Manga review: The Bride Was a Boy

Follow up on my manga review, here I talk about The Bride Was a Boy, by Chii, who tells us how she managed to find a boyfriend and marry him after she was raised as a boy. All the while explaining what a gender transition is.

As mentioned in my previous article, I will be dedicating a full page on The Bride Was a Boy, a Japanese comic book about a transgender woman, Chii (the author) who is finally getting married, despite all the obstacles that she had to overcome to make it possible. Obviously, being a transgender woman, I deeply relate to the author, even though I live in a country where such barriers don’t exist. We’ll get to that in a moment.

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At first, I was surprised by the title. “The Bride was a Boy” seemed like a weird way to make people understand that transgender women are women and where not actually boys, and I was genuinely scared that it would just make fun of us. But the author clears that up in the very first page: “The Bride was a Boy” is an oversimplification or, as she says “I was a boy, or at least, I looked like one”, and goes on to describe how her life unfolded from growing up as a boy in the eyes of society.

It is a personal account, and like any other personal account (see my review of First Year Out, by Sabrina Symington), the experience differs greatly from person to person. Chii makes a good case of pointing that out. Which is where her manga isn’t just a nice and funny account of a person’s life,

IT IS A PUBLIC SERVICE!

And I don’t mean it lightly. It’s very rare to read an author who wants to be as inclusive and comprehensive as it can, going beyond their own experience. To go into this, we need to look at the structure of the book. The story is divided in 9 chapters, each talking about a significant period in her life. Some overlap (hormone therapy and legal gender change, for example), but overall, it’s mostly chronological. And where this work isn’t just a life story and becomes actually educational, it’s in the fact that between every chapter, Chii explains a transition step or a an issue that can’t put into images because they are quite complex and she wants to make sure it is well understood by anyone who read it.

And it’s very accurate. Where the comic strips tell her life, the educational texts go into a lot of educational details (1), that are still explained in such a simple way anyone will understand, including, and especially, children. She also acknowledge where she lacks the knowledge to explain further, especially when something differs between countries. The most obvious example is the legal name change. She explains how it’s done in Japan, but she can’t possibly tell how other countries deal with it, since there is no two countries that share the same laws and regulations on the matter. But she explains all the important notions necessary to understand the situation for trans people, and she even cites scientific sources at the end of the book.

Finally, I should talk a bit about the art and the tone in itself, because not only it is a great romance in a super cute style,

IT’S ALSO SUPER FUNNY!

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The back cover cracked me up. That’s totally the kind of cute humour the story is full of.

It’s super refreshing. It is a love story that ends well about a transgender woman who gets married with her quirky and funny boyfriend who never at any point doubted she was a woman. Let me say that again.

IT’S A STORY ABOUT A TRANSGENDER WOMAN WHO LIVES A HAPPY LIFE.

And we need that. We need stories where it’s not just about being harassed, assaulted or killed, but where it is possible to actually be happy when and after transitioning. That we can have the same things than any other people, that it’s normal, and that no one comes to take it from us because they don’t like the idea of us.

So, I think you understand now that I totally recommend this book. Read it, give it to your friends and family, because it’s really a comic book for everyone. No question about it. Why are you even still here?

 

(1) She even go as far as talking about the DSM and the difference between Gender Identity Disorder and Gender Dysphoria, and why now GD is preferred by the scientific society but Japan still uses GID. She also points out that any information regarding medical regulation and laws on gender change are true in 2016 when the book is released but may change later.

Quick review of queer mangas

Review of two book: Claudine, a 1978 manga about a transgender man facing bullying; and My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, the true account of a young homosexual woman who had to face depression and social expectations.

After I saw a post on twitter about Claudine, a Japanese comic book about a transgender man that was supposedly very good (for its time), I set out to buy it, and added in my shopping cart a couple of other mangas dealing with LGBT issues: My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, and The Bride Was a Boy.

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So here are the reviews in the reading order.

Claudine, by Ryoko Ikeda:

Claudine is by far the weakest of the three. I was expecting a very powerful art work about trans issues, but instead, I got shallow characters, empty plot and a poor understanding of the subject. Now, it was made in 1978, and it is probably the reflection of the stereotypes of that time, but there are points in this book that make it really not interesting as a story.

And the biggest problem is the main character. He has no other definition than being transgender. We don’t know anything about him. The story is told from the accounts of his psychiatrist who, you’d think would talk about more things than just his struggle with gender identity. But we never know a single thing about Claudine but that she is from a rich family. I think it kills the story entirely, because it is impossible to relate to a character who’s just an empty shell. And the psychiatrist, who is ultimately the voice of the author, kills the whole open-mindedness by saying a very transphobic “Even a true man couldn’t love a woman so utterly” (1).

Then, the plot revolves almost uniquely around a girl who is in love with Claudine and sets out to sabotage every single relationship he (Claudine) has with other girls. And the whole story is like that. Claudine is rather passive. Things happen to her, it’s all about how people react to her, but not much how she reacts. She is like the MacGuffin of her own story.

I can’t really talk about the art form, because I am not used to the manga style, but I was surprised that Claudine was drawn in a very different style than the other characters. Maybe the author wanted him to stand out from the crowd, but for me, it just reinforces the MacGuffin effect, his shallowness, that he is not human, as opposed to all the other characters.

Finally, although there are some good ideas, the book, even by the 70’s standards, this story lacks character development, which was a real turn off to me. I couldn’t see a real person in Claudine, and it was a huge drawback in my opinion.

 

My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, by Nagata Kabi:

This book is a breath of fresh air. It’s powerful, moving and relatable. It’s not a graphic novel. It’s more like an illustrated essay. Every strip is narrated by the author, who tells her own story. A story of feeling like an outcast, because she doesn’t see herself in the expectations of others. And still she tries to meet these expectations, which drives her to be even more miserable, and not knowing why.

It is a powerful tale of getting to know yourself and the cause of your sickness, instead of finding ways to ignore it or inflicting physical pain to oneself to know why it hurts. It touched so close to home on so many occasion, I wanted to cry during most of the book. It’s quite surely a good read to anyone who faced depression and had a hard time recognising the cause, or to people who never had such an experience but would like to understand how oppressing and terrifying this situation is.

It is well crafted; although it’s a real story, the author makes the effort of giving it a pace and a structure, and every act offers to show a real change in her mindset and relationship with her illness (2) until she understands the cause and ultimately gets better by living the life that suits her, instead of trying to get her parents approval on everything (3). Her illustrations are really doing a good work of explaining how her depression worked and how she was feeling most of the time. I think that even someone who’s never had depression and doesn’t understand the concept can have a pretty good idea at how it must feel for people who are afflicted.

And of course, it’s also a story of a lesbian woman in a country that is still very conservative on sexuality, and who ultimately tries to be herself despite social barriers. Just read it people.

 

The Bride Was a Boy, by Chii:

I have a lot to say about this one, so here is a page dedicated to this review.

 

(1) Let’s hope it’s a translation mistake, which is totally possible, seeing how disastrous the translation is. Full of typos, grammar errors, inconsistencies, I had to read some lines several times to make sure I understood.

(2) I shouldn’t have to explain that, but in case anyone misinterpret what I wrote: her illness is not her homosexuality, obviously. It’s the depression that comes from the inability to recognise that she is homosexual and trying to fit into societal expectations.

(3) Yes, I’m spoiling the end, but that was that or killing herself. So since she is writing this book, we can only assume it’s not really a surprise. The whole point of the story is to see how she navigates her depression and heals.

“Do you believe I see a woman when I look at you?” – How self-perception is stronger than the view of others

Sometimes, you want to talk about a film that hasn’t been released yet, because you put a lot of faith in it. So in this post, I will be talking about Girl, by Lukas Dhont, and why it is important to me that it doesn’t disappoint.

It’s that time in the year when people rush to the South of France to watch tons of films that won’t be released before 6 months. Well, tons of privileged people, since the Cannes Film Festival is the only festival in the world that doesn’t accept self-paying visitors. Nevermind that, there are still very interesting films being shown there, and even though I can’t attend (never been even once), I still follow what’s happening, thanks to Alicia Malone‘s tweetline (1).

And one of her tweets particularly caught my eye:

Obviously (if you know enough about me), I was instantly interested about this film, Girl, directed by Lukas Dhont, and apparently, the French newspaper LeMonde also saw the film and gave their few cents on it. And now I am totally hooked. I know I have to wait until October to watch it in theatre, and I don’t usually review a prospect of a film, but there is a good reason I am hopeful: this is not a movie about transphobia (2). Most movie about transgender people deal with the hardship of being transgender because of other people being total assholes. This film is different. There is no debate about transgender people. We exist, it’s a fact, and in this story, every one is accepting of the trans girl. The family is loving, everybody is willing to help or at least they behave around her like she’s a totally normal girl.

The hardship is elsewhere. It’s internal. Even though people offer their help and support, we can’t move onward if we don’t acknowledge that this help is honest. It is best shown in this snippet of the movie:

At some point, the psychiatrist asks “Do you believe I see a woman when I look at you?” And he has to pull the answer out of her mouth. “No”. She says it so timidly. And for a good reason. It’s hard to tell someone you don’t believe them when they show the much needed support. And if we don’t believe it, it’s because we don’t see it ourselves. Therefore it seems impossible that other people see something about us that we only dreamt of for so long.

To me, it touches so close to home. I moved to Canada in January 2017, introducing to everyone as Élise, but people I was meeting randomly would obviously not see me as a woman. It took months of hormone therapy (I started in May 2017) and laser beard removal (since September 2016) before I could see any significant change. Since I never really enjoyed doing make-up that much or dressing overly feminine or girly, it didn’t help to be gendered correctly on a regular basis. That took time, and I saw it happen, first occasionally, then more frequently, until this month. Now It happens every single time. It downed on me last week in a bar where a group of guys on a bachelor party didn’t think twice about my gender. One even did a really corny move in my back, thinking I didn’t see. I can’t tell if they knew I was transgender, but if they did, they surely hid it very well.

But the switch really happened this weekend. I went with a friend to look at swimsuits. I haven’t done any scuba diving for 3 years and I miss it so much it drives me crazy. I had to go to the store, to build up the courage (wearing a push-up bra helped too). When I arrived at the swimwear corner, the saleswoman instantly greeted me with a “Madam” and asked me what I was looking for, and offered me to try some on. I switched. I stopped being afraid.

It was like learning a new language. You struggle for a long time with the idea that you’ll ever be able to speak fluently. And one day, it just happens. You feel it inside of you. You’re thinking in your new language and people understand when you speak. It’s what happened to me that day. I knew I was passing. Maybe not 100%. Maybe not if I stay in a conversation for such a long time that people get from the way I speak and behave that I’m trans, but it doesn’t matter. People gender me correctly at the introduction, and that’s 99% of the work.

For a long time, I felt like this young dancer in Girl. I couldn’t see what people were seeing. But now I can, and it’s such a wonderful feeling. I may be scared again, occasionally, but I know that most of the time, I can do it confidently.

On a side note, I love the interaction between the father and the daughter in this clip, it sounds so realistic:

So, Girl, please be as wonderful as people say. We need it.

 

(1) You can also read my review of her book Backward and in Heels.

(2) And I don’t mean film about transphobia are not interesting. They are, and they need to exist, at least as long as transphobia is a thing. But I wish we could have transgender characters in movies where they’re not here just to talk about transphobia. There are trans people out there living − almost − normal lives. Please talk about them or include them in your stories like it’s normal. That’s what we need. On this note, if you haven’t yet, you should definitely watch A Fantastic Woman (La Mujer Fantastica, by Sebastian Lelio).

I used to know my personality, but now I can’t get my head around it

I have had a discussion with a new friend I made in Montréal, who told me she went to a speed dating event and it was a lot of fun. So she suggested I should go to one and I rapidly replied I couldn’t attend such an event, not because I don’t like the concept (I did say it was a weird concept, but hey, don’t you agree?), but because I’m just unable to do so.

I have had a discussion with a new friend I made in Montréal, who told me she went to a speed dating event and it was a lot of fun. So she suggested I should go to one and I rapidly replied I couldn’t attend such an event, not because I don’t like the concept (I did say it was a weird concept, but hey, don’t you agree?), but because I’m just unable to do so. Problem is, I couldn’t explain why in short sentences. I mentioned it had to do with anxiety and fear, but these feelings are only the result of something deeper.

Introversion

I am an introverted person. I have always been. It’s not the result of dysphoria, depression or any condition I may be in. It’s not a problem either. We can’t state that enough. Introversion is not something to be ashamed of, to try to conceal or beat yourself out of it, even if modern western societies are custom-made for extroverted people. It’s just a type of personality, and it’s a spectrum (like everything with personality). You may be very extroverted, very introverted, or somewhere in between. As soon as you figure out where you are in the spectrum, it’s easier to know what to look for in your social life.

For my part, I’m super introverted. I won’t say that I have one leg over the edge, but I’m pretty sure I fall outside the standard deviation. It took time for me to realise that, although, to be honest, it was painfully obvious. Socially, it has a huge implications. I can’t maintain a lot of relationships simultaneously, because I need to be deeply invested in the ones I have. If I don’t have deep relationships, I can go into depression. It has been a real struggle when I was living in Vancouver, since it was a real challenge to make any connection, let alone meaningful ones (and thanks Ashley and Bria for being there, you’ve made every moment spent with you worth it).

But one thing really changed since last year. You know it: I started a gender transition, and whereas before transition, I could easily judge how to position myself around people, now I am totally lost. And it was even worse in Vancouver, where people are really good at treating you with some kind of benevolent hypocrisy.

Making relationships through a different gender

It would be a lie to say that by observing how women live and by talking with them for years, I could be prepared to what was going to happen to me. But it is not even relevant, since people don’t behave around me like I’m a woman anyway. Of course, some try, because they want to be respectful, but in the end, they just behave like I am transgender. I know there is a difference because I spent many nights alone at bars and I have yet to get a free drink.

So not only I am not sure how people would react to me if they were seeing me as a woman, but it’s totally impossible to know how anyone would react out of the blue seeing that I am transgender (most people still only see a man with long hair). I don’t know if the person will be open-minded or a heartless bigot. Then, when I find a person who is nice enough to actually want to pursue a conversation, I realise that I don’t even know how I will react.

Neurocognitive studies have showed that mimicry and empathy are innate features helping people connect and share emotions. But I lost both to some extend. I used to be very good at understanding people and adapt to them when needed, but in the past year, I had to force myself to act differently, to erase years of conditioning, which caused interferences when interacting with people. Since I was around 20, I started to reinforce habits to counteract my dysphoric feelings (or however I thought about it back then), which caused me to become a person I really didn’t like. Now I feel stuck with those habits, and although I am working at erasing them from my behaviour, they tend to come back when I start feeling confident or close to someone. And it scares the hell out of me.

Dating with the fear of showing the wrong side of me

I stated above that we have as many sides as we have relationships, because we adapt our behaviour to our interlocutor, but it’s more like tweaking our personality to make our interaction seamless with one another (and we generally have a threshold until which we accept to malleable, after what we have an opposite reaction).

In that regard, I now have two sides of my personality: the shy woman who tries to get by in her new situation, and the douchy man who is getting murdered and left behind in a ditch, but who tends to make himself remembered at the worst moment, when things are getting serious. And my fear is just that. Having G. come in and reclaim the attention. And it happens. Often. If I am with a friend, after some time I go back again to the way I used to talk. If I end up in a party with many people, which happened a few days ago, I will have reactions that I totally hate because it reminds me of the person I used to be (1).

And since I am not stupid, I know it will happen during a date, and I just can’t take the chance.

A quick note on speed-dating

So, take all of that, the introversion, the transitioning, and the morphing personality, shake it thoroughly and splash it all on my face, and you will have an idea of how I will behave if I was thrown into the pit with countless women, as open-minded or inclusive as they may be. I think I would end up with a panic attack/nervous breakdown. I had some for less than that, some of which are even recorded on this website.

In these circumstances, speed dating is really not an option for me right now. It’s doesn’t help that I’m a very casual person, and going to a highly codified type of event is not really for my taste, even just for fun. I am much rather the kind of girl who like to meet up in a cool bar with some finger food and a drink, and have a chill and fun conversation. Maybe I will look very traditional by saying that I am rather looking at developing a friendship that can expand to something bigger, than jumping straight into bed.

I should make a topic about it, but long story short, I need to build a trusting relationship before going any further, and from what you’ve just read about my personality, I am sure you understand by now that I can’t get to trust someone enough in 5 min to think ahead.

That’s it for now, but since you diligently read until here, I will share with you the song I was listening to while I was finishing writing this article:

 


(1) OMG! I even did a quick mansplaning (transplaining?) on someone who is 10 times smarter (at least) than I am. I’m so ashamed of that. When I realised a moment later, I wished life as we know it stopped. Yes, I’m over-dramatic like that.

Quick note: First Year Out, by Sabrina Symington

Today, I want to talk about this graphic novel that hits so close to home, since it’s about gender transition. It’s called First Year Out, A Transition Story, and as the title states, it narrates about a year in the life of Lily, a trans woman, right after she comes out.

Today, I want to talk about this graphic novel that hits so close to home, since it’s about gender transition. It’s called First Year Out, A Transition Story, and as the title states, it narrates about a year in the life of Lily, a trans woman, right after she comes out.

First year out

It is important to note that it is “a” transition story. She doesn’t mean it to depict the life of every trans woman, since we all go though very different things. So this story is mostly about herself, and also includes bits of stories that happened to her friends or other trans women she knows. Personally, I relate so much to a lot of things that are depicted in this book that I felt I had written it at times. But also, it made me cry a lot, since I felt close to the main character, but also because it doesn’t shy away from the hardship of being transgender, while staying positive all along.

I really encourage every one to read First Year Out. It’s definitely an interesting story, and it shouldn’t be confined in the small circle of the LGBTQ community. It would also support this rising artist to make a name for herself, and draw more amazing graphic novels in the future. I can’t wait for the next one.

On the side note, when reading First Year Out, you can see that the drawing style gets sharper and more precise toward the end, and Sabrina would tell you it’s because the making spanned over a period of a year (or more?) and obviously the style would definitely change. Personally, I was so absorbed by the story that I didn’t notice, but I like to think that the change in style unconsciously represents the change of state of Lily as she finds peace in her life. Since I pulled the “unconscious” string, she can’t deny, right?

The strange phenomenon of saying pointless yet hurtful things

The fact that Dune -Ya takes our side is a great things. She posted a lot of awesome messages about transgender inclusion, and I thank her for that, but as she said in a later tweet, she got really mean replies to that message, and didn’t know why people are so mindlessly cruel. And I don’t know either.

[…]

Today, I came across this tweet (I put the transcription under the tweets in case they get deleted somehow):

 “trans women r .. women .. if ur a straight boy attracted to trans women u r still .. straight . quick maths — dune -Ya (ya ya ) (@dounia)”

The fact that Dune -Ya takes our side is a great things. She posted a lot of awesome messages about transgender inclusion, and I thank her for that, but as she said in a later tweet, she got really mean replies to that message, and didn’t know why people are so mindlessly cruel. And I don’t know either. One reply that caught my eye was this one:

“Trans women are not women they are….trans women. Trans men are not men they are….trans men. Just because you decide to change how you look doesn’t mean you can relate to/identify with people who were naturally born that way. — M (@fiyamayaa)”

And because it wasn’t clear enough, she followed up with that:

“Like I said, they can turn into whatever they want to be but they cannot relate to me as a female woman. No matter how hard they try. This doesn’t mean they deserve any disrespect or pain but they aren’t female women. They are male women. — M (@fiyamayaa)”

And the fact that she says that we don’t deserve any disrespect is quite funny when she basically shits on excludes us in the same sentence. Also, she posted a handful of other mean tweets after that, but I don’t think I need to show them all, I guess you got the idea.

So, I don’t want to go into the debate of this very binary view of gender, because it’s not the point and anyway, when we do that, it’s like punching air. Bigots are just not receptive. No, I want to talk about another part of her message, when she declares that trans-women cannot relate to cis-woman (and changing “trans” and “cis” by “male” and “female” doesn’t make it more accurate, just fucking rude). And I’m sorry to break it to you, but of course, I wasn’t born with a woman’s body, and I didn’t grow up being identified as a woman, so obviously I didn’t have to experience what women get when they grow up. Also I don’t have some of the annoying things that come with the female body, like periods. That’s one thing hormone therapy or surgery doesn’t provide, and unless they come up with a way to shove a functional uterus in a trans-woman’s abdomen, it’s not going to happen anytime soon. I had problems of my own, you know, growing up with the wrong body, and even though I identify as a woman, I’m not asking cis-women to relate to it. And don’t think I would hesitate a second to trade everything for a fully functional female body, so people would genuinely see me as a woman. I’d do it in a heartbeat.

But I wonder. Why state the obvious? I know I’m trans, and not cis. Why bother telling me? Who are you trying to convince? Transphobes are way beyond recognising it, they’re straight out calling us “male with a face full of make-up” (2). And tolerant people already know that, but they’re not saying it. Because they know we know, and that saying it to our face is just rude. You can’t say that people don’t deserve any disrespect, and be rude at the same time. They don’t cancel each other. Disrespect beats respect to a pulp.

Now, I can’t relate to what a cis-woman have experienced as a child or as a teen. I totally agree with that. But… can you? And don’t misunderstand me, you may have very similar experiences with your neighbour, or people who were in the same school, even the same country, but beyond that? Do you think you can relate, even in the slightest, to a girl born in a slum in a third world country. Or a woman from the 18th century or earlier? What do you have in common? If you were even to meet an early 20th century woman, she would probably think you live like a man (3).

So, how is the fact that I can’t relate to a white woman from my neighbourhood important? How is it different from the fact that said woman can’t relate to another woman who doesn’t fit her very geo- and chrono-centered definition of a woman’s life? Who can just tell what it universally feels to be a woman? I sure can’t. I know how I feel, but I have no idea if there is one person who feel the same way I do. I don’t even know if I feel the same way as any other trans woman. It’s like trying to explain a colour. We all see blue (4), but we have no idea if it looks the same for everyone nor we can explain it (we know the wave length, and yet we can’t describe a colour). We just know it’s blue because one day, someone pointed at it and said “this is blue”, so we matched the colour we saw with the word we were told. And that’s that simple.

So, the bottom line is, I know that I feel like a woman, because I am one. And sorry to break it to you, but there is no debate about that. It’s maybe not the same way another woman feels, but there is no point in comparing something we can’t explain. No one else than me can know how I feel, so no one has anything relevant to say about it. I can’t relate to everything a cis-woman have experienced, but you can’t either, and I’m still a woman. End of story.

(1) A lot of us would love to have a baby, but have to freeze their sperm before starting hormones, so they can have a baby with their own genetic heritage later. I’d rather adopt, because I don’t really care about the genetic part, but that’s down to a personal choice at this point.

(2) Real transcription of a comment I heard yesterday coming up Granville Avenue (in Vancouver, BC), and it’s only a small sample. I was in for a treat. People are mean.

(3) In “The Marvelous Mrs Maisel”, which is set in 58, there is a running joke at the beginning, that parodies this, where Susie is constantly called “young boy” by people who actually think she is a man because she dosn’t conform.

(4) If we are not blind or colour-blind, but that’s not the point here.

How [not] to react when you misgender someone, and they tell you

I’ve been playing RPG with a small group of people for a few months and we are having a lot of fun. Except when they start misgendering me, which usually is just a “slip”. It’s inconsequential, right? RIGHT?

[…]

I’ve been playing RPG with a small group of people for a few months and we are having a lot of fun. Except when they start misgendering me, which usually is just a “slip”. It’s inconsequential, right? RIGHT?

Well, you know what I’m about to say. It’s bad, really bad.

I’m a very tolerant person when it comes to isolated events. Sometimes, someone uses the wrong pronouns. If I know them, I will tell them, they apologise, and we move on. If I don’t know them, the effort is not worth the result and even if it’s hurtful, I can’t blame them, especially since I don’t go out of my ways to look more feminine (and if I do and they still misgender me, they’re just assholes who don’t even deserve that I spend time on them).

I am more tolerant about my friends and family; they’ve known me for such a long time that they’re deeply used to the way it used to be, and it’s genuinely hard to get used to the new pronouns. But when I get into a group, and introduce myself as female, I expect people to get it right away, and after 6 months, the “slip” should be a thing of the past. It shouldn’t happen. My RPG group falls in that category. They’re people who only know my female identity, even if they know I am transgender (I joined them before starting HRT), so they should use the right pronoun all the time, without even thinking about it.

I probably should have enforced it more from the very beginning; I let it slide too many times before I started HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy), but now I definitely need to correct them every single time, and if they get annoyed by that, then it will stick in their head. Because this week, it reached an apex. They kept misgendering me, I kept correcting them, and only one of them realised it and apologised (even sent me an email, thanks). One had the complete opposite reaction, so he made the case for the worst behaviour ever (well, the worst before violence):

  1. I misgender someone. No big deal, they didn’t notice, let’s move on (1).
  2. I misgender again. That time, they correct me. Ok. Got it, you noticed. Let’s move on.
  3. I misgender once again. They correct me. That’s starting to get annoying, but I don’t want to make a scene, so let’s shut up.
  4. After we split, they come to me, and they ask me to be more careful. Shit, what have I done wrong. It’s just a slip, it happen, relax a bit, it’s not like it happens every time.
  5. I run away before they can actually explain why it’s problematic to misgender someone.

It happened exactly like that. I’m not making that up. So here is why it is problematic to misgender someone. It has been explained by many other people who probably said it better than I do, but here is my take.

First, I just want to stress out that if you misgender someone, even if you apologise, it’s still hurtful. But at least you acknowledge that you made a mistake, and the person can still respect you after that. It’s like stepping on someone’s foot. It hurts, and you can’t change that, but if you don’t apologise, you’re a dick. So apologise.

Now, what happens when someone gets misgendered. It goes beyond simple respect. It’s a very personal thing. When someone uses the wrong pronouns, I just feel like my treatment is not working, that my efforts are pointless and that I’m that far away from my objective. I know how I look, and I know how people see me, that doesn’t mean I want them to remind me every time they get a chance. Calling me by the gender I choose shows that you acknowledge that I am a woman, even thought I may not look like one (2). It builds confidence. Using the wrong pronouns, you take that confidence away. My life is subjected to an never-ending tidal wave of confidence (3).

  • If you misgender me, you’re telling me that you can’t go past my appearance.
  • If you do it several time even after I correct you, your lack of effort means that you don’t understand how important it is; and if you don’t realise that I’m getting gradually upset, you have a cruel lack of empathy.
  • If you don’t apologise, that means that you don’t care about my feelings at all, which puts you straight in the asshole category.
  • And if you act offended, I completely lose respect for you. You’re hopeless.

And the appearance thing is bullshit. There are people out there who don’t know me, and get it right even when I don’t give any information (not even my name). Some people actually told me they didn’t know I was transgender before I told them. The physical value of gender is way overestimated. If you just tell people your gender before they can really judge it by themselves, they have to mentally fight to go against it. It’s not worth it, so they comply. Tell them you are transgender, they only see that. Tell them later that you are transgender, and they will tell you (and convince themselves) that they totally saw it. It’s really not worth telling people.

So, here is an advice for when you misgender someone you know:

If you notice right away, correct yourself, and apologise. If they correct you, apologise. And DON’T. DO. IT. AGAIN! Seriously!

But staying silent or, worse, getting offended when you’re corrected is never the right behaviour.

 

(1) FIY: I always notice, even if I don’t say anything.

(2) I am a woman, there is no debate here. I don’t have to argue about that and you don’t get to disagree.

(3) In this analogy, the Moon is “misgendering”. Sorry Moon, I don’t have anything against you. You’re just playing the villain here. I promise you’ll get a better role next time.

Getting an EMR certification: Two weeks of emotional roller coaster

The past two weeks have been hectic. I should include the two previous weeks too, when I had to work twice as much as usual while pre-studying for my paramedic course, so I wouldn’t have to worry about money during the course. But it was just busy, not especially emotionally charged. That’s why I wanna focus on the two weeks during which I was doing the actual course.

[…]

The past two weeks have been hectic. I should include the two previous weeks too, when I had to work twice as much as usual while pre-studying for my paramedic course, so I wouldn’t have to worry about money during the course. But it was just busy, not especially emotionally charged. That’s why I wanna focus on the two weeks during which I was doing the actual course.

And it was a hell of a ride!

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Both wonderful and horrible things happened. It’s also when I realised how fragile being transgender is in a social context, and how your confidence can be shattered by one unexpected event at the worst possible time.

Actually, the first week was pretty uneventful. It was more like the first climbing slope of a roller coaster. You reach the top very slowly but you can’t see what’s over the edge of the slope.

I had contacted the instructor early on to tell him that I was transgender and that I used a different name than my legal one. When we arrived on the first morning and he distributed the prop bags (tools we were about to use during the course), he handed mine with my chosen name written on it. I thought it was a nice touch and built up my confidence. Then, we had to introduce ourselves, but in a particular format. We were to first introduce to 2 other persons, who subsequently had to introduce us to the rest of the group. So I told my two follow classmates that I was transgender, and the guy who introduced me to the group used “she/her” pronouns right away and that was it. Except for the only person who didn’t get it and misgendered me quite a few time before I took him apart to make things straight, I didn’t have to complain about anything. It’s quite important to note, because that’s what was coming around to bite me at the end of the course.

So, the first week was quite uneventful. The most difficult things for me was to catch up every night with the study we had to do for the next day, because we received our books quite late and I couldn’t get ahead quickly enough while working twice as much as usual. Which was a problem later because I couldn’t stay after the class to practice the skills. And unlike the youngest persons in the group, I really can’t afford to skip sleep time, or I don’t function anymore, and I needed my brain fresh everyday if I wanted to remember the huge amount of stuff we were learning in a very small amount of time.

So here we are at the second week. Things start to be complicated.

Monday: the top of the slope. That the highest point in the track. You can contemplate everything from there. You have a wide view of the bottom and you may see the end of the track, but it’s kind of blurry. You’re just expecting the first descent, but also worried about how steep it is, because you still can’t see it yet.

Tuesday: It’s steep. Very steep. I crashed that day. I had a total mental breakdown. Everyday, after we had the lesson of the day, we were applying the new knowledge in role-playing-type scenarios. Everything we couldn’t do for real, we were stating them out loud, and the instructor, or the patient, was giving out the result. And I messed up big time. Like, I did everything wrong. I couldn’t asked the right question and I only took wrong decisions. I felt like I was so out of it, I went home completely depressed. And I couldn’t just decompress. I had to cram again for the next day. Maybe that’s what saved me somehow, because I didn’t have brain time to spiral into this depression. I had to stay on track. And I came back the next day, deciding to take it slowly but do all the required steps in order. Speed would come later with practice.

Wednesday and Thursday: Going with the flow. Turns after turns, loops, rolls, you just readjust your arse on your seat knowing something else is coming next. In a martial arts flick, it’s when the hero gets back on their feet and start again from the basic, and prepares for the incoming battle. It’s a reborn. And that’s what happened: I went back to the basics, reaffirmed my knowledge of the protocol and carefully asked the right questions to get to the right conclusion and provide the best treatment, while absorbing the constant flow of knowledge dumped on us. So I was prepared for the grand finale, the battle of the chosen.

Friday: And I lost! The villain cheated, as all villains do to undermine the hero. More seriously, the examiner who came that day, rounded up everyone to explain how it was going to happen and… outed me, in front of everyone. For some people, it’s probably not a big deal, or maybe it happens so often that they are used to it. For me, it was the first time. And it came after two weeks of being around people who were too busy with their own learning to actually give a fuck about whether I was transgender. So, for my whole session, she kept misgendering me and every time I needed a result, I had to insist several times because she was too busy looking at her phone. I was completely disoriented and made critical mistakes. So she failed me.

I can back home in shambles. It was a disaster. I had spent so much money and effort into this, and for what result? I couldn’t think straight. I had a choice: either to retake the next day, risking to fail again and definitively, or spend more time in practice and retake at the next course exam. For the past two weeks, even in my sleep, all I could think about was scenarios and protocols, but that day, when I came home, and all night, I was thinking about how I could get my money back. I talked with one of my classmate, who tried to encourage me to go right away, saying I knew the stuff and I could do it. But my confidence was utterly shattered. Still I went early to bed, and though I did not sleep well, I decided to pop up at the exam, and to decide then whether to retake it again.

Saturday: An emotional victory. When I arrived in the morning, there was a new examiner. He was obviously way more professional and I felt more confident in my abilities. I also came mentally prepared to be misgendered, and I actually didn’t tell him I was a woman, I just gave him my legal name right away, which cut the need for explanation and let him use male pronouns. Only my friend let him know at the end of the exam (mainly because I had to play the patient once and my follow classmates kept referring me as a woman, which must have surprised him somehow). I still did a few mistakes, but not critical ones, and I was a bit too slow, because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t cutting any corner.

When the examiner called me in to give me the result, and showed me the green paper, all my body suddenly relaxed and I almost cried in front of him. I had been gradually stressed for two weeks, at a point where I completely burst, and then I found myself in a spot where I didn’t have anything more to do.

But I learnt a lot more than a skill. I learnt that the stress of being transgender in a social undertaking exacerbates any other stress that you may currently be subjected to. It is something that I have to be careful of, and I need to be able to identify it before it becomes a problem (I shall write an article about that later). And I also learnt that I can totally pass as a woman (1). Which amazed me, to be honest.

 

(1) I didn’t expand on that because it’s already a long article, and it was not the main point, so I’m doing this side note to talk about it but it’s totally not necessary to read it to understand the article.

So, as I said, no one but the instructor and two classmates was told that I was transgender. I basically spent two weeks assuming that everybody knew but played along, not giving a fuck (although I had to tell one guy especially, whom I heard talking about me to another person later on). Therefore it came as a surprise, on Friday, after the examiner asked for my *legal name* in front of everyone, that a classmate asked me if I was going by my middle name (my legal name may sound a bit like a female name for English-speaking people, so she wasn’t surprised). When I told her later that I was upset about being outed in front of everyone, she didn’t understand. She genuinely thought I was a cis-woman, and that was a huge comfort at the end of a horrific day.

So I am really wondering if people knew I was transgender, and who actually knew. Also, I had to use the women’s washroom, and it was quite stressful, because I didn’t know, if I ran into someone else (not someone taking the course), would they complain about it and rat me out. I was always timing my exit depending on people coming in or going out. I ran into an employee only once (I didn’t hear her coming), but she didn’t say anything. We just smiled at each other while I was stepping out of my cabin.

I can say that these two weeks have been weird on several accounts. Now it feels like a dream. I just woke up in the real life, but I still want this to have happened, I can’t believe it was all just a dream. And it wasn’t, because I have my certificate that proves it.

Would I live as a foreigner for the rest of my life?

I had to ask that question to myself at least once in my life. And by “as a foreigner”, what I mean is “in the eye of the people of the country you live in”. It can take many shapes. In some country, intolerance toward a specific group makes it difficult to live there, even if you’re born there and speak the language natively. Descendants of Algerians people in France often mention that they feel like foreigners, even though Algeria was a French region for decades and countless Algerians moved to France around the independence. And I’m sure the same thing happens to many people in a lot of countries.

[…]

I am gonna talk about transition again, yay! Bear with me for a moment.

I had to ask that question to myself at least once in my life. And by “as a foreigner”, what I mean is “in the eye of the people of the country you live in”. It can take many shapes. In some country, intolerance toward a specific group makes it difficult to live there, even if you’re born there and speak the language natively. Descendants of Algerians people in France often mention that they feel like foreigners, even though Algeria was a French region for decades and countless Algerians moved to France around the independence. And I’m sure the same thing happens to many people in a lot of countries.

In some other country, it’s the lack of foreign people until recently that makes it difficult to live there as a citizen. Meaning that it doesn’t matter how long you stay there, people will always see you as a curiosity. That’s the case in Korea, where I lived. Wherever you go, people will always assume you’re new and you can’t speak Korean. I have friends who have been living there for over 20 years, and Koreans are still spooked when they hear them speak Korean fluently. I was always receiving comments like “Ho you really speak Korean well”, and sometimes they even dared saying it in English, like if ordering a beer was the only thing I could say in Korean.

I am not criticizing that, I completely understand the reasons. If you where from a country that was considered insignificant by most of the world for a long time, that would be normal to not understand why people would be suddenly interested in living there (even though you became the 11th economic power in the world and provide half the world population with pocket phones). But the point I want to make is: would it be alright for you to live in a country, if it means you would be considered a foreigner probably for the rest of your life? There is no right answer; it’s totally acceptable for many people and for countless reasons. The people born from Algerian parents that I mentioned at the beginning consider themselves French (and they are), and see no reason why they would live somewhere else (and many say that when they visit their families in Algeria, people say they’re too French. They’re loosing on both sides). There are a lots of perks living in Korea, that can overshadow the small inconvenient of being seen as a foreigner. Or you can be married in said country and it’s simpler to live there than moving your family away.

Personally, I live in Canada, more precisely in Vancouver (BC), and since I arrived, I never felt that I couldn’t belong. People just don’t give a crap if you’re a foreigner. I get asked occasionally where I’m from, because I have a strong accent, but there are so many people from various origins that it just doesn’t make sense to ask it to every one all the time. And I like that way better than the other solution. And that’s how I could answer another question that’s so weirdly similar.

One of my biggest fear when I started transition was: will I pass? (See, I told you it was about transition) Most trans know it. It’s one of the biggest concern when deciding to transition, since it’s strongly related to discrimination. In the latest poll, it ranks second, before “what’s my actual sexual orientation?” and after “Am I gonna get killed for being trans?” (1). And I say the questions are similar because, to me, when people look at me weirdly, it feels like I am a foreigner. Some trans person don’t care. They know people look at them, but they don’t give a crap, and for other people, especially when you don’t like the attention, this self-consciousness is very crippling. I never wear obviously feminine clothes or heavy make-up for that reason (also because I don’t want to spend half an hour more to prepare in the morning).

So, when I realized I could correlate both questions, it became easy to answer. Since I didn’t want to live as a foreigner in Korea, which is one of the reasons I didn’t try to stay longer, I realized that yes, I need to pass as a woman. I can probably bear to be seen as transgender for some time, but at some point, I want people to see me as who I am and not at “who I’m trying to be”, if that makes any sense (it does to me and that’s what matters), and I’m ready to go to very long lengths (depending on my resources) because there is no way that I am going back.

 

(1) Poll realized with a non-representative sample of 1 pseudo-randomly self-selected transgender woman trying to be funny.

How to change how things are done (GRS)

How to change how things are done, which can be also resumed as fighting inertia, is quite a general topic, but we’re going to focus on gender transition treatment, and more particularly surgery for transgender women (i.e. gender reassignment surgery a.k.a. vaginoplasty). So here I am, talking about transition after saying in my first post that I wouldn’t do it so often.

[…]

How to change how things are done, which can be also resumed as fighting inertia, is quite a general topic, but we’re going to focus on gender transition treatment, and more particularly surgery for transgender women (i.e. gender reassignment surgery a.k.a. vaginoplasty). So here I am, talking about transition after saying in my first post that I wouldn’t do it so often. But this one will be rather long, and I don’t want to be banned from twitter for spamming. So here we go.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon this article in Wired that talks about a “new” vaginoplasty technique that is better than the current one. It says a bit what it does, who does it and… that’s it. The problem, I find, is that it cruelly lacks sources, because, let’s see:

  1. They say it’s Dr Ting who performs it, and he is director of surgery at Mount Sinai (NYC). Ok, this one is easy, here is Dr Jess Ting, although they only say he does hand surgery and plastic and reconstruction surgery. Well, reconstruction surgery matches with vaginoplasty, so I guess we nailed that one. But is he the only one in the USA?
  2. a paper describing the work of some doctors in India who were building vaginas a bit differently.” So apparently, there is somewhere a paper that describes a technique used in India (only?) that’s better than what is generally used now. Nice, can you tell us more about the paper? Not the paper itself, I’m sure it’s under strict copyright, but the authors, the publication? A DOI maybe? Well, no, apparently, it’s not interesting enough to have more information for people who might be interested in such topic, like, other transgender women.
  3. They were performing surgeries on women with a rare disorder that causes the organ to develop abnormally or not at all.” This one is just lazy. Seriously, not even the name of the disease?

So in the end, we literally can’t find actual useful information about this without putting extra effort. This article smells purely like a hidden advertisement for the Mount Sinai so they don’t get competition. They don’t even talk about it on their website, like it’s a Research and Development project and they don’t want anyone else to do what they do. This is obviously not in the interest of transgender women who want to access what’s best for them without having to travel thousands of kilometers away or pay more than they should (which is zero or close to that figure in many countries). It’s always better to find a solution in your local area, or at least in your country, especially when your country has a relevant health care system that will cover it.

Enough said about this badly sourced article, now how do we get to have this kind of procedure?

First, we need to know what we’re talking about. This is why yours truly went above and beyond to find that information. So I started by contacting the Mount Sinai hospital about this matter and never got an answer. So either they’re too busy to answer a transgender woman they claim they want to help, or they just didn’t want to answer. Either way, they weren’t helpful at all, so I moved on to my second step: finding about the procedure.

The good thing, despite the lack of information in the article, is that they felt compelled to give out a minimum of technical information so they actually look like they know what they’re talking about. “They found a way to do that with tissue from the peritoneum, which is basically a bag of loose tissue that encircles the inside of your abdomen and holds your guts in place.” The fact that they actually name the organ they use (the peritoneum) helped a lot, because, after research, I managed to find more information about the procedure (which is called “Davydov’s colpopoeisis”). I won’t explain it in much detail, but if you’re curious, The Beverly Hills Center for Laparoscopic Urogynecology explains it very well, with pictures. And you learn about the condition of the women born without a functional vagina (Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser, MRKH), since that’s what the surgery was designed for in the first place. That also means that the Mount Sinai isn’t the only place to get that surgery.

If you want more detailed information about the procedure, there is an article (Ward et al., 1998(1)) for that. And you read right. It has been written in 1998, so obviously, this technique has been around for some time, and not only in India (I didn’t find the Indian article, though, which makes me wonder how this woman found it in the first place and not the article from Ward et al.).

Then, they are talking about the outcomes of the surgery: “while the new procedure is showing superior results so far, it will be important to monitor to see how it holds up long term“. They’re right, we need to know how the surgery holds up in the long run. Or do we? It turns out, there is already an article detailing that (Zhou et al., 2010(2)). And it’s neither in the USA or in India. Now it’s in China. Looks like this procedure is done all over the place after all. And don’t get me wrong. We definitely need more study, especially regarding transgender women. But the article is seriously misleading, and honestly the procedure is exactly the same for trans and cis women since it only involves body organs that are shared in both male and female bodies. And they can start from there.

Now the big question: how do we get to have more surgeons performing this surgery for transgender women. As I said in introduction, changing things is about fighting inertia, and the strongest inertia is, the more energy we need. In this case we need an insane amount of energy, first to be heard, then to be listened to, and that’s where we need to do something together. I can go only as far as people are listening to me, and I don’t have a big notoriety or charisma that helps the subject to be brought forward. I tried to talk to my doctor, but she said it wasn’t her place to tell surgeons what they have to do, which is sound. I told the PHSA (health care system in Canada) in my local branch, in Vancouver; the person I have in contact said it was very interesting, and basically told me that they are currently training surgeons to provide surgery services in British Colombia, so we don’t have to go to Québec, but I don’t know what they are trained on.

Now I’m on a stand still. I really don’t know what to do since I have almost no useful contact in that regard. My only is that the information I salvaged gets to be shared the most widely possible.

So, please share, and talk about it to your practitioner, your health care representative, your pharmacist, your Shoppers clerk (who’s also your pharmacist), your mom, your dog, anyone who listen to you. Maybe together, we can do something about it.

 

(1) Current Obstetrics & Gynaecology (1998) 8, 224~226© 1998 Harcourt Brace & Co. Ltd

(2) Fertility and Sterility Vol. 94, No. 6, November 2010  Copyright© 2010 American Society for Reproductive Medicine, Published by Elsevier Inc.