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In the Land between Blue and Pink

by Helen Sun Sep 2nd, 2007 at 06:27:55 AM EST

Once our own dear Poemless wrote "Maybe it is that I have always felt a stranger in my own country. "How the hell did I end up here?!" "What the fuck are these people thinking?!" "I cannot possibly belong here."  That resonated with me as I too have had these thoughts all my life in some form or other; after all Helen is not my birth name and I was not born a girl.

And so the number one question I guess most people want to ask when you say you're transgendered is, "How do you know ?". Julie Bindel, anti-trans "feminist" asked much the same thing in her recent tirade, citing her own non-transgendered questioning of her identity as a teenager coming into conflict with the then suffocating restrictions on female expression. From her, it was merely an Aunt Sally statement, intended to undermine real transgendered people's expressions, but that doesn't stop it being a good question.

From the diaries ~ whataboutbob


Maybe a little personal history : I was just 18 months old when I first realised. Oh, I know that you're not supposed to remember anything from that age and, it's true, mostly I don't. But I remember two things from that moment, the reality of that realisation and the equally firm knowledge that I should never allow anyone to know. From there on I set a standard of denial that was to last nearly 40 years, burying deep anything that might allow anyone to suspect. When you're a child, this has relatively little consequence, aside from denying myself anything that could be mistaken for an enthusaism for things girlish.

Yet with two elder sisters, you'd be surprised all the odd things that could come to be untouchable. I look back on these things and sigh about what might have been, but 'tis water long gone to sea. Of course, I was vaguely aware that there were other ways to be but, by and large, I was only wistfully aware of those things that I could not be. Just vaguely jealousy of the girls I met, but in an entirely unfocussed way.

However, everything changes when puberty hits, the contradiction between the life you have to lead and the life you want to lead begins to become unbearable. Firstly, there are the disappointments as you realise that your body is inexorably, inevitably turning into that of a man. The voice breaks, your proportions change. The little hope that nature's error might be miraculously rectified that you never even realised you'd nurtured flickers and dies to leave an ache that never really goes.

And what is worse is that that ache becomes physical. Gender identity is located right in the amygdala, the most primitive part of the brain. If anybody had ever asked me the one part where feeling the "wrong" gender hurt, I would have unhesitatingly pointed to the very spot in my brain where the amygdala resides.

Until puberty, the angst was distant and vague. But once male hormones flowed in earnest, it was like being poisoned. Not a sharp pain, just an overwhelming sense of wrongness, drip-dripping inside my head all the time; like chinese water torture slowly driving me mad. Sometimes I could ignore it, at other times it was the only thing  of which I was aware. You can hope it goes away, occasionally convince yourself that it has, but it never does.

It messes with your head, especially the jealousy. Jealousy so powerful it hurts, where you can hate women for having what you don't, asking how they got so lucky. "Have I offended somebody ?" "To whom might I appeal".  Truly, this way lies madness. I don't know how I dodged the bullet, or even if I did to a greater extent, although maybe my essay on Zar, Trance & Heavy Rock maybe an answer. I sometimes still see that mania in myself and know there is at least a shadow somewhere. And I have seen others in the transgendered community much less lucky; personalities utterly shattered by the experience

And what is this distress ? I really can't answer that except to say that it isn't amenable to rationality, gender identity isn't a conscious state, it cannot be counselled, neither is it an emotion. It's located below instinct, it's not how or what you do, it's just you. Or in my case, not_you.

So when people ask "how does it feel ?" and "how do you know ?" it's hard to know how to respond as the above is too detailed whilst saying that "it hurt in a way you can never understand" doesn't help much.

And how does it affect your character ? Simone de Beauvoir described that you are born female, but become a woman. Which is to say that culture gifts or denies you the means to express your inner potentials. Ordinarily this is not too bad, but for me conforming to cultural expections felt like going against the grain of some innate personality. I just didn't seem in some instances to have the proper reflexes and had to learn to fake them. Equally, I could see girls of my age slowly having revealed to them those opportunities that I craved, but knew could never happen to me.

So, I grew up into a man with all the cultural paraphenalia thrown in. I can't say it was fun, but aside from a sort of background ache it wasn't awful. I was well integrated after a fashion, a scruffy pub-dog who was valued by my peers as a reliable beer hound.

As an aside practically the only thing most transgendered men acknowledge they have in common is a general indifference to their appearance as men. I had no investment in myself as a man, so I was always just a little unkempt. Apparently a lot of us are like that.

But you can't stop yourself dreaming, always waiting for permission to start living. Oh, it comes and goes, but is always there in the background, drip, drip, drip; and so there came a point where I got sick of resisting. For me it was at the age of 38. I started getting into the transvestite scene, although only slightly as I was always uncomfortable with the fetishistic side of things.

Eventually I got to the point where I realised that I didn't want to die not knowing what it was like to be female. So, having decided that one day I would do it, the question then became "if not now, then when ?". I mulled over the decision for a full year, testing my resolve and then made an appointment with a psychiatrist. He, listened to me jabber for an hour and then gave me a prescription for hormones. I didn't realise then but he used hormones as a diagnostic tool. Y'see, after taking them for six weeks, the pain that I'd mentioned, that ache in my soul, just melted away like a morning's dew. I realised it had happened right in the middle of crossing a (quiet) road on a bright spring morning and stopped, looked around, and thought to myself "So, this is what normal people feel like all the time"

I have felt like that ever since. Nothing will take that moment away from me, that moment when I really knew I was doing the right thing. When I went back to the psychiatrist he said that this was what he expected to hear. Anything else would have indicated that more research was needed.

There is whole other diary about my experiences of transition, But this is how it felt for me to be a boy who wanted to be a girl. Although other transgendered people may recognise something of themselves in my story, we seem to united mostly in our differences. So I know  I can't speak for anybody else: This is my story and mine alone.

Display:
I applaud your candor...and your bravery...for being so consistently and honestly willing to talk about your experiences. Its just not heard so often, so your experiences really serve to educate those of us ignorant of the process and issues. Thank you!!

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Wed Aug 29th, 2007 at 11:11:31 AM EST
Yes, thanks for this diary!

"The basis of optimism is sheer terror" - Oscar Wilde
by NordicStorm (m<-at->sturmbaum.net) on Wed Aug 29th, 2007 at 12:22:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you, once again a diary that makes you think

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Wed Aug 29th, 2007 at 02:02:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I read your post already a few times because it is so powerful.

Just this morning I was thinking about this very subject because of a news story that came over the radio:
Ulster BOCES Principal's Sex Change

Some of the comments I heard over the radio from parents interviewed are clearly uninformed and primitive (to be kind). What do you tell your children when their principal is a male one year and female the next? You tell them the truth. I am sure there is appropriate material to help parents to do that.

You didn't state so but I assume you made the full transition. Why did you wait till you were almost 40? I hope that your family was supportive in you journey.

by BJ Lange (langebj@gmail.com) on Wed Aug 29th, 2007 at 12:30:58 PM EST
Yes, I had the full op a couple of years ago.

Why did I wait till I was 40 (44 actually) ?
I ask myself that, a lot. Nobody tells you what a difference the hormones make, hell nobody can tell you, you have to find out for yourself. Also, you have to remember that you grow up with that feeling, it's strangely normal, and change is risky. Society isn't very comfortable with sissy boys, when I was teenager being gay was just about the worst thing imaginable. Being transgendered was unthinkable, worse than gay.

I never even admitted it to myself, fully and consciously, till I was 22 and I just thought I could get by. Course I never did. So you end up, as I did, at the age of 38 and I just got sick and tired of fighting it. Of pretending that I wasn't that way. It took me another 6 years before my thinking got to the point of wlaking through that psychiatrist's door. Not one step of the path was easy.

Oh god, I wish, I wish I wish I'd done it sooner, but I didn't. I wasted half my life, the best half of my life, being somebody who, in retrospect, was in a lot of pain, somebody who wasn't even having a life. but hindsight is a wonderful thing and I make the best of it. It's all I can do, after all, I'm happy at last. That's something.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Aug 29th, 2007 at 01:03:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for these diaries, Helen.  

It's always that f***ing amygdala, isn't it?  

Even though I might not be able to understand why someone may do something, I strongly believe in the need to be authentic, true to yourself.  That is, so long as you aren't harming others, express yourself honestly and don't try to fit into the box they give you.  On different scales, I think we all feel like the boxes we've been given don't fit quite right.  Life is a struggle to either find a way to live with ourselves while we try to fit into society's expectations of us, or to truly be ourselves and just force society to live with us. :)

Hm...  Do you think I need a "nationality change"?  Am I a French girl trapped in an American's body?!  LOL.  (Sorry, don't mean to make light; but since you brought it up ...)


"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Wed Aug 29th, 2007 at 12:33:04 PM EST
As I remember, your comments were in regard to russia. I don't know, but I believe you resolved it peacefully.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Aug 29th, 2007 at 01:05:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I love Russia to death, but I'm not sure I've ever felt Russian...  Not without a significant number of drinks anyway.  

I think my comments were probably more about my incompatibility with my own country than any possible alternatives.  Who knows.  Anyway.  Good to know it was peacefully resolved. lol.


"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Wed Aug 29th, 2007 at 01:12:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Mle. poemless. Est ce que tu veux voire mes photos dans mon atelier un de ses jours?

Hey, Grandma Moses started late!
by LEP on Wed Aug 29th, 2007 at 03:37:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you answer "yes" you are ready for the transformation.

Hey, Grandma Moses started late!
by LEP on Wed Aug 29th, 2007 at 03:48:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sure, make me think it's some innocent visit to look at photos and then go all Dr. Frankenstein on me once I'm up there!

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Wed Aug 29th, 2007 at 03:55:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"Up"?

It's a basement darkroom. I think you should know.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Aug 29th, 2007 at 04:05:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes. It's the only darkroom for developing digital photos in the world.

Hey, Grandma Moses started late!
by LEP on Wed Aug 29th, 2007 at 04:12:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
LOL!

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Wed Aug 29th, 2007 at 04:15:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry. Your answer is not correct.. We'll have to award that tenured professorship at the Sorbonne to the next American transformation contestant.

Hey, Grandma Moses started late!
by LEP on Wed Aug 29th, 2007 at 04:10:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Whew!

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Wed Aug 29th, 2007 at 04:24:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for this diary Helen.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Wed Aug 29th, 2007 at 02:07:42 PM EST
I was trying to find out about the "Fen Causeway" and why I should keep to it.  Saw this picture and thought you might like it.  I've tried to copy it but to no avail, I wrote and got permission to use the photo here as long as I credited Cambridge 2000 for the ownershop of the photo.  So they are credited and thanked.

http://www.cambridge2000.com/cambridge2000/html/0004/P4070604.html

If someone can figure out how to post this be my guest only please credit Cambridge 200 for it.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson

by NearlyNormal on Wed Aug 29th, 2007 at 02:58:05 PM EST
Ha, thanks. there is a street name sign somewhere, I'm sure somebody posted it one. However a swan on nest is fab.

"I once was an ugly duckling, with feathers all stubby and brown."
But now....
"Not a quack, not a quack, not a waddle or a quack
But a glide and a whistle and a snowy white back
And a head so noble and high
Say who's an ugly duckling?
Not I!"

There are almost no photos of me as a male, I just didn't want to be seen. But as a female, there are lots

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Aug 29th, 2007 at 03:21:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There was this little inside joke:


Oye, vatos, dees English sink todos mi ships, chinga sus madres, so escuche: el fleet es ahora refloated, OK? — The War Nerd
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Sep 9th, 2007 at 02:13:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for this diary, Helen.  Powerful, honest, compelling.

"It was like being poisoned...."  I've heard other accounts of transition before, but nobody has ever expressed that so simply and so clearly.  I literally gasped when I read that.  It's one thing to hear or read & think one understands, but you made me feel it.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Wed Aug 29th, 2007 at 03:14:18 PM EST
and thank you. When I write these things which are so personal, it's very hard to know a form of words that can speak to the reader in such a way as they can get some sense of the situation and yet avoid melodrama and self-pity.

With your kind words, maybe I got this one right.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Aug 29th, 2007 at 03:26:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There's no melodrama or self-pity in what you write, and this is an excellent account. I think you've said some of these things before, but never as completely and tellingly. Thanks for writing this.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Aug 29th, 2007 at 04:13:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for the diary Helen. I have some idea how you feel. From my first remembrance I was always thinking if perhaps I was a Martian dropped into this strange family on earth. It was not that my parents were bad. They were just totally different from me and couldn't possibly understand me. I was a rather destroyed person for my first 20+ years.

Hey, Grandma Moses started late!
by LEP on Wed Aug 29th, 2007 at 03:47:11 PM EST
Thank you for this diary, Helen. I don't think words can convey any more effectively than this what being transgendered is "about".

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman
by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Thu Aug 30th, 2007 at 03:58:59 AM EST
Helen, you have written a landmark reality, so honestly and clearly that it should be required reading in civics courses everywhere.  It rings as sincere as it is and I think even fundies would be speechless to defend their prejudices.

This should be posted widely and repeatedly.  Remind me to ask you about translating and posting it when I see you.  

You make ET great! even if you didn't know so much about many other subjects, also.

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.

by metavision on Thu Aug 30th, 2007 at 09:39:45 AM EST
Although other transgendered people may recognise something of themselves in my story, we seem to united mostly in our differences. So I know  I can't speak for anybody else: This is my story and mine alone.

Yes. But still, you have helped me understand (better) a friend who is in a similar situation.

Thank you. I saved your diary on my computer so I can be sure to find it when I need to reread it.

You have a normal feeling for a moment, then it passes. --More--

by tzt (tzt) on Thu Aug 30th, 2007 at 11:23:53 AM EST
With Helen's permission, I am now front-paging this important piece.

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Sun Sep 2nd, 2007 at 06:29:09 AM EST
I was at another trans event yesterday and there was some rather interesting comment, from people knowledgeable in the area, to the effect that our bete noire, Julie bindel metioned in the second paragraph, shows classic symptoms of a person in some form of personal trans-denial. She may hate us for having what she denies herself.

I wouldn't normally pass on such scuttlebutt, most people have a right to privacy. However, as per Senator Craig in the US, don't pass laws against being gay and be gay yourself; it looks hypocritical. Bindel is real and present threat to the transgendered community and so others should judge her critiques accordingly.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Sep 2nd, 2007 at 07:57:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
wow.  Helen.  I think this is the best diary I've ever read.
by zoe on Sun Sep 2nd, 2007 at 11:32:21 AM EST


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