Wednesday, 12 February 2014

My Theorum [By Cassandra]

The stories of cross gender behaviour can be traced back into the mists of time. Not only throughout Greek and Roman mythology but in the histories of every nation on earth, Even the Catholic Church as vehemently against the concept as it is, is not free of cross gender episodes in the form of Pope Joan. Pope Joan is recorded as Pope Johan VII and was only discovered when she went into labour on her way to the altar. She was then stoned to death by the Cardinals present and any record of her existence written out of papal history with some very creative book-keeping by the very embarrassed clergymen. Unfortunately for the Catholic Church historians keep digging up records proving her existence.

So we can say that transsexuals have existed throughout time and are not new to our modern society. Many cultures around the world hold transsexuals up as divine and revered figures. Others ostracise them ridicule them or most often both. Often they are treated very badly by their communities. What is new to modern society is the apparent prevalence of transsexuals or those who lay claim to being transsexuals. As a very young child it was the Greek and Roman mythology that I first came across while looking for answers to my own sex v body conflict. It was not until I read about Christine Jorgensen and I learned that something could be done about my very strong feelings that my body was wrong. In that regard I am like many others of my generation. Christine turned the light on for many of us and she certainly turned on the light for me.

This however is not in any way about me but rather about my observations made and conclusions I arrived at during a little more than two years that I spent counselling those who experienced conflict and confusion to varying degrees concerning their sex, their sexuality and gender. I am not now a particularly religious person in any way, my Mother was a lapsed Catholic for various reasons that are not relevant here, but at one time my own (non Catholic) faith led me to work with Samaritans for a time and as a result gained some knowledge of counselling techniques. The large numbers of transvestites and transsexuals who called (or those who claimed to be transsexuals) caused me to work in that field, especially given my own feelings and personal experience in the field. It also helped me sort out a few things for myself during a very difficult time in my life. I will always be very grateful to that organisation.

At first I worked the call centre for a support group for transvestites and transsexuals not connected with Samaritans and later began one on one counselling for them. Over the course of a little more than two years I saw around two hundred members or clients and spoke with many hundreds more on the telephone. The vast majority who called our help lines were transvestites. Some just looking for company some looking for “cures” some distressed and confused about whether or not their transvestism meant they were homosexual. Our strategy was to get them along to at least one group meeting and let the very normal and social aspect of the group meetings sort out a lot of their problems for us. Most of their stress is caused by the sheer isolation due to the fact they feel they cannot tell anyone. Back then transvestism did not enjoy the relative social acceptance of today; the internet had not been established along with the vast amount of information available to today’s internet savvy generations. So finding and meeting others who felt the same urges was often more than enough to calm their angst.

For those who came to me for one on one counselling I began to notice some similarities. I always made copious notes during and after consultations to keep track of where we had got to in our sessions and comparing replies to questions posed after exposure to the general group compared to the same question posed during our first encounters, I got different replies. As a compassionate counsellor the temptation is to write off the disparity with the conclusion that the calming influence of the group had encouraged a clearer understanding of themselves. That was a tempting conclusion but I wanted more evidence because I was suspicious that there was a pattern emerging.

As their exposure to the social atmosphere of the group increased and an air of normality crept into many of the transvestite men’s lives, so, for some, their desire to expand the length of time cross dressed increased. In some ways it seemed to behave much like a narcotic drug. The more they had of the drug the more they wanted and needed to obtain satisfaction. There were a few transsexual women within the group and I knew their narratives since I had talked at length with every one of them. Some of those individuals, who had previously presented to me as transvestite, came to me later expressing a belief that they were beginning to believe they were transsexual. I had observed these men talking with the transsexual group members or those who claimed to be transsexual on many occasions. I resisted the temptation to simply dismiss their claims and instead explored their feelings with them over again and also their childhood memories, their medical history etc. I then compared results with my earlier notes when the same topics were explored. In all such cases there were some glaring contradictions. Much of the newly claimed narrative was remarkably similar to those of the genuine transsexuals in the group. As a caring counsellor I became concerned for their welfare. It did not matter that they were lying to me, whether as a result of plain lying or delusion it didn’t matter. It did matter that they were either lying to themselves or deluding themselves. What had happened was that much of the narrative of the transsexual had been assigned to their own life as if it were their own. Or, (and I am being kind here) events in their life adapted to suit the needed story. It became easy to spot.

At this stage it was my policy to refer the individual on to one of the city’s two gender clinics. The group had a good relationship with both and we made it a policy to support their work and not get involved with psychiatric issues for which we had not been trained or qualified. Although, we did assist with helping the client or member to identify what their issues were and become at peace with themselves and with those around them.

The pattern became clearer as time went by; virtually all of the men had additional issues to the presented conflict of what sex they felt themselves to be. There were a few members of the group who called themselves transsexual and where undergoing HRT etc under medical supervision whom I never counselled as such but with whom I talked at length. These people had additional issues to the presented sex conflict. The issues fitted into a narrow range and are quite difficult as a counsellor to have to deal with. A large percentage of them were solitary single men who found relationships with anyone difficult and hard to come by. Relationships with women were almost non-existent except for their mothers or siblings. Dyslexia seemed quite common and there appeared to be a statistical link, though from a psychological standpoint I am not convinced that sex conflict and dyslexia have any relationship. All of this group were difficult to handle and many continued to ask for counselling even after I had referred them through to the gender clinic. In all the time I was counselling I never once refused to introduce anyone to more specialist practitioner if that was indeed what they wished, I saw it as my function to help these people achieve what they wanted and not stand in their way. A great many at times were suicidal and my experience at Samaritans was invaluable when attempting to help them.

The easiest group to deal with were the loud, brash, and downright fetish based transvestites simply confused about the implications of their needs. In most cases all they needed was to embrace their desires and to find space in their lives away from partners if indeed their partners were unable to share or participate in their need. Transvestism is only a problem if the affected person cannot find release or if it is allowed to take over their life. When that happens, that is when I watched a large percentage progress right through the gender clinics programme of treatment. During the ongoing sessions I had with this group the life narrative gradually changed and bore no relationship to the original one I had initially noted down. When I’d had enough of the discrepancies I calmly brought these differences up in our conversations and the requests for counselling sessions usually ceased! Much to my relief, I could not help anyone if they were not being honest with me; usually the individual concerned would get as far as starting the RLT and then go back to simple cross dressing. Tragically their home life, marriage, family life and social life was usually destroyed forever. There was however precious little I or anyone else could do to prevent the inevitable from happening. I always tried to persuade them to at least be honest with themselves and take their decisions for the right reasons and not through some fantasy or misguided desire.

Every now and then someone quite different walked into the office. A few were already full-time as female but many presented to me initially in male clothes. A small number would at first present asking to come to terms with what they assumed was their transvestism. Without exception this group had somehow married and fathered children. Their distress however was intense and at first they were difficult to handle. I ended up crying with a great many of these people. Their narratives were markedly similar and never differed from my initial consultation to the time they left me. A small number are still in contact with me and are counted as friends. I never once argued with any of my clients as to what they saw as their issue or what they presented as their problems. I asked questions of them and suggested they examine a particular aspect of their feelings and their reactions to different situations. Whether it was an event that troubled them or made them happy, I did not see it as my function to tell them what their problem was but rather to assist them in finding out for themselves by getting them to ask themselves the right questions.

The smallest group of all and I only ever saw a handful in the two years I was involved always came presenting fully female, one girl aged 16 came with her Mother. Ages varied from around 16 (who came with Mum) to one who was in her early 20’s.For convenience I’ll refer to her as Sally. Their family had treated her as a gay male and it was true Sally had been in an essentially gay relationship for several years. She was difficult to help as she had already gotten on to a psychiatrist who was basically trying to guide her back into a gay relationship and holding her on a very low dose HRT course. It took me a year to get her along to a more open-minded doctor. She is one of my more spectacular success stories. Now married and a successful photographer. I still hear from her occasionally and I will talk about Sally more, later in this article.

These two groups have something in common that I have not noticed anyone else talk about. I never took on a female to male case preferring others in the group to take that issue on. I did however talk at length with many of these guys and over several years. What I noticed was that the male to female of my last two groups started out in appearance pretty much where the guys ended up. (I will talk about this in detail later) It was at that point of realisation that I began to look back over the notes I had taken on the many I had counselled over the previous year and a half or so. A further realisation hit me and answered some questions I had about myself. I found I could identify and relate to only a very few of any of those I had counselled over the years. What I had been doing was putting all of their issues into a compartment and dealing with the issues at arm’s length. The last two groups were much more difficult for me to keep my distance.

Finding out about myself was the main reason I had taken on the task of counselling in the first place and here I was now finally getting to the base of not just my own conflict but perhaps at something more far-reaching, the transsexual phenomenon itself. There were two possibly three groups of “sex confused” The term Transgender had recently been introduced to us by a visit from Virginia (Charles) Prince and I’d had many quite heated debates with colleagues over the term and their use of the word to cover anything and everything that was sex or gender variant and the concept that all were varying degrees of the same thing. It did not match with my own observations of my clients. Added to which I saw and still see sex and gender as quite different one from the other.

My final two groups are in many ways really one group and I later reduced my groupings to three and not four in the light of experience. They were similar in that their recollections of feeling totally wrong went back deep into childhood and usually around the age of three. The other two groups did not feel any problems until at least 11 or 12 years old, a few later still. There appeared to be a fundamental difference in that there was a powerful motivation to correct physical sex and then move on. And it is upon this motivation that I began to focus my attention. It’s ironic that over 18 months into my involvement with the issue I found Harry Benjamin’s book. My copy became tattered and thumbed as I wrote all over it and read and re-read what he had to say. I checked my statistics against his and my own system of grouping my clients and I was so close to Harry Benjamin’s that it served to confirm that I was indeed on the right track.

I compared the early life narratives of my six to those of the rest of the group I had classified genuine transsexual. The patterns were markedly similar and differed only in that they had succumbed to parental pressure and then society had made forced a life on them that they did not want and had difficulty dealing with. In the case of my six parents had been a lot more understanding of their child’s needs. In essence what I had seen as four groups became only three.

Group One

Transvestites, or cross dressers are the same thing there is no difference even though there are some who protest that there is a difference there is not. It’s just that cross dressers don’t like the word transvestite; it’s as simple as that. Essentially it is not a problem for the person if they find release and it does not interfere with their daily life. It is even less of a problem if a partner can participate or even tolerate the behaviour. With a tiny exception all make excellent Fathers husbands and lovers and find a happy life and enjoy a harmless practice. From a counselling standpoint I found this group by far the simplest to help, unless they became distracted or were lead into believing there was something more to their dressing than there actually was. However I could usually straighten that issue quite quickly with some carefully constructed questions.

It is worth mentioning that I did some research into the kind of fantasy material a lot of transvestites enjoy and it threw up some interesting results. The stories and fantasy scenarios almost always involved a forced, accidental or some kind of magical transformation or situation where cross dressing was “not their responsibility”. Once cross dressed or transformed the subject became involved in a sexual encounter with a woman. It seems to me that this confirms the heterosexual nature of transvestism. Any encounter with a male is in all cases reviled and feared though often fantasised about.

For an essentially harmless fetish transvestism carries with it an inordinate depth of guilt. Remove the guilt and the transvestite stabilises and returns to an incredibly normal human being, if a little eccentric.

Group Two

It is this group that probably wears the descriptive “transgender” most comfortably. My perception of this group is that the fantasies previously described become a part of their mainstream life. The core identity of this group is essentially male and behaviour quite typically male in many aspects. Probably quite unconsciously the affected person adopts and adapts their narrative to fit the desire and the distress they feel is genuine, deep rooted and often in fact usually quite acute. It is easy to dismiss the behaviour and psychology as founded in fetish desire and behaviour, many did confess fetish tendencies. However, after extensive consultations with more than a hundred cases I have no doubt that there are strong psychosexual root causes. Possibly environmental to varying degrees, for example if there is a history of sexual abuse in childhood it may be convenient to blame transgender desires on this. I encountered a few cases where it is quite possible that this was the case. I made it policy to pass such cases to psychiatric professionals. If the client is able to withstand any social rejection and then form and sustain a loving relationship while also supporting themselves in the process; the individual is always a better person for going along with their needs, even to the extent of genital surgery. However their desired outcome rarely means that they seek a closed narrative, preferring to live openly as one who has changed their sex. This is markedly different to the last group we will come to next.
In my view it is only possible to speculate as to the source of the very powerful need of these cases. Current medical opinion is to follow a code of practise laid down for a quite different group and so research in this field throws up conflicting results as many research subjects do not belong in this group at all and those who do, often tell researchers what they want or expect to hear. At least that has been my experience.

One of the most common factors in the life narrative of this group is the age at which they become aware of their desires. In the many hundreds of cases I encountered, it was never earlier than 9 or 10 in most cases a couple of years later and many not until late teenage years. A few in their 30’s many individuals also had some severe issues with which to deal; often socially isolated some lacking mental capacity and more than a few had drug and alcohol problems. Extreme shyness was common as was difficulty in socialisation. A great many of this group were in very successful professional jobs, highly educated and married with a good home as well as children. To all intents and purposes you might think they were without problems. I often ended up crying with many of the life narratives I heard if not during the session then certainly afterwards.

The privacy and confidential nature of the consultation room enables you to get a good understanding of what it is, that is at work in these people. What it is, that really motivates them and what in fact they seek for their future. I lost count of the number of times I was asked to cure them. There is of course no cure. For the transvestite, the most effective so-called cure is to find an outlet for the desire and get their transvestism into perspective in relation to the rest of their life. For this second group the desire to bring their cross sex behaviour into the mainstream of their life is an overpowering need and is much too powerful. What they seek is permission to express themselves within their relationship and the whole of their life as well as with the rest of society.
Unfortunately for this group acceptance is an uphill battle. Their physique often very masculine and their speech patterns and thought processes essentially masculine. With today’s medical advances there is much that can be done to help given that there are enough available resources. However, so often and very unfortunately their very personality and mental capacity cannot provide what is needed.

I made a habit of making notes of my impression of body language which I saw as an essential factor in how to proceed in helping my client. Rarely was there any sign of anything remotely feminine. Many tried but the effect unnatural and not at all convincing, certainly too my trained eye. But the most striking feature of all was the desired outcome which was to maintain home career and family but to do that as a woman. Very few of those I saw had ever had a sexual experience with a man, although there were a few who had. Many figured they could just be lesbian or even bi-sexual, why not? Over the period of time that I spent doing this work I came to accept the fact of this particular scenario even if I failed to understand how the psychology worked, never mind the sexuality.

The important issue for me here is not the sexuality but rather the fundamental sex of the individual and their choice of partner. That is not a sex issue but is a sexuality one and I do not wish to take this article into that field.

There appeared to be among this group a common desire to be very open about their change of sex once they had taken those steps. The majority could not hide this fact even if they had wanted to do so, not just because of their general appearance and demeanour but due to their common choice to remain with their wives. Many of their wives did reject their husbands and I often spent many hours either talking to wives on the phone or talking with them at the group meetings. The success of that approach depended largely on the willingness of both parties to accept compromise. Often the transgender men found new partners and then they lead quite happy lives, albeit with everyone around them knowing about their history. Sometimes I would hear them talking with other group members about how wonderful their life was an hour after I had just spent a couple of hours with them while they cried their eyes out over issues they were having to face with colleagues at work and other family members, their lost children as well as quite messy divorces. I often got a sore lip from biting it in the social areas of the group.

Group Three

Whenever someone from this group enters the room it is possible to recognise the differences between them and the other two groups in the very first couple of seconds. Upon interview their life narrative follows a distinct pattern and their expectations of their future life entirely different. Body language, speech patterns, physique in most cases is quite different from either transgender or transvestite. Even if the appearance of a transgender identified person is quite feminine, the body language and speech patterns differ to the trained observer, sometimes unfortunately to the untrained.

One of the clients who came to see me Sally, had been in a gay relationship since 18 years old, then in early 20’s the relationship ended because they need to be female and their partner wanted a male. For five years confused this poor girl had tried to be who their loved one had wanted. She explained that they had never got from the relationship any of the things they needed. Her doctor had placed her on anti-depressant and a low dose HRT regime and that was the way she had stayed for about three years. The poor girl was miserable and close to suicide.

Everything about this girl was female. Speech patterns, her needs from relationships, her movement and her view of her future. Significantly for me was her description of the moment she became self-aware. The realisations that there was something wrong with her body, something different about her from her sisters came when she was about three. She described it as like “Scotty had made a mistake on the transporter and added something that shouldn’t be there” There was no statement of “woman trapped in a man’s body” Which was the statement I heard most from the majority of the others I was counselling. I happen to believe that is a nonsensical statement by the way,
The essential factor that set this girl and the others like her apart from the other equally distressed people I saw was her desired outcome and the way in which she was prepared to go about making it happen. She did not need to have a dress or skirt on to be a female; she already was female whatever she happened to be wearing at the time. Her need was to relate to the world from the perspective of her core personality. To not be conscious constantly of her inability to respond fully to her own emotions and natural reflexes triggered by interactions with the rest of the world. Hearing this from her had me sobbing like a baby; it was the first time I had heard from anyone the exact same feelings as I felt myself.

Every time this girl looked in a mirror she saw a female looking back at her even though physically she had some quite male features. This was one of several features I found in the psychology of those I encountered with genuine (what we have come to call) HBS I shied away from using the term transsexual even back then and used it purely for convenience and differentiated my genuine cases by calling them the real deal or true transsexual. For one thing far too many full time transvestites were already using the term to describe themselves. For another it seemed to me that these genuine or true transsexuals were not going anywhere they were not already. The way they thought, interacted, moved, spoke even looked, they were all female. It was as plain (to me) as the nose on my face. I became convinced that there was a very physical source to this syndrome.

There was something fundamentally unique about this final if tiny group. It is true there were some masculine physical features but the weight of their physique was female and their brain psychology wholly female. It was not until one of the other counsellors introduced me to Carl the first female to male I had ever met that a realisation hit me. This person was all guy no doubt about that; quite attractive but had some residual feminine features especially in the face and lower body. Not enough for anyone to mistake him for female but nonetheless present. It struck me that his general appearance was much like many of the true transsexuals I knew. Over the next few weeks I met several more guys and they basically confirmed my initial thoughts.
The female to males seemed to end up looking quite similar to the way the male to female began. By this I do not mean that the guys looked like feminine men or that the women ended looking like masculine females. What I am trying to convey is that in the women especially, there were distinct and measurable physical features that were present in a great many of my clients. It was seeing Carl that triggered the recognition. Now one might think that this stands to reason from a biological point of view and you are entitled to say so what? That is a quite simplistic way of looking at the issue. Yes, but it made me consider what the source of the motivation was. I knew instinctively that there had to be a physical biological cause of classic transsexual that caused the phenomenon to occur in the first place.

I reasoned that the brain itself had to have a sex. I knew that the physical construction of female brains were different to males. Once I accepted that concept I further reasoned that whatever it was that created the sex of the brain had to if not control, then certainly influence, the way in which other organs and especially physical features developed. True transsexuals have a greater number of sex markers congruent with the sex of their brain, Hands are smaller, feet smaller noses smaller. Physical frame smaller and generally slightly wider hips than normal for a male. Often the effect of puberty was not as dramatic as in normal males, though not in all cases. This physicality also explained the marked difference in ages that the affected people became aware that they had something different about them. On a personal level more importantly for me, it answered questions I’d so far been unable to answer about myself.

There was a great deal of debate among colleagues concerning the differences among clients. The fashion at the time was that all were varying degrees of the same thing. They argued that different personalities were bound to be affected in different ways. The huge gap in the ages at which people became affected was ignored by everyone and the differing desires surrounding preferred outcome dismissed as simply personal preference with no cause other than emotional one. The differences in appearance put down to mere biological chance. I found this attitude impossible to cope with and it coincided with a big change in my own personal circumstances.

I was beginning to find dealing with the kind of pressures counselling entails difficult and emotionally draining. I was too close to my own demons for comfort. I needed to move on, so I applied for and was subsequently offered a position in industry. It meant I could begin a new life away from any knowledge of my medical history. My own motivation was one of, fix the physical issue and move on. So I took my opportunity for new life and a new beginning and made a move to a new city, putting distance between myself and the whole twilight world that is transsexual/transgender.


At the time I reasoned that the significant difference between the groups could be explained by three relatively simple factors. Transvestism is a simple and quite harmless fetish triggered in the same way as many fetish tendencies are at the time of the first sexual awakening of the growing child. Kept in its place and given the opportunity to be indulged the vast majority experience little if any trauma or otherwise adverse effect either on their life or personality.

Transgender is a term that most comfortably describes those affected by Gender Dysphoria or dissatisfaction with ones sex. The degree of the dysphoria determines the lengths to which the affected person will go to gain relief from the resulting stress and trauma. Many will complete surgery to calm the dysphoria and subsequently live quite comfortably with being recognised as a person affected by the condition. Some may even be able to live quietly without revealing their birth sex. This group is almost exclusively male and most often the person affected will remain with a female partner though not always.
The remaining group are affected by a quite different condition and fundamentally, it is biological in nature and therefore a medical condition and not psychological.
The driving desire of this group is to correct the external genitalia and begin life anew, leaving any trace of the past behind. It is a characteristic of the condition that there is a driving and all-consuming need for surgical correction that overrides any other consideration in their life. It cannot be said that there is any Sex Dysphoria present since the sex of the person conforms to the binary and the person affected will never waver from the assertion that their physical sex is wrong. So to that extent there is no confusion about which sex they are. Sexuality conforms statistically to that which is considered normal. In other words statistically speaking there is the same chance that the person affected will be gay or lesbian as in control groups. There are always additional physical secondary sex markers on this group.

The confusion that has arisen between these conditions is largely as a result of making the assumption that all three groups start out from the same point when clearly they do not. Each and every one of the people affected by these three conditions requires treatment of one kind or another. Perhaps to varying degrees, however all need to be treated with compassion and equality. One size definitely does not fit all.

Author / Source: Evangelina Carters at Cassandra Speaks