Wednesday, January 03, 2018

What it's Like

by Beth Orens, Guest Contributor

I received the following from an individual who is trans-sexual. It was originally a lengthy comment to yesterday's post on the subject. I thought it would be valuable to hear what it is like from someone who actually is trans-sexual. I offer it here without comment as an independent post. 

Hi everyone. I expect to take a lot of abuse for this, but I figure someone ought to contribute to the discussion who has some first-hand knowledge.

I don't know where to start. With the growing body of evidence that the percentage of white matter in the brain is different for men and women, and that transsexuals have the approximate amount of the opposite sex? With heart-rending descriptions of what it's like growing up that way (heart-rending only to those who have hearts, of course)? With the recognition that the vast majority of the "trans" movement today has nothing to do with transsexuals, and is just kids bucking societal gender norms? With the obvious fact, as Rabbi Maryles pointed out, that no one would choose this?

I've read accounts of people who say they actually thought they were the opposite sex when they were little. I don't understand that. I had a brain. I had eyes. I knew that my body fit the definition of "boy". And it felt wrong. And I'm telling you the truth when I say that I knew this from at least the age of 3.

As I grew up, I just figured I was crazy. It wasn't a stretch. I had frustration rages and went to therapists because of it, so I just assumed this was part of the crazy. The therapists said it was because I was resisting any aggressive reactions to anything, and that periodically, "the dam burst" and my emotions went blooey.

(I found out decades later that a lot of other people in my situation had the same experience.)

I was a cub scout. I remember standing at a convocation of some kind, with other cub scouts, and brownies on the other side of the room, and feeling my heart breaking, because I should have been over there.

In elementary school, during recess, the boys went and played soccer, and the girls mostly jumped rope and played hopscotch and jacks. I used to hang out near the girls, but never -- *ever* -- tried to participate, because I knew full well that boys weren't supposed to do girl things. Eventually, a teacher came over and forced me to go play soccer.

The closest I can think of to describe the feeling would be for you to spend a week wearing your shoes on the wrong feet and writing exclusively with your non-dominant hand. I read that forcing a left handed person to use their right hands instead can cause all sorts of psychological damage. Stammering. Depression. But no one thinks you choose to be left handed. It's simply a question of how your brain develops. You can force someone to use their right hand, but you can't make it natural.

Have any of you suffered from chronic pain? Thank God, I haven't. But this was a chronic ache. An inchoate longing. And there was no reason for it. My father was a professional and my mother was a homemaker. My family couldn't have been more vanilla.

And I was lucky. My family wasn't religious. We were one of the many suburban families that belonged to a Conservative synagogue, but other than life cycle events, it was pretty irrelevant to our lives.

And by the time I was a teenager, I knew what transsexuals were. They were these gross sexual freaks. In a billion years I would never be one of those. I once saw two obviously trans people on a train in Boston, and my stomach turned. And I was terrified.

I wasn't suicidal all the time. I was more of an emotional open wound. And kind of dead inside. I never once told any of the therapists I saw about my feelings. I think that was for three reasons. One, actually verbalizing it would make it real. Two, I knew that if challenged, there was no way I could possibly explain it. "Why do you feel that way?" How do I know? "Do you want to play with dolls?" No, I want to sit and read books. And three, I knew that doctor-patient confidentiality didn't apply to parents. To this day, I don't know if that's the case, but even at 6, or 8, or 10, I knew the concept, and would never have taken the chance of telling something to a therapist that I wouldn't want getting back to my parents.

And I just realized that I'm boring you all to death (those of you who even read this far).
Suffice it to say that I was lucky enough to be able to pass. I'm not pretty, but people don't stare. No one notices me. Every one of you probably knows some transsexuals, either male-to-female or female-to-male. Because most of us fly under the radar. Most people who are physically unlikely to pass don't transition. They live in misery or choose not to live. The few you see on TV are exceptions. No one would know Laverne Cox was trans if she weren't out about it. Ditto Janet Mock and many, many others. I know transsexual men who learn in yeshiva, and no one bats an eye.

You can't fathom what it's like to actually be able to live after decades of play-acting.

I understand full well that transitioning was against halacha. But people will act to save themselves. Maybe I'm crazy. Maybe I'm mentally ill. But I'm far happier and far more functional and productive than I was before I transitioned. So that kind of mental illness seems to be pretty benign.

I've seen some arguments in these comments that catering to mental illness is wrong. But I don't see why, if the net result is positive. And I don't accept that it's a mental illness in the first place. The white-matter thing I talked about at the beginning of this ludicrously long post is real. Google it.