Resisting shame

There are three ways people attempt to overcome shame. We move away from the stimulus, by disappearing into our own lives; move towards it, by trying to prove ourselves, attain perfection, people-please; and move against it, by using anger and trying to shame others. All of these dig us into the hole deeper, and move us farther from our present selves. They remove a little of the pain, only for it to come back later.

(What is the alternative to being present in the moment? Being stuck in the past, in failed past tactics for dealing with problems.)

These strategies do not work. They attempt to disconnect from the pain, but we must feel it, accept it and let it go. With a woman who tries to do her down, Brené Brown repeats her mantra: Don’t shrink and be small for people, don’t puff up and get arrogant and cocky, just stay on your sacred ground. Actually, that sounds quite perfectionist.  In shame, trying to respond rather than react after the woman pushes her buttons she says to herself do not talk, text or type. She has to bring matters to consciousness and soberly assess what the facts really are.

She says, face the shame and heal it with conversation; and with laughter, not as defence or deflection but recognition that I am not alone in this.

I am ashamed of my ways of dealing with shame. My mother taught me to people-please, to pretend to be the way I ought to be; to hide away; to be perfectionist. I am hiding away in my reclusive state, and ashamed of it, because I should not need to.

Much of this has been unconscious. It is all what I do, or what I ought to do, just the way the world is and reality is. I need to bring it into consciousness because otherwise I do not see what a burden it is. In order to go out to work, to face the world again, I need to turn my life around, and like a supertanker with a relatively small rudder I see what a big deal that is. Suddenly that expression is particularly meaningful. It’s huge.

Shame at my effeminate self made me attempt to make a man of myself, joining the territorial army (just about the place I least fitted) and then a woman, by having my testicles removed. It would have been a small price to pay to be normal, to have nothing to feel shame about, if it had worked.

Shame keeps me hiding away.

From Dr Brown’s assessment, self-esteem, considering my gifts and qualities, will not ameliorate shame by itself. Now, it seems that I am ashamed of everything, of all that I am and that I do, and even that I should be so shamed and so incapacitated by it. I fear being shamed if I go out, and then ashamed of not going out. These are powerful buttons for others to push. I am ashamed of what I do to resist feelings of shame. I am ashamed of my life, of the little I have made of it.

I deserve better.

An address to the radical feminists

A change of tack.

I transitioned fifteen years ago, and I don’t know why beyond it was what I wanted, more than anything else in the world. No-one knows why, not really; in the nineties I heard about the bed nucleus of the Stria Terminalis central section, a bit of the brain which is twice the size in trans and non-trans men that it is in trans and non-trans women, but there is no definitive research. I am a complex organism in a complex social structure is about as precise as I can get: I transitioned because I am human. I am I.

So we tell stories to each other about it. I don’t think the autogynephilia hypothesis is useful to explain or predict, but you might like it. I don’t know what being “really” a woman would mean. I know people have been doing this for thousands of years. Deuteronomy would not prohibit something no-one ever did. They were not “trans people” as understood now, but they were people seen as men by the authorities, wearing women’s clothes. There are people born with testicles who believe they are women, or third gender, all over the world. People transition in far less accepting cultures than ours.

Socially and legally I am a woman, accepted as a woman by such as Diva magazine and Women’s Aid Scotland. The former editor of Diva said, Thirty and forty years ago to be a lesbian was to be questioned. Today things are much better for us (for the cis lesbians, that is) but there are still places where to be a lesbian is impossible. So it is for transmen and women, many of whom have been or are lesbian or bi-identified. We know something of these struggles. And just as others have supported us, so we must support those among us who are trans or we risk ending up on the wrong side of history. Unfortunately, that quote is no longer on their website.

Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland said, We do not regard trans equality and women’s equality to be in competition or contradiction with each other. We support the Equal Recognition campaign and welcome the reform of the Gender Recognition Act.

Rape Crisis and Women’s Aid in Scotland provide trans inclusive services on the basis of self identification. We will continue to work collaboratively with Scottish Trans Alliance and other equality organisations with the aim of ensuring that new processes are appropriately designed and without unintended consequences.

So the trans lobby that afflicts you is not a few dowdy, frightened trans women but a huge number of campaigning feminists, who are “women born women” or whatever phrase you would like to use. When you campaign against the trans lobby, you are campaigning against feminist organisations. Even if a few men in mini-skirts with their penises showing could terrify Women’s Aid by the threat of an Equality Act court action, they could not force them to make such a statement. Women’s Aid are used to assessing the risk posed by clients, and whether they should be in a group hostel or alone- or sent away because of lack of funds.

And you are working with the establishment and the hard Right: the Telegraph, the Spectator, Standpoint magazine, the Daily Mail. The Times is virulently anti-trans at the moment. I don’t know what Mr Murdoch has against us, but he has never been progressive.

Before I transitioned, I was friendly with a colleague. We were committed to the work we did and the people we served. Then I started testing out whether transition would be possible, and on one of our works meals out together dressed female. Ann was revolted. She apologised to me about her revulsion. She was aware of the organisation’s diversity policy, and equality legislation, but after we worked together on a strictly professional basis. I had great sympathy for her.

Again, there are stories we can tell about this. Ann might accept the word “transphobia”. We worked around it, just as people tolerate an arachnophobe, protecting them from spiders. The arachnophobe may be ashamed but other people are accepting. Or, you can be self-righteous, calling us dudes/chaps/trans-identified males/male-to-trans/trans rights activists. I am not going to say that your reaction is irrational, it is for you to consider how proportionate it is. I do not want to disparage your fear of male violence against women, but feminists whose life work is helping women who suffer male violence accept trans women in their spaces.

And it is not for me to tell you where to devote your campaigning energy, but you can fight those feminist organisations, or you can fight conservatism, the establishment and the patriarchy. It is a tragedy when feminists fight amongst ourselves.

Applause- thunderous applause- standing ovation. All congratulate me, and rush to tell of their Damascene conversions at my words. Or not.

Why do people transition?

Why do people transition? Because we are human. No more precise answer is possible- because we are complex organisms in complex social structures. But transition continues to shock and distress trans folk and others. Because I wanted to is not a good enough answer for me, because I feel I have suffered because of transition and life might have been easier without that desire; and not for other people, because they want to debate what rights I get as a transitioned woman.

The answer “Autogynephilia” is given by people who want to treat trans women as men, limit transition, and exclude us. So it matters whether that is scientific or not. It isn’t. Haters insist on it, though.

The answer “because I have a woman’s brain/spirit, because I am really a woman” would give us full rights, but I don’t believe it myself. Women’s brains are not particularly different from men’s, trans women’s brains are not clearly closer to cis women’s than cis men’s, it is not clear what differences would be relevant to transition, and brains are plastic, changing throughout life. “Gender essentialism”, the idea that women are in some way innately feminine, is offensive to women who reject femininity but are clear they are women. I observe gender non-conforming people who do not transition, and conclude the idea that people with ovaries are fundamentally different from people with testicles, with the exception of trans people who are really in the other group, is ridiculous.

There is nothing which is a virtue in one sex which is not a virtue in the other; no characteristic which one has but the other has not, apart from those reproductive differences.

“Should a trans woman be allowed in women’s space?” should be addressed without a definitive answer to whether we are women or not. Socially and legally we are women. At worst, we should be pitied and tolerated, for we are mostly harmless. Some say we are men, so should not be there; but society is too complex for such a simple answer. Most people answer the question by imagined consequences: male abusers pretending to be trans to enter women’s space, or cis women seeing trans women, thinking they are men, and being retraumatised over past male violence; but most people either don’t care, or see that the gain in allowing us to lead productive lives as members of society outweighs such imagined problems.

A trans person just transitioning might need to justify that to themselves. I wanted to believe I was really a woman. I feared transitioning if I were simply an autogynephiliac pervert, consumed by my sexual fantasies. You doubt yourself, so other people’s opinion that you are a man hurts- it was as if I wanted the whole world to say I was a woman because I could not trust my own judgment and any doubt of it confused depressed and terrified me. But you doubt yourself, then you transition, or you don’t. It is hard to be a campaigner when you need affirmation, because you will meet the opposite.

Now my answer is It was the best I could do at the time. I look back on the difficulties, but with effort I also see blessings, and I may have been worse off if I had not transitioned. It is part of forgiving and acceptance.

A friend said Those who look for a cause are looking for a cure. That was in the nineties, when gay people questioned their own orientation. This is who I am, they should say. Gay Pride. I still looked for a cause. Transition is such an odd thing to do.

Trans people are marginalised people

I have never shown my gender recognition certificate to anyone in order to prove entitlement to anything. I wanted it, and the legal status of “woman”, but simply assert that I am, and did before I transitioned. When I saw a psychiatrist I got a wee form saying I suffered from gender identity disorder, and so should be allowed to use women’s loos and changing rooms, but I never showed that either. I have not been in such a confrontation. I usually carry a credit card with my female name on it, but have never been challenged.

The TERFs’ paranoid fantasy about self-certification is that any man, even clearly male and dressed male, will be able to go into a women’s lavatory without being challenged, there to prey on and victimise women, masturbate, fantasise sexually and attempt indecent photographs or even sexual assault. As far as I can see it is not just trans women they imagine doing this, but non-trans sexual perverts, who could not be challenged when they went into the Ladies’ because they would simply state that they were trans women, with a perfect right to go there, and no-one could stop them.

Well. When I first saw the psychiatrist, I was still presenting male most of the time, and when presenting male used men’s loos. I would have been scared to go in the ladies’. And while both sexes wear jeans, there are clear differences between the two kinds. Same with trainers, and short or long hair. Some of us wear women’s jeans when presenting male, and I wore a women’s shirt a few times, but still are presenting male and not in women’s space. There are clear differences, and I wanted to appear female rather than ambiguous when expressing myself female. I was afraid of confrontation, so I carried that card.

Of course they criticise us for an extreme stereotype of femininity- skirts and heavy makeup, more pink and satin-soft than most women would ever be, but why should they ever be consistent.

It is not a realistic worry, I thought. When transitioning, I wanted to avoid scrutiny and feared mockery or worse. I had some horrible experiences of transphobic attack. I did not have the self-confidence to go in a women’s loo dressed male. But then I thought, I could not sustain expressing female if I started to sleep rough. My wig would become unpresentable quicker than my clothes. Trying to keep warm, I would wear anything. This week, still Autumn, temperatures are forecast down to 3°. Trans people are extremely vulnerable. The demand that we dress to a particular standard, so that some people object to shoppers in night clothes in the local shop, is particularly onerous on us. I could manage that. I bought women’s clothes in charity shops, but never wore them threadbare. I could pass as a member of ordinary civilised society.

Rough sleepers, just like new transitioners, would want to avoid scrutiny, because they are likely to be hurt if noticed. Us normal people are a threat to them. Trans folk having difficulty finding work might not have much money to spend on presentation, or be able to afford electrolysis.

And, forbidding men women’s loos imposes a standard of acceptable passing on us. Does this trans woman look like a man dressed up, and if so should she be limited in a way trans women in stealth are not? No, I say, the right to transition should not depend on your looks.

I want the apparent man to be able to use a women’s loo, because I sympathise with the trans woman who cannot pass or cannot afford suitable clothes. Where is your sympathy? Of course I sympathise with women who have experienced sexual assault and are wary of men, but their rights might be reconciled with trans women’s, if there is imagination and good will. Women’s rights are not incompatible with trans rights.

And trans folk are more likely to be marginalised than cis folk. We just are. Transition is the most important thing in the world to us. For marginalised trans folk, I want the right to express as the acquired sex. That may mean some people disapproving of how we look, just as people always have.

Trans reverting shame

Imagine that is a thing- rapid onset gender dysphoria is a social contagion, as a teenager you take T and have chest masculinisation, and then only three or four years later you regret it. You are a woman. Except now you have thick facial and body hair, your voice is breaking, you may develop male pattern baldness and you have no breasts. You have mutilated yourself in pursuit of a poisonous fantasy.

Someone who reverted might believe that. It is a lie, a terrible trap for vulnerable teenage girls. Given time, you could have come to glory in being a woman, the power and freedom that being a woman brings, but you were trapped by your fears and fantasies into trying to escape. You rejected truth and beauty for something less. Your punishment is to have what you wanted.

And you are still stuck, between desire and reality, manhood and womanhood, fantasy, belief, all whirls around you ungraspable, incomprehensible, unreachable. The reverting trans person regrets the body they could have had and the damage they have done to it, and still you are not what you ought to be.

It is as it always was: desire to be what you are not, shame at not being what you ought to be. At some time you have to stop running, fleeing or pursuing. There is only acceptance of what you are now, with your history, the substances you have taken and the relationships you have broken, the bad choices, the fear and the failures will always be yours. You don’t understand metanoia, true repentance and amendment of life, until you achieve it, and that is acceptance.

You are yourself, your own powers and affections, and only yourself.
From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit moves
unless restored by that refining fire.

And,

The life that I have
Is all that I have
And the life that I have
Is yours.

The love that I have
Of the life that I have
Is yours and yours and yours.

That is all there is. I will not revert. It would get me nothing I do not have now, just delay appreciating it.

Gender Recognition in Scotland

The Scottish Government proposes that a person should get gender recognition, if they make a formal declaration before a Notary Public that they intend to live in their acquired gender until death. Making a false statutory declaration is a criminal offence, and their research on other countries allowing self-declaration has not found evidence of false or frivolous statements. There is support from women’s rights organisations including Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland, whose joint statement says, We do not regard trans equality and women’s equality to be in competition or contradiction with each other. We support the Equal Recognition campaign and welcome the reform of the Gender Recognition Act.

Rape Crisis and Women’s Aid in Scotland provide trans inclusive services on the basis of self identification. We will continue to work collaboratively with Scottish Trans Alliance and other equality organisations with the aim of ensuring that new processes are appropriately designed and without unintended consequences.

Limiting the number of times one can change sex might restrict frivolous applications. Malta requires second and subsequent applications to be considered by a court. However Sam Kane has transitioned three times, male to female to male to female, and I feel each time she did it feeling distress and oppression. She reverted because of sexism and transphobia. These things are not her fault and she should not be penalised for them. Colombia only permits two changes, which must be at least ten years apart. That might make me fear an honest declaration, since I cannot correct it if I am wrong. When I transitioned, I thought it possible that I might be trying to live male five years later. It is an additional difficulty, just one more thing requiring a leap of faith. I consider my real transition to be the day I transitioned at work, or “went full time”, which required enough clarity, determination and trust, as I would have made a fool of myself to revert.

Even the suggestion that men might do this frivolously, or maliciously to get access to women’s space, is repulsive. Even three in a year might be a leap, a bad experience causing reversion, then a second leap of faith which is even more courageous. I do not want someone showing that courage and determination to be investigated in case they were frivolous. Instead, deal with actual wrongs. Women’s space is not a good place for sex crime, as the criminal is outnumbered. Women’s support groups have experience with difficult behaviour and ways of dealing with it.

The Scottish Government proposes that 16 year olds should be able to affirm their gender change, as Scots law generally gives rights as adults to people over 16, and protections as young people until 18. They are consulting on various options for younger children, such as allowing parents to affirm for them. The parent would be trusted to do this in the best interests of the child, and consider the child’s wishes. Alternatively, a child who could show they had sufficient maturity to make the decision could affirm.

Ireland and Denmark do not require the consent of a spouse before a married trans person can declare their gender. If the gender change breaks the relationship, the trans person should not have to undergo the expense of divorce before getting their gender recognised. If the relationship remains, the trans person will not make the declaration without their partner’s support. In either case they should not require the partner’s consent. Consent can be used to put improper pressure on a trans person. The other may feel betrayed, and feel that the trans person has broken the relationship, but that does not entitle them to take revenge by refusing consent.

Now, if one partner seeks gender recognition the other can use that as grounds for divorce. This should not be a separate ground for divorce. The usual ground is “unreasonable behaviour”, and a spouse should be able to argue that gender change is unreasonable behaviour. This is such a slight change; it means that gender recognition broke the marriage in the particular circumstances of this couple, rather than normally or generally.

They are also talking of increasing recognition for non-binary people, though this will require action by the UK government and additional rights in Equalities legislation.

They don’t address the question of what it means to “live in your acquired gender”. For me, does it mean always wearing wigs and at least attempting to talk in a feminine register? Does it mean anything else about clothing preferences, or particular behaviours? I think it means what the person believes it to mean. Women can wear what they like and do what they like. I feel most people who change gender will have a particular view about what it means, and attempt to resemble the assigned gender, but that is subjective too.

Consultation document pdf is here. It describes ways to respond to the consultation.

Solving our problems

Is trans in teenage girls a social contagion? Should their parents and the doctors save them from themselves? I thought I would ask an expert who has thought deeply about this. I read that Bulimia was a social contagion, that people started to suffer from the disease of bulimia when they read about it.

-Well, we are a social species. Everything people do is a social contagion.

It is so obvious when she puts it that way. Richard Dawkins coined the word “meme” to mean an idea which people adopt not necessarily to their benefit. There might be aspects to the idea which make it long-lived. People find solutions to their problems. Eating disorders fulfil an emotional need, as cutting does.

There are clearly bad contagious ideas, such as the Bridgend suicide outbreak. That people in your town- you may know them, or have common acquaintances- kill themselves makes the idea more possible. It gets rid of the problems of being a young person, but also gets rid of all the possible solutions, the creativity of the individual.

There are solutions from medical experts. Should a very large person have bariatric surgery, reducing the size of their stomachs? Some people think it wonderful, some think it “mutilation”. It means you can never eat a full meal again, so have to eat several times a day. It cannot be reversed. People have difficulty absorbing vitamins, and may have severe pain.

So bariatric surgery replaces your problems with a whole new set- just like my trans surgery has sorted my discomfort, at a cost.

Yes. And what if the research on gut flora yields results? Some people put on weight because of the way they absorb food or hormonal feedback to the brain not properly telling them they are satiated. If such problems were solved medically, people would still comfort-eat, but would not put on weight the same way.

Should the deaf child of deaf parents have cochlear implants? she asks. Well, I think in sound. I have no mind’s eye, but a subtle mind’s ear, able to hear an orchestra in my head. I take in information through sound. I think, of course the child should, but recognise some such parents object. So the medical establishment says the child should have the operation, and the parents refuse because Deaf culture is a beautiful thing, and this will remove the child from Deaf culture. The child may still be part of Deaf culture, loving their parents and learning Sign, but if the parents refuse the surgery the child may come to resent that; but if there are not enough deaf children, the subgroup may cease to exist.

Solutions to our problems are chosen by the individual, and suggested or opposed by the family or the wider society. Being a teenage girl is difficult. How much easier to be a man! Well, there is misogyny. Bariatric surgery is mutilation, she says, but it might stop you getting spat at in the street. The hatred and mockery is wrong, and an ideal society would not fat-shame, or slut-shame, but in this world they do and finding a way to avoid that is a good thing. Transition takes away certain problems and replaces them with others. Some people regret it. Parents and carers oppose it, valuing what the teenager does not- fertility damaged by testosterone, the natural body.

“Natural body”- Ha! Impossible! Every action and choice changes our bodies. Chest masculinisation surgery changes it more quickly and radically.

The problems we face exhibit our creativity and determination. Once I saw a man roll up to his car, get himself and his wheelchair into it, and drive off- swinging about like a gymnast, quickly and efficiently. I was impressed, and he might prefer fully functioning limbs. Alison Lapper gets around independently in an adapted car. Technology gets her wheelchair in and out. That’s more expensive, but it works for her.

I want to gather everyone like a hen gathers her chicks. I want those who regret saved from transition, and those who strongly believe medical transition is necessary to access that. I want reconciliation between trans and terfs, though the positions are so extreme. And if this desire came from giving emotional support and care to my mother, from before I could remember-

surely a bad thing, a demand on me before I was ready for it, which has hurt me life long-

is that care, compassion and desire for their good and their happiness not still Beautiful?

Not necessarily- or, Yes, and No; but that is quite a long argument in itself.

Lucy wants to get beyond binaries. Negative and positive thinking, male and female, trans and cis. Even “Non-binary” is a failure, because it differentiates itself from Binary. What transcends this? The Tao, perhaps. Flow.

Accepting Ourselves

The NHS and professional bodies are committed to ending the practice of conversion therapy in the UK. With “gay cures” it is clear that means attempts to make a gay person attracted to the opposite sex or not attracted to their own sex, but what does it mean for trans folk?

We self-diagnose. No-one goes to a doctor with a set of symptoms and is surprised to be told they have gender dysphoria: if you know of anyone, please tell me. We have contacted people in the community and reached an understanding of what we want. Possibly we have got hormones off the internet, or already transitioned.

Gay identity can be liberated. Battered down by the homophobia pervading society, a person can actualise their fully functioning human identity by therapy, accepting their attractions, using them to build relationship and community, and getting sexual release without shame. The whole person is good, right and acceptable. Self-acceptance empowers them to fulfil their goals and share their gifts in society.

Trans identity comes from a feeling of not fitting, not being congruent. My being, my personality, character, real me, inner self, conflicted and oppressed through internalised transphobia, are nevertheless right and beautiful and can be liberated by good psychotherapy working with my intense desire to know the truth, my human capacity for growth and healing, and my Love. But that misses out my body.

Bodies are embarrassing. We cover them with clothes, not just for warmth. They do embarrassing things like belch, fart, excrete, menstruate. They get sore and tired. We want them to be other than they are, so diet and exercise to change them, rather than for the joy of it. Encouraged by the culture, we imagine an ideal body and always feel we fall short of it.

My body is beautiful.
My body is acceptable.
My body is full of potential.

I can develop it, but should be careful when I imagine I should constrain it, and only do that for good reason. Here is Walt Whitman, section 20 of Song of Myself, worth glorying in for its shocking Acceptance:

I find no sweeter fat than sticks to my own bones.

In all people I see myself, none more and not one a barley-corn less,
And the good or bad I say of myself I say of them.

I know I am solid and sound,
To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow,
All are written to me, and I must get what the writing means.

I know I am deathless,
I know this orbit of mine cannot be swept by a carpenter’s compass,
I know I shall not pass like a child’s carlacue cut with a burnt stick at night.

I know I am august,
I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself or be understood,
I see that the elementary laws never apologize,
(I reckon I behave no prouder than the level I plant my house by, after all.)

I exist as I am, that is enough,
If no other in the world be aware I sit content,
And if each and all be aware I sit content.

One world is aware and by far the largest to me, and that is my- self,
And whether I come to my own to-day or in ten thousand or ten million years,
I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness I can wait.

My foothold is tenon’d and mortis’d in granite,
I laugh at what you call dissolution,
And I know the amplitude of time.

Is that not glorious? Read it again, breathe, glory in it. This- this creature, body, mind, spirit, brain, thews and sinews, questing intelligence, empathy, Love- is completely and entirely beautiful. My body is beautiful.

I only realised my body is beautiful after transition. My arm is beautiful: rounded, long and slim and strong enough, with a lovely, dextrous hand, and before transition I saw it as thin, weak and unmanly.

Something does not fit. What is it? There are three alternatives:

  • The soft, gentle, empathetic spirit
  • The body, with penis and testicles, precisely the size it is
  • The cultural understanding that a man should be like this and a woman should be like that.

We take into ourselves that cultural concept. First I tried to make a man of myself, to fit that concept, and then when I began to accept my spirit as it is I transitioned, so I could be that spirit-self and at the same time conform to the cultural understanding. My presentation, as a man, dressed as a man, did not fit, so I changed it; my body, with a man’s facial and body hair, penis and testicles, did not fit, so I changed that too.

The NHS wants to end conversion therapy, but what would preventing conversion therapy look like, when the culture does such a brilliant job of convincing us that we are wrong, inadequate, not as we ought to be? It gives us two courses, both of which involve converting us to fit in: make a man of yourself, or alter your body and express female. We start therapy converted, not accepting ourselves. Therapy addresses the mind, and helps us accept our spirit, but does not address the cultural rejection of the body. Unless  therapists take into account the conversion wrought by the culture, and oppose it, they are complicit with it. All of me is acceptable, just as it is, body as well as spirit.

The problem for me is that I don’t know if I could convince my 35 year old self, committed to transition, believing that was the way to accept and liberate my feminine self, and to give a clear impression of who I am so that others can interact comfortably with me and I with them. Clothes are so much of how you signal who you are. I always knew that I might be trying to live as a man five years after, but I had to get there via transition.

To accept my spirit, I had to transition, and spend years on it. I could accept my body if I saw it as female. I still best get a handle on my personality if I conceptualise it as “feminine”.  To accept my spirit and body together without transition might have been too much for me.

Pressure to change sex

Scare story in the Daily Mail: NHS pressured our kids to change sex: Transgender backlash as desperate parents accuse overzealous therapists of ‘blindly accepting’ children’s claims to have been born in wrong bodyDoctors fear being sued after the NHS signed a ‘memorandum of understanding’ banning staff from challenging patients who believe they are born the wrong sex. YouTube, Instagram and Tumblr make trans cool, encourage teens to threaten suicide or self-harm if their parents oppose them, show where to find binders and hormones “and other sex change aids”, whatever those might be, and spark a social contagion. Adolescents are “heavily influenced” by messages they send to one another. NHS Scotland and NHS England have signed a Memorandum of Understanding banning staff from challenging patients who believe they are born the wrong sex. Doctors fear being sued, and a psychotherapist called Bob Withers cautioned that the memorandum could prevent therapists from exploring patients who say they are transgender but are suffering from other mental health conditions. He says it means the psychotherapist cannot look at the psychological reasons for the gender dysphoria.

So much for the Daily Mail. What is the truth? Here is the Memorandum. It commits the NHS and other bodies to ending conversion therapy, defined as the assumption that any gender identity is preferable to any other, leading to attempts to change or suppress gender identity or sexual orientation. Gender identity includes all binary, non-binary and gender fluid identities.

Personally I find non-binary and gender fluid identities preferable, as they give people more freedom. My identity as a TS liberated me to be myself, at the cost of undertaking the transition I understood an M-F TS would undertake. Non-binary or gender fluid permits maximum variation in gender expression without preventing any surgery or hormone treatment. It’s not “I am trans therefore I want hormones” but, given that I have this identity and these desires, might I want to transition, or to have medical treatment? What desirable or negative effects might that have? We move beyond one size fits all- I am TS, therefore I have hormones then surgery- because that is restrictive.

The memorandum goes on, gender identity is not a mental disorder; but people uncertain of their gender identity might seek psychological help. Some people may benefit from the challenge of psychotherapy and counselling to help them manage dysphoria and to clarify their sense of themselves. Clients make healthy choices when they understand themselves better. Withers and the Daily Mail are wrong: counselling for self-understanding is still possible.

There may be grounds for exploring therapeutic options to help people unhappy about their transgender status live more comfortably with it, reduce their distress and reach a greater degree of self-acceptance. So professionals may explore hormone or surgical treatment, within the guidelines for that. The real problem is that there is little funding for specialist assessment or mental health treatment. Adolescents get referred to the Tavistock clinic, whose waiting lists grow.

Being trans

I will speak to an audience next month, primarily of gender and sexuality diverse people, and thought of saying, “If you’re considering transition, don’t”. But- if I could say that to myself in 2001, when I had decided to transition, could I persuade myself? Perhaps not even if I could convince my earlier self who my current self was.

It is insulting to say “Think twice”. We think not seven times, but seventy times seven. We analyse every contra-indication. Autogynephilia terrified me, I thought if I were being sucked in to a perverted fantasy I would be terribly damaged before I was spat out. I needed my trans nature to be more soundly based. 2017 could not attempt to fool 2001 about that, and integrity might compel me to reassure myself. No, it is not merely a perversion. We note all the hostility, and I am still more interested in TERFs than their numbers and importance justify.

In the mood I am in now, I might just reassure myself. Transition is a way to live more comfortably and authentically in the World. It is not easy, and I lost some friends when I transitioned, yet I knew it was what I had to do, and it has been my path to self-acceptance.

I would warn myself about two things. Taking synthetic hormones, and doctors altering my hormone doses, has made my emotional lability a severe problem for me. Yet I have kind of known I was sensitive, and my emotional control was doing me no good. And, I regret the loss of my genitals. Yet that might not weigh much with 2001: I was so intensely ashamed of what aroused me that it might seem impossible that I could ever work out how to make arousal remotely pleasureable. It was compulsion and agony.

I don’t know if I could have transitioned without hormones and surgery.

If I decided to force myself down a different path with this imaginary time machine, I might be better to approach myself in 1996. I had had aversion therapy. I had got a pretty bridesmaid’s dress in a charity shop, worn it a few times, then let it hang in my spare room for months. I noticed it when I went into my spare room. I was quite pleased with myself for not wearing it, and after a few months I threw it away, just before I first bought a wig and visited the Northern Concord transvestite club.

I would have to take care with 1996. I could try to avoid transition by reinforcing that icy self-hatred and control, which broke me in the end- I might break myself sooner. It is the therapist’s curse, she knows the obvious truth, but if the client can’t say it himself he won’t be able to hear it either. I would have to offer something better, some self-acceptance, and 1996 might not understand. I am a different person now. He has to make his own mistakes. My guidance might take him down worse paths.

I am this person, myself and no other, and this person is beautiful. And it is difficult to be my whole self in my culture, which homogenises people, praises different gifts than mine, and in which I have failed to thrive. Recognising my beauty and fittingness is a step forward for me, and I am so badly hurt!