Friday, March 7, 2014

Transition Update:



I have been thinking that perhaps I should come back and post a follow-up here as it has been some time since I originally created this blog in the summer of 2012. A great deal has happened in my life since then.

The AGP/Crossdreamer descriptions were something of a stepping stone for me, a language of self-discovery that helped me come to terms with who I am and have always been. After a lifetime of hiding, I finally came to terms with the truth that I had been transgender all my life, repressing it for years with what can only be described as unbearable guilt and self-loathing. In the months following my original posts here I began gender therapy for the first time in my late fifties. Despite the fear and resignation I expressed in my earlier posts, it gradually became clear that I could not go on repressing my true feelings. After once again nearly taking my life one day, I finally concluded that I would have to transition to female to survive.

In the beginning, I was terrified of transition. I expected I would lose my career, my home, everything I held dear, end up on the street, and probably still die. But despite that pessimistic expectation, I could simply see no other choice but to go forward with transition. I am delighted to report that transition has not been anything like that; I am thrilled with my life now that I am living authentically as the female I have always been inside. I only wish I had been able to find my way here years ago.

In the final months of 2012 I began HRT, began losing weight, began electrolysis, began collecting a wardrobe (once again), came out to my family, began working on voice training, and began to learn makeup. I started living openly female everywhere but work early in 2013. In mid-2013 I began the long complex process of legally changing my identity to a new name and gender, and came out at work full time in the fall. I chose a new name and left Heather as a pre-transition pseudonym which I will probably still use for some of my writing.

I lost a great deal of weight with a much healthier diet, and began more regular exercise habits. I suddenly had a profound desire to live my life. My health is now better than it has been in decades. I was able to get rhinoplasty, and after nearly a year and a half of hormones I am now actually able to see a female-self emerging from the fa├žade I’ve hidden in, and been trapped by, all my life. I am also now working on raising the funds to get SRS and breast implants, hopefully late in 2014 or early 2015. Transition has also been like a second puberty for me, arousing profound heterosexual feelings of attraction to men.

I am posting this comment, a very brief summary of a much longer and much more complex story (which I’ve written more about elsewhere), in order to explain to those like myself who begin discovering themselves here, that I now realize I have always been a transsexual in denial. I’ve now begun to think of my childhood in terms of “when I was a little girl,” despite that I was deeply in denial and hiding for all those years. I can look back now with hindsight and acknowledge the countless times I knew in my heart that I felt female but couldn’t find a language to express it, or even admit it to myself.

I am delighted to report to you that there is life after transition! I have never been happier with myself or my life. To tell you the truth, passing at my age isn’t perfect, strangers often know I am transgender, but I am largely accepted as a woman, or at least a trans woman, without any issues. I have truly not had one bad experience with people mistreating me in the ways I imagined I would experience. I’ve transitioned very publicly to hundreds of people -- friends, family, customers, and co-workers -- and have received hundreds of heart-warming expressions of encouragement and congratulations from many of these people. I have lost some “friends,” and gained many new true friends.

The hardest experience has been the difficulty my adult children are still having with all of this. I believe they will ultimately come to accept me, and get to know me all over again. I know that the alternative wouldn’t have been any easier on them.

Please understand, I am not saying that everyone who identifies with the AGP/Crossdreamer profile is a transsexual who has been in denial all their life like I have been. What I am saying is that for many of us in my generation, denial and repression became a survival skill. Fortunately young transgender people today are finding it much easier to begin living authentically at a much younger age as our society gradually learns to accept transgender people. It is my fond hope that future generations will never have to suffer as so many of us have for so long. I would hope that if others come to the crossroads in their life that I did, they would not be as terrified of transition as I was. I am also not saying that transition is simple, but if it is the authentic path for your life, as it clearly is for mine, transition is more than possible, your new life can be WONDERFUL!

Finally, I want to emphatically encourage everyone with any interest in these issues to read Janet Mock’s new book “Redefining Realness,” released February 4th, 2014, and reaching 19 on the NY Times Best Seller list in the first week. She is a heroic figure that should encourage transgender people everywhere to live authentic lives, and challenge society to finally begin to understand us, accept us, and welcome us into the human family.

Transgender people are EXACTLY who they say they are!

Friday, February 8, 2013

"The Gender Variant Phenomenon--A Developmental Review" - Dr. Anne Vitale PhD

If you are here, you probably are transsexual or know someone who is. In either case, this paper is the best piece I have ever read for explaining the life stage struggles that transsexuals experience at all the stages of their lives; childhood, adolescence, young adult, middle age, and seniors. She also breaks transsexuals down into two groups of  MTF and one FTM group. My own life experience fits very well into what she calls "Group 3". If you are yourself transsexual, as I am, this may have a powerful emotional impact on you, as it did on me; you might want to have some tissues handy.

I highly recommend that you read this, and pass it on to others.

The Gender Variant Phenomenon--A Developmental Review

Thank you Dr. Vitale for an exceptional piece of work. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Suggestions for the family of a newly announced Transsexual

I recently wrote the suggestions below in response to a desperate plea like this which was posted on a favorite transgender forum:
"Hello, I am very worried about my [brother, sister, husband, wife, son, daughter, etc.], my whole family have been thinking [he/she] was having a nervous breakdown for the past three months,  [he has] just told us this week it is because [he] is transgender. We all love and support [him] and want [him] to be whoever he is, the real worry for us all is that he is not dealing with these feelings well at all. [He] is in a very deep depression having very dark and suicidal thoughts. I am so worried [he] will do something stupid, is there anyone who can help us? [He] is seeing a psychiatrist and has been. Put on antidepressants but I'm not sure [he] even takes them. [He] has the full support of [his] family -- or -- [His] family is not helping and has left [him] feeling abandoned. Are there any families out there in a similar situation that can advise me on how we can help [him]?"
I am going to stick my neck out here a bit and share the things that have helped me enormously. As I write this blog post, it was only a matter of a handful of months ago that I was about ready to walk in front of a train, but I am doing much better now as a result of several things:

1) I began posting a couple of online forums dedicated to transgender issues, with an anonymous persona which felt safe, and allowed me to connect with some sense of community. My favorite of these is: 

          http://tgboards.com/forums/index.php 

2) I found a very experienced gender therapist, not just any psychiatrist. I am not a doctor, but from what I have read, anti-depressants are not generally effective for gender dysphoria, which is not clinical depression, but the reaction to a neurological medical condition. Again, I am not a doctor, and this is my opinion, but a qualified, experienced gender therapist is critical! Many people have reported tremendous wastes of time and money going to medical professionals who are not experienced and competent with gender therapy issues. 

3) I have now read several dozen biographies of other transsexuals which was tremendously helpful to understand the degree to which my feelings were not unique, but that in fact all of us experience a lot of the same feelings and have very similar histories. This helps to defuse a lot of the guilt and anxiety. Just search for "Transsexual Biography" on Amazon. I found Kindle editions and downloaded them to a smart phone so that I could read them discreetly without others seeing what I was reading. 

4) I wrote my own personal history of my transgender awareness, and created a blog where I have written other things, which was quite cathartic. (There is a link to it in my signature line below.)

5) You should take the risk of suicide extremely seriously. I don't want to scare you, but pre-transition transsexuals have some of the highest rates of suicide of any recognized condition. The good news is that the rate for successfully transitioned transsexuals declines to roughly the same as the rest of society. 


6) For family members who are ignorant of transgender issues, but willing to learn and wanting to be helpful, I would suggest you get them to read: "True Selves: Understanding Transsexualism--For Families, Friends, Coworkers, and Helping Professionals" [Kindle Edition] which is probably the most widely recommended books for friends, family, and co-workers.           http://amzn.com/B003H060AY


7)  Family members who want to help can go a long way toward helping by learning to use whatever gender appropriate names and pronouns their family member prefers.


8  For FTM (female to male) transsexuals, it can be extremely helpful to have a safe place to cross-dress either in private, or with family or friends who are able to be supportive and gracious. Unlike transvestites for whom cross-dressing is a satisfying end in itself, for a transsexual, it is only a partially satisfying aid toward feeling more female. The real desire is for a complete change of outward gender identity to match the internal sense of gender identity. At first, the female presentation for a transsexual may not be very flattering, and this requires a great deal of grace and compassion from friends and loved ones. 


I offer these suggestions in the hope that they may prove helpful to others. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Effects In-Utero from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

This might seem a bit off-topic, but actually this really helped me to understand how profoundly the brain can be affected in-utero based on external events; external in the sense of not determined by the intrinsic fetal genetic instructions. These changes are not passed on to offspring because they are not changes to the genetic code, but simply interference with brain development.


You are probably aware that babies in the womb before birth are vulnerable to all sorts of harm if the mother does not take good care of her health. The process of growing a person in the womb involves probably trillions of complex biochemical processes, many of which are vulnerable to outside interference. If the mother drinks alcohol, takes some prescription medications, experiences extremes of physical or emotional stress, depression, becomes ill, etc., the developing baby in her womb can be affected in all sorts of complex ways, and even severely harmed. 

In the 1950s a sedative drug named Thalidomide was introduced to reduce the effects of morning sickness for pregnant mothers. It was subsequently found to have caused terrible birth defects in some of the resulting babies. 

In a similar way, fetal alcohol syndrome is characterized by a wide ranging set of symptoms experienced by babies born to mothers who drink alcohol during pregnancy. Depending on when during the pregnancy the mother consumes alcohol, all sorts of complex harm can be caused to the baby, especially in brain development where entire brain structures may fail to develop or develop abnormally. These symptoms can affect these people throughout their lives. While we know some of the ways that babies can be affected by outside events during pregnancy, there is a great deal more that we do not know, because the development of a person from a sperm and egg is a staggeringly complex process about which we actually know comparatively little. 

I have known someone closely whose mother was a severe alcoholic, and when I read the article at the link below I  immediately recognized nearly every issue described in this article, albeit in an adult form. As an adult, FAS victims develop a variety of coping skills and may live what appears to others as a reasonably normal life, with the full implications only visible to those who are very close.


Please read the following document for more details:
http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/Social/Module10KFetaExposure/Module10K.html

Studying FAS led me to understand more clearly an important distinction in the "Nature vs Nurture" debate. Many have written about this as if TS must either be genetically transmitted, or learned behavior, or some combination. Understanding the fragility of brain development, and understanding that every thought and feeling we hold has it's locus in the brain, either as patterns of firing (which can represent short term memory or "learned behavior"), or as neural pathways (which can be long term memory), but also as core, critical, differentiated structures of the brain which in some cases are irreplaceable. If the Corpus Callosum for example is not developed in-utero I don't believe it can develop later. If - as increasing evidence suggests - there are diffentiated brain structures associated with our core gender identity, then the development of these structures can be interfered with in-utero just like other structures.

For a host of reasons, it is my belief that this is the most reasonable explanation for TS, and probably other sex and gender related variations we see. This would explain the profound resistance to so-called "cures" from various "therapies." It could also explain the tremendous pattern of common themes in so many different TS from widely divergent backgrounds with or without any known family history of TS to suggest a genetic link. It could also explain the incredible resilience of TS feelings across decades of experience, and that many have experienced waves of recurring dysphoric pressure even after years of avoidance and work to repress the feelings.

For me, this understanding was the beginning of my ability to accept and even "forgive myself" and let go of the self-loathing that I had learned from the ever-present cultural feedback. I hope it may serve as food for thought for some others.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

WOW!!! Lana Wachowski video - MUST SEE!

If you're reading this,  you must go see this video. An amazing lady!

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/lana-wachowski-reveals-suicide-plan-382169

I am going to go see Cloud Atlas in about an hour just because I was so impressed with her from that video above.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Gender Identity Dysphoria:


“Dysphoria” is not exactly a term that comes up in daily conversation for the average person. “Euphoria” is much more common, so I suggest trying to imagine the opposite of euphoria to grasp the meaning of dysphoria. Euphoria is defined as:

Euphoria:
1)      An intense state of transcendent happiness combined with an overwhelming sense of contentment.
2)      A mental and emotional condition in which a person experiences intense feelings of well-being, elation, happiness, excitement, and joy.

Dysphoria:
1)      The polar opposite of all of the above.
2)      A medically recognized mental and emotional condition in which a person experiences intense feelings of depression, discontent, and in some cases indifference to the world around them.

Wikipedia has a relatively well balanced treatment of the subject of GID:

But this treatment fails to capture adequately the experience of Gender Dysphoria.
It is quite difficult to convey the experience of gender dysphoria to those with a conventionally integrated gender identity, like talking to a fish about drowning.

There are several aspects to Gender Dysphoria for me:

1)      Grief and loss: I grieve for the little girl I never got to be, the adolescent girl, the teenage girl, the young woman, the girlfriend, wife, and mother I have never been. Seeing females in all these life states I can suddenly find myself identifying with them and unexpectedly thrust into an overwhelming sense of grief and loss. The closest metaphor I can find for this is the grief of a parent over the loss of a child. Every day older I grow, is another day of female life experience lost, never to be recaptured. Unlike the loss of a child which happens once and in time may at least partially heal, this loss of the me that has never been happens anew every day, growing stronger as the lost time grows and the lifetime remaining grows shorter.

2)      Wrong body: I look in the mirror and cannot figure out why there is this horrible aging male person looking back at me. I don’t mean literally that I don’t know what I look like, but no matter how many times I see myself, I can never get over the feeling that this is not the image that should be looking back at me. When you look out through your eyes, you normally are not looking at yourself, and may for example spend an entire day unaware of the stain on your shirt or the piece of lettuce between your teeth. Suddenly you see yourself in a mirror and are aghast at the image you’ve been presenting. I look out through my eyes and can almost forget that others cannot see the young woman I feel that I should be.

3)      Gender-specific presentation: I find myself constantly fascinated with everything feminine; dresses, shoes, hair styles, makeup, perfume, jewelry, handbags, posture, voice expression, walking, hugs, kisses, even the feminine decoration of a room; all things that are denied me in my male role but that have an overwhelming attraction for me. I often feel like a young girl observing the feminine world to learn how to grow up to be female, while constantly confronted with the distressing reality that I am not. Often my observation of a female is misunderstood as male leering, when actually I hunger to learn every detail of feminine fashion, absorbing every detail of what I want to be.

4)      The Inexorable Attraction and Simultaneous Dread of Transition: For all these reasons and more, I find myself drawn, magnetically, forcefully, to transition; the actual physical process of hormone replacement and surgical intervention to transition into a life lived as a female. I find myself taking one baby step after another toward transition, each step both a thrill and a terror. The exhilaration of a growing belief that it could actually come true, I could finally experience my life as the female I have always felt myself to be, and the foreboding dread of all that it may cost in the potential loss of family, loved ones, friends, employment, and so on. Even more than that, the fear that I will get half way across the chasm that separates male and female, and somehow lose the resources required to complete the transition. The only thing worse than never transitioning, would be to get halfway there. In many ways this would have been much easier when I was younger.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Increased Cortical Thickness in Male-to-Female Transsexualism

With kind regards and thanks to A.E.Brain:  http://aebrain.blogspot.com

This study is very interesting...

"Background: The degree to which one identifies as male or female has a profound impact on one’s life.
Yet, there is a limited understanding of what contributes to this important characteristic termed gender identity.In order to reveal factors influencing gender identity, studies have focused on people who report strong feelings of being the opposite sex, such as male-to-female (MTF) transsexuals. Method: To investigate potential neuroanatomical variations associated with transsexualism, we compared the regional thickness of the cerebral cortex between 24 MTF transsexuals who had not yet been treated with cross-sex hormones and 24 age-matched control males. Results: Results revealed thicker cortices in MTF transsexuals, both within regions of the left hemisphere (i.e., frontal and orbito-frontal cortex, central sulcus, perisylvian regions, paracentral gyrus) and right hemisphere (i.e., pre-/post-central gyrus, parietal cortex, temporal cortex, precuneus, fusiform, lingual, and orbito-frontal gyrus). Conclusion: These findings provide further evidence that brain anatomy is associated with gender identity, where measures in MTF transsexuals appear to be shifted away from gender-congruent men."

"Keywords: Brain; Cortex; Gender Identity Disorder; MRI; Transgender; Gender Dysphoria; Gender Incongruence; Gender Nonconformity"

Full paper here:
http://dbm.neuro.uni-jena.de/pdf-files/Luders-JBBS11.pdf