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.

The office Christmas party 2015

Jen after a makeover at Illamasqua

Time for a selfie after my makeover!

So last night I found myself, yet again, at the office Christmas party.  The event brought back happy memories of last year, where I introduced many of my colleagues to Jen for the first time. Being there again has really emphasised to me how much I’ve changed and grown in the last twelve months.

Around this time last year I was writing an article for the magazine TV Repartee.  The article was centred on the Christmas party, and how I saw it as the culmination of everything I had worked for in my transition in 2014.  Attending the party was a massive step for me back then, and the confidence boost I gained from having a successful and enjoyable night was huge.

While the venue and people were the same as last year, this year I was in a very different frame of mind as I took my seat for the meal.  The office Christmas party was just that; a party, with my colleagues, for Christmas.  There was no stressing about what people would think of me, no fears about toilets or studying everyone’s outfits to make sure I was fitting in.  This year, my only worry was whether I would get to the front of the bar queue before my soup got cold!

The transgender thing didn’t cross my mind once, and these days I feel much more at ease with who I am.  So much so in fact, that I gladly accompanied my manager on a trip to Illamasqua for a bit of a makeover before the party.  This is the sort of thing I would have been way too scared and embarrassed to even consider in the past, so I’m really pleased I feel comfortable enough now to embrace these new experiences.

Just wish I could work out how they made my eyes so dark and smoky!

Gender clinic – Round 1

More images of Jen
Good news… I’ve had my first appointment at the Leeds Gender Identity Clinic!

I was beginning to get a bit nervous before I went in as I’ve been waiting for this for 21 months.  I didn’t need to be worried though, everything went well 🙂

Quite a few of my friends have already been through this process, so I knew the first few appointments would be the clinic finding out more about me and assessing my health and wellbeing.  They didn’t disappoint, diving straight in with a long mental health questionnaire.  We were also able to have a general discussion about me and the care pathways that the clinic can offer.  It feels good to finally be doing things officially, and they seemed impressed with how things were progressing with my transition so far.

After another appointment with the counsellor I should be able to see the doctor.  Hopefully he’ll be able to give me an official diagnosis to say that I’m trans… it’ll be kinda awkward if he says I’m not!

Passport woes

Jen on the beach

No, my hair hasn’t got shorter! This pic was from a beach holiday last year…

A few weeks back I went on a short holiday to Spain to try and find some sun (seem to have missed it in the UK this summer!)

When I went abroad last year things got pretty awkward every time I tried to go through a passport control… In fairness the passport was from 2008 and in the picture I may have had a number 3 haircut all over, so I can see why people did a double take when I handed it to them. It’s also in the wrong name, and has a male title.  So it really felt like it was time for a new passport.

Having a passport is also really useful when trying to update details in other places as well; driving license, bank account, etc.

The Post Office offer a service where they check through your application form and send it to the passport people for you.  Around 3 weeks later you should receive the new passport.  This sounded great, and would fit neatly into the 7 weeks before I was travelling to Spain.

After 4 weeks of waiting I began to get a bit nervous, so gave the passport office a ring.  I was told that there was a query on my account and a letter had been sent out to me that day. Unfortunately, the advisor couldn’t see the contents of the letter on their system as it was personal.

Another few days passed before the letter finally arrived.  The passport official was questioning the fact I had put my title as ‘Miss’ but my gender as male.  They also wanted to let me know that, if I was seeing a gender councillor, I might be able to change the passport to female without a full gender change certificate.  I was aware of this, but unfortunately am not at that stage yet.

The letter continued to say that I needed to prove that I was using my new name in all situations.  Proof could consist of a letter from the council, a driving license, or something else official looking.  This was going to be tricky as, while I am using my new name day-to-day, the passport was going to be the ID with which I changed everything else!

Thankfully, that week a payslip from work and a letter from the NHS had both arrived, so I was able to get all that in the post straight away.  Sure enough, 6 weeks after I had sent off for it, my passport finally arrived… phew!

It does feel good to have a passport that reflects where I am in my life now, as opposed to where I was 7 years ago.  A lot has changed since then!

Frickin’ lasers

Jen smiling
I’ve been pretty lucky in that I never had that much facial hair.  Even a small amount was too much however, so I developed a habit where I’d pluck out every single hair I could find.  Now I’m not talking a quick fifteen minutes in front of the mirror here, this was sitting down in front of iPlayer for a whole Sunday afternoon of tweezering.

It all sounds quite extreme (and time-consuming), but I’d had some bad experiences with seeing photos of myself with what looked like a visible beard shadow showing under my foundation.  Most likely it was the camera flash seeing through the makeup, but it wasn’t a risk I wanted to take.

Things started to go downhill when I somehow developed a social life.  It was harder to find the time for a full plucking session, and the kinda red, raw face I would have afterwards wasn’t massively attractive.  So I finally got round to booking some sessions of laser hair removal.  I’d read a lot about different types of hair removal and different levels of effectiveness, so decided to use the local branch of a nationwide chain in the hope they would be knowledgeable and reputable.

Laser hair removal hadn’t been very effective for some of my friends, but it turns out that my dark hair and fair skin was a perfect fit.  I was pleased that each appointment went quickly and didn’t seem to hurt much.  After 8 sessions I have very minimal hair growth, and probably a few more sessions at some point would get rid of that as well.

I don’t underestimate the impact that the hair removal had on my confidence.  I had fallen into the trap in the past of piling on foundation to hide any shadow, and then having to over-do the rest of the makeup to compensate.  I could just about get away with this on nights out, but it didn’t feel natural in the daytime.  After the laser I am able to go out with minimal makeup, which is perfect for my now daily routine of getting ready for the office.

Exciting news!

Jen looking fancy in her work clothes

I’ve got some good news to share today… I’ve been full-time at work for 2 weeks!

It’s all come about so quickly, I think I need to pinch myself to check I’m not dreaming.

Ouch.  Yep, not dreaming!

I mentioned last month that I had made the decision to finally get on with things.  Since the discussions at the time of the Christmas party, work had pretty much been waiting for me to give them the nod, so things have been able to move really fast.

I took a week off at the end of June (which was also my birthday week, so that’s a bonus!) and then started July as Jen.  New email address, new work id card, etc, etc

Everyone at work has been so great and it’s felt really natural.  If anything, I’d stressed and built it up so much that it was a bit of an anti-climax when everything was just normal!

I’d told my colleagues that it wasn’t the end of the world if they accidentally used the wrong name or pronouns at first, it was bound to happen.  I am, after all, the same person as before… doing the same job, at the same desk, in the same office.

But so far no one has slipped up, so that’s even better 🙂

I won’t say I regret not doing this sooner, I think the timing has been just right as I waited until I was definitely ready.

Although at least I can now answer all those “are you full-time yet?” questions with a resounding “yes!”

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