Monday, February 1, 2010

FAQ

NOTE: See the new Updated FAQ page

Summary:
Many people are born with birth defects. Some are realized and treated at birth while others are not so obvious. They can be hidden for so many years that they require enormous amounts of strength to finally overcome and begin treatment. Mine was as such. I believe I was born with the heart and mind of a baby girl inside the body of a baby boy. Growing up, I began to realize this little by little but the more I realized, the more I knew I had to try harder to be who my parents needed me to be. It wasn't what they said to me so much as their actions, emotions, relationships, and their beliefs.

I adapted well enough. I lived what most would call a full life. I graduated high school, went to college, and got married. But something wasn't right and there came a point where I couldn't ignore it anymore. I call this my awakening. It began by finding solace in crossdressing. It was peaceful. It felt right. And the more time I spent that way, the more I felt real, the more I felt like myself and by proxy, the less I wanted to go back to living as a man.

There was struggle. There were hurdles. Christian upbringing, biblical counselors, heterosexual wife, disowning parents. I did not make it through without scars. But I am still here today, able to stand before you as myself finally, a woman. And life has never been so good.

There are still hurdles to overcome. Some of them are out of my control while some are within mine and my generation's grasp. I hope someday that nobody will have to live trying to be somebody else, for fear of societal pressures or religious bigotry.


Note: If you have other questions, feel free to post them and I will do my best to keep this post updated.


Q: Are you gay?
A: Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation are 2 very different things. Sexual Orientation is who you're attracted TO. Gender Identity is who you ARE. Although I'm attracted to women, I don't consider myself a lesbian.

Q: Ok, are you attracted to men?
A: Yes. I grew up believing that for me to be attracted to men was wrong. So I never even allowed it to come to pass as even a fleeting thought in my head. After transition, I began opening myself up to the possibility and now I consider myself primarily oriented towards men.

Q: So you're attracted to men and women then?
A: Yes but I feel like I'm mostly heterosexual at this point in time.

Q: Does this mean you're a drag queen?
A: No. A drag queen is a gay man who dresses up as a woman usually for the purpose of entertainment. I am a transgender woman who is merely trying to set right what went wrong at birth by realigning my body to match my gender. It isn't an entertainment thing. It's who I am.

Q: What does transgender mean?
A: Wikipedia defines it as: the state of one's "gender identity" (self-identification as woman, man, or neither) not matching one's "assigned sex" (identification by others as male or female based on physical/genetic sex). There are other terms or labels for different kinds of transgender people as well: crossdressers, transsexuals, and transvestites.

Q: Are you a crossdresser then?
A: No. Essentially, a crossdresser is someone who feels the need to dress and act and be seen periodically as the sex/gender they were not born with. They usually do not hate their body, nor do they want to modify it. They usually find peace in dressing and it allows them to go back to being a man, when it's over, feeling much more refreshed. I started out crossdressing but it didn't take me long to figure out that I felt more like myself that way and that living as a man the rest of the time caused grief and pain. Note: Women can crossdress as men too so this applies similarly to them although it is much more accepted in society than men crossdressing.

Q: What's the difference between a crossdresser and a transsexual?
A: Here's the best way it's explained. When a crossdresser dresses as the gender they were not born into, they feel a sense of release and it allows them to go back to living as the gender they were born with. When a transsexual dresses as the gender they were not born into, they feel much grief in pain when going back to try to live as the gender they were born into.

Q: What's a transvestite?
A: Essentially another word for a crossdresser but not as preferred.

Q: Is this some kind of sex fetish thing?
A: Not for me. Some people have a fetish or get sexually aroused by dressing as the other sex but most transsexuals (myself included) just want to live the life they were meant to live. Hormones change a lot of sexual desires and there is always the possibility that after the final surgery, the ability to orgasm could be lost. This is a possible price to pay for being me.

Q: When did you first realize you were a girl inside?
A: I can remember a time in 4th grade when I told a female friend of mine that I wanted to be a girl.

Q: So growing up, you hid this desire/feeling from everyone?
A: Well, kind of. Most transsexuals know fairly young and they are constantly fighting against the feelings their whole youth. In my case, I knew something was wrong but instead of concentrating on the problem, I concentrated on what I was born with and tried to do the best I could, to be a boy and later, a man. Essentially I knew there was something wrong but I wouldn't let myself figure out what it was...I just locked it away.

Q: So why did you get married?
A: As I said before, I did not understand what was wrong so I tried to be the best man I could be, especially to try and make my parents proud. This was getting through high school and college, getting a good job, getting married, buying a house, and even working on having kids. Essentially when I began to figure out this was going on inside me, I told my wife right away and we have struggled with it together ever since.

Q: So do you have kids?
A: No, thankfully. My ex-wife and I tried for 2 years and God must've known this was going to happen and spared any kids we might've had, the pain of such a transition.

Q: What does your ex-wife think about this?
A: She was heartbroken, depressed, distraught, and many other things. She didn't understand how her husband that she'd known for 8 years could suddenly feel like a woman. She also believes it's morally wrong in God's eyes to transition because she believes that I wasn't born this way but that I was "brainwashed" or something else. She tried to compromise and understand to a degree but she reached her limit. We are now officially divorced as of June 9, 2010. She has a fiance now and I am very happy for her.

Q: What does your family think?
A: When I first told my mom and dad about this, I was on the verge of suicide. They seemed to be accepting of it knowing I wasn't able to live with myself any other way. Since then, they've come to the same opinion as my ex-wife, that I am delusional and selfish and therefore they refuse to speak to me or see me until I "change back" to being a man. A sad state of affairs.

My sister lives with my parents and has her own daughter. She claims that I cannot see her or her daughter because she doesn't want her daughter to be confused. Currently, her daughter (my niece) will be 3 in May 2011.

My brother at first needed some time to process it but lately has really been very understanding and loving. He's awesome!

My aunt (dad's sister) and uncle in California are very supportive, gotta love 'em! I haven't heard much from my uncle (mom's side) and aunt in Spokane except that they hope I realize this is "permanent".

My grandma most recently would not take a call claiming that she did not know anyone by the name of "Debra". The truth is, she knew very well and it was not a senile moment in the least. =(

My grandpa in California doesn't understand it and still calls me by my old name.


Q: So you were suicidal? Did you actually try to kill yourself?
A: Yes and yes. Last year, I was trying to figure out what to do about my situation because I knew transitioning would hurt my ex-wife and my family but I knew that not transitioning would make for a miserable life. This caused a lot of stress and grief and crying and a couple guys at church got wind of the decision I was contemplating and they decided to take it upon themselves to condemn my intentions by quoting scripture and telling me in raised voices every reason why transitioning was "wrong" in God's eyes. They told me I would lose my salvation or that maybe I had never been saved at all if I went forward with this. Using that thought, I decided to end it all because "God would rather have me dead and saved then be a woman and no longer be saved." Well my attempt failed and I went to the hospital for a few days. When I came out of the hospital, I decided to find a counselor that knew more about these gender issues I was experiencing.

Q: You keep saying transition. What are you talking about?
A: I'm talking about the transition from living as a male to living as a female...and everything involved.

Q: Have you seen or are you seeing a counselor?
A: Yes. I started out last year by seeing a counselor from my church. He helped me go through my past and find a lot of events in my life that I had buried and forgotten about. He did not, however, believe that there was such thing as "gender identity disorder" and he wouldn't ever go down the route of transition as a solution. After my suicide attempt, I sought out a counselor with experience in "Gender Identity" and she immediately diagnosed me with Gender Identity Disorder (GID). One thing she did make clear though was that she would help me and support me no matter what path I would choose. I am still seeing this counselor currently. (http://www.jalalicounseling.com )

Q: How does this process work exactly? Is there surgery or something?
A: It's a long and painful process with many parts. There's laser hair removal and/or electrolysis for permanently removing facial hair, there are estrogen hormones that will change your skin, breasts, hips, and face to be more feminine, there are also drugs that block testosterone, cosmetic facial surgeries to make your face look more feminine, and of course Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) otherwise known as Gender Confirmation Surgery (GCS) which transforms the genitals to correctly match your gender.

Q: Does taking estrogen make you shorter or your feet smaller?
A: No. Estrogen will not change the bone structure to be smaller. I am essentially stuck with a height of 5'10 and shoe size of 10-11 in women's. Some transgender women have mentioned slight height changes or changes in the size of their feet though so it seems a little bit may be in order.

Q: How does Gender Confirmation Surgery (GCS) work? Do they "cut off" your penis?
A: No they do not "cut off" your penis and that is actually a very rude and disrespectful way of referring to it. They actually remove the testicles and use the scrotum and penis to create the vagina and labia.

Q: Will you be able to have sex with a man after surgery?
A: Yes once everything is healed, the parts will all work accordingly and even doctors will not be able to tell the difference between it and a natal woman's vagina.

Q: Can anybody just go have this surgery or are their requirements?
A: There are some hefty life-changing requirements. They require 2 letters of approval from either PhD psychologists or MD doctors. They also require that you live as a woman all of the time for at minimum 1 year. It's also very expensive and most insurance plans do not cover it at the current time

Q: Will you have to take estrogen forever?
A: Yes. After GCS, the dosage goes down significantly but I will always need to take them for the rest of my life because my body does not naturally produce enough estrogen.

Q: Does estrogen make your voice higher?
A: No. Testosterone deepens the voice but once that voice has been deepened (such as in regular male puberty) it cannot be undone. Therefore male to female transsexuals have to completely relearn how to talk. It's not just about pitch either, it's also resonance, inflection, and even vocabulary. I saw a voice therapist to help me through this process (http://www.givevoice.com ).

Q: What does work think?
A: I came out to management fairly recently and they have been very supportive in helping me plan my transition at work. February 15, 2010 is when I began coming to work as Debra. As of February 4, I began taking some vacation and working from home. This allowed me to begin living as a woman full time on that date. On February 16, 2010, I began my days at work as Debra and it seems to have gone pretty smoothly. Whether people at work agree with my change or not, they are still respectful in using the right name and/or pronouns, at least as far as I have experienced in person.

Q: So how often have you been 'dressing' if you haven't been able to do so at work?
A: October 2009 is when I began my transition. I started out dressing as myself everyday after work (and on the weekends).

Q: Do you wear a wig?
A: I wore a wig for many months and did not want to have to do so when I transitioned at work. So, on February 4, 2010, I finally had my hair styled in a feminine manner and put the wig to rest. I've had my hair styled a few different ways since then as it has grown longer.

Q: Did you change your name legally?
A: Yes as of January 5, 2010, I am now legally Debra

Q: Did you change your gender legally?
A: Currently I have been able to change my gender from M to F on my driver's license as well as many other areas including Social Security. As far as I know, they will not let me change it for my birth certificate until I have GCS. Some states have different rules about the birth certificate.

Q: Are you still a Christian?
A: Yes. I no longer attend at the church that rejected me though. I now attend at Everett UCC (http://www.everettucc.org ) which I happened to have gone to when I was a kid. They know me now only as Debra and accept and love me the way I am. They also have a lot of outreach programs to love the community. It's inspiring. There are also many good answers about transgender christians at this site: http://www.transchristians.org

Q: Do you wear high heels?
A: Yes I love heels. =) I think it's primarily because I feel pretty wearing them. I get made fun of often by friends for it but I don't care. Recent developments have gotten me into wedged flipflops though. I've begun to see that heels with some outfits can look out of place and I'd rather blend in, most days. I've even been known to wear clogs or tennis shoes sometimes ;)

Q: Do you wear makeup?
A: Yes, it seems to be a needed part for my self confidence right now. I'm sure as I go along and look more and more like a woman, I will use less makeup. I no longer need to wear foundation on a daily basis but still plan to do so often.

Q: Are you actively seeking a new spouse?
A: I am currently dating around and getting my bearings. I never dated much as a man so it's a new experience for me in lots of ways.

Q: When do you plan to have GCS?
A: I have a date with Marci Bowers (http://www.marcibowers.com ) for March 15, 2011. I am very excited! I'm also getting a tracheal shave.

Q: What is a tracheal shave?
A: A tracheal shave is a surgery that involves shaving part of your adam's apple (the cartilage) off.

Q: How do you want people to address you?
A: My name, Debra and female pronouns (she, her, hers, etc).

Q: Are you going to have facial surgeries?
A: No, I am not planning on it. Most people tell me my face is pretty feminine already and I believe it's partially because of how low my testosterone level was before I even started hormone therapy. Still it could be a possibility in the future.

Q: Are you going to have breast augmentation surgery?
A: Well I'm actually hoping that HRT will help my breasts grow naturally enough to get at least close to a C-cup. If within 3 years of HRT, I am not at a C-cup, I will most likely look into surgical options.


Q: What is passing?
A: Passing is a short term meaning "passing as a female". In other words, being seen as a female by others.

Q: Do you pass?
A: I've been told by many that I pass and I have been in many situations where I felt like I passed as a woman well. Most of all though, I'm just happy and comfortable being who I was always meant to be. Despite that, there are still times even now when people can tell. I guess some people are more perceptive than others or something.

Q: Can you have kids?
A: Well if you mean can I become pregnant, no. I do not have a uterus so I cannot carry a baby to term. As for being a father, I did bank some sperm before I started hormones so in the future I could still "father" children if I so choose.

Q: Will you have a period after surgery?
A: No, I will never be able to menstruate.

Q: Why couldn't you have gone through Testosterone Therapy instead?
A: Although they might be the source of the problem in the womb, hormones are not the problem now, so much. Essentially the problem isn't that I didn't have enough testosterone in my system. The problem was that I knew that I was a woman inside. The hormone treatments don't CAUSE these feelings...the feelings are there because of who we are inside. The hormones instead are there to bring your body more closely aligned with your feelings of who you are.

I've actually heard horror stories of people in my position choosing to try testosterone therapy at the will of their families (usually) and instead of making things better, it made them worse. Instead of becoming more closely aligned with how you feel you are inside, the gap begins to widen. This tends to cause a lot MORE distress of course, instead of actually helping.


Q: How has your vision of self changed now that transition has a little time behind it?? Many people go into transition with a vision of self and then watch as their vision changes as transition progresses.
A: I’m not sure that my vision of self has changed since I started transition. I know that a lot of things have changed, even the clothes I wear has changed in some ways, but who I see myself as has not really changed.

Q: While coming out and living out that female (beautiful) woman you are, have you also come to an understanding like this about the fluidity and less rigidness of gender? I'm not just talking about identity, I'm talking about physically, spiritually, etc

A: I like to tell people that I’m not completely against the gender binary, as they call it. I was just born on the wrong side. That aside, I do understand other people do not feel completely male or completely female and feel like they’re somewhere in between or different at different times. I also have come to understand that it’s ok for me to do masculine things and still be a girl just as it would have been ok for me to do feminine things if I was a guy.

Q: You talked before about changing your id's. what about things like your high school dipolma and college degrees? can you change the name on those as well?

A: Yes I have changed my name on both High School and College transcripts and diplomas.

Q: When you have surgery, what will the physical changes actually be? Will the changes be mostly "below-the-belt" or will there be changes to your chest as well? Is there just one surgery or multiple small change surgeries?

A: There are many different surgeries that are available. There’s vaginoplasty/labiaplasty (below the belt as you referred to), breast augmentation, and feminine facial surgery. I am actually waiting 3 years for estrogen to grow my breasts naturally before I consider having breast augmentation. So I am actually only going in for the below-the-belt surgery and a tracheal shave, which is essentially minimizing the adam’s apple.

Q: How did you develop your female voice?

A: Well there are many tutorials, CDs, DVDs, Youtube videos out on the net that tell you how to develop a feminine voice. I tried a few of these and came to the conclusion that I needed professional help. I sought out a voice coach, Sandy Hirsch, and I saw her once a week for about 4 months and with her help I was able to learn how to speak more like a woman.

Q: Before you started your transition, did you think that you would become so pretty and feminine in such a short time?

A: Thanks for the compliment. I did not expect for things to change so rapidly. I mean I wanted them to but everything takes time but in some ways, things did happen very quickly.

Q: How long did it take for you to completely stop thinking of yourself as a guy?

A: This is an ongoiing process....I think living full time as a woman tends to start changing this and eventually you start dreaming as a girl too. It’s quite interesting. I’d say I consider myself a girl most of the time but once in a while I have a dysphoric moment where I feel trapped in a guy’s body and it does not feel good. Also I’ve still known to have the occasional dream where I am a guy or my past self.

Q: Which was harder? Coming out at work, or to your friends and family?

A: I’d have to say coming out to friends and family was probably harder....mostly because of how family took it. A lot of my family rejected me when I came out and that was and still is very hard. Also coming out to work was very much prepared ahead of time and I felt it was very well planned...not to mention I had already been living as a woman completely outside of work for 4 months beforehand.

Q: What was the funniest thing that happened to you when you first started going out as Debra?

A: It’s hard to say what the funniest thing was but one thing I found rather amusing was that so many people honestly didn’t know I wore a wig. When I got my hair styled, a number of people thought I had cut my hair! Another funny thing was being mistaken for my sister by both people at church and cousins at my grandmother’s funeral. It was quite cute.

Q: Besides fear ,What was the hardest thing to over come or get use to when you first started out as Debra?

A: I think the hardest thing to overcome was not having my family anymore. I was very close to my parents growing up and I even lived nearby when I got married. I spent a lot of time with my dad , weekly and even twice a week sometimes. So the hardest thing to overcome was not having them in my life anymore because they flat out disowned me....and frankly, I still haven’t quite overcome that.


Q: What was the hardest to unlearn?

A: I think the hardest thing was for me not to slouch...when sitting, when walking....sometimes I still do it but I’ve gotten better at walking with my head up and back straight.

Q: How did you decide on your name?

A: I actually searched for names that began with Jer to keep some familiarity and so people could use it as a transitional object and continue to call me Jer if they needed to.

Q: Silly question:-) how many stuffed animals do you have in your house right now?

A: 14

Q: Have you changed the legal side of the transition, (driver's lic, birth cert, etc) yet and how big of a process was that?

A: Yes I am legally female in every way except on my birth certificate. I have sent for my name change on my birth certificate so that I can get a passport which because of the new rules, I will be able to have set to female as well, but the gender on the BC won’t be changing until after surgery.

Q: What are your plans for the future, in general?

A: My plans are not extensive yet, over the next couple years, I’d like to finish up surgeries and the like and maybe do some traveling, preferably with a significant other. Otherwise, no real set in stone plans yet.


Q: What does it mean to be a woman?

A: There could be so many details to this answer but really it comes down to who you are. What does it mean for me that I’m a woman? How do I know I’m a woman? Because I just know that’s who I am. Everyone’s definition of “being” a woman could be different.

Q: Do you ever have to "de-transition" for any reason and if so why?

A: I have never felt the need to detransition. It has been suggested to me several times by family members for certain events and I just could not do it. On one hand, I hated the facade and on the other, I didn’t want anyone thinking that I could just detransition at the drop of a hat because someone felt uncomfortable...as if my transition was just this lifestyle choice that I could let go of for other people’s comfort.

Q: Have you ever considered being a writer?
A: It's kind of funny, I originally wanted to be an author of fantastic fiction back in elementary school. I used to write these crazy short stories back then. In my teenage years, my writing shifted to poetry which was used as a much needed outlet for my emotions but in high school I also did write a couple longer and more mature short stories.

Recently, I had an idea for a novel and I have been slowly putting it together. I have 4 chapters written so far but it is slow going and I am running out of plot. We'll see if it goes anywhere.

10 comments:

Rebecca said...

Thanks for posting this; it was very informative.

It always makes me feel sad reading about how unaccepting your parents have been. Hopefully at some point they'll come around and be more accepting.

I can't wait to see your new hairstyle!

Congrats on going fulltime, you must be so excited! I'll be tihnking of you Thursday!

Rebecca

Stace said...

A very good post Debra. I was sitting her going uh-huh to a few points as well... Especially:

Q: So why did you get married?

I have been answering that question a lot since I told my family and my in laws over the last couple of months.

I did't realise that it was this close to you going full time. Congratulations! Can't wait to see the new style either.

Stace

miss sudha said...

Being not a genetic female,we have got to work very hard on our beauty.

Treacle said...

Brilliant, beautiful, and insightful.

You have my complete faith and support while you're transitioning, Debra.

kristi said...

Thanks for posting this.

Jane said...

I know this is water under the bridge, but did you ever try or consider taking testosterone therapy PRIOR to your decision to change your whole life (and so many other's)?

It seems like that would have been a good option to consider...to try to reconcile the feelings you had inside, with the body you were given outside, esp. since you said your testosterone levels were so low to begin with.

You can see now how the estrogen is affecting how you feel as a woman; did you not think that testosterone might have effected how you felt as the man you were born?

It may not have been a perfect outcome, but I dare say, this choice probably isn't either, even if you do feel better at the moment. It's affected so many other's you love, and most not in a good way.

I'm not trying to lay a judgement on you. Just curious...why or why not?

Karen Filan said...

Good luck Jerrica, I hope your family change in time...they might...regardless I hope you enjoy the journey...a lot to enjoy!

Brian Katcher said...

Have you ever considered being a writer?

Debra said...

@Brian - It's kind of funny, I originally wanted to be an author of fantastic fiction back in elementary school. I used to write these crazy short stories back then lol. In my teenage years, my writing shifted to poetry which was used as a much needed outlet but in high school I did write a couple longer and more mature short stories.

Recently, I had an idea for a novel and I have been slowly putting it together. I have 4 chapters written so far but it is slow going and I am running out of plot. We'll see if it goes anywhere ;)

Brian Katcher said...

Pity you don't live in Missouri, our writers' group needs new members.

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