Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Transgender frequently asked questions

How did you choose your name Cynthia Alison Fortlage?
I kept my last name as I wanted some connection to my birth name. Many trans people change it completely.

I chose my first name because it was my paternal grand mothers name that I never met.

My middle name is Alison, according to my Mom that was my first name as she thought for sure that I would be born a girl, just took me 50 yrs to figure that out.

Wow, so you wanted to be even trendier than Ellen DeGeneres?
It's nothing new, but it's been in the media more lately. Transgenderism appears throughout history and is documented worldwide. Medical advances in this century have made it possible for male-to-female transsexuals to achieve nearly identical physiology as genetic females.

Most people don't differentiate between sex and gender. Basically, sex is biological, gender is social. There really isn't much difference between men and women physiologically-- just a chromosome and a couple of chemical levels. The bulk of the difference is social. From the earliest age, boys are expected to act this way, and girls are expected to act that way. Because these social pressures are so pervasive, they almost seem natural unless you step back and think about them.

So, this is a sex issue?
Because the word transsexual has the word "sex" in it, people often think it's mostly about sex. While that's sometimes part of it, transsexuals are usually more interested in getting their bodies to match their feelings. For me, it's really about how I am perceived in day-to-day situations.

So, this is a gender issue?
Yep. There are many kinds of transgender people, and among them are transsexuals. transgender is a general term for crossdressers, transsexuals, female and male impersonators, drag queens/kings, intersexuals, gender dysphorics, and those for whom other gender labels do not fit. I usually tell people I'm a transgender women to be specific, and that I'm part of the transgender community, which encompasses all of us.

I totally understand your situation. After all, I saw "Tootsie."
No, it's not like "Tootsie," or "Some Like It Hot," or "Bosom Buddies" or "Mrs. Doubtfire." Comedies like those are funny because the male characters are forced by necessity to dress as women, after which the hilarity and hijinks ensue. The Ladies' Night guys for Bud Light are funny in the same way, because in the real world they would never pass as women. Let's hope I'm not humorous for the same reason.

So, more like RuPaul?
Um, no. RuPaul is a drag queen, as is Dolly Parton. They are entertainers who use excessive femininity in their acts. Torch Song Trilogy, La Cage Aux Folles, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the Birdcage, Paris Is Burning-- they're all about drag queens. In the same vein are female illusionists whose goal is to portray a convincing act of femininity onstage and sometimes off. Maybe you saw The Crying Game or have been to the Baton nightclub. Those would be examples of very good female illusionists (they get touchy about the word "impersonator," and you don't want one of them mad at you.

So, more like Marv Albert?
Um, no. Marv had a crossdressing fetish of some sort. Same with Dennis Rodman, J. Edgar Hoover, and a huge list of other rather masculine men. Crossdressers get sexual or emotional satisfaction from touching or wearing women's clothing. Almost all are straight males. The generally accepted number is around 1 in 50 men.

So, like a hermaphrodite?
I've been describing what I'm not to clear that up first. One last thing I'm not is intersexed. An intersexual (hermaphrodite) is a person who is born between (inter) sexes, having partially or fully developed pairs of female and male sex organs. "Intersexual" is usually preferred over the word "Hermaphrodite". These conditions are genetic and occur about as frequently as twins.

OK, OK, you're a transsexual. What does that mean?
Transsexuals feel their body does not match the way they think and feel, and they seek to remedy this by changing their body to match their mind. There are almost as many female-to-male transsexuals as there are male to female. For some reason, FTMs are largely ignored-- probably because they almost invariably are indistinguishable from genetic men. The effects of testosterone on females is more dramatic then the effects of estrogen on males (think East German olympic swimmers). Plus, I've never met a female-to-male whom I could tell without their outing themselves to me.

As much as I hate to admit it, Yes Caitlyn Jenner and I have this in common that we are both transgendered women.

So are you, like, gay or something?
Gender identity and sexual orientation are separate traits, although most people don't think about them as separate. There are straight transsexuals and gay transsexuals, etc. I am in a committed 30 yr marriage where I am fully committed to continuing to be Monogamous.

While transsexuals are different from gays and lesbians, we have many of the same issues, since we are all going against what society has constructed as appropriate gender behavior. The Stonewall Riot that sparked the gay rights movement in this country was instigated by drag queens, which is why they marched first in the Stonewall 25 parade. Several women's groups have also embraced our issues, most recently the National Organization of Women. NOW has acknowledged that transsexuals totally disrupt gender-based stereotypes by forcing people to think about how much of it is merely social instead of "natural."

How did you get this way?
Plain truth is, nobody knows what causes this, although theories abound. Many people believe there is a biological component. The most common theory involves hormones affecting fetal brain development. But again, no one knows for sure. Personally, I don't really care what the cause is, anyway. I've felt this way as long as I can remember, and I think it's better to look forward than backwards.

I don't think of being transsexual as a blessing or a curse. I just think of it as a trait, like being right-handed or tall. Unfortunately, any trait carries with it certain social stereotypical presumptions. The misconceptions transsexuals have to deal with are that it's all about sex, or that we're just gay people who hate being gay. I just find that living and interacting with others as a female feels right.

How did you know?
I knew something was up from earliest memory. I have several specific memories from around age 9. I was scared to death to tell my parents how I felt, though. By the time I got to middle school, I was starting to have a lot of problems with classmates because I was effeminate, so I made every effort to act the way boys were expected to. This strategy worked, and I decided that I'd be better off putting all that behind me. Eventually, I decided I could manage my feelings without doing anything about them.

By a few years ago, I started to realize that I was getting more and more unhappy because I wasn't addressing those feelings. I started therapy and quickly concluded what I suspected early on.

I have begun planning for transition, getting everything taken care of prior to going full-time. This includes telling everyone outside of work, having laser & electrolysis to remove my body hair (yeouch!), having manicured nails, piercing my ears, cleaning up my brows, starting hormone therapy, growing my hair, developing a female voice, and some cosmetic surgery. I will also legally change my name on all documents.

How did you go about this?
The medical community has developed its own standards of conduct regarding sex reassignment surgeries. They were created at a conference in the mid-60's and were adopted as the world standard for sex reassignment surgeries. My transition will be done according to these standards.

How long have you been doing this?
I got serious about it two years ago, and I've been living as female outside of work for almost 5 months now. All my family know, and everyone has been great so far. I hope you'll continue that trend.

Why are you switching at work?
The final stage of the Standards of Care is the Real Life Test (RLT), which involves living as a member of the desired sex for a period of time. This is to help transsexuals determine if sex-reassignment surgery is right for him or her. Most psychiatric professionals require a minimum of one year RLT before giving their approval for sex-reassignment surgery. That's the stage that I will communicate with you again in future as I prepare to arrive at work as Cynthia to begin my Real life test.

Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) is the final event in the sex-reassignment procedure. Although transsexuals have no reproductive organs (uterus/ovaries) the final result is cosmetically and functionally indistinguishable from that of genetic females. Some decide not to have this surgery, at this time I anticipate that I will have that surgery.

What bathroom are you going to use?
I don't want people to feel uncomfortable about this, there is no gender neutral bathroom in the building that I can use to avoid the issue. When I am dressed as Cynthia I've been using women's restrooms when necessary without any problems-- it's just a bathroom, after all.  When dressed s Nigel I use men’s restrooms. I will attempt to find a bathroom on another floor that can be used without issue before I appear at work as Cynthia, in the case of an urgent need I will use the one closest to me.

So, when do you appear on Jerry Springer?
Every group has its share of kooks and idiots. Unfortunately, that's true of transsexuals, too. Problem is, the morons who go on shows like Jerry Springer end up getting more media coverage than the doctors, lawyers, and other professionals I know.

For example, my four closest transsexual friends are: a bus driver, an engineer, a teacher, and a computer programmer. They lead very normal lives and seek to blend into society rather than stand out. That is my goal as well.

The other group of transsexuals who get noticed are those who are visibly gender variant. While they should get as much respect as those who are accepted as female, they must deal with additional discrimination and harassment. They also have become the cliché of what a transsexual is, since those who are accepted as female well do not get noticed.

I'm sure you have encountered several transsexuals without even knowing. I have been fortunate enough to go about my life without getting "read" or "clocked" very often. While I'm not ashamed to be a transsexual, I hope it eventually becomes a very incidental part of my life so I can get on with more important things.

What if I call you the wrong name?
I know that's going to happen. Don't worry about it. You'll use the other name, other pronouns etc., even if you're trying hard. I'm not touchy, and I try to have a very good sense of humor about the whole thing. I know this is prime comedy material, and I can laugh along with good-natured joking.

What should I do if I have other questions?
1. Everyone is welcome to stop by and talk with me. I'm happy to answer any questions (well, almost any), and I assure you I will tell no one what you asked me. Obviously, I'm pretty good at keeping things secret.
2. If you don't feel comfortable talking with me, you may ask Jocelyn, who can then get an answer from me and get it back to you anonymously.
3. If you need to talk with someone we have the new Solareh service available to help you talk through your questions.
4. If you don't feel comfortable talking with Jocelyn or I, check out the list of books available the Rainbow Resource Library here in Winnipeg. They also provide resources for friends, family, and co-workers who need support.

My most helpful book to date is:
True Selves: Understanding Transsexualism--For Families, Friends, Coworkers, and Helping Professionals
by by Mildred L. Brown (Author), Chloe Ann Rounsley (Author)

Can be found on Amazon.ca link:

In Winnipeg, Rainbow Resource Center, 170 Scott St, (204) 474-0212

2nd Tuesday of the month. 7PM-9PM. The Qube. Year round. Social support group for parents, friends and family members of trans individuals. Open to the general public. Group facilitators can be reached at pffoti@gmail.com.

The Winnipeg Transgender Support Group has a list of reading materials that you may wish to look up, many of these titles are available from the Rainbow Resource Centre library. Links to both are provided below.

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