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Saturday, March 30, 2013

I Told My Best Friend on Thursday

As my actual work transition date comes closer, I was becoming considerably more anxious because I had a major task to complete before I felt that I could do this. I had to tell my best friend "Janet" who I mentioned last summer in an article as the friend I like to play golf with. I have a few "best friends" Of course, my very, very best friend is my wife Patty, but she enjoys the elevated category within "best friends" as my wife and soul mate.

Janet is my very best female friend for several reasons. I have known her since I was 18. I have one other best friend who has known me that long and like Janet, I went to college with him. Janet and I also had the same major so we spent a great deal of time together in college. She is someone I can honestly say has never hurt me or betrayed a trust, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant. I think that is pretty rare.

After college, Janet and I went our separate ways and I didn't see her again for 31 years. When I would think back to college, I would remember our friendship fondly. I had gone to some college reunions in the past, but the ones I had attended, she didn't, which was disappointing because I had wanted to see her more than anyone else in my class.
A year from this past October was the reunion for the class after mine, so I had no plans to go. Out of the blue, I got a call from Janet asking me if I would like to come up and have lunch with her and her friend "Martha". I talked with Patty and she said she would be ok with me having lunch with them, so I went up to Bridgewater and met up with them to eat at our old favorite pizza place. It was good to see them both and they both looked wonderful! Just as I had imagined them! Janet and I picked up our relationship as if we had not missed a day even though it had been 31 years since I last saw her. That is the mark of a true friendship.

After that, she and I have gotten together every other month or so and played golf or gone to lunch and I have looked forward to each time so much. I wish we lived closer so we could see each other more often.

Because of the closeness of our friendship, I found that telling her was one of the hardest things I had to do in order to move forward with my life and the anticipation of doing this was horrible. I was so afraid that she would not be able to accept this and that I would lose my friend. I was so anxious that I spent a great deal of time talking this over with my therapist Dana.

Even though I knew Janet loves me as a dear friend and I knew she would accept me, I was still afraid. She and I are both devout Christians. God and my angel have been with me through this whole process, which has resulted in a sense of peace when the time comes for me to accomplish something important in my transition.

Before I could tell Janet, however, I had accidentally outed myself to Janet's daughter "Christi"! In November, when my father was in the hospital and Patty was also in the hospital with a kidney problem, I got a message from what I thought was another friend who knows about me. The message asked me what I was doing that day. I was off of work to take care of both Patty and my father and that was the day I was also changing my gender marker on my driver's license. So I replied that I was going to do that on that day. I got a message back, "Why would you want to do that?". I thought that was odd, but as it was early morning and I was half asleep, I wrote back "Because I want to be a woman." "You do?" was the next message.

By then I was wide awake and wondering what had I done. "Who is this?" I messaged. "Christi...."

 OMG!!!!!! THE WORLD TURNED UPSIDE DOWN for a brief moment and then Christi messaged "Call me..."

That was when the calm returned. God had been with me the whole way and I thought to myself, this is a good thing and it will be ok. I called Christi and we had a long talk about my gender identity. She wanted to know if I had told her mother and I said I hadn't. She wanted to call her and tell her, but I told Christi that Janet and I were such close friends that nothing less than telling her face to face would do. I asked Christi to keep the confidence and not say anything to her mother until I could tell her face to face.

With my father's terminal illness, his death and informing my supervisor, hospital administration and coworkers, there wasn't any time to talk to Janet until mid January. Christi and I chatted off and on and she was as anxious for me to tell Janet as I was.

We set several dates to get together, but things would come up at the last minute that necessitated Janet's cancelling out. This was making me even more anxious as I wanted this part of my transition to be over. I felt I couldn't move forward and transition at work unless I told Janet first face to face.

This must have been so hard for Christi as she must have been bursting at the seams to tell her mama. But Christi is her mother's daughter through and through and kept my confidence for four months. What a tribute to Christi's character!

Thank you for helping me do this the right way for me Christi, I'm proud of you and I know your mama is so proud of you too! I know it must have been hard not to tell her.

Finally the day came two weeks ago when I was able to sit down with Janet and tell her. I was so nervous that I could hardly eat my lunch. The restaurant was too crowded to discuss something this personal, so we talked in her car. We ended up talking for three and a half hours and though I was so anxious, Janet reassured me that we will always be friends and that she was proud of me for coming to terms with this and being who I am instead of living with such a painful secret.

The lesson I learned once again is that people are kind and caring. I believe my relationship with Janet is deeper and we are more connected than ever. Through this experience, I also gained a new friend too,Janet's daughter Christi! How truly blessed I am!

In this journey, the biggest discovery for me has been the spiritual growth that it has provided. When I made the decision to transition, I never thought that the biggest and best part of my journey would be the spiritual aspect of it. And it has!

What are the fruits of the spiritual growth that I have harvested from transitioning? Most importantly, I have grown closer to my personal Lord and Savior and I am comforted by my walk with the Lord. The friends that I have talked to about my authentic self have all embraced me. The support from my employer, my supervisor, my coworkers and my patients has been overwhelming in the caring and support they have demonstrated towards me. This has also drawn Patty and I closer as well. Our marriage, I think, has grown stronger with each passing day. I am truly blessed and truly thankful for all that has happened and all I have been given. I never would have dreamed it possible.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Do Transsexuals Discriminate Against Each Other?

I was exchanging emails with my friend Amanda who is a relatively new friend I met on Pink Essence. Amanda is a very sweet lady who is coming to terms with her gender identity later in life. This is not unusual for people in their 40's, 50's, 60's and even 70's or older. There just weren't any resources readily available to people of our age.

The few sources of medical research and psychological research suggested in the 1960's and 1970's that people such as me were extremely rare, so rare that the estimate of our population was around one in 33,000 (1:33000). In 1970, when I was 12 and went to the public library in Charlottesville, Virginia to read about people like me in books by Harry Benjamin, Robert Stoller and Richard Green, the principle authors of the time, Charlottesville, in 1970,  had a population of about 30,000. I knew this because on the Interstate signs for the exits for Charlottesville, they posted the population at that time.

 Can you imagine how alone I felt as a 12 year old? It was a terrible feeling and I continued to feel that sense of terminal uniqueness until about 1990 when I got a subscription to Compuserve and found live time chat called "CB channels". Compuserve was very expensive at the time. It cost over $6.00 USD an hour over the basic plan. It didn't take too long for someone who was dire in need to talk to people who were like me to run up a huge bill and this limited how often I could talk to another transsexual after weeding out the fetishists and people with various interests other than realizing their internal gender identity.

Just before that, I had taken a "mental health" day off from work and watched Geraldo Rivera's daytime talk show that afternoon. Marsha Botzner was on his show. She was (and is) the director of the Ingersoll Center and the next day, I called her in Seattle where she is located. She was the very first person like myself I had ever spoken to and that gave me a tiny glimmer of hope. She was extremely encouraging with me, but it wasn't until 1997 that I made the decision to begin taking baby steps to actively seek my own transition and stop living with the misery of living with my secret.

My dearest friend Christina and my wonderful beautiful wife Patty were my rock in beginning the painful process of coming to terms with myself and the world I live in. Although I had been helping other transgendered people, it wasn't until 5 years ago that I found the strength to seek therapy for my own gender dysphoria. I deeply appreciate what my therapist Dana has done to help me find my way on a difficult life journey. She had no experience with people such as me. I'm the only therapist around for about a 3 and a half hour drive who works with adult transgender people. She is a highly skilled therapist and had the courage and compassion to stretch herself in her own growth as a professional to help me. I could have easily skirted the standards of care in obtaining my hormones, but I followed the process that I ask others to follow. I believe in the WPATH Standards of Care and cannot exclude myself from following them.

Along the way, from time to time, I would run into someone who would tell me that because I hadn't already transitioned, gone on hormones and had my genital reassignment surgery, that I wasn't a transsexual and that I was something else, less than the person who made these observations and not worthy of being friends with this person. I was "otherized". I found this reaction to be very painful and it would often increase my sense of emotional isolation and being unacceptable. I know my sister Christina experienced a lot of the same treatment by some of the other transsexuals with who were we were acquainted online.

It saddened me greatly to learn that Amanda had formed a close friendship on a transgender social website with another person who identified herself as a transsexual. After being friends and with someone who Amanda considered a close friend for a while, the friend learned that Amanda has chosen to honor her spouse's wishes that she not begin hormonal reassignment therapy and to not appear publically in her authentic gender identity. Her friend was not supportive of her, instead she was quite incensed that Amanda has chosen to make a compromise to preserve the relationship of many, many years with her spouse. In fact, she was so upset with Amanda's decision that she decided to "unfriend" Amanda. Amanda, understandably, was quite hurt by her friend's shallow an insensitive attitude towards her.

Now I do not know who Amanda was referring to and I do not care to know her identity. I think that this person must be very insecure with her own identity to insist that every transsexual follow in lockstep and begin HRT and eventually (the sooner, the better?) have genital reassignment surgery. it really matters not a whit, in my opinion whether someone begins HRT or has the surgery to confirm they are, indeed, a transsexual. There are many among us, particularly those who are older and in committed relationships who choose to not make our gender identity not "all about me". We love our spouses and want to remain with them for the rest of our lives. So, we make compromises that we are able to live with.  We try to find a middle road that our spouses can support as well as what brings us a level of congruency that allows us to live as comfortably as we can. It isn't the best of all possible worlds, but it is what works for us as individuals.  Gladys Knight and the Pips got it right in their song, Leaving on That Midnight Train To Georgia- " I'd rather live with him in his world than without him in mine".

Relationship is about compromise. To be in an intimate relationships, we have to find a middle ground with our partner. It doesn't matter what that compromise is, as long as we can live with it. Having a transsexual identity has nothing to do with what we do about it. It's simply about the identity.

We transsexuals frequently resent being lumped into the "transgender" umbrella. To me this is understandable because we don't care for the thought that we are identified by the public as being many things we are not. However, that has never influenced my choice of my friends. They are my friends because of their character and not because of their identity. It is particularly distressing to me that some of us who identify as transsexual will choose to denigrate others who identify as transsexual because of the compromises they choose to make to preserve the most important relationships in our lives.

I'm so glad you are my friend Amanda!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Face of Trans Today

Over the past few months, I've begun to think about the question, "In the predominant culture (the United States, my culture) today, what is the image of being transgendered today?" I'm not sure that this is as easy a question to answer as it would appear on the surface.
This is something I've been thinking about since my adoptive niece Erica, made a comment about the featured speakers and content of the conference workshops at Trans Philadelphia Health Conference. Over the past few years, the content of workshops and speakers reflect a trend towards those who identify as "gender queers", particularly in the Northeast and West Coast.
According to the National Transgender Discrimination survey approximately 13% of people who were included in the survey identified as gender queer. Those who identify as gender queer are much younger than the general population obtained in the survey. 67% identified within the gender binary of male or female. Another 20% identified themselves as sometimes living as male and sometimes female, but still clearly identified with the gender binary concept to a large degree. 71% were under the age of 44 years, so the study does not accurately reflect the age distribution of transgendered people. 20% were in school at the time of this survey. It was also limited to those with internet access, so there are some confounding variables to this survey. In other words, the results cannot be considered statistically valid or reliable.
However, it remains the most important study on discrimination transgendered people face in the United States conducted to date. In my opinion, despite the limitations of the survey, it is the most accurate reflection of the life experiences of transgendered people in the US today.
 Individuals who identify as gender queer appear to be heavily influenced by an extreme left feminist ideology that is fashionable in academia at colleges and universities. It is known as third wave feminism. They advocate the ideological belief that individuals who identify with the gender binary schema are hurt by it as their lives are limited and scripted by having to conform to either a male or female identity. Instead, they argue, we must create a genderless society.
In October 2012, a Gallup Poll reported that a survey conducted from June 1, 2012 through September 30, 2012 found that approximately 3.4% of Americans identified as being transgendered. These are very similar results as reported in several other surveys since 2006 and can be considered a good estimate of the general population of the U.S. These surveys have a much higher degree of internal validity and reliability of the findings.
It is a more difficult task to ascertain how the culture perceives transgendered people. There are several ways of coming up with a general idea. One can look at how transgendered people are portrayed in the media such as in movies and television. Another way is to look at how transgendered people are portrayed in news sources. A third is to look at the programming presented at transgender conferences.
Curious to me, is the image that Jerry Springer provides on his television show. I'm also surprised that someone as strongly identified with liberal politics gets away with the way transgendered people are portrayed on his show and that he is so revered by the left. He regularly brings on the worst examples of transgendered people in our society. If one watches his show, one would draw the conclusion that transgendered people are promiscuous, adulterous, drug addicted and essentially shiftless people who engage in outrageous low life behavior. I do not dismiss the thought that at least some of what he portrays is staged, but I also think that some of the people he has on the show are real people. How Springer gets a pass on this from the transgender community is beyond me, but I see more far more attacks on conservatives who make negative comments about transgendered people and I can't ever recall anyone complaining about Springer. Yet he damages the image of transgendered people tremendously. Why is that? I wonder...
Another problem I see is very complicated and is a conundrum with no easy solution. We have a very high rate of suicide attempts, unemployment, addiction and alcoholism. Those of us who have been disenfranchised by lacking an education because of dropping out of school are also often marginalized and often end up working in the sex trades. I was very fortunate that despite being physically and emotionally abused in school for a significant portion of my high school years that I was able to endure that and later a brief period of homelessness (directly related to being who I am) and manage to overcome those experiences. I was fortunate to have overcome these experiences and I know that it was only by the grace of God that this happened. The majority of transgendered people are also people of color and in addition to the burden of institutionalized racism, bear the stigma of being transgendered.
Having said this, I clearly want to say this is not an attempt to "blame the victim". People do what they do to cope with being stigmatized. Transgendered people don’t have the same access to the opportunities that people who are not transgendered have and they experience a much higher rate of being victimized physically, emotionally and sexually.
 Remember, when you were in grade school on "career day" and the teacher asked the classroom "What do you want to be when you grow up? No one is raising their hands and waving them wildly exclaiming" I want to be an alcoholic and addict when I grow up!!" or "I want to prostitute myself when I grow up!!!!!"
But we do have a responsibility to overcome the illness of addiction with treatment and 12 step programs, seek help for mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. We do not have the luxury of just rolling over and giving up, as tempting as that may seem at times.
I looked at the content of workshops offered in recent years at transgender conferences as a way to understand how we are portraying ourselves to the public. I'm not sure that this is a way of discovering what the public's perceptions are, but based on the percentage of workshop programming devoted to gender queers. I do know that they are a very vocal and public image of the "transgender community", much as drag queens and kings" draw a lot of attention and possibly could be a strong influence on the perceived image we have by the predominant culture.
 Another element that influences the public image of transgendered people is something that I have seen decried frequently in our community. That is the tendency for transsexuals who have successfully transitioned to end their involvement in the transgendered community. Their attachment to the broader transgender community is often more tenuous than other transgendered people. They are often criticized harshly for not "giving back" to other transgendered people who are coming along and finding their own way on the long and winding road of successfully transitioning. Because they "disappear" into the predominant culture, the public has little context for these individuals in our society and this further skews the public perception of transsexuals (as opposed to transgendered individuals not including transsexuals). While this is ultimately the goal of most transsexuals, it is not necessarily what is desired by other transgendered people who have a strong attachment to the transgender culture.
My interpretation of what this represents is that the majority of transsexuals do not identify with other people considered to be transgendered and they do not share the same sense of community with drag kings and queens, cross dressers, gender queers, and other diverse identities that consider themselves members of the transgendered community.
In my opinion, a transsexual who has managed to transition and does not wish to continue being involved in the community has every right to do so. She does not owe the community or others coming behind her anything. Her sole responsibility is to herself. In the words of Oprah Winfrey “… to live your best life...”
Because of my profession and my experiences as a transsexual, I will remain active in the transgendered community to a large degree to help individuals with their transition and in overcoming addictions and mental health issues that we all too frequently have. This is a choice I make voluntarily as a professional, not a personal responsibility. This necessarily means that I will have less privacy about my identity than I desire, but because of my special set of skills I will continue to make my skills available to the transgender community.
These are just my observations. What do you think is the image of the transgendered community and what are the reasons for this? I'm very interested in your opinions and I hope you will share them!




Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Transgendered Minors and Bill O'Reilly

A friend had sent me a message that Bill O'Reilly had a segment on his Fox News opinion show about something to do with transgender. She didn't mention what it was but wanted to let me know. I think she watched it, but I was engaged in something REALLY important at the time, watching my beloved Crimson Tide whip the stuffing out of Auburn in basketball. There are few things in the sporting world that give me such pleasure as Alabama whuppin' up on Auburn in any athletic endeavor, so I taped it and put it on the back burner. The airing date was on 2/26/2013.

I usually find a lot of common ground with Mr. O'Reilly. I did have some serious problems with what I initially interpreted to be a condescending tone in his voice towards people who are transgendered, but later changed my mind and decided his tone was directed towards the Department of Education in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts or whatever the governing agency that oversees education there is called. I think he is actually sympathetic towards adults who are transsexuals, but not necessarily "transgendered" which tends to be a catch all phrase for people with various gender identities that may or may not be congruent with their somatic sex.

His guests who were debating the Commonwealth's policy with the broad category of students were Alan Colmes, a frequent Fox News contributor who represents liberal points of view and Monica Crowley, who is also a frequent Fox News political commentator and represents conservative points of view. In my opinion, Mr. O'Reilly could have found much better people who were imminently more qualified to comment on this topic who might share different points of view. Ummm, perhaps my good friend Mara Keisling, the Executive Director of National Center for Transgender Equality (who I respect and admire and who is doing extremely important work, though we are on opposite ends of the political spectrum) and myself, for instance.

The following topics were introduced; cross gender competition in sports;
the ever controversial bathroom and locker room issue; and parental rights to notification that the school system is assisting students not of the age of majority to pursue living a cross gender life that is congruent with their identity without the knowledge of the parents.

It seems to me that these students, most likely have not had the benefit of being hormonally reassigned. It is by simple declaration of an adolescent or child, for that matter, that the government of  Massachusetts' educational system, will allow students to compete in sports that are designated men's or women's sports, as well as allow them to use restrooms and locker rooms designated for cisgendered individuals.

There are several problems that I see with this policy. First, if male bodied athletes are allowed to compete in cis women's sports, and have not been hormonally reassigned, they have a significant advantage over ciswomen physically in most cases and this has a negative impact on women's ability to have opportunities to compete in sports that schools offers given the limited number of roster spots on scholastic teams. There exists a possible conflict with Title IX which was enacted to give women equal access to sports in schools, as men traditionally have had. That would result in uncounted rounds of legal battles to resolve these issues, likely to ultimately be decided by the United States Supreme Court.

If a male bodied student has been hormonally reassigned, this levels the playing field and I believe they should be allowed to compete in their identified gender identity because generally they are at a physical disadvantage compared to cis males and if they can make the team it would clearly be by their athletic talents and skills. For the female to male identified student, competing in men's sports is not such a disadvantage to cis males

The bathroom and locker room issue has always been controversial. My opinion is that there should be separate facilities available for rest room and locker room needs for students who have not been hormonally and surgically reassigned. I think this is just a matter of respect towards cisgender people, just as they should respect us. I think the IN-Your- Face attitude of people whose somatic gender is not congruent with their gender identity creates more ill will towards us than helps us advance our rights as members of a democratic society. What good comes of making the vast majority of people uncomfortable in the name of insisting we be treated the same, though in fact when we have not had surgical reassignment we are not the same? To me it is a simple matter of courtesy and respect, just as I expect to be treated with respect.

For those who are undergoing hormonal reassignment and live full time in our true gender identity, the restroom issue is moot. We should and do use the appropriate gendered restroom. More and more states are issuing legal identification with the proper gender marker to our identity and in those situations, there is no question about which restroom is appropriate to use.

To me, though, the most important problem is the systematic violation of parental rights by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Commonwealth's position is that simply by the student declaring he or she is transgendered and does not wish his or her parents to know, will facilitate the student's gender transition at school. While if there is a real threat of physical, emotional or sexual abuse, or neglect, a child should be removed from the parent's home. To simply bypass the parents and facilitate this cross gender life at school only without any proof of abuse or neglect, in my opinion, is extremely harmful to the family unit and is a prescription to ensure long term alienation of family relationships.

Mr. Colmes argued that extensive evaluations and documentation must be conducted or provided for the school to be allowed to intervene this way, but Dr. Crowly argued, and I believed correctly, how will these extensive evaluations be conducted without the parent's knowledge? It seems to me that it is highly unlikely that that could occur and I think this governmental interference in family life in both the short run and long run, does much to hurt the individual and the individual's family, and is a set back in normalizing acceptance of transsexual people in our culture. I think that this removes the opportunity to provide services to the family to help the entire family unit to adjust and make positive changes so that the transsexual individual may preserve family relationships, not permanently alienate them from their families. The role of the government should be to strengthen families, not to destroy them.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Further Along: The Transition at Work

I've been negligent about keeping up my blog. I haven't been nearly as prolific about writing anything as of late and usually I'm researching and writing, but all my energy has been poured into the transition at work.

This is mainly due to having to disclose to all my patients. Considering that my gender identity was a carefully guarded secret until I was almost 40.  Even after that, my true gender was only known to my ex wife and my present wife. The exception was that of a handful of other transgendered friends online up until about 4 years ago when I made the decision to begin my protracted transition that I am just now completing.

While I am very comfortable in every day life, this has not been the case with my primary work activity as a therapist locally. I can't say that I have really been distressed from disclosing to over 75 people since November, it hasn't been comfortable at times, particularly with my established patients. I haven't felt as much stress over telling my new patients that I wish to work with individually. I have nothing invested in them to begin with and they haven't formed an attachment to me in one session to the degree my other patients have.

The wonderful news is that to date, I have been able to retain 100% of my established patients, somewhere over 45 patients. With the new patients, I have had  82% who wish to work with me after my disclosing that I am transitioning soon. These retention rates are beyond my wildest expectation. I had shared with my supervisor at the beginning of this process that I expected to lose somewhere between 20 and 30% of my patients.

Until I actually transition, sometime in early to mid April, I continue to disclose to new patients and the very few established patients I have left who I see infrequently. I will be glad when this is over and when I see a new patient they meet Lauren and no explanation will be necessary nor offered.

Overall this process has been very easy; the people I work with have been quite wonderful and totally supportive. The women of the office have really reached out to make me feel like "one of the girls". Recently, Patty and I were invited to a coworker's home for dinner and another female therapist was a guest. It was the first time they had had an opportunity to meet me as I really am. They were as comfortable with me as I was with them and this further raises my confidence in making a smooth work transition.

The thing I think that was most critical in paving the way to a successful transition at work is that I have emphasized that while my transition is voluntary, theirs is not, and I recognize that for them to make this adjustment after having known me for so long, many of them for almost 12 years, is a huge adjustment. I think they have all been admirable in making the adjustment and it is a constant reminder that I am very blessed to be working where I am without fear of losing my job and with such wonderful people. I know so many who have not had that experience.