Category Archives: Trans life

My Many Privileges

First, I have the privilege of being white. I’m not going to elaborate on this privilege because if you don’t understand how being born white in America is a privilege then you’re probably just a racist bigot who won’t be persuaded by what I write anyway. But I recommend listening to the voices of #blacklivesmatter activists and listening to their stories of discrimination and violence at the hand of the police state as well as the systematic discrimination of white supremacy in the good ole US of A.

Second, I have class privilege insofar as I was born into the working middle class. My parents were never “rich” per se but they worked hard and could always provide food on the table and a roof over our heads as well as enough money for amazing Chistmas’s, birthdays, etc. I had a nintendo and LEGO and bikes and they bought me a car at age 16.I was fortunate to inherit money from my grandmother on my dad’s side. My middle class privilege has provided me numerous opportunities in life. Although I worked hard in school and was “smart”, my socio-economic status helped me get into a decent university while also having my family support me in countless financial ways through my young adulthood.

Part of my socio-economic privilege was that I was able to build up a good credit score which has allowed me to finance my transition, including paying for 8 sessions of laser (~$1,700) as well as buying a whole new wardrobe for all four seasons of St Louis weather (granted, I do shop at goodwill a LOT), buying a shit-ton of makeup, etc. I live a comfortable life for the most part. I have a lot of credit card debt but I managed to spend 11 years in higher-education without racking up any student loan debt.

I feel privilege that I was able to get so much university/graduate education before starting my transition. Some trans people feel like they would have been better off transitioning before puberty or during their teen years. But personally, I am glad I was not out-as-trans during highschool or college. For one, I would literally be a different person. And two, I probably would have faced outright bullying and intolerance. And I was able to use my “male privilege” in order to power my way through grad school without ever having my intelligence second-guessed just because of my sex.

But I can only feel that last one (late transitioning)  as a privilege because my genetics have made it such that when I did start transition, at age 29, after only like 5-6 months of HRT and a few laser sessions under my belt I started passing pretty well and now, 9.5 months on HRT and 8 sessions of laser, I pass probably like 80-90% of the time which is a HUGE privilege. It allows me to blend into society relatively well. My passing privilege allows me to be gendered correctly. To avoid harassment. To avoid danger, violence, insults. I don’t pass perfectly, and I am still clockable – but my genetic luck (and the laser) has made it such that I can go outside the house to run an errand without spending two hours putting on makeup to downplay my masculine features. I am lucky in that I don’t have to perform femininity to the extreme in order to be accepted for the person I am (although I do LOVE makeup and all things feminine and generally identify as a very femme person). But it’s not necessary to my survival. I also started transition with long hair and that helps a lot for avoiding misgendering.

Most trans women are not as privileged as I am. They struggle with suicidal thoughts. With homelessness. Rejection from family and friends. Depression. Anxiety. I don’t deal with any of that.  I haven’t been forced to turn to survival sex work just to pay for my hormones. I managed to get my legal name change ($175 court cost) without too much hassle. I have a good credit score.

I managed to find love and acceptance in my partner. I am happy and engaged. I found true love within the first year of my transition. You know how rare that is? I never take it for granted and count my lucky stars every day.

Sometimes I feel guilty – like survivor’s guilt. I want to make a difference – but who cares what a “stuck up white bitch” like myself has to say? I’ve been told I’m the “epitome of white passing privilege” and that I’m “just like Caitlyn Jenner”. But I still feel like I have important things to say. Important things to write. I want to help my fellow trans folks who are not as fortunate as I am. I want to be a voice for those who don’t have a voice. I never want to talk over people though I’m afraid I do that all the time as part of my privilege.  Please correct me when I’m wrong. I will listen. I’m all ears. I identify as an intersectional feminist. I want to listen to the diverse narratives of trans folks of all stripes so that I can boost their voices.

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Filed under feminism, Gender studies, My life, Trans life, Uncategorized

Giving Up My Male Privilege

Before I get started, I need to say this post is entirely about *my narrative*. I speak ONLY for myself. This post is not about other trans women – It’s about MY life.

I grew up with male privilege and then I gave it up.

I grew up as a relatively “normal boy”. I never had any struggles with my gender identity until my late 20s. I was homeschooled. As a child I played Legos with my brother, built tree forts, played sports, rode bikes around the neighborhood, swam all day in the summer, played manhunt, collected random things, played videogames, and was generally a pretty normal boy with normal “boyish” predilections.

I loved school and academics. I always did well. I had the privilege of never having my intellectual abilities questioned. I had the privilege of never being discouraged to pursue science and philosophy. I had the privilege of never being defined as a “emotional being” but instead had the privilege of being defined as a “rational being”. I had the privilege of being seen as the “default” – the prototypical person.

I had the privilege of having my hand-eye coordination encouraged and praised. I had the privilege of having the option of not caring about my appearance without having my masculinity challenged. I had the privilege of not worrying about whether I was skinny enough to be attractive. I had the privilege of avoiding the “pink tax”. I had the privilege of playing with all the “cool” toys as a child.

I had the privilege of being able to walk in my neighborhood at night without any fear of being attacked or raped. I had the privilege of never having to worry about my drink being drugged at a party. I had the privilege of not worrying if I was getting too drunk.

I had the privilege to speak up in class and dominate class discussions. I had the privilege to go through grad school in philosophy without people assuming I’m not “cut out” for philosophy, rational thought, or argumentation. I had the privilege of choosing any topic to study even if it did not relate the real world. I had the privilege to speak with authority and not have my intelligence questioned. I had the privilege of mansplaining.

I had the privilege of examples in thought experiments usually being male-gendered and I had the privilege of language being male-centered (”All of mankind”, “all men are created equal”, “mailman”, etc).

I had the privilege of not being interrupted as much when I was speaking.

I had the privilege of my reproductive system not being regulated by the state.

I had the privilege of my “male gaze” being the focus of pornography and I had the privilege of having my objectifications validated by society.  I had the privilege of not ever being sexually harassed or hit on by strangers. I had the privilege of never being cat called.

I had the privilege of reading about history and having almost every story center around men. I had the privilege of most of the protagonists in media being men with positive representation. I had the privilege of not having to deal with the Bechdel Test.

I had the privilege of having almost all elected officials being men. I had the privilege of most research being done on male subjects.

I had the privilege of being able to take up as much space as I wanted.

I had the privilege of not having to worry too much about household chores and cleaning, so-called “women’s work”.

I had the privilege of everyone assuming that my career would take precedence in a relationship.

….

I have given all that up. I no longer have those privileges, or if I do retain some of the privilege, I am slowly losing it. I have lost my male privilege while also gaining the extra problems of transphobia and cis-sexism.I have begun the process of unlearning all socialization I received growing up. I have tried my best to learn more about feminism, women’s rights, and the system of patriarchy that I used to benefit from. I try to be a better listener now, I try not interrupt people as much as I used to. I try not to talk over people like I used to. I try not to dominate discussions in class like I used to. Part of my newfound “quietism” is due to me not liking to use my voice and drawing attention to myself as a trans woman, but it’s also partly due to my recognition that I cannot take my privileges for granted anymore.

I recognize it is highly controversial in the trans community to talk about my having grown up with male privilege. I SPEAK ONLY FOR MYSELF. Other trans women might have had completely different childhoods that didn’t have as many privileges. But it is unquestionable to me that I had certain privileges in virtue of being raised as a boy.

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Filed under My life, Trans life, Transition

The Traditional Gatekeeping Model of Trans Healthcare

Starting in 1933 with endocrinologist Christian Hamburger’s treatment of Christine Jorgensen, the triadic combination of psychiatric evaluation, hormones, and surgery became the default protocol for dealing with trans people who desired treatment. Not to mention that transgenderism itself was viewed by the professional community as a medical disorder – an idea that is now losing ground in wake of better knowledge about gender variance across cultures. The most comprehensive contemporary guideline for transgender healthcare is the Standards of Care (SOC) that comes from the World Professional Association for Transgender Health or WPATH. The WPATH guidelines provide a uniform set of standards for treating transgender and gender nonconforming people and have been the definitive source for transition guidelines for decades. When I talk about the “traditional” model of transgender healthcare I am referring to an amalgam of the WPATH guidelines prior to the 7th version( the current version, which came out in 2011), which has changed significantly to conform more towards the Informed Consent model. I’m focusing on the traditional model rather than the 7th version SOC because many healthcare providers across the world are still following the traditional model and using gatekeeping mechanisms to limit access to HRT and Gender Confirmation Surgery (GCS).

The first step in the traditional model is months of psychotherapy to evaluate whether the patient is genuinely transgender – often called the “trans enough” question. After this evaluation the patient would be diagnosed with gender identity disorder (GID) or “transsexualism” by a mental health professional.  Until 1998 the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association standards of care stated that “any and all recommendations for sex reassignment surgery and hormone therapy should be made only by clinical behavioral scientists.” (4th ed, 1990, quoted in Whipping Girl)

After getting a diagnosis of GID and starting psychotherapy, the patient would have to begin their “real-life experience test” (RLE) in which they are required to live full-time in their identified sex to experience what it is like living as their identified gender. Only after this real-life test, which could last for up to 1-2 years, would the therapist recommend the patient for hormone replacement therapy or sexual reassignment surgery. The WPATH 6th version recommends 12 months of RLE before irreversible physical treatment is started. The 6th edition WPATH Standards of Care state

“the act of fully adopting a new or evolving gender role or gender presentation in everyday life is known as the real-life experience. The real-life experience is essential to the transition to the gender role that is congruent with the patient’s gender identity. The real-life experience tests the person’s resolve, the capacity to function in the preferred gender, and the adequacy of social, economic, and psychological supports. It assists both the patient and the MHP in their judgments about how to proceed”

The underlying justification for these strenuous requirements was that the clinicians felt they were only trying to protect the trans people from having an “unsuccessful transition”, losing everything, and having deep regrets. As Julia Serano writes,

“Whether unconscious or deliberate, the gatekeepers clearly sought to (1) minimize the number of transsexuals who transitioned, (2) ensure that most people who did transition would not be ‘gender-ambiguous’ in any way, and (3) make certain that those transsexuals who fully transitioned would remain silent about their trans status.” (Whipping Girl)

The effects of gatekeeping in these early days can be seen in the fact that so few people ever got GCS despite the thousands of requests. The John Hopkins program accepted only 24 of the first two thousands requests for GCS.

Passing was considered a prerequisite for transitioning and thus for HRT – this bias still operates today implicitly and explicitly. Furthermore trans people were required to abide by heteronormative ideals such that a trans women should only show attraction to males and trans men only show attraction to females. The same applied to adherence to traditional gender expressions and gender roles, such as a trans women being femme and wearing makeup, heels, skirts, etc., or showing an aversion to “traditional” male activities or interests. Trans women still get turned down for HRT if they show up in jeans and a tshirt because this is evidence they are not “trans enough” or serious enough to begin medical transition.

The Stanford Gender Dysphoria clinic “took on the additional role of ‘grooming clinic’ or ‘charm school’ because, according to the judgment of the staff, the men who presented as wanting to be women did not always ‘behave like’ women…As Norman Fisk remarked, ‘I now admit very candidly that…in the early phases we were avowedly seeking candidates who would have the best chance for success” (Stone, 2006,  p. 227-228)

One of the most historically prominent endocrinologists, Christian Hamburger, was explicit in his recommendation of HRT only for those trans women who were not overly masculine. In discussing recommendations for HRT in trans women he writes:

“The attempts at feminization have better chances of being successsful in patients having a neutral or not pronounced masculine appearance. If the patients have a neutral or not pronounced masculine appearance, if the patient presents a black and vigorous growth of beard, deep voice, excessive hairiness on trunk and limbs, strong muscles and prominent veins, it is unlikely that the estrogen treatment will give a harmonious result. In such extreme cases it may be possibly wise to try to persuade the patient to abstain from any endocrine treatment unless the psychologic disposition makes such persuasion out of the question” (Green & Money, 1969, p. 302)

If a trans woman transitions yet maintains an masculine or androgynous appearance (such as a deep voice) then this would be considered “unharmonious”. This is a highly normative claim and builds a certain stereotype of what is to count as a “successful” transition. Can you be successful if people still read you as trans after your transition? Hamburger’s notion of “harmony” does nothing to address the question of psychological harmony: would going on feminizing hormones relieve dysphoria at all? If so, would not that be beneficial even if the patient was not harmonious with respect to the norms of society? Yet the medical gatekeepers who sought to prevent non-passing trans women from getting on HRT thought they were acting in the best interest of these patients, preventing them from harmful effects in society, post-transition regret, and a feeling of dissatisfaction with the results of HRT, which the doctors thought would leave these patients in a middle-state of ambiguity, neither male nor female and thus not able to fit into society in a functionally adaptive manner.

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Filed under Gender studies, Trans life, Uncategorized

How I Cope With Misgendering

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Filed under My life, Trans life, Transition, Uncategorized

Can Trans Women Learn Anything from Drag Queens?

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Filed under Beauty culture, Trans life