Letters Volume Eighteen
This is Volume Eighteen of the collected letters.
Wherein can be found the anonymous texts of actual letters written to me, and my answers in return. They are included because it has been suggested that the discussions are of value. The letters are presented as a rather loose, ongoing continuous dialogue between a hypothetical questioner, and myself.
You can write to me, too!
These are the eighteenth set of letters
Reference Topic Index
Relative ONLY to this volume:
For the complete list see main letters page.
should I transition?
Dispelling some myths about transsexuals
The success rate for transition, and the biases out there
How are you supposed to know if you are transsexual and not just messed up?
The greatest secret of passing, revealed yet again...
The Big Golden Story of How Hormones Work and the Fuss Thereto
Hi, my name is ......... (at least one day it will be) and I'm from ..........., where i go to school. My parents pay for my schooling and all my bills and I know that they would never accept the real me. As a result, most people who give me advice say, "stay in school, put it off, it can wait, etc.". However, at 20 years old, i know that each year that i wait is going to make a big difference in how i look and talk for the rest of my life. I'm one who's very self conscious and the thought of not passing scares me. So, isn't putting off school for a couple of years worth a lifetime of passing and happiness?
I faced the very same choice, and situation, back in 1981, when I was 21, going to college in San Francisco. My parents were paying for my education, dorm, college and all.
In my own case, perhaps I had less of an actual choice, since I had been suppressing awareness of my condition from myself for years, and when I woke up, I woke up desperate and sick to die. I had to take action or perish.I was massively driven.
I ended college immediately, found doctors, and pressed forward to change my life. I worked multiple jobs, and had it very rough. I told my parents only that there was something very private and life threatening going on with me, that I needed money for doctors, and that I was too embarrassed to tell them more, but that I would, soon. Between the money I made working at a restaurant, and the money I got from them, I did my first year and a half of transition. At 21, hormones still work very well.
I never finished college. I probably never will...it is not worth it to me. I am already a computer industry professional. College would be a waste of time. I have never regretted my choice.
Now, what I went through was very, very hard. It could have also been tragic, as just eight months or so from my surgery, I lost job, apartment, and everything. If my parents had not grudgingly taken me in just long enough to finish the job of transition, I would have been screwed. As it was. I spent some time homeless, hungry on the streets before they relented. And my surgery money came from an account my mother started for me at my birth. It was just enough.
I was very, very fortunate. Preternaturally so, I suspect.
There is no substitute for transitioning as young as possible, if one can survive doing it. The benefits are beyond a full listing, and they do include such matters as being able to 'pass perfectly', so that one is not viewed as a freak either part, or all, of the time. That alone, really matters far more than almost anyone would like to admit. Readers of my site know I have no pretense of political correctness or affiliation: I speak only my own observation. Passing matters above almost all else.
If you honestly think you have a decent chance of making it all the way through transition, go for it NOW. At the VERY least, start hormones, and electrolysis, if you need it -you most likely need some, at 20. Even if you decide to hold off, you can begin some of the process right away. If you are sure, get off your ass and take action, for every year you wait, you forever lose a small part of the passability you might have had, you become increasingly, inexorably, male. If you know what you are, do whatever you can as young as possible, that you can survive doing.
the age you have some control over your life is idiocy, unless you
are unsure what you want, or you fear ending up dead, because of
I also had another question. I've heard it said many times that one who becomes aroused from women's clothing is not a true transsexual, since a transsexual is supposed to just feel comfortable in women's clothing. Let me assure you that while it does arouse me, the thought of dressing as a woman seems to feel more natural with each passing day. I am also very good at math, including spatial organization, which i hear that is not very typical of a woman. When i was younger, i used to always let my imagination run wild everytime i wrote, but now i dread writing (maybe it's the structure that professors require?). I did take your test about a week ago, and as i recall i scored around 275, which was "class four". I guess i'm just pretty confused, and i know you're busy, but i was hoping maybe you could offer some insight.
Let me dispel some myths right now.
Being a transsexual has NOTHING to do with sexual arousal over women's clothing. Nontranssexual women can become aroused by their own clothing and appearance, and often do. Arousal is ordinary. It is a lie that a person who is aroused by dressing up cannot be a transsexual.
Transsexuality is a matter of gender identity. It is a congenital alteration of the sex of the brain, in conflict with the sex of the body. What one is aroused by is a totally separate issue. One can have any sexual persuasion, interest, or arousal...or none at all... and still be a transsexual.
It is also very, very common, that when a transsexual reaches puberty, that their issues of gender identity expression...such as dressing up....become intertwined with sexual feelings. Things are confused and difficult enough for the young transsexual, such a thing is only reasonable.
Now, on to the issue of how the sex of the brain displays itself.
There are well observed differences in how male and female brains function, and over a large average, there are certain famous trends that are quite real. Among them are spacial orientation issues and mathematical and linguistic differences. HOWEVER, these are averages, taken of large numbers of NONTRANSSEXUAL males and females.
The transsexual brain may be male or female in opposition to the sex of the body, but it still, almost always, spends the first two or more decades bathed in sex hormones incorrect for it. A Male-To-Female transsexual is constantly affected by testosterone until transition, and the brain is slightly plastic. The hormones DO affect how the brain functions, and can boost or suppress ability. Nontranssexual females deliberately given small doses of testosterone score higher in math and spacial reasoning. So a transsexuals brain cannot help but have functions both male and female developed in it. Transsexual brains are not 'normal'...they cannot be by definition. Fussing over how perfectly one matches some hypothetical average is just plain goofy. The important thing is whether YOU know what you are. That is the only answer that ever matters in all of life.
trends in ability are averages. They do not apply to everyone, to any
given individual. These trends are useful because they are real, but
only when tested for as an overall effect, not as an indication of
any one person's future ability.
Note that despite being good at math you still scored as Class Four... the most common class for transsexuals. No one element is important by itself. Understand this.
I come to your
page a lot, and I also study as much as I can
from other sites about being TS.
In so doing I come across an awful lot of information, primarily on the the web, that is biased toward transsexualism being more a matter of ones own "preference" to express the opposite gender, than from the veiw that transsexualism being a medical condition. My therapist told me that according to her info, that 90% of all transitions are unsuccessful, leaving many at the mercy of years of thereapy to right they're now mess up lives.
I believe you have misunderstood your therapist, or perhaps your therapist needs to expand her knowlege base.
Of those who make it to reassignment surgery, the success rate is above 90%, with no regrets. This is well documented. The completed treatment of transsexuals has been one of the most successful procedures in medical history, a fact which interests many physicians in and of itself. However, surgery has many barriers, and the transitioning individual must overcome formidable tests to win their surgery. As it should be.
However, few people -I understand approximately only 10%- who begin hormonal transition, ultimately reach the surgeon. This can be due to lack of money. It can be due to fear, or concern over the possibility of losing all sexual functioning, or it could be because the surgery -in the female-to-male transsexual- is inadequate in many respects, or even because the individual desires to retain their original organs for a host of motivations, or many other various reasons. Thus many people may attempt transition, certainly not all, by any means are actually transsexuals. Some people are even just simply content with hormonal transition alone, and that is all they need or want. And they can be quite happy.
It is most common, however, that the majority of those who begin transition never complete it, because ultimately, they are not transsexuals. They may be many things, and one of those things is being dysfunctional.
The problems of those who try to transition and fail due to dysfunctionality come from just the sorts of situations you mention: as I state many times on my site, many mental illnesses can masquerade as transsexuality. Some obsessive-compulsive disorders, as well as certain expressions of schizophrenia, are only some possibilities. It should be noted that one could be either of those things and still be a transsexual, but it does tend to muddy the water greatly. Some people delude themselves that a better life awaits them. Some people misinterpret their own desire to crossdress, or feel driven to legitimize their crossdressing 'sins' by imagining themselves transsexual. Some people even develop sexual mutilation fetishes that reach a peak in the idea of SRS. Some gay folks try to imagine themselves as transsexuals to alleviate guilt over being gay...as though being TS somehow is better. These folks almost never are allowed to make it to surgery. That is why all the careful testing, the required permission from at least two psychiatric professionals, the Benjamin standards.
Now this does not mean that a goodly number of fools will not still try to weasel their way through the system, and some get quite far. A very small number make it the whole way, and well, that is just plain tragic. But medicine can only play gatekeeper so far...and the individual MUST take responsibility for their own lives. Some people...screw themselves up.
There are a lot of political issues people force onto transsexualism too. Some people try to make it a 'Cause', whilst others try to demonize anything tainted by the issue. Still others bend the definition of the condition to suit their own agenda or expression. Many simply do not grasp what the whole thing is about. Others still simply try to deny it even exists.
People can play
with gender all they want, create gender based causes and politics,
or use medicine to turn themselves into side show freaks. People
sometimes have strange compulsions and mental defects, and chemical
imbalances. All of this has nothing to do with transsexuality.
I'd like to know how the hell one is supposed to know if they are really transsexual, whether late onset, or early onset, or O.C.D or simply choosing to express they're opposite gender???? Some folks don't even think it matters. to me it does. Personally, I feel I'm a typical late onset transsexual, as does my therapist, but I need to be absolutly sure. Beofre I start hormones, facial surgeries, or anything. That way I know that once i start, I can go right through to SRS and beyond with the peace of mind I need to begin building effectively on who I truely am. Pheeew! I'm asking YOU because after 2 + years of regularly visiting your site, I have a feel for your genuine heartfelt concern for the transsexual community.You also tend to not just tell people what they want to hear, but give the real story.
Unfortunately, there is no test, no expert, no authority, no wisdom, no perfect understanding, no pundit, doctor, or shaman who can tell you beyond question whether or not you are transsexual. At least in this time period. I do envision the possibility of molecular-level neurological mapping someday being able to trace the very running 'program' inside the living brain in some far flung future.....but that is not likely to exist during our life spans. So within our brief lives, there are no answers.
Except in yourself.
You are the only competent authority to diagnose your own transsexuality. This unhappy fact bothers the medical community as much as it does questioning genderqueer folk. But it is real. You are your only authority.
And yes, you can most certainly be wrong.
So what to do?
Try to determine just how balanced you are or are not by weighing the opinions of your doctors, peers, and so forth, accounting for biases and hostile bigotries. Remember, not only you can be wrong, so can anyone around you. You have to weigh everything, and come to some weighing of your own sanity, commitment, and clarity. You must find a basis for trust in yourself, even -at worst case- if it is only a trust in what you have learned to be your failings. You must come to some point where you can trust yourself, because you are all you will ever have, in terms of knowing anything about yourself. Others can guide, only you can know.
Once you think you know yourself well enough to trust your own best understandings, then you have to make decisions, and act on them. There are no guarantees. Not even in medicine, not even in science.
Understand yourself as best you can, make the best estimation you can, and follow through as far as you feel is right. It is alright to quit, to try partially, to test the waters, to experiment. In fact, it's probably better, because up to a point, one can always back out, and experimentation is how animals learn.
Bottom line is, life is not a fuzzy bunny story, or a guided journey. It's a rough game, played with dice, and some careful choices. Amidst all of that, you have to captain yourself, and face the risk of sinking your own fate. Only you can know what is best for you...hopefully you know yourself well enough.
nothing else, ultimately, beyond that. Sorry.
I would like to
start off by saying that you have a great
website and I have found much useful information there- thank you for
all the effort you put in to it- we all appreciate it very much. I
have written to you before. When I last wrote to you, I was due to
have my surgery in 2 months time and I was concerned with the fact
that I was not passing as well as I would have liked. Well, I am now
post- op.. and very happily so. It is easily the best decision I have
ever made in my life, and I have NO regrets about going under the
knife and changing my body to what I have always wished I was born
as. I cannot even remember being pre-op.. I feel as if I have always
been this way.. and in a way.. I have.
You must be wondering what my problem is then? Well.. its still the passing thing. Don't get me wrong.. having SRS has definitely made me much more comfortable with myself... but the passing problem still exists. I am 24, with the body I have always wanted, but not passing is still a major concern with me. I work with many men, some of them very good-looking, and I feel so humiliated and small when I KNOW that they have read me. I can see the way they look at other young women and I can practically see the lust in their eyes. It may sound stupid to you, but that's what I want also. My problem with passing is getting to the point where I am becoming obsessive about it. I am due to have facial cosmetic surgery although many people, including my partner, have told me that I don't need it.
And I also know that I can do without it. I have no grossly masculine features and that's what makes it worse for me in some ways- because I know that passing well is within my reach! Am I placing my goals too far out of reach? Where do I go for help to get rid of my obsessiveness and paranoia? I don't want to be this way.. I am being hard on my partner when all he does is love me unconditionally. It hurts, and I want to be rid of this pain. I even get suicidal sometimes if something particularly touchy happens, this is not how I should be treating myself and others around me! Please help!
After having read your words, I see something very, very familiar to me in them.
Just after my own surgery, in fact, for years afterwards, I was constantly afraid that I was not passing. Sometimes it became such a concern I felt ashamed and endangered, like someone would spot me, point fingers, scream 'FREAK!' and hurt me. It was pretty bad. It sometimes consumed my thoughts, whenever I was in public.
Recently, I went back and looked at all the photographs that my family had taken of me back then. I could not believe my eyes...I looked GREAT! 17 years ago, I was a real cutie, no question. What was so wrong with me back then? I could have been so happy, had such fun, been so free, if only I could have seen myself with the eyes I have now.
The problem was that even though I passed, I did not believe it. I knew my own history, my own secrets. I carried those thoughts inside me, wherever I went, as a burden. My family and friends told me I passed perfectly, but I could not believe them. And people seemed to always look at me strangely.
Now I know why they looked at me so strangely, or avoided me sometimes. Think about it...if you were to see a person -even a very pretty person- acting nervous, afraid, looking around suspiciously to see if anyone is looking at them...would you not feel uneasy? Would not such a person's behavior make you want to shy away, not want to get involved in whatever is going on...yet at the same time become curious, and look, just to see if anything might happen?
This is the problem, I think. While I do not know what you look like, the fact that you say that your partner sees nothing wrong with your appearance, really rings a bell with me. It is very likely, at your age, post op, on hormones, decent features, that you pass just fine. The problem is most likely that you are so insecure about passing that you appear strange, furtive, and exude a feeling of fear. Fear, insecurity, attracts attention.
People started treating me like anyone else the moment I got forgetful of myself, and became so involved or distracted that I just behaved as myself, with confidence. When I became self conscious, I started acting self conscious, and that attracted curiosity or unease.
Bottom line: I have seen confidence and self assurance permit people who physically did not pass to be accepted amazingly well, and the effect on people who actually pass well already is absolute. Confidence is more important than any -ANY- physical defect that might exist. If you can control, eliminate your self consciousness about passing, you will almost certainly pass perfectly. I assure you the effect is stunning.
Now I know that just telling you 'stop fussing and you will pass well' is easy to do, and hard to actually do...for instance, the big question is 'how does one stop worrying?' One method is to keep yourself distracted or involved on something else...anything else...to the point that there is not room for insecure thoughts to enter. A helpful adjunct is to try to avoid to much mirror time for a few months, beyond basic grooming. Why? Your mind still has the memory of your old, pre-transition face and life. Looking in the mirror can make your insecurity search out and magnify all but invisible reminders of your old face, and make them seem obvious and blatant. This makes the mind imagine everyone can see the same 'flaws' like a neon sign. Insecurity rises. Same with body, hands, whatever.
There are probably tiny angles or curves that are the same as before. However, know that hormones do a very decent job of resculpting the fat layer, and thus the appearance of the flesh. What you may see in your face, or hands, or whatever, is almost certainly invisible to everyone else. It is certainly invisible to those who do not know your past.
Which is another issue...if you are in an environment of people who know all about your past, then that is in their mind however you appear. Most humans have a problem with transsexuals. That is just how things are. People who do not know your past will have nothing to look for, nothing to suspect, nothing to imagine.
Passing is a calculation. It is a mixture of physical appearance, voice, behavior, and overall 'presence'...the feeling one gives off. Subtle cues that communicate worry, or strength, insecurity, or confidence. Animals, including human animals, react to fear and the unusual: confidence and emotional calmness are accepted easily. The calculation is heavily biased towards the subtle cues, towards the emotional presence. Unless you have gross physical problems, which I seriously doubt from what you wrote, then you can control the calculation others make about your sex and gender.
The less you are worried about passing, the better you will pass. Try it as best you can. It works.
Most likely, people who act strange around you, are doing so because you are acting self conscious. End that, and you change how you are dealt with.
Even so, surgery and transition are pretty major things. If you cannot get over your insecurities easily, give yourself time, and just realize that things will improve. It is hard to get over fear overnight. I doubt you need cosmetic help, I suggest you most probably just need time to relax and become comfortable with yourself...because you have survived a terrible trauma, and it takes time to settle in, OK?
I know this, because I lived it too, and I am nearly two decades into your future. One day you will almost certainly look back, as I do, and be shocked that you could ever have worried so much about passing. Maybe, if you are brighter than I was once, you can get over your insecurities faster, and enjoy life sooner than I did.
If nothing in my advice so far helps you, then consider counseling to deal with your insecurity, or take a vacation so that you can see how total strangers far away will fail to react to you. Or both. Most of all, have patience with yourself, and your life.
That is my best
opinion on what you have written me, and my best advice.
Jennifer, I got a hormone question for you. I have read over and over about the near total feminisizing effects of hormones, physically, but rarely have I read any article about the emotional effects of hormones. I would like to know if hormones give M2F's a more feminine mind set, or feeling of femininity? I especially concerned for those of us nonandrophilic t's or late on set t's, who tend to vacillate between genders, and fight feelings of masculinity day in and day out. what about this?
This is actually a great question because it opens a big can of very squirmy worms, and illustrates a current problem in understanding I think needs to be addressed.
One of the big problems for some people in the past decade has been a difficulty in grasping that not only do we wear bodies made of meat, but that the brain that commands that meat machine, the organ that runs the electrochemical software program that is our identity and consciousness is itself made entirely of meat.
It is the meat of the body that is affected by hormones in a dramatic and visually obvious manner, yet the effect of hormones on the meat that is our very selves is equally profound. Many humans have a problem with even the idea that personality, consciousness, and will could be partially outside the complete control of the individual. The reality is that the meat computer that runs the program of ourselves is very much affected by chemistry.
There is no question, even among the most rabidly political gender activist, for example, that the brain can be and is profoundly affected by drugs. Indeed I suspect many gender activists understand this firsthand. Yet when the topic of how hormones affect the brain is raised, some folks become quite adamant that such an effect is ridiculous.
What is ridiculous is any notion that hormones do not profoundly affect the brain, and thus the consciousness and the self.
Hormones, in part, act as biochemical 'fingers' which flip the molecular 'switches' in the genes of our living cells. The effect of hormones in the body activate or suppress sequences of genes. Genes, DNA, is the written computer program of our cells. The arrangement of atoms in a strand of genetic material acts as the original nanomachine, the pattern of instructions that cause proteins and more to be constructed or not constructed by a living cell. It is the command set for life itself. What a cell is 'ordered' to construct, determines what the cell is and does, and on the macro scale, defines our flesh.
When female hormones, for instance, begin affecting an otherwise male body, certain gene sequences are suppressed, and others are activated, in ever living cell in the body. The cells alter their functions, and perform new tasks. This is why fat cells redistribute to make the body more womanly, and why muscle cells atrophy in some cases, and in others change their very nature from coarse to smooth. Skin cells are 'told' by the 'reprogrammed' genes to change their very construction, while the dormant breast cells in every human body are made to grow and develop. In effect, in modern metaphor, a new 'program' has been installed, and is running.
Of course, nerve cells are not immune. Hormones also cause the entire nervous system to change the way it functions, and this can, and does, involve some large scale rewiring of the living brain. Until the last two decades or so, it was believed that the brain was unalterable, once it reached adulthood. We now know that the brain is remarkably plastic, that it can rewire itself even in adulthood, and does so for many reasons, including the effect of hormones. We also know that there are many sex related behaviors, traits, and instinctual responses that humans possess. This too was once heresy, only two decades ago. Grievously, many people today have only dimly grasped information that is two or three decades out of date, and this cling to erroneous and painfully incorrect notions. There are those that still think that humans have no instinctual behaviors, that XY and XX are the sole determinants of both sex and gender, and that human will is totally free and unhindered or affected by biochemistry or genetics. These ideas are wrong.
Hormones powerfully affect the living brain. Certainly prenatal flushes of hormones create both the transsexual and the homosexual in animal species, including humans, but hormones also rewire the brain in adults. The changes to an adult brain are far slower, and less profound and all encompassing, but this is reasonable...the adult brain is exponentially more complex, ordered, stable, and set in concrete than the neurons of a fetus. Changes must be minor and subtle in the adult, but because the brain is so very complex, even minor changes can have remarkably powerful effects.
Changes induced by hormones in the brain are varied. One that is well known involves the way in which the brain stores information. Male ordered brains tend to store information in discrete and partitioned ways. Language functions will generally be limited to one hemisphere, while mathematical functions are placed in the other. By contrast, the female ordered brain tends to scatter portions of functions over both hemispheres almost equally. There are advantages and disadvantages to both plans. The male brain would tend to process certain information slightly faster, and may gain some benefit from particular wiring arrangements. Ont the other hand it is very vulnerable to damage, and seems to lack certain abilities involving subtle comparison and contrast. It is statistically better at spacial orientation, and is demonstrably poor at the recognition of emotional states.
The female ordered brain survives damage much better, on average, than the male ordered brain, and it excels, on average, at emotional recognition. Spacial orientation suffers, but creativity seems enhanced. Language processing, statistically, is enhanced, while mathematical ability sometimes suffers. The key to all of this is that nothing is absolute. Many simple minded people seem to think that the observed sex differences of the brains of males and females are absolute and overwhelming condemnations or elevations of ability. The slow of thinking become agitated and find in this information much to be threatened by, in that it clearly suggests that we are not entirely, perfectly, free to make ourselves into anything we choose. It suggests that culture is not entirely the product of whim, and that some aspects of our choices and our civilization may in fact be derived from biology, beyond our awareness, beyond our choice. This can be a disturbing concept to people raised with fantastic expectations of human potential. Yet few would argue that some people are clearly born with gifts of intelligence and ability that are possessed by few others. The problem comes when pet theories about gender are shown to be partially, or wholly invalid.
Hormones begin to restructure the living brain the instant they enter the bloodstream. In the adult brain, these changes are subtle, and in the infant brain the changes are overwhelming. Since gender identity is configuration of neurons...a section of our meat motherboards in the computer of our brains...hormones gradually change the way those neurons operate, and what they connect to. In the adult brain, the changes can only be small, but they can have an effect, more so the longer the exposure to hormones. If humans could live forever, perhaps eventually the brain would be totally rewired to the new configuration, but I think it would take centuries for an adult brain. As it is, hormones cannot alter basic gender identity, at least not within several human lifetimes, but can enhance or magnify existing gender 'wiring', by activating or strengthening the connections in the brain. This in turn will gradually affect behavior, and internal feeling and dialogue. It will affect perception and awareness. It definitely affects mood and emotion. The emotional centers of the brain, in the limbic system and in the amygdala, seem especially affected by hormones.
In summary, hormones do alter the brain, if but slowly in the adult brain, and serve to attempt to cause the brain functions to gravitate towards the sex the hormone defines. Over time, with hormones, brains of transsexuals have been shown to display increasing neurological activity in accordance to their claimed gender, which is to be expected, as the brain is only meat, and meat is affected by hormones. Testing clearly shows changes in ability, again sex related; an example being that FTM transsexual men display a marked increase in spacial ability on testosterone. Of course, nontranssexual women also show improvement on testosterone too, which is reasonable as well. Hormones do not care whether one is transsexual, hormones simply do their chemical work.
Will hormones make gender clearer for those sitting on the fence, unable to understand themselves? Perhaps, just a little. But even here, there are no absolute answers. For those on the fence, there is no clear solution. The transsexual, on the other hand, almost always is aware of their problem from earliest awareness, and tend to be very strong about knowing exactly what they need. Indeed, this is the primary definition of the transsexual, as opposed to any other gender variant. The wiring is strongly set, before birth, making such self knowledge clear.
Nature is not
digital, however, and some people are prewired in confused or
indeterminate states. For them, for the 'transgendered', there are no
simple answers, no biologically powerful edicts that must be
followed, no life or death drives and goals. In the
not-quite-transsexual, hormones may help, but they will not
necessarily answer, and choices of how to live must be answered
individually....nature will not provide an authoritarian direction.