Friday, 23 May 2014

"I've decided to become a woman" - interview with my transgender friend.

Andi Mac - my transgender friend.
Did you know that there are between 140 and 350 million transgender human beings on this
If the numbers surprise you, you're not alone.
I likewise had no idea it such a large number.
However I paper I found at the Transgender Law Society, tells us this: "An estimated 2 to 5% of the population is transgender".
There are seven billion of us crammed onto this world, and so 140-350 million are transgender.
I had a vague mental image of..., actually, I'm not sure what I thought, but I didn't think the number was so vast.
Anyway, this all started with a phone call in January this year from my old uni friend Andrew.
I had recently reconnected with him after a near thirty year absence, and we picked up again quickly, and began speaking on the phone most weekends as if the past thirty odd year absence didn't exist.
Then late last (2013)  year I didn't hear from Andrew for a while.
I did send him some texts, but got no answer.
However I put it down to the run up to Christmas, and him being busy with family matters and didn't think too much more about it.
Then in Late January, my phone rang, and I saw Andrew's name on the Caller ID screen.
So I answered and we chatted somewhat desultorily for a little while.
Then he said, "I suppose we better talk about the elephant in the room."
I replied, "Er, you mean why I haven't heard from you for a while?"
He said "Yes", then went on to say, "well I've been busy, seeing some doctors."
My heart jumped into my throat, hoping I wasn't about to hear a cancer diagnosis, or something otherly sinister.
But then I was relieved mightily when Andrew said, "Er, well, strap yourself in Lachy, er, but I've decided to become a woman."
[Thus from here on in in this article I will refer to Andi, his new name, with female pronouns.]
I was shocked, but I don't really like that word, as it seems to have negative connotations. Surprised?
Renee Richards
Well that doesn't work either, as it seems a bit trivial.
Whatever, we worked through it, and so I'd like to support my friend in this process, and so am writing this.
So first a bit of history.
This allowed me to do some research my favourite thing these days, and also to bring in The Simpsons, my even more favourite thing.
The first and most controversial transgender case occurred in the United States and involved a man named Richard Raskind.
He had gender reassignment surgery in 1975, and was henceforth known as Renee Richards.
The controversy started when Renee began to enter professional tennis tournaments in the women's draw.
Opponents screamed stridently that this was unfair as she had the muscles of a man.
However, she hardly set the world alight, and the best she ever achieved was the doubles final in the US Open in 1977, defeated by Martina Navratilova and Betty Stove.
At her peak she was rated 20th.
Tennis is a game where strength is handy, but clearly not an overarching tool for winning.
However, the controversy, largely press-fuelled, had ongoing ramifications for transgender people from then on.
For it was deemed that people have the gender reassignment surgery for some hidden agenda, usually to do with money.
In the case of Renee, winning tournaments.
Other examples are men becoming women and then becoming six-feet-tall models.
But as Andi pointed out to me over the phone, these are hardly widely accurate examples, and anyone who makes the commitment to do this, is always doing it for deeply felt psychological reasons, not just to win a tennis match, or have some career, making a paltry sum of money.
This was best evidenced in Andi's case when she went out on the weekend last to a club.
After some time it was time to go to the bathroom.
She entered the women's facility, and immediately had trouble with a woman in there, who claimed she had no right to be there.
She (in Andi's opinion) thought she had "dressed up" as a woman, and had hormone shots leading to incipient breasts, all so she could go into the women's bathroom and perve on the women in there.
So Andi stood her ground and pointed out that she(Andi) was going to the bathroom in a closed cubicle, as where all the women in there, and so wouldn't be looking at anyone else's private parts.
Andi also mentioned that a guy tried to crack onto him that evening in the club.
She spent some time batting him away, and it was only when the guy in question got very personal, and began a bit of groping that the state of Andi's sexuality became clear, and he left with a somewhat surprised look on his face.
A compliment to Andi's new dress sense if ever there was one.
All of the above though, highlights the controversial nature of Andi's upcoming life.
Krusty was happy with the boobs.
There will be challenges to be met and overcome, but not greater than those faced by us all, simply different.
And so to The Simpsons.
In an episode where Krusty the clown owes money to the mob for gambling debts, he, in an attempt to hide, had plastic surgery to change his face, total non-recognitive surgery as it's called.
However there is a mix up with the paper work and Krusty instead of having his face changed, is given the boob job that Mayor Quimby paid for to enhance his secretary's chest area.
After the bandages are removed from his face, post-operation, Krusty yells at the doctor: "You moron, I look exactly the same!"
The surgeon answers, "Yes, but I did a lovely job on the boobs."
To which Krusty replies: "Do you hear me complaining about the breasts?"
This episode had curious humourous overtones with Andi's story.
He is 48 year's old as I write, has just begun developing female secondary sexual characteristics and was saying to me over the phone that by the time he is seventy, he will have the rack of a twenty-year-old woman.
Pictures to follow, if he acquiesces.
So it's a fascinating story.
I asked Andi some questions that I was curious about, and he added some, and answers, of his own.
Andi, what is transgender?

I don’t want to hold myself out as an expert on the subject, but , from what I have gathered, transgender is a sort of umbrella term that people use to describe a less common gender type than the more common gender type where physical and psychological characteristics of gender seem more aligned (FYI - this more common gender type is often referred to as cis-gender). For example, I am transgender because my physical and psychological gender traits are less common than cis-males or cis-females. Under this broader term are groupings. For example, I call myself a transgender woman because I identify as a female whilst having a male body. Also, because I am transitioning physically, through hormone replacement therapy (HRT), I sometimes use the term male-to-female (MTF) transgender.     

Is transgender the same as gay?

I suppose the answer to this question depends on what you mean by “same as” but, if I am assuming you are asking whether being transgender always means that you are gay, the answer is no. Some transgender people are gay in the same  way that some non-transgender people are gay. Gay, like lesbian, straight, celibate, etc is a term that talks to a person’s sexuality whereas transgender is a term that is meant to describe a more holistic sense of identity that includes an expression of sexuality as one of it’s key characteristics. You could say the same thing about many of the other characteristics we share as humans in that some trans* people are tall, some still have a record player, some are good at maths, some hate the smell of petrol, some always get caught telling little white lies, etc, etc.

When did you have the first inklings you wanted to be a woman?

I can’t really pinpoint an exact time and, because I was not aware of any people living as transgender until maybe my early teens, I would say mid to late teens was the time I started to “listen” more to my gender. However, I was still quite young and I did not really start to get a functioning understanding of any of this until the recent past. In saying that though, my internal drive to be truer to myself gender-wise has been there in one shape or form for a long time.

Where are you at with relationships now? Attracted to women, men,
neither, both?

Well, I am attracted to intelligence and a sense of adventure so it doesn’t really matter to me which container that package is delivered in. In the meantime, I have a wonderful family and loving friends. That duo combined with surfing is getting me by. Anything else that comes along is gravy. 
[Editor's note: Quite frankly I think we would all do well to answer that question the same way.]
So finally I would say that for me, this process that Andi is undergoing is confronting.
However Andi is my friend and I certainly owe him for all the times he brought my wayward, alcohol-fuelled head back into the middle ground when we were at uni particularly. 
And there is no boofier, heterosexual bloke than me in this country, and if I can support Andi in this, then so can anyone.
And finally finally, when all this started over the phone with Andi, I was almost immediately reminded of one of my favourite Discworld characters, Rincewind.
Rincewind, via the author Terry Pratchett summed up nicely what I think about prejudice, which is what I'd like to think I'm not these days and hope the world is moving toward being not as well.
Rincewind was a sorely put-upon Wizzard(sic) who was constantly being yanked by magical means to far distant corners of the planet and there hexed, shot at, cursed, trampled, had swords waved at him and all the rest.
He was constantly required to save the Discworld though as he said, "I don't know why you're always asking me to do these things. I'm not dependable. I don't depend on me, and I'm me."
Anyway, at one point after some perennial last ditch escape from horrendous death done down by the creatures of the dark dimension, Rincewind retires to a nearby stump and ruminates: "Rincewind could honestly say he was without prejudice. He didn't care what sex you were, what colour you were, what species you were.
"He didn't care what organs you used for sexual or magical reproduction. He didn't care how much money you had, or how much you didn't.
No, in the end the only thing Rincewind cared about was that you weren't shooting at him."

Read more at Andi's blog: Andi Mac's MtF Transition

Wednesday, 7 May 2014