The story so far: this open letter on a friend’s blog calmly and rationally asked a number of the chefs from TV’s Iron Chef and Chopped to consider alternatives to Autism Speaks (AS) when supporting autism charities and autistic people. It sets out the well-publicized issues with AS’s repeated negative portrayals of autism and autistic people as tragic, broken and a burden on the rest of society. Portrayals that strongly suggest the lives of autistic children are defined by suffering; that carry the unspoken presumption that it would have been better if autistic people like me and many of my friends had never been born.
Please take the time to read Cristiana’s letter. It was written in response to her autistic son’s reaction to discovering that chef Michael Symon was to donate $50,000 to AS. She pleads from the heart as well as the head for autism organizations such as ASAN and AWN to receive the recognition they deserve. Let me be clear: she is not demanding that anybody cease their support for AS just on her say-so. Rather, she sets out the evidence to support her case, and asks that the reader makes an informed decision based on that.I’m posting this to signal boost because she could use all the support she can get in this. If you agree, please add your voice to hers and show that we are not just a few isolated individuals but an active community.
It’s over seven months now since I transitioned to living full-time as a woman and I think it’s a good time to review what has happened in that time and what I’ve learned.
My Work Transition
The time has certainly flown. It doesn’t seem so long since I first turned up at work as Alex. Perhaps preparation was the key — I discussed it with HR beforehand — but it went without a hitch. I visited a local solicitor on a Friday evening to have my Statutory Declaration — my legal change of name — witnessed. I had printed several copies of my own document based on a template on the Citizens’ Advice Bureau web site. The solicitor checked the wording and I had four of them witnessed at £5 each. Quite a bargain! and I ended up with four original documents from which I made a number of photocopies. (Some organisations require an original when changing one’s name; most do not.)
The following Monday morning I arrived at work as a woman for the first time and sent a company-wide email in which I simply stated that I am a trans woman and I had changed my name. I included a brief description and links to information on the web as well as two of my own blog posts.
The reactions ranged from total indifference to active support, and sitting here months later I can say that I have not had a single negative experience at work. Understandably, since I had been in the job for seven years as a male, some people have slipped up occasionally with pronouns but they correct themselves and I just let it go as an honest mistake.
Changing my name on my employment records was straightforward with a copy of the declaration for my personnel file, and I had already contacted the Inland Revenue and my bank to inform them so that all my details would be in step. I was issued a pass in my new name with an updated photo, and my company login and email address were altered that same day.
What Happened Since
When I transitioned at work I was taking medication for depression that was caused by my gender dysphoria. I’ve written about that before, but I’ll just summarise: the SSRI pills (Citalopram) helped a lot initially with the low mood, loss of appetite and poor concentration, but I did suffer moderate side-effects including nausea and disturbed sleep. After I transitioned I increasingly felt that the negatives of the medication were outweighing the benefits, especially since transitioning improved the circumstances that were the main cause of my depression.
Now that I’ve been off the pills for several weeks I feel more myself. I’m better motivated, I’m sleeping well, my appetite is normal and I’m able to concentrate fully. I do still feel very low at times — the depression hasn’t been magically cured — but it’s manageable.
My relationship with my wife, Anne, continues to be strong even though her illness means we have not been out socially at all since New Year. Her support is another factor helping me cope with my depression.
What I’ve Learned
I went into my transition with an open mind and only the minimum of planning — not one of my strengths. All I have — all I need — to guide me is my self-image. I know who I am and the steps I take along the way are to bring me closer to that.
That’s not to say I didn’t learn all I could about transitioning, about the various options for medical treatment and about other trans people’s experiences through their writings. There are a number of things I’ve learned; some practical, some important and some trivial.
There are no “right” or “wrong” ways to transition, no particular order in which steps must be completed. Indeed, there are no compulsory steps at all. It’s important to find what works for you because your situation and individual needs will be particular to you.
It takes longer to get ready in the morning. Showering, dressing, applying make-up and styling my hair means that my morning routine is longer and more time-consuming than it used to be. Rather than get up earlier I now start work later. (I’ve never been a morning person!)
I am very self-conscious about my facial hair. I have not yet had any form of hair removal treatment so I rely on shaving my face and reducing the shadow using make-up. I am reluctant to go out the door, even into our back garden, without at least a shave and some foundation.
I hate shaving my face! I have sensitive skin and after shaving it is always reddened, dry and sore in places. I also, despite all my years of experience, still manage to cut myself with the razor more often than not.
Pretty much everybody I interact with at work and outside just treats me normally. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, but I kind of expected to be regarded as a bit of a freak. This was one of my most pleasant surprises.
I feel more vulnerable when I’m out on my own than when I was presenting as male.
The NHS services for the treatment of gender dysphoria are seriously under funded and under resourced. It took over 6 months to even get a response from the Charing Cross clinic after my referral, and it is likely to take many more months before I get my first appointment for assessment. All this is required before any treatment such as HRT will be considered.
There is more variation in the sizing of women’s clothing than men’s. One item labelled size 20 (UK) could be equivalent to another labelled 16. Being able to judge a garment’s size by eye is a useful skill to develop.
Driving in heels doesn’t affect my control of the vehicle but can cause a lot of wear on the backs of the shoes. I now wear flat shoes for driving and change when I get where I’m going.
Having my ears pierced didn’t hurt much at all. I guess the earlobes are not very sensitive.
It’s not worth spending a lot on clothes when starting your wardrobe for your new gender role. It takes time to learn what colours and styles suit you, and what feels most comfortable.
It is worth having a reasonable budget for shoes, and taking your time when choosing them. Don’t forget that any shoes for work will be on your feet all day, so don’t sacrifice comfort for looks.
Sports bras that have built-in padding work great with breast enhancers (aka “chicken fillets”). They’re comfortable, keep things in place well, and the pads smooth out any “lumps” as well as adding a little extra size.
A lot of women’s clothes use softer fabrics than men’s, which is a bonus for someone like me who has above normal tactile sensitivity.
Fancy outfits are fun and great for going out (or to work), but don’t forget to include something casual for popping down to the shops, lounging around watching movies, and doing chores. As much as I love a dress and heels, I find a T-shirt and leggings or pyjamas are most comfortable and practical in and around the home.
Invest in a practical bag. Very few dresses or skirts have pockets, so you’ll need something to carry your wallet/purse, keys, phone, etc. while making sure you can actually find these items. It’s not good if retrieving your keys means emptying your bag every time you arrive at your front door!
Much has been written about the case of Issy Stapleton, an autistic girl who survived the attempt by her mother to murder her during her failed suicide attempt. I’ll not repeat the details of the case here.
I’m adding my 2c because this case has been characterized by excuse after excuse for the mother’s actions. Caring for a disabled child is hard: there is no argument about that. Not everybody is able to cope with the day to day hardships involved. Again, no argument from me about that.
I believe it’s not only possible to sympathize with the difficulties faced by parents of disabled children, it’s natural. My own parents had some hard times raising me when they had to involve outside agencies. Yes, there is a lack of support out there and the children and their parents suffer because of that, especially when the cost of that support exceeds the means of the family.
My point is that none of that excuses trying to murder that child. Whether a person is disabled, whether they exhibit behavioral problems or violent outbursts, whether they are able to communicate their needs, whether a parent feels that the situation is more than they are able to cope with: none of this excuses murder, or its attempt.
A disabled person has exactly the same right to live as anybody else. Their life is worth no less. Only the person themselves can possibly judge whether their quality of life is acceptable: nobody else, no matter how close, has that insight or the right to make such a judgment call.
And that is why I will never accept any excuse for the actions of Issy’s mother. I believe her actions in planning to murder her daughter and kill herself were selfish and completely failed to recognize her daughter as an individual with her own feelings and rights. More than that, she betrayed the trust of her daughter by making such a choice on her behalf. Issy had no idea that the so-called camping trip was really meant to result in their deaths. And that is unforgivable.
I read this post by Tric Kearney this morning and thought it was a great idea, so here’s my list of random facts about myself.
I was adopted a few weeks after birth by the couple who raised me. I know next to nothing about my natal parents except that my mother was 15. I have never been interested in discovering more.
I never drink tea or coffee. I find tea insipid and dislike the smell of coffee. But my wife says that I make the best cups of tea — better than hers.
In every place I’ve lived I have been able to see trees from my bedroom window. I love trees!
I was in my mid-20s before I ever watched a game of soccer. This is unusual in England.
I have two scars on my right elbow where my younger brother bit me aged 4.
When I changed my name I chose my mother’s name, Maureen, to replace my former middle name, James. That is my father’s name.
In 1990 I was entered by my school into the British Physics Olympiad, a national competition. I made the finals which were held at Harrow School and placed in the top 10, but not high enough to be selected for the national team.
My brother and I, along with a friend, once babysat the young son of former England rugby captain Bill Beaumont during a match at Waterloo Rugby Club.
I had a letter published in the Sunday Telegraph when I was aged 12. (It was a response to a letter about blasphemy laws by a bishop in the previous week’s paper.)
I own 8 dresses, which is 8 more than my wife.
I do not own a single item of clothing that features a visible brand name. (I can’t stand that!)
My all time favourite food is spaghetti bolognese, and Italian is my favourite type of food.
I am ambivalent towards Marmite.
Despite working as a programmer I do not own a computer, and in fact have never even bought one. (I’m not counting my smartphone as a computer although it is one. My list, my rules!)
I first used the internet before the World Wide Web existed. (usenet)
I have not had a passport since my last one expired several years ago.
It was fun putting this list together and I hope you, my readers, find it interesting.