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Monthly Archives: October 2013

Month 5 Summary

Sifan 20131021Just got the automated call that tells me to pick up my next month’s supply of hormones from the pharmacy – must be the start of month 6 !

This last month saw a settling in, a becoming more comfortable and some ‘internal’ changes.

My inclination is to say “wow, five months already” and that is a true feeling.  I also vividly remember five months ago and how much anticipation I had and the amount of anxiety I had in starting this journey.  It’s strange how looking forward it seemed like forever and looking back it seems like it just happened, except that so much is packed into the ‘just happened’ space …  Here I am now, having those same feelings of anticipation and anxiety plus the feelings of how far I’ve come and how much has been accomplished.

I’ve had some clarification on the whole ‘gender/natal sex/internal sex’ conundrum.  I had used the term ‘body map’ to describe this previously.  I just read “Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity” by Julia Serano where she describes this as ‘subconscious sex’ which is very much where I was going.  Well, this is the subject of another post, see:  “Body Map“.

Comfort is a subjective thing of course.  In a lot of ways I’m more comfortable in public – exposure being out as a woman and time being in public help immensely.  That’s not to say I don’t get those moments when I still feel awkward or times I just do not want to go into a certain store (for example the car parts place…).  Which is a bit strange considering there are opposite situations as well – a couple cases in point from this last month:

We had the Maui Pride (LGBTQ) day this last month.  This was my first attendance.  My partner and I went and had a great time.  It was special for me of course.  I identify as both the ‘T’ (transgender) and the ‘L’ (lesbian).  It was wonderful to be accepted and we both felt it to be very freeing and loving.  We held hands and had arms around each other most of the time – we even kissed (in public!) under the gate as we left.

Last month I had purchased a halter swim suit top to ‘solve’ my beach ‘issues’.  Well, this month I purchased the matching bottoms!  So I now have a bikini !!  Now, timing in transition is everything – I would not have attempted this before (and well, I’m probably on the edge as far as doing this now).  But with my flatter tummy, budding breasts, slight curves, fuller hair (although not anywhere the length I would like yet) I am passable.  So, I did it.  The first time I went to the beach by myself (my partner was not feeling good that day).  The second time, my partner came with me.  She watched everyone else as I took off my beach dress, exposing myself in my bikini and sauntered down into the water – no one stared.  She noted that I probably look better than 20% of the woman on a Maui beach (tourists feel that being here on a beach is their one chance to wear a bikini – something they would not do back home).  She said I definitely ‘passed’ (yayayayayayay) and she felt good holding hands with another woman who was in a bikini as we strolled down the beach !

Wow, talk about getting more confident in public …. (and no, I’m not going to post those pictures).

Ok, changes this month:

I think my breasts look smaller (ack) !  There has been a lot of soreness.  It seems that they have shrunk but at the same time they are much more firm and solid.  On further inspection they seem to have also grown laterally, a larger circumference, but not outwardly.  I wear a support bra that ‘brings ’em in’ and gives me a nice profile, but without that I look flatter than I was before (from the side, from the front they have additional size – sideways).  The doctor had also recommended taking an over the counter progesterone that I might think about.  It’s suppose to ease some of the soreness as well.

My skin is softer – one of the effects is the generation of a subcutaneous fatty layer just under the skin.  Both my partner and I have now noticed that.  Along with that the hair on the rest of my body (not the face however) is starting to change:  softer, lighter and in some places not as much.  I am shaving my arms and legs about once a week, tummy and chest about once every two days, back about once a month.

I had my last facial hair laser treatment this month.  There was a different technician this time and she did a lot more and used a higher strength.  It was more effective but was a bit harder on me.  Still it was not beyond me – I would rate it a 3 or 4 on the scale of 10 for pain.  I could get away with shaving my face once every two days (and do sometimes) but depending on what I’m doing that day (like work) I’ll shave – this usually turns out meaning I shave everyday during the week but skipping a day on the weekend.  I checked out a hair electrolysis  place and will start that soon.  Most of the facial hair that is left is white – so only electrolysis will work.  This was my original intent – use laser to get rid of as much hair as possible and then ‘clean-up’ with electrolysis.

Ok, as usual, the largest perceived change for last – internal changes:

I read about this, others I know have talked about this – so I was ‘on the alert’ so to speak.  It sort of crept up on me slowly – imperceptibly.  I had mentioned before that others had noted I was moody at times now (and this is different than I was before).  Now I’m noticing other things:

I drove home from work and smelled someone cooking outdoors – a pleasant smell, nothing unusual.  Except that as I traveled the smell got a bit stronger – not much.  In total, I had noticed the smell almost 3 blocks before and about 2 blocks after.  I’ve never had a sensitive nose before.  By the way, it was not intense or out of the ordinary in any way.

About 3 weeks ago I started to notice the scent of the women’s restroom – ‘not’ a restroom smell but a female scent.  I notice this every time I use one now.  Unfortunately I can not compare this to a men’s restroom because I did not have this sense of smell then, so there is no way of comparing and I’m ‘not’ ever going back into one either!

The most lovely new ‘scent’ experience is the smell of my partners neck !  How wonderful it is to have this type of additional connection to the one I love.

My partner and I were at our therapists, I was talking about some of these latest internal changes and mentioning an increase in wanting to feeling textures when I caught myself running my fingers along the bottom hem of the blouse I was wearing !  I guess subconsciously I was proving my point,  I always appreciated color and texture but now I have this want or need to hold or touch things and feel their texture.

Before transition, I had mentioned (complained) that I felt I was behind a curtain that allowed maybe 1/10 of the surrounding sensations (some people call this ‘energy’) to come through.  In some ways it was like my former male self was protecting me from the rawness of the environment.  It’s hard to describe how I knew this – it’s like there were a number of clues that there was a lot more there that I was not able to receive or that what I was feeling/receiving was muted.

Well, ya – it was.  This is another one of these internal changes that came on slowly, imperceptibly – one that perhaps only hindsight sees clearly.   This now manifests in a number of ways.  One is being more sensitive and being effected by things that never bothered me before or that I just would not have paid any attention to.  Another is being a bit more critical of things or actions.  I would have either never noticed before or if I did, I would have instantaneously ‘written them off’ and not be bothered at all by them.  Now, I notice and I have to consciously  deal with it – whether I still ignore them or not – I now have to make that decision.

Whether all of these are effects of the hormones or not, I don’t know.  From my perspective it sure seems like it is.  One thing stands out very very clearly – hormones are very powerful – one really needs to be under the watchful eye of endocrinologists, therapists, and gp’s.

My perception of men has changed too.  I suppose it’s better to say that this transition has explained for me what influences I had been under and explains a lot of my behavior, feelings and actions before my transition.  Switching genders gives a person a huge perception into not only gender, but sexuality, society, politics and the list goes on.  Suffice it to say that I look at men differently now, with more understanding and acceptance actually.

Well, it’s been said many times that a transsexual really does not know how much they are what they are until they get a ways into their transition.  It’s at this time that we start to pull everything together and our lives become congruent – our ‘subconscious sex’, gender expression and societies acceptance of gender – start to match up.  Only then do we start to see and understand the depth of our previous disconnection and finally now be able to understand, to feel ‘right’, ‘connected’, happy and possibly the only word that comes close:  comfortable (again, I do not like that word because it has a connotation of ‘not something essential or necessary for life’ – in this case it is very essential – just look at the suicide rate for transsexuals).

For me, this is re-affirming of who I am and that I have finally solved a life long struggle.

With so much aloha,

Sifan

Body Map

human_body_large

From the research I’ve read regarding gender, natal development and social gender, I assembled my own personal summary or explanation that I use when talking to others that are trying to grasp what transsexualism is about.

I’ll post some of the research links below and they are listed in the ‘links‘ tab as well.

The concept is this: at about the sixth week natal development stage, natal sex differentiation occurs.  That is, we develop from a somewhat androgynous female precursor fetus into (normally) a male or a female depending on the constituent DNA (X’s and Y’s) expression.  At this time there is a rush of androgens plus the differentiation.  If the timing of these two events is correct, then it results in a ‘cis’  (the person’s natal-birth sex matches their internal idea of what sex they are) gendered fetus.  There is also evidence of an altered gene found in transsexuals that prevents or diminishes testosterone’s effect on the brain.

Intersex’ed  individuals occur when there are ‘extra’ X’s or Y’s in the DNA expression resulting in ambiguous or hidden sex organs.

But for transsexuals like myself, the theory is that this timing between differentiation and androgen rush is slightly off resulting in the body developing one way (male in my case) and the brain remaining female (not changing from the precursor female fetus).   One study shows that a lower region of the hypothalamus is statistically larger in women than in men and that a M2F (male to female) transsexual’s hypothalamus matches a woman’s.  And then there is a new study that found a particular gene in transsexuals that diminishes the male hormones effect on the brain – leaving it female.

Now, here is where I put a couple of things together ….

We are also born with a ‘body map’.  There are many accounts of people who have lost a limb and can still feel it.  Some can even articulate where their non-existent fingers or arm currently resides – as if it is still attached.  This map has been located – you guessed it – also in the hypothalamus, although I am not sure if in the same part of it.

I contend that this body map is much more than a ‘map’ of where the brain thinks everything is and what it ‘has’.  For sure it is a map of what it ‘believes’ it has.  For one thing, this explains why my male organ “down there” did not belong.  Even as a very young child (as one of my earliest memories) I knew that it did not belong on me.  It also helps to explain bodily feelings etc. that I had that were definitely ‘not’ male.  My partner is able to bring me to a ‘mild’ orgasm that is not centered there, is not male’ish but rather whole body-centered.  It is obvious enough to my partner that she would mention it and be somewhat amazed by it.

But I think this map is much more.  I think it encodes our general sense of who we are.  It can still be thought of as a map, but with it’s functionality extended to encompass our internal concept of what sex we are (and I’m sure a host of other things as well).  Notice I’m being very careful not to use the word gender ….

Gender is a very confusing term.  From what I’ve read and people I’ve conversed with, it seems most of us that are transsexual agree that gender is just not ‘it’.  We have a general feeling that gender is ‘not’ the defining ‘thing’ that differentiates a transsexual from a ‘cis’ (natal or birth sex matches their internal sense of what they are) person.

From Wikipedia: “Gender is the range of physical, biological, mental and behavioral characteristics pertaining to, and differentiating between, masculinity and femininity.  Depending on the context, the term may refer to biological sex (i.e. the state of being male, female or intersex), sex-based social structures (including gender roles and other social roles), or gender identity.”  It’s original use was to distinguish between biological sex and gender as a ‘role’.

In other words it’s a ‘role’ – a collection of traits, defined by society, that collectively on average define what it means to be either male or female.  This falls apart rather quickly if you investigate individual traits – suddenly none of them are all that unique – and there are too many exceptions to allow any consensus.  I found this out the hard way as I’m sure any transgender person does when they attempt to give example from their life history that would prove their situation.  I even had people use this to attempt to prove otherwise:  “Well, you fixed cars and are a scientist!”  I gently explained that one of the best mechanics I know is a women and that many of the scientists I work with are women …..

My transsexualism is not a role.  It comes from something inside, something deep that was always present.  I did not learn it.  It feels to me that gender is the match-up of how we express ourselves – it’s the cross between either our natal sex and society or our internal ‘body map’ and society or more likely all of the above.  Roles, traits and behavioral characteristics are all interpreted by society – usually in a very binary fashion (male or female).  Transsexualism is something underneath all that.  It manifests itself perhaps as gender, as what society sees and interprets as male or female, but the underlying cause or force behind this is intrinsic, what I call part of the body map.

I just read “Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity” by Julia Serano where she describes this as ‘subconscious sex’ which is very much where I am going with this.  Julia has an entire chapter devoted to explaining the subconscious sex. It’s worth a read for anyone interested.

Well, all I can say is that was a very re-affirming experience.  I hope this helps others understanding themselves and perhaps helps explain it to our friends, allies and families.

With much aloha,

Sifan

Gender Orientation: Intersex Conditions within the Transsexual Brain  

Sexual Differentiation of the Human Brain: Relevance for Gender Identity, Transsexualism and Sexual Orientation

Scientists Discover Transsexual Gene