Archive for April, 2011

Michelle has written at http://www.facebook.com/notes/michelle-obrien/middle-aged-family-men-who-become-transsexuals/217309451615035

I have a great deal of respect for Michelle, for her insight, intelligence, knowledge and experience. She has the rare ability to be able to express her views, often forthrightly, while not imposing them on others. I see her a friend.

I read what she writes with more attention than the usual quick scan that written offerings from some others seem to merit. Her latest piece is no different in that respect. It is measured and balanced, managing to be both objective and to take account of her own known and unknown prejudices, which she acknowledges, something that is rare even among scientific papers.

Usually, I find myself in full agreement with what she writes, barring a few minor details, but on this occasion I find myself on the other team, even while acknowledging the truth of some of her observations.

Michelle’s description of a middle-aged transsexual: “a heterosexual man, having a successful career, married with children who had now grown up” and “ prior to two years ago their whole life was a lie; they tell you that their former heterosexual family still stands by them”. This is me, 10 years ago, although I did experiment with male homosexuality for a while. I even said that I “do not see the point of reassignment surgery”, although looking back, I retract that comment, now.

It took me a long time, however, to decide on the degree of inclusivity I hope for from the LGB fold. Even today, it is a debate within the trans community that sees the feathers flying on a regular basis. When I listen in to the debate, I see battle lines drawn with LGBT on one side and T separatists on the other. What always strikes me is that both sides argue in an “all or nothing” way. We are either part of LGB or we are separate from them. It was before my time, but I am told that there was a similar debate about the inclusion of bisexuals and doubtless lesbians before them. Bisexual people still speak of not being properly understood by the LG fold. For me, the truth is that there are issues which are common to all these subgroups, including intersex, queer and questioning and that there are other issues which are individual to each subgroup. The real question is whether the commonalities are sufficient to bind the subgroups into a co-operative whole. There is nothing magic about LGB which creates unity.

I once co-hosted a discussion with a gay man, Tony, delivering training to police officers and staff. On this occasion, I described my childhood and the issues I had faced. Then Tony stood up and said: “Polly has just described my childhood.” When Michelle says: “ the surgery, the pain at physical, emotional and psychological levels as I tried to grow up having a gender reinforced on me that made no sense to me”, she is describing something very close to my life prior to transition at the middle age of 45 years.

And then we come to Michelle’s resentment of us late onset transsexuals “having everything” while claiming to go through various kinds of emotional torture. From one perspective, I think that I can understand that. I will guess, because I have not had this conversation with Michelle, that she had no alternative but to face her issues head on from an early age. Late onset transsexuals, to one degree or another, have the ‘luxury’ of putting their issues into a box and to leave it to gather dust in a corner of their mind. In my case, I can vividly recall the two conversations that led to me making a conscious decision to abandon any exploration of who and what I was and, instead, to play the compliant son. Over time, the suppression of self became largely an automatic process…until, that is, middle age. I had few opinions that I was willing to express, always waiting to see what my consciously chosen role models thought. I wasn’t a very nice person then. I swore a lot, drank, smoked, was misogynistic…you see, I was trying desperately to fit in with my newly acquired peers.

By the time I was middle-aged, I became unable to successfully maintain the pretence. People at work (I was a bank manager) were noticing erratic behaviour, not overtly trans related, but anger, irritability, unreliability and defiance. I spent time off work with clinical depression, I was put on report and I began to feel more and more isolated. I left.

How is it that I (and many others) were able to take a late onset pathway when Michelle (and many others) were not? I don’t know. I will guess that our respective conditions were not identical and that our home and school lives were probably different, different religious backgrounds perhaps. While I can understand Michelle’s resentment because we ‘got lucky’, I can’t accept that it is fair to late onset trans people. It is not a comparison between like and like. Despite having had ‘everything’, I would gladly give it all to her in exchange for the chance to turn the clock back and to have grown up as ‘me’ (an overworked word) in a world that simply accepted me for who and what I was. I have often speculated whether, in such a world, without a gender reinforcing childhood, I would still have needed surgery. I don’t suppose I will ever find out.

The trans people that Michelle describes in her piece seem to me to exhibit behaviour typical of a period around transition. By transition, here, I am referring to the most commonly accepted definition as the point at which a trans person changes their gender presentation. In truth, transition is a lifelong process. The period of transition is arguably the period of most emotional and psychological upset, when the trans person becomes energetic about self discovery and, very often, most dogmatic. Perhaps this is understandable when one considers that they are exploring their very core identity. Understandable, but unpleasant to deal with.

I think of it like a pendulum. For most of my life, the pendulum was held to one side (the male side). As more and more weights are applied, the stay breaks and the pendulum swings to the other extreme (my ultra femine side). With the passage of time (and damping forces), the pendulum stops swinging and I arrive at a state of relative rest between the two extremes.

I have long speculated on the relationship between the various components of LGBTIQQ, but the only conclusion I reach is that the science is poorly researched, especially from a psychological perspective. We have gay men who act and dress effeminately, sometimes morphing into drag queens, we have dykes adopting a masculine style of dress and behaviour (rarely morphing into drag kings), we have some in both camps (no pun intended) falling into and out homosexuality, masculine trans women, defiant gender queers, intersex people (who may or may not be diagnosed early and may or may not have had childhood surgery) who ‘at least’ can point to a biological or genetic difference (perhaps as well the harder to prove psychological issues). There is so much overlap and there is so much that is still unresearched. The “transsexual brain is different”, genetic sex markers have been identified away from the tradition XY markers (which are, in any event, unreliable as sex markers) – stories such as these circulate from time to time.

Michelle resents a trans person who claims to be intersex. Again, I have some idea why, but it does not need to be a disputed issue. I have met at least one intersexed person who was not diagnosed (with some difficulty in persuading the GP) until early middle age. Typically, a trans person will not be karotyped, but it may be the case that is some kind of genetic anomaly. It may be the case that, as other genetic sex markers are unconvered, that the expressions intersex, transsexual and homosexual may need to be revisited at some point in the future.

I think that, if trans people want to be part of society, then they may have to learn to be a little less shouty, although I can think of other examples where basic rights were only achieved by shouting very loudly.

And after all this, I still don’t think enough attention is paid to what I see as the underlying issue here, which is the non-acceptance by society at large of anything and anyone veering away from the statistical norm. A comparison that is often trotted out at this point is the historic ‘curing’ of left-handed people. The principle is the same.

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