or hat trying reading as an entertainment, I know my own taste. Instead I got the latest Sebastian Faulks.

The self-criticism which might ameliorate that situation is too abstruse and wide-ranging to attempt.

Seeing the psychologist

When a psychologist treats a trans person, can they avoid harm? Less than 30% of psychologists were familiar with trans issues, and there is no clue how many of us there are- between 0.00017 and 1.3%. It depends how you define us- the finding in Massachusetts that 0.5% of people identified as trans or gender non-conforming depends on how widely you define GNC, and how restrictively you define “normal” gender roles.

So the American Psychological Association drafted guidelines for working with us, and defined us as those who have a gender identity that is not fully aligned with their sex assigned at birth. The feminine trans man is clear about his sex, and happy with his femininity, but the guidelines conflate sex and gender. Gender role is the appearance, personality and behaviour associated with being a man or a woman in a particular culture, but there can be a feminine personality in a trans-male body, or a feminine AMAB male could be quite clear he is male. Gender identity is called a person’s deeply felt, inherent sense of being male, female or an alternative gender. This matters for trans people, but some cis people deny having a gender identity. Appearance, personality and behaviour do not always coincide.

A woman might dress down with no makeup, hair tied back, jeans and a t-shirt, but people will observe she is a woman from the visual clues. This is very important to most observers, who will then apply their stereotypical understanding of women to that person. Some women respond by joining a feminist group, some by transitioning, and might experience that as a choice, a drive, an innate characteristic, or a mistake. If there is a drive to transition, many respond by resisting, because of family pressure or beliefs.

The words and definitions the APA uses seem more designed to avoid offending trans people than to create a taxonomy of issues and responses. As a taxonomy is so difficult, that may be unavoidable.

Treat the patient as an individual.
Do not see a gender identity or desire to transition as pathological.
Transition may be non-binary
Assist with the mental health problems, including those arising from the stress of being trans.

There. Simple. The APA agrees: A person’s identification as TGNC can be healthy and self-affirming, and is not inherently pathological. However, people may experience distress associated with discordance between their gender identity and their body or sex assigned at birth, as well as societal stigma and discrimination.

They state there is greater recognition of non-binary identities, rather than a concept of transition to the opposite sex with emphasis on passing. Well, passing helps you appear to fit in, and that can reduce stress as well as providing scope for subverting the stereotypes. They insist that affirmative care must be non-binary, non-prescriptive, but unfortunately law and surgery has not caught up.

The psychologist, modelling acceptance of ambiguity, may be ahead of the patient who has internalised transphobia. That will help counter stigma and assist the patient to make informed choices. But, still, we dance between fitting in and being ourselves.

Positivity

womenSo quickly it becomes normal, and will just be nice, but right now there is something magical about this display of wedding cake decorations I passed in Chester.

In Leicester station the wee boy climbed up on the seat beside me and announced “We’re going to Derby!” Hello. What will you do in Derby? “Important Things”, he said, and turned his back on me.

Derby to Crewe on a single carriage. The man sitting beside me seemed gauche and shabby, and I wondered how to start a conversation. “Do you know how far it is to Crewe?” He did not. I guessed fifty miles, Google says 50.7. He is happy enough to chat, and complains it takes over eighty minutes, with ten stops, then complains about how crowded it is at commuting time. You pay the same but do not get a seat, especially on a Friday night when the students are going home.

What do you do? He works for the NHS, as a clinical psychologist, in Stoke on Trent, which I find the most depressing place in Great Britain.

So many of his patients have psychosomatic pain, all over. I have heard doctors refer to “bodyache”. It is all in the mind. He tries to get them to do something, but about one in ten are completely negative. What do you want? They don’t know. If they would take exercise the brain would release stimulants. He tells them not just to sit at home and ruminate. men
(Oops. It is a good job he did not ask me what I do.) Some of them are very badly hurt, after losing their job, or a partner, or relatives- these things are very stressful- but it breaks them, and there is little he can do. They might have six sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy, and know nothing more at the end. One man had a deep personal hatred for Donald Trump. Why? he asked. Trump does not care what you think. Two years later, the man had got over it.

He hears all this negativity, and it rubs off on him. Being positive helps with anything: it is easier to stop smoking if you imagine what you want, rather than what you want to resist. I asked him if he thought Lumosity, which I have started, is any good, but he was equivocal.

I am apparently better than 55% of my age group on Lumosity, a good stolid result, and I console myself that only people above average would be doing it. However as you go down the ages I get better than fewer people, until in the 20s I am only better than 23% of people.

In Crewe, I met a woman I had known through a TS email support group since about 2001. We spotted each other almost immediately- few people wear dresses at noon in a railway station. I started on how depressing Stoke is, and found she was born there.

Then on to Chester, where I played the tourist.

I am away in Bath, at the Yearly Meeting Gathering of Quakers- without my computer!! I have posts scheduled, and will return here on 9 August.

Choosing transition

Princess CĂ©cile Murat Ney d'Elchingen (1867-1960), by Giovanni BIn 1991, I had aversion therapy.

I was presenting male, had no thought of transition, in fact self-identified as transvestite. I had not told anyone of this, and felt great shame. So I would buy women’s clothes compulsively and wear them, and I thought, well, I have a stressful job, if this is how I manage to relax, why not? It does no-one any harm. Then, after a week or so, I would throw them out, thinking, I am a man, this is unmanly and I do not want to be unmanly, so I will stop. Either of these positions seemed entirely sensible and acceptable to me. What I could not bear was oscillating madly between them. I lost count of the times I bought clothes and then threw them away.

So I saw my GP, who referred me to a psychiatrist, privately. The psychiatrist thought that I had transsexual tendencies, but nevertheless referred me to a psychologist who offered me the choice: we could work together to try and make me feel more comfortable with cross-dressing, or he could give aversion therapy. And I chose aversion therapy.

I stood in front of a huge mirror, in underwear then in a dress, while they sat behind me. One told me how ridiculous I looked, one told me how disgusted everyone- family, friends, colleagues, strangers- would be if they saw me, and how no-one could ever be attracted to me, looking like that. Then I dressed male again, left the clothes with them to dispose of, and did not dress again for six months.

After six months I saw the psychologist again, and he was impressed with how I had not lapsed in six months- and I took this, ridiculously, as permission to lapse.

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In 1996, I decided I did not want to be a sad, lonely pervert: I wanted to be a happy, gregarious pervert. So I bought myself a wig, and joined the local TV/TS club.

There, I met Fiona, a TV who went out and about, who took me off for several weekends on her boat on the Norfolk Broads, and Barbara, who introduced me to the Sibyls. I had some wonderful weekends with the Sibyls, where on Saturday night we would put on our evening dresses and drink lots of wine and have earnest conversations about intention to transition and how frightening it was and was it really the right thing to do? And at the Northern Concord I felt a lot of the people were blokes down the pub, who happened to be dressed rather strangely, and I felt different from them. Through them I found the Metropolitan Community Church, which helped me to learn that I was acceptable to God with my idiosyncrasy, and there I met Carol, my first girlfriend with whom I had dressed female, and (not coincidentally) the first relationship I had which lasted more than two months.

I did not like my body hair, so I shaved it, and being unpractised at this, made two long scratches down the tendons on the backs of my hands. My colleague asked how I had done that, and so I went to her office and told her. It was so wonderful just to tell someone. She sympathised, rather than judged. It started to show me that the harshest judgments were in myself, not in others.

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Lina BilitisWhen I was considering transition, in 2000, I read that there was a distinction between primary and secondary transsexuals. Primary TSs were core TSs, who knew that something was wrong aged three, knew what it was aged five, might be smaller and more lightly built, looked female, and were attracted to men. They transitioned young. Secondary transsexuals transitioned in middle age or later, passed less well, and, worse, might be attracted to women. Some still used the repellent phrase “homosexual transsexual” for the male to female transsexual who was attracted to men: the phrase denies that the person is female. This categorisation did not really fit F-M TSs.

I think this is an attempt at categorisation on insufficient data, and also that it confuses the core phenomenon of transsexuality with individual human responses to it and the interaction of other characteristics. It was an attempt to understand and control the people seeking transition: which is of course much better than imagining that we are all deluded, and all should be refused.

But when I read that as a “True transsexual” or “Primary transsexual” I had to be attracted to men, it influenced me so that I denied that I was attracted to women. If I was not a true transsexual, it was obviously wrong for me to transition. I wanted to transition, and therefore I could not be attracted to women. Ridiculous as that is, I allowed it subconsciously to influence me for ten years after- until this, which ended like this.

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Giovinetta ErrazurizIn May 2000, I decided that I would do all I could to transition. I would seek a referral to a gender clinic, and see psychiatrists. And then I went to the Northern Concord and sat with the small group of transsexual people there, and hated them. Most did not have jobs. They seemed frightened and withdrawn. So, three days after deciding to transition, I decided I could not.

Later in May, I found my Inner Toddler, my “I Want”. This part of me had been suppressed in shadow, and in shadow it became something to fear. When I let her out she was Beautiful, though I still felt frightened of that energy.

I held a discussion between my male self, my female self, and my inner toddler, chaired by my inner rationalist. My inner toddler’s contribution was, “I want to wear skirts, and I want to walk down the street buying stuff”. Even though I thought when I decided to transition that my employer would find some unrelated excuse to sack me, wearing skirts was eventually more important. And that employer in fact supported me through my transition, and I worked for them for another four years before getting a better job in another organisation.

I had a great deal of counselling, mostly person centred, and the most valuable thing a counsellor ever said to me was “Of course you are transsexual!” And he frightened me off, and I did not see him again for another six months.

Eventually I realised that even if in five years’ time I would be trying to present male, transition was what I wanted Now, and trying it was the only way to work out whether it was right for me. I thought about autogynephilia, and secondary transsexualism, and decided that of the two questions “Am I transsexual?” and “Should I transition?” the second was the most important, and Yes was the answer I wanted.

And so at the end of November 2000, I went to my GP, and asked for a referral to a psychiatrist.

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I had things I had to do before I could transition. I wanted to make a good start on electrolysis, as shaving closely enough to go out dressed made my skin sensitive, and I needed in any event to let my facial hair grow for two days before it could be electrolysed. I had four hours of electrolysis a week. I wanted speech therapy, because my voice was one of the things most likely to get me read as TS.

I found the speech therapy very difficult. The therapist told me that rather than doing half an hour at a time, I should take a minute, say, on the stairs in the office, or going to work, with an exercise. This did my head in. It was already bad enough spending the weekend female, and then on Monday morning having to go into work presenting male. I was not easy to be with on Monday mornings. Then I would do a voice exercise, and connect to my female self at random times each day, then have to impose the male mask again. It was intolerable.

I woke at four am, which is never a good time to make a decision, thinking of my colleague Vicky. Vicky had noticed herself being “clumsy”, this had become serious enough for a referral to a neurologist, and three years after her diagnosis with MS she was in a wheelchair. And I felt such envy of her, because she was accepted as female, that I would have swapped places with her. So I thought, that is it, I have to transition as soon as I can. That was six weeks before I transitioned at work.

Now, I feel occasional pangs of envy of a well-dressed woman with a particularly gorgeous figure, but am happy in myself, on the whole.