Archive for the 'Trans 101' Category

Dictionary corner: gayjacking

June 6, 2010

Gayjacking: A portmanteau word combining gay and hijacking, it refers to the process by which TS/TG people’s self-identification is invisibilised and our lived experiences appropriated and repositioned to fit cis people’s agenda, and exempt themselves from acknowledging their own privileges and prejudices. The result is to present trans people as being always and forever our assigned sex and once that malicious assertion has been made, it’s a simple matter for cis people to pronounce that, for example, a relationship between a trans woman and a cis man is “really” a same sex relationship. Additionally, amongst other things, it sets up the conditions necessary for implementing the “trans panic defence” beloved of many a cis man who, on discovering that the woman with whom he has just had sex was born male-bodied, uses that as a justification for murdering her in a brutal and cruel way. (There are useful analyses of the trans panic defence in the context of the murder of Angie Zapata by Holly at Feministe and by Jillian Weiss at The Bilerico Project)

Gayjacking is not a new idea by any stretch of the imagination, but it does seem to have become more prominent with cis people’s still-dawning awareness of terms like transgender. From Compton’s Cafeteria and Stonewall in the 1960s (and before), through the annulment of April Ashley’s marriage in 1970 and the continuing anti-trans bigotry of many radical feminist cis women, to the almost universal misgendering of Tiwonge Chimbalanga by the mainstream media (along with so-called LGBT activist groups and numerous human rights organisations), this dehumanisation of TS/TG women has been a recurrent pattern of anti-trans hate, discrimination and discrimination for far too many years.

Even as I write this, reports of an LGBT group (associated with a major UK political party) being refused service in a London pub “because they were gay” – thereby instantly eradicating any trans, as well as bi and lesbian members, a textbook example of gayjacking – continues to unfold on Twitter, Facebook, BBC London News and one or two of the more enlightened cis women feminist blogs.

However, not only has gayjacking been around for a long time but it seems set to continue unchecked. For that to happen would, of course, require a tipping point to be reached in the positive evolution of mainstream cis society’s attitudes to my community, and it’s increasingly obvious to me that that is highly unlikely to happen any time soon.

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Cross-posted at The F-Word

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This is not a trans woman

November 22, 2009

Trans 101, human rights edition

September 5, 2009

Q. Why should human rights apply to trans women?
A. Because we’re human.

(See also)

“Transsexual Basics” video series

May 20, 2009

Via the irrepressible Calpernia Addams:

Big News, everyone! Deep Stealth has decided to release Volume 01 of our “Coming Out” video series on transsexual basics for friends, family, loved ones and associates FOR FREE on YouTube!

[…]

So share it around, and we hope it will be especially helpful for people who want to explain some of the basics to friends, family, loved ones and associates as they begin their transition.

The full series of 12 videos can be found at You Tube – link here – and here’s the first three as a taster:

Sugar and spice and all things neurobiological

March 31, 2009

tg_black-on_pink_100x107Sara-Jane Cromwell, CEO of Gender Identity Disorder Ireland, writing in the Irish Medical Times (link here) provides a useful overview of the process of transitioning. And this assertion in the opening paragraph certainly caught my eye:

Gender identity disorder (GID)/gender dysphoria is a little known but much misunderstood congenital intersex condition, which is clinically diagnosable and treatable. The growing body of evidence points to GID being neurobiological in nature and has nothing whatever to do with fetishistic compulsions or lifestyle choice, with which it has been too long associated.

First – and as I’ve said elsewhere – I’m not comfortable with the terms gender identity disorder and gender dysphoria: for one thing, I don’t consider myself to be ‘disordered’ and for another, ‘gender dysphoria’ is inevitably linked to the tired old cliche that we are “trapped in the wrong body” – an analogy which really doesn’t work for me at all. I’ve yet to hear a more accurate (for me) descriptive phrase than Julia Serano’s gender dissonance.

I agree that there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that transsexuality is at least partly neurobiological in nature, but the idea that gender dissonance is an intersex condition – although not new – is, I think, not especially widespread, as well as likely to be quite controversial to some.

Ms Cromwell’s account of a discussion she had with her endocrinologist is illuminating:

My endocrinologist went on to explain the great difficulties he had in getting his colleagues to engage with patients diagnosed with GID. Their objections seemed to stem from their misperceptions regarding GID being a lifestyle issue rather than being medical in nature, and therefore felt the provision of hormone treatments to be inappropriate.

This gatekeeper attitude of healthcare professionals is unfortunately far too common and has caused (and continues to cause) many problems and much distress to a number of trans people. As Ms Cromwell points out:

These difficulties are very grave indeed and an immediate response is required from health service providers. The vacuum created by the lack of healthcare for GID patients is also the result of a wrong association being made between people diagnosed with GID and those who engage in sexual fetishes.

She goes on to give a more detailed description of what she calls GID; it’s a useful summary of the various hoops through which trans people must jump if we are to be allowed to transition medically (assuming, of course, that this is a transition path that we want to follow). And again she states her opinion that it’s an intersex condition:

GID is a congenital intersex condition which leaves the individual with a psychological gender identity at odds with their physical sex and gender indicators. One of the simplest ways of explaining it is that the person feels themselves to be a female when their body, and gonads in particular, indicate that they are male, e.g. male to female (MtF) and vice-versa.

And that paragraph, I have to say, doesn’t entirely sit right with me. The Organisation Internationale des Intersexués (OII) states that:

An intersexed person is an individual whose internal and/or external sexual morphology has characteristics not specific to just one of the official sexes, but rather a combination of what is considered “normal” for “female” or “male”.

(Via)

It continues:

As a group, intersex people are not transsexuals. However, some transsexuals are in fact intersex and this is the reason for their desire to correct their wrong sex assignment. Dr. Milton Diamond and some other experts do consider certain forms of transsexuality as an intersex condition.

(Via)

But regardless of any possible differences of opinion about whether transsexuality is an intersex condition, Ms Cromwell makes one very important point about transitioning:

As difficult as it is (and it is difficult) to find a qualified practitioner for the purpose of providing a diagnosis and referral, matters become even more difficult when it comes to accessing treatment from a local GP.

General practitioners play a vital role in the ongoing monitoring of patients throughout the reassignment process and they can make a very significant difference to the overall outcome of the treatment process.

For me, although finding a GP remains an unfulfilled aim, I think it bears repeating that, to see any GP, one first has to run the gauntlet of receptionists and practice nurses, who can and do make their hostility to trans people glaringly obvious.

I’m a little concerned at Ms Cromwell’s apparent emphasis on surgery as the goal of transitioning; my own feeling is that transitioning is an ongoing process and surgery just another step on a very long path. In addition, it must be remembered that not everybody transitions medically, or undergoes surgery.

Nevertheless, the article is generally a useful reminder of the complexity of the medical treatment of gender dissonance, and I hope it will generate a reasonably intelligent level of debate around the subject.

Yet another trans 101, in which Helen tells cis people What’s What

February 28, 2009

tg_black-on_pink_100x107It’s a sad-but-true fact that, almost without exception, every single online conversation that I have, which includes even one cis person, is invariably dragged back to the same starting point: trans 101.

And while we – trans people – get bogged down in these frankly tedious tutorials, our lives – our real lives, our experiences, our hopes and dreams – our existences – are, as a consequence, marginalised, tokenised and always subject to question (if we’re lucky), or erased and made invisible (if we’re not).

Endlessly having to deal with cis people’s demands to explain and justify ourselves is an energy-suck and a humungous time-waster. Because cis people can wander off thinking how fascinating the insights they’ve gained are, or how they’ve proved to themselves that their pet theories are right – and still don’t make the connection between those things, and how we still have to live our lives in their world. And the first thing we ask ourselves, after you’ve all gone on your merry way is why we always have to give these trans 101 lessons to you.

There’s actually a very convincing and well-established argument for not engaging with you at all: it’s not the job of the oppressed minority to educate our oppressors – and yes, you do oppress us. Sometimes these back-to-basics questions are deliberately thrown into a conversation as a way of derailing or recentering it; the aim being to paralyse discussion and thereby shut it down. Sometimes the oppressions are more subtle, unintentional, even. Either way, the net effect of having to interact with cis people at such a fundamental level is, as one of my friends has perceptively remarked, like death by a thousand papercuts.

Face it, it’s not that difficult to type ‘trans 101’ into your favourite search engine and follow a few of the links that come up. And there are any number of excellent books out there – you could do worse than start with Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl. Or read some of the posts we make on our blogs, or follow the links in our blogrolls.

At least then, when you do come back to us, your questions might have a focus. “Tell me about transgender” is one of the worst things you could ever ask; I can feel my heart sink just typing it out – and you do it Every. Single. Time.

Then you wonder why we get cross with you, why we always seem angry?

But I’ve also heard your counter-argument: “But Helen, the best way for us to learn is for you to tell us, then we hear it first-hand and we get it right”. And despite the pitfalls in your argument, I do actually have some empathy for it. (The pitfalls are (a) it’s a big, big subject which can’t be summed up in a handy pocket-sized soundbite and (b) I don’t speak for, or represent, all trans people). I also know that you always have “just one more question” – and that’s where it starts to become the will-sapping vortex that is behind your demand that trans people educate you.

Periodically, it seems that one or other trans woman thinks that maybe if she put together a trans 101, then she can just refer the questioning cis person to it. It might stick in our throats that we’re doing your grunt work, but we figure that in the long run, the time and effort we put into writing a dedicated piece will pay off – you get your basic information and we hope that we get to have the conversations about the subjects that are of more interest. It never actually works out like that, of course, but we persist, in the faint hope that one day

So welcome to Yet another trans 101, in which Helen tells cis people What’s What.

It’s not a definitive piece, by any stretch of the imagination – other trans people may or may not agree with my views and opinions, but that’s okay, we each have our own takes on what it means to be trans in a cis person’s world. Neither is it a very structured piece; things loop back into (and out of) other things, they overlap, they intersect, and it’s the antithesis of my usual, more linear style of writing. It doesn’t reach a particular conclusion: that’s not its purpose.

One point I want to make very clear is this: my identity is not up for negotiation. I’m a trans woman (my current definition of the term is in my recent post of the same name – link here) and it really doesn’t matter whether any cis person can or can’t deal with that, whether you accept me as the person I am or not: it’s who I am. So please, spare me the indignant lectures about why/how I can’t possibly exist, or how being trans is an affront to your cherished academic and theoretical ideals of what gender is, or isn’t. Those things are interesting to discuss, sure – but I’m here, now; I’m a real flesh-and-blood human being, just like you. And, just like you, I don’t have to validate my existence to anyone.

————

I often use the words trans (short for transsexual) – my definition of the term is in my earlier post trans woman (link here) – and cis, short for cissexual. At its simplest, I use the word ‘cis’ to mean ‘not trans’ – but it’s a little more complex than that. As my transition has progressed, I’ve become very aware of the privileges and oppressions around being a trans woman. And a preoccupation of mine is the privileges that cis people have, that are denied to trans people, apparently by virtue of our mere existence.

Several bloggers have put together very useful and informative cis privilege checklists, and I’d really recommend you go and look at the following links. You do need to understand how cis privilege works; like most privileges, it’s given to you regardless of whether or not you want it, and whether or not you’re even aware of it. And your cis privilege does affect the way you treat trans people, believe me.

I should also add that, while they’re useful as a kind of shorthand, it’s my experience that any privilege checklist is by definition not telling the full story. There are nuances and subtleties which do not easily lend themselves to categorisation. But it’s a start, and you really need to give cis privilege a lot of thought; in particular, you need to watch how your cis privilege affects trans people when you interact with us.

  • Cis Privilege Checklist: From the Taking Up Too Much Space blog, this is a very comprehensive checklist.
  • The Cisgender Privilege Checklist: This one’s from The Transgender Boards and is also useful, although I’m not especially comfortable with the word ‘cisgender’. I’ll come back to that in a minute.
  • Trans Bingo Card: Although not a checklist per se, I think it fits in here very well. It lists many of the common questions and statements thrown at us by cis people who clearly haven’t examined their privilege. A lot of these things are actually deeply hurtful, more so when the cis person using the them neither intends to (nor is aware of) the upset these kind of remarks cause. Hence the apparently snarky tone – but when you’ve heard these things for the millionth time, then snark is often our best, and sometimes only, form of self-protection.

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Okay. Cissexual vs cisgender. I need to come at this from a bit of an angle, so bear with me. The literal meaning of ‘trans’ is ‘across’, so it could be said that ‘transsexual’ means ‘crossing from one sex to another’. That definition works for me. Likewise, you might say that ‘transgender’ means ‘crossing from one gender to another’. That definition doesn’t work for me; by which I mean that I have always perceived myself as being female, that’s one thing that hasn’t changed through my transition. My sex may have changed but my gender hasn’t.

This is actually another sticking point in understanding trans people; there is a tendency to use ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ synonymously. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, there’s a world of difference – although it’s kind of hard to explain sometimes. There are a couple of truisms relating to this which, although they don’t tell the full story, are a useful way of getting some small insight. First, it’s sometimes said that ‘sex is what’s between a person’s legs, but gender is what’s between their ears’. Alternatively, you might try ‘sex is who I go to bed with, but gender is who I go to bed as.

Coming back to cissexual vs cisgender, this distinction is why, when I use the term ‘cis’, I mean ‘cissexual’, not ‘cisgender’.

And it should also be pointed out that none of these expressions is a slur on a cis person’s cis-ness. They’re just a useful reminder of a generally overlooked/concealed power imbalance in the relations between us.

————

I want to talk about the ‘gender is a construct’ meme at this point. This handy-dandy cliche is generally attributed to Simone de Beauvoir in her book The Second Sex – this translation is from Wikiquote:

On ne naît pas femme: on le devient.
(One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman)

I believe a more useful view is this, from Stephen Whittle’s essay Where did we go wrong? Feminism and trans theory – two teams on the same side?

…I do not care whether I was ‘born this way’ or ‘became this way’. […] Whatever made me, I am, and I can no longer say who the ‘I’ is, except through a descriptive process…

Unfortunately, de Beauvoir’s idea is one of the usual underpinnings of the common, and too-frequent, attacks made on trans women by some cis women feminists, that as gender is socially constructed, a cis man can never be a ‘real’ woman because he wasn’t born female-bodied.

There are two fundamental flaws in this assertion. First, the conflation of constructivism and essentialism, which seems invariably to be ignored or denied by those who practise transphobic hate speech. Which would be risible if it wasn’t for the vitriolic way it’s thrown at us, without even a hint of awareness of the inherent contradictions of the two opposing views.

The second problem – and it’s a form of oppression that’s as vicious as it’s subtle – is the rejection of the trans woman’s perception of herself as being gendered female, not male, and certainly not cis. I never was male, just male-bodied. This is also where cis privilege starts to play out: the cis women who generally expound the hardline constructivist/essentialist view have the luxury of being of a gender that matches their sexed bodies. Their cis privilege renders it impossible for them to realise or accept the gender dissonance which, to me, is at the heart of the experience of being trans. Which would be bearable if we simply agreed to disagree and go our separate ways. But they are unable or unwilling to do that because their entire belief system is founded on this dogma; to admit otherwise would require a – pardon the pun – radical rethinking of their particular brand of feminism. Which, apparently, they are not prepared to do.

The next stage of their attack – and attack is the time-honoured best form of defence, after all – is generally to repeat a variation of the hate speech of Janice Raymond as iterated in her transphobic screed The Transsexual Empire: the making of the she-male:

I contend that the problem with transsexualism would best be served by morally mandating it out of existence.

The problem with that contention is that – despite her protestation that she was ‘merely’ advocating legal limitations on changing sex – the only possible way to implement it, as I see it, would result in the complete eradication of trans people. Genocide, not to put to fine a point on it.

————

This might be an appropriate moment to say a little about the language around trans oppression.

Time and again, I have witnessed, and experienced, a variety of verbal attacks by cis women feminists and it has become very easy to fathom the nature of these attacks by considering – from a trans perspective – some of the race-related examples set out by the Unapologetic Mexican in the Wite-Magik Attax section of his Glosario resource pages.

It seems to me that cis privilege and white privilege manifest themselves in very similar ways (this is not to say that one is worse than the other). As an oppressed group, trans women need a language to describe our oppression. UM’s Glosario gives trans women some language that’s based on race, but is applicable to being trans.

For example, it’s illuminating to re-read Nezua’s definition of Wite-Magik Attax through the lens of being trans:

A predictable series of non-arguments that attempt to denigrate, negate, or invalidate ideas, feelings, or experience as related by a [trans] person. These attacks take many forms, and while each person making the attack thinks their (dys)logic to be unerring, they echo timeless and faulty cognitive patterns. These Wite-Magik Attax invariably escalate in intensity, however, the longer the [trans] person attempts to assert their reality.

————

Somewhere around this point, we usually get sucked into another timeworn argument which states that trans women are reinforcing gender stereotypes by transitioning to a female binary spectrum identity. The short answer is that very few of us, trans or cis, are entirely gender neutral in our existence – as demonstrated by the insistence of some cis women radical feminists on simultaneously denying trans women access to their sacred ‘wymyn-born wymyn only’ spaces, at the same time as they tell us there is either no such thing as gender, or that it can be learned like the lines of a play. As I mentioned earlier, their logic is fatally flawed: if there’s no such thing as gender, or it can be dismantled as easily as it can be constructed, then why is there any need for ‘wymyn-born wymyn only’ spaces?

The fact is that there is a substantial body of medical and scientific evidence which shows quite clearly that gender is not something we make up, either as a result of suffering a ‘mental disorder’ (as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) defines us), or for sexual gratification (fetishism, autogynephilia), or for any of the other ludicrous and offensive reasons that uninformed people like to believe. There’s no doubt in my mind that there’s a definite neurological element to the condition of transsexualism. It’s likely to have existed in the human race for a very, very long time, and is unlikely to disappear overnight.

Transsexual people are here, we’re real, and I for one would appreciate it if cis people would show us the same respect, concern and compassion that they expect trans people to show them. And on that note, I think I’ll bring this post to a close. There are questions I’ve not answered, topics I’ve not covered, but it’s such a huge subject it’s as difficult to know where to stop as it is to start.

In closing, for anyone seeking answers that this post hasn’t provided, I’d recommend following some of the links I provide in the sidebar of this blog, under the subheading Trans 101 (Hey Lord, don’t ask me questions)

trans woman

January 24, 2009

in-the-kitchenI identify as a trans woman.

In this context, I use the word trans as:

  1. an adjective, and
  2. an abbreviation

1. Trans as an adjective: I do not refer to myself as a transwoman for the same reason given by Lisa Harney in her comment on Cedar’s post Put the Goddamn Space in: “transwoman” “transfeminism” “transmasculine” etc (language politics #1):

[F]or a lot of transsexual women, ‘transwoman’ is othering because we’re transitioning to female/woman, and we’re not trying to be a special exceptional kind of woman (transwoman) which is effectively a third or fourth gender, but a woman who is trans (like a woman who is black, or a woman who is lesbian), and for us, the adjective form is preferable.

2. Trans as an abbreviation: I use the word trans as an abbreviation of transsexual, and not as an abbreviation of transgender (which I use as a more generic, umbrella term for people who are gender variant or otherwise questioning their gender): I do not refer to myself as a transgender woman.

By transsexual I mean that I was medically diagnosed as having a long-lasting, extreme case of gender dysphoria. However, I am uncomfortable with the mainstream medical definition of gender dysphoria as a condition in which a person feels that they are trapped within a body of the wrong sex. I prefer the term gender dissonance for the same reason given by Julia Serano in the glossary on the web page for her book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity:

gender dissonance
A form of cognitive dissonance experienced by trans people due to a misalignment of their subconscious and physical sexes. Gender dissonance differs somewhat from the psychiatric term “gender dysphoria,” which typically conflates this cognitive dissonance regarding one’s sex with the mental stresses that arise from societal pressure to conform to gender norms.

In addition, I prefer the use of the female pronouns she and her (see also nixwilliams’ Getting pronouns right: a guide for spoken conversation), and the formal form of address Ms.

Get it? Got it? Good!

tg_black-on_pink_100x107Proviso #1: I see my transition as an ongoing, dynamic and open-ended process. Consequently, I reserve the right to modify, alter or otherwise change my views, opinions and self-identification as I continue to refine my personal value/belief system towards the formulation of an ideology – a “politics of being trans” – that works for me.

Proviso #2: Other trans people may have other definitions, or see things differently from me. This is not a problem. At least, not for me.

For answers to further Trans 101-related questions, please refer to the links in my blogroll under the subheading Trans 101 (hey lord, don’t ask me questions)

Men are from Earth, women are from Earth

October 20, 2008

Interesting article in yesterday’s Sunday Times (link here) about the Conservative party seeking advice from a marketing agency on “deciphering the female psyche”. Apparently:

The consultants use research drawn from brain science, anthropology and marketing to help their clients to improve their understanding of women consumers. Their big idea is that while men regard the world as a stadium in which they compete, women are more “altruistic” and “utopian”.

The consultants, who are close to Steve Hilton, [David] Cameron’s director of stategy, have been holding regular meetings with the Tory leadership for the past 18 months. Their influence can be seen in the Tories’ changes in marketing, political style and policies. The replacement of the “phallic” Tory torch logo with the “organic” oak tree brand was a clear attempt to create a more female-friendly image.

[..]

Partly at the suggestion of his new advisers, the Tory leader has played down traditional Conservative “masculine” subjects such as tax cuts and Europe in favour of more “feminine” issues such as maternity nurses, schools and care for the elderly.

[..]

The consultants point to scientific research which shows that while men use only part of their brains, women are more “whole-brained”.

Men are described as active, analytical, competitive and interested in things, while women are more concerned with feelings, relationships, people and empathy.

“Women have a stronger sense of moral order and justice and are, as a result, driven to improve the world at large,” the consultants write.

So are they really saying that taxation and European issues are subjects which don’t appeal to women voters, and that women can’t be analytical and “interested in things”? – whatever that means.

“Whereas men are most likely to think the nation’s most pressing issues are budget and cutting spending, women […] are more inclined to favour social programmes and services such as education, healthcare and childcare, poverty, joblessness, environment, world hunger and the United Nations.”

The report specifically mentions the party’s intention “to woo the middle-class mothers whose votes are likely to determine the outcome of the next general election”. Given the condescending attitude which seems to pervade the strategy, it’s amazing they think that the targetted voters are even going to be able to find their way to the polling station without the help of a man, let alone manage to put one’s ‘X’ in the right box as well.

I really can’t help but wonder why politicians think that a campaign apparently based on hopelessly outmoded and inaccurate stereotypes is likely to be more successful in attracting a specific group of voters than a campaign which considers the real needs of real women in real life.

————

Cross-posted at The F-Word on 20 October 2008

Helen’s Guide To PMS

October 12, 2008

Introduction:

By April 2007, the female sex hormones that I’d been prescribed had really started to take effect, in numerous ways. For me, one of the most unexpected effects was that I started to exhibit several of the symptoms of PMS – Premenstrual Syndrome. I’m not sure why I hadn’t anticipated that they would manifest themselves: with hindsight, it should have been fairly obvious that I could expect to experience PMS to some degree; after all, it’s driven by oestrogen levels and I was taking a comparatively high dosage.

To start with it was difficult to understand what was going on and, even now, over a year after surgery, and on a lower dose of oestrogen, I still experience PMS and I still find it hard to cope with. Possibly the most curious thing is the way that, after building in intensity for two or three days, the symptoms then vanish literally overnight – only for the whole process to start again some 29 days later.

Back in April 2007, I began to research the subject and to assemble what I like to call “Helen’s Guide To PMS”. Despite the seriousness of the topic, it’s a deliberately jokey title because I realise that every woman who suffers PMS will experience and manage it in a way unique to her as an individual. Therefore, to imply that I am speaking for all women would be a conceit of monumental proportions. Rather, I hope that I can talk about some of the wider, more generalised aspects of the condition in the hope of offering one trans woman’s insight into an aspect of transitioning which I don’t think I’ve seen mentioned in any Trans 101. Some of what follows is drawn from my own real life experiences and some of it is based on information found on the web.

Abstract of journal entry for Saturday 21 April 2007:
I’ve started a thread on the NuttycaTS forum. I hope it gets some positive responses…

Coping with PMS-like symptoms:

I hope this isn’t a contentious subject that gets me shot down in flames, but nevertheless, I have to ask…

About once every 4 weeks or so, I seem to exhibit several symptoms which seem to be very similar to PMS: not sleeping, feeling bloated, getting very emotional, etc. The worst of these is becoming very tearful – yesterday was very bad for me, more in terms of embarrassing myself at work, than anything. I just couldn’t stop bursting into tears. And I know that I have no reason; compared to 99.9% of the population of planet earth, I have a very privileged life and should be happy for everything that I have. And generally, I am. But even reminding myself of all that didn’t help me yesterday.

This is the fourth month now that this has happened and it doesn’t seem to get any easier with the passing of time. I find it difficult to know how to learn to “deal with it” – where do I start? – but I know I need to find a way that works for me, and soon.

So I wondered if anyone else ‘suffered’ these kind of symptoms, and if so, do you have any successful strategies for coping with them?

My office manager said I should think about going out for a cup of coffee when it happens (I’m not convinced about the practicality of that) – someone else has suggested taking a mineral/vitamin/herbal supplement (I was given the brand names Well Woman and Magnesium X) – and someone else has suggested Evening Primrose/Star Flower. Has anyone tried any of these? Did/do they work for you? Do you have any other hints/tips that I might try?

Sorry if this sounds like a dumb question, I’m trying not to make it sound like an industrial strength whinge, but it’s really preoccupying me at the moment and I’d really like to know if I’m the only one who gets this way…

Later edit: A couple of people replied with a few helpful suggestions:

  • Exercise
  • Evening Primrose
  • Chocolate (“think of all those endorphins”)
  • Pamper yourself. “You could try a nice bath, with some smellies in, and candles, maybe a book etc, or if you have someone special get them to maybe join you. Then get out the old Johnsons and get him/her to give you a nice all over massage :-)”
  • Someone posted a link to quite a comprehensive article here: www.womenshealthchannel.com/pms/treatment.shtml The link is to page 4 of 5.
  • And someone else pointed out a fact sheet on the Women’s Health Concern website.

Abstract of journal entry for Sunday 22 April 2007:
I’ve done a bit more research on PMS and am hoping to make this a reasonably comprehensive resource for my own future reference – as well as the last word on the subject.

…For the moment, anyway… :-)

So… As you’d expect, there’s a metric tonne of information out on the web and what follows is collated from some of those sources.

Symptoms: There are more than 100 symptoms associated with PMS and a woman’s individual symptoms can vary from month to month. The most common symptoms include:

  • depression and agitation, stress or anxiety
  • trouble falling asleep (insomnia)
  • fluid retention and abdominal bloating
  • abdominal cramps
  • irritability and mood swings
  • crying spells
  • breast tenderness
  • trouble concentrating
  • skin and hair changes, worsening of existing skin disorders, and respiratory or eye problems
  • appetite changes and food cravings
  • social withdrawal
  • body temperature increase

Causes: As is often the case, nobody really knows. Current thinking suspects that it may be linked to fluctuations in hormone levels.

Women with low levels of serotonin have been found to be particularly sensitive to levels of the hormone progesterone, which, it is thought, may lead to symptoms of PMS.

I’m remembering the research into Ecstacy use which suggested that prolonged/heavy use might significantly reduce serotonin levels as well as the brain’s capability to produce it.

Diagnosis and PMS Diary: Before I talk about techniques for dealing with PMS, I should mention its diagnosis. For one thing, there is no recognised way of diagnosing PMS. A fundamental problem is that there’s a huge overlap with the symptoms of depression and the main distinguishing factor between the two conditions is the fact that PMS is cyclical, ie: it comes round at regular intervals. One can have blood tests and urine tests to confirm that the symptoms aren’t something else, but, if one believes that one is suffering PMS, keeping a diary is pretty much essential to be able to confirm the cyclical aspect and therefore be able to diagnose it with any certainty.

I myself have kept a record which dates back to my first experience of PMS in 2007. From that data, I’ve been able to work out that my cycle is about 29 days on average. Initially I would get PMS at around the time of the New Moon, but since surgery I seem to have resynchronised to around the time of the Full Moon.

Edited To Add – Saturday 10 November 2007:

2007 History: The January 2007 occurrence is not very well recorded in my journal, but in hindsight, I’m now convinced that it was the first appearance of the symptoms – about 3 months after starting to take feminising hormonesoestrogen – and 3 months is generally accepted as about the time that the hormones take to start kicking in. If January 2007 was my first experience of PMS, then I wouldn’t have recorded it as such because I wouldn’t have known that that’s what it was. Also, it just might be that the symptoms weren’t as pronounced then.

At the time, I put my tearfulness down to being stressed out about visiting and ‘coming out’ to Mum and Dad, and undoubtedly that intensity of emotions was part of it. I must also remember that, on that day, I had sessions with my gender counsellor and speech therapist, as well as having a blood test: quite a stressful day. I’m smiling to myself as I type this: knowing what I know now, if I ever find myself with a schedule that full when I’m expecting PMS, I’ll definitely take a duvet day, and to hell with everyone!

And twice (February and March 2007) the PMS seems to have coincided with bad bursts of dysphoria, triggered by not shaving in advance of electrolysis.

Moon phases: As I mentioned earlier, initially my PMS was tied quite closely to the New Moon; it disappeared for a good six months after surgery, but it’s returned with a vengeance these last few months – and curiously, it’s now synchronising with the Full Moon. Which is why now is an appropriate time for me to post this: I’ve just had an extremely stressful couple of days which seems to have brought my expected PMS forward by a day, to today (Sunday) – and the Full Moon is in two days – on Tuesday.

For 2007, by November, I’d experienced two bouts of PMS peaking on the New Moon, three 2 days before, two 1 day before, one 1 day after, one 3 days after and one 4 days after. So, although it’s hard to say there was definitely a link, that bad ol’ moon, she sure as hell looked suspicious, always hangin’ around at about that time…

Treatment: There are almost as many suggestions for treatment as there are symptoms. But a few do seem to appear over and over, some of them might even be worth trying. Although I don’t think I’ll be trying synthetic testosterone or an intra-uterine system – and I’m already using oestrogen patches…

For many women, simple changes to diet and lifestyle, stress reduction, aerobic exercise, reducing or eliminating alcohol, caffeine, refined sugar, salt, dairy products, and animal fats may be beneficial. Smoking doesn’t help (well, duh!). Some studies show that drinking tea and increasing carbohydrate intake is helpful. (Carbohydrates increase the level of serotonin). A diet sheet is available from the National Association for Premenstrual Syndrome (NAPS) – but they want money and I’m a cheapskate.

Other (non-hormonal) treatments include: Vitamin B6, calcium supplements, magnesium, Evening primrose oil (EPO), diuretics (water tablets) for ankle swelling, and even antidepressants.

Links: These websites were really informative:

Yeah and?

It seems that we each find our own ways of coping; as best I can tell, the information I’ve collated here seems to be a reasonable representation of a broad average of symptoms and treatments. Of course, when talking about half the population it’s not a good idea to generalise, but I hope I’ve included enough details here to offer some useful starting points for any trans woman who’s starting to experience PMS and is wondering – as I was – just what is happening here…

National Coming Out Day 2008

October 10, 2008

This year’s National Coming Out Day will be held on Sunday 12th October in the UK (Saturday 11th October in the US)

Transitioning is not a simple or an easy process – but then, nobody said it would be – and coming out is one aspect which may occur off and on throughout one’s transition, at various times and places and for different reasons.

Regardless of how transgender people live our gender identities, transitioning may be a very public coming out. We may need to disclose to family, friends, employers and healthcare providers.

By its nature, for many (but not all) transgender people, transitioning isn’t something that that can be hidden.

Some may choose to live ‘in stealth’: they may disclose their transgender status to healthcare professionals, but do not discuss these matters with other people. Whereas other transgender people may be far more open about their transitions.

There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in any of these decisions. For many of us, the degree of choice may be quite minimal: certainly for me, one of the most fundamental aspects of transitioning is survival. Under those circumstances, it has been my experience that choices tend to become fewer and more stark. I’m very open about my gender dysphoria and subsequent transitioning – but that’s my choice.

For transgender people, coming out requires us to make decisions on a daily basis about where, when and how to come out – or where, when and why not to.

Ultimately, this is an ongoing journey and ideally, for the most part, it should be up to each of us to decide how to take that journey.

It is important to remember that, no matter how it may sometimes seem, we are not alone. Even if families and friends are unable or unwilling to support us, there are many other resources available.

For anyone thinking about coming out and transitioning, or simply wishing to learn more, a useful first step may be to look at this page on the GIRES (Gender Identity Research and Education Society) website – it contains many links to useful resources for adults, gender variant young people and families of trans people as well as medical and other information.