Penny's Story

A cute little drummer living her dream.

Archive for Intersex

Transsexuals Reinforce Sexism

One of those pesky issues that transsexualism bumps up against is sexism. My transsexualism was very much physically based. What I mean by that is that while it’s true that a large part of my dysphoric feelings were around my gender presentation and perception, in retrospect it seems that an even bigger part of my issue was around my body. I hated my body; well, certain parts, but I think my meaning is clear. When I was very young I was aware that I hated parts of my body. It was young enough that I’m fairly certain that it was a literal example of a “girl brain [or soul] in a boy body.” And that very concept is what I want to talk about.

I’m going to talk about this in a fairly loosey-goosey sort of way. I’m not a doctor or a scientist, and so everything I say should be taken as my opinion and my sense of understanding of the biologic and neurological studies I have read mixed with personal experience. Again, take it for what it’s worth.

So, that’s sort of a problematic concept, eh? “Girl brain” implies “boy brain.” That feels one step away from reinforcing lots of sexist dogma that usually posits males as superior to females. There are some studies that seem to be showing some interesting differences, though, between males and females, especially in an area of the brain called the Bed Nucleus of the Stria Terminalis. Transsexuals appear to have that part of the brain that more closely aligns to the sex they perceive themselves to be. The studies are painfully small, and jumping to solid conclusions from these studies feels like it may be premature. And yet, it’s difficult for me not to latch onto these studies and scream: “See? This is exactly what I’ve been trying to tell you all.”

However, and this is super important, for every study that I’ve seen that shows differences between the brains of males and females, there is another study diminishing the differences and pointing out overlaps that calls into question just how much difference there really is.

Shouldn’t that call my narrative of having been born with a girl brain in a boy body into question?

I don’t think so, and here’s why:

Studies like these are usually about finding averages and ranges. It doesn’t surprise me for a second that there would be overlaps in studies like this, especially at the edges. Just as the average male has more upper body strength than the average female, that doesn’t really tell us much about a random male and a random female. So, too, I believe that just because there is separation in the averages, the very fact that there is overlap between the brains of males and females in most structures means that making too many assumptions about specific males and females is fraught with difficulty.

At this point, I believe our brains are incredibly complex and unique. There are so many different parts that make each of us who we are that there is bound to be differentiation as well as similarity. Picking out the specific elements that make each of us who we are is probably a little ways off. What I know is I believe that I was born with the relevant parts of my brain in the female range, and probably so far into the female range as to be outside the overlap between female and male; every study I’ve read, and everything I’ve ever felt has lead me to this conclusion.

So, we have one over-simplification out of the way, here’s another: I feel like a woman. I have no idea what that statement means. A thing that hung me up in my transition was trying to figure out what the heck “feeling like a woman” meant. It seems a ridiculous statement to me in so many ways. And yet, it’s the only way I can say it: I feel like a woman; I feel that I am a woman. A critique I’ve seen of this is that if I felt that I was Napoleon or a panda bear, it would be obvious that I was suffering from some sort of delusion. But those are false analogies; Napoleon was a specific person, and people aren’t panda bears. Males and females are biologically very similar, and are the same species, having a little separation in a place where there is often overlap in an unusual direction doesn’t seem that far a stretch. I’ve made my peace with the fact that some folks will think I’m crazy. I must note that any “crazy” I had in my personality really seems to have largely abated since my transition. Any anxiety and depression issues that I had seem tied to the fact that I was living the wrong life in the wrong body. My own empirical evidence seems to confirm that, for me, transition was the right thing to do and affirms the concept that I do feel like a woman and have a female brain. [I’m aware that a sample size of 1 is sort of worthless, but then I’m only talking about my life.]

So, from a biological and neurological standpoint, I don’t believe that transsexualism reinforces sexism. Yet, I’m very sympathetic to the notion that somehow, in some way, my transition spells out a certain delineation between men and women, and even male and female, that could be seen as problematic. During my transition, I recall vividly feeling the world change how it treated me, as people’s perception of my gender started to catch up with my identity. It would be dishonest of me to not say that I noticed what I considered a shocking amount of sexism in the world. However, as I have learned to navigate the world around me better over the last several years, I feel that the sexism I see, while certainly a problem, isn’t quite as overwhelming as I perceived at first. I believe that sexism is one of those pesky, nuanced issues that simply can not be reduced to one-dimensional concepts like “the patriarchy.” Just as I referenced earlier in the biological sense, there is a lot of overlap; the simple reality is that socially there is much blurring between the genders and much picking and choosing that people are able to do when presenting themselves. Is it a perfect balance? No, certainly not, but I don’t believe it’s as bad as it is often portrayed to be.

I don’t want to turn this into an examination of sexism itself. As I said, there is overlap and gaps and places where men and women, and male and female are barely distinguishable, and places where the differences are extreme. Sometimes the separations are benign, and sometimes they are very problematic. For me to deny that would be for me to deny all my learning and life experience up until this point.

Back to those overlaps and areas of separation. It is exactly those areas of separation, specifically within the brain, that I believe the pivotal trigger for transsexualism lives. I believe that I was always a girl and then woman. I believe that my social, presentational transition was about catching people up to who I really was. I didn’t transition from a man to a woman, I stopped being afraid and pretending to be something I’m not. Physically, at least in an outward sense, it’s fair to say that my transition was more about going from one side to the other. And yet, even in the physical sense, it seems like my body has always been in that area of the overlap and / or separation that would be comfortably in the female range. (I always said that I had my mom’s hips, for example, which is slightly flippant, but only slightly, as I’m using it as a concrete example to illustrate that there was always plenty about my body that landed at least in the middle of the spectrum, if not firmly in the female end.)

So, what about genetics? What about chromosomes? What about genitals? Well, unlike many folks with transsexualism, I have had my karyotype tested, and it is, in fact, XY. To some, this is exactly the evidence needed to declare me insane. From my perspective, though, it is exactly the proof that sex and gender are much more complicated than eighth-grade biology would have us all believe. As for genitals, I was born somewhere in that very broad range that is referred to as “ambiguous genitalia.” I had my first reconstructive genital surgery when I was three years old. What I was left with was also pretty well within what people would expect as male. Again, to me, that just lends evidence to the complexity and variance that describes the fullness of the human experience. Reading the science that is available, it’s clear to me that we still have more to learn, but it’s also clear to me that I am not crazy, that my reality, as I describe it, is well within the naturally occurring variation of humanity.

So, while I can understand the perspective that my transition and life somehow reinforces sexism and sexist principles, I just can’t see it that way. If we admit that sexism is a problem (and again, while stipulating that it’s a very large, very messy, exceptionally nuanced issue, I think it is), I believe that people born with transsexualism, rather than reinforcing the problem, can be exemplars of how similar men and women, and male and female, truly are. Honestly, I think elite athletes, where the difference between men and women, male and female, is so extremely delineated, as well as sexual procreation and childbirth, which is generally considered an area where male and female are on opposite ends of a spectrum can reinforce some of the negative principles of sexism far more strongly than a person born with transsexualism ever could.

Transgender, Transsexual, and Trans Identity, Labels, and Language

For as long as I can remember, I have found the way that trans* issues are discussed has been wholly unhelpful in describing my own reality and personal story. I’m sure this is true for many people that are lumped into categories by social scientists, but I can only speak on this from personal perspective. While I have noticed heads nodding in agreement many times when I have given voice to these thoughts and theories, I can only talk about how the language around trans* issues has impacted my life, and how it continues to impact my story.

Because I will only be talking about how the language affects me personally, I won’t be commenting much, if at all, on the history and etymology of these terms; I simply don’t care where they came from – I care what they mean (and have meant) to me. Likewise, I will attempt to tackle this language in a way that still leaves plenty of room for people who do find these words helpful in telling their own stories. I will be touching on some of what I perceive as some of the politics around this language, but I will try to do that as carefully as possible. I recognize that it’s possible that my use of this language will feel wrong for some people. I’m not sure I have a solution for that. As always, it is my goal that everyone’s story is respected for its own merit.

First, I’d like to say that I will be adhering to a differentiation between sex and gender; I feel like a big part of my problem around this language is the confusion between “sex” and “gender.” My definitions for each will remain at least partially fluid, as the differences between “male and female” and “man and woman” are so loose as to be nearly impossible to define in ways that don’t produce many overlaps to the point that the terms can become nearly meaningless. Indeed, simply trying to define “male,” for instance, leads to many exceptions. These words are all moving targets. As definitions are refined there is often change in the fundamental meanings of the words themselves. I will endeavor at all times to be clear with my meaning, even if the language is, by it’s very nature, imprecise. For simplicity sake, “sex” will refer to the coarse physical differences between “male and female,” and “gender” will refer to the more sociological and cultural differences between “man and woman.”

Next, I’m choosing to tackle this subject now because it seems as though so much of this language is becoming codified in the popular lexicon. People are aware around this language in a way that I never expected even a few years ago. But that very public awareness is exactly why I feel it’s important for me to speak up now. Frankly, this language has never worked for me; it has never felt comfortable, has never truly felt a useful part of telling my story. If there are people it works for, that’s awesome, but I want to find a way to tell my story authentically, and this language is flawed for that purpose. I don’t care what these words mean for other people, I care about what they mean when I hear and use them. If language is an ongoing discussion, I’m engaging that discussion.

One last thought before I actually dive in. If I were just trying to tell my story in the past tense, I might not care so much about this language. However, I remember all too well the confusion that this language caused when I was in a place that my story was more struggle than it is today. This language is important to me when I try to tell people my story, but also because I firmly believe that I am not alone in being poorly served by this language. If just one person finds some truth or similarity in my story to their own, this will all be worth it.

 

Transgender

Let me start with the big dog: “transgender.” I hate this word. This word has never felt comfortable, or like it describes my life in anyway. If gender is in anyway who we see ourselves to be, I am exactly the same person I always was. That might seem like an absurdity, but any part of me that is the deepest level of “me” has been here all along. Let me dig in a little: my gender, that is “woman” (or, “girl” when I was younger), has always been what it is now. It is fair to say that for a very long time people ~thought~ I was a boy and then man. I mean, goodness, I went to an all-boys Catholic High School after all. But that really gets to two different concepts in my mind. The first is what I’m going to call “gender perception.” This is that instinctual drive that seems present in so many to instantaneously determine someone’s gender. Indeed, often the first fact people will notice about each other is what they believe each others gender to be. People perceived me as a boy and then a man. When this first started happening, I was very young, and certainly not able to piece everything that was going on together, so I believed people. I mean, why would they lie about that? [I know that it’s not lying as much as it was faulty assumptions, but the effect it had on me was as if people had lied to me.] But that colored my way of dealing with the world. I went along with their assumptions for a very long time. That brings me to my next term, which I’ll call “gender presentation.” I ~presented~ as a boy and then a man. I didn’t have the self-awareness or strength to stand up and say that the way people were perceiving my gender was wrong. Which brings me to the third important term around gender, and that is “gender identity,” which is one’s self perception of gender. My gender identity has always been that of a girl then woman. It’s fair to say that I was very confused about that for quite some time, and that I floated along with others perception of my gender, but I was always who I am today, just younger.

My gender never “trans’ed” anything. Indeed, I’m not completely sure what that means. Any way in which I can understand the word “transgender” it just fails to feel like it fits with my life, my story, and my identity [don’t worry, I’ll get to “identity” in a later post]. At no point along my journey have I positively identified as transgender. I have used the word, to be sure, but I’ll save an explanation of that for the wrap-up. It seems to me that “transgender” is trying encapsulate “gender perception,” “gender presentation,” and “gender identity” all under one tag, and that has just never worked for me. During my social transition, I tried to be clear that I was transitioning my gender presentation, and it took a while for people’s perception of my gender to catch up. But my gender identity was consistent throughout (which for me is kind of the whole point). I find transgender to be wholly unhelpful when trying to tell my story.

The current definition of “transgender” seems to be coalescing around the concept of the gender one was “assigned at birth.” I despise this concept. I believe I have a fair sense of what this concept is trying to get at, but I find the thought that my identity would have anything to do with what some person I don’t even know said about me at a time that I was unable to speak extremely distasteful. The very idea that what someone said about me at my birth would be so hugely important about me forever I refuse to accept. More importantly, though, I feel this definition of “transgender” fails to address two of the three issues in play here, those being gender presentation and gender identity, and worse, confuses “sexual perception” [we’ll get to that one in a moment] with gender perception. I just personally detest the word “transgender.”

Likewise, I find that transgender has politically and publicly become a catch-all to lump lots of people together who may have one or two specific things in common, but aren’t really served by being seen as the same thing. This will be my one divergence into how I see this language in a more macro sense, and how I can see this language not working for more people than just me. The term “trans” or “trans*” seemed like an attempt to broaden the reach even further, though I wonder if having words be such loose associations is truly helpful. More and more the only times I see “trans” is when it’s used as a prefix (as in “trans woman” or “trans man”). I find those problematic because they so aggressively segregate a very broad base of women into a specific type, and then over-emphasize the importance of that one fact. [Ironically, “trans” is one of the few words in this group that has ever felt truly useful in telling my own story, but only because its very vagueness was a jumping off point for further discussion.] I know that sometimes joining people together for common cause is helpful, and there seem to be painfully few people for whom any of these words have any personal meaning, but I worry that by loosening definitions so much these terms lose meaning all together. If a collective of folks is trying to be built to guarantee equal rights and promote equal respect for all, I can totally be apart of that. If the aim is to define “transgender” to cover every single instance in which someone’s gender perception / presentation / identity might seem societally “out of alignment,” even briefly, I have trouble supporting that, and I will continue to resist being dragged under that umbrella.

 

Cisgender

I feel like now is a reasonable time to bring up “cisgender.” Cisgender is the supposed corollary to transgender, from the Latin prefix “cis-,” meaning “on this side of.” “Trans-” meaning “across from.” When I first heard “cisgender” several years ago, before it’s current usage was so popularly known, it seemed to me that the definition must be that ones gender perception, presentation, and identity were all in alignment (I remember flippantly saying that the brain and the crotch “match”). This is how I used the term for years, and when I do use it, how I continue to use it. Recently though, the word seems to have been codified around being the oppositional state from transgender, that is, it’s all about what someone said when one was born. So, “cisgender” is when someones gender assigned at birth matches their gender identity. Again, I find the concept of “assigned at birth” repugnant, I simply feel it gives an unacceptable amount of weight to one specific instance before someone is self-aware enough to have any say in the matter. I refuse to accept that as a lifelong statement of my reality. Also, I have the same problem with cisgender that I do transgender, that is it focuses totally on sexual perception (and mistakes it as gender perception) and ignores presentation and identity. I feel that makes the word all but unusable when it comes to my own story; there is no point in using a word if I have to so fully explain it any time I use it. On top of all that, many people who are described as “cisgender” feel that the word is a slur (my brief explanation of at least some of the push back is that “cis-” can sound awfully like “sissy” and be triggering and / or offensive to some folks). I understand the need for a term like “cis-;” it’s necessary to have a way to say “not trans” that doesn’t make trans folk out to be perversions of nature. Here’s a place where my desire for the language differs most extremely from some: I prefer the language of medical malady, of pathologization over that of identity. I don’t have a solution to the fact that I see my transsexualism as a medical condition that I sought treatment for and now see as cured while for so many that language feels uncomfortable. For a while I attended a support group for women like me, and we often struggled to find words for “non-trans-folk.” We struggled through “genetic woman,” “natal woman,” “biological woman,” “cis woman,” and many others. None of them satisfied everyone in the group, though, and in frustration I began using “regular” and “irregular” woman. I was only mostly joking. I’m not sure I have yet hit upon a way to refer to folks as “not trans” that works for me. Again, I suspect that is largely because “trans-” can mean so many different things; it becomes nearly impossible to exclude someone from a group that has so poorly defined boundaries.

 

Assigned at Birth

While I’m here, I want to finish up with “assigned at birth.” I understand the impetus for a term that includes this sort of concept. I think the premise is that the thing that makes trans folk similar is that they spent some time mis-identified in terms of their gender identity or sex identity. I do understand the desire to tie as many people as possible together with seemingly common issues. I understand why that is in some ways politically helpful, though I have found it personally extremely confusing when trying to figure myself out. I feel that the “assigned at birth” paradigm focuses exclusively on ones interaction with society, giving extreme weight to initial (“at birth”) sex perception and gender perception, and ignores ones concept of self and interaction with others.

Finally, it has been extremely unhelpful for me to see the trans part of my story as an integral part of my identity; it is a part of the story, clearly, and is a vital part of my experience and history. However, it has always felt much more comfortable and true to look at the trans part of my story as a medical condition. I know this language decidedly does not work for some people, but thinking of it as a birth defect really works for me. Perhaps a softer way to say it would be that I consider it a congenital neurological issue. I remain unconvinced as to the specific cause, and indeed, I believe that several different issues are at play in various combinations and degrees. I believe that lumping all of these issues into the simplicity of what sex and gender one was assigned at birth causes needless confusion for many.

 

Transsexual

Which is probably a good place to segue into “transsexual.” It has been helpful for me to use “transsexual” quite a bit in describing my story. Transsexual is almost always used to describe sex perception and sex presentation. “Sex perception” I’m using to mean the sex that one is perceived to be by another, and “sex presentation” I’m using as a very coarse differentiation between the physical male and female. “Sex identity,” which is very different from “sexuality,” means the sex organs one feels they should have. This is exactly why I see my story involving a “cure.” My “sex” is exactly what “trans’ed” (specifically my “sex presentation,” coupled with my “sex perception,” my “sex identity” remained fixed). I was born with what would loosely fall under the definition of ambiguous genitalia and I had my first genital surgery when I was three years old. Having said that, it’s fair to say that early on, I was certainly more physically male. Likewise, proving that there is a lot going on here, I have had my karyotype tested and it is indeed XY.

 

[intersex]
[I could possibly assert a thin case to use the term “intersex” to describe myself, but there are three reasons I don’t. First, my level of genital ambiguity was fairly low, and while I did have genital surgery when I was three during which an unidentified “mass” was removed, I feel that the majority of intersex folks I have read about go through much more profound physical trauma at a young age than I did. Second, “intersex” has become a very charged political label (perhaps even more so than “transgender”) and I don’t feel like wading into that minefield. Finally, and perhaps most importantly in this context, the term has never been overly helpful in telling my story; I sometimes will use it for context, and will sometimes allude to the phrase “neurological intersex” (which is also an extremely touchy phrase for some people), but using “transsexual” in the context of a neurological medical condition has been the most effective language.]

 

So then, if “sex” is about physicality, I view my genital reconstruction surgery as having cured my transsexualism. It’s true that I believe this makes me a female with XY chromosomes, but there are many conditions that can lead to this situation, and being born with the wrong genitals is hardly the most unusual.

It seems like lots of folks recoil from “transsexual” because it has the letters “s-e-x” in the middle, and that makes some folk uncomfortable. I find that the willingness to talk directly about the issue is very important for me. I have no shame over my story, and I categorically resist the notion that there is anything wrong with speaking frankly about the human condition.

 

Trans / Trans*

Briefly, I find “trans” and “trans*” to both be so diluted as to be sort of meaningless. They are an attempt to draw everyone who ever uses (or has used) the “trans-” prefix into the same community. I just don’t think that works in a practical sense. The terms are slightly less specific than “human,” but they require so much further clarification and explanation as to make them slow down discussion rather than aid it. They lump everything together: gender and sex, perception, presentation, and identity all into one big commingled lump. I just find it all very confusing.

 

Trans-masculine / Trans-feminine

Recently I’ve become aware of “trans-” being tacked onto “masculine” and “feminine,” as “trans-masculine” and “trans-feminine.” These feel so much like overly manufactured terms. I get what they’re trying to say, that is that a given person is displaying traits of the “other” gender. I feel like these terms muddle the field even further, though, as they add to the discussion the need to understand the specific relevant cultural rules of what constitutes masculine and feminine traits and mannerisms. This adds one more level to these terms that removes them from lived-world experience. Not only that, these two words seem to strongly reify the gender binary [more on “gender binary” soon]. Making ones trans-ness solely based around the gender binary seems all sorts of problematic. I believe it would be much more helpful to work on expanding the concept of “masculine” and “feminine” until they are freely open to all (in reality, everyone is a mix of masculine and feminine traits anyway). Needless to say, I find these terms useless and confusing, not to mention regressive.

 

And the rest

There are other terms: “transvestite,” “crossdresser,” “ hermaphrodite,” “bigender,” “intergender,” “two-spirit,” “she-male,” and a million others. Some of them are seen as slurs by some folks, and some are pretty culturally specific. None of these terms have been terribly useful in telling my story, nor have they really felt like “home,” even though I did try on a couple of them for a time. I tried on “bigender” for about thirty seconds before realizing that it wasn’t a good fit. I tried to use “crossdresser” for longer, but it was clearly never a good fit, and during the whole time I was using it my sense of self was extremely confused.

 

Tranny

I do want to bring up “tranny,” which is very much a hot-button term. “Tranny” is pretty widely viewed as one of the worst of all slurs to use about trans folk of any kind. The problem is that this is the one term that has felt the most comfortable for me all the while. I suppose it’s possible that some of this is due to my contrarian nature, but really I’ve just always found the word playful and light-hearted. I’m well aware of that irony. For many folks the word “tranny” is one of the most hate-filled, dehumanizing words they can hear. I have a problem with the concept of “bad words,” but I do recognize the power of this word, and I do try to be circumspect around its use, though I do still use it.

 

Last thoughts

There are three terms / phrases I want to bring up that will later be explored in more depth, but I feel are important to at least mention here. The first is the phrase “born in wrong the body.” This phrase has always resonated with me: my body was broken, and I fixed it to the current ability of medical science. I have a vivid memory of someone saying that this statement was untrue about transsexualism. This was at a time when I was still trying to figure things out, and I remember thinking, “Well, if transsexualism ~doesn’t~ mean ‘born in the wrong body,’ then I must not be a transsexual.” I understand this phrase is anathema to some people, but for me it has been very helpful. Of course, it’s not a perfect or literal phrase, but it helped to figure out what was going on in my head. The next phrase, which is similarly flawed while still being very useful, is “feel like a woman.” This one always held me up; I still don’t know what it means to “feel like a woman,” I just feel like me. However, this over-simplified, fairly corny phrase was actually a useful jumping off point for me; it enabled me to open the door to really get at what was going on. I remember when I was much younger having the thought “I think I’m a girl,” but that was always overwhelming; I just couldn’t process that or ask for help. “Feeling like a woman,” while being an almost silly thought, really was helpful. Lastly is “cure.” Here’s another one that seems to cause a lot of controversy. As I said above, for me, the concept that this was something that was ~wrong~ with me that I needed to “cure” was what made (and makes) the most sense. I understand that the idea of pathology doesn’t work for many people, but it’s the only way of thinking about it that works for me. I’ve heard it said that if one was born trans, then you’ll always be trans. I’m here to say that’s not true. I am not trans anymore.

 

Why

So, if I’m not trans anymore, if I’m cured of my transsexualism, why talk about this? Shouldn’t I leave it to the people who are either still living their struggle or who see these terms as more of an ongoing identity? No, I don’t believe I should. I have observed so many women like me, that is, post-corrected, hetero-normative, women who blend into society drift away from these discussions. I feel it’s important to have my voice be part of the discussion. Honestly, I firmly believe that there are still little girls and boys as confused as I was, who continue to be under-served by the language as it stands. And I believe the language is only moving away from these kids as well. The language seems to work well for many, but I feel like the language literally held me back, and I think we can do better.

The other reason to continue talking about this part of my story is that it is simply that: a part of my story. I am tired of being scared or ashamed of my past. I’m tired of thinking that if people know about my past that it will change how they feel about me. I’m tired of not talking about certain subjects because I’m not supposed to. I need this language because my ex-wife is still my best friend. I need this language because I refuse to deny my friends from my all-boys Catholic High School. I need this language to tell my story, my whole story.

 

Hypocrite

But, wait, some of those who know me have heard me refer to myself as “trans” or “transgender.” What gives? I was even in a major newspaper letting them call me “transgender.” Am I really that big a hypocrite? Well, maybe. The truth is that sometimes I need to explain certain parts of my story briefly, and the reality is that people are starting to know the words “trans” and “transgender.” Whenever I can, I make it clear to people how uncomfortable I am with those terms. A big part of the reason I’m engaging in this discussion is because I sometimes find myself forced to use these words because there are none better. I’ve used the phrase “woman of transsexual history” before, but, while that feels more accurate, it’s about as inelegant a turn of phrase as I’ve ever heard. My current approach seems to be to not really talk about it with people too much until I have time to actually explain things fully, in a way that feels authentic.
Closing

Finally, I know that my preferred language feels uncomfortable for others. I know that some women and men who choose different or fewer or no surgical options often find the concept of a “post-corrected” woman difficult. I understand that some people refuse to accept that I have been cured. I get that “transgender” seems to work for so many people. I’m not sure what to say about that; I am trying to positively, definitively, and intentionally tell my story. It is not my intention to invalidate the stories of others. I am hoping that this language continues to grow to tell all types of stories.

Another trip to the Doctor

I had a follow-up with my PCP today. I’m sort of getting tired of doctor visits, but at least my doc is awesome.

We talked about the uterus/no-uterus stuff of the last month. We talked about the “non-specific soft tissue” that I apparently have. It seems likely at this point that I’m just destined to have questions about my body that will remain forever unanswered. But, my doc made it clear that she’s game to help me go as far as we can to resolve these questions. I have a follow-up with an endo at the end of the month when I’ll get the results of a karyotype test. After that my doc said that she’ll order an MRI. That’ll most likely be the end of the trail, unless something unexpected is found (like, oh, I don’t know … a uterus (okay, yes, I’m being flippant)).

My doctor said that she thinks I’m unique. We both agree that I was fairly well differentiated with a body that was mostly male at birth. But I continue to believe that there was something different about my body. And my doctor thinks so too. It feels amazing to have an ally. I think this is the first time I’ve ever felt like I had a doctor that really got it. And maybe it took that test result saying that I had a uterus for her to totally see, but it really feels like she’s got it now. She saw how jerked around I felt by that, and she understood that I should feel jerked around by it. So, maybe I’ll still never find out my answers, but at least I feel like I have someone who’ll help me look as long as it’s practical.

It’s just nice to have a doctor not think I’m crazy…

Sucker Punch

I feel like I now have to process a loss for something I didn’t think I had until four weeks ago. I feel like I’ve been sucker punched.

I emailed my surgeon about the report saying that my “uterus … is within normal limits.” She said that I don’t have a uterus. She essentially said that unless she mentioned it at the time there wasn’t anything that she noticed as worth noting about my body. Which, I suppose, is kinda weird. Not, “there’s nothing in the notes” or, “your chart shows…” Just, “If I didn’t mention it, there’s nothing there.” It felt maddeningly vague in the way that I always feel doctors talk to me about my body. She also made a heartless joke about the (lack of) possibility of me menstruating, which made the whole conversation really frustrating. She also said some things that I believe to be patently false, so while I believe her generally about my body, it does make me wonder about her opinions of intersex conditions in general.

I got home from a vacation today to find the initial report that started this whole thing waiting for me, with this addendum:

“Initially what was thought to be a uterus, actually is non-specific soft tissue in the rectovesical space, which could be a Mullerian duct remnant. No well defined full-size uterus is seen.”

Dammit.

I frickin’ knew it.

A month ago I had no inkling that I had a uterus. Why would I? When I saw the initial report from my CT scan I was bowled over. I was given something that I hadn’t been seeking, that has now been yanked back. I really am quite tired of doctors messing with my feelings, whether intentional or not.

I tried really hard for the last few weeks to stay detached from the possibility that I might have a uterus. I honestly felt it seemed like too big of a discrepancy.  I had this sneaking suspicion that it was just another way that doctors were, intentionally or not, messing with my head. But of course I sort of built up some emotion around the idea. I began wondering about “my uterus” and such. This hurts, and I’m not even sure why. It’s not like a uterus with nowhere to go would do me any good anyway.

But dammit, how can I feel like something I never had was taken away from me?

And still, the answer always seems to come back to: “Well, there’s something weird about your body, we just don’t know what the heck it is.”

Gee. Thanks.

I guess I just feel like my dealings with doctors in the last few weeks has sort of gone like this:

“Hey Penny, guess what?”
“What?”
“You have a uterus.”
“I do? Wow. Cool. I guess. Maybe. Weird. But cool, sure. Definitely cool for some inexplicable reason.”

“Hey Penny, you know, about your uterus?”
“Yea?”
“Psych!”

What does one do with a potential uterus?

I’ve been keeping myself from thinking all that much about the possibility that I have a uterus. First off, I guess I’m still skeptical that it is, in fact, a uterus. It’s stretches credulity to believe that I would have a uterus and no one would notice that fact until now. And yet, the only CT scan I’ve ever had on my pelvis says that I have a uterus, and the tech may have said that it didn’t look completely like a normal uterus, but they also said it didn’t look like male anatomy.

So, I’ve been purposely keeping myself from dwelling too much on it. I even just mentioned to the Darling Boyfriend that I’m not even sure if I’m allowed to refer to it as “my uterus.” I feel disconnected from my body at the moment in a way that’s unusual for me nowadays. How can I talk about, or even think about “my uterus?” Do I have that right? I don’t know. It’s funny, when people express doubt that I might have a uterus, I get defensive, almost as if they’re trying to take something from me. But when people act like it’s a good thing that I have a uterus, I’m equally ambivalent.

Weird.

And the reason I’m being so ambivalent was articulated by a friend last night. We talked about my test and the results and all that. And she basically said that I should have it hooked up to my vagina and throw an embryo up there and see what happens.

Would that it were so easy.

Of course this is something that I would give my right arm for. But even if I do have a uterus, I can’t see any way in which it would be physically useful to me. This is the tease. This is the thing that I can’t let myself think. I can’t let myself get caught thinking that this potential uterus is a path to pregnancy. That’s what I’ve been afraid to think about. I know me, and I know my potential to get caught up in useless thought-loops. I’m really trying hard to not let that happen with this news.

Who knows? Maybe it is possible. Maybe in a couple years I’ll have a baby in my belly. I’m very skeptical at the potential, and in this moment I think that’s the right attitude to have. What I mean is that anything is possible, and I will ask the question of doctors, but I’m not expecting to be pregnant in six months (or ever, really).

But damn, why couldn’t I have had a test when I was 20 that mentioned a uterus?

So, I think I’m still pretty detached from the news. I don’t want to let myself get caught up in it. Indeed, if my friend hadn’t said what she said last night I probably wouldn’t be writing about it again now.

But she voiced my heart’s most desperate wish, and I guess those deserve to be voiced.

(I just now went and searched for uterus and prostate CT scans on Google images, and they look sorta different – seems like an expert should be able to tell the difference. This was the first time I’ve done this since my doctor appointment last week, which surprises me. I’d have thought it would be the first thing I’d do, but I guess I just couldn’t do it immediately. It was informative, I guess. Maybe now I’ll request a copy of my scan for myself so I can have a peek. Maybe the only way to know for sure is for someone to go cutting around in there, and unless they’re gluing an embryo in there on their way out that ain’t happening.)

I might have a uterus – insert dramatic music here…

I found out today that I have a uterus. Maybe. It’s something I’ve gotten used to, this not really having any definitive answers about my this body of mine. One of my earliest memories if being in the hospital when I had my first surgery. It’s just a flash of a memory, but I remember being in a room and having a little cart for me to be pushed around in. The memory is from after the surgery. To catch anyone up who doesn’t know, the surgery was ostensibly to remove an undescended testicle, though once the surgery was completed the doctors only told my mother that they removed a mass and that they didn’t know exactly what it was.

As I’ve written about, I’ve wondered for quite a while about what, exactly, that mass might have been. Was it a malformed testicle? Was it a lump of undefined flesh? Was it an ovary?

The truth is that I’ll never know. And I guess that’s okay.

But it means that part of my history will always be sort of vague.

Today I got the results from a pelvic CT scan that I had a few weeks ago. The scan was for an unrelated test, and I was actually a bit surprised that I even had a CT scan. I had a physical today. I wasn’t as anxious as I’ve been for some of doctor visits lately, because I feel good and figured it was just going to be an “all is well” kind of thing. I was expecting to have an appointment be normal for a change. As we were going over the results of the scan, though, it became apparent that this was going to be another stressful doctor visit. My eyes quickly locked on the statement:

The bladder, rectum, and uterus are within normal limits.”

…uterus…within normal limits.”

~What!?~

I have to be honest; my first reaction was that the person who read it just saw that I’m a woman and assumed that I have a uterus. But my doctor said that shouldn’t be the case and ~would not~ be okay. We both sort of sat there for a minute, not completely sure what to make of this incredibly heavy piece of information. She decided that she should speak directly with the person who read the scan, and that she should do that right away, so she went to put in a call to the person who had read the scan originally.

As I waited for my doctor to make that call I sat in the examination room in my johnny and I was alone with my thoughts. What does it mean if I have a uterus? What does it mean if I don’t? Wishing, for some reason I can’t fully understand, that I do have a uterus, and yet simultaneously hoping that the surprises my body has thrown at me are finally over. What could it mean about my early surgery if I have a uterus? What complications might I have in the future if there’s a uterus hiding inside of me? Could this finally be the answer? All that filled my brain in those long minutes were questions. What the true state of my body could be. Not too long ago I actually started wondering that I might have a uterus, but now, presented with the actual possibility all I could think was, “No way.” I’m still processing the initial emotions even as I write this. I think the word is “shock.” I think it will take a while for the news to sink in. As I sat there I felt myself invoke one of my most tried-and-true defense mechanisms: my emotions shut down and I withdrew. I guess I really am used to this kind of question and pain, because as much I withdrew, I didn’t go near-catatonic as I can sometimes do. I’m writing about it and talking about it. And I was able to stay present in the moment, which helped me deal with what came next.

After about fifteen minutes, my doctor came back, having left a message to be paged when word came from the other doctor. We talked, and she told me that she finally got a glimpse of what it must be like to have so many questions about my body and my history. We talked about the “whys” of things, and I told her that I’m basically at peace with the “whys” of my life, though I do still have that conversation with God ever now and again. But I am concerned with the realities of my body and my history.

During this point she did my yearly exam down south, and said that my surgeon had done an excellent job and everything looked great. So, at least that’s good news (of course, I knew that already, but it’s nice to have confirmation).

After several minutes, the beeper went off, and my doctor returned the call. She made the call from the examination room with me sitting next to her. The same physician that had originally read my results was reading the scan again. The conversation went on for several minutes. It was one of those awkward conversations where I was the subject but also had to just eavesdrop on one side. I heard my doctor ask how the scan looked compared to a male, and ask a couple other questions, but most of the information was contained on the other end of the phone line.

When she got off the phone my doctor explained about the soft tissue in the pelvis. She told me that the person reading the scan had gotten out a magnifying glass and had someone else give them a second opinion. They said that it didn’t look like a normal uterus, but that it also did not look like a prostate. There seemed a general sense of “we don’t know.” I find it interesting that when it was initially read, whatever is there looked enough like a uterus to generate the comment that the “…uterus…[is] within normal limits.” It didn’t stand out enough to generate a “whoa, something’s amiss here.” And now they don’t know.

So now, here I am, more questions floating in my mind than have been there in quite some time, needing to sort out yet another part of my story. And it’s all right. I’m used to “we don’t knows” when it comes to my body.

Ultrasound Update

So, I haven’t had tons of time, but I felt like that last post needed some sort of closure. So, I saw my doc for the follow-up to hear the results from the ultrasound. Essentially, they didn’t find anything “unusual.” The way the report was worded, I could just ~feel~ that what it said was: “normal ~male~ innards.” It didn’t, of course, but it said “40 year old individual” in a way that made me feel neutered in a way that I’m not used to. But, so, whatever, no ovary, no fallopian tube, no uterus. Barren. Closed playground. Worthless.

What else would there have been to find? At best there would have been dried up or malformed bits that certainly would never have produced a child anyway. So maybe this is better. I’m honestly not sure.

A friend suggests I insist on an MRI, as it might offer an image with better resolution. I’m not sure if I have the energy. Every step I take to try to find the answers to the mysteries of my youth is extremely draining. I do still have the sort of unexplained pain/cramps that I’ve had since I was ten years old, so further exploration may be justified.

I am going to see an endocrinologist, which, amazingly enough, I’ve managed to never have done before. Maybe they’ll have some answers. I dunno.

It’s pretty annoying feeling so defeated and so hopeless, but lately that seems to be all I can muster.

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