Stella O’Malley is a public speaker and psychotherapist who is vocal on transgender issues. She made the Channel 4 documentary Trans kids: It’s time to talk and opposes the use of hormone blockers, despite the tremendous good that blockers can do (as I explain below).
It’s worrying that such views are still being aired. Yet Birkbeck, University of London booked Ms. O’Malley to deliver a workshop this week for therapists titled “Working with Gender Identity”. Birkbeck have said ‘it’s important to hear all sides of the debate’ and that ‘the presenter’s perspective is one of many.’
But, as the old saying goes, ‘a little bit of knowledge is dangerous’. The writeup which Birkbeck provides ‘About the trainer’ suggests that she has her facts wrong and doesn’t know how gender dysphoria is treated:
Stella O’Malley, 44, of Offaly, Ireland, believed she was a boy until puberty hit and says had she been a young child living in today’s society she is ‘absolutely certain’ that she ‘would have transitioned’
The idea that this plants in the reader’s mind is that ‘today’s society’ would have been all too eager to induce her to undero irreversible changes at an impressionable age which would have prevented her from developing her into the woman and mother she now is.
But that’s nonsense. With today’s systems, Stella O’Malley would not have transitioned at such a young age. Today’s gender specialists are highly trained and knowledgeable, and she simply wouldn’t have progressed to any form of physical treatment. Nothing irreversible would have happened, no harm would have been done.
By contrast, if people accept the line she is taking against hormone blockers, a great deal of irreversible harm will occur to children who, unlike her, truly are transgender.
Gender dysphoria can’t be medically treated until puberty begins.
Until a child reaches puberty, there is simply nothing to treat medically. Ms. O’Malley’s claim that she would have transitioned is implausible to say the least: she went through what experts would consider a ‘phase’, and grew out of it upon reaching puberty.
Before puberty, children who experience gender dysphoria may transition socially. This does not involve any type of medical transition, and simply means wearing clothes the child is comfortable in and changing their name and pronouns. This is completely reversible. It enables a child to find what’s right for them. And for those who truly are transgender, it plays a huge role in alleviating the crippling symptoms of gender dysphoria.
In Stella O’Malley’s case, she would have only reached this stage, and been able to reverse it has her true nature emerged.
Cross gender play
Today’s gender experts are entirely aware of the kind of the childhood experience described by Ms. O’Malley. Endocrinologist and gender expert Dr Norman Spack says in his TED talk:
“It is quite normative for children to act in a cross-gender play and way, and that in fact there are studies that show that even 80% of children who act in that fashion will not persist in wanting to be the opposite gender at the time when puberty begins. But at the time that puberty begins….by that particular point the child who says they are in the absolute wrong body is almost certain to be transgender, and is extremely unlikely to change those feelings, no matter how anybody tries reparative therapy or any other noxious things.”
The young Stella O’Malley simply would not have progressed past the point where any physical treatment could have taken place. The experts would have done the right thing.
Dr Normal Spack explains the role of hormone blockers
Harm is done by not treating
Doing nothing for transgender children actually does a great deal of harm. Irreversible physical changes start at puberty and without medical help a transgender child will be trapped inside an adult body at variance with their psychological reality. These changes almost inevitably have negative repercussions for the rest of their lives.
However, there is a very successful way of tackling this problem at the onset of puberty, which is reversible, but buys a little more time for evaluation and doing the right thing.
Blockers: a safety net which prevents harm but does no harm
Puberty blockers have an important role in successfully treating transgender children, by delaying the development of what are potentially the wrong secondary sex characteristics. They are delayers: their effects are reversible.
A child’s puberty can be placed on hold while further psychological assessments take place. Then, if and when appropriate, the patient can commence cross-sex hormones and develop in a way that is in keeping with their internal gender identity. Blockers mean that transition, if and when it is chosen, can be physically far more successful for the patient.
If it’s decided that gender transition is not the right thing for the patient, then blockers will be halted and the child will progress through the puberty of their birth gender. In a case like that of Ms. O’Malley, who says she only felt like a boy ‘until puberty hit’, it’s most unlikely that she would even have got as far as taking blockers, as professionals would have recognised that she had only been experiencing a ‘phase’. Had such a child taken blockers, it would simply have bought a little more time to establish that medical transition was inappropriate for her.
Harm done by misinformation
It’s disturbing to think that the xyz’s who take Stella O’Malley’s workshop at Birkbeck College will be seriously misled. Anti-trans people can so easily prey on people’s fears, for example the fear of parents that an over-enthusiastic politically-correct system will encourage and authorise a profound and irreversible change to their children.
The fact is that the system has knowledgeable practitioners who are trained to do no harm. On the other hand, alarmist claims spread by the likes of Stella O’Malley can cause a great deal of harm – to those children who, unlike her, are truly transgender. Such children desperately need safe treatment to be given at an appropriate point in their lives to prevent potentially devastating harm.
One fear for many trans people is flying, specifically getting through airport security. Without fail, every time I fly I have anxiety about whether today will be the day I am asked to go through a body scanner at security and will be picked out due to an anomaly because of my trans body.
If (or most likely when) this happens will it just be a mild inconvenience? How embarrassing will it be? Will I need to explain I’m transgender in front of other passengers? Or in front of my travel companions, who may not even know I am transgender? Will it mean I’m taken to another room and searched, and/or questioned? Will I be treated with respect? Will I be required to show a genital area? Will the security staff deliberately make life difficult for me, just because they can? But ultimately, one of my biggest fears is “Will I miss my plane?”
This would all be bad enough if traveling from the UK, but imagine it happening when returning home from a foreign country? Possibly one whose first language isn’t English? Or a country that is far less accepting of trans people than the UK? The authorities would have the power, rightly or wrongly, to make life as difficult as they like and there would be nothing you could do about it!
I’ve flown quite a few times recently, and as yet haven’t been picked out to go through a scanner. At some point it will happen though, and I have no idea whether I’ll be flagged and how that might go. I understand that sometimes transgender bodies trigger the scanner as an anomaly and sometimes not. But imagine having this concern every single time you fly, and needing to allow extra time just in case. Sometimes not being able to explain to your travel companions that there may be an issue and why you want to arrive super early. Then as sometimes happens to all of us at some point, you’re running late. Imagine the anxiety and concern that this will be the one time you do get pulled out and marched off to a private room for further screening. The resulting delay would surely mean you miss your flight.
I know at the end of the day the security staffs’ job is to only be interested in whether you’re attempting to board with something you shouldn’t be, and that this is for everyone’s safety and comfort. But they’re also in a position where a lack of education and awareness, or any possibly prejudices, can make life very difficult and/or humiliating for a transgender traveler and we are at their mercy every time we pass through security.
You can find countless articles and blogs online showing many horrendous real-life accounts of the problems trans people have faced while navigating airport security.
Here are a few other related articles to read:
And here’s an example involving gender where the traveler wasn’t transgender:
So let’s take a look at some of the issues when it comes to body scanners.
Male or female?
The security official inputs male or female into the scanner, which then uses a set of algorithms to determine whether the scanned image fits with its own idea of the chosen gender binary. If not, then it will flag an ‘anomaly’. This poses many potential problems for trans people because they may present outwardly as one gender, but their general body shape, even post transition, may be closer to the opposite gender.
For example, a trans man (born female and transitioned to male) may pass as male but will still have the bone structure and wide hips in keeping with a female body (unless they were able to access hormone blockers pre-puberty).
Surgery or not
A trans man may bind their chest to flatten breasts so their chest shape appears more masculine. The scanner may detect their breast tissue, which if scanning as male means it thinks something is not right and declares an anomaly. The machine may also flag that something is ‘missing’ in the groin area in the case of a trans man. For trans women, the alarm may be triggered because the scanner detects there is something in the groin area which it is programmed to think shouldn’t be there.
Some trans people choose to wear prosthetics because it helps them feel more comfortable. This includes prosthetic breasts for trans women, and packers for trans men (to give the appearance of a male bulge, and/or used as a stand-to-pee device). An airport scanner may pick this up and decide there is a suspicious object under clothing requiring further investigation.
Non binary or not passing
There are some quite obvious issues for people who don’t yet pass in their chosen gender, or for those who are non-binary or gender non-confirming. Unfortunately because scanners are 100% gender binary, there are currently no foolproof answers for this. The security official may not know which gender to select, or which gender officer to select for a pat down. Either way it can leave both the officials and the scanners a little confused. Without the correct training and knowledge officials may not handle things correctly or sensitively. Which is what happens all too often.
I’m sure most people would prefer not to experience a pat down, but it’s ironic that as a trans person you are more likely to be put forward for a pat down. Often the sensitive areas that trigger the need for a pat down are areas a trans person feels dysphoric about. To have a stranger touch these areas can be very triggering and uncomfortable. So this can be a very distressing experience for a trans person.
So to sum up –
As you can see there are many issues facing trans travelers but unfortunately there is often not enough (or any) training in place for these issues to be dealt with sensitively and correctly.
At the end of the day the job of airport security is to detect criminals. Being transgender, non-binary or gender non-conforming is not criminal, yet many trans people are having very bad or uncomfortable experiences. Or at the very least are experiencing high amounts of anxiety every time they travel for fear of what might happen. Some decide not to travel at all.
It’s great and exciting news to hear that Jake and Hannah are going to be parents. It’s also great news that they are able to be open and share this part of their journey with the world. To help educate others and show that in fact being trans means you’re normal, can have a normal life, and do normal things, that normal people do is so incredibly important.
Yep you guessed it, I’m about to throw a but in here. I stress though that this ‘but’ isn’t to dampen Jake and Hannah’s amazing news in any way, which is absolutely great. Or the fact that they are sharing this news with the world. But…..what I find incredibly frustrating is the way these stories are all too often portrayed in the media incorrectly.
The daily mail says –
“For they are set to be the first parents in Britain who are both transgender.”
This part is not true. They might possibly be the first openly trans couple in Britain to be parents and the first to shout about it but they are certainly not the first trans couple to become parents in Britain.
I have a friend, a trans guy, who a few years ago he and his trans female partner both came off their hormones to conceive their child. Because both were trans and hadn’t had surgery that would make them infertile, they were able to conceive and carry the child themselves. So he carried the child and provided the egg, and she provided the sperm. So what’s even more interesting about my friend and his partner is that no surrogacy parent was needed.
As mentioned this was a few years ago, so the above article is not correct when stating they are the first parents in Britain who are both transgender. I’m sure there will have been more too that I, and the rest of the world, haven’t heard about.
I also read another article shortly after my friend gave birth to his child shouting about the first trans man to carry their own child. But yet again, nope, definitely not the first. I know of even more trans men, post transition, who have done this too, before that article was published.
So why does this keep happening? With repeated incorrect claims of ‘it’s the first time’? Because luckily, and contrary to many peoples beliefs and understanding, the majority of trans people ‘pass’. That means, like my friend and also myself, they are read by others as their chosen gender. So you would never know that person is transgender. My friend is also ‘stealth’ meaning he is not out to those around him, so not many people knew of his pregnancy and it certainly wasn’t in the media. As you can imagine, it’s not something many people would be comfortable sharing, so it goes unnoticed.
Because passing is possible most trans people disappear back into society without a trace. Living ordinary lives, doing the same every day ordinary things that everyone else does. So ‘ordinary’ in fact that no one knows about it.
Of course this is great for the trans person and is what many in our community wish and hope for. They can have their fairy tale ending and live happily ever after. What that’s not so great for is educating the world around us and moving understanding of trans issues forward.
This is where I wish the media would do a better job, not just educating people on the important issues such the wonderful news from Jake and Hannah in the above article, but reporting things accurately, finding out more accurate information and then letting the world know that in fact these things are happening around us without us even realising.
There are far more trans people around us than we realise, and this is a very important thing to understand if trans education is to move forward and enable a fairer, more understanding and accepting world for everyone to live in.
Yes some trans people do not pass, either because they are still too early in their medical journey, or perhaps they do not wish to transition medically (some choose to transition socially and this is enough for them), or for whatever physical reasons maybe they just won’t ever pass fully or 100% of the time, but what most people don’t realise is in fact how many trans people do pass and just blend in 100%. And how would people know this, because of course you never ‘spot’ a trans person who passes.
Here pops up another story that I’m passionate about around hormone blockers, as the use of blockers can prevent the permanent changes that happen at puberty that are the leading reasons for some trans people being unable to pass. However this is for another blog, or book.
Everyone’s doing it at the moment – seeing how they would look ‘old’ or ‘young’ with FaceApp, the image-altering app from Russian company Wireless Lab.
Firstly, what an incredibly clever app it is! But how many of you have noticed that when it scans your picture and processes your face, that it decides for itself what gender you are? You don’t get a choice!
For a trans person this is highly significant. Often our equivalent of ‘Does my bum look big in this?’ is ‘Do I pass?’ (as male, female, non binary etc).
Even before transition, I was very often gendered male, so I thought I’d put the app to the test. Digging out some old photos of me before transition and testosterone, I was genuinely surprised with the results.
Apart from a couple of pictures when I was very young (slightly more girly hair I’m guessing) the app still decided I was male, even before testosterone.
Yes!!! What a result huh?
However, I’m still unsure if I think the app’s automatic ‘gender detection’ is amazing or absolutely terrible for trans people. It could be a lovely way to test whether you pass, and very affirming when you see yourself starting to pass in your preferred gender as your transition progresses. But it could also be devastating and highly triggering for those who don’t pass in their preferred gender or are non-binary, causing increased dysphoria. And this could potentially cause harm.
A more inclusive developer might have given users the option to enter the gender themselves. Possibly even included a non-binary/gender neutral option too. And woah, what about any cis people who might find themselves being misgendered by the app! Ahggggg! Now I can’t see them being very happy, can you?
What are your experiences with this when using FaceApp?
There has been a lot of debate recently about LGBT, same sex relationships and transgender education in schools. Some parents think the topic should be in the curriculum whereas others think they should be able to opt-out, often because they feel their children are too young for the topic or that it will harm their child in some way.
My experience with my own transition whilst working with children in my own music school has only been a positive one. A lot of this has been because the children have covered the topic at school. While I was transitioning I had many parents telling me when they told their child I was about to transition, their child responded in a very matter of fact way with things such as “Oh yeah, we’ve done that at school” and then just continued with whatever they were doing, showing it really was no ‘biggie’. In fact in many ways the children took things in their stride far easier than the adults did. Not that any of the adults struggled, everyone I have told about my transition has been fully supportive.
My thoughts are schools should be educating their pupils about the world. So for example take religion, whether you believe in, agree with, or disagree with a religion, it is important to know about them. Why? They exist and there are people who live by each religion, and so we will all come across them at some point. When we do it’s far better that we have some degree of understanding.
I feel the exact same with LGBT issues. It doesn’t matter whether you yourself are gay, straight, transgender, or in a same sex relationship, these are all things that exist so we will all, and this includes children, come across LGBT situations. Therefore to be clued up about these topics is a must!
Also, I suffered a lot as a child because I shut up about my gender dysphoria for fear of what others might think. In the late seventies and early eighties there was no internet and it certainly wasn’t a topic taught in schools, so I knew nothing about what was possible. This meant I hid my feelings and so grew up very unhappy, not myself, was held back in many areas of life, and ultimately was prevented from achieving my best as a result.
I think it’s a real shame that it’s often a lack of education and understanding by parents that lead them to believe their own children shouldn’t be educated about LGBT issues either.
Educating children won’t turn them gay or transgender, but it will allow those who are gay or transgender to understand themselves better and this will give them a far better opportunity to be themselves, and to truly achieve the best they can in their life.
It will allow those who aren’t gay or transgender to fully understand, and therefore accept and support those around them who are. This makes for a more positive environment. It allows teams to function better, will enable better productivity at work, and stronger relationships between family, friends and work colleagues.
Allowing people be their true selves can really only be a win, win, win for everyone!
At the age of 39, after decades of fear, I chose to make one of the most fundamental and disruptive changes a person can make. Gender transition has seen me become a different person, a better person, and one who even now, years later, is still growing and achieving as a result.
I’ve been asked “What makes you‘re story so different to the many other inspirational speakers out there?”
I think one of the biggest differences is ‘Choice’!
I’ve been inspired by those who have shown great courage in the face of life changing adversity, maybe due to accident or illness. These instances are testament to the fact that humans are remarkably resilient, can overcome the unthinkable and still thrive….when we are forced to.
However I made the choice to face the changes I made. I battled my inner demons of nearly 40 years, overcame them, and as a result elevated my quality of life.
Fear usually plays a big part in holding back change, but as fear and understanding are inversely proportionate, knowledge is key to facilitating change.
In this fast paced world of change we MUST initiate change to keep up. To stand still is literally to go backwards! So the only way to keep ahead of the game, or your competitors, is by making fundamental changes.
Here’s just one example from my journey.
Sometimes you can’t see past your own blocks. I was incredibly scared about what people would think of me if I transitioned. If people thought it was freaky, or that I myself was a freak, then potentially my life could be ruined, and not worth living. I found the thought of losing everything very scary.
However, upon educating myself (in this case through seeing an experienced gender counsellor/psychotherapist) I learnt that given time, I would be passing as male 100% and as new people came into my life they would be unaware of my ever being anything other than Matt. That’s all they’d know.
This understanding was fundamental in enabling me to move forward and make one of the biggest and disruptive changes a person can make.
If I’d had the courage to make this change 20 years earlier I would have been a long way past that stage, and life would now be just great. So at worst, all I had to do was get through maybe a year or two of potential difficulties, and then I’d be on the other side and life would be far better. My fear then dissolved and I could move forward with ease and confidence.
Of course there were other considerations, but again all quite easily overcome with greater understanding (these stories are for another blog).
How is this relevant to others, and in particular the business/corporate world?
Ask yourself, what is it that’s holding you back from initiating the changes you need to make? Look at those things. If need be take a step back and try and see past that initial fear. Work out what actually might happen if you make that change? Very often we latch onto the worse case scenario and simply can’t see past it. We can’t see the forest for the trees so to speak. So try and look through that block. Also look at the positives that may happen as well the negatives.
Of course you do need to examine the negatives, otherwise you might blindly go ahead with change that goes spectacularly wrong. But ask yourself, even if the worse does happen, what would be the consequences of that? How could you over come it? How long would that take? Once resolved would you be in a better place?
If you can see a way through your worse case scenario (which probably won’t happen) with things improving overall despite this scenario, then what is there to fear in initiating that change and elevating your life or your business? To really thrive? Yes that’s right, NOTHING!
Another working example
Geoff, my partner, teaches English pronunciation and is well known in his field. Language evolves and changes just like everything else in life. If it didn’t we would still be speaking how Shakespeare did. Geoff is trying to update how phonetics is taught because the current teachings still relate to old-school Queen’s English (RP or Received Pronunciation for any of you in the know). Nowadays hardly anyone speaks like this and it’s considered very old fashioned. Yet he faces a lot resistance to updating. One of the reasons given for this resistance is “…but it would confuse the students to change everything”.
This example relates directly to my example above. Given a couple of years new students will be coming through who won’t know the old way of doing things so won’t have anything to get confused with. They will be taught up to date material that is actually useful and relevant for them NOW. Yet so many teachers are simply too scared to make these changes, clinging onto out of date ways of doing things. They latch onto a reason not to make change, genuinely thinking it would be a disaster if they tried to.
Geoff’s latest book on English after RP – https://www.amazon.co.uk/English-After-RP-Standard-Pronunciation/dp/3030043568
Coping with the challenges that change inevitably throws at you
One of the things that makes change feel scary is that you can never know for sure what will happen. It’s bound to throw some challenges at you that you couldn’t foresee.
This doesn’t mean the change was wrong, or bad, or that things will turn out worse for you or your business. We all deal with difficult challenges regularly, often without giving them a second thought. Yet when it’s something new it can feel different. It’s easy to feel bad if it was our own actions and choices that brought about these challenges, and that maybe we made a mistake by doing what we did.
My worse case scenario didn’t happen at all, yet even so I found many challenges popping up throughout my journey. With just a little thought about how to deal with them I was able to overcome every single one of them, and quite easily too. At the very least a compromise was met, and even on those occasions things were still a lot better than before. I soon learnt that these challenges weren’t anything to be scared of and in no time I was taking them in my stride with no stress or worry. I actually found in many ways they made life interesting. Often leaving me with funny anecdotes to re-tell later down the line. I believe learning to deal with these challenges is just practice. However if you never make change, how can you gain that practice?
I found I had constructed a wall (no, please don’t mention Trump!) and I couldn’t see past it. I was looking so strongly at the short term I couldn’t see ahead at what could be. Sometimes things might initially be a struggle, but if working through that struggle enables you to elevate your life, whether that’s on a personal or corporate level, then surely the struggle is worth it.
Dr Helen Webberley truly understands the needs of the transgender community and genuinely wants to help. She’s a pioneer, trying to drag trans healthcare into the 21st century where it should be, and as a result of her forward thinking has been attacked (by our own side).
As a transman (non-biased as never been a patient of Dr Webberley but I know of her work and the principles of her clinic) I live in fear that if something changes at my GP practice I will be refused my medications, vital medications. Simply because many of the healthcare profession freeze and don’t want to take responsibility for our care because they are not educated on it. With reference to the ‘Do no harm’ moto, in a trans healthcare setting doing nothing is most certainly DOING HARM.
Helen has done nothing medically wrong and unfortunately was caught out by a rule she was initially unaware of. So after being told to stop treating her patients while registering her practice, by people unaware of the harm stopping treatment would do both physically and mentally to her patients, she put the care of her patients over her own needs and continued treating, and as a result this wrong doing has happened.
I truly believe Dr Webberley is one of the most ahead healthcare professionals for trans care in the UK and I hope despite what has happened here that she continues to ‘fight the fight’ for us.
Please, please if you care about trans rights and trans health care please donate to the crowdfunder set up to help Dr Webberley.
Many people, I’ve found, think that the medical interventions are the hard part of being transgender.
In fact they are often the most exciting part.
The hardest things to deal with, usually, are hiding your identity before deciding to transition, or dealing with discriminatory behaviors from those around you. And these pains are invisible. If you can’t see something, it’s hard to understand how difficult it is. The pre-transition times are usually the most damaging times for a transgender person.
The results of surgery can be liberating and thrilling. I liken it to having a large growth on your face. Many people would tell you it doesn’t matter what other people think. Even if people don’t stare at it, you will be very self conscious and would rather it wasn’t there. Now if a surgeon comes along and says they can remove it for you, you’re going to be very excited by that prospect. Yes, it will leave a visible scar, but that is far preferable than living with the growth. And I think this is pretty close to how a transgender person feels about surgery, and hormone treatment too. Things will never be 100% perfect, but will be greatly improved for sure. Most people who need surgery or need to take medication, do so to stop something bad from happening, in the hope of continuing life at the same level as before. This is why most medical interventions carry a negative feeling. But for a transgender person, everything that happens with treatment brings positive changes and is raising their life to a higher level.
One of the most risky periods for a transgender person is often between asking for help and then receiving medical intervention. They’ve reached a point where they are ready to make huge changes, but now they are faced with a long period of time before those changes start to happen. There are guidelines [W-Path Guidelines] that physicians the world over follow before initiating treatment, and as a result of these guidelines the assessments can be a lengthy process. The wait to even begin the process can be lengthy, thanks to long waiting lists or the need to raise funds before seeking treatment.
A great comparison is a child waiting for Christmas. If it’s a long way off, it’s easy to wait. But as the time approaches, the waiting can become almost painful. When you’re ready to make huge, fundamental changes to your life, and to remove such heartache from it, time seems to pass slower. It also becomes psychologically harder to cope with the bad things. Stresses already there can be heightened; any risk of self-harm or suicide may be increased during this period. This is one reason GP’s can prescribe bridging prescriptions for hormones during this vulnerable time, to reduce the risk of harm to their patient.
Not everyone wants to follow the same path, some people may choose hormones and all the surgeries that are available, while others may choose just some of these. Some people decide not to have any medical intervention at all, choosing just to transition socially. Each of these choices are as valid as the others.
For those who take hormones, this can be a very exciting part of transition. Hormones are a very effective way of changing and maintaining secondary sexual characteristics. They change the shape of the face, muscle mass, fat distribution, texture of skin and hair, and much more.
Hormones can have drastic effects on the appearance. But there are still a lot of people who have no idea quite how effective hormone therapy is, even including many within the medical profession. I once heard of a trans man (that is, he had transitioned from female to male) whose status as ‘transgender’ had been revealed to a work colleague; the colleague, convinced he was born physically male and was wanting to transition to female, told him he’d never be a real woman because he looked too much like a man! Just goes to show!
I am saddened to hear yet again of trans-women facing this type of abuse.
In the talks I give I often show a picture of me at 16 wearing a skirt as part of my Police Cadet Uniform. I’m lucky to be blessed with a body that easily passes as male, even before testosterone, so this image is often received with shock, and has even been described as ‘horrific’.
For most people all they can see is what they perceive as a 16-year-old male forced to wear a female Police Uniform.
Once they’ve seen this and I’ve described what life was like, they really begin to understand how disturbing it was to be a male who was forced to live as female.
This horrific situation of living life in the wrong gender, is absolutely no different for any trans person. As trans people we all begin our lives living the wrong gender and it’s just as stressful for each of us whether we pass or not.
Yet some people think it’s OK to victimize others based on their own perceived notion of what a particular gender should or should not look like. But remember gender comes from within.
I think the lesson here is that people sometimes find it hard to imagine things they can’t see. Because my outward appearance matches me on the inside people can’t help but understand my situation. In fact they wouldn’t be able to understand me NOT transitioning!
The fact is though that I am no different to the many trans-women and trans-men who are attacked, discriminated against and abused simply for being transgender.
Remember as with many things in life, don’t judge a book by it’s cover, it’s what’s inside that truly counts!
Imagine taking a child, dressing them in clothes that are strongly the opposite gender and taking them out or forcing them to school like this?
How distressing would this be? Not to mention the detrimental psychological effect, especially if done long term.
Yet this is exactly what happened to me (and many other trans people) every day of my life, for years!
The choices we make with our appearance (inc. hairstyle, tattoos etc) convey information to those around us about who we are and what we stand for.
So consider the implications for a trans person who’s spent most of their life living within the wrong identity, and whose entire wardrobe simply can’t reflect who they are.
After nearly 40 years living this nightmare, I know this all too well.
For each trans person you ask you’ll hear a different story, but for me, once I was old enough to choose my own clothes I went along the ambiguous route.
I simply couldn’t do feminine so lived as a tomboy, but I also felt too uncomfortable going any further along the masculine route than society deemed acceptable, so couldn’t wear most of the clothes I yearned to. I lived in jeans and sweaters, as this was the only way I could survive.
I would wear baggy tops to hide my breasts and would suffer for as long as I could in the heat of summer before removing my jumper to reveal an oversized t-shirt. Then I’d slouch forward, being far too uncomfortable at the thought of anyone seeing the rounded shape of my chest.
I very clearly remember the occasion, aged around 5, that I’d noted boy’s waists sat lower than girl’s, and looking at myself in the mirror, I positioned my trousers onto my hips. I felt this looked much better. They have sat there ever since! Although I have taken them off occasionally to wash them!
As clothes become more formal and move away from jeans they typically become more gendered.
Because of my inability to wear anything formal/feminine I made career choices that enabled me to wear casual, gender neutral clothes such as jeans. This had huge implications on the direction my whole life took, and also affected my income and therefore my standard of living.
It’s great to try clothes on before you buy; it saves the hassle of returning any unwanted articles. But unfortunately these spaces are usually gendered, and gendered spaces often cause distress for a trans person.
This adds to the numerous problems around clothing, for myself not least because with a female shaped body, buying men’s clothes meant it was harder to find clothes that fitted, so I really wanted to try them on first.
At school in the 70’s/80’s I was forced to wear a skirt, and hated every moment. I was very jealous of the boys who, simply because they’d been born into a boy’s body, could wear trousers. It seemed dreadfully unfair.
I did used to wear boys shoes however, as there were no rules prohibiting this. I am very surprised I wasn’t bullied, as this was a time before any female fashions were styled on men’s designs, as many are today.
I was a Police Cadet at 16 and to my horror, although at this time Police Women were allowed to wear trousers on certain occasions, my uniform was issued with only a skirt and no option allowed for trousers. I left the cadets shortly before my 19th Birthday and that was the very last time I ever wore a skirt!
Even the mere mention of a formal occasion would distress and panic me with instant thoughts of “But what will I wear?”. I dreaded things like weddings or funerals, or even parties.
I was called for Jury service and this posed particular problems. As you can’t ‘opt-out’ I was feeling particularly trapped simply due to the problem of what to wear, and this distressed me.
Imagine my relief upon finally becoming Matt and being able to wear just what I wanted. Before I used to walk past the men’s clothes sections in stores knowing they were out of bounds for me. I just had to switch off, suck it up, and accept it wasn’t allowed.
Then all of a sudden this changed. As a male, society now gave me ‘permission’ to wear these clothes.
At first it felt like a dream, or even a game, and that it was going to end. But slowly as my mindset changed, I began to realise that this was actually real, and was forever!
I now long for formal occasions so I can get suited and booted.
There were many male clothes I’d wanted to wear when I was younger which weren’t always the best fashion choices, and of course fashions have changed a lot since then too. I still find that I want to wear these things and can’t see past that until I’ve got the fad out my system. So I’ve ended up buying clothes that in fact I never actually wear, or at least not for very long before I replace it with something more current.
I’ve done a few Topman Personal Shopping Experiences, which have been amazing.
I’ve found myself in a trendy men’s clothes store, with my own fashion expert, whose job it is to make me look good. And they’re good at their job! Picking out styles you’d never have chosen but that suit you to a tee.
I’d highly recommend this experience to trans or cis people alike. Topman’s clothes (or Topshop for women) are trendy, look great, are very reasonably priced and with no minimum spend you’re not obliged to purchase anything. I guarantee you’ll want to though. You’ll feel like a celebrity being styled and made to look stunning.
As a trans-man who’s life long struggles with clothes had a very negative impact and who hadn’t found his style/look, this experience was truly liberating and literally LIFE CHANGING!
(I was honored to witness other’s delight too at being liberated with their clothes after organising Topman Personal Shopping for the trans support group FTM London when I was co-chair.)
As there are such strong differences in the appearance of the sexes and because cross-sex hormones bring about such radical physical changes, I can understand how some might think that doing something which appears so extreme to the body must be very unnatural and will cause it stress or even harm. But it’s not a completely alien thing that will cause all sorts of weird and wonderful things to happen. We won’t suddenly sprout a second head!
Think about the very beginning of our life, just after we’re conceived. At this point our bodies are gender-neutral and are capable of becoming either male or female, or occasionally even a mix of the two. What determines how masculine or feminine we develop are the levels of sex hormones running through our blood. This is initially from our Mother while growing in the womb. This step determines which genitals we grow. Then later our own genitals produce these sex hormones. They are a natural substance that the body is supposed to contain. As long as they are within the correct parameters for either male or female our bodies will be healthy.
A male with low testosterone will likely have many undesirable symptoms and may be prescribed testosterone (male HRT). Raising his testosterone to within the normal male range will have many benefits for him, helping his body and mind function healthily while reducing the unwanted symptoms.
This also applies to a post-menopausal woman on female HRT, but I am using the male example as he may be on lifelong HRT from a younger age. No one would bat an eyelid or question what the long-term implications are for him to take this drug for decades. I imagine simply because it seems to be ‘natural’.
It is no less safe for a transgender person to be on HRT. The fact it is cross-sex HRT has no health bearing on their body. The body will just react and grow according to the hormone it is receiving from the blood. It’s just a chemical reaction within the cells. As long as levels are within male or female ranges this is a very natural and healthy state for the body. This is unlike many other prescription drugs which the body wouldn’t usually have inside it. Again no one bats an eyelid about these because they feel ‘needed’. There appears to be something very emotive about treating for gender dysphoria, which causes some people to think something really bad will happen. I even had these feelings from my first GP, which made accessing treatment very difficult and stressful for me.
As with any medication there are potential side effects but most feel the benefits outweigh the risks, and there may be no side effects at all. The patient would be monitored and any treatment adjusted or halted as required.
As a transman myself I know one of the potential side effects when taking testosterone is polycythemia. This is an abnormally high red blood cell count, and it’s symptoms can be serious if not treated.
It is easily diagnosed via a blood test, and any male on testosterone will have their blood monitored regularly. It is very easily treated.
The risks, diagnosis and treatment of polycythemia is the same for both trans-men and biological men on testosterone treatment.
It is still unknown what the full implications and risks are to gender specific organs receiving cross-sex hormones. For example what might happen to a womb or cervix when receiving male levels of testosterone over a long period of time? This doesn’t mean there is greatly increased risk though. Very often these organs are removed meaning it’s not a concern, but if not then appropriate monitoring can be carried out to catch potential warning signs and allow treatment before problems develop.
Cancer is a considerable threat to humans, with an estimated one in three people developing the disease. Some of the more common forms can be gender specific. E.g. prostate, testicular, cervical or breast cancer.
As a transgender person the risks of gender specific cancers are often reduced or even eliminated. A trans person will often have those organs removed, thus reducing or removing that risk, and of course they can’t develop cancers of their acquired gender because they don’t have those organs.
The physical changes that happen on cross-sex HRT could potentially be considered a side effect. Of course these are very much desired, and can lead to a happy, healthy and contented life.
You might assume if you’re listening to a qualified, experienced and well-respected psychiatrist, such as Dr Lucy Griffin, that what she has to say about an area of healthcare would be well informed and correct. Especially when the points she makes sound like common sense. [See Daily Mail article here]
But without working regularly with high numbers of transgender patients over a period of time, it’s impossible to have full insight into the difficulties this patient group experience and therefore how best to successfully treat those patients.
First off my warning bells were alerted by the fact she is calling trans-women men and trans-men women. Mistakes such as these are often the first tell-tale signs of someone with little knowledge or experience of this patient group.
Here is an analogy that I hope will help people understand why you need to be a gender specialist to comment on the care of transgender patients.
If it appears someone has broken their back, medical advice is not to move them. Common sense, yes? Then we see a group of Dr’s who start quickly pulling the injured away from the scene of the accident, risking paralysis! Other Dr’s publically chastise these actions, sighting their many insights from their professional knowledge and training as to why this is wrong and is ‘risking harm’ to the patient. The public agree with what seems like common sense coming from a qualified source.
Without the full picture, what the chastising Dr’s, and the public, don’t realise is that in these particular cases the patient needs to be moved quickly because of a greater risk. For example, maybe they are in a car which is on fire – one risk can outweigh another.
Transgender people can be harmed immensely by having to live the wrong life year after year. By waiting until they are 18 for medical intervention, not only have they already experienced great distress at seeing their bodies change in ways that is not correct for them but they then have permanent physical changes that are either difficult or impossible to correct.
To ‘do nothing’ is not always the best way to ‘do no harm’. Early intervention for a transgender patient is often life changing with very positive long-term outcomes.
Gender transition is a big step and certain questions do need to be asked and addressed. But the reasons against hormone blockers that Dr Griffin sights are not an informed view – she hasn’t seen the fire, so to speak!
Many people still believe that a child is too young to make such a life affecting decision.
Gender dysphoria is not something that develops, it is something you are born with. Gender specialists are trained and experienced in diagnosing true gender dysphoria and distinguishing it from a passing phase. They also see the possible devastating consequences suffered when treatment can’t be accessed or is delayed.
The problem with waiting until transgender patients are adults is that irreversible changes have already happened to the body by going through the wrong puberty and these changes usually have a very negative affect on quality of life.
Children can go through phases of cross-gender play and dressing, many girls are tom-boys etc. This is very different to gender dysphoria although the two can be confused if you don’t know what to look for. So any treatment for gender dysphoria does need to be carefully considered.
Normal Spack is a US endocrinologist with vast experience of treating transgender patients with hormone blockers. He states that if a child is going through a phase they will almost certainly have grown out of the phase by the time they reach puberty.
You can watch Norman Spack’s very informative Ted Talk on this topic here
Stringent assessments performed by trained gender specialists ensure that before patients can access any irreversible treatment that they do indeed have true gender dysphoria and are not simply going through a phase.
The use of hormones blockers provides a safety net and ensures no harm is done. Rather than induce the patient’s desired puberty at the age puberty would normally be experienced, blockers temporarily hold off or slow any form of puberty. This is fully reversible and buys time. While on hormone blockers professionals can assess the patient who can also receive counselling. When they reach the age of consent for treatment if they still feel gender transition is right for them they can start treatment and begin their desired puberty. If at any point the patient or the gender professionals decide that transition is not the right step, the blockers can be stopped and the patient will go through their biological puberty with no harm done. They will develop just as they would have, just at a later time. And to address Dr Griffin’s concerns over fertility, they will still be fertile.
When we reach puberty our body starts developing secondary sex characteristics and many of these changes are irreversible. Some changes can be corrected with surgical procedures, but of course this means undergoing that procedure, which isn’t pleasant, and then living with the scars it leaves behind.
Unfortunately some of the changes can’t be altered at all, and the transgender person has to live for the rest of their lives with sexual characteristics that are not in keeping with their gender identity.
Some of these changes include:
Other than being distressing and triggering, many of these irreversible characteristics also hinder the transgender person’s ability to pass in their acquired gender. This plays a huge role in quality of life due to how society perceives and accepts them. It can make life highly challenging, and is something they have to deal with day in, day out for the rest of their lives. Yet such distress is preventable with the use of hormone blockers.
Hormone blockers are an effective way to slow down the changes that happen at puberty. There is a safety net because they are reversible and buy time while the patient and the gender specialists work out what the best course of treatment, if any, is for the patient.
By preventing the distressing and irreversible changes that occur during puberty hormone blockers can greatly improve long term quality of life. They enable a transgender person to develop in a way that is correct for their internal gender. This can reduce distress and allows them to live the rest of their lives in the ‘right’ body. The benefits they bring help with passing and therefore to alleviate problems that still occur in today’s society’s due to misunderstanding and non-acceptance.
Matt’s latest blog post can be found on the A-Speakers website –
Personally speaking I think this is a relatively simple question to answer and I find it frustrating as to why people find it so difficult to understand.
If a woman had breast cancer and had to have a double mastectomy does this make her any less of a woman? No of course not!
Now let’s say, hypothetically of course, you took any of the feminist women in this video and gave her full gender reassignment surgery, with hormones, so her appearance outwardly appeared male, would she be a man? Would she feel like a man? No! She would feel like a woman stuck with a male body. What a horrible situation to be in, right? Gasp!
Gender is not that fragile and is something you cannot change. It comes from an inner sense of who you are and no matter what your body looks like, how you were born or what you do to your body you cannot change your gender.
So here’s the point……. if you inwardly identify as one gender but your birth sex doesn’t match that, there is nothing you can do to change your gender identity, however you can change your body to match your gender identity.
Remember gender is defined as who you identify as, sex is defined by your external anatomy. So a trans woman who was born with male anatomy is actually mentally just as much of a women as any of these female feminists are and there’s nothing you can do to make them male. So I would define that person as a women, whether they were pre or post transition.
Also remember the physical aspects of being transgender, although very important, are only part of the difficulties trans people experience. Different genders have quite different social roles, are treated differently (a simple example is being called ‘mate’ or ‘love’) and also dress differently.
The purpose of the medical interventions available to transgender people is not only to make them feel more comfortable in their own skin, but they have a huge impact on social behaviors and acceptance from others and this is just as important as correcting body dysmorphia.
As a trans man myself, who luckily for me is gendered male 100% of the time without fail, I find it fascinating that if I met any of these feminists who are complaining about ‘men in women’s spaces’ they would certainly not want me in their women’s space, and rightly so, I have NEVER felt like a woman despite living for 39 years in essentially a female shaped body. Yet by their own definition I will only ever be female in their eyes. If they met me I think they would certainly have a hard time seeing me as female!
Would you want Matt in your female space?
The toilet debate
I certainly know what it feels like to be nervous about using public toilets. Even pre transition when I went into a women’s toilet I would be stared at and have people tell me I was in the wrong place, so I would avoid this situation at all costs, even to the detriment of my bladder and it’s health. It becomes a huge problem whenever you’re out for the day and don’t have access to a basic human right as simple as a toilet. Post transition I’ve never had anyone so much as bat an eyelid at me in a male toilet, but even so it’s complicated and still comes with it’s problems. I can guarantee using a public toilet causes far more anxiety for the transgender person than it will ever will for the cis people sharing that space with the transgender person.
Transition is also not all about ‘passing’, some of us are lucky to be able to pass, but not everyone does or will pass. No one would question my masculinity because they are essentially judging the book by the cover. However no matter what the cover looks like we all feel the same on the inside whether we pass or not and should be afforded the same respect.
Every human being has a right to feel comfortable and accepted, transgender people are not harming anyone by transitioning and just want the same rights as those lucky enough to be born with their gender and birth sex matching.
……..and sometimes our bladders just won’t wait!
Imagine if to get a flu jab, anti-depressants or a broken leg fixed you had to have 4 or 5 separate Dr appointments and at least 2 specialists confirm your diagnosis and give you a signature before you could get your prescription or any treatment.
Wouldn’t that be a waste of resources?
Waiting times would soar, costs to the NHS would rise and patients’ physical and mental health would suffer.
Decades ago being transsexual (now more commonly referred to as transgender) was very much considered a mental health issue, and required several evaluations by psychiatrists. There were many hoops to jump through because the medical profession needed to make absolutely sure that the patient was indeed transsexual before they were allowed to have their ‘sex change’. A term now very outdated and considered derogatory. Many faced being sectioned just for thinking they might be in the ‘wrong body’. After all who in their right mind would want to change gender?
These days things have moved forward. Well they have a little, but I very much feel the medical profession are strongly dragging their heals back to those times. Patients still require several assessments and signatures from trained professionals to get the go ahead for every single step of treatment and in the UK the NHS typically require more steps than the latest WPATH guidelines. This means treatment for many can take a decade or more to complete. As you can imagine the process of gender transition is all-consuming and patients lose years of their life to this process, years that could have been spent