Category Archives: Uncategorized

Transbians?

Jen and Jen at an event

Out with my girlfriend. Image ©Warren Archer

I was at the theatre earlier this week watching a show which explored faith and sexuality.  A questionnaire was handed out to the audience, and one of the questions asked if you identified as LGBTQ.  It’s not the first time I’ve been asked that question, and it’s always tricky to get me to give a straight answer (there’s probably a pun in there somewhere!)

I’m definitely a T, but being T is not mutually exclusive of being L,G or B (and I’m not going to get into the transgender is a gender not a sexuality thing right now…)

I used to go out with a guy and I identify as female, so that would make me straight.  But now I go out with a trans girl.  Both of us identify as female, so are we lesbians?  But I’m not that into cis-females, and both of us are trans, so would we call ourselves transbians?  Although that would perhaps suggest I’m only attracted to trans people, which would not be true.  So maybe I’m not an LT, maybe I’m bi?  Am I a BLT :/

There are plenty of other words out there I’m sure which could be better used to answer the question, but I’m not that fussed about labels.  In fact, this year I think I’m giving up labels for Lent.

A day in the life of a transgender person… Jen style!

Jen in hopefully eighties-esque style

In my defence, I was on the way to an eighties party!

Back in December I kept seeing the same article popping up on Facebook and Twitter.  It was a summary of ‘a day in the life of an ordinary trans person,’ and discussed the distress that the author felt on a daily basis just going through her normal routine.

Now don’t get me wrong, I can empathise completely with a lot of the things she said.  And I’m very aware that I’ve perhaps had things a bit easier in my transition when compared to some other people’s situations.  But ultimately I found the article to be a very negative and bleak read, and this is a trend I’ve noticed in a lot of the trans-related stories online.

It is definitely important to publicise the struggles that trans people face, that’s the only way we can raise awareness and make change happen.  But I do worry a bit about the affect this can have on people at the very start of their transition.

I went through a long period of feeling very lost and confused.  I was scared about how coming out as trans could impact on my life, I worried that it was wrong and should be kept hidden.  If I had read at this point that going fulltime would mean I would get stared at everywhere I go, be abused and laughed at in public, and generally treated as a lesser member of society… Well, it probably would have taken me at least a few more years to bite the bullet, and made my decision an awful lot harder.

It’s important of course that people aren’t naïve and that they understand that many things will change.  But, for me at least, going fulltime hasn’t made things that different.  If I were to write a ‘day in the life’ article it would go something along the lines of:

0630 – Wake up, grumble a lot, crash around my room half asleep and get in the shower.
0700 – Quick splurge of makeup, I’ve got the routine down to 10 mins now.
0900 – Start work.
1200 – Lunch.
1700 – Go home, eat, snooze on the sofa in front of trashy tv.
2200 – Sleep.

I guess my point is that it’s just a normal day.  Yes I still struggle with confidence, hate talking on the phone and sometimes feel awkward in toilets, but most of the time things are pretty mundane and the fact that I’m trans doesn’t really feature.  There are many transgender people out there just living their lives, and it’s a pity that it often seems to be the more discouraging, depressing aspects of being trans which get all the air time.

The transgender con?

Jen in work mode

Just me being normal me…

I read an article recently entitled the transgender con, in which the author argued that there is no such thing as being transgender.  Instead, they suggested that it is no more than a word invented by psychiatrists.  One of the major concerns highlighted in the article was the diagnosis process, and the fact that there is no definitive test that could identify a person as trans or not.

As someone going through this diagnosis process myself, I can’t help but feel that the author is being a bit blinkered in this point of view.  Aside from the fact there are plenty of issues we seek medical help on which don’t manifest themselves physically, the author also doesn’t seem to appreciate what a diagnosis of gender dysphoria means.  I’ll be sitting down with a doctor in two weeks to get an opinion on my situation.  If I get diagnosed, that doesn’t mean I’ll be instantly rushed off for life changing surgery, instead I will be put on a care pathway to support me over the coming years.

While on this pathway I fully intend to continue with my ‘baby steps’ approach to my transition, and the doctor won’t be setting out to bully me into anything I don’t want to do.  I can also opt to stop whenever I like, in fact I find I’m meeting more and more transgender people who feel they don’t want or need surgery to be happy.  It is true that some people might ultimately regret their decision to transition, but the same can also be said for any cosmetic surgery procedure.  And that’s why there’s such a stringent process to go through in this country before you can even be considered for surgery.

Even if the term transgender was made up by psychiatrists, it happens to neatly fit something I’ve been doing and feeling long before I became aware of the word.  Plus it’s a broad term, and I like that each of us can find our own niche under the wider trans umbrella.

Mental Health Awareness Month

Jen in a pretty garden

June was ‘Mental Health Awareness Month’ at my work.  It was really interesting as lots of employees came forward and shared their experiences with mental health problems.  It did get me thinking however, if perhaps people thought of being transgender as just a lifestyle choice, as they are often only really exposed to transgender issues through the mainstream media.

So I started jotting down some thoughts on gender identity and mental health…

Being transgender has been in the news quite a bit recently.  I welcome this, and hopefully all the positive publicity will help the rest of us in some way as well.  However, I do wonder if everyone who sees Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair realises that this is likely to be the culmination of years of identity issues and fighting all the potential mental health problems that can go alongside being trans.

Last year, a study by Pace (a mental health charity for LGBT people) found that 48% of trans people under 26 said they had attempted suicide, and 30% of these had done so in the past year*

I find this a truly shocking statistic

I don’t want to play top trumps with medical conditions, that’s not what this post is about.  But being transgender clearly has a disproportionately high attempted suicide rate, and that’s something I think needs combating straight away.

The NHS** say gender dysphoria is “a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there is a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity.”  The problem I find with this discomfort and distress, is that the idea of trying to do anything about it often feels like it will make things worse.

In my experience, the discomfort I felt with what I was led to depression.  This was made worse at the thought of actually trying to solve the problem.  I couldn’t imagine going out in public, I’d be a laughing stock.  I’d have to tell my family, my friends and my work about what I was and risk destroying relationships and alienating myself further.

With most medical conditions, I’d go straight to a doctor and say “please help me with this as it’ll make my life better”.  But being trans felt like something I had to hide, as it had the power to make my life much worse.

Finally I got to the stage where I knew I needed to do something about the problem, whether it made things worse or not.  The issue I then faced was that I had to wear it on the outside.  The solution to my problem was to start to live life as a girl, but this meant exposing myself to the real world.  People in the street could take offence at my existence and stare, make comments, or worse.  Having really low confidence in how I looked made this step very difficult.

I’ve mentioned before about the long waiting list for medical help regarding any gender identity related problems.  Back in 2013 my GP had no experience of transgender issues, so could only run through a basic mental health assessment before referring me to the specialists.  Having spent months plucking up the courage to visit the GP, you are then left feeling very alone due to the huge waiting times for the gender clinic.  Many people start to take matters into their own hands, by self-medicating hormones for example.

The good news is that I think things are gradually getting better.  There is much more public awareness of transgender issues, and I’ve been relieved that most of my original fears were never realised.  Pretty much everything that has held me back over the years has been all in my head.  It’s so important however, that as a community and a wider society we are able to support people in these more vulnerable positions and let them know that they don’t have to hide who they are.

*http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/nov/19/young-transgender-suicide-attempts-survey
**http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/gender-dysphoria/pages/introduction.aspx

Breaking Up

John and Jen on a night out

Happy memories 🙂

This is going to be a hard post to write, and not really what I expected my first entry of 2015 to be.  In fact, it feels so personal that I wondered if maybe I shouldn’t write it at all.  But, personal stuff is kind of what this blog is supposed to be about.
Here goes then…

John and I are no longer an item.

It’s been brewing for a few months now to be honest, and I’m not writing this post to throw stones or apportion blame to anyone.  In fact, it’s been a mutual parting of the ways, because I guess we have both changed and developed so much over the last two and a half years.

We first met at my house at the start of May in 2012.  Why my house?  Because I had never been out dressed and frankly, was way too scared.  I had heard of the Leeds First Friday event, was desperate to go, and John had agreed to accompany me.  The night went really, really well and over the next few months John helped me overcome my fears and go to more and more events.  He hadn’t had a trans girlfriend before, and I had never had a relationship, but gradually we started to get closer and found we had more in common than just a shared interest in the trans scene.

Although at times I do still feel like that scared and confused person, I can see how I’ve changed immeasurably, and in so many different ways.  It’s so much more than a bit of long hair!  A lot of people might be starting to get settled in their mid-twenties, but I was just starting to turn my life completely on its head!

Looking back at the last three years, John has been a constant pillar of strength and support.  I’ve honestly no idea how far I would have got without him, or at least how long it would have taken to get to where I am.  I’m actually glad that our relationship has kind of slowly fizzled out (with no shouting and teacup throwing) as at least it means John and I can still care about each other and be friends in the future.

Of course, part of me wishes things were still what they were a year ago, when our relationship was at its strongest.  I loved being in a relationship and having someone to share everything with.  But three years is a long time, especially at this stage in my life, and things do change.  It’s important for me that I try and see positives, and not be afraid to move on and seek new opportunities and experiences.
When one door closes…

Stereotyping and the Gender Binary

Pink or blue?

Pink or blue for baby clothes? Does it matter?

I’ve just got back from the cinema, having watched my first LGBTQ film.  In it, the transgender protagonist seemed angry and resentful towards her parents for forcing her into a particular gender and sexuality from the moment she was born.  The baby was dressed in blue and surrounded by boy’s toys to play with.  There was particular disdain for the nurse who helped deliver her, for saying things like “oh doesn’t HE look like HIS father?”

Looking back at my childhood I guess it was a similar story, in that I was brought up ‘as a boy’ (when I wasn’t wearing my sister’s hand-me-downs that is).  But I don’t think that this had a negative impact on my life at all.  At such a young age I really had no knowledge of what I was wearing, let alone what it might mean to an observer.  People needed a pronoun to refer to me by, and my sex dictated that it be a masculine one.  If my parents had deliberately rebelled against the gender stereotypes, it would feel more like they were trying to influence my life, rather than letting me make my own decisions.
And with the toys, well I’d play with (or chew) anything I could get my hands on, be it a toy soldier, a barbie, a stick or a spider!

In the film it seemed like the main character had decided what they are now, and then was trying to retroactively fit that to their childhood.  I don’t feel that this works, there was a very definite time in my life where I started to question my gender.  I wouldn’t have wanted a childhood where I was forced to confront this any earlier than when it naturally happened.  I needed to experience all the boy things to develop into who I am today.

Whether you are straight, gay or trans is something you discover for yourself in life.  My parents were great in the fact I never got told off for crossing any stereotypical gender boundaries, and I was actively encouraged to pursue any interests and hobbies that I had.  Nobody so much as batted an eyelid when I brought my first boyfriend home or wore my low-cut, feminine, purple hoodie on Christmas day.

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have been in the news recently as their daughter has expressed a desire to wear boy’s clothes and be called John.  It is natural for a child to experiment with different names and identities (my brother insisted we call him Sam for a while when he was younger because he had a friend called Sam).  The parents in this case aren’t making a knee jerk reaction and telling the child to conform to gender stereotypes, they are allowing John to explore and find what makes him comfortable.

I agree that gender is predominantly a social construct, but the film gave a very embittered view.  Maybe the protagonist’s parents were close-minded and did not welcome her exploring her gender, but I felt it was unfair to start the criticism of them at the very moment she was born.  The film portrayed a very dark and tormented look at being transgender and, while life isn’t always sparkles and rainbows for me either, I found I couldn’t relate to the main character at all.

The film was billed as setting out to “explore perceptions of the gay scene, queer stereotypes, gender and identity.”  I’d hoped I would come out of the cinema feeling empowered at seeing transgender issues on the big screen, and that other movie-goers would be made more aware of, and more sensitive to, the problems that transgender people face every day.  Instead I was left feeling that the writer’s view of being transgender was very, very different to my own.

Rubber Ducks & Rubber Dresses

Quack!

Quack!

I have a rubber duck on my desk at work.  A colleague suggested it after getting bored of me bending his ear about whichever problem I was facing (see rubberduckdebugging).
“Talk to the duck” is now one of his favourite phrases.

It works quite well as I often find myself having a lightbulb moment while explaining the problem to the duck.
I like to think of myself as being like Greg House from the TV show.
Although I have started chewing on the duck’s head…

I’m also considering getting another latex dress.  Westwardbound really need to stop tempting me with 30% off deals.
Maybe I’ll ask the duck if she thinks it’s a good idea.