Tuesday, 11 January 2011

The Gendered Self - A Personal View

From Anne Vitale's e-book, the Gendered Self : Further Commentary on the Transsexual Phenomenon ($5.95 USD and worth a lot more)
Given the nature of the condition and the ability of some children to conceal it, it may be possible that most children with gender dysphoria are never diagnosed as such. The undiagnosed children cope by sticking rigorously to the role expected of them.
...
Little is known about gender dysphoric boys who privately struggle to fit into their expected gender role. With no apparent problem, (many adult GID clients report being exceptionally well behaved as children) they simply go unobserved by clinicians studying gender variant behavior. Yet from interviewing adults with gender dysphoria, I can report that the problem, although lacking the current intensity, was as real for them then as it is now.

The underlying feelings most often stated were of detachment and confusion, a sense of not really fitting in, even though family and teachers consistently rewarded them for their artificially affected behavior. One of the most common areas of confusion was the original sex assignment process itself. Although adults may think it simplistic, many children are completely perplexed as to why some children are assigned as boys and others as girls.

Given a tendency toward privacy and modesty in our society, many children, especially those without siblings, often have no way of knowing that there is a physical difference between themselves and those differently assigned
Andrea, a 35-year-old male-to-female, post-operative transsexual recalls that she was completely perplexed over her assignment as male until at age seven her sister was born. While watching her mother change her sister’s diaper, she learned for the first time that her assignment as a boy was based on a real physical difference. Although it cleared up part of the confusion, she realized even at that early age that her identity concerns were far more complicated and serious then she had first thought.
It is common for clients to report thinking in childhood that gender assignment was based on parental preference and therefore open for redress. Girls are especially aggressive in their insistence that they are really boys. Indeed, many are so insistent that they go on to act for all intents and purposes as though they are boys, a pattern they carry into adulthood.

For cloistered gender dysphoric boys it was in the area of peers and activities, especially sports, that the problem was most noticeable. Unable or uninterested in competing in organized boys’ activities and having been shuffled decidedly away from playing with the girls, many became reclusive. To add to their confusion, and counter to behavior typically reported in openly gender dysphoric boys, many cloistered boys actually preferred solo play with boys’ toys and had little or no interest in girls’ toys. For example, I have heard more than one long-time post-op male-to-female transsexual speak fondly of having spent countless hours playing with an Erector Set or a Lionel model train set-up that their father had helped them build. Others described designing and making detailed model airplanes, race cars and sailing ships. The more academic of this group report little or no interest in sports and rough-and-tumble play. To avoid castigation from their peers, they report spending a lot of time reading and studying.
My close family would instantly recognise that stereotype as being a perfect description of me when young.

I'll quote two segments from previous posts of mine, one poetic, one autobiographical, that shows just how accurate Dr Vitale's description is. No wonder I was considered an "open and shut case", despite the "hormonal issues that perplexed the situation" as an examining psychiatrist put it.
1967
====

Pardon Me.
I need to see someone.
I don't know who decides these things.
But you see, there's been a silly mistake.
I didn't complain before
But I'm now nearly 10.
It's getting really late.
I don't mind being in Loddon House
Though Thames or Kennet are OK too.
If I have to change
To either, I don't mind.
And as for A Class well,
I'm good at maths.
No complaints.
But you see
They put in me in the Boys
And Boy things just aren't me.
The Boy clothes I wear
Mean Girls won't play with me.
I'm so alone,
I spend my playtime
In the Library
Alone
Different
Lonely
I don't fit in
At all.
There's been a mistake, you see.
I know my parents
Wanted a Boy.
Maybe that's why it was done
The assignment incorrect
To Boy and not to Girl.
A Natural mistake
To make
No blame.
But haven't I been good?
Done everything required?
Never been naughty
Over much.
I think I've earned the right
To go in with the Girls
And soon
Before my teens begin.
I need to see
Someone in charge
Who decides these things.
Please help.
You know you're in a bad way when you can't read the last few lines of a poem you yourself wrote, without tearing up. Not for yourself, but for all the other earnest young pre-teen girls today, doing their best to be biddable and polite, with a naive faith in the ability of the kindly adults around them to fix the situation.

In 1967... the attempted "fix" might have meant electro-convulsive therapy, and possibly removing parts of the brain.... certainly "operant conditioning" using rewards and punishments... torture by any other name. Not the Abu Ghraib Guantanamo faux-torture, actual electrodes and actual beatings. I didn't know that then, I just thought that when things became obvious in my teens there would be some upheaval and readjustment, that's all. Inconvenience.

Now for the second part.
Up until age 5, I was a child. No real concept of gender.

At 6, I went to school, and noticed something was wrong. I was dressed as a boy, I looked like a boy, but I didn't think like "other boys". I still liked toy guns, and Meccano rather than dolls, but I was different.

At 7, I knew I wasn't a boy, but didn't know what I was. I thought boys were puerile, and girls too silly and sissy. A classic Tomboy in retrospect.

At 8, I got to play hopscotch with other girls, and I felt at home. They thought like I did, they cried like I did. I still didn't see myself as more than an honourary girl though. Even if my favourite toy car was Lady Penelope's pink Rolls-Royce.

At 9, more by a process of elimination than anything else, I realised I was female. Boys could just as well have been an alien species. Girls were just like me, in feelings and values.

At 10, I was in a boys boarding school then, and I was able to make up boardgames of astounding complexity when it rained. I had my own secret garden in the nearby woods, with flowerbeds I'd planted. I could sit and read amidst the flowers, and was terribly happy. It was then I picked the name Zoe, and planned what I was going to do with my life. I wanted children, a husband, the white picket fence etc, but also to be a Rocket Scientist and to travel the world, things that Wives and Mothers Just Did Not Do in the 60's.

Even though it had been obvious since age 7 that I’d never be “svelte” or “petite”, that I’d be the girl “with the wonderful personality”. I didn’t cry about that – much. And not where anyone could see me. I was more worried about the practical problems I'd be having when I started having a female puberty. And vaguely concerned that boys didn't interest me at all. I was no naive I thought that was part of the package of being a girl. Was I a defective one?

It came as a terrible shock when I learnt that boys and girls are born looking different, and that my body was boy.
I dislike being an instance of a stereotype, but reality is, whether I like it or not.
"Damn! I have recently learned that I am
But a creature that moves
In predestinate grooves.
I'm not even a bus. I'm a tram."
Although I'm technically Intersexed, the whole "natural sex change" business yada yada - my childhood was indistinguishable from that of other transsexual women. I'm both TS and IS. Or IS and formerly TS.

From the Author's page:
Based on the author's first hand experience in treating over 500 gender dysphoric individuals over the last quarter century, The Gendered Self is the story of what it is like to be born into and to live out one's life as a transsexual in a cissexual world.

The book starts by showing how the developing brain is genderized in utero and how that process can go awry leaving affected individuals sex/gender incongruent.

The author goes on to show that although hormonal and surgical means is the current treatment of choice for sex/gender incongruency, we have come to learn that with Genital Reassignment Surgery life takes a turn wherein the individual is permanently consigned to a parallel universe: not male, not female but a bio-sociological combination of both. It is a world where the absurd becomes ordinary and the ordinary becomes absurd. Transsexualism is a life long existential dilemma that challenges the very nature of psychological survival. Nietzsche famously said that "what does not kill you makes you stronger". As The Gendered Self shows, surviving transsexualism and living a meaningful life is certainly a testament to that.


A final word. Something I wrote three years ago.

Something that illustrates how "It is a world where the absurd becomes ordinary and the ordinary becomes absurd."

You get used to it. You get too used to it. You tell yourself that the situation is unusual, you have to make allowances, and if you're not very careful, you get to believe that you deserve it, because of the myriad little ways you get humiliated or mistreated in every country on Earth. Some places, name change is trivial. Other places, it requires a court hearing, and a bigoted judge can refuse you permission simply because he doesn't approve of "that kind of thing". Some places, changing birth certificate is trivial if you're post op. Some places it's even possible if pre-op. Some places it's impossible. Some places it's possible even if pre-op, but not if you're married (like the UK). It's Legal Insanity.

You tell yourself that compared with people with Lung cancer, you have it easy. But the comparison is unjust: for changing sex, while psychologically uniquely stressful and medically risky, is not the problem. The problem is not even the violence, for anyone can be unlucky (Ok, so you're seventeen times as likely to be unlucky, so maybe it's a problem after all). The problem is those who argue that you're insane (so don't deserve treatment), or not insane (so don't deserve treatment). That you're as mad as a meataxe, as much as a psychotic schizophrenic, yet unlike a psychotic schizophrenic don't qualify as disabled under the "Americans with Disabilities Act", because there's a special exemptive clause just for your condition (see Donna Rose Dec 20 2007 8:30am). That you're gay, especially if attracted to the opposite sex, but don't qualify for legal protection under any clauses that protect gays in any event. That in order to get treatment for your insanity, you must get two specialist psychiatrists to put their reputations on the line, in writing, to say that you're sane. You get used to the inconsistency. If there's a disadvantage, it applies, if there's a mitigation, it doesn't.

You become so used to making allowance for others feelings - for all you want to do is have something like a normal life too - that in order to save minor inconvenience or some disquiet in others, you accept the most objectively appalling treatment of yourself. Treated in so many ways - though which ones depend on where you are - as a 4th class citizen, unless you make a conscious effort not to, you believe that you are a 3rd class citizen who just has to put up with a few inconveniences.

Instead of the 2nd class citizen you are because you're a woman. Actually, come to think of it, maybe I shouldn't accept that state of affairs either as "normal", just because it has been since time immemorial.


"The Gendered Self may be purchased through Lulu.com. It is available immediately as a PDF file download for $5.99 USD or in paperback for $14.99 USD. eReader formats to be available soon."

One thing though about Transition. Even if you don't get a natural assist from a weird metabolism - it's easier than the alternative.

12 comments:

Common Teri said...

Wow! This hits home. Great post!

Zimbel said...

Mostly an excellent post.

I found that I couldn't let this side-comment go unchallenged, though:

Not the Abu Ghraib faux-torture...

Is rape torture?

Maj Gen Taguba, who retired in January 2007, said he supported the President’s decision, adding: “These pictures show torture, abuse, rape and every indecency.

How about homicide?

Two years ago, at Abu Ghraib prison, outside Baghdad, an Iraqi prisoner in Swanner’s custody, Manadel al-Jamadi, died during an interrogation. ...United States government authorities classified Jamadi’s death as a “homicide,” meaning that it resulted from unnatural causes.

A video and picture archive

Or the ICRC report:

The main violations, which are described in the ICRC report and presented confidentially to the CF, include:

* Brutality against protected persons upon capture and initial custody, sometimes causing death or serious injury
...
* Excessive and disproportionate use of force against persons deprived of their liberty resulting in death or injury during their period of internment


Or if you prefer the ACLU as a source, here's their main page (covers more than Abu Graib, though)

From one of those archived pages:

The ACLU also released an Information Paper entitled “Allegations of Detainee Abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan” dated April 2, 2004, two weeks before the world saw the pictures of torture at Abu Ghraib prison. The paper outlined the status of 62 investigations of detainee abuse and detainee deaths. Cases include assaults, punching, kicking and beatings, mock executions, sexual assault of a female detainee, threatening to kill an Iraqi child to “send a message to other Iraqis,” stripping detainees, beating them and shocking them with a blasting device, throwing rocks at handcuffed Iraqi children, choking detainees with knots of their scarves and interrogations at gunpoint.

Zimbel said...

Mostly an excellent post.

I found that I couldn't let this side-comment go unchallenged, though:

Not the Abu Ghraib faux-torture...

Is rape torture?

Maj Gen Taguba, who retired in January 2007, said he supported the President’s decision, adding: “These pictures show torture, abuse, rape and every indecency.

How about homicide?

Two years ago, at Abu Ghraib prison, outside Baghdad, an Iraqi prisoner in Swanner’s custody, Manadel al-Jamadi, died during an interrogation. ...United States government authorities classified Jamadi’s death as a “homicide,” meaning that it resulted from unnatural causes.

A video and picture archive

Or the ICRC report:

The main violations, which are described in the ICRC report and presented confidentially to the CF, include:

* Brutality against protected persons upon capture and initial custody, sometimes causing death or serious injury
...
* Excessive and disproportionate use of force against persons deprived of their liberty resulting in death or injury during their period of internment


Or if you prefer the ACLU as a source, here's their main page (covers more than Abu Graib, though)

From one of those archived pages:

The ACLU also released an Information Paper entitled “Allegations of Detainee Abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan” dated April 2, 2004, two weeks before the world saw the pictures of torture at Abu Ghraib prison.
The paper outlined the status of 62 investigations of detainee abuse and detainee deaths.
Cases include assaults, punching, kicking and beatings, mock executions, sexual assault of a female detainee, threatening to kill an Iraqi child to “send a message to other Iraqis,” stripping detainees, beating them and shocking them with a blasting device, throwing rocks at handcuffed Iraqi children, choking detainees with knots of their scarves and interrogations at gunpoint.

Zimbel said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Zimbel said...

Mostly an excellent post.

I found that I couldn't let this side-comment go unchallenged, though:

Not the Abu Ghraib faux-torture...

Is rape torture?

Maj Gen Taguba, who retired in January 2007, said he supported the President’s decision, adding: “These pictures show torture, abuse, rape and every indecency.

How about homicide?

Two years ago, at Abu Ghraib prison, outside Baghdad, an Iraqi prisoner in Swanner’s custody, Manadel al-Jamadi, died during an interrogation.
...United States government authorities classified Jamadi’s death as a “homicide,” meaning that it resulted from unnatural causes.


A video and picture archive

Or the ICRC report:

The main violations, which are described in the ICRC report and presented confidentially to the CF, include:

* Brutality against protected persons upon capture and initial custody, sometimes causing death or serious injury
...
* Excessive and disproportionate use of force against persons deprived of their liberty resulting in death or injury during their period of internment


Or if you prefer the ACLU as a source, here's their main page (covers more than Abu Graib, though)

From one of those archived pages:

The ACLU also released an Information Paper entitled “Allegations of Detainee Abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan” dated April 2, 2004, two weeks before the world saw the pictures of torture at Abu Ghraib prison.
The paper outlined the status of 62 investigations of detainee abuse and detainee deaths.
Cases include assaults, punching, kicking and beatings, mock executions, sexual assault of a female detainee, threatening to kill an Iraqi child to “send a message to other Iraqis,”
stripping detainees, beating them and shocking them with a blasting device, throwing rocks at handcuffed Iraqi children, choking detainees with knots of their scarves and interrogations at gunpoint.

Zimbel said...

Mostly an excellent post.

I found that I couldn't let this side-comment go unchallenged, though:

Not the Abu Ghraib faux-torture...


Is homicide torture?

Two years ago, at Abu Ghraib prison, outside Baghdad, an Iraqi prisoner in Swanner’s custody, Manadel al-Jamadi, died during an interrogation.
...United States government authorities classified Jamadi’s death as a “homicide,” meaning that it resulted from unnatural causes.

A video and picture archive

Or the ICRC report:

The main violations, which are described in the ICRC report and presented confidentially to the CF, include:

* Brutality against protected persons upon capture and initial custody, sometimes causing death or serious injury
...
* Excessive and disproportionate use of force against persons deprived of their liberty resulting in death or injury during their period of internment

Or if you prefer the ACLU as a source, here's their main page (covers more than Abu Graib, though)

(heavily edited version, after a few automatic rejects)

Zoe Brain said...

Zimbel - please split your posts so there's only 1-2 URLs in each, otherwise Blogger barfs.

Zoe Brain said...

And I meant Guantanamo anyway, that was a typo.
Abu Ghraib was an atrocity.

Nicole Jade said...

This is all so eerily familiar.

Zoe Brain said...

Since it's the result of a trained observer's experience with over 500 patients, recording commonalities.. and since the cause is a biochemical glitch in the womb affecting ~1 in 3000 people.. then it's to be expected that similar neuro-anatomical anomalies will result in similar behaviour patterns.

There are variations on a theme, I skipped the whole cross-dressing thing for example. But yes, the thing I find so eerie is just how much of our behaviour is based on hard-wiring, the presetting of a trajectory long before birth. It's on rails.

Zimbel said...

I'll try to remember. I'm also wondering if creating a blogger account would reduce the aggressiveness of the filter.

I think that some of the behavior that went on in Guantanamo did amount to torture, but it's less clear-cut than in other locations (such as Abu Ghraib)- and some previously tortured prisoners noted a marked improvement after being moved to Guantanamo (link goes to an example).

Otherwise, this is an excellent post; in many ways it's the post I was searching for when I first started reading your site.

Calie said...

This was a fascinating and emotional post for me to read. So much of it is my life. So much of it I've read before in books, blogs, etc., but I can never stop the emotional fire storm when thoughts of my childhood are brought back to the surface.

Although I rarely discuss my down days in my own blog, today was one of them...a very difficult one and all GID related. I sometimes wonder why I even read these blogs but then I remember that it does me good to know that there are others out there not unlike me.

I do have many of the markers of a 47XXY but so far have been unable to get this verified. Doctor does not want to discuss it and the test is not covered by insurance. Nevertheless, the list of markers is such that I would be very surprised if the test was not positive for a mosaic.

Thanks for sharing this, Zoe.

Calie xxx