Monday, September 14, 2009

The Thing I Couldn't Tell You

Some time ago, I wrote on this blog that there were things going on that I couldn't tell you about. But now, at last, I think I should.

I asked Olli to write something for my blog and this is what Olli has written.


Longtime readers will have noticed that my mother used to mention her only child, a daughter called Emily. This daughter then mysteriously disappeared, and was replaced by another only child called Olli, one, judging by my mum's lack of pronoun use, of indeterminate sex. I have been asked to write a short explanation for her to post, enabling her to use the correct name and to avoid the convoluted, pronoun-free sentences.

This will be very old news to some people reading here, if you know my mum in Real Life, but bear with us – the rest of the Internet doesn't.

This time last year, I changed my name to Oliver, as I'm a female-to-male transsexual man. That will mean a variety of things to some of you, and nothing to others, which is problematic – as the concept is difficult to explain to the majority of people who aren't in a similar situation. Simply, I'm a great deal happier living as male – seeing myself as male and being seen as male – than I was when I attempted to live as female.

Of course, a cynic might say, it's much nicer to be seen as male full stop, what with the better pay and lack of sexual harrassment and all. But that's not it; there are plenty of male-to-female transsexual women about, who have given up all those privileges in order to be true to themselves in a similar way.

The minimal amount of research conducted on transsexuality suggests it's inborn, forming while the individual is still in the womb (which is why headlines like “World's youngest transsexual” are frustratingly inaccurate). But that doesn't matter, particularly – either you're trans (I will use the abbreviation from here on, as it encompasses everyone whose sense of self is strikingly different than one would expect, considering the sex they were assigned at birth, and not just those who wish to change their physical sex characteristics) or you're not.

If you're not trans (i.e. when you were born, a doctor pronounced you to be male or female, and you agree with them) you're cissexual or cis.

Incidentally, I'm talking about physical sex here in terms of a decision, rather than simple fact, because sex is far more complicated than one might expect. Hormones, reproductive organs, chromosomes, and brain sex all come together to make the sex of a body, and in a great many cases not all “match” to produce a body that's definitively male or female. This is why (oh morons who are making that ginormous fuss about Caster Semenya) a sensible person accepts someone's assessment of their own sex and gender, rather than “well, this transsexual person's taken some hormones, so their skin and muscle is three-fifths female, their mind is female, their neural map is female, their genitals are nine-tenths male...” or any similar pointless and intrusive rubbish.

Therefore, I'm male. I'm “Oliver” to strangers, “Olli” to friends, “he” “him” and “his”. Anyone who persists in calling me “she” etc. is communicating effectively that they don't care that I have a personality or sense of self, and that they consider me nothing more than a perambulatory life-support system for my vagina. Forgive me if I thus no longer bother with them. If someone uses female pronouns by accident, an apology is appropriate (of course, these rules apply the other way round if someone assigned male is living as female).

Now, I'm not the most stereotypical, red-blooded heterosexual male – I don't spend all my time playing sports and chasing women (indeed, as you'll know, my husband Gareth is also male). My interests are very gender-neutral, so it's not a matter of “I like fast cars and explosions so I must be a dude!” it's entirely about my body and voice, and the body and voice I should have.

About that husband. My coming-out process was more uneventful than most, primarily because I haven't had to cope with the rejection of a lesbian or straight male partner, which is obviously common “You're a man? But I don't... like men...” and, of course, said partner hasn't had to cope with that feeling of loss. Gareth was proudly out as bisexual a long time before I broke the news, and his reaction was entirely supportive, especially after meeting other transsexual men. He's been really helpful throughout the past year – thanks, Gareth (Thareth). Another person who's really gone out of their way to be very awesome is Joanne, a friend from uni who might be reading here (Thoanne!).

In the next couple of months, I will hopefully start testosterone therapy, which will redistribute my fat and break my voice, fixing some of the major problems I have with my body. Alternately, it will just give me some awful side effects, and I'll have to stop taking it – it's obviously powerful stuff, and it's hard to predict how an individual system will react. It'll also make me infertile, so Gareth and I are hoping to use a surrogate to make kids in the future; call me a cynic if you will, but I can't imagine the adoption process being full of delights for same-sex couples that include transsexual men.

So... yes. Any questions? Sensible questions, I mean. (Because trans topics on the Internet tend to attract EVERY VERBOSE MORONIC TWUNT IN THE WORLD, I suggested that any offensive comments ought to be deleted. My mum reckons they should be left up, and soundly mocked, so that is what shall be).

Daphne writing again: I will be happy to answer any questions, of course. And actually, I think those who read this blog aren't likely to leave offensive comments.

But just to pre-empt some questions that you may want to ask:

I didn't want to keep using the name "Olli" with no explanation (Yorkshire Pudding asked me about it a while ago but I couldn't give a full answer then - apologies!) But I couldn't explain anything until Olli was clear what was happening, and that took a while.

Just to add a bit of explanation - - and Olli, I hope you won't mind this - - Olli is twenty, and just about to start his third year at York University studying Archaeology. When known as Emily he always appeared to be a completely normal, tall, slim girl so we didn't see this coming at all, in any way. The only unusual thing about Olli when Olli was known as Emily was the exam results, which were always superb to the point of being rather scary (how often does someone get 100% in English Literature A-level, for example?)

Am I finding all this difficult? Oh, yes. I'd guess that all parents of transsexuals find it hard. Some huge percentage - - maybe fifty per cent - lose all contact with their children. Olli, of course, is just the same person that Emily was - - but, for nearly twenty years, I thought I had a daughter, and it's hard to adjust to having a son instead, particularly since Olli's my only child (I did have a previous baby, a boy, who died aged three weeks in 1984).

Do I love Olli as much as I loved Emily? Oh, yes, of course. And I'm delighted to see Olli so much happier than Emily was. Will I lose contact? No, I jolly well won't: not with Olli and not with his lovely husband Gareth (they are legally married - they got married in February 2008).

Because being transgender is not a lifestyle choice, that's the thing to remember. It makes your life SO much more difficult that nobody would choose it if they didn't have to.

If you leave any questions in the comments we'll be happy to answer them as well as we can. Or you can email me at . From now on, I'll be referring to "Olli" using the pronoun "he".


Blogger Silverback said...

A difficult post in many ways for both of you but I'm glad it's all 'out there' now.

I met Olli as Emily of course and often slip into the 'she' and 'her' business as my old mind is slow to deal with change, any change.

So please don't take offence, Olli, as it's just me being slow to process what I see versus what you'd like me to see.

Hopefully your testosterone therapy will help me too and if you ever wanna go see any explosions, count me in !

7:47 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi Olli.
Supportive noises from your mother in law. Look after my son, love him, make him happy, keep in touch; that's all I ask - all anyone should ask. (oh, and get him to turn his phone on every now and again!) You look a lot happier and healthier now you are out as Olli. All the best for the therapy.

10:07 pm  
Blogger Jennytc said...

All my best wishes, too, Ollie. You have a mum to be proud of and she has a son to be proud of too. :)

10:23 pm  
Anonymous ruth said...

Thank you, both of you, for this intelligent and articulate post. Like Silverback, I too am glad it is in the open now and you have cooperated so well on sharing this important part of your lives.

I do have a question. I have known for a while that Olli (and Gareth)would like to have a child and wonder how they will find/choose their surrogate or is it too soon to even think about the details of that process which (cynically) may
attract some of the prejudices/ ignorance that adoption would?

11:34 pm  
Blogger Ailbhe said...

I've been aware of the substance of this for a while but am pleased to see it out in the open.

And I am wholly unable to resist saying "better out than in," so just ban me...

11:50 pm  
Anonymous jay said...

A difficult post, and a difficult time in your lives, for sure.

A friend of one of our sons is going through this right now. We do forget to use the correct pronoun at times, and call her 'him' by mistake, but only when talking among ourselves. When you've known someone since they were twelve or so, it can be hard to get your mindset changed. Especially when the young person in question used to have beautiful, flowing, shiny hair as a young man, but now she is a woman, she is practically shaven headed. It's confusing for us old fogies.

Please be patient with those who make mistakes. We don't do so out of unkindness, or an unwillingness to accept the truth, but from Slow Brain Syndrome, and I apologise for it.

I have known for a long, long time that gender isn't black and white, but merely shades of grey. I believe the same is true for many genetically determined states. We are people, not machines. Thank heavens we are living in an age which is largely non-judgemental - compared with many eras in the past!

I am glad that you have all got to the point where you can be open about this, and that Ollie has a loving husband, too. Blessings on you both.

10:09 am  
Anonymous Oliver FP said...

Thanks everybody!

I'm not entirely sure what city my phone is in right now... hopefully I didn't take it to Wales and leave it there :-/

Jay - to confuse you more, I have longer hair now than I've had for ages. It was buzz-cut all last year, but it didn't make me appear male, just dykey. And as well as getting lesbian-bashed, I was told by one lesbian woman that I'd given her false hope of the "hooray, a butch dyke in York!" kind. I felt a bit bad. So I'm enjoying long hair while I still can, considering the age at which the Communist went bald.

Ruth - I have precisely no hope of ever being treated fairly by the adoption system. However, someone has offered to be our surrogate already. I hope the arrangement doesn't fall through, because it'd be perfect. If it does, we're screwed, unless we can find someone else just as great about it. So we worry...

It's amusing that my mum has managed to shoehorn in my A-level results. They are of no use to man nor beast other than to make her happy, so I'm glad they serve that purpose.

12:12 pm  
Anonymous Jo said...

I agree that Olli has been 50 million times happier as a man!
I think my dad phrased it best when he found out..
"oh...are they [Gareth and Olli] happy?"
"Yes, happier"
"oh.... thats good then"

3:33 pm  
Blogger Yorkshire Pudding said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3:56 pm  
Blogger Yorkshire Pudding said...

Thanks for the explanation - especially Olli's words. This is an area of life in which I am admittedly ignorant so I now feel slightly better educated. The Caster Semanya issue caused me to reflect that there have never been two distinct groups - male and female. We all exist on a continuum with complex physical, emotional and intellectual characteristics that if the truth be known make the gender caricatures we encounter every day quite laughable.
I remember when our first child was born. I was so overjoyed, so amazed that in that first minute the child's "sex" meant nothing to me. It was a human being - a precious and unique new life to cherish and to delight in.
Thank heavens that Olli continues to enjoy his parents' love and understanding because I am sure many transsexuals will have lost that family support.

3:58 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if Daphne's mini-elephants represented the elephant in the room... and the tear a sign of grief... for a daughter 'lost' preceding the joy of a son 'found'... My thoughts and good wishes are with you all at this time.

5:50 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done on such an honest and brave posting. Thinking of you all and hope the new meds are free from horrid side effects so that you can continue to take them.

9:43 pm  
Blogger Daphne said...

Thank you all for your lovely, supportive comments - they are much appreciated.
And, Olli, you know I'll ALWAYS shoehorn in your exam results because I am Proud Mother. If you give me any grief about it, I'll mention a few more, so there. And, of course, they did ensure a smooth journey into the university of your choice!

10:53 pm  
Blogger MrsG said...

Well handled all round!! Olli - you are certainly eloquent and I envy your exam results!!! :-) Best wishes, all. xxx

1:50 pm  
Blogger Debby said...

Very well written. A few things have been cleared up in my mind. Thank you for that.

I've not used the pronouns either. I shall now.

A levels...of course a mother is going to brag! We just have to. It's an unwritten code!

1:50 pm  
Blogger rhymeswithplague said...

What Yorkshire Pudding said.

I didn't leave a comment earlier as I was somewhat flabbergasted (American for gobsmacked) at the news; I have been a devoted reader of this blog for only a few months and wasn't really aware of family matters, except that Daphne's Dad had died and her Mum still swam in the ocean. I thought Olli was just her nickname for you.

So I hied myself back to your family picture published in early July, and I must say you all appear to be normal people. So nothing has changed, really. You're still normal people.

2:20 pm  
Anonymous Mike Deakin said...

Daphne & Olli,

I guess I'm a bit late on commenting on this post, but better late than never!

My congratulations to you both on a superb heartfelt post. I actually had a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye as I was reading.

It took me years to become comfortable in my own skin and accept who I was and I wasted all those before, so I'm glad Olli has had the chance to be who he is at such a young age to be able to enjoy it!

I wish you both nothing but happiness and bliss.

7:24 pm  
Anonymous Milo said...

Hola from a fellow LGBT person (gay male in my case)!

It's heart-warming and also reassuring to hear real life stories like Olli's, i.e. of people being brave enough to 'be themselves' - even though this will involve challenges and adversity along the way.

All the best for the future.


9:44 pm  
Blogger Sven said...

"a perambulatory life-support system for my vagina". What an exquisite turn of phrase. Love and luck to you all!


7:53 am  

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