Thursday, 31 July 2014

Dealing with low mood

It's another depressing entry into the blog of life I'm afraid but it seems that it comes with the territory of transitioning. I am not normally a negative person, but my whole escapade through the medical part of this journey has led to some very challenging times. I really wanted to do a hormone update to describe a year on them, but this is more relevant to my situation at the moment.

When I finally got through the whole process of 2nd opinion and referral for surgery, I really felt my troubles were over. I was finally on the move towards my gender reassignment surgery (GRS) and in the hands of the Nuffield group who were never going to mess me around. I should have realised it was too good to be true because sure enough there were more problems to overcome. This has come in the form of a lack of funding. As my previous entry described, last Tuesday I was cleared medically for my surgery and then told I would be given no date until the funding situation was sorted.

I have spent the last week having to deal with very up and down feelings. Some days I have been extremely low and others I have managed to pick myself and get on with things. The weekend was not helped by a supposed pair of friends deciding to lash out at me for being selfish in wanting my surgery sooner rather than waiting an undetermined amount of time.

A week on and I am still in a very sensitive place. A part of the reason for this are the emotional changes brought on by the hormones I now take. The daily dose of estradiol I take has changed the way I deal mentally with everything. As a man I could get over a problem like this and then pack it away permanently dealt with. As a woman, it is not so easy and problems need to be revisited. Speaking to cis-women confirms this so I suppose at least this is an affirmation of my gender. 

But it's bloody hard to deal with sometimes. Just this afternoon, after a positive morning, I find myself in tears and struggling to deal with things. I examine why I am like this and it is mainly because I do not know what the situation is. When I was referred, I was told to expect a date for surgery of approximately November or December. If the funding situation does not resolve, I could be expecting April to June next year. If I was contacted tomorrow, and told my surgery was mid May next year, I could probably handle that because at least I would have a goal to aim for. 

To add to the problem, people are being told different things when they go for their pre-op assessment. Some are being told they are going to get dates, and others like myself are being told they wont get dates. This is just adding to everyone's anxiety and tension.

I am also finding that I am having prolonged spells of anhedonia,, which are making day to day life difficult. Things that used to interest me or give me pleasure are not working and it is making for long and difficult days. Sometimes I feel that I am just getting up, getting through the day and then going to bed just to get to the next day. I feel like I am wasting my life and achieving nothing with myself.

Am I depressed? This is a tricky one to answer definitively. I have had periods of this in the past but they have resolved in a number of days. However, I may not get any news on this situation for a number of weeks, possibly September. I do have a friend visiting in a few days and she is staying for nearly two weeks. This should lift me for a time, and perhaps just talking to someone else may help. My partner Mandy has helped by listening, this but sometimes another pair of ears can help in different ways. This is not an criticism of Mandy, but sometimes it's hard to burden those closest to you and they can often struggle to support because they are concerned for you.

Of course my friend will be disappearing in a couple of weeks and I may be back where I was. I do have some projects that I am working on and I am hoping there will be some fruition of those so that I can have some distractions to take me away from this anxiety. Failing that, I am going to have to come up with something to get me out of this mire. If not, I am off to the GP for advice.

Friday, 25 July 2014

The highs, and lows at Brighton

***This post contains material that graphically details medical procedures involving the genitals. Please click away if you feel you are likely to be offended.***

It's been a few days since I made the trip for my pre-operative assessment at the Brighton Nuffield, but as it will become clear, I needed time to get my feelings in order to be able to write something rounded. This post contains serious spoilers about what happens during the pre-op. If you are due to have one in the future and do not want your experience spoiled then please do not read on.

This should be the final step in my transitioning prior to my gender reassignment surgery (GRS). The next trip will hopefully see me taking my suitcase to the hospital for the surgery itself. This is a tantalising position to be in, I can feel it but it still seems far away. Someone remarked recently that the closer they get to the end of this part of their transitioning, the further away it seems and that is a very apt way of putting it.

The day before the pre-op, I had an appointment with Lynda at the Laurel's. It was a bright and happy time for a change because I knew I was moving forwards. There was a dark cloud hovering over this because there were rumors of a possibility that my funding for my GRS could be delayed until next April. I had heard this from many sources, including a very high up one, but I wanted to be optimistic that there were going to be no more problems for me.

We got home, and a friend who wanted to come with us to Brighton, arrived. We had a very pleasant afternoon and evening and I settled into bed excited about my day ahead.

It was a very early start, we had nearly 170 miles to travel on pretty awful roads. This was one appointment I must not be late for and I was determined to have plenty of time. We made good progress but when we finally got to the M27, it was brake lights everywhere and then 45 minutes of crawling through to an accident. The motorway was down to 1 lane and after we emerged, I decided to go a little faster to try to get some time back. A mile later and it's brake lights again, and yes another accident! This was a little quicker to get through and it was then relatively steady to Brighton itself. As I was driving down the hill towards the hospital, I remarked how I felt like I was at some sort of Mecca. It felt a little like that, this was somewhere that takes a phenomenal amount of courage, effort and time to get to but I was finally there.

We were 45 minutes early in the end, this made me extremely glad that I set off with 2 hours to spare, we needed some of that time! We settled ourselves down and waited. Eventually a lady arrives and asks my name. She then gives me this massive form to fill out. Luckily, you only fill it to page 5 and a great deal of it are tick boxes which are often irrelevant. A word of advice if you are going, take your GP's address and phone number, I was certainly glad I did!

After filling in the form, I was then asked to join two others and we were led into a room. This was to be a group session to explain what was going to happen. The clinic manager, Liz Hills, took this part of the experience and it started by showing us some anatomy and how the surgery works. Although I knew what was going to happen, it was helpful to see it on a model. I did explain what is involved in my perineal LASER write up a couple of months ago which you can find here. There are two types of surgery, penile inversion and penile-scrotal inversion. The first uses just the skin from the penis and the second uses scrotal skin to add to the penis if it is too small. The penile inversion is the best option and carries less chance of failure or complications.

We are then showed dilators, and it is surprising how large and long they are. Douching is also discussed and when I am post-op, I will have to douche often to keep the vaginal canal clean. Unlike a cis-women, my vagina will not have the capability to clean itself, therefore it has to be cleaned by me. Other things are discussed including an outline of the 9 days in the hospital. This is also laid in a document given to us, it describes the surgery and what follows. We are also shown pictures of vaginas, from both cis and trans women. Apparently some trans women expect perfection, which is often not the case. Myself, I will be overjoyed if it looks half as good as some of the photo's I was shown. There was some discussion of blood tests and swabs at our GP's prior to surgery as well as needing to get a prescription for a phenomenal amount of KY jelly!

Then the subject of funding rears it's ugly head and sadly one of the three of us wasn't aware of this problem. She became so distraught at the thought of yet more delays, she eventually had to leave the room. Someone did go off to check on her and the two of us left discussed it in more depth with Liz. The issues seem very real, if no more funding is available, I will have to get in the queue which will restart in April. There is a real possibility at this moment, that May or even June could be the date, another 10-11 months.

We are led out and then wait to see the surgeon individually. I was second in and we discuss my medical history which is minimal. I have a couple of minor long term ailments and two surgical procedures in the past. I am also asked about my commencement of my RLE and how it has been. Then it is time for the examination, the best bit! Given that I have had all my downstairs LASER'ed a couple of times, I am more than ready to show all now! I take my knickers off and lie on the bed. The surgeon comes over pulls my penis up towards my face, stretches it down towards my anus and declares it is a good length and appropriate for a penile inversion. There is no need for hair removal either. 30 seconds was all it took, and I kind of feel a little cheated! I had to throw my dignity out of the window and bare all for this brief amount of time!

I redressed and went back to the chair. I said I had two more sessions of LASER booked and he replied that it was my choice whether to proceed with them or not and that if I do get any post-op hair, it will be accessible. Personally, I will continue with the LASER. I decided then to ask about dates, everything up to then had been vague and I wanted answer. I was told there would be no more dates given until the funding issue was resolved. I was however told I was ready for surgery and could go on the board, probably their term for the queue! He was then off talking to his Dictaphone and I was shown to the door. I discuss a few more things with Liz about the funding and then I am back in the waiting area.

The final part was a brief tour of the ward and rooms. Even with the doom and gloom of the delay, I managed to try to take it in. It was actually quite surreal seeing the view and rooms that I had seen in so many photo's previously. I was going to get here but it could be a bloody long way away.

When I was finally let go, I found my partner and friend and told them that it was definite. If there was no money, there would be no date. The starkness if this then hit me and it was a thoroughly miserable journey home. I admit to driving like a lunatic as well, I was not in a good place. I didn't go much over the speed limits but I pushed my poor car very hard indeed - I just wanted to get home as quickly as possible.

On reflection, I was saddened that such an important part of my transitioning was completely ruined by these funding issues. I have started complaining and pushing myself as well as knowing there are a number of other factors doing the same. It could turnaround or it could be a long wait. Not knowing is probably the worst of it all. It's a shame to end on yet another bleak note, but that's often the reality of this life.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Dealing with hate crime and incidents

As a transgender woman, I find that abuse is something that comes with the territory. It is not right that I should endure any abuse by simply trying to live my life in the way I find comfortable but the sad reality is that it does exist and I have had to develop strategies to deal with it. I also push my partner around in a wheelchair, and many will be shocked to find that she is sometimes subject to some forms of abuse. This is often much more subtle and less noticeable but it is still quite prevalent. We are also a same gender couple, lesbians in fact, and we have multiple reasons for attracting attention.

It was four years ago, July 2010, that I made my first steps in public in Bristol. I have encountered small levels of abuse in that time but nothing really serious. They ranged from the sniggering designed to draw attention to me to comments like "tranny" and "bloke in a dress". For my partner and her disability, we encounter stares and hostility towards the wheelchair. This has extended to abuse, particularly when people have to get out of our way when blocking our path. She also has to tolerate an age issue, people seem to think she is too young to be sat in a wheelchair.

Up to now, I have never felt the need to report anything because it has not affected me enough to warrant doing so. However, as time goes by, I find myself hearing more stories of much more serious levels of hatred and I have realised that perhaps I need to start being proactive in trying to reduce levels of abuse on the streets.

This weekend has seen some abuse towards myself that I felt it was time to do something and report it. This was no ordinary abuse, it was malicious and designed to provoke a reaction. It was clear to me that a confrontation was sought following the abuse however, it did not go quite to plan for the person(s) involved.

I can't go into all the full details, it will become clear why at the end.

We walked into Taunton town on Saturday morning, via the canal as we have done virtually every weekend since moving to Taunton. At Firepool lock, I noticed two people sat at a bench by the lock gates. I thought nothing of this and we continued towards the river. Within a few yards of passing these people, I was subject to some pretty transphobic abuse that was clearly aimed at me. I let the first tirade pass, but it then continued and I turned and confirmed that it was being directed at me. I continued moving along the path, whilst it was still being hurled at me and when I had reached a safe distance, I decided to ring the police and report it as an incident.

You have two choices if you wish to ring the police for this purpose in the UK. If you are in danger and need emergency assistance then you would dial 999 (or 112). This will get you straight to an emergency operator with no queues or menu options. If there is no immediate danger, you can call 101 instead which is the dedicated police enquiry line for the area you are in. When using a landline, you are given and option of checking that you want to call the police force for the area the line is installed. If you are using a mobile phone, you are given different options because the phone system determines your approximate location from the phone mast you are connected to and you may actually be in another area.

I felt at the time, I was in between safe and danger and decided on 101 and to report it as a hate incident and not a crime. I was connected and started the process of logging the event and giving descriptions. Whilst doing so, a car was dispatched and en-route. This surprised me, as I was just looking to log the event not actually get it investigated. I was also asked to move further away from the area for my safety, so whilst talking on the phone I managed to move the wheelchair with one hand towards a busier public area. Eventually the call ended and we awaited someone to come and speak to us.

We waited a reasonable time, and I heard some shouting from where the incident had happened. I could make out a white car over there as well as hearing some loud shouting. The guilty parties were obviously not to happy at the harassment being turned around and being given back to them! A PCSO found us and took our details, I gave them a time when we would be back home and we then carried on with our business in town.

We got back midday and then waited for someone to contact us. We waited, and waited and eventually an operator rang us to say that someone would definitely be with us by the evening. We went to bed eventually and I got up the next morning to find a missed call on my mobile indicating they had rung me at 22.50! I was also asked to ring back on 101 by text message and give a time when I could give my statement that day. I ignored this, it was starting to become a pain in my backside and I was losing confidence in the whole system. Again, at 8.00 I got another text message hassling me so I rang 101 and gave my incident number. I then apologised to the operator for what I was about to tell him, and then proceed to have a rant about how I, the victim, was the one being put out the most in the whole episode. I had a very small window of availability on Sunday due to having to take a friend to Cornwall for an operation and gave them a three hour opportunity - 11.00 - 14.00. 

I had pretty much given up by the time an officer arrived, but she was prompt at 11.00 exactly. I must admit, I felt she had been chosen given how concerned and sensitive she was to our situation. She gave me some facts about the parties concerned, they were well known to the police but this was the first trans related incident. I then gave my statement and my description of the people involved. Something I did note, was that how I felt was asked and how it affected. It was also explained to me that they were considering this a crime and not an incident but the sad reality was that my statement and description were not good enough to have any promise of success in court. I did agree with this and accepted that it was only going to go as far as awareness. She was keen not to influence me in my decision, but I am only too aware that you need serious evidence to pursue prosecutions and what we had was too flaky. The parties were going to be "talked to" and my evidence held on record in case a bigger profile was built. She left, giving me the details of the officer who handles LGBT issues for our area. She also rang me on Monday and left a message confirming all of this and a reference number.

What can I take from all this? Firstly, I would without hesitation go through all this again if I had to. This was a pretty offensive piece of abuse and as I said, engineered to provoke a reaction. The reaction they got was unexpected and I take some small measure of satisfaction in pissing them off!

I was disappointed that I was messed around by the police on Saturday. Although they made up for this by the attitude of the officer on Sunday, I still felt very put out that as a victim, I had to sit and wait for them. I have spoken to other trans-people about hate crime and heard some horrific stories. Yet very few ever report any of these crimes or incidents. Some of the stories I have heard include serious threats of violence, and yet it was not worth the hassle of reporting. 

I also felt very aware that my descriptions of the individuals involved were inadequate and in the future, I need to make myself take more note of what harassers look like. I also need to remember better what has been said so that statements can be stronger. One thing about Saturday was that it took me completely by surprise. I have had no trans abuse whatsoever for many weeks, if not months, because my appearance has become much more feminine with the hormonal changes and significant weight loss. It came so unexpectedly, and by the time I was aware of what was happening, I was already too far from the perpetrators to be able to get a good look at them.

I have also written to a Somerset hate crime organisation, suggesting that the whole process needs to be improved with victims in mind.

To finish off, whilst the process was not perfect, I was happy with the response I got. I was very keen not to let this get to me, and Sunday we walked the same route again. No one was there this time, but today when going past there they were. They would not even look at me and not a word was uttered. Whether the message has gotten through, I do not know. I seriously doubt it, and I know there was drink and drugs involved on Saturday, so they may not even remember what they did. I also noticed today that they have moved away from the lock a little and into a more secluded area, away from the path. 

I would urge anyone that has had abuse like this or worse, to report it without hesitation. It's a hassle, but nothing will change if nothing is done.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

The positives of being transgender

Whoa!!! Controversial title or what! 

There are so many difficulties with having to live a gender different to the one you were assigned at birth, that it seems bizarre to even think of any of it as a positive experience. Everything I write next is solely based on my personal experiences and I fully appreciate that many will not have as good a journey as I have done. However, I have approached my transitioning in as positive a way as possible and I wonder whether this is why I have got to where I have with very few hitches.

Sure there have been negatives and most of them caused by the medical profession, ironically the very people who were supposed to help me through it. But I've moaned enough about them in the past so lets get on with what has been good about this journey.

Living life as two different genders

This may seem a strange thing to day but it does have merit. Much as life as a man was severely unpleasant at times, some of the male experiences were worth living. This has led to a more rounded me and I am able to appreciate how life is for a man. I am very female now, finding comfort from many gender stereotypes but those male memories will remain for a great deal of time and I can particularly relate to transmen and why they wish to transition. I also know what it's like to live, work and love as two different genders and it is very insightful. It's a unique situation and only I and other transpeople can experience this.

Being less judgmental

I am definitely much less judgmental than I used to be. I suppose that being exposed to levels of abuse on the streets gives you an insight as to how others may feel with their differences. I am much more able to listen to all sides of the story and perhaps understand why others get in the difficulties they are in and not judge even if those problems seem self inflicted.

Being a part of other trans people's lives

I have needed support occasionally from others, but have found giving support is as rewarding as seeking it. Helping someone else achieve something is a privilege and seeing that the results are even more rewarding. Being a part of and contributing to someones journey means you are forever remembered in that person's life. 

Another very rewarding side of this is that often the only thing you will have in common with other trans people is just that; being trans. This leads to rich relationships with others because you will find yourself having to accept different views and opinions as well as having to take interest in hobbies and activities that you might otherwise never have even known about.

Helping educate others

This is something that I have achieved a great deal of. I am very honest and open and I'll tell anyone anything about my journey. Telling my story gains me a massive amount of enjoyment and by going over everything I have achieved, helps me realise how much I have done. I know for a fact there are others who have a much better perspective of the difficulties we face.

I am still amazed by how many people really want to take an interest in my journey. Even today, we went to pick up the tax disc for my partners motability car and the lady at the dealers asked about whether we had taken the car for a long drive yet. I mentioned I had my pre-op appointment at Brighton which would involve a long drive and she seemed so pleased. She insisted that we tell her when my eventual GRS was and how it all goes. I find my days littered with such genuine interest and find it a pleasure sharing my journey.

Being in charge of your own life

I had to throw away my male self and literally start over. This gave me a unique opportunity to make myself who I truly wanted to be. I am by no means perfect, but I do like what I have achieved and love the fact there is still work to be done.

Changing yourself with hormones

This has to be the most fascinating experience of them all. I remember my puberty as a horrible time. I was turning into the man I did not want to be. Skip forward 25 years and I get to do it all over again but into the woman I always was. Add to that fact, I am a mature adult and very aware of changes and it makes for a very positive time. I got to watch my face change, my breasts develop, my body shape alter and of course many emotional changes. It was almost worth waiting for this long, to be able to appreciate it with the benefit of all those years behind me.

Appreciating help others give

This is more about the people you encounter over the course of transitioning. I think of the people like Lynne at the Exeter Nuffield who has done all my LASER treatments, Nicola who has done all my electrolysis, Lynda at the Laurel's and many more. Although they are all paid, they have given me so much and I feel so humbled at the effort they all made to make me feel normal. It helps confidence no end when you realise the world is not against you.

Being more open minded

I am much more open to ideas and suggestions that I would never have considered in the past. I had too many years of being closed minded and dismissive and anything I could not comprehend. Having this attitude has led to a few experiences that have been very positive.

Realising what you have achieved

I lived 38 years as the wrong gender, admitted my issues and started living as the correct gender. What I had to do to achieve this is sometimes mind boggling, there was so much to do. So perhaps this was the most positive thing I can take from my journey. I made it (nearly) to the end and it was so worth it.

Friday, 4 July 2014

My 2nd Re-birthday

This is just a quick post because it has been a very busy week. I have had a good friend, Susan, staying with us since Monday and it has been difficult to find the time to write.

4th July, 2012 was the day I changed my name and started living full time as a woman. I have never looked back since that day and I do not regret a moment living as the woman I should have started life as. 

Someone on Facebook called it my re-birthday. I have always joked about having two birthdays but I must admit, I like the term re-birthday. It separates it from my birth birthday and I actually feel more passionately about today than my birthday. It was the final removal of the man in me and that start of my new and more enjoyable life.

Also this week I had my appointment at the Laurel's. It was a much more positive meeting with the Dr. as well as a very good meeting with the clinic manager. The mistakes they have made were admitted, apologised for and plans set in place to ensure they happen to no one else. 

On returning home from the Laurel's, I was phoned by a lovely lady from the Brighton Nuffield. To my surprise, I found myself being offered the 22nd July as my pre-op date. This was much quicker than I expected and it feels like things are really moving forward with my GRS. There are however dark clouds on the horizon because the rumors are that finances are an issue with regards GRS this but I will try to stay positive and hope that before the end of the year, I will be recovering from my GRS.