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Transgender and Transsexual Topics

Crossdresser or transsexual or something in-between? Is there more to all this than the clothes? For some, transsexuality is at best a puzzling phenomenon, a curious affliction that some people suffer from. For others, it's an irresistible force that irreversibly changes your life and that of those you love. For most who are personally acquainted with transsexuality, it's somewhere in between. What follow are not definitive answers. Many may seem vague, almost evasive. The point, as much as anything, is to get you to think about these questions too. So - here are a few more questions we get asked - and some you may want to think about if you see yourself in this.

“Transgender” or “Transgendered” – which should I use?

While the two words are obviously related, they carry somewhat different meanings. “Transgendered” implies a process that one went through, such as “married”, “circumcised” or “born again”. “Transgender” implies an inherent attribute, like “male”, “female”, “short” or “tall”.

Most transgender folks think of themselves as always having been what they are, thus for them, the right word is “transgender”.

“Transgendered” could be used to refer to a portrayal of the opposite gender, so (for example) a performer could present a transgendered performance of the opposite sex, even though he or she is not necessarily transgender. Terence Stamp (the transsexual in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) and Felicity Huffman in Transamerica are not themselves transgender people, but they become transgendered to perform their (transgender!) characters.

What exactly is a transsexual?

Transsexuality, as we’ve used it here, refers to the innate, unshakeable conviction that you are in the wrong body. Your plumbing and your wiring, as it were, don’t match. There are many theories as to why this happens. The most likely one is that something happens in utero around 13 weeks after conception that disrupts the normal distribution of hormones; that in turn affects how the brain develops with respect to the body. Hence the old jest:

“My mother made me a transsexual!”
“If I buy her the wool, will she make me one too?”

All joking aside, please remember that this is NOT because of something your mother did or didn’t do during pregnancy and there’s no evidence that it came from either parent. Blaming your folks for what you are is not appropriate.

Transsexuality is considered to be everything from a sinful choice of lifestyle to an incurable condition to a marvellous gift. It is not something that is treatable by psychiatric means or counselling.

What’s the difference between a crossdresser, a transvestite and a transsexual?

A crossdresser is someone who (for whatever reason) wears clothes conventionally associated with the opposite gender.

A transvestite is a crossdresser who learned Latin in school.

A transsexual knows that his or her physical body is at odds with his or her inner gender identity.

What does transgendered mean?

This is usually used as an “umbrella” term covering everyone who portrays or experiences some form of gender variance. Thus it includes the drag queens who portray women on stage; crossdressers who like dressing as the opposite gender; and transsexuals who believe they are the opposite gender.

There’s “more to this than the clothes”, as you put it, but I don’t feel the need for surgery. Is this common?

If you’ve read this far, you’ll have realised that nothing is black and white. There are degrees of intensity. It’s quite possible for someone to be happy simply cross-living, woman at home, man elsewhere. Someone else may choose to take feminising hormones and live full-time as a woman, but not wish to undergo surgery. Someone else may not be happy until everything is put right: surgery, name and birth certificate corrected and so on.

Does crossdressing lead to transsexuality?

The short answer: no.

What can happen, though, is that if you do have transsexual tendencies, the freedom you experience when you come to terms with your desire to crossdress may unmask those tendencies and free you to explore them.

Will I become a transsexual?

The current belief is that transsexuals, like leaders, are born, not made. In other words, if you’re a transsexual now, you probably always have been, even if you’re just discovering or admitting that. Conversely, people very rarely “turn transsexual”.

Note that being a transsexual is different from having a sex change. See the next question.

Will I want a sex change?

This depends so much on your own situation. If you’re a transsexual who cannot live a peaceful, normal life as long as your body and mind are at odds with each other, the answer is probably yes, you will want to have “corrective surgery” to bring your physical appearance into harmony with the person you know yourself to be.

What if I start taking hormones?

Hormones, as most transgender folk use the term, are substances that feminise or masculinise your physical appearance. The effects range from mild and reversible to obvious and permanent.

Hormones are essentially medication. They are (or should be) available by prescription only. They affect many parts of your life – including your sex life. For these reasons, it’s essential to discuss all this with your spouse and with your doctor.

What do hormones do?

For the male-to-female: There are a number of feminising hormones that over time will alter a man’s hair growth, breast development, weight distribution, skin texture and even temperament. The overall effect is to replace male hormones with female ones. In order to achieve this, two things have to happen: the overpowering effect of the male hormones (chiefly testosterone) must be removed or inhibited; and female hormones (mostly estrogen) must be supplied, since the male body produces at best only minimal quantities of them.

Spironolactone is one of the commonest of the testosterone blockers. It’s available by prescription only. It’s well-tolerated and has few side-effects. In small doses it’s used to treat high blood pressure. In higher doses it blocks the action of testosterone. You can usually expect reduced body hair growth, some slight breast development and a nosediving libido. In the short term these effects are reversible if you stop taking spiro. In much higher doses, spiro can completely shut down your sex drive. Your family doctor can usually prescribe spiro without referring you to an endocrinologist.

Estrogen is available in several different forms and dosages. In conjunction with spiro, it alters the hormone balance to be closer to a genetic female’s – with the consequent effects on body shape, skin texture and so on. Embark on estrogen only with the help of your doctor and a good endocrinologist.

For the female-to-male: one of the most powerful masculinising hormones is testosterone. It can affect body mass, hair growth patterns, temperament and libido. All females produce some naturally; in most, the effects are variations on the above. In higher doses it can easily produce masculinising effects. As with other hormone therapies, proceed with caution, after a lot of thought and with the help of a good doctor and an endocrinologist.

How far will this go?

Only you know the answer to this one.

Once you start down the path, it’s very easy to get so caught up in it that you end up rushing headlong into something you may well regret for the rest of your life. The best advice we can give is:

Talk. Talk with your friends, your spouse, your family, your employer, your doctor; all of them will enter the picture at some point. Keep them in the loop so you can keep them onside. Talk to other transsexuals. Join a support group.

Listen. Listen to your friends, your spouse, your family, your employer, your doctor. There will be questions, insghts, knowledge from all of them.

Learn. Read all you can about what’s involved. Find out what will happen to you as you take various steps. Make sure you’re always able to make informed decisions.

Be patient. You have your whole life in front of you; don’t screw it up. Take the time to do it right.

Love yourself. Whatever you do, don’t go into transition because you hate who you are; all that will have changed is the body. Approach it with the attitude that you are worth working on, that you are worth all the time, money, pain and disruption it takes to bring your whole self into harmony.

Act. Finally, when you absolutely know what you must do, do it.

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