Friday, 30 October 2015

the oldest taboo

If you look at the world around you there are a myriad of variations and permutations. At every level of nature we see exceptions to the norm because nature is not perfect nor is it uniform.

Intuitively we should be able to arrive at the conclusion that gender identity should be no exception and why should it? That would make it the only area of biology that was uniformly predictable.

This anomaly however, has not been easily accepted since it strikes at the roots of our cultural norms.

Our societies are built on the premise that man and woman are clearly defined concepts and form the nucleus of a family unit which guarantees the survival of our species. Transgender people, no matter how small in number, challenge that model and turn society’s expectation on its head.

Parents would attempt convert their transgender children into models that would fit the expectation of the society they were to live in for the rest of their lives in. This is understandable given the amount of suffering they would typically be exposed to; most especially in religious societies built on very black and white concepts of how things should be.

Even as we accept that the transgender condition forms part of an expected anomaly of nature it collides with the Judeo-Christian concepts that western society was built upon. Science and religion have met this way in the past; Galileo being a notable example of someone whose work rattled the religious beliefs of his time.

It is more tempting and easier for some to believe that this all lies in mental illness in need of therapy. Of course this does not work because transgender people are perfectly sane. There is simply an imbalance in their own self perception of gender which is likely shaped by a myriad of possible factors which are currently difficult to trace scientifically.

The war which is now being waged is about how much to give in to the demands of a group that has been marginalized and ignored since humans have been of this planet. Some think that by giving transgender people recognition we are somehow condoning immoral behavior (as if this were an issue of morality which it is not).

To question your own gender has been our most fundamental taboo and why it’s becoming one of the last and hardest to fall.


Thursday, 29 October 2015

Its not about the plumbing

Germaine Greer's comment about "removing your penis does not make you a woman" got me thinking about the case of David Reimer. David was not transgender but he didn't have a penis (it was severed in a botched circumcision) and was raised a girl from day one at the urging of John Money. David didn't know about this error until he was well into his teens and his parents were assured by Dr. Money that he would grow up to be a normal and well adjusted girl.

In the end, no amount of convincing or cajoling could turn David into a normal girl because his brain gender was that of a male. As soon as he discovered what happened to him he began living his life according to his true gender identity. He unfortunately ended his own life at the tender age of 38.

David's gender identity resided in his brain and not in his genitals.

Why then is it so hard for some to believe that for people who are transgender, this identity might be fully or partially misaligned with birth sex? they are certainly as insistent as David Reimer was.

Here is a video that I would like all those black and white thinkers to see. It features a nice family who accepts their transgender daughter. They believe her and love her and also would like to think that she would be accepted by the faith community that she grew up in.

I challenge those who think this is a simple and clear cut issue to tell me that this girl is mentally ill and she requires healing.


Tuesday, 27 October 2015

polarization

People who lean to the right either politically, religiously or both seem to be declaring war on what they term the transgender agenda. Periodicals like the Federalist are featuring stories which denounce the delusion of this group of mental defectives who want to destroy our family values and invite strange perverted men into women’s spaces.

To quote a recent article:

"We have officially stepped off the precipice of reality and are in a postmodern sexual identity politics free-fall. More postmodern indoctrination into imagining a male sexual fetish is really “just like civil rights,” People says. Has anyone ever seen a 68-year-old woman discuss “dating” in a national magazine? No. So why do people buy into this?

The sexual identity crowd is doing what they called in the 1960s a mind game. According to the transgender lobby, sex and gender are way different—completely different. And in the new world order, the more confused you stay, the better for media-generated propaganda campaigns"


This is an unfortunate but expected backlash from a sector of society that would not have transgender people gain any acceptance. If you wanted to know why Blanchard and his group were dangerous you can see how they have found their captive audience. I don't need to tell you that the author of the article I just quoted does not suffer from gender dysphoria.

As a person who was raised and educated in a conservative (socially not politically) and religious environment I can somewhat relate to the way these people think because in some respects I shared their views. I used to believe in a more black and white version of existence. But I’ve since grown up.

Nobody in their right mind would choose to be this way on purpose; absolutely no one. Yet these right wing periodicals would have you believe otherwise. They rail against older transitioners as well as the Jazz Jennings of the world for abandoning their male identity presumably deliberately.

My blog has more and more focused on these topics because we are in a dangerous period right now. While one sector of society celebrates our coming out party, others would have us go back into hiding and be treated for mental illness.

Poor Walt Heyer has become The Federalist's poster boy for the repentant transitioner who has found religion and he appeals greatly to those who accept that everyone one of us is just like him; waiting to be treated and then saved.

I despair in some ways for the increasing polarization that has gotten us here. More and more it seems that the right stands for anti-science, anti-progressive and anti-intellectual. Gone are the fiscal conservatives who would only weigh in on financial matters but leave the social wedge issues alone. Many now sit riveted to their televisions and see reality through the prism of Fox News.

The world has become far more polarized than I have ever seen it. The danger being that social issues are far more divisive and passion inducing than issues of fiscal or political reform.

For me it all boils down to lack of empathy and lack of education. Whether some people like it or not, gender is a spectrum and not a fixed binary. The fact that some people’s dysphoria reaches extremes that require they be addressed with a gender role transition should be respected instead of ridiculed.

This is where our lack of science does not help because it leaves the door open for all kinds of opinions from hopelessly obtuse people driven by their own dogma and nothing more.

I never saw this rapid change coming even a few short years ago but perhaps because of it, the reactions from those who despair the world as they know it is coming to an end, have been that much more pronounced and emphatic.

What this is really about at its root is the treatment of gender dysphoria; nothing more and nothing less. If you can do it without transition then you have saved yourself a lot of potential grief. But people on both sides of the issue distort because they want their own version to be the definitive one.

In spite of some obvious flaws on both sides its no contest for me. Its the one that votes for tolerance of something we know very little about and have barely begun to scratch its surface.

Germaine Greer speaks

Now it’s Germaine Greer’s turn to speak out.

Of Caitlyn Jenner she says:

“I think misogyny plays a really big part in all of this, that a man who goes to these lengths to become a woman will be a better woman than someone who is just born a woman. It seems to me that what was going on there was that he/she wanted the limelight that the other, female, members of the family were enjoying and has conquered it. I’m not saying people shouldn’t be allowed to go through that procedure, what I’m saying is that doesn’t make them a woman. It happens to be an opinion not a prohibition.”

I may not be Caitlyn Jenner’s biggest fan (or the Kardashian clan for that matter) but even if Greer were to be technically correct, what is the point of her remarks and how does it help the dialogue in a world where transgender women are routinely discriminated against?

Even as they now move about the world with more transparency than ever before, the majority of them do not have easy lives. Not everyone is beautiful and famous like Lea T, Andreja Pejic or Laverne Cox or has the financial assets of a Caitlyn Jenner. Most are gainfully under-employed and many still viewed as freaks of nature.

It would be nice to see a feminist who knows something about the marginalization of women recognize another marginalized group and find a common bond instead of trying to wield a branding iron. It looks like a wasted opportunity to me and more confirmation about how the world often works.

Of course Ms. Greer has a right to free speech and I would not deny it, but why choose division instead of rapprochement and what is gained by such commentary about such a tiny fragment of the general population whose only goal is to lead as normal a life as possible?

There are a host of young transgender women out there trying to make a life for themselves who certainly didn't need this input.

The author and blogger Helen Boyd, who is married to a transgender woman, gives a well reasoned retort. Please read it here.



Monday, 26 October 2015

our biological programming

The combination of gender expression, gender identity and sexual orientation is actually far more complex than a visual inspection of society would have you believe; it’s just that many people don’t present themselves as they might like to.

Societal pressure is an enormously powerful weapon that, when combined with early conditioning, form a formidable force in arresting the non-conformance of people who are inclined to be different.

If tomorrow we were to relax all norms pertaining to gender behavior in our children, we would start to see some of them naturally gravitate towards their own blend of masculine and feminine. The question we must then ask ourselves is: what is inherently wrong with that?

In the past, these children were made to conform and thus were exposed to the psychological stress that comes with such adherence. But what if we softened the gender rules instead of forcing the child to choose from a predetermined model?

Our psychologists carry their own bias with them. They themselves are a product of the same education and hence are often not helpful. I featured a recent post where I wrote that psychology is not a science. Many of us have been to counseling as children or as adults and have been exposed to the biases of educators, clergy or these same psychologists who understand little of what we are facing as transgender people.

I have often reflected on how much of gender dysphoria is biological and how much is created through repression. Might some people suffer much less by virtue of being allowed from day one to express gender as they wish instead of being exposed to indoctrination?

Today as we slowly move away from a pathological model of gender variance and towards a more tolerant one, I expect we will see happier and healthier individuals who feel free to be themselves. Instead of fashioning their behavior after an artificial model which goes against their very nature, they will be able to respect the inclinations that come with their biological programming.




Sunday, 25 October 2015

self indulgence

One of the biggest hurdles I had to overcome was the notion that by treating my gender dysphoria through cross gender expression I was somehow being self indulgent. When I think back now it makes little sense but at the time I truly did feel this way.

Imagine needing to eat or sleep. Is it somehow self indulgence when we do either? And yet there I was stuck in this loop of guilt about doing something that was a natural part of my psyche. Needless to say not everyone is going to like it but they are not you and have no intrinsic understanding of what it's like to be transgender.

Removing that obstacle is the only way out.

Perhaps you believe that you caused your own dysphoria in which case nothing I say here will dissuade you from your mindset. It took me the longest time to accept that I was not responsible for the way I was.

The fly in the ointment of course is the fact that most of us never announced this difference of ours when we entered into relationships. I was one of those as well. However the alternative is to continue to live with what Anne Vitale so aptly terms "gender expression deprivation anxiety" until it all comes crashing down in later life as a crisis.

I could have avoided that pitfall but I didn't. Perhaps you can.

Be who you are as early in life as you possibly can. Be up front and honest and live your life that way always. Hardly the stuff of self indulgence but more like transparency and respect for one's nature and for your partner.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

the imitation game

The most explosive social issues seem to always involve people on the outside dictating to those who are most intimately involved. This is the nature of the world I am afraid.

If you don’t conform or fit in you will be made to or you will be punished. This usually takes the form of ostracizing, insulting and/or actual physical violence.

I had already seen “The Imitation Game” in the theatre shortly after its release but watching it again with my son recently brought this subject flooding back into my mind. This film, by the way, was both N’s and my choice for best picture of 2014. It was beat out by “Birdman” which was a more unconventional and esoteric film.

If you haven’t seen the movie you should because it features the life story of Alan Turing, a brilliant man who had a great impact on the world. In the end he was reduced to being punished for being a homosexual during a time when acting upon it was considered indecent behaviour.

Those of us who are transgender can relate.

The people most vocal and adamant on these types of issues are often the ones least well placed to know or dictate what the rules should be. And yet this is how our societies mostly function.

By the film's end you are moved and angry that such things could happen. Change often happens only after great injustices are committed and sometimes causes require martyrs because society is ignorant and afraid of difference.

The film can be found on Netflix. Please see it.


Friday, 23 October 2015

your personal journey of transition

I feel that creating a definition of what transition means for you is important. Transition is not a destination but instead a process. The first step comes with accepting that you are a transgender individual and you were born that way. What you do after that is up to you to decide.

This blog is on the record many times as being neither for nor against a complete gender role transition. Instead I advocate the idea that you should be of sober mind when you embark on such a journey and that you understand that it’s not going to necessarily be a picnic.

I have come to think of transition as the journey towards a place where you are comfortable managing your gender dysphoria.

There are many positive stories of transition but also of some that are less convincing and some that are downright tragic. The fact is that some people will reject you and this will include family members. Jobs and marriages may be lost and perhaps relationships with children jeopardized. It’s not about wanting to keep male privilege but rather doing the least harm to your life as well as to those around you who love you.

Perhaps the first question we should ask ourselves is: What is the least amount of change that I can make in order to make my situation better?

For some this might only be regular cross-gender expression while for others nothing short of a complete transition will do. Only you can answer that question.

I think the first and most important step is to accept who you are fully and completely. Every single vestige of guilt must be removed from your mind. Otherwise you are not going to be able to think clearly about how to proceed.

I seem to see two types of individuals who make for the most successful transitions: the older and mature late transitioner who has thought about this a lifetime and is as sure as they are going to be and the very young and persistent transsexual who has been sure since day one.

The group in between there is often a mixed bag of results with success and failure coming in almost equal parts. Human psychology is such that once you have undergone an irreversible procedure very few people are going to admit to themselves or to others that they made a mistake. At best they may tell you that it’s been a neutral change in their lives.

I eventually had no choice but to arrive at a place where I was not going to allow anyone to take away a basic right to express gender the way I needed to. I had spent my life letting others define that for me because I was afraid. I gave them permission to define who I was which was entirely my own fault.

Your life is a journey of transition on multiple levels. Maybe we should make sure that we define that experience for ourselves and that you do so without preconceived notions.

Now do yourself a favour and watch this very intelligent young man explain the possible biological causes for the transgender condition. For the record, he is a female to male transitioner.




Thursday, 22 October 2015

pagentry

Womanless pageants seem to involve two distinct types of participants. One is the archetype of the macho male who is a good sport and clearly does not want to try too hard while the other is the almost feminine and convincing type who could almost pass with just a little more effort.

Both are representative of what is found in the male population. After all just like women are not all girly and feminine not all men are overtly masculine either. To some degree we all play a game so that we can be seen to fit within the confines of expectation.

The macho type will wear flip-flops and won’t bother shaving their legs while the feminine ones do shave plus wear the latest fashionable heels. It’s interesting also to note that within a given pageant you rarely see both extremes; in other words some regions, causes and/or age groups put on different types of pageants which either make a comic mockery of femininity or at the other extreme almost celebrate it.

Some men clearly feel ashamed and awkward while there are those who are almost comfortable and unassuming about it.

The psychology of all this is fascinating because there has been so much stigma around the male role in western society. To be seen as being feminine is to be weak and ineffectual. After all, this is what nature requires: a comforting and protective male who does not show any frailty.

Women laugh in the audience or squeal when they see their classmates or work colleagues come out in a dress. Is this because they think these men are demeaning themselves? why is it so amusing to them? there is definitely some intriguing and very basic human psychology going on here. It's clear in my mind that if the pageant roles were reversed the contest wouldn't hold the same interest or have the same impact. Its for this same reason that women can wear an outfit consisting entirely of male apparel and have no one question their gender identity.

Interestingly, these pageants seem to take on their best forms in the southern States which is also where the womanless wedding was born. Is this because these regions were more respectful of the grand dame of the household perhaps? It is hard to know.

When I was young the last thing you could have done was put me in a dress in public; even if I secretly desired it. I recall needing to go to a Halloween party in my early 20’s and searching for last minute ideas. When my mother suggested that I borrow some of her clothing I balked at the idea instantly. Of course she had no clue back then about my situation and how I had raided her closet from a very young age.

As we redefine what it means to be a man and a woman in this new age I can see the walls of convention crumbling. Some of these young men now don dresses and then comfortably go back to their male identity without the slightest hint of self-consciousness.

I for one am glad to see it.


Wednesday, 21 October 2015

why psychology is not science

Here is some well explained reasoning as to why the field of psychology is not actual science and if you are basing a theory on it, you are on very tenuous footing indeed. It was published in the LA Times on July 13th, 2012 and written by Alex B. Berezow as a retort to a previously written Op-Ed piece:

“Psychologist Timothy D. Wilson, a professor at the University of Virginia, expressed resentment in his Times Op-Ed article on Thursday over the fact that most scientists don't consider his field a real science. He casts scientists as condescending bullies:

"Once, during a meeting at my university, a biologist mentioned that he was the only faculty member present from a science department. When I corrected him, noting that I was from the Department of Psychology, he waved his hand dismissively, as if I were a Little Leaguer telling a member of the New York Yankees that I too played baseball.

There has long been snobbery in the sciences, with the 'hard' ones (physics, chemistry, biology) considering themselves to be more legitimate than the 'soft' ones (psychology, sociology)."


The dismissive attitude scientists have toward psychologists isn't rooted in snobbery; it's rooted in intellectual frustration. It's rooted in the failure of psychologists to acknowledge that they don't have the same claim on secular truth that the hard sciences do. It's rooted in the tired exasperation that scientists feel when non-scientists try to pretend they are scientists.

That's right. Psychology isn't science.

Why can we definitively say that? Because psychology often does not meet the five basic requirements for a field to be considered scientifically rigorous: clearly defined terminology, quantifiability, highly controlled experimental conditions, reproducibility and, finally, predictability and testability.

Happiness research is a great example of why psychology isn't science. How exactly should "happiness" be defined? The meaning of that word differs from person to person and especially between cultures. What makes Americans happy doesn't necessarily make Chinese people happy. How does one measure happiness? Psychologists can't use a ruler or a microscope, so they invent an arbitrary scale. Today, personally, I'm feeling about a 3.7 out of 5. How about you?

The failure to meet the first two requirements of scientific rigor (clear terminology and quantifiability) makes it almost impossible for happiness research to meet the other three. How can an experiment be consistently reproducible or provide any useful predictions if the basic terms are vague and unquantifiable? And when exactly has there ever been a reliable prediction made about human behavior? Making useful predictions is a vital part of the scientific process, but psychology has a dismal record in this regard. Just ask a foreign policy or intelligence analyst.

To be fair, not all psychology research is equally wishy-washy. Some research is far more scientifically rigorous. And the field often yields interesting and important insights.

But to claim it is "science" is inaccurate. Actually, it's worse than that. It's an attempt to redefine science. Science, redefined, is no longer the empirical analysis of the natural world; instead, it is any topic that sprinkles a few numbers around. This is dangerous because, under such a loose definition, anything can qualify as science. And when anything qualifies as science, science can no longer claim to have a unique grasp on secular truth.

That's why scientists dismiss psychologists. They're rightfully defending their intellectual turf.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Fixing society

There seems to be more than enough hate to go around.

Another transgender woman named Ashley Hallstrom walked into traffic because she despaired about how she was being treated by society. The unfortunate truth is that there is plenty of reason to despair. She grew up in Utah so you can imagine that it was not an easy childhood.

Quite a number of posts ago, I featured the toxic website called GenderTrender written by an extremely irritated (and equally irritating) militant feminist who seems to post incessantly on the transgender scourge overtaking women’s rights. It’s a hodgepodge that mixes bizarre commentary on trans kids with (you guessed it) adulation for the work of Blanchard and Bailey from which the site mostly bottom feeds. While the 99% of the male population commits all of the heinous acts against women, this blogger chooses to pick on the 1% who thinks they were born on the wrong team. Either this person is dim or I missed a memo.

Hatred trumps logic every time.

I have also featured the right wing religious zealots here and how they demean people who are just trying to live their lives with an imperfect situation handed to them.

What do both the aforementioned have in common? Neither has the slightest clue of what it’s like to experience gender dysphoria first hand. Yet they feel they have the authority to weigh in.

Perhaps my debunking work does have some use after all.

But I’ve lived long enough to know this basic truth: people who attack others are often hiding great personal pain and frustration.

That fact doesn’t help the level of despondence expressed at the end of the suicide note that Ashley left before she walked into daytime traffic:

“……I’m writing all of this because I’ve need my story to be shared. I don’t want to be just another number of a tragic statistic. People need to know that I’m not just another face of someone they never met. I was alive. I have a family and friends that I love very much and I’m so sorry to them for the hurt this will cause them. I loved being around those that I love. I loved listening to music and singing. I loved going out to eat with friends and enjoying good food. I was a real person. I still want to help people and I believe I still can. Please share my final words. I believe my last words can help make the change that society needs to make so that one day there will be no others like me. Please help make this change because trans people are everywhere. You may never know who you’re hurting until it’s too late. Please help fix society.”

Fixing society is not really going to happen easily so we just need to say screw you and keep on going. After all we won't run out of the malevolent or the stupid anytime soon.

Ashley Hallstrom was 26 years old.


Monday, 19 October 2015

the challenge for the faithful

I had a very religious upbringing which made my journey that much more difficult regarding the acceptance of my gender dysphoria.

Right now, religious conservatives are being cross-circuited. The challenge of Christianity is to love all of mankind and accept people as they are. They are to love the sinner but hate the sin but then is transgenderism sinning? I would argue that it is at most a morally neutral issue.

If one is modifying their body to correct something that is arguably an error of nature is that any different than the surgery people have to correct other abnormalities that we are now able to address with modern surgical techniques? What about those who only opt for hormone therapy or only transition socially with no alterations to speak of?

We have entered into a realm where these literalists must try and navigate the waters between empathy and their dogmatic belief that there is man and there is woman and nothing in between.

Some churches may still want transgender people in them but want them to stay quiet and invisible. But in today’s instant media world that is no longer possible. Even young transgender women can no longer really transition in stealth even if they wanted to. There is simply too much access to instant information to make that even possible.

My own conservative sister does not know what to make of me any longer. She knows that my dysphoria is something I did not create for myself and has stopped asking me about it. She knows I manage my life with it as best as I can. Despite her staunch and dogmatic beliefs she is a well-educated professional woman and can be reasoned with.

There are plenty of people out there who are not educated and who don’t care to know anything outside of their own personal belief system. I wrote about this a few posts back. They want their Biblical black and white world to stay untouched by such confusing issues.

The challenge for churches of all denominations going forward will be to minister to transgender people who still consider themselves religious and want to remain within the confines of the faith they were brought up in. They also don’t want to be treated like pariahs because they have addressed an anomaly that they had no part in creating.

This will not be an easy feat but since it is being addressed at the governmental, scholastic and corporate arenas they cannot afford to continue to bury their head in the sand and pretend the issue isn’t there.

Churches already have the burden of ministering to smaller and smaller numbers of people who for various reasons have abandoned their faith. Failing to address this one properly would only potentially make things worse.

Here is one of those conservative websites negating a positive story by Marni Panas that I featured two posts ago. You can find the link here.


Sunday, 18 October 2015

indignant

Over dinner last night, N told me that she thought I might be talking to issues that few people actually care about. I think she might be right.

Most transgender people are not directly impacted by the faulty science I point to in my blog. The people who are making the day to day decisions that affect the rights of transgender people do so with empathy and sensitivity.

So why do I insist on focusing on these issues?

I guess its because all of that strife I went through, which then submerged me into gender theory, had me finding such flagrant gaps of logic that I became indignant.

She is right of course. Things are improving every day for people with gender dysphoria and the treatment options are more varied than ever.

That is what counts most.

Friday, 16 October 2015

story of acceptance

I know I have been giving organized religion some slaps on the back of the hand lately. But here is a story of an Edmonton, Alberta transgender woman's acceptance from her faith community and her bishop.


It can be found at this link.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

heal thyself

I remember when I was first getting online looking for a cure for crossdressing and discovering sites of people who were really struggling. Here I was only dressing a few times a year and I thought that I needed healing. Of course this was many years before I truly began to research and attempt to understand this complex subject.

One of the things that in retrospect strikes me the most was that the people on these sites felt truly responsible for this terrible indulgence and considered it a vice to be eliminated at all costs. I must admit that at that time, I also shared that opinion. I also read numerous articles which basically stated that (much to my chagrin) there was no known cure for this affliction.

Notice that all of this has everything to do with the notion that this is entirely your own making and perhaps here is where the fallacy begins. It didn’t even occur to me that this could be something which was essentially prewired and that I was behaving in a way that was normal for me.

Of course existing in this mode makes your life miserable. Firstly you suffer from tremendous guilt and shame and feel powerless because you can never quite be the person you feel you were meant to be. This weakness that you harbor could be cured if only you had more will power but ultimately you would fail again and again.

It’s only when I started to research and understand the concept of gender dysphoria that things began to make sense.

The litmus test is actually not that complicated. In its simplest and most crude form you should be able to trace this incongruity back to early childhood. Most of us have tried excessively hard to overcompensate and do everything possible to eradicate these feelings over the years, but nothing works.

The answer and our salvation in its simplest form is complete self-acceptance but that is easier said than done. People of my generation had no leeway in this area at all and what complicated matters for me was my refusal to give in to my nature. I continued to suffer in silence until I had my stroke at 45 years of age.

Those who read the early entries of this blog know that I was truly conflicted over this issue up until 3 years ago. Now I am here approaching my 53rd birthday and things are very good indeed.

When I was at my weakest point I was susceptible to believe almost anything that would give me a plausible answer to why I was this way. I even fell for the Autogynephilia theory for a time until I read up extensively on it and discovered its very fundamental flaws.

My mind has never been sharper than it is now and I think it has a lot to do with the clarity of perspective that comes with ageing and gaining inner peace.

A lot of the obstacles I had built up in my mind regarding what would happen if I were to live my life the way I do now have turned out to be entirely untrue. I just never allowed myself the leeway to embrace who I truly was and would have thought you crazy for suggesting I free myself from the shackles I carried all my life.

Living with gender dysphoria is not a picnic to be sure but it is possible to live with a degree of balance that respects the type of path you have taken thus far in life. Only you have the answers for what methods you will choose but it all starts with accepting yourself as you were created.


Wednesday, 14 October 2015

an epic fail

This will be my last post from my recent series dealing with Autogynephila.

You see, Blanchard proposes that it is erotic arousal that drives gynephilic men to transition. But then here is the rub: once they have received cross-sex hormones why do they not recant and simply revert to being men? After all the HRT treatment destroys the male sex drive which is supposed to feed this desire in the first place.

The fact that this does not happen is further proof that you cannot reduce gender dysphoria to a simple model about a misdirected sex drive. No there is much more here than meets the eye.

Anne Lawrence tries to come to the rescue of her mentor in one of her essays by saying that the erotic drive of a younger man becomes replaced with affection and love in an older person. Referring to late life transitions, she employs the analogy of what happens in a traditional marriage where the initial sparks of pheromone-driven passion wane in favour of a deeper love borne of shared experience and companionship.

But this still doesn’t quite cut it I am afraid because its hardly convincing. Most of all it doesn't ring true to my own experience as a dysphoric person who has been this way all my life.

You see, 99% of the male population would never dream of even considering such a procedure and the men who are driven by fetish would certainly be among them since they want to continue to remain male and enjoy their proclivities.

The conclusion that one inevitably reaches is that gender dysphoria contains many elements (including sexual) but cannot be simplified to a model of misdirected homosexuality (for androphilics) or target location error (for gynephilics).

The work that remains now should be conducted by real scientists instead of psychologists with predetermined ideas.

But AGP as a theory, fits the political needs of select groups. It pleases the religious literalists, the rampant feminists, the ideologically driven conservatives and the academically ambitious psychologist types who wouldn't know science if it slammed them square on the forehead.

If anything, I hope I have poked enough holes in Blanchard’s already woefully leaky work to leave you thinking. If you weren’t familiar with it (or that of his posse) you might want to read more about them. If for no other reason you should in order to understand the arguments of people who presume they have this very complex subject all figured out as well as their less than scientific methods.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

good grief

Some people just refuse to get it.

Here is Kay Brown on her blog criticizing Anne Vitale for not acknowledging Autogynephilia as observable phenomena. But wait….we already had a name for what gender dysphorics (and other people on the planet) do when they sexually fantasize: it’s called masturbating.

News flash for Kay Brown: renaming an observable phenomena that has existed since humans have been on this planet by a scientific sounding name does not make it science.

Here is the sleight of hand that Brown and other Blanchardians use and it’s so simple:

By calling the erotic fantasizing of dysphorics Autogynephilia ,they can then use that term to say that this “condition” drives these people to transition. Except they forgot one thing: the proof that it is this invented condition that is doing the driving.

You see absence of proof is not proof. I learnt that a long time ago when I was a science student. Just because we have not yet found the biological processes which might play into the creation of gender dysphoria, doesn't mean they do not exist.

Gender dysphorics know they are different very early on in life so their history does not start at the age of 12 when they first ejaculate in their mother’s clothes. It actually dates back far sooner and this is the fly in the ointment for Ms. Brown and other “Blanchardians” because for AGP to work as a theory this history must be negated or downplayed. After all, a 4 year old has no sexual motivation in mind when he dons his mother’s clothing.

Vitale (who is no fool) wisely does not acknowledge a theory that is not provable. She calls masturbation what it is and theorizes that although it forms part of the sexual reality of every person on this planet, it cannot be the only component that makes up gender dysphoria.

Now what do you suppose that a male to female pre-op transsexual fantasizes about if their brain gender were female? Having the body of a man with big muscles? Somehow I don’t think so.

You’ve got to hand it to Brown who (through the use of statistics built up exclusively through interviews) manages to put together an almost convincing scientific argument. But then it’s not really scientific at all.

The entire Blanchard house of cards is built up of psychoanalysis of candidates for transition who were having every aspect of their sexual habits micro-analyzed by Blanchard so he could come up with his invented term.

Now if someone has some real science to send me I will be glad to look it over.

Kay Brown’s critique of Anne Vitale can be found here.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

a unified theory of gender

If you haven’t read Felix Conrad’s very well thought analysis of the transgender condition you should. He uses very logical step by step philosophical reasoning that is hard to ignore and basically involves accepting the notion that (for some people) there is such a thing as possessing a gender core that diverges from your biological birth sex.

It’s a fascinating read and you need to read all 4 parts!

Felix believes in a unified gender theory as I do. Nature does not always produce an individual whose core gender identity is aligned with their birth sex and these children are often conditioned to fit in by well-meaning parents and teachers. In the end, however, they are who they are inside. Some rebel early and some try to conform but their gender core does not budge one iota.

Transgender people therefore need to do to what they must to respect and celebrate their own sense of internal gender which can include but not necessarily lead to transition.

The link to Felix’s well written essay can be found here.


Friday, 9 October 2015

Anne Vitale responds

Before I get to my correspondence with Anne Vitale, some of you may be wondering why this blog focuses so heavily on the science (or lack thereof) on the subject of transgenderism. The answer is simple:

• I have a natural curiosity and a rational mind
• I suffered tremendously as a child and then as an adult at the hands of an ignorant and stupid society

As a result I have little patience for insufferable windbags, people elevating their own agendas at the expense of others and pseudo-scientific bullshit.

My recent posts have focused a lot on AGP which is one of the biggest shams I have ever read up extensively on. Only in a practice like psychology could it so possible to be so intellectually lazy and allow people like Blanchard to get away with what he was doing for so long.

On a practical level it changes nothing because his quackery is being circumvented through the introduction of public policies that help transgender people lead better lives. A large number of them probably don’t know who Blanchard is and he will likely disappear into history as just another purveyor of radical and unproven concepts such as phrenology.

The leading institution for transsexual and transgender care (WPATH) completely disregards his work and so do the leading transgender philosophers.

Still this blip in history should serve as a cautionary tale about what can happen when no one was minding the store. The vacuum left after all those years of work by Harry Benjamin was able to be filled with a man with supreme arrogance, intellectual laziness and preconceived bias with absolutely not one shred of actual scientific evidence to back him up.

Despite all this, his ideas ended up being accepted and used. How could this happen? because fundamentally there are still huge gaps in our understanding of human sexuality, gender and the human brain. The area is just ripe for conjecture.

I wanted to get Anne Vitale's take on AGP and contacted her recently. Here is an excerpt from my email followed by her response to that specific excerpt:

JS:"..to give something a scientific name and then have no conclusive proof of where the desire to be female comes from is what I find troubling about it. I have read all of Blanchard and Lawrence and have come to dismiss their work as pseudoscience if for no other reason than it is not actually provable."

AV: "Your statement above is the reason Blanchard's theory of autogynephilia is not generally accepted as the root cause of gender dysphoria (even in MTF's where it is the only place where it can even be considered to be a factor). Even though autogynephila is common in MTF individuals, many of us think that it is a way for some MTFs to alleviate the GD rather than have it be --as Blanchard and Lawrence claim-- the engine that brings on the condition and then by stint of regular masturbation,  encourage it and drive folks to transition. There are  many other reasons to believe that autogynephilia is no big deal and  plays only a minor role in MTF transsexualism"



Thursday, 8 October 2015

more AGP critique

Kelley Winters, Ph.D. is a writer on issues of transgender medical policy, founder of GID Reform Advocates and an Advisory Board Member for the Matthew Shepard Foundation and TransYouth Family Advocates. She has presented papers on the psychiatric classification of gender diversity at the annual conventions of the American Psychiatric Association, the American Counseling Association and the Association of Women in Psychology.

Back in 2008 in her GID Reform weblog, she wrote a piece critical of Autogynephilia that bears reading and to which I will add a link at the end of this post.

In the comments section after her article, someone posed the following statement and what follows is Ms. Winters’s reply. I add my own commentary after the italic portion:

Q: "As a gender variant male without GID. I would like to stress that Autogynephilia is much less stigmatizing than Transvestic Fetishism, because it recognizes that we are Gender Variant. The definition totally describes me

“Adult males who are sexually attracted to females, to both males and females, or to neither sex usually report a history of erotic arousal associated with the thought or image of oneself as a woman”

Sure the paraphilia argument should be depathologized, and sure Blanchard’s theories are ideology, but the backlash against AGP makes life hard for those who have it"


A: Thank you for your question, Jasper. Through a linguistic sleight of hand, Dr. Blanchard has defined dual meanings of the word, “autogynephilia,” and it is important to make a distinction between them. He does not use the term just to describe the sexual phenomena of autoerotic crossdressing and autoerotic transition fantasy, which, as you point out, should not be classified as mental illness. Blanchard most notably defined “autogynephilia” to describe his hypothesis that “all,” not some but “all,” transwomen, who are not exclusively attracted to males, transition to satisfy a sexual fetish rather than attain harmony with their experienced gender identity. In 1989, he introduced the term with this statement:

“All gender dysphoric males who are not sexually oriented toward men are instead sexually oriented toward the thought or image of themselves as women.”

He and some of his supporters later expanded this definition to include TS women who disagree with his theories, regardless of their actual sexual orientation– a travesty that Dr. Dan Karasic of UCSF has called “the medicalization of dissent.” The concerns raised by many in the trans community are about the defamatory AGP hypothesis and its consequential stereotypes that harm all TS women, not about those people in our community who fit the other definition of sexual phenomena.

For this reason, I try to clarify my language by using the AGP term only in the context of Blanchard’s theory about TS women. I use the terms autoerotic crossdressing and autoerotic transition fantasy to describe those sexual phenomena. I urge everyone to make a similar distinction between the two definitions of the A-word when discussing these important issues"

Kelly has made a very important observation. There are non-dysphoric people out there who get turned on by imagining themselves as women. Blanchard has lumped everyone together including gender dysphorics and essentially accused them of pure fetishism dismissing any claims they might make to the contrary.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

"Dr. Blanchard’s certainty of mutually exclusive transsexual types based on sexual orientation seems peculiar within sexology, where both gender identity [34] and sexual orientation [11] have long been viewed as continuous rather than dichotomous. He based this assumption on differences in “a history of erotic arousal in association with cross-dressing,” in ages of presentation for “professional help,” and in “degrees of childhood femininity” within clinical populations. Correlating these attributes to the lack or presence of attraction to males, Blanchard concluded that “the main varieties of nonhomosexual gender dysphoria are more similar to each other than any of them is to the homosexual type.” [35] However, a recent study of gender-dysphoric MTF subjects reported no significant difference in scores on a gender identity/gender dysphoria questionnaire with regard to sexual orientation. [36] This result is not explained by Blanchard’s assumption of fundamentally different gender identities"

For those interested, this very insightful read can be found here.


Kelley

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

conondrum

I have always believed that a transgender person has to make a compromise in suppressing a part of who they were in order to be in a relationship and I still think this applies in the great majority of cases. I am of course more specifically referring to the woman-loving male to female variety.

Some rare couples buck the trend and what I surmise is that the woman was able to get past the external wrapping and look at the person underneath. To be frank I don’t think I could do it myself so I am in awe of those who can do this. It must take a huge adjustment and I am certain it’s not like flipping a switch in the brain.

Some of you are in the throes of this sensitive adjustment period right now while others don’t even dare to broach the subject with their spouse for fear of outright rejection. I don’t presume to advise anyone here.

What I do know is that suppression for you as a dysphoric does not lead to a good outcome. I mentioned recently that the ageing process tends to liberate you and removes the social barriers that held you back. When this happens you are more than likely going to want to act on years of keeping things bottled inside.

I feel terrible for spouses because in our attempts to stem the tide that is our dysphoria, we are actually doing them a disservice. Better to come out and tell it like it is. But we were raised during a time when being our true selves was not an option so we came to genuinely believe that we could to win over our dysphoria. We couldn't have been more wrong.

My ex-spouse and I are on better terms today and we can communicate about our kids in a pragmatic way without arguing. It wasn’t that long ago that we couldn’t be in the same room for more than a few minutes at a time. I would like if she could find someone to make her happy one day especially since our two are getting older and more independent.

When I reflect back I think I gave her a stable life but in some ways she was sharing it with a complete stranger.


Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Please don't be fooled

Here is a post from Alice Dreger’s blog dated June 15, 2015 and how she addresses a question she is asked about Autogynephilia:

Q: “To what degree do you think that the trans experience can be divided into the two categories suggested by Blanchard: i.e., are transgender individuals either gay or autogynephilic?”

A: First, it’s important to point out for those new to this that Blanchard and Bailey were only looking at male-to-female transgender individuals, so we are only talking about transgender women. I also need to explain for novices that Blanchard suggested (and Bailey agreed) that there are two types of male-to-female transgender individuals, the one being autogynephilic and the other what Blanchard called “homosexual transsexuals.” These are natal males who are androphilic, i.e., attracted to males.

As I say in the book, I find Blanchard’s term “homosexual transsexual” confusing, because after transition, these individuals are women having sex with men. Calling them “gay” is even more confusing to me than calling them “homosexual.” If I had my way, we’d talk about androphilic and autogynephilic.
So let’s do that, and answer the reader’s question: To what degree do I think the male-to-female transgender experience can be divided into these two types—androphilic and autogynephilic?

I think it is certainly possible there are other ways you can get to be a transgender woman, but I think what I’ve seen from the scientific clinical literature and socioculturally suggests this division makes sense. I want to emphasize that I think both of these developmental paths are perfectly legitimate ways to become women, and regardless of how someone becomes a woman, if she identifies as such, we owe her the respect of recognizing her identity and addressing her appropriately.

It seems to me unfortunate that sexual phobias have caused many transgender people over the years to feel they must only talk about their genders and never their sexualities. This, I think, has been extremely oppressive and lacking in respect and understanding. My suspicion is that what happens for transgender women is true for almost all of us—namely that gender and sexual orientation are intimately related to each other. (When I’m having sex with my partner, I am doing so as a woman.) So I don’t think it should surprise us that there is an erotic component to gender transition decisions.

I hope that someday we can mature enough as a society to recognize that sexual orientations that are relatively less common don’t need to scare us or cause us to act in ways that are obnoxious. I think there is little evidence that anyone “chooses” his or her sexual orientation. For me, the moral question with regard to sexual orientation only comes into play when we are talking about whether a partner has consented in the way adults are capable of sexual consent. I don’t care if you are turned on by hanging from the ceiling and peeing on your partner from above after you’ve eaten asparagus; if your partner consents, from a moral point of view I’m fine with it.”


Ms Dreger attempts to sugarcoat her response in order to appear politically correct although towards the end of her response her analogy could be taken to be vulgar and dismissive of the transgender condition.

We need to understand two things:

1) Blanchard (and Dreger through acceptance of his work) considers that the cause of the transgender condition is paraphilic and sexual in nature (the latter only for androphilics)
2) Blanchard proposes that gynephilics experience target location error which forms an alternate sexual orientation in its own right; essentially taking the place of conventional heterosexual sexuality.

However, transgender people don’t have different sexual orientations than anyone else. They are either attracted to men or to women. What happens is that they also fantasize about being a female (for male to female dysphorics) which (for gynephilics) can compete with their normal sexual functioning.

Ms Dreger is not fooling me but her response might give the impression that she is trying to say something different than what Blanchard actually says in his writing. She is not.

For me she clearly conflates two separate issues. One is having sexual relations with your partner and the other is the fantasizing which a male to female pre-operative transsexual engages in when imagining themselves as a woman. The latter is being labelled a sexual orientation in its own right which is something I and a whole host of other transgender people don’t accept without question because it doesn't correlate with our personal experience. Essentially this is saying that your dysphoria originates and is driven exclusively by sexual motives which disregards all of your history of dysphoria prior to puberty.

Here is a simple question: Is it possible that the gender dysphoria causes the fantasizing instead of the other way around? Yes absolutely.

Again, the issue is not whether the eroticism is present; we know it is. The issue is about whether the motivation for a transition is a core gender identity that is misaligned with birth sex or is strictly sexual in nature. The burden of proof then falls on the folks coming up with the scientific- sounding but non-explanatory term autogynephilia.

I have no conclusive proof for my stance and neither does Ms. Dreger or Mr. Blanchard. But then I am not the one publishing my opinion in psychology journals and presenting it as if it were accepted and irrefutable fact while hand picking only the verbal evidence that suits my position.

My question for Ms.Dreger would be more succinct and to the point than the one she addresses in her blog: Could you please provide me with solid proof?

Somehow I don't think you could sugarcoat a response there.


Monday, 5 October 2015

the trauma argument

Some gender dysphorics try to explain the way they are by adopting the narrative that they experienced emasculation trauma at an early age. That occurrence so marked them that it helped produce some sort of fetish.

I've reflected on this argument many times but have always come to dismiss it as an origin for the transgender condition. First you must buy into the idea that a very young child can be sexualized many years before puberty and secondly you then need to accept that whatever happened to them was so traumatic that they are permanently stuck this way.

This type of narrative is not very prevalent in the countless ones I have read from other gender dysphorics. It seems that many had pretty normal childhood experiences save for the fact that they needed to hide this early self discovery that they were different. But I don't discount certain people's narratives and how they helped shape their psyche.

People who favour this argument may find solace in that since they enjoy what they have identified as a fetish, they feel they are exercising control over it. However , if they are actually gender dysphoric they will find that the feelings typically magnify with the aging process (see my previous post on this). So time will tell. I don't see why the trauma argument would hold more appeal than genetic predisposition since in both cases one is in essence stuck in a situation which is beyond their control and ultimately requires self acceptance.

Please note that I am making a distinction here between fetishes developed into adolescence and adulthood (which all kinds of people have) and which are considerably more common.

In the end we are left with much speculation and nothing provable and, since everyone requires a personal narrative to explain their own situation to themselves, this one will work just as well as any other.



Sunday, 4 October 2015

Felix Conrad makes me belly laugh

Not only does Felix eviscerate the utterly stupid theory of Autogynephilia (which was the subject of yesterday's post) but he does so in a way that actually made me belly laugh. Felix you have a way of exposing these crazies in a far more stylish way than I can. I wonder if Julia watches his videos!

Felix keep doing what you do!

Now the rest of you please do yourself a favour and watch.....



Saturday, 3 October 2015

Blanchard and his posse....

Consider how stupid the Blanchard school must think the public is that they stand steadfast in their attempts to label his work as being actual science. The last time I checked, science was based on theories supported by verifiable evidence.

Psychiatry, if not a pure science, at least employs scientific methods to treat known conditions with a combination of counseling and pharmacology. Examples would be things like schizophrenia or clinical depression.

Contrast this with the invented condition known as Autogynephilia which is supposedly diagnosed through an extensive interview process which looks for evidence based on a preconceived notion by the researcher. Any claims by the patient that don't fit the theory (such as any prepubescent history of gender confusion) are simply dismissed as lying.

To illustrate my point, let's use the example of polling which isn't about science per se but which uses scientific rigor to make sure the process is unbiased and consistent. A poll typically might ask simple questions about voter intention: are you voting for candidate A or B. However even those simple polls can be wrong if the voter then changes their mind later on.

What would be your impetus for lying in a simple poll? Probably nill.

Now what would be your impetus for lying when you are going for gender treatment and hoping to sweet Jesus that you're not a transsexual? I would argue that its infinitely less. I know I wanted the hospital gender clinic I was being treated at to tell me I was going to be cured and hence I bared my soul to my therapist.

Now imagine Blanchard the pollster doing an in depth interview with you at the end of which he comes up with a convoluted and unproven theory using your verbal input about something as complex as your sexual habits, your perceived gender identity and your sexual orientation. If I had gone to the CAMH for treatment, Blanchard would already have made up his mind about me because he had a predetermined idea to prove. If my responses did not fit expectation I would be accused of lying.

Consider therefore the following questions:

- How is it possible that people all over the world who have never met each other consistently report the same type of history and insistence that there is an incongruity between their birth sex and their gender early on in life? Even well before the existence of the internet and the proliferation of information via mass media?

- If dysphoria is all about sexual arousal, why are gender dysphorics aware of this issue issue well before puberty and why does Blanchard negate this evidence?

- Why did Blanchard categorize transsexuals into two groups; not successfully explain why they feel they way they do and then proceed to invent bogus terminology that explains nothing?

Pretty fundamental stuff but questions which Blanchard fails spectacularly at addressing. We wont even discuss female to male transsexualism which he pretty much ignores.

This is a man whose mentor, Kurt Freund, specialized in measuring the sexual arousal patterns of sex offenders. All of a sudden Blanchard begins a career in treating gender dysphorics at the CAMH and then goes about using the same methodology? Its almost mind bogglingly disturbing.

This piece of pseudoscience has been seized upon both by radical feminists and old school transsexuals. The former to denigrate people who transition as perverted psychos and by the latter to separate the "fake" transsexuals from the "real" ones. Neither position is reality based mind you but Blanchard has helped each faction elevate their agendas in their own minds.

When I began my quest for self understanding through researching the published literature I read Blanchard's work among others. However, to accept this type of work as science would be ignoring every basic principle I have ever been taught about scientific validation.

Harry Benjamin (very much the scientist) stopped short of making stupid conjectures because he understood he lacked the scientific evidence to do so. Therefore he did the only thing possible: he categorized his patients based on the level of gender disorientation they experienced and graded them on a scale. Thankfully Anne Vitale (who I featured in my previous post) continues his good work.

Transgender people need to understand that there are mean-spirted and arrogant people out there doing shoddy science. When it falls into the hands of lawmakers and public officials it can greatly impact the quality of our lives and our rights as individuals.

This is why its important to be on the lookout and to be informed. Below is the cast of characters to be mindful of.


Bailey
Dreger
Lawrence
Blanchard

Friday, 2 October 2015

I don't get it

I don't understand gun culture.

I was born in Europe and raised in Canada where the idea of owning a gun is the last thing on people's minds. This is most especially true in urban areas.

The right to bear arms is engrained in the American constitution so gun advocates use that phrase to justify arming themselves to the teeth. Never mind that the constitution was drafted in 1776 and was meant to serve a new fledgling country with expansive spaces and the need for hunting. Your local law enforcement officer was probably also hours if not days away.

Pretending that the same rules should apply in the 21st century is beyond ludicrous.

In many States, if someone breaks into your house you can shoot them no questions asked. Sometimes before some people get to test that weapon on an intruder their own child inadvertently uses it on themselves or on a sibling.

No America doesn't necessarily have crazier people than other places. What they do have is easy access to weaponry. So once again we have a mass killing with someone blowing a breaker in their brain and going on a rampage.

Some have argued that the reason this happened there is because it wasn't protected enough. In other words, they were short of guns. At this point I raise my hands in exasperation and realize that it will take a cultural shift too demanding to resolve with just legislation which would have little chance of passing.

It might just be too late to change something that appears to be permanently culturally anchored.


Thursday, 1 October 2015

An interview with Anne Vitale

The following is an interview conducted by Lin Fraser (herself a trained therapist), with her longtime friend and associate Anne Vitale, PhD. The interview took place by phone on Aug 27, 2010 in San Francisco and Pt. Reyes Station California.

Anne M. Vitale PhD is a senior clinician and charter member of HBIGDA, now WPATH. She is a founding member of BAGA (Bay Area Gender Associates, the longest ongoing peer consultation group devoted to transgender issues started in 1989 in San Francisco) and web visionary of http://www.avitale.com/. Anne also published the book. (2010), “The Gendered Self: Further Commentary on the Transsexual Phenomenon”, which is a compendium of her 30+ years experience working with the transgender community.

Needless to say I am a huge fan of her work and have quoted her in my blog often:

Lin Fraser (LF)- Tell us a little bit about your background.

Anne Vitale (AV)- I’m a shoe worker’s daughter from back east who ended up with a doctorate in Psychology after art school. I wanted to be a painter and I still enjoy painting, but I needed to earn a living. After so many years of therapy dealing with my gender identity issues, I decided to go back to school in psychology and undergo transition at the same time. This was in 1975, and I was 37. I was 42 when I had my surgery on Jan 10, 1980. I had a long transition--5 years, and during that time, I went to school, worked on my dissertation, moved to the Bay Area and started my psychology assistantship at the same psychotherapy practice in San Rafael where I still work. I even joined HBIGDA, in 1979, during my transition at one of the first symposiums HBIGDA ever held in San Diego. I finished my PhD in 1982.

LF- Tell us a little more about your practice.

AV- I’ve seen approximately 500 people since 1984, people who came to see me to work on their gender issues. As you know, I co-founded BAGA with you and a few other therapists in 1989 and I also started a website in 1995, “Notes on Gender Role Transition“ where I posted information about transgender issues. I also posted my own ideas and writings. The site mushroomed over time, and it’s still going strong. Back in the early days of the web there was not much information available in a central location. Hundreds of people have contacted me over the years asking for referrals in their home area and advice after seeing the website.

LF - How has your experience changed you over time?

AV- Well, I’m a different therapist now than I was when I first started. Experience has mattered. I used to be old school, pretty much a dyed-in-the-wool don’t start something if you can’t complete it person. I was strict: no hormones, if you’re not planning surgery. I believed in the idea of a complete sex change, and if you were going to do it, you needed to do it right. That’s all changed now. I’ve seen people lead good lives without sex reassignment surgery. My job is to help people make their lives work, not to define them according to a particular model.Now I’m just a mellow-old lady who practices in San Rafael California.

And I don’t really believe that there’s such a thing as a sex change. I even stopped using that term in my writings.

LF- Speaking of your writing, tell us about your new book.

AV- Well, by way of background, I mentioned that in 1995 I started a website on transgender issues which got a lot of attention in the community. It was one of the first sites devoted to transgender issues and it gave me a forum to publish my ideas and get feedback. Even now, when I go to conferences, people surprise me by telling me it made a difference in their lives. That makes me feel very good.

In terms of the book, I had written a lot on the website, and I decided I didn’t want to sugarcoat the transgender experience. I even stopped using the term sex change because I learned that transition was only a direction, not an either/or switch that gets turned to one pole or the other. I no longer believe you can turn a woman into a man or vice-versa. I wanted to clarify that only one's gender role changes but it’s hard to write a scientific paper on that. I tried to publish in academic journals, but reviewers kicked my ideas back, saying ‘this is only your opinion.’ So I decided to write a book because that would be a less problematic way to talk about my views based on my years of experiences as both a therapist and a transsexual. Also, and this is quite important, the timing was right because I also had a way to publish a book. I could do it via the web both in paperback and ePub format. That made a huge difference.

LF- How would you describe your book?

AV- It’s kind of a collection of my thoughts and notions, but some is evidence-based, especially the parts about the brain. I hadn’t seen the science about genderizing the brain in one place, how it can go awry. I wanted to write all that down in one place and I wanted to write it in plain English for the non-science person.

LF- Yes, I particularly appreciated that part of your manuscript. I have read and highly recommend your entire book, but for me, the science was particularly enjoyable because it was so clear for the layperson. I think you might be selling yourself short by saying your book is not evidence based. You have many references. But I’m pleased to note that I really can hear your voice throughout the book.

AV- Yes, much is based on my experience. I’ve seen hundreds of people and I try to describe what I’ve learned over the years from them. In some ways my book is my continuation of Harry Benjamin’s book “The Transsexual Phenomenon”. I describe the condition, do a developmental review, describe treatment limits and options and therapeutic interventions, clinical interventions, the reality of the real-life experience without sugarcoating it, because, in my view, transition is extremely hard. I specifically describe early regrets, mid transition land mines and post-transition regrets and conclude with post transition stories and finish with a summary.

LF- I would say that your book, although cautionary, is ultimately optimistic. Would you agree?

AV- Yes. I wrote the book to tell the truth about what it means to be transsexual, so in a way I have blown the cover of the typical upbeat transgender narrative. This is about the reality of T life. I couldn’t say it’s going to be hunky-dory. That’s been written many times, so I’ve written something new. I also came up with what I think is a new term, “transpeak”, which is the language trans people learn to be able to talk about their past lives truthfully without revealing too many specifics or outing themselves. But going back to your question, I would say my book is essentially trans positive, but I try to tell it like it is.

LF- Along the lines of truth telling, I had heard you talk about your sense of feeling more invisible as a transsexual now that we are using transgender as an umbrella term. This shift in language has created some consternation for some, as you may know. Would you care to comment on this issue?

AV- I do recognize that many young people (and some older ones, too) don’t see themselves as transsexual right off the bat, and transgender, as a concept, has worked for many people who do not transition fully, in the “old pattern”. The term transgender doesn’t mean anything to me personally, but it does to many people, so I’m content with its usage even though I identify more with the term transsexual. It’s the medical and psychological aspects of care that require standards, and WPATH provides that for all who need to access care for gender issues, transsexual or not.

LF- Speaking of the Standards, we’re thinking of adding Telehealth, or eTherapy to the next version of the SOC. Since you’ve always been at the forefront of technology, have you tried distance counseling?

AV- Yes, but not a lot yet. What I have done has shown to be very effective. Mostly, I help relatives of children who appear gender dysphoric and the wives of cross dressers who have found my site, or people on Social Security with such modest incomes who live far away and even the cost of travel to the Bay Area is prohibitive. With this latter group, I talk on the phone and get paid by Medicare. I suspect we will be doing more and more work this way as it provides access to qualified clinicians.

LF- Is there anything we missed?

AV- No, I’m just amazed at how much I enjoyed this discussion.

LF-. Thank you Anne for such an interesting interview and for all your good work. Even though I’ve nown you for many years, I feel I learned a lot. I especially enjoyed your book and I’m sure our readers will too.