FAQs About Transsexuality

[ed. note: Kristen (not her real name) wrote this nice FAQ for co-workers, based on the fairly casual atmosphere at her office and her position with the company. For additional ideas, see my section on work transition. --AJ]

9 October, 2000

Dear friends,

I am asking for your support and understanding in sharing what I think many of you may have guessed. I'm gender dysphoric. That means that gender-wise, how I present to others and how I see myself aren't in synch. On the inside, I have been female as far back as I can remember.

Today, I left as L-----. On October 23, I'll return as Kristen. I'll be the same person, but will present differently. At first it may be uncomfortable, but we'll get used to it together. I'll be one awkward woman for a while. <grins> Maybe it'll help to think of Steve Martin in "All of Me." I'm sure that's how I'll feel. Anyhow, I will restrict myself to the garage-level women's restrooms. Not a problem, I love walking. :-)

Changing gender presentation is called transition. It begins with counseling, tests and therapy. After that, if judged dysphoric, you are put on hormones under an endocrinologist's care. After usually months (but for me, ten stressful years), you do what we call "RLT" or "Real Life Test”. RLT, for an M2F (male-to-female) transsexual, means living 24/7 as a woman. Test is a good word because, in a sense, it is a test for all of us.

For any that judge this contrary to your religious belief, please know that this has enabled me to return to my church after a very long absence. My heart, my soul and my God are now all in the same place. That is very personal but it needed saying.

In high school, there was a basketball coach who always totally faked us out by scoring baskets with his back turned ... never even glanced at the hoop! He'd just throw it right over his head. His moves were fast and impossible to anticipate; impossible to defense. Finally, one day, I asked him how he did it. He replied that inside, you know where the basket is but that you just don't trust your intuition. I think I have figured out where the basket is.

Transsexuality is complex. I'm attaching a FAQ I made up. I have lots more information, but didn't want to inundate you. I'll give that out on request. If you want to discuss this before my return on the 23rd, you can contact me at ___.



FAQs About Transsexuality

Note: I wrote this ... the questions as well as the answers. Just think of it as talking to myself. <g>

What is it? Transsexuality is literally the process of changing one's sex. However, the term is broadly (NPI) applied to anyone who, at odds with her birth sex, is taking steps to change that. Transsexuals can be anywhere on the transition path, from just beginning hormones through SRS (sex reassignment surgery). After that, we don't refer to them as transsexuals, but as women or girls (or, for FtMs [1], men or boys).

Why do you say that? A transsexual will never be a woman. Sadly, that's a fairly common attitude. I was raised Catholic; born into it. Some of the most devout Catholics I've known are converts. Often, naturalized citizens make better Americans than those of us who were born here. They can suffer great hardship, leave family and friends and make incredible sacrifices to achieve what is to them a dream; a dream we often take for granted.

Rant aside, in many ways, I agree with that on a personal level. There are tons of female experiences I'll never have and other things there's no way to acquire. I'm not into tags anyhow, so it doesn't bother me all that much. Plus, life's short enough without wasting time kicking doors that won't open.

How do you get that way? Over the past ten years, a number of medical studies have established certain similarities between M2Fs and natal females. These similarities vary from the profound (brain chemistry and size of the hypothalamus) to the mundane (the relative length of index and ring fingers of the left hand – no kidding). As mentioned before, our perceptions and attitudes, likes and dislikes are much more like those of most women than those of men. Why is that?

The prevailing theory as to how we get this way is that, like embryonic girls, we got shortchanged on a testosterone bath that happens in the womb during the first trimester of pregnancy. I think that's probably right, but it doesn't matter.

Are transsexuals gay? Transsexuality isn't about being gay. That's a different thing. Gay's fine, but it's different. In repression (male mode), we're as het as the next dude, and are usually attracted to females. We date girls, marry women, have families. We are typically faithful and good providers. In transition, our bodies and emotions change. Others begin to see us differently. All that can gradually impact sexual orientation. I suppose you could term an M2F transsexual lesbian if, after transition, she still had a sexual preference for women. But that gets very confusing (please see above aversion to tags).

Isn't transsexual just another word for sissy? M2F's are all kinds of people. Usually, in terms of behavior, etc., we're pretty much like the next guy. When I was younger, I played football and basketball, hung out with the guys and dated like it was going out of style. I don't think I spat, but I may have. <g>

I count among my friends and "sisters": a former truck driver, a dirt-bike motorcycle racer (she still is), two cops, a former member of an airborne division (a cute kid) and a once-pro football player (really). Those are not anomalies; in my experience, they're typical.

Then isn't transsexual a fancy way of saying crossdresser? Crossdressers get pleasure from dressing up in women's clothes. They get off on it. Crossdressers have no desire to become women. They want their bodies to remain male. We present as females because it seems right to us. This is the first time I have worn women's clothes and I've been on hormones for ten years. The vast majority of us aren't outrageous and, after a while, most of us don't get clocked. I'll bet you've passed us on the street or bumped into us in markets and never even given it a second thought. Cross-dressing is something guys do (yah, it's a guy thing). We don't understand that. ;-)

Others with whom we're often wrongly confused include drag queens and female impersonators. Drag queens are usually gay and use female dress to attract men. I don't know much about all that. Female impersonators are stage performers. In real life, they can be gay, transsexual, or straight guys who just do it 'cause it makes them a living.

Your gender is male. What's the issue? I always get a kick out of forms that have the heading "Gender" followed by "Male" and "Female." It reflects: a) Our society's ambivalence over sex (we're obsessed with it, but we can't bring ourselves to print the word) and, b) How often sex and gender are confused. Sex is binary. One either has male plumbing or female plumbing. Gender, OTOH, is a continuum of traits, proclivities, feelings, affectations and perceptions. Don't get me started. <g>

How many of you are there? Of course, no one knows. Because we're becoming better educated and more accepting as a society, more people are coming to terms with their gender dysphoria. It isn't the black secret it once was. By current estimates, we're one in ten-thousand or one in thirty-thousand, depending on whose stats you happen to buy. In any case, it isn't common.

Is there any treatment for it? If you mean remedial, no. It's been tried in all its varied and occasionally gothic forms. All it ever did was to mess people up bigtime. It's about who you are and they haven't figured out a way to change that. We can modify behavior but not the soul.

What does transsexuality entail? When you're very young, there's rarely a problem. In a few years, though, you're taught shame for who you are. That sets you against yourself and typically results in denial and repression. You fool yourself into believing that you're just like other guys. But inside, you know that isn't true. So that causes a lot of grief. You may have friends, family, a picture-perfect life. But at a very deep level, you know that you're missing out. You just don't know what it is you're missing out on.

Once you face up to who you are, you begin a frightening, tough, painful, expensive – but awesome – journey. Often, you will lose those friends and family and that picture-perfect life. People you love will go through hell because of who you are. You take hormones, which change your body. You undergo painful procedures including (but not limited to) literally hundreds of hours of electrolysis, facial reconstruction and SRS. You experience the occasional euphoria of being publicly clocked by people with issues of their own who consider it their sacred responsibility to make you squirm. The toughest of all, IMO, is what your family goes through. There is no hurt like that suffered by those you love.

Why does a transsexual decide to go through all that? A transsexual doesn't decide to go through all that. You'd have to be certifiable to be transsexual by choice. True transsexuality is something you're born with. I've spoken and corresponded with scores of M2F (male to female) transsexuals. In most ways we're as different from one another as any random group of human beings. But in terms of gender experience, it's amazing how much many of us share.

Like? For most of us, awareness of our femininity dates from our earliest recollections. At about five, we begin to realize that how we feel is "wrong." We're told it's wrong by family, peers and others with whom we have contact. How each of us deals with that is very individual, but you're a little kid and easily molded. Most often, you conform to society's standards for as long as you can take it. Then, when you can't any longer, it explodes.

We (again, M2Fs) fit a female gender profile. We are uncomfortable with our male bodies. This is usually most anguishing during adolescence. It's like your body is betraying you. For a woman to grasp this, just imagine awakening one morning to see the face of a man staring back at you in the mirror. It might be the face of someone you could find attractive. But you sure don't want to look like that. For a guy, imagine the opposite. That's pre-transition life for someone who's gender dysphoric.

What do you mean by "awesome journey?" This may be like trying to explain the color red to one not gifted with sight. I'll take my answer from an open email that a very sweet GW (genetic woman) named Carol wrote to a transsexual friend on an email list. How Carol knew this is beyond me. But she hit it right on the head. "... It's like a grown up looking at things through the eyes of a child after having been hardened against life – after taking things for granted for years – the child shows us again the wonder of the simplest thing."

We all change so subtly and slowly from children to adults, the wonder and awe of youth often slip away without our even realizing it. But as a transsexual, within a period of months as you abandon yourself to the current of fate, your soul regresses and, in a sense, you become that child again. This isn't really about sex or clothes. It's about rediscovering the simple beauty within you. You'll happily agree that there are other ways to do that. For some, it may be scaling a mountain in a desolate place; for others, the miracle of birth and of loving a child. And for many it is communion with their God.

I ran out of questions. If you have others, please feel free to ask away. I'll answer them as honestly and respectfully as I can. Promise.


[1] The abbreviations M2F or M2F and F2M or FtM are used to distinguish between Male-to-Female and Female-to-Male transsexuals.