Thursday, 23 October 2008


A follow-up to a previous post.

From LAObserved :
Eighteen month after writing a column about becoming Christine Daniels, veteran sportswriter Mike Penner has quietly returned to work at the Los Angeles Times, according to multiple sources close to the LAT's Sports staff. ...
I emailed him and Sports Editor Randy Harvey, who replied, "We're looking forward to Mike's byline appearing in the paper and on the website with increased frequency. He continues to be a valued member of our sports staff."

Now this is a very personal decision, one no-one other than Mike has any right whatsoever to get a vote in, or even express an opinion on. He is a Human being under intense stress, and has taken a decision requiring pure, raw, unadulterated and distilled courage. One where he, and only he, can say whether the decision is right or wrong.

Here's what I said in explanation over at The Oregonian :
Transition is hard. Many don't make it at the first attempt. And for a few, transition is wrong for them. You really can't know this until you try it.

I better explain the process. Just as there's "Standards of Care", - best practices (SOCs) - for treating everything from toothache to triple bypasses - there's a SOC for treating transsexuality (TS).

First comes an assessment by a mental health professional (the technical term is "shrink") over at least 3 months, to make sure that the patient has TS. It's not that hard to exclude mental illnesses, but TS has degrees, and some can live with it without treatment.

After this assessment, which may take years, hormones to alter the body are authorised. This will make any misdiagnosed men freak, impotence being one of the first effects. TS women though start feeling a vast sense of relief.

But the patient being TS is not sufficient to authorise the processes for transition. To make sure they can handle it, the victim, sorry, patient, has to publicly live in the target gender role for at least a year (two in some places). This is called the RLE - Real Life Experience. This doesn't just test whether they are TS, but the scope of it. Some find that they're not as badly affected as they thought, and de-transition permanently, having learnt a lot about themselves. Some just find it too difficult, and will de-transition temporarily, until the misery gets too much again.

The RLE is hard, and in most places, dangerous. Looking like a woman, but having a male anatomy can cause arrest and imprisonment, despite it being part of necessary medical treatment. The patient must show they have the mental strength to endure the verbal and physical assaults that nearly every woman is subject to if they transition over age 25, and the sexual assaults if younger.

I believe that 3 women in their RLE were murdered in the last 3 months.

Many take several goes at it, often separated by 10 years or more recovering from the horrendous experience - until the misery gets too much.

After the patient has completed the RLE, a PhD gender specialist must then write a letter of authorization for surgery, as must the original medic. Such a decision gets peer-reviewed by experts, and letters may be denied and the RLE extended if there's any doubt.

I hope Mike has discovered himself. Gender Identity is usually consolidated by age 10, but in some people it takes longer.

The only thing that requires more courage than a very public transition is a very public de-transition. But if it's what's best for you, you have to screw your courage to the sticking-place and do it, knowing that if it was possible to die of embarrassment, you'd be 6 feet under.

No-one gets a vote on this but Mike himself. I marvel at his courage, and I support him completely.

You see, I transitioned. For me it was right. For Mike it wasn't - hopefully permanently.
I made a similar comment on USA Today. And over at Deadspin, where in accordance with the audience, I was a little more Earthy:
Transition is *hard*. Sometimes it takes several attempts. And sometimes, rarely, it's a blind alley, part of an unusually late consolidation of gender identity.

No one gets a vote in this except Mike. Possibly the only thing more difficult than a very public transition is a very public de-transition when transition is either too hard or just plain wrong for that individual. Bad joke, but that doesn't just take balls, it takes raw courage.

And if that makes the "GLBITQ" movement look bad, then the "GLBITQ" movement can go ... itself.
Now I can say that in safety - my transition's complete, irreversible, no-one can take it from me. Those still in transition at the mercy of a sometimes unsympathetic medical profession, and an always unsympathetic society and legal system, well, they are concerned with the effects on them. They have reason for the concern. As my good friend Autumn Sandeen has said :
I knew Christine Daniels, and considered Christine a friend. She faded out of my life this time last year — I had no idea why she didn’t return my calls or emails.
I already know I’m not going to be thrilled when the conservative “Christian” media gets a hold of this story.
Yes. Neither am I.

But we just have to ride it out. It's not about us, you see. It's not about women like me who made it on the first attempt, cruised through it in fact. It's not even about anyone, trans- or cis-gendered, with a stable and (most of all) conventional gender identity, wholly male or wholly female (or close enough).

It's about one Human Being, a person, my neighbour on this planet, and my brother. "Am I my brother's keeper?" No, but I'm his sister, who should do whatever she can to help him in this crisis, when his courage in stepping back is so evident, knowing he will be misunderstood and reviled, by both segments of the "GLBITQ community" and the world at large. Portrayed as Bizarre, a figure of scorn and derision.

Mike passed his test, doing the right thing for him. It was easy for those of us who are Trans to support Christine. Now it's we who are tested - to give exactly the same love and support to Mike, and in my own case, a dose of awe at his bravery.

It may come to pass that this is merely a failed attempt, and may not even be the only one. Or it may be a necessary step in Mike's journey of discovery about himself. I won't speculate, because Mike and only Mike can say that, and even he may not know yet.

Heck, I'm not even sure whether my own degree of TS was so mild that I had to be forced into transition by a genetically odd body staging a palace revolt, or so strong that it caused my body to change against my conscious will. So how can I say what degree Mike has?

Finally, I'll quote Autumn again:
Perhaps I should should let y’all know though, I’m taking this news really hard. I miss my friend a lot.
Those of us who are married now know the feeling our wives had at the loss of their husbands. We try to explain that the packaging has changed, but the person inside remains the same, but now we know how difficult that is to truly believe.

It's true though. And he could do with two things - not being exposed to the limelight, and our truly unconditional support in whatever he decides is right for him.


Anonymous said...

"Gender Identity is usually consolidated by age 10, but in some people it takes longer."

Wait, I thought GID was caused by the development of the brain in the womb not matching the rest of the body; how can it take so long to come out?

Zoe Brain said...

The brain development is causal - see Milton Diamond's Biased Transaction theory in "Bigender and the Brain".

I'll quote myself over at "Locusts and Honey".

We're not sure what the exact mechanism is or mechanisms are that cause transsexuality. It appears to be the combination of an atypical hormonal environment in the womb, combined with a genetic pre-disposition. We're now confident though that we know what transsexuality is. A (partly, mostly or completely) male brain in a (partly, mostly, or completely) female body, or the reverse.

That's a simplification. More accurately, the lymbic system's future development is set in the womb, but there's no "male" or "female" parts. Instead, instincts and emotional responses tend to follow either a male-typical or female-typical pattern. The child "learns" their gender by comparison with others, and this is not a matter of socially-constructed behaviour, but hard-wired emotional responses. Female babies tend to be more cognisant of facial expressions from birth, for example. It's these hard-wired differences that lead the child to know what gender they are, and that may not match their body or clothing.

I've come across many people whose gender identity was neither stable nor well-defined. Such people don't transition, partly because they wouldn't pass the psych evaluation, but mostly because they don't want to.

Those whose gender identity is relatively well-defined and relatively stable may attempt transition, but may "fail". I use "fail" in quotes because the attempt to transition may be therapeutic in itself, clarifying matters, possibly in ways not expected.

Anonymous said...

"Female babies tend to be more cognisant of facial expressions from birth, for example. It's these hard-wired differences that lead the child to know what gender they are, and that may not match their body or clothing."

Wait, then how does a girl with Asperger's syndrome know she's a girl? Usually, girls with Asperger's syndrome are not GID, despite having a disorder that is said to be like having an extremely male brain.

Zoe Brain said...

The rate of Asperger's amongst TS people is so high that there's even a Yahoo group for them -

That's one of the main arguments that "ultra male" is not a good description for the typical Aspergic neurology. "anomalous in development" is.

We still have no idea why the rate of ambidexterity in TS people is so high - perhaps 30% - for that matter.

It is conjectured that if the gender differentiation is screwed up, other lateralisations, specialisations and differentiations are more likely to be too, but we really don't know. It's a fruitful topic of research.

Oddly enough, in some cases hormonal treatment as part of transition can remove the symptoms of Asperger's. We have no idea why, other than that it may provide some form of "missing link" in brain development. Certainly female hormones cause the brain to become more dense, smaller in size but with the same number of neurons and connections.

I'd recommend Fausto-Sterling's book on the subject, "sexing the body" here.

Oh yes, in my own experience, two of the main symptoms I recorded in the first two weeks of change were that my sense of smell became more acute, and my Aspergic symptoms vanished. I've noticed no change in handedness, I'm still ambidextrous.

The fat re-distribution, hair growth pattern change, and other gross external physical symptoms too delicate to mention became apparent shortly thereafter.

We know a lot more than we used to, but so much is still an unknown. It does tend to make the various psychological theories look pretty silly though. They have to ignore all this.

Battybattybats said...

The Ambidexterity bit is interesting!

I was ambidextrous till early schooling (year 2 I think it was) where because of tiny cramped desks I couldn't use my left arm to write with without it colliding with the right handed kids elbow beside me.

So I gradually lost a lot of my ambidexterity but not completely which was much to my advantage in Fencing and other martial arts where I could switch hands to match or throw off an opponent.

But writing, strength and many fine dexterity skills are markedly reduced in my left but better than the strongly-handed people I know. I have been told that consistently using my left hand more would gradually reacquire the ambidexterity but I've not had he presence of mind to do so continuously enough for it to return to second nature.

Whats the normal proportion of handedness and what is the proportion found amongst TS? This'd make an interesting topic for polls on crossdressing forums to see if it is as strong as with TS folk, just like Cis folk or somewhere in between the two which is what my guess would be.