I am writing this document to provide as complete a disclosure of my gender condition and the relevant facts as I know them. It is my hope that you will withhold any judgment until you have read and absorbed it in its entirety, and any of the attached materials as you may find relevant to your understanding of current medical, institutional, and legal thinking and practice regarding this condition.
I'll declare straight out that I am a transsexual and am well along in the process of gender transformation. In this document I intend to address the following:
A transsexual is one who desires to permanently live life as the opposite from their birth sex. This desire is a manifestation of incompatible gender identity, a psycho-physiological condition that is now generally recognized to be congenital. That is, the brain is already at birth predisposed to a gender identity incompatible with physical gender. This generally develops into a condition known as Gender Dysphoria Syndrome, which if untreated afflicts the individual to some level of severity for the remainder of his or her life. It is generally recognized that treatments attempting to correct this condition by psychological gender identity reorientation do not work; but that treatments, which bring the body and social presentation as a whole into harmony with gender identity, have proved consistently successful. That is, molding the body to the mind rather than the mind to the body is what works. In short, a "sex change."
There is no general agreement on a genetic basis for Gender Dysphoria, only that it is congenital, or at the very least, fully determined by about age 4. But the fact remains that whether genetically hard-wired, or firm-wired during pre-natal development, gender identity is essentially immutable throughout the life of the individual. The effect on any such individual's life varies widely between people, and widely over the course of each of their lives, the degree of discomfort, suffering, and impact on social and professional functioning naturally responding to the relevant forces of his or her environment. Some live their entire lives successfully in spite of their affliction, but significant numbers have been even driven to suicide by the force of their inner urges, irreconcilable in their own minds with socially acceptable norms.
To provide in-depth technical elaboration of the above material, I have attached three papers, "Gender Dysphoria: Treatment Limits and Options,", "Transsexualism: The Current Medical Viewpoint.", and "The Process of Acceptance in Transsexuals"
In retrospect, I can trace my own personal experience of gender dysphoria to the tender age of six. At least that's the earliest I can recall of covertly cross-dressing in my sister's clothing. Even at that age, I sensed that this was abnormal, and to avoid ridicule, I already knew I had to be covert. In the vernacular, I've been "in the closet" since about six. Throughout elementary and junior high school, I experienced major difficulties, going through a number of cycles of what I now know is a classic pattern. That is, reluctantly yielding to my "evil" inner desires, accumulating "forbidden" wardrobes, indulging in dress-up sessions, then ridden with shame and guilt, purging my wardrobe to remove the temptation, and resolving to be normal; only in time to succumb again. Each cycle took a few years, and my own self-image, confidence, and social functioning fluctuated accordingly.
Sometime in high school, I first became aware that I was not a totally unique freak. In fact, it was while reading J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, where one short paragraph described a voyeuristic cross-dressing scene. Before that, it had never occurred to me that anyone else in the world did these kinds of weird things. I soon thereafter learned about the terms "cross-dressing" and "transvestite," and concluded that must be what I was. And then there was Christine Jorgenson, the first public transsexual within my awareness, but I was entirely incapable at that time of perceiving any distinction: transvestite was what I knew I was. Knowing that I was not entirely unique helped somewhat, but my feelings of shame and guilt persisted nevertheless.
Then I went to college. I was firm in my resolve to put all that behind me, and to act and be a real man. I forced myself to date, but often botched it because I didn't have a clue how to act the testosterone loaded college freshman that in body I was. Nevertheless, I tried -- oh, God did I try -- to be just as macho and manly as I could be. Which led me into lots of fun "boy things" like class-6 rock climbing and fast motorcycles. I even spent one of my co-op job periods working as an auto mechanic. But underneath it all, even though I was avoiding the behavior that would have caused me those guilt reactions, there was an undercurrent, incessantly pulling, inexorably tugging, never quite going away. And then there was my extended co-op job aboard a ship on an oceanographic expedition. I lived for a year with the ship's crew and the oceanographers, all doing their best, in the finest of maritime tradition, to out-macho the others. Surprisingly, I managed to fake it well enough to gain a formidable reputation: the "skinny chinaman" that you'd better not mess with; dressed like Tarzan, complete with hunting knife, bare feet, and ragged long hair.
Somewhere around my senior year, after returning from oceanography, I came to the realization that my dysphoria (although I didn't know it had a name at the time) was more a problem in society than it was in me. I'd been there: to the bars and bordellos with the sailors; done that: with the fast bikes and college girls. I knew at that point, I could act out being "one of the guys," no problem. I also knew it wasn't working for me. I had avoided indulging for over five years and any residual guilt feelings I then experienced I identified with what might occur rather than what I had done. It was then I realized that all my shame and guilt had sprung out of a social taboo rather than from any personal wrongdoing. It was a liberating moment. I stopped hating and blaming myself, and put the blame where I (still) firmly believe it belongs: on an intolerant social taboo peculiar to a particular culture in which I live.
As a sidebar observation, I now believe my bonding-at-the-hip with science and technology grew out of the one psychological haven for me during my entire younger life. In matters scientific, I not only had an outstanding aptitude, but also could always experience respect for myself. That felt good. Being more facile than the other kids in science was the one refuge I could consistently count on to maintain any self-confidence. In retrospect, I think it fair to say that's what saved my sanity in those days.
Ever since graduation, I've pursued a technically oriented career path, one in which the socially accepted image is that of a typically macho, manly engineer. Meanwhile in my private life, I've continued to quietly cross-dress as necessary to satisfy those inner drives. For them to coexist, I kept my professional and personal lives highly compartmentalized. And I consistently maintained a very high level of discretion. My wife has been very understanding, and while she has never been enthusiastic about my peculiarities, neither has she ever condemned me for them. Nevertheless, her unease with my practice was a force motivating me to burden her less and less with my transvestism over the years, and it eventually became an entirely private activity. Thus most of my adult life, I have been cross-dressing in private, without guilt, but always with a very strong apprehension of the consequences that might ensue were I to be exposed.
And that brings me to my latest chapter. When did I learn I was not just a transvestite, rather a true transsexual? Well, the handwriting on the wall had become increasingly clear over the last decade; I just hadn't been paying attention. What got my attention was what I call a "defining moment." It seems many of the transsexuals I have met recently have experienced some sort of a defining moment: that time when they clearly realized they could no longer function effectively in their extant gender.
In my case, it was in UNC Memorial Hospitals. I was recovering from falling off my barn roof, landing on my head on a tree trunk. Fractured skull, punctured lung, no conceivable reason on God's green earth that I should have survived. Having time to reflect on this (in between the bouts of pain), the immediacy of my own mortality became starkly undeniable. In those hours and days, I counted my blessings, and accomplishments, tallying those things of which I could feel proud when I shed this existence, and those that I'd regret not having done properly or completely. And then...
There was one big abyss: an unfulfilled side of my existence that had always been denied a fair shake at life. It was then that the feminine side of my psyche rose up in outrage and cried out, "I've never even been given a chance. I'm too young to die!" And I heard this plea, and considered it deeply. Be it God, the Universe, or the Great Wheel of Incarnation, there is a reason I was sent back to this body. It was not for unfinished business in my professional life, nor for unfulfilled social obligations, of that I'm certain. I believe it was for the rude way my feminine alter ego had been treated: repressed and ignored, never to blossom or see the light of day. It was time for Cinderella to rise from the ashes of her hearth and get a life. This was my revelation: I'd been granted a second chance at life and the reason for it was clear. And that was my defining moment.
Where does that leave me today? I am well along in my medical transition, nearly two years into hormone treatments, electrolysis, the whole bit. I have met a significant sized community of transgendered people with a subset of perhaps eight transsexuals, some pre-operative, some post-op, and have learned a lot about what to expect, and pitfalls to avoid. And I’ve discovered things to be learned so I can present myself socially as a female befitting my age rather than attracting attention or causing embarrassment through inappropriate behavior. I occasionally present myself as female in public, but more regularly in the more sheltered environment of support group meetings and visits with my new transgendered friends. The net is, I'm physiologically about halfway transitioned, and am just beginning to socialize myself in a female role. Already the psychological rewards are tangible. Unexpectedly, I even find myself more self confident in my professional role. I can't explain why -- I'd really anticipated paranoia!
Nevertheless, there is lots of unfinished business. Coming out to everyone who matters: family, neighbors, colleagues and associates. Deciding whether I can ever feasibly consider presenting myself as a woman professionally -- that may be a matter largely in the hands of my faculty colleagues. And of course that question cannot even be discussed until I have come out to the faculty as a whole, a daunting prospect to say the least. Relevant University policy and legalities appear favorably disposed, but irrespective of formal policy, a successful and productive conclusion of my professional career depends crucially on the professional respect and acceptance accorded me by my colleagues.
These are the major unresolved questions that will determine whether it's possible for me to complete my gender transition in its entirety while remaining a productive researcher and member of the faculty. It is my fervent desire to accomplish both, so I can someday leave this world having successfully fulfilled my destiny. If in the judgment of my colleagues this cannot be accepted, my choice would have be to abandon my career, or to live in a dual role until retirement, assuming at least that would be accepted. That is, to be a male Lab Director by day, and my real self only on my own time – a confusing and not entirely satisfying existence to contemplate.
[The final three paragraphs which addressed plans, hopes, and issues of transitioning at work have been elided, since that is now past history and no longer relevant to this account. -- LV, 5 September 1999]
Permission to copy only in its entirety is hereby granted strictly for non-commercial purposes.
Copyright © 11 November 1998, Vernon L. Chi
Update © 15 November 1999, Leandra Vicci