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Transgender FAQ

Transgender FAQ
Fun facts and and FAQs
Transgender FAQ

Transsexual fun facts
This FAQ is an authorised edit and personalisation of the one Andrea James () wrote to her co-workers when she came out at work; Andreas's site is probably the most comprehensive TS/TG resources on the internet, so if this FAQ does not have the answers you're looking for try there next.

The FAQ is intended to try to answer the most common questions people have regarding transsexuals.

Grab yourself a coffee and read on...

How did you choose your name?
I chose my name for a couple of reasons. Firstly, keeping my initials is practical as I do not need to change my signature and some long established email addresses etc. My first name, Danielle was chosen for no other reason than I quite like it and it's easy to abbreviate, my new middle name Claire is because that's what my mum would have named me had I been born genetically female.

Wow, "transgender" stuff seems really trendy these days; isn't it just a fad?
It's nothing new, but it's been in the media more lately. Transgenderism appears throughout history and is documented worldwide. Medical advances in this century have made it possible for male-to-female transsexuals to achieve nearly identical physiology as genetic females. Most people don't differentiate between sex and gender. Basically, sex is biological, gender is social. There really isn't much difference between men and women physiologically-- just a chromosome and a couple of chemical levels. The bulk of the difference is social. From the earliest age, boys are expected to act this way, and girls are expected to act that way. Because these social pressures are so pervasive, they almost seem natural unless you step back and think about them.

So, this is a sex issue?
Because the word transsexual has the word "sex" in it, people often think it's mostly about sex. While that's sometimes part of it, transsexuals are usually more interested in getting their bodies to match their feelings. For me, it's about trying to align my physical appearance with what's in my head.

So, this is a gender issue?
Yep. There are many kinds of transgender people, and among them are transsexuals. transgender is a general term for cross dressers, transsexuals, female and male impersonators, drag queens/kings, intersexuals, gender dysphorics, and those for whom other gender labels do not fit. My case is a little more complicated since birth, but transsexual is by far the closest of the of transgender terms which apply to me. I'm part of the transgender community, which encompasses all of us.

I totally understand your situation. After all, I saw "Tootsie."
No, it's not like "Tootsie," or "Some Like It Hot," or "Bosom Buddies" or "Mrs. Doubtfire." Comedies like those are funny because the male characters are forced by necessity to dress as women, after which the hilarity and hi-jinks ensue.

So, more like Ru Paul?
Well, no. Ru Paul is a drag queen, as is Dolly Parton. They are entertainers who use excessive femininity in their acts. Torch Song Trilogy, La Cage Aux Folles, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the Birdcage, and Paris Is Burning - they're all about drag queens. In the same vein are female illusionists whose goal is to portray a convincing act of femininity onstage and sometimes off. Maybe you saw The Crying Game or have seen Ceri Dupree. Those would be examples of very good female illusionists (they get touchy about the word "impersonator," and you don't want one of them mad at you).

So, more like Eddie Izzard?
Nope; Eddie is a transvestite or "cross dresser"; same as Ed Wood, J. Edgar Hoover and a huge list of other rather masculine men. Cross dressers get sexual or emotional satisfaction from touching or wearing women's clothing. Almost all are straight males. The generally accepted number is around 1 in 50 men. Do the math and look around you…

So, like a hermaphrodite?
I've been describing what I'm not to clear that up first. I have a pair of X chromosomes (de la Chapelle syndrome), making me biologically female, it's actually all more complicated than that in my case and I won't go into it further here. This FAQ is dealing with just the transgender aspect. An intersexual (hermaphrodite) is a person who is born between (inter) sexes, having partially or fully developed pairs of female and male sex organs. "Intersexual" is usually preferred over the word "Hermaphrodite". These conditions are genetic and occur about as frequently as twins. And no, I have no inside info on that urban legend about Jamie Lee Curtis being one.

OK, OK, you're a transsexual. What does that mean?
Transsexuals feel their body does not match the way they think and feel, and they seek to remedy this by changing their body to match their mind. There are almost as many female-to-male transsexuals as there are male to female. For some reason, FTMs are largely ignored-- probably because they almost invariably are indistinguishable from genetic men. The effects of testosterone on females are more dramatic then the effects of oestrogen on males (think East German Olympic swimmers). Plus, I've never met a female-to-male whom I could tell without their outing themselves to me. And no, I have no inside info on that urban legend about one of the Victoria's Secret models being a transsexual.

So are you, like, gay or something?
Gender identity and sexual orientation are separate traits, although most people don't think about them as separate. There are straight transsexuals and gay transsexuals, etc. I haven't felt like dating much anyway, so it hasn't been an issue. In other words, there are also loser transsexuals. While transsexuals are different from gays and lesbians, we have many of the same issues, since we are all going against what society has constructed as appropriate gender behaviour. The Stonewall Riot that sparked the gay rights movement in US was instigated by drag queens, which is why they marched first in the Stonewall 25 parade. Several women's groups have also embraced our issues, most recently the National Organization of Women. NOW has acknowledged that transsexuals totally disrupt gender-based stereotypes by forcing people to think about how much of it is merely social instead of "natural."

How did you get this way?
Simple truth is, nobody knows what causes this, although theories abound. Many people believe there is a biological component. The most common theory involves hormones affecting foetal brain development. But again, no one knows for sure. Personally, I don't really care what the cause is, anyway. I've felt this way as long as I can remember, and I think it's better to look forward than backwards. I don't think of being transsexual as a blessing or a curse. I just think of it as a trait, like being right-handed or tall. Unfortunately, any trait carries with it certain social stereotypical presumptions. The misconceptions transsexuals have to deal with are that it's all about sex, or that we're just gay people who hate being gay. I just find that living and interacting with others as a female feels right.

How did you know?
I knew something was up from earliest memory. I have several specific memories from around age 3 or 4, particularly from when I became aware of differences between boys and girls. By the time I was 8 or 9 it started to affect my life, constant nagging thoughts which never really go away.

Once puberty hit everything became very confusing indeed, and having my body change more and more away from how I felt it should be was quite horrific. I knew something was very wrong, and that I was simply not meant to be a guy but I had no idea if I was the only person in the world who felt like this or not. During my mid-teens I read some kind of youth guide which had the definition of a transsexual in it, it was an epiphany, I learned there was a name for what I was; unfortunately I had no idea how to deal with it. I was scared to death to tell my parents how I felt, and made dozens of appointments with my GP, only to either simply not show or mumble something about having a cold instead.

By my very late teens I was starting to completely break down, my life was a total mess and I could think about nothing else from morning to night. Things reached a head in my very early 20s, I had some particularly bad things happen which I won't go into here, ultimately however I decided that the only possible option was to completely bury my feelings without doing anything about them. Ten years of denial went by, but I found that the feelings never really went away and by the time I hit my early 30's they started to creep back into dreams. Fortunately, I was far more confident by now and was also armed with the mighty internet. I started therapy and quickly concluded what I suspected early on. I began planning for transition several years ago, getting as much as possible taken care of prior to going full-time. This included telling everyone outside of work, having laser treatment to remove my facial hair (it really is like getting twanged with an elastic band at close range), starting hormone therapy, growing my hair, developing a female voice, and planning cosmetic surgery. I am in the process of all of the above along with legally changing my name and all my documents etc.

How did you go about this?
The medical community has developed its own standards of conduct regarding sex reassignment surgeries. They were created at a conference in the mid-60's and were adopted as the world standard for sex reassignment surgeries. My transition is being done according to these standards.

How long have you been doing this?
I got serious about it four years ago, and this is one of the last major stages before finally having surgery. All my friends and family know, and everyone has been great so far. I hope you'll continue that trend.

Why are you switching at work?
The final stage of the Standards of Care is the Real Life Test (RLT), which involves living as a member of the desired sex for a period of time. This is to help transsexuals determine if sex-reassignment surgery is right for him or her. Most psychiatric professionals require a minimum of one year RLT before giving their approval for sex-reassignment surgery. That's the stage I'm at now, and that's why I came out at work now. Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) is the final event in the sex-reassignment procedure. Although transsexuals have no reproductive organs (uterus/ovaries) the final result is cosmetically and functionally indistinguishable from that of genetic females. Some decide not to have this surgery, but I currently plan to have it.

What bathroom are you going to use?
I don't want people to feel uncomfortable about this, so I have agreed that during the "real life test" stage of things I will use the disabled toilet unless it is out of service. While it has been legally ok to use women's restrooms when necessary since I started treatment (it's just a bathroom, after all) I have no wish to cause any animosity.

Are you doing this on the NHS?
No, funding for transsexuals is notoriously scarce in Wales, though I am fortunate to have a very understanding GP who was able to arrange counselling and voice coaching through the NHS. My main consultant psychiatrist, various medical and cosmetic procedures and surgery are privately funded. My transition costs have been out-of-pocket so far, and I don't expect that to change. I've spent about £10,000 to date, with another £30,000 to go.

So, when do you appear on Jerry Springer?
Every group has its share of kooks and idiots. Unfortunately, that's true of transsexuals, too. Problem is, the morons who go on shows like Jerry Springer end up getting more media coverage than the doctors, lawyers, and other professionals I know. For example, my four closest transsexual friends are: a combat engineer, a police inspector, an art student, and a computer programmer. They lead very normal lives and seek to blend into society rather than stand out.

That is my goal as well.

The other group of transsexuals who get noticed are those who are visibly gender variant. While they should get as much respect as those who are accepted as female, they must deal with additional discrimination and harassment. They also have become the cliché of what a transsexual is, since those who are accepted as female well do not get noticed. I'm sure you have encountered several transsexuals without even knowing. I hope to be fortunate enough to go about my life without getting "read" or "clocked" very often. While I'm not ashamed to be a transsexual, I hope it eventually becomes a very incidental part of my life so I can get on with more important things.

When does your she-male porno flick hit the stores?
Another thing that doesn't help the misconceptions about TSs is the sexualisation of our condition by the sex industry. Some people consider transsexuals exotic. Because all of this transition stuff is very expensive, and since a lot of teenage TSs are kicked out of their houses or driven out of school, they have limited financial options. Some turn to sex work to survive. And the porn industry is always ready to exploit fetishes, so it's a lucrative option for some. I feel they have every right to do what they must to survive. However, it doesn't help those of us who don't want to be objectified or considered sexual novelties. Last thing I need is Eddie Murphy offering me rides in exchange for fondling my feet (as is his habit, according to my sources).

What if I call you the wrong name?
I know that's going to happen. It will take my family and friends a while to switch, too. Don't worry about it. You'll use the other name, other pronouns etc., even if you're trying hard. I'm not touchy, and I try to have a very good sense of humour about the whole thing. I know this is prime comedy material, and I can laugh along with good-natured joking. I'm still chuckling about the two people at Waterton the other day doing their best Emily "I'm a lady" Howard impressions who suddenly got very embarrassed when they noticed me standing behind them.

What should I do if I have other questions?
1. Everyone is welcome to stop by and talk with me. I'm happy to answer any questions (well, almost any), and I assure you I will tell no one what you asked me. Obviously, I'm pretty good at keeping things secret.

2. If you don't feel comfortable talking with me, you may ask (our HR manager), who can then get an answer from me and get it back to you anonymously.
I have also left with (her) some additional reading material which you are welcome to borrow if you wish.