Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Happy 52nd, Wreck!

    It's a bit of a milestone tomorrow. On the 1st of March 1960, a couple down in Devon bought a new car. 35 years later they sold it to my mate B who is the World Expert on Rusty Old Wrecks, and since he had no space for an extra Wreck but had to save it from the crusher, he sold it to me.
    And though my stewardship hasn't been perfect it's still in one piece, more importantly it's on the road. It starts on the button, its engine has a reliable cooling system, and thanks to the Magic Can Of Stuff it doesn't drink oil any more. What more could you wish for from a car!
    Winter is fading away from Southern England. The roads are dry, they are no longer salting them and it's just about safe do take the Wreck out without harming it. I have a road trip to make on Saturday as it happens, off to sunny Berkshire.
    Now here's my quandary. I'd like to ditch the scruffy bloke for the day, because in the case of the people I'm meeting I can do that. I have no worries doing stuff as girl or driving anywhere, but I've always done so in the Rollerskate. It's modern and anonymous, I can trust it not to break down. The Wreck by comparison is an unknown quantity. And a conspicuous choice at that, people look at you when you drive a Wreck. It should make a couple of hours drive each way with no worries, but there is always that frisson of doubt. What if it suffers a terminal mishap, would I want to be stranded as girl? I guess it's something of a Real Life Test, as if I were full-time I'd have no choice.
    In reality there's not much I can't fix on a Wreck by the roadside. And the differences between boy and girl in jeans and a jumper are fairly minor, a makeup wipe, a surreptitious removal of a little padding, and perhaps a quick-change to a scruffier jumper. So whatever happens I'll deal with it.
    But it is another confidence test, and whether it's one I have the courage to take I guess I'll be able to tell you on Saturday.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Self-medding: time for a grown-up conversation

    "If I was starting transition now, and knew what I know now, I would self medicate. Absolutely no question".
    I read this quote a while back, referring to the practice of self-administering hormone treatment without any prescription. It came from someone well-known in this sphere whose stance I respect a lot. And it struck me, how unusual it is to see someone saying something like that in public, online for all to see.
    You see, what normally happens if someone mentions self-medding on the internet is this: they are drowned out by a chorus of people anxious to point out that it's generally frowned upon, all sorts of nasty things can happen to you if you do it, it's illegal, it'll affect your future treatment, etc. etc. If the mention happens on a moderated forum or mailing list there's a good chance it'll be deleted too, because We Don't Encourage That Sort Of Thing.

    Y'know what? We know.

    We all know self-medding is a risky business, we don't need to be told again and again. What we do need within this community is the chance to talk about it in the open, because stifling any attempt to do so is stopping a conversation  in this community that both we and our medical practitioners need to have.
    My local psychiatrist surprised me a while back when he told me that as many as 80% of his patients self med with hormones they've bought from the Internet. I knew a few people who were open about it, but never realised it extended to that many of us.
    So, just out of curiosity, I asked a few friends. Got some funny looks, but assured them it was only for intellectual interest. My wife would not thank me for self-medding and I don't want to lose my fertility just yet, those are pretty good reasons not to do it if there weren't plenty of others.
    I was reminded of a 1950s British film in which one of the protagonists - a terribly respectable middle-aged lady author - goes into a seedy pub to try to buy a Mickey Finn to incapacitate her blackmailer. She ends up trying to buy one from a man who turns out to be a policeman, saving herself only by claiming to be researching for a book. "Pssst - Where can I buy some Estrogen?".
    If you ask people why they self-med, it always comes down to the gatekeepers. The medical profession don't make it easy for us to get our hands on the hormones for many very good reasons. Aside from the need for safety under medical supervision there are some people who seek hormones for whom they are an extremely unsuitable treatment. There are many arguments passionately made as to how the doctors could speed up their service and how their attitudes could be updated, but why they work the way they do is entirely understandable and in the best interests of their patients as they see them.
    The trouble is, in doing this it seems from this viewpoint that the gatekeepers encourage self-medding. This isn't a tacit encouragement, but it happens in two ways. By raising the barrier to legitimate prescription they increase the incentive to simply bypass them. Thus they simply never see a great swathe of non-transitioning self-medders who don't need their other services. Then when they do encounter someone who self-meds their concern is to get them onto a safely prescribed dose as soon as possible so they forgo the usual RLE test before a prescription is issued. This encourages people at the start of transition to self-med while on the waiting list. I have more than one friend who has done just that, and I believe the quote at the start of this piece referred to it as well. Why spend an uncomfortable period as a bloke in a dress when you can hit the ground running?
    This relaxation of the RLE requirement has a rather iniquitous parallel. Those patients who self-med are rewarded with a fast-track, yet those patients who present to NHS clinics having obtained legitimate hormones by private prescription seem to be required to come off them and serve the full RLE without hormones. I have personally encountered more than one person who has experienced this, as well as a couple of well-publicised people in the blogosphere. The dichotomy between a reward for dodgy hormones and a punishment for legitimate hormones is startling.
    (Edit: Following clarification of the legal position in the UK, removed paragraph relating to dire punishments for those importing hormones. My source turned out to be wrong. It seems it's illegal to import testosterone in some circumstances but not estrogen. Well, those of us on the MtF side of the fence know testosterone is the dangerous one! :) )
    I wonder if I'm alone in thinking the situation I've outlined above is a bit of a mess. A mess without clear fault or solution at that. It's difficult to fault desperate people for self-medding, equally you can't blame doctors for doing their job, however frustrating it might seem at times. But if it's a mess without a solution, one thing definitely makes it more of a mess. The self-censorship within our community whenever the subject comes up isn't helping anyone.
    I'll repeat the point I made in the title of this piece: it's time for a grown-up conversation about self-medding.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

They say getting to a GIC is a long road...

    In a couple of weeks I'll be off up to London again, this time to see the GIC counselor. For me that means about an hour on the train, followed by about an hour's walk across the park and through Kensington. I'll be back home by lunchtime, back in work for the afternoon.
    Note, I'm not complaining about my journey. Because mildly annoying though it is, compared to some of the patients I'll be sharing the waiting room with it's quite short. For me the GIC is almost local by comparison, even though my train ticket has just cost me about thirty quid.
    The NHS can be a little unexpected in its organisation at times. For most ailments that need more than a GP's input you'll be taken to a local general hospital for treatment. You'll be seeing a specialist in your condition, but in the same building there will be specialists in all conceivable medical disciplines. Oncologists, ENT specialists, heart specialists, urologists, the list is endless. Including unsurprisingly, psychiatrists like my local psych who referred me to the GIC and endocrinologists like the one who keeps a yearly eye on the blood of all my local trans friends.
    Some ailments, gender dysphoria among them, are seen as specialist beyond the limits of what the general hospital can offer. For these you'll be referred to a specialist regional clinic like the GIC. Each local healthcare trust has a contract with a GIC, and sends its gender dysphoric patients to that GIC.
    So far so good, you say. But here's where the unexpected part creeps in. There is nothing that dictates which GIC your healthcare trust has a contract with, so while you might expect to be sent to the nearest one in fact which one you are sent to depends on the postcode lottery of who your trust decided to contract. Thus while I only have to travel an hour for my appointment the lady sitting next to me in the waiting room might have come from the far north-west of Wales, and had to spend the night in London to make her appointment.
    Just to satisfy my curiosity I created a map of the UK showing the location of the main GICs overlaid on population data from the Guardian Datalog. It's not comprehensive as there are some small-scale single-practitioner operations I omitted, but it gives a pretty clear idea of the distribution of services for gender dysphoric people across the country. (Please tell me if there are any I have missed!)
    Straight away you can see that the distribution of GICs is not even. Exeter, Glasgow and Norwich have clinics because they serve far-flung points of the country, but does the concentration of GICs from the north-east Midlands through Yorkshire to the north-east of England really represent an unusually high regional demand in those regions? That a huge swathe of territory including Birmingham, the Midlands, the north-west, the west of England, and Wales have no GIC services seems to go against the overwhelming evidence that there are just as many trans people in those parts as there are in the well-supplied north-east.
    Does it really have to be this way? I sense this situation evolved because years ago there were relatively few of us who weren't suffering in the closet. The chances of a local psych or endo having any experience of us was nil, so it made sense to centralise the facilities. But is that still the case? I know my local psych and endo have both seen a large number of trans patients and I doubt my city is significantly different from any other of equivalent size. It makes sense for me to take an hour's train ride to the GIC, but for the patient from North Wales would they not be better served by seeing a more local trans-experienced psych or endo rather than spending a fortune and traveling hundreds of miles to see one in London? I can't help thinking someone's missing the rather obvious here.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Once is unfortunate...

    Oh dear. For the Beaumont Society to mess up once in a week by breaking the story of the pregnant British trans bloke is unfortunate. For them to mess up twice by apparently giving their blessing to a deeply offensive advertising campaign is downright unforgivable.
    I've met the current Beaumont Society president on several occasions, and I consider her to be pretty sound. I've never met either of the two officials named as sources for these two incidents, but I have to question their competence after showing such a conspicuous lack of basic common sense in the face of external enquiry.
    I'm reminded of my days at university, of student societies. Students love titles and positions, they look good on the CV. It's pretty easy to get yourself in the position of public relations officer for the University Tiddlywinks Society, you just have to show willingness for the job and it's yours.
    But there's the thing, nobody gives a toss about the Tiddlywinks Soc. You can say what you like, and it'll never matter. No newspaper is ever going to solicit your opinion so the "I'll do it!" school of recruitment is fine in that arena.
    Unfortunately though the Beaumont Society operates on a wider stage than a university students union. It seems as one of our better-known national trans organisations they've become the go-to destination for journalists and others looking for a Quotable Tranny. A press contact for such an organisations has a very simple task when faced with a question: say the right thing, or say nothing. Which usually means "Say the right thing if you know what you're doing, or if you don't know what you're doing then shut the f**k up!".
    I mean, come on! It's corporate employee 101: never say anything without ensuring it's on-message first!The only recruitment model for a public relations job with an organisation like the Beaumont Society should be one based on merit, if you don't know what you're doing you should never be allowed the job just because you say "I'll do it!", no matter how long you've been 'on the scene'!

    A few days ago I defended them as a Beaumont Society member against some of their harsher critics and I still stand by that defence as far as it went. By all means knock them for their inept media handling I said, but don't knock them for supporting all facets of our community at the grass roots level.
    I'm afraid I can't defend their inept officialdom though. I won't be canceling my membership because I still believe they can be a force for good in our community, but for what the voice of one member is worth I expect  from within to see both a cull of the inept and a significant change in their public relations strategy from one of rent-a-quote to one of saying the right thing or nothing at all.
    It's not easy, defending an organisation that seems to have a knack for becoming ever more indefensible.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Trans Conversation Bingo!

    So there we were. Last night, in a Chinese restaurant. My wife and I, our friend B, and about twenty varying trans people of all hues. A local gathering, nothing special.
    The conversation at various points in the evening was sadly predictable. Cars. Bikes. Aircraft. You know, Girly stuff. I'm sure as the owner of a Wreck I've been just as guilty as anyone on that front at times, but this was getting out of hand.
    B and I started playing Trans Conversation Bingo. Collect the set of predictable conversation topics and win!
    At some point, someone suggested it would make a neat mobile phone application, and on that thought I sat down this morning and set to work with the ever-flexible jQuery Mobile.
    You can try the result below. Follow the link in your browser, or scan the QR code into the browser on your internet connected mobile phone. And score the next trans get-together you attend, after all it could be your turn to triumphantly shout "Bingo!".
    It should work on most modern smartphone platforms as well as desktop browsers. You'll need Javascript, and server-side rendering browsers such as Opera Mini might make a meal of it, but give it a go and see how you get on. Just remember one thing though: this is a joke application, don't take it too seriously.

    Try the application at this link: or scan the QR code on the left.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

BS on the BS

    It seems to be open season on the Beaumont Society at the moment. With some justification, as one of the higher-profile national trans groups they have become something of a go-to for journalists wanting to talk about trans issues, and we're told they inadvertently broke the story of a UK trans man having a baby. Now trans groups are being approached by journalists from one of the nastier tabloids trying to track the family down.
    The whole affair sounds like a bit of a cock-up, to be honest. The Beaumont press contact comes out of it all looking woefully naïve, and as a primarily MtF organisation they shouldn't be talking about FtM issues anyway. If all that has been said is true, a few heads need to roll at Beaumont Towers and serious attention needs to be paid to their press policy.
     The press story isn't the reason for my writing this post though. I'm reading a lot of comments about the story and I feel that many of them verge on hate-speech and are not acceptable. Phrases like "Deeply closeted gay club" and "You can almost smell the testosterone and man smell" are just the tip of an iceberg of misandry and TV-hate that has surfaced in the last couple of days.
     I'm a member of the Beaumont Society, and while you can read my views on their press policy above, I'm not recognising the organisation I know at a local level in the reactions I've detailed in the preceding paragraph. I've met more than one of their elected officers including their current president and I've seen some of the grass-roots support they provide all over the country to real trans-identified people both in the closet and coming out of it. Now, in 2012, not a stereotypical image based on how they might have been in 1972 or 1982.
     The Beaumont Society provide support to all corners of our sphere, from the wackiest cross-dresser to the most stealth-seeking transsexual. I see this very well, I live on the border of two of their regions, one of whose regional organisers is a flamboyant TV and the other is a long-transitioned TS. The latter regional organiser was one of the ladies who mother-henned me on my first outing presenting as female back in 2010, something she has done for countless other trans women edging out of the closet. This is the everyday work of the Beaumont Society, real people spending a lot of their time attending support groups, helping real trans people at difficult times. There are many trans organisations on the national stage with very lofty ideals, but I have yet to find any of them helping people out of the closet on a wet Saturday in Swindon.
    I get the impression that a lot of the criticism of the Beaumont Society stems from their association with the TV end of the spectrum. I've read vitriolic comments about private parties for TVs wearing silly clothing, it seems that any association with such people should be of great offence to someone who identifies at the TS end of the spectrum. If those people can't grasp the concept of a support organisation whose remit covers a wider community than just them then I am sorry for them, with their tiny closed transphobic minds.
    So by all means slam the Beaumont Society for their media cock-up. They deserve that. But if you know nothing of the grass-roots work they currently do in supporting real trans people in the here-and-now in 2012, then shut up and stop having a go at them as an organisation just because you don't like them. Or get off your internalised-transphobic arse, and start giving some grass-roots support yourself!

Monday, 13 February 2012

Crunch crunch, saw saw, code code

    All the clichés of the British media have been wheeled out, it's been a snowy weekend hereabouts! Pretty cold as it happens, we had a -14 celcius frost a few nights ago.
    I spent most of the weekend at my parents place. Watched our resident fox nosing around in the field, threw him an apple. And spent a load of time in the orchard, pruning apple trees. As always a restful occupation, this time with the added fun of drawing large patterns in the snow dragging branches across the field. The harvest seems a long way away, but in eight weeks it'll be nearly blossom time. I should have finished the pruning earlier.
    So that's the crunch crunch and the saw saw part. The coding came later, I returned to my trans news analysis. Yet again looking at the sources, this time breaking them out by month. The image below shows a colourful graph that should be an abstract bedspread design rather than a representation of media data. Click on it to see it at its full size. It's even more obvious which outlets have an obsession with us, and how constant it all is. I should point out here that one UK paper is missing: the Times hides its content behind a paywall so doesn't appear in Google News.
    Next I'll be looking at language rather than source. You can never tell until the results are in, but I hope there'll be a few stories to tell there, too.
    Just a thought, given current UK news I might add "pregnant man" to my search terms. They can't resist a new angle, can they!

Friday, 10 February 2012

Asset review

    When MtF trans people of whatever hue get together,  they will often talk about the same stuff. Body hair removal, for instance. A common response I elicit at this point is one of envy from those who are undergoing painful full body laser treatment, because I am fortunate enough to naturally not have much to laser. A patch of hair on the chest, that's it.
    I'll usually respond with a jokey "Well you've got petite size 9 feet you B**ch!", because the chances are they'll be sporting a to-die-for pair of boots that will simply never be seen in a size 15.
    It's something to consider, isn't it. We all dwell on our worst points, how about our best points? I have almost defined myself by my size, but here I am with an enviable lack of body hair.
    I should remind myself, I'm lucky enough to have a slim figure, great legs, and thick slightly curly hair that I've had natal women envy since I've grown it out.
    You should do the same, list your assets first. It don't 'arf make you feel better!

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Trans news, in the news

    Yesterday was something of an important day for trans people in the UK, for it saw Trans Media Watch's submission to the Leveson enquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the press. (If you fancy watching it, it's here, about an hour in)
    Important because it offered a rare chance to lay bare the outrageous language and attitudes unleashed against us in front of the wider world, and in an arena in which such a submission will be listened to and it is likely, acted upon. Helen from TMW did an excellent job of explaining the concerns of the trans community with respect to the media as well as highlighting some of the more blatant examples.
    It was rather unexpected to receive a request from TMW for my corpus of trans news stories a week or two ago after I wrote a blog post about it. I hope it was of help in producing their submission. I only wish I'd started collecting it earlier and had more data to offer.
    I've been a little absent from here these last few days. Partly because of a busy work schedule and partly because I've caught the coding bug again. My visualisation tool for trans-news-derived data is slowly taking shape.

Sunday, 5 February 2012


    Everywhere you look, it seems you can find all sorts of interesting treatments for reducing or shaping your eyebrows. The beauty therapists will pluck, wax, or thread, the hair removal people will give you electrolysis and the more extreme beauty people will permanently tattoo you a new set of eyebrows.
    All this is of consuming interest to me of course, for left to their own devices my eyebrows will do a passable job of a full-on Denis Healey, a man not known for moderation in the eyebrow department.
    My mother claims that plucking eyebrow hairs causes them to stop growing. It's one of those infallible pieces of Parental Wisdom that simply doesn't stand up to real-world experience, yet she'll regale you with the tale of one of her pupils back in the late 1950s who plucked her eyebrows entirely and was left with nothing.
    If I pluck my eyebrows, they seem to grow back ever more vigorously. So I'm constantly trimming them and having them plucked, something other people seem to see as of no consequence but I have to admit to finding rather painful.
    Yelping at laser treatment, now wincing at eyebrow shaping. No pain no gain and all that, but I ain't taking to this very well, am I.