The Truth About Being A TranswomanThe TRUTH about being a transwoman or what its REALLY like
Okay, my idea behind this is that it might educate the few cisgendered (non-transsexual) people who read it – I'm not foolish or deluded enough to think lots will read it, but if only a handful do and from those a few start to think about things and react a little better and with a little more understanding towards any transsexual person they encounter, then job done.
It may also help one or two transsexual people along the way, perhaps help them understand a bit about themselves.
Feel free to post this on other internet sites but please give credit to me as the author of this piece.
This isn't a medical guide to transsexualism, nor is it a technical manual on what it takes to be a transwoman. It's basically my attempt to make things a little clearer – time (and the reader) will tell if I've achieved that in any small way. Obviously this is also based upon my experiences, if you're a transsexual woman reading this then your experiences may differ from this.
And yes, in case you hadn't figured it out yet I AM a transsexual woman and yeees... I have had that surgery too – December 1st 2002 to be exact.
So Why title it “The TRUTH about being a transwoman” and not ““The TRUTH about being a transsexual”? Well basically there's a lot of roumer, half truths and out right lies out there to confuse people – search the web, read a newspaper and watch some telly and you'll see for yourselves. Oh, and I can hardly call it “The TRUTH about being a transsexual” when I can't talk for Transmen, can I? Oh there are some similarities and of-course transmen and transwomen experience the same sort of transphobia (hatred and discrimination against transsexual or transgender people) but not being a transman I can't really tell you what it's like.
So where to begin? Okay, how about a little Transsexual 101?
Someone who is transsexual is someone who feels they are the opposite gender to that which they appeared to be at birth. For me and many transsexual people it's an internal feeling that we are or were literally trapped in the wrong body and it's very, VERY strong. It also doesn't go away. Sure it can be buried for a while, sometimes even for years but it's always there in the background telling that you're not really male (or female). Ignoring it is hard, and doing so often results in depression and other mental illness's and has contributed to more then a few suicides.
"They never had transpeople when I was a kid!" Well yes they did! No honestly... Transsexualism isn't a modern phenomenon, yes from the point of view of surgery it's new - the first recorded (proper) gender reassignment surgery was in the 1930's on Lili Elbe - but even before then many cultures throught history recognised the existance of transgender peoples - the Native American Two-Spirits, the Indian Hiijra, Kathoey in Thailand. In ancient Islamic cultures there was the Mukhannathun, whilst in Ancient Rome the Galli were the priestesses of the goddess Cybele. So you see, not exactly new.
Is there a cure? Yes! If you're a transsexual person reading this then you're gonna love this, but if you're not; if you are a parent, partner, family member looking to cure your “son/husband/father/brother” before they “ruin their lives with this foolishness” then sorry but it's not the yes you were hoping for...
The only cure for being a transsexual person is to accept it, it's that simple. A transsexual persons brain is telling that person so strongly that they are actually the opposite gender that the only thing to do is for that person to believe it. It's not possible to change a persons brain to match their body, but it is possible to change a persons body to match their brain. Take it from me it does work, and it results in a happier person; one who is able to get on with their lives – at least as much as society is willing to let them (see transphobia above).
Back in 1972, the American Medical Association's Committee on Human Sexuality published their medical opinion that psychotherapy was ineffective for transsexual peoples.
Transwoman or Transman? There are a few sites on the web that deliberately mislabel transpeople and (aside from being insulting, and believe me it is) this can also lead to confusion on the part of those who don't know. A transwoman is someone who was born appearing male – sometimes referred to as male-to-female (m2f). Whilst a transman is someone who was born appearing female sometimes referred to as female-to-male (f2m). I would like to point out at this stage that many transpeople (myself included) would rather simply be referred to as the gender they present – so a transwoman is simply a woman for example.
A transwoman (some people like to hyphenate the word – trans-woman) will have known they were such for a long time – regardless of whether or not they deny it and try to hide it, even from themselves. How long? Well that varies from person to person; but speaking for myself I knew when I was 6 or so – not that I was going to tell anyone other then my best friend (and I made sure she told no one). It is one of my earliest memories but I even managed to deny it as I got older, fighting the feelings until I was 15 when I started to struggle – remember what I said about depression? By 19 I couldn't fight it any longer and I came clean to those around me. Some transwomen fight it for longer, often much longer; even going on to get married and fathering kids.
“But my relative/friend isn't effeminate! How can “he” really be a she?” As I mentioned already, lots of transwomen try to fight it, this leads to them becoming and doing things that are masculine, often ultra masculine. It's also a good way to hide – even from yourself, after all would you accuse a Marine, a Rugby pla
“Is this some sort of mental condition?” Well the exact cause of transsexualism is as yet unclear, but if you are thinking that your relative or friend has had some sort of mental breakdown then you are wrong. There is research out there that suggests that the brains of transsexual peoples are very similar to those of their target gender – so a transwoman has a brain like that of a cisgendered or natural born woman. Other research points towards a genetic cause but nothing has been proved aside from the FACT that transsexual people aren't insane!
“Are transsexuals gay?” No. Transsexualism and Homosexuality are completely unrelated. One is about sex and who you are attracted to and sleep with, the other (transsexualism, in case you were wondering) is about gender and matching what you feel so strongly inside with how you appear outside. It should be noted though that just because someone is transsexual, it doesn't mean they aren't also gay. Allow me to explain before it gets confusing: A transwoman is a woman, so being straight would mean she would be sexually attracted to men, a transwoman attracted to other women would therefore be a lesbian. The percentage of lesbian and straight transwoman is about the same as in the Cisgendered female world. I myself am Bisexual.
“Is this my fault?” If you are a parent or loved one the you're perhaps wondering if you did something to cause this. Well to put it bluntly the answer is no. Transsexual people – both transmen and transwomen – are born this way. You aren't responsible and neither are they – remember that last bit in particular – neither are they. Transsexual peoples don't choose to be transsexual they just are. You don't hold someone with a cleft pallet responsible for having said cleft pallet, nor is someone born with a heart defect held accountable for that, well it's the same for being born transsexual.
“What does the treatment involve?” Well if you've not yet figured it out from my writing style and word usage, I'm in the UK so the exact details may differ to where ever you are but basically it's this:
First and foremost the transwoman will, at some point in their life; admit to themselves that they can no longer fight against it and will then tell their GP (General Practitioner Doctor) – I'm not being melodramatic here but when it gets to this stage it's often tell a doctor or commit suicide – how do I know? Well I stood on the edge of the road waiting for the number 3 double-decker bus to come around the corner at speed, so it could be all over. I didn't do it (obviously) but only because I opted to tell my mum and run the gauntlet of family ridicule and the risk of being ostracized. I told my family – my mum and my brother – and then I saw my doctor. He referred me to a psychiatrist who referred me to a gender recognition clinic. Here in the UK, there are two routes to go; the first is private – as with all private treatments for gender recognition treatments, it's bloody expensive! More then a 19yr old can afford for sure, that leaves the NHS – the National Health Service – it's slower, a LOT slower; but it is often the only route.
Then it's tests – both mental and physical. By mental testing I don't mean that they give you a Math Test or some such! What I mean is they continually check your mental health to ensure that your being transsexual is genuine and that you are coping. There's also the real life test – living and being your target gender for an extended period, 24/7. That includes work. At some point they start giving you hormones – it may or may not include testosterone blockers, it will include estrogen of one sort or another. If you don't know what estrogen will do to you then you've not yet entered puberty the first time!
Eventually – assuming that you are physically able – then they will put you in touch with the surgeon who will perform the operation. Here in the UK the surgeon has to have had two referrals from your mental health team before surgery can take place, then...
Well you don't REALLY want to know the details of surgery do you? It's not pleasant to describe (what surgical procedure is?). One myth about it I'd like to take the opportunity to get rid of though, is that they don't simply chop it off.
Some people will have one or more additional surgeries – breast enlargement, tracial shave and facial feminization.
“Do you have to have surgery to be a transsexual?” No. You may have heard the terms Pre and Post-op transsexuals. It's not a term that is particularly liked but it does go to show that you don't need surgery. It should be noted too that some people can't have surgery for unrelated medical reasons.
“Am I going to loose my loved one/friend when they go through this?” No. At least not if you don't want to – I'm very sad to say that many transpeople, be they transmen or transwomen are ostracized by family members and friends, and that hurts like hell. Truth be told your loved one could do with your support though. They're the same person they always were, well sort of. I suppose it's more accurate to say they are the same person they always knew they were. Some will still enjoy doing the things they did before transitioning, others will no longer do those things as they may have been a part of the disguise they hide their transsexual status behind, regardless though they are still the same person, with the same feelings and the same memories, so don't just walk away from them.
"Can I make them be the person I want them to be, the person I've always known ? No. Lets face it, none of us like change. It's scary, it's out of the ordinary and it disrupts things and finding out that someone you know and love is transsexual isa HUGE change. But that person is who they are, and they can no more stop being transsexual then a person can stop being black or tall (even the late Michael Jackson was still black) . Once they accept who they are then they can't go back, not really. Oh I've no doubts that some will try, for the sake of loved ones and friends but it means living a lie, and that eats you up inside. Remember what I said about my struggling from 15? I accepted who I was then but I was also terrified - I thought I would be ridiculed by my friends and loved ones, and I was certain I would be beaten up. I spoke to a helpline about my feelings and that helped - secret shared and all that - but only for a little while as I started to get more and more depressed. Not being able to be the real me was really hard. I started to get paranoid about it in addition to being depressed - hell I even started to think that everyone around me already knew and were actually sniggering behind my back, by the time I was 19 I was suicidal and my family knew it. They didn't know why exactly but they could see I was withdrawn, unhappy and my mum later confessed to me that she would check on me during the night to make sure I hadn't gone and done something silly - by that she means killed myself. Eventually I told her why but it was hell leading up to that point - not that actually coming clean was a walk in the park mind!
What I'm saying though is that in the same way as it's wrong to live your life through your kids - to force them into doing things with their lives they don't want to do because you want them to - it's also wrong to force a transperson to be the person YOU want them to be, they need to be the person they are.
Of-course it's hard for the family too, I accept that - although I can no more understand the real feelings behind that then a cisgendered person can understand what it's truely like to be transsexual.
"I feel like my son/brother/husband/father/friend has died and left behind this other person!" I have heard some people refurre to the whole thing as the death of "X", like they have lost their loved one and a new person has been born out of their ashes - I kind of imagine a Pheonix like ressurection or a Dr Who* style regeneration when someone says that - but really that's rubbish. Your loved one hasn't died, they're still there and claiming otherwise is just a little bit melodramatic don't you think? If you want an analogy then this one is more accurate. A transsexual person is like an actor - one that's been typecast for his/her career. We see them on the television and in film all the time, they're soooooo good at a role that producers, directors and even the public can't envision them playing any other type of role - it can even get them down and depressed (George Reeves who played the original Superman in the 1950's actually commited suicide due to typecasting). Occasionally, said typecast actor will manage to get a role that is very different to that which they normally play, and whilst some flop, many excel and break through the typecast barrier. If they do then they're not suddenly a different person to that who was typecast, but they are someone who is then free to take on the roles they want; rather then simply the roles the producers, casting agents and directors think they should have.
A transsexual person is like that actor who has broken free of typecasting. For a transwoman it means that for x number of years we had been stuck in that male role, playing the part, and on the whole we do it really well - I'm talking Oscar material here! But we're the actor that doesn't want the male role, infact we're George Reeves and we have to get out of the part or it WILL drive us to kill ourselves (and I'm not being melodramatic)
Your son or brother, your husband, friend or father is still there, but now they are a part of the woman they want to be, that they need and have to be. I tend to view it as this: I wasn't male, not really. Sure I had male genitailia - as disgusting to me as that thought is - and my chromosones probably say male (I've not had them checked to be 100% sure on that fact) but it was a disguise, a damn good one. And when I "came out" - to borrow a vernacular from our gay friends - I shed that disguise. I'm still that same person I was before, I'm just not in disguise any more; not typecast as a man.
"My husband/brother/son/father doesn't look like a woman!" Well try to bare in mind that cisgendered women have a lifetime of experience at looking the way they do, transwomen don't. We have to learn it all in secret and then in a rush when we transition - it's a lot to cram in! Of-course hormones play a factor in our appearance too - after all most transwomen will have gone through what I tend to think of as "the wrong puberty", so our bodies will have been flooded with testosterone, just like with men and that affects the way we look. But the right hormones, some practice and even facial feminization can deal with all that. And remember, it's not your loved one in drag, they're not trying to be a bloke in a frock. They're trying to be who they really are. It might even be nice if you help them.
I would like to take the opportunity to address a couple of related myths though. Women DO have adam's apples and sometimes they can be just as promenant as on men - even famous women who are considered very attractive have them - so whilst it's not as common as it is with men, women DO have Adam's Apples.
The other myth is to do with the size of a persons hands - ie: that you can tell a transwoman is transsexual because her hands are bigger - bzzzzzz! WRONG! Okay, yes, the male skeleton - due to the amount of testosterone that gets flooded into the system during male puberty is generally a little bigger then that of it's female counter-part BUT... big hands on a woman do not a transsexual mean. As with Adam's Apples, women can also have big hands, men can have small hands - it's all down to genetics and what's been passed down from your parents NOT what gender you are.
"A Transwoman isn't really a woman" Heard this one a few times on various websites, newpaper comments and forums. The entire thing reads something along the lines of "A Transwoman isn't really a woman, as it takes more then simply wearing a dress and chopping your bits off to be female". Well their right that it takes more then simply wearing a frock and some make-up to be a woman, but then that's the point. Transwomen aren't transwomen because they like to wear dresses - that's a transvestite not a transsexual. Being a woman is also more then simply being able to give birth - after all there's lots of women who for one reason or another can't have children . Yeah okay, you can argue chromosomes - XY and XX, but even then you run into difficulties, as there are people - transpeople with XXY instead of the more traditional XY or XX.
Some transwomen may well be genetically male (XY) but inside all tranwomen (regardless of chromosomes) are just women... no really! They - we - were just born with a birth defect, all be it a real doozy of a defect. So please do us the favour of treating us like women - it's what we really are.
So there you go. There's probably more to say, more you can learn and I may add to this as I think of more things. But in the mean time I hope that you've learned something.
*British Sci-Fi TV show called Dr Who about a character who travels through time and when he dies his body regenerates into a new person with all the memories of the previous incarnation.