Tuesday, 3 January 2006

A Reply to Alisa

Over at Silent Running, Alisa wrote a comment that deserved to be replied to at length.

So I did. In fact, my reply was so long, I decided to make it a blog entry instead.

I think most people tend to see transsexuals as people of their former gender.
You're absolutely right, Alisa. That's why so many transsexuals are forced to abandon their former lives, dissappear, and re-start from scratch with a new Identity, in order to love a normal life. It's called "woodworking" or "going full Stealth". Constantly living with the fear that some minor slip will destroy their new lives.
Of course, most have already lost family, friends, and employment as the result of Transition, so the price is not as high as you might think, their old life is eesentially gone anyway.. One good thing about being at rock-bottom: there's nowhere to go but up.
I was in a different situation from most. Stealth was never an option, I just have to live as a woman with a past history. Just like thousands of others. I'd prefer that things were different, but have to live with Reality, not Wishes.

I have never met you, Zoe, but every time I read your comments, I tend to think of you as Alan - sorry, but I just cannot help it.
Your graceful and honest "sorry" took all the sting out of your painfully honest words. Thanks for both the "sorry", and the respect shown to me by your honesty. And how could I blame you for your honest opinion, when I had far more evidence than you, and still thought of myself as "Alan" for 35 years?
Had my body not started changing, I'd still be me, Zoe (with a few minor personality changes due to hormones), but still appearing as Alan to the outside world. I never would have considered transition. Not (quite) every female-brained person in a male body has to transition in order to live, and as many as 2/3 of all male-brained people in female bodies cope quite well too.
You see there's no such thing as a "Sex Change". There's only bringing the body approximately into line with what the brain's physical structure was always set up for.

Here's a thought experiment that might help you understand.

Imagine you're an actress, allocated a male role. Now it's a tough audience, do a poor job and you face physical violence from them. You must learn to walk with a male swagger, suppress all hard-wired feminine gestures and body language. But I'll make it easier for you: one Zap with a magic wand, and you get a male body too. Of course that doesn't change you, your personality, the things that make up Alisa. You still have all those hard-wired mannerisms, as all girls do. But now you physically can't cross your legs in a natural position, your pelvis is set up wrong, muscles get in the way, your brain's hard-wired body-mage doesn't match reality now. Another Zap to change your hormone levels, to keep your oestrogen at the lowest level of your cycle, but to increase your testosterone level by at least a factor of 10, and you lose interest in Boys completely - except as rivals. You still won't understand Men, you'll still think like Alisa, and indeed like all other women, but you'll understand male competitive urges, having them yourself now. You won't be able to cry when you get upset, hiding emotions will be easy. Another Zap, and we'll make it retrospective. At school, other girls won't play with you (as you look like a boy), but boys are so icky and puerile you want nothing to do with them. You don't think like they do. Maybe you'll be lucky like me, and find some tolerant girls who will let you play hopscotch with them - as long as no-one else knows.

But now to make it harder: you're never off the set, your role is 24/7. Your new name - Zachary. You'll still want a husband and kids, a normal family, but you're no longer equipped to be a mother, and boys don't interest you at all, remember? But now your very best girlfriend finds you strangely attractive, and love soon becomes falling in Love, as you're not immune to the effects of Testosterone. You have the body appropriate to be her husband, it's the only way you'll have kids, you're both very much in love, so why not?

OK, so the body feels awfully, horribly wrong, you can never relax and act on instinct, even walking takes an effort, and I won't mention how disconcertingly disorienting sex can be when your brain's hard-wired body image doesn't match your genitalia. No matter how good an actress you are, some things require hard-wired reflexes, and your brain isn't set up for the male ones.

After just a few days for the neurotransmitters to find a new level in your brain, and you'll find you have far better abilities at visualising spatial relationships: but you become dyslexic when it comes to reading body language.

Zachary's a nice guy : he has many female friends, who often come to him when they want advice on how Guys think. Not that you know, but by trying to fake being one, you've had to study them, and know what they think without understanding how they can think that way. Because you think the same way as you always did, the way your female friends think.

Now... do this for 30 years....

Then the enchantment wears off. Nothing will get your female reproductive system back, even though the male one is pretty much faded out now. You can never be a mother - but you are a father, you have children. Your partner - because she's not your wife any more, you're Alisa now, not Zachary - well, she always was your best friend, you've been married 25 years and are still in love, but neither of you are Lesbian.

Some of the enchantment's effects are permanent, you'll need surgery and hormonal therapy to correct them. But most can be completely corrected.

Then someone writes
I have never met you, Alisa, but every time I read your comments, I tend to think of you as Zachary - sorry, but I just cannot help it.
And you have to try to explain that yes, you're still Zachary, but that was just a persona you had to don, really you've always been Alisa, trying to do the best she can under really strange circumstances.

It's such a small developmental abnormality, less severe than a hair lip. Just a brain that doesn't get masculinised when the rest of the body does - or does, mostly. To grossly over-simplify, in my case the masculinisation was close to 100% complete, but certainly not 100% permanent, and no, we're not exactly certain why. It's rare, but it happens - I'm in contact with two other women it's happened to, all had the change happen at about 45, all had female brains in male bodies. I know of the existence of other cases from the Gender Center in Sydney, but not their details, nor even how many there are. None of the cases has made PubMed, not even Kathy Noble's, where the mechanism is comparatively well understood and well documented.

Hope this helps. The more people understand this strange phenomenon, the more they'll accept transsexuals as people of their actual gender, not their formerly apparent one.
I was thinking of writing a version for my male readers, but I don't think I'm quite up to the task. I might ask a guest FtoM to write one for me. Never did understand Men.


Alisa said...

Wow. I never saw this, and found this accidentally now while googling for something else... A belated thank-you for explaining this so well. I think I understand.

Zoe Brain said...

Ten years later - this has worn well, I wouldn't change a word. Transition was SUCH a relief! Still is. And our marriage is now 34 years old, and still going strong.

Sometimes... good things happen, and stories have happy endings.