Debi Jackson shares the story of her daughter, who transitioned from male to female when she was four years old. She challenges the ignorant comments she hears about having a transgender child.
Media links: Trans* issues
Self defence for trans* people
Trans* Jersey invited Roisin Pitman to write a guest blog about staying safe. Roisin was in the States of Jersey police force for over 10 years and is the sensei at Phoenix (Jersey) School for Therapeutic Arts, which specialises in Aikido. She has recently started up Red Zen (Channel Islands) that offers self protection and fitness solutions to women of all shapes, sizes and abilities.
When a trans man or woman makes the decision that they are finally going to live and exist day-to-day in their true gender they are plunged into a world of excitement, fear, worry, uncertainty and self-doubt, all rolled into one.
As a trans woman I was told by a friend at an early stage of my transition that if I acted and went about my business as if I had every right to be a part of society then nobody would care if I was trans or not. There are always early fears and hyper sensitivity as we adapt to living outwardly in the gender that we know we are.
We can take every stare, double take, whispering as you pass, or laughing out loud, to mean that these are all aimed at you, when in fact that is your hyper sensitivity working overtime, which is quite natural. The stare may not have been relevant, the double take might be because they like your dress, the whispering – totally unconnected, and the laughing out load might just have been two people sharing a joke, not at your expense. This hyper sensitivity dies down as we become more comfortable in our ‘skin’.
In a recent conversation with a trans man it was agreed, broadly speaking, that he does not have to deal with some of the worries of a trans female. For example, women have been wearing trousers and masculine clothes for decades; there are many smaller guys out there so a small framed man would not draw too much attention; with testosterone there is often beard growth, an obvious male marker, and voices do drop after a while on hormone therapy.
If you are a trans female with a masculine frame, especially a tall build, with big hands and feet and a low voice it is much easier for you to be ‘read’, regardless of whether you are wearing a summer dress or a trouser suit. Often one’s facial features can give you away and affecting a falsetto voice is a sure giveaway, along with other male markers such as a visible Adam’s apple. Although, to be fair, there are many women with a protruding Adam’s apple, sometimes due to the slightness of frame, or the part of the world that they come from, or sometimes due to an eating disorder, which leaves the neck quite thin and shows all the blemishes and peculiarities. I was married to a woman with a prominent neck bulge and I can assure you that she was born female. I did wonder for a while!
It appears, therefore, that trans females have a lot more work to do to blend in than their male counterparts and sometimes, as we learn to be more female, the characteristics that were normal as a male, come back to haunt us as a female.
We are lucky here in Jersey that random violence is quite rare, although not absent. As a former police man in Jersey I encountered violence on an almost daily basis, but rarely was it a totally random act without warning. With the grace of one’s God or belief system, I survived twelve years on the street with little or no injury. Although, on three occasions, I was attacked with a knife, fortunately surviving without injury, partly due to luck and partly due to my training, not as a police officer but as a martial arts student of Aikido (a Japanese defensive art using the opponent’s body weight and aggression against themselves), without causing undue injury to the soon to be arrested felon.
I have now been studying Aikido for thirty-four years, twenty-seven of them as an instructor. I founded my own school in 1987 and now have Clubs in Jersey, Guernsey, UK, France and Italy. I currently hold the rank of fifth Dan black belt and rank among the top 2% of female Aikido instructors in the British Isles. I have blended my experience as a street police officer with that of a martial arts coach to create a unique insight into self protection and awareness that not only includes physical responses to a myriad of attacks, but blends with it the theoretical side of self protection by way of lecturing on a number of relevant subjects such as:
- Self defence and the law
- Decision making in stressful situations
- How to read body language correctly
- The aftermath of rape and sexual assault
- Urban safety for both day and night
- Travelling abroad in safety
- Travelling by car and public transport
- Drugs and their effects
I have attended many ‘self defence’ courses (put on mainly for women) as either an observer or guest instructor, run by numerous martial arts clubs over the last thirty years, and they have all disappointed me in the way that they were approached and delivered. Most martial artists teach their own martial style and dress it up as self defence when, in fact, although on the same spectrum, self defence and martial arts are at opposite ends. It is not just a matter of dressing in civilian clothes and teaching a martial art, it goes much deeper than that, requiring an in-depth knowledge of the human psyche and their behaviour patterns. Awareness is key.
If anyone attends a self defence course where they are told that in six, eight or ten weeks they will be able to deal with a violent altercation then they should run for the hills! There is no guarantee that any human will be able to deal with a violent situation, there are only tools that can be taught to make someone more aware and give them a little more knowledge to assist them. You might be, for example, a very highly ranked martial artist that people would consider infallible in a real situation but one thing alone marks the difference between the training room and real life: the fear factor, or the ‘flight or fight’ syndrome, when the body produces adrenaline in an effort to ready itself for combat. Some can handle the fear factor, many cannot.
Trans* people often feel even more vulnerable, especially in the early days of transition when often, especially male-to-female, they believe that every movement, mannerism and action is being ‘read’ by another person. They think everyone must just ‘know’ who and what they are. This is the hyper sensitivity that I referred to at the beginning.
Trans* Jersey would like to thank Roisin for her contribution to the website and sharing her knowledge. If you would be interested in attending a self protection and awareness course, set of seminars or informal talk with a question and answer session, Roisin runs all sorts of courses to suit your needs. It can be theory only or a mix of physical and theory. If there are enough people (at least four with no upper limit), Roisin can arrange for a special Trans* Jersey course or, if there is less interest, she can offer you a place on courses she is already running. Please contact Roisin Pitman on email@example.com to register your interest in attending a self defence course and the sort of course you would be interested in.
All surgery is optional. You should not feel that you have to have surgery to validate your transition from M to F. You should have surgery because you want to have surgery and for no other reason.
This refers to genital reconstruction surgery (GRS), ie. a penectomy and orchidectomy to remove the male genitalia and plastic surgery (vaginoplasty, clitoroplasty, labioplasty and repositioning of the urethra) to provide you with a genital appearance that is virtually indistinguishable from natal born women. The phases of the operation are done in one procedure under general anaesthetic and takes about five hours. The Looking Glass Society has a great section on the variety of surgical methods and their advantages and disadvantages.
When considering bottom surgery, manage your expectations. Post-surgery interviews reveal that 98% of transwomen are satisfied with the physical results of their surgery. However, the surgery is irreversible so you need to consider the emotional implications carefully. You will not be able to have children after surgery (unless you make a deposit with a sperm bank first), you may find that your relationship with your partner changes dramatically post-surgery, with potential loss, and genital surgery won’t change how people behave towards you in public life.
There are no surgeons available on the island to undertake this procedure so you will need to go to the UK or abroad if you want GRS. If you are being treated through the NHS, you will be offered a list of approved surgeons to choose from. If you wish to go privately, you can choose from surgeons in private practice all over the world. However, you will need to research the best person for your needs and your budget.
Do your research. Look at the numerous blogs and YouTube videos uploaded by transwomen describing their experiences. Visit some of the forums for transwomen and post questions asking about their experiences. Don’t forget to ask about any emotional reactions to the surgery as well as the physical results. Most transwomen are happy to share this information.
This comes in several parts. The Looking Glass Society explains the range of surgical options available to transwomen. It is exceedingly rare for any of these procedures to be funded through the health service. If you wish to undergo one of these options, you should be prepared to fund it privately.
You will not be surprised to learn that there are no surgeons with the required skills to perform these operations in the island. You are therefore looking at travel costs again and, because of the complexity of some procedures, several trips to the UK or abroad may be needed.
Facial feminising surgery and rhinoplasty
This refers to plastic surgery to feminise the face and/or remodel the nose. Some transwomen find that, even after HRT, their facial features retain a heaviness that is masculine in appearance and does not allow them to pass as they would like to. Cosmetic surgery can help to alleviate this problem.
Thyroid chondroplasty (tracheal shave)
For transwoman who have a very prominent ‘Adam’s Apple’, this procedure can reduce it by making a small horizontal incision in a natural crease-line on the neck and removing part of the thyroid cartilage.
Augmentation mammoplasty (breast enlargement)
Even after one or two years on HRT, some transwomen are unhappy with the breast growth resulting naturally. They, therefore, consider having implants. There are a number of options available now that are alternatives to silicone so do your research to find out which would suit your requirements best.
HRT will thicken the existing hair but many transwomen who transition later in life find that they retain a male pattern hairline. Hair transplantation can be effective in “filling in” the gaps at the front of the hairline to produce a more feminine line.
The same advice applies to these surgeries as for GRS: manage your expectations and do your research thoroughly.
Jersey’s trans* population
Open letter to Jersey’s politicians on equal marriage
Why civil partnerships do not make for equal marriage
For those who think that they were made some kind of promise by the gay community that civil partnerships would be enough to ensure equality, I can confirm that no such promise was made by the trans community who have always known that civil partnerships do not provide true equality. As Jersey law stands, a person in a marriage or civil partnership who undergoes gender reassignment whilst still in that union is severely discriminated against.
A key part of a transgender person’s journey is acquiring their gender recognition certificate (”GRC”) after two years of living as their true gender. It is a legal document that means for all purposes you are the gender you present. It enables a trans person to have all legal documents amended, including their birth certificate. It also provides a degree of privacy protection for the trans person because it is an offence under the Gender Recogntion (Jersey) Law to “out” someone in possession of a GRC, for example, when giving an employment reference.
Under current Jersey legislation, at the point at which a trans person in a marriage or civil partnership applies for their GRC, they are forced to dissolve their union. Having done so, they are then expected to re-make their union using the vehicle appropriate to their gender and the gender of their spouse. The choice for transgender individuals in this situation is clear: either, do not apply for your GRC and continue having your official documents “out” you; or, change your official documents at the cost of losing your legal ties to your family.
Anyone who has been through a divorce will know that not only are there costs involved, emotional and financial, but also that a divorce immediately stops the continuation of joint arrangements, such as pension provisions, insurance policies and wills, some of which cannot be re-started without severe penalty. And, if the union has produced children, the situation gets even more complicated. I think that all sides of the marriage argument would agree that nobody should be forced to go through a divorce.
In 2006, the International Commission of Jurists and the International Service for Human Rights developed a set of international legal principles on the application of international law to human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity. These were called the Yogyakarta Principles and, whilst not adopted as an international standard, are cited by UN bodies and national courts, and many governments have made them a guiding tool for defining their policies in the matter. The European Commissioner for Human Rights has endorsed the Yogyakarta Principles, in particular principle number 3, and considers them an important tool for identifying the obligations of states to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of all persons, regardless of their gender identity.
Yogyakarta Principle number 3 states that, “Each person’s self-defined sexual orientation and gender identity is integral to their personality and is one of the most basic aspects of self-determination, dignity and freedom… No status, such as marriage or parenthood, may be invoked as such to prevent the legal recognition of a person’s gender identity.”
Whilst legislation exists that gives opposite-sex couples a different piece of paper from same-sex couples, there will always be an inequality at the heart of the island’s laws. Jersey is proudly bringing in the first piece of anti-discrimination legislation later this year and, yet, enshrined within its laws is a nasty little “gotcha” that discriminates against a person in a marriage or civil partnership who transitions. If Jersey is serious about improving its human rights credentials on the world stage, it needs to adopt the Yogyakarta Principles as an internationally recognised model of best practice and address anomalies within its legislation such as this.
This is why Trans* Jersey is supporting Guernsey’s proposition for a Union Civile that requires all couples, regardless of gender, to wed in a civil ceremony that registers the union for legal purposes. Having done the legal part, couples who then wish to seek a church service aligned to their religious beliefs regarding marriage can do so. This solves the argument over the definition of marriage that exercises religious and secular groups, and it enables a transgender person to acquire their GRC and alter the gender on their Union Civile certificate without having to divorce. It is an elegantly simple solution to the problem and one that we hope Jersey will also propose, debate and pass.
An open letter to our families
We know that being the family of a trans* person is not something you sought or ever thought you would have to deal with. We know that in coming out as trans*, we are also forcing you out as the family of a trans* person. We know that you are concerned for us, for our welfare, for our healthcare, for our relationships, for our safety, for all the reasons that you have seen as headlines in the newspapers, and that makes you afraid for us. We know that you can’t be sure we are doing the right thing, maybe we are just going through a phase. We know that you will get our name wrong and use the wrong pronoun sometimes, which may embarrass you in public. We know all of these things and that’s why coming out to our families is the hardest thing we have to do. We worry so much that, if we can’t help you find a way through all of these issues, we may lose you. We don’t want to lose you, we want you in our lives. Our love for you doesn’t change when we transition but, sometimes, your love for us does.
In an ideal world, when we come out to you as trans*, at some point in the process, we would like you to give us a hug and say something similar to: “That’s great news. I’m so happy that you have reached a place where you feel able to express yourself in a way that is true to the person you really are. How can I best help and support you?” We know this is a big ask, but it’s not an impossible ask.
To our mothers and fathers: when the midwife placed us in your arms for the first time and said, “It’s a …”, would you have loved us any less if she had said our real gender as opposed to the gender dictated by our genitalia? To our partners, siblings, children and wider family: when you met us for the first time and were introduced to us, “This is …”, would you have loved us any the less if you had been introduced to us as the name that we have chosen for ourselves to match our true gender? If the answer to both these questions is “no”, which it probably is, then the problem with transitioning is not our gender or our new name, the problem is that we are changing from something familiar to something that seems unfamiliar.
Nobody likes change and our transition imposes a change on your life that you did not seek. Because of the process of transition, the news of this change is necessarily sudden for our families. Transitioning is never a spur of the moment decision and coming out to our families happens at the end of a process that may take years. Our families, therefore, receive the news of our transition with none of the preparation time we have had. Put like this, as the person transitioning, we have a responsibility to help those whose love and support we value to transition with us.
As the family of a trans* person, you have a right to ask them to accept this responsibility and to give you the help and support you need to manage the change that is happening in your life. This may include arranging for you to speak to a counsellor about your concerns or finding appropriate resources to help you understand the process of transitioning and why it is not a choice for the trans* person. To this end, we have added a post about the Transition Curve – the stages that everyone goes through when faced with change – that gives the trans* person in your family some guidance on how best to do this. You may also want to read it to understand a little more about why human beings don’t like change much and react in similar, predictable ways to it.
It is in our interests to help you cope with our transition. If we want you in our lives, we must make the effort. Communicating with you is, therefore, vital to the process. However much you might not want to talk about it, expressing your feelings is better than bottling them up. Please tell us how you are feeling. If you can’t do it face-to-face, phone us or write to us. If you need time and space, say so. We can respect that. Trans* Jersey’s post on communicating assertively applies to you as well as to us. Anger is a common reaction to change, especially change that is out of our control. Get angry, but please don’t get angry with us. Gender dysphoria is not something that we chose. If you need to get angry, get angry with the change, with the dysphoria, with the situation, but not with us.
To speak assertively: at some point, you have to accept that our transition is not just a phase, it isn’t going to go away. If you want us in your life, you must make an effort, too. Acknowledging this fact is the first step to accepting our transition and that goal of giving us a hug and saying something similar to: “That’s great news. I’m so happy that you have reached a place where you feel able to express yourself in a way that is true to the person you really are. How can I best help and support you?”
To answer the question, “How can I best help and support you?”, all we ask is that you are as proud of us as you always were. Be open and honest about our transition, don’t hide it. Be as proud that you have a trans* family member as you are of the other things we have done in our lives and the other members of your family. If you hide it, you are suggesting to those outside the family that there is a reason to hide it, that it is something of which to be ashamed. When people see that those closest to us accept our transition they, too, will take that attitude. After all, if those closest to us accept us, what right have others to find it “weird”? This also maximises our chances of staying safe from transphobic attacks – one of your fears for us. If we have allies who will step into defend us, we aren’t alone.
And that is what all trans* people who come out to their friends and family fear most – that they will end up alone as a result of their revelation. Please don’t do that to your family member, they will be much more vulnerable if you do and you will be the poorer for it.
Transgender Basics is a 20 minute educational film on the concepts of gender and transgender people. Two providers from The Center’s Gender Identity Project (GIP) discuss basic concepts of gender, sexual orientation, identity and gender roles. Three transgender community members share their personal experiences of being trans and genderqueer. The film targets service providers and others working with the LGBT community, but it also provides a fascinating glimpse into gender and identity for the general public. “Our culture likes to make things simple, and gender isn’t.” Carrie Davis, Transgender Community Organizer, in Transgender Basics.
How to be a trans* ally
Video from the “Are you an ALLY?” campaign for Health Equity at Mount Sinai Hospital in Canada: http://www.mountsinai.on.ca/about_us/… Explains how you can help trans* individuals when you encounter them.
The Gender Puzzle
Australian documentary from 2005 investigating intersex conditions, the SRY gene, gender identity development, and transgender legal identification.