Now that the dust has somewhat settled from Caitlyn Jenner's debut, I felt like it was time for me to weigh in. I want to start off by saying, that while Ms. Jenner made quite a splash on the cover of Vanity Fair, coming out the way she did was inevitable. Being under the umbrella of the Kardashian brand and publicity machine, there would have been no way for Ms. Jenner to pull this off quietly. She has obviously made the most of the resources available to her, quite beautifully I might add, and my hope is, in the long run, that this will positively bring the awareness and understanding of transgender people that is so close to my heart. To those who have weighed in negatively, you are entitled to your opinion no matter how counterproductive it may be, but seriously, PEOPLE ARE TALKING ABOUT TRANSGENDER ISSUES! To me, that is HUGE!
I personally want to wish Caitlyn all the best that this new chapter in her life has to offer. I feel bad that anyone should have to wait until they are 65 years old to be able to live an authentic life. Given the high profile nature of who she is, it had to have taken an amazing amount of courage to finally decide that she could no longer go on living a life that prevented her from simply being herself.
Transition journeys are as unique as the people who undertake them. Hormone replacement therapy and different types of surgery to help bring a person to where they comfortably feel that their outside matches their inside, as well as many different kinds as psychological therapy and living life in female clothing are the main commonality in a male to female scenario. Pretty much everything else is unique to the individual. My biggest fear is that unenlightened people will use Caitlyn as a template for the male to female transition experience. For so many reasons, what she has shared and what has been written about her unique journey, is not anywhere close to the experiences of the majority of transgender people.
I think the best way I personally can help enlighten people in this context is by sharing some of my own transition journey and compare it with Caitlyn's. We are of a similar age, 61 for me and 65 for her, and come from middle class backgrounds, me in Wisconsin, her in New York. In an effort to cure myself of whatever it was that I did not understand about myself at 21, I married a woman. Caitlyn married a woman. There is where our paths diverge in totally different directions. I got an annulment and she stayed married and had children.
There are some myths related to transitioning. Body parts and appearance do not make a woman. Gender has absolutely nothing to do with sexual preference. Everyone's needs are different. Many unenlightened people assume that all transgender women or men for that matter, want to or need to have every kind of surgery imaginable. One of the most rude and arrogant questions an unenlightened person can ask someone who is transgender, is "what surgeries have you had," or "what surgeries do you intend to have." A person's surgical history or desire for surgery is very personal and private. In an effort to help enlighten people, I have made myself available to people I meet to ask me any questions they want. That is my personal choice and don't assume all transgender people feel the same way.
Some people require several surgeries to come to the level of feminization that they feel is what they need to make their outside appearance coexist comfortably with who they are inside. Surgery comes with a whole set of challenges all by itself. Adam's apple shave, facial feminization, breast implants, genital surgery, hair plugs are just some of the procedures that people have in total or in combinations for the different needs of individuals. We all know that surgery is painful. We also know that any time you are under anesthesia, you put yourself at risk for not waking up. There is a huge list of other physical complications that can come with any kind of surgery.
One of the worst, for many, is the anxiety related to surgery. How much pain am I going to have, what am I going to look like, will I function normally, are just a few contributors to the anxiety of someone transitioning. For myself, and most people I know who have transitioned, the biggest anxiety was, how am I going to pay for it all? I would imagine Caitlyn had a combination of anxiety, but was fortunate enough not to have to worry about the cost. They say money can't buy happiness, but it sure can buy surgery.
In my case, I feel very fortunate. I started my transition in the late seventies. In 1980 I was diagnosed by my endocrinologist as being intersex. Like all women, I was born with two X chromosomes. But, like all men, I was also born with a Y chromosome. In my case, the Y chromosome was always the extra chromosome. My earliest memory is of saying my nightly prayers at the age of four asking God to let me wake up the little girl I was supposed to be. I was always very effeminate and when I went through puberty I developed large breasts. I never had the challenge of trying to look female. My challenge, as I was being raised male, was to look and act like a male.
A wonderful thing happened to me. After all those years of stressing out over how I would pay for surgery, because of my intersex diagnosis, my health care provider paid for my genital surgery, the only surgery related to my transition I felt necessary.
Before surgery, I was required to be evaluated by two psychiatrists and a psychologist. This is something that is absolutely crucial. No surgery should ever be undertaken lightly for any reason other than it is absolutely necessary. Genital surgery is irreversible, so being in the right psychological frame of mind is essential. Something happened to me during the psychological evaluation process that would direct me down a very damaging path until the age of 53, when I finally started living my authentic self. I may have gotten the correct plumbing at 28, but I was still living a lie.
Passing or going into stealth mode, in other words, blending into society as a woman without people knowing you are transgender, is something that is a concern for transgender women. I never had a problem with passing. Because of this, one of the psychiatrists I saw told me that if I wanted to have a normal life, I would have to keep my gender situation private. This was told to me in 1980 when little was known about the long-term ramifications of living as a transgender woman. Thankfully, this no longer happens. The fact that I was intersex and born with two X chromosomes helped me to justify staying private, even from the two men I eventually married and divorced. The fact that Caitlin is living her authentic life out and proud was something that took me over 25 years to come to terms with. I don't recommend anyone live with secrets. It damaged my life in too many ways to list here.
Growing up male was for me and many other transgender women that I know, very traumatic. I was constantly confused about who I was and how to conduct myself. I am heterosexual and at the age of 14, because I had an attraction to boys, I was lured into a situation where I was sexually assaulted by two 17 year old male friends of my brother. Had I been raised with the knowledge that I was fine the way I was, this would have not happened to me. Children need to be loved and encouraged to be themselves, whoever they are!
That was my first experience with sexual violence, but would not be my last. Transitioning in the late seventies and early eighties was dangerous. I was raped by a New Orleans police sergeant and beaten and raped by a man that would go on to murder a transgender woman. They were nice to me at the hospital until they found out I had a penis. I was then told to leave as none of my injuries were life threatening. The police who were supposed to take a report of what happened to me and three nurses were laughing and catcalling at me as I was leaving.
You would think that in this day and age, all transgender women along with Caitlyn would be able to transition safely. Unfortunately, that is not the situation. Transgender women are at risk for violence in a disproportionately higher rate than biological women. Many who transition young like I did, wind up in the streets addicted to drugs because there are no jobs available for them. Many have no family support and there are few, if any community resources available to them. The bottom line is we need, at the very least a trans inclusive ENDA.
I was consumed in those early years trying to figure out how I was going to pay for surgery. I started college, but could not concentrate and had to drop out. I could barely hold a job. A job that I had only because I could pass. These are all problems that access to resources can solve. Most who wait until much later in life to transition and have financial resources, like Caitlyn, do not face these problems. However, it comes at the cost of losing all of those years living as someone who they are not. Many who wait that long also have families and all the associated problems that come with that situation.
When I came back out at the age of 53 and told everyone in my life my story, it set me free. Since then, because of all of the breaks and good fortune I have had, I am doing everything that a disabled, retired truck driver living in a nice little RV in Missouri on a fixed income can do to promote intersex and transgender awareness and understanding. I am proud that I survived growing up, I am proud to be a survivor, not a victim of sexual violence and you can add to that list, cancer survivor. People think I have had a tough journey, but compared to many, I am blessed!
Our youth deserve every break they can get on their transition journey. In her interview with Diane Sawyer, Caitlyn expressed a desire to do what she can to help transgender youth. I am looking forward to her being in the struggle with the rest of us that just want to live our lives in safety and with dignity. We all need to pull together and do what we can to make things better for the younger generation. With her current resources and whatever resources come from the reality show path she goes down, she has an opportunity like no one before her to make a real difference as she has said she wants to. I have faith that she will. We know the hero spirit resides inside Caitlyn and I am looking forward to seeing her set it free. Love and hugs from Trucker Patti!
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