I don't want to be "one of the good ones"

A long-awaited companion piece for Heina.

If you’ve ever favorably contrasted me against other trans people or atheists or queer folks or anyone else like me, just because I’ve been quiet when they’ve been outspoken in the face of wrongdoing, or I was overly patient and indulgent of ignorance when they’ve been rightfully terse: fuck you.

Stop it. I don’t want your support or approval. I am not on your side. I am not one of you. I want to be like them – not like you. I don’t want to be one of your “good ones”.

I’ll define this type of situation by way of example. A few months back, I was mentioned on Anton A. Hill’s blog in a list of several people with whom he’d recently had productive conversations on issues like feminism and trans stuff. In my case, this was because I happened to be in a friendly mood when he asked me a question that involved the phrase “born w/ a peepee”.

This was just one instance of a pattern that was repeated throughout the post: his surprise that his criticism of Freethought Blogs as a whole was handled calmly by NonStampCollector, or that a member of Secular Woman “respected” his “right to disagree with her” on issues of feminism (as if how people regard a man’s opinion of feminism is in any way connected to individual rights and freedoms), or that Marisa Gallego “maintained politeness” when he “downright called her on her shit” in their discussion of trans matters.

I’ll ask you to take a moment and think about which of these people you expect I’d be more inclined to align myself with – him, or the people who graciously “maintained politeness” when addressing his “born w/ a peepee”-level views on these issues.

Reading this post made me rather suspicious of what he was aiming to convey. As I found out by the end, it was nothing good: he capped it all off with vague criticism of fellow FTBer Ophelia Benson, and how his experiences with her had led him to suspect that all our conversations would descend into a “vicious, name-calling flame war”. We were the good ones… so who were the bad ones? In his estimation, she was.

I don’t agree with this at all. I don’t want to be used as a plank of someone’s argument in their ongoing grudge against FTB or Ophelia or Jen or Greta or Stephanie or Rebecca or Amy or any of the other women in the community who’ve continually stood up against harassment and threats. I don’t want to be an example cited by someone who thinks silence, or meek civility, is a norm we should all aspire to when faced with this. No – I would want such a person to know that I am not on their side here. I am not going to agree with them. I am not going to be complicit in being set apart from admirable and resilient people who have faced down this kind of abuse.

Does anyone really, honestly expect that my views come anywhere near “yeah, screw Ophelia for not suffering fools gladly! I’m with ya, buddy!”?

tumblr_mqx54pc6wh1sx5c51o1_500

This happened again after I was recently on TV to discuss the Chelsea Manning case, trans people in the US military, and access to transition care for trans inmates. Another blogger, Nelson Garcia, said I was “doing a stellar job explaining why it’s important for that person formerly known as Bradley to receive hormone therapy while she serves out her time.”

Much-appreciated praise – were it not surrounded by use of the word “tranny” (which he believes is a measured response to use of “the cis word”). Also, the claim that trans women “are just men who’ve deluded themselves and others into believing they’re women”. And the use of “he” in reference to a well-known trans woman activist. And – yes, he actually did this – nitpicking about the particular kind of surgeries she’s had, and calling this a “con” to have her identity documents updated. Oh, and then he called her a “media whore”.

I mean, holy shit.

Do you think I ever, at any point, would want a person like this to tell me I’m “doing a stellar job”? Does their judgment seem to be of such quality that I should even want to be on their good side?

Nothing I’ve ever done makes me any better than the other trans women he’s insulted and personally attacked in ways that are egregious and invasive even by the usual transphobe standards. And nothing I’ve done makes me better than, say, women on Twitter who just plain don’t feel like educating people from scratch on things like trans stuff and sexism. That’s their prerogative and it’s perfectly valid – it doesn’t make them any worse than me. Not everyone is always, or ever, inclined to get into it with people who are potentially hostile to the very foundations of their equality as human beings. We’re not all equipped to confront that every day, or any day. We shouldn’t have to be, and we shouldn’t be seen as any worse for not wanting to do so.

When what I say is used to fuel some expectation that we should all be unfailingly kind and patient in the face of nonsense, I don’t feel good about that. It’s not something I want my words to be used for at all, and such approval is not something I seek. When they try to separate us into “good ones” and “bad ones” based on how agreeable they find us, it’s often my friends who are considered the “bad ones”. And I know who I’d rather be with.

I don't want to be "one of the good ones"

I don’t want to be “one of the good ones”

A long-awaited companion piece for Heina.

If you’ve ever favorably contrasted me against other trans people or atheists or queer folks or anyone else like me, just because I’ve been quiet when they’ve been outspoken in the face of wrongdoing, or I was overly patient and indulgent of ignorance when they’ve been rightfully terse: fuck you.

Stop it. I don’t want your support or approval. I am not on your side. I am not one of you. I want to be like them – not like you. I don’t want to be one of your “good ones”.

I’ll define this type of situation by way of example. A few months back, I was mentioned on Anton A. Hill’s blog in a list of several people with whom he’d recently had productive conversations on issues like feminism and trans stuff. In my case, this was because I happened to be in a friendly mood when he asked me a question that involved the phrase “born w/ a peepee”.

This was just one instance of a pattern that was repeated throughout the post: his surprise that his criticism of Freethought Blogs as a whole was handled calmly by NonStampCollector, or that a member of Secular Woman “respected” his “right to disagree with her” on issues of feminism (as if how people regard a man’s opinion of feminism is in any way connected to individual rights and freedoms), or that Marisa Gallego “maintained politeness” when he “downright called her on her shit” in their discussion of trans matters.

I’ll ask you to take a moment and think about which of these people you expect I’d be more inclined to align myself with – him, or the people who graciously “maintained politeness” when addressing his “born w/ a peepee”-level views on these issues.

Reading this post made me rather suspicious of what he was aiming to convey. As I found out by the end, it was nothing good: he capped it all off with vague criticism of fellow FTBer Ophelia Benson, and how his experiences with her had led him to suspect that all our conversations would descend into a “vicious, name-calling flame war”. We were the good ones… so who were the bad ones? In his estimation, she was.

I don’t agree with this at all. I don’t want to be used as a plank of someone’s argument in their ongoing grudge against FTB or Ophelia or Jen or Greta or Stephanie or Rebecca or Amy or any of the other women in the community who’ve continually stood up against harassment and threats. I don’t want to be an example cited by someone who thinks silence, or meek civility, is a norm we should all aspire to when faced with this. No – I would want such a person to know that I am not on their side here. I am not going to agree with them. I am not going to be complicit in being set apart from admirable and resilient people who have faced down this kind of abuse.

Does anyone really, honestly expect that my views come anywhere near “yeah, screw Ophelia for not suffering fools gladly! I’m with ya, buddy!”?

tumblr_mqx54pc6wh1sx5c51o1_500

This happened again after I was recently on TV to discuss the Chelsea Manning case, trans people in the US military, and access to transition care for trans inmates. Another blogger, Nelson Garcia, said I was “doing a stellar job explaining why it’s important for that person formerly known as Bradley to receive hormone therapy while she serves out her time.”

Much-appreciated praise – were it not surrounded by use of the word “tranny” (which he believes is a measured response to use of “the cis word”). Also, the claim that trans women “are just men who’ve deluded themselves and others into believing they’re women”. And the use of “he” in reference to a well-known trans woman activist. And – yes, he actually did this – nitpicking about the particular kind of surgeries she’s had, and calling this a “con” to have her identity documents updated. Oh, and then he called her a “media whore”.

I mean, holy shit.

Do you think I ever, at any point, would want a person like this to tell me I’m “doing a stellar job”? Does their judgment seem to be of such quality that I should even want to be on their good side?

Nothing I’ve ever done makes me any better than the other trans women he’s insulted and personally attacked in ways that are egregious and invasive even by the usual transphobe standards. And nothing I’ve done makes me better than, say, women on Twitter who just plain don’t feel like educating people from scratch on things like trans stuff and sexism. That’s their prerogative and it’s perfectly valid – it doesn’t make them any worse than me. Not everyone is always, or ever, inclined to get into it with people who are potentially hostile to the very foundations of their equality as human beings. We’re not all equipped to confront that every day, or any day. We shouldn’t have to be, and we shouldn’t be seen as any worse for not wanting to do so.

When what I say is used to fuel some expectation that we should all be unfailingly kind and patient in the face of nonsense, I don’t feel good about that. It’s not something I want my words to be used for at all, and such approval is not something I seek. When they try to separate us into “good ones” and “bad ones” based on how agreeable they find us, it’s often my friends who are considered the “bad ones”. And I know who I’d rather be with.

I don’t want to be “one of the good ones”

Behind the scenes at CNN: How the media fails on Chelsea Manning's gender

by Heather McNamara & Lauren McNamara

Lauren: Last Thursday, I appeared on CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper to discuss the Chelsea Manning case. During the segment, we covered my personal history with Chelsea, as well as the question of access to transition-related healthcare for transgender people in prisons. Tapper repeatedly referred to Chelsea as her former name, Bradley, and used masculine pronouns. In my responses, I made sure to use her chosen name and pronouns.

Prior to my segment, the producers informed me that it was CNN’s current policy to use Chelsea’s old name and address her as male, as she had not yet legally changed her name or begun any medical transition process. However, they also let me know that I was free to refer to Chelsea as I wished. While I strongly disagreed with their policy of misgendering her and their excuses for doing so, I felt it would nevertheless be helpful to appear on the show and set an example by respecting her name and gender.

After my appearance, I tweeted to Tapper to express my appreciation that I was able to be on the show and discuss this case. Several of my followers took note of this, and rightly criticized Tapper for persistently misgendering Chelsea. Tapper responded that this was not his decision, and that it was a matter of CNN’s policy.

Later that day, my fiancee, Heather, made a post on my blog explaining how stressful her day had been due to dealing with people’s attitudes toward my segment on CNN. While she had been sitting at the doctor’s office with our two sons, my segment was airing on the TV in the waiting room. Some older people waiting there seemed to be laughing at the very idea of trans people, and she confronted them about this. She also found it awkward and unnecessary that, as our children were watching, Tapper referred to me as previously being a “gay man”.

Heather: Friday, I called out of work. Thursday had been a very long day, and in any case, it was easier to take care of the kids while Lauren continued to do interviews on Democracy Now! and various radio shows. However, I was still feeling ruffled from the night before, so I took to my Twitter, writing a number of tweets criticizing CNN’s unnecessary and transphobic policy of referring to Chelsea as “Bradley” and using male pronouns until such a time as her name is legally changed and medical transition has begun. One such tweet was a reply to one of Jake Tapper’s tweets regarding the interview with Lauren:

Before long, I received a reply from Tapper:

And then:

I’m going to assume the one-E masculine “fiance” was a typo. I replied:

I did not receive a reply to this tweet for a few hours. Another Twitter account, @DanielMWolff, jumped in:

At this point, Jake asked me to follow his account, and we exchanged email addresses and phone numbers. He asked me to call him because he was driving. I did not record the conversation so all that follows is paraphrasing and not by any means intended to be exact quotations.

The first thing he said when I called was that he wanted to let me know that he was deeply sorry for what I went through at the doctor’s office (referring to my previous post), and that he knew that I couldn’t be personally responsible for the barrage of tweets that he received on the topic of Chelsea’s gender, but that I needed to understand that CNN and NPR have the LGBT community’s best interests at heart. He said he wasn’t sure how he was supposed to know that saying my fiancee once identified as a gay man was supposed to be so much better than saying that she was a gay man.

I explained that I can’t stop people’s anger – that people get angry and vent, but what I’m trying to do right now is to get productive about the language that’s used on television so that we can avoid inciting that anger in the future. I told him that I’m older than Lauren and remember the time when respectful treatment of a person such as myself, a lesbian, would have meant discussing me as somebody with a problem that couldn’t be helped, or as being a product of some sort of childhood sexual abuse – but that has changed, and this is how that change happens.

Jake replied that he spoke with a trans activist who said there were 250,000 trans people in America. He said that’s not that many, and that even the LGB community, “of which you are a part,” has trouble accepting trans people and that I should know that.

I told him that yes, I was aware of this problem, and that if media sources like CNN could be guided toward resources for respectful language like the GLAAD style guide, then the common narrative might change.

In what I felt was a very condescending tone, Jake responded that he was sure the higher-ups were quite aware of the style guide, thank-you-very-much – but that, and he didn’t want to offend anyone by saying so, he thinks we can all agree that groups like GLAAD had (here, he struggled to think of an inoffensive word) an agenda.

He went on to say that he didn’t appreciate being treated like a bigot by angry people on Twitter, and that even though he understands that I had a bad time at the doctor’s office, he thought the language people were using to express their anger was counterproductive. He said that what he would do is pass on an email that I could send him to the higher-ups, and that I should keep in mind that if I use that kind of angry language within the email, nobody will read it.

He again said I should keep in mind that CNN and NPR care about LGBT people, and that they’re just trying to get things right. He also said that after two years of coverage of Manning as Bradley, it might confuse the viewers to switch immediately to Chelsea.

At this point, I reminded him that the blog post I wrote did not name him, and that it wasn’t about him or about anyone except myself and my experience as a mother of two children – who have learned about their stepmother’s gender – hearing their stepmother being described as a gay man on television and having adults in their vicinity laugh at this. I explained I never had any intention to be aggressive about this and that this was simply my story to tell. I told him that I’m sure there’s something I can think of that would clarify the transition from Bradley to Chelsea without being disrespectful to Chelsea.

He said he understood that some trans people wanted to think that a person becomes “a trans” the minute they say they are, and he personally doesn’t care whether somebody wants to be a man or a woman or whatever, but that from CNN’s point of view, if the person hasn’t done anything medical, then it’s confusing to “the rest of us.” He also said that the HRC hasn’t exactly given them any guidance on this issue. I said that, yes, the HRC does have a known problem with erasing trans people and issues.

He then closed the call by reminding me to keep my email civil and not to expect any response.

Heather & Lauren: This isn’t just about how a single anchor, or a single network, has handled Chelsea Manning’s gender. It also serves as an example, a microcosm of the attitude of many major news outlets toward trans issues. When we see mainstream news networks and papers acting as though respect for Chelsea’s womanhood is optional, or something for them to indulge at their own leisure and in their own due time, what’s going on behind the scenes are rationales like those offered by Jake Tapper.

This may have begun innocently enough as a group of people failing to understand an underrepresented and largely invisible minority group. Though Tapper and CNN’s higher-ups believe that excuses and summarizes the whole of the problem, that’s not the case. By now, several mainstream news outlets such as MSNBC, NPR, and The Guardian have already chosen to recognize and respect Chelsea’s gender. The continuation of this neglect no longer indicates innocent ignorance. Since Chelsea’s coming out, CNN and its partners in this neglect have actively made several distinct decisions to dismiss the voices and identities of transgender people.

Such news agencies have demanded that trans people meet an unusually high standard of proof simply to have their names and genders respected. When reporting on someone like Lady Gaga or Vanilla Ice, use of their names is not contingent on court orders showing their legal name or medical records providing evidence of their gender. Yet trans people’s very existence receives much greater doubt and scrutiny. Chelsea is first expected to pursue HRT and surgery even as the same news segment is reporting on her current lack of access to any of these medical resources. They’re clearly aware of the situation she faces, and their use of it as an excuse rings hollow – yet they choose to use it anyway.

In spite of Tapper’s (and presumably CNN’s) continuing insistence that they care about the struggles of LGBT people, their priorities clearly lie with making things as simple as possible for their cisgender audience to understand no matter the cost. These networks’ refusal to update their protocol sets an example for the cis world at large that a refusal to learn about or understand transgender people is acceptable. When supposedly liberal networks insist that trans people are too confusing to accommodate, society at large follows their lead.

These news outlets have substituted their empty declarations of self-assigned allyhood for any meaningful actions that would demonstrate true support for us. In their self-centered hypersensitivity, they balk at being thought of as bigots or criticized by LGBT people on Twitter. But they exhibit hardly any sense of the gravity of their own responsibilities. They sit in a position of great influence over the public’s understanding of trans people; with that position, they intentionally promote oversimplified taglines of “HE wants to be a SHE!” – authoritatively confirming to viewers that this is all they need to know or care about. The role of the news is to report events accurately and keep the public informed. And when they’re more concerned about being made fun of on Twitter, this shows that they don’t consider trans people’s lives to be important enough to bother getting the story right. “Ally” is not an identity; it is an action. They are claiming themselves as allies and refusing to do any of the work.

When the precedence for dismissal has been set, it’s hardly surprising to see the ensuing painful dismissal of the necessity and validity of treatment for gender dysphoria. The willfulness of the ignorance surrounding Chelsea’s gender extends to the persistent mischaracterization of her treatment. The medications she needs are both common and cheap while being uncommonly effective, yet Lauren was continually bombarded with questions over whether taxpayers should have to foot the bill and whether counseling should be considered sufficient. A cursory glance at the WPATH Standards of Care could have settled both of those questions, but when CNN says “Bradley wants to be a woman” instead of the correct “Chelsea is a woman,” they have misled the public to believe that this is the frivolous whim of a prisoner rather than a serious and treatable condition. As Lauren was repeatedly forced to explain, this should no more be up for debate than treating diabetes, but CNN and other networks’ word choice has made it seem so. Tapper stated that he was offended by being called a bigot. He may not like it and he may not be the decision maker here, but CNN’s actions are bigoted.

The medical aspects of gender dysphoria and the legal basis for the necessity of treating trans people in prison are incredibly clear and well-established. This is a real condition recognized by actual medical authorities, unlike some transphobe’s mocking contention that they now identify as a tree. Gender dysphoria has been studied extensively over the past century. Its defining features have been identified; its risks when untreated are known to be severe, and the only effective treatment has become so empirically obvious that it cannot be ignored.

As it stands, there remains no serious medical or scientific debate over whether transsexualism exists. Trans people are real people who live in the real world, not some mere flight of fancy so bizarre as to warrant suspicion that this is a fiction. But such bafflement and incomprehension are what an outlet like CNN encourages when they – one of the world’s leading media organizations – are mysteriously unable to educate themselves on the indisputable facts of this issue.

Whether CNN chooses to acknowledge it or not, trans people are a part of their audience. We are taxpayers, viewers, consumers, citizens, soldiers, and sometimes prisoners. We are not political debates. We are not an agenda. We are entitled to treatment where necessary and acknowledgment of our identities irrespective of the irrelevant opinions of lay persons and news reporters. The military has refused to provide a prisoner with the treatment she requires. That is a tragedy, and the only relevant news item.

While a CNN anchor may suggest contacting the network’s policymakers to bring about change, the attitude expressed in their coverage makes it all too clear that such an attempt would be thwarted at every turn. They’ve already decided which LGBT organizations they’ll listen to, selectively choosing to hear only the HRC’s silence while dismissing GLAAD’s unambiguous guidance as the product of a questionable agenda. They’ve recklessly delegitimized trans people’s existence in the eyes of millions then demanded we stifle our own justified anger. When these self-proclaimed allies can’t bring themselves to listen to the very people they’ve publicly maligned, how are we supposed to believe that they care about respecting us at all?


Heather McNamara writes about indie literature, politics, and civil rights at HeatherMcNamara.net.

Behind the scenes at CNN: How the media fails on Chelsea Manning's gender

Behind the scenes at CNN: How the media fails on Chelsea Manning’s gender

by Heather McNamara & Lauren McNamara

Lauren: Last Thursday, I appeared on CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper to discuss the Chelsea Manning case. During the segment, we covered my personal history with Chelsea, as well as the question of access to transition-related healthcare for transgender people in prisons. Tapper repeatedly referred to Chelsea as her former name, Bradley, and used masculine pronouns. In my responses, I made sure to use her chosen name and pronouns.

Prior to my segment, the producers informed me that it was CNN’s current policy to use Chelsea’s old name and address her as male, as she had not yet legally changed her name or begun any medical transition process. However, they also let me know that I was free to refer to Chelsea as I wished. While I strongly disagreed with their policy of misgendering her and their excuses for doing so, I felt it would nevertheless be helpful to appear on the show and set an example by respecting her name and gender.

After my appearance, I tweeted to Tapper to express my appreciation that I was able to be on the show and discuss this case. Several of my followers took note of this, and rightly criticized Tapper for persistently misgendering Chelsea. Tapper responded that this was not his decision, and that it was a matter of CNN’s policy.

Later that day, my fiancee, Heather, made a post on my blog explaining how stressful her day had been due to dealing with people’s attitudes toward my segment on CNN. While she had been sitting at the doctor’s office with our two sons, my segment was airing on the TV in the waiting room. Some older people waiting there seemed to be laughing at the very idea of trans people, and she confronted them about this. She also found it awkward and unnecessary that, as our children were watching, Tapper referred to me as previously being a “gay man”.

Heather: Friday, I called out of work. Thursday had been a very long day, and in any case, it was easier to take care of the kids while Lauren continued to do interviews on Democracy Now! and various radio shows. However, I was still feeling ruffled from the night before, so I took to my Twitter, writing a number of tweets criticizing CNN’s unnecessary and transphobic policy of referring to Chelsea as “Bradley” and using male pronouns until such a time as her name is legally changed and medical transition has begun. One such tweet was a reply to one of Jake Tapper’s tweets regarding the interview with Lauren:

Before long, I received a reply from Tapper:

And then:

I’m going to assume the one-E masculine “fiance” was a typo. I replied:

I did not receive a reply to this tweet for a few hours. Another Twitter account, @DanielMWolff, jumped in:

At this point, Jake asked me to follow his account, and we exchanged email addresses and phone numbers. He asked me to call him because he was driving. I did not record the conversation so all that follows is paraphrasing and not by any means intended to be exact quotations.

The first thing he said when I called was that he wanted to let me know that he was deeply sorry for what I went through at the doctor’s office (referring to my previous post), and that he knew that I couldn’t be personally responsible for the barrage of tweets that he received on the topic of Chelsea’s gender, but that I needed to understand that CNN and NPR have the LGBT community’s best interests at heart. He said he wasn’t sure how he was supposed to know that saying my fiancee once identified as a gay man was supposed to be so much better than saying that she was a gay man.

I explained that I can’t stop people’s anger – that people get angry and vent, but what I’m trying to do right now is to get productive about the language that’s used on television so that we can avoid inciting that anger in the future. I told him that I’m older than Lauren and remember the time when respectful treatment of a person such as myself, a lesbian, would have meant discussing me as somebody with a problem that couldn’t be helped, or as being a product of some sort of childhood sexual abuse – but that has changed, and this is how that change happens.

Jake replied that he spoke with a trans activist who said there were 250,000 trans people in America. He said that’s not that many, and that even the LGB community, “of which you are a part,” has trouble accepting trans people and that I should know that.

I told him that yes, I was aware of this problem, and that if media sources like CNN could be guided toward resources for respectful language like the GLAAD style guide, then the common narrative might change.

In what I felt was a very condescending tone, Jake responded that he was sure the higher-ups were quite aware of the style guide, thank-you-very-much – but that, and he didn’t want to offend anyone by saying so, he thinks we can all agree that groups like GLAAD had (here, he struggled to think of an inoffensive word) an agenda.

He went on to say that he didn’t appreciate being treated like a bigot by angry people on Twitter, and that even though he understands that I had a bad time at the doctor’s office, he thought the language people were using to express their anger was counterproductive. He said that what he would do is pass on an email that I could send him to the higher-ups, and that I should keep in mind that if I use that kind of angry language within the email, nobody will read it.

He again said I should keep in mind that CNN and NPR care about LGBT people, and that they’re just trying to get things right. He also said that after two years of coverage of Manning as Bradley, it might confuse the viewers to switch immediately to Chelsea.

At this point, I reminded him that the blog post I wrote did not name him, and that it wasn’t about him or about anyone except myself and my experience as a mother of two children – who have learned about their stepmother’s gender – hearing their stepmother being described as a gay man on television and having adults in their vicinity laugh at this. I explained I never had any intention to be aggressive about this and that this was simply my story to tell. I told him that I’m sure there’s something I can think of that would clarify the transition from Bradley to Chelsea without being disrespectful to Chelsea.

He said he understood that some trans people wanted to think that a person becomes “a trans” the minute they say they are, and he personally doesn’t care whether somebody wants to be a man or a woman or whatever, but that from CNN’s point of view, if the person hasn’t done anything medical, then it’s confusing to “the rest of us.” He also said that the HRC hasn’t exactly given them any guidance on this issue. I said that, yes, the HRC does have a known problem with erasing trans people and issues.

He then closed the call by reminding me to keep my email civil and not to expect any response.

Heather & Lauren: This isn’t just about how a single anchor, or a single network, has handled Chelsea Manning’s gender. It also serves as an example, a microcosm of the attitude of many major news outlets toward trans issues. When we see mainstream news networks and papers acting as though respect for Chelsea’s womanhood is optional, or something for them to indulge at their own leisure and in their own due time, what’s going on behind the scenes are rationales like those offered by Jake Tapper.

This may have begun innocently enough as a group of people failing to understand an underrepresented and largely invisible minority group. Though Tapper and CNN’s higher-ups believe that excuses and summarizes the whole of the problem, that’s not the case. By now, several mainstream news outlets such as MSNBC, NPR, and The Guardian have already chosen to recognize and respect Chelsea’s gender. The continuation of this neglect no longer indicates innocent ignorance. Since Chelsea’s coming out, CNN and its partners in this neglect have actively made several distinct decisions to dismiss the voices and identities of transgender people.

Such news agencies have demanded that trans people meet an unusually high standard of proof simply to have their names and genders respected. When reporting on someone like Lady Gaga or Vanilla Ice, use of their names is not contingent on court orders showing their legal name or medical records providing evidence of their gender. Yet trans people’s very existence receives much greater doubt and scrutiny. Chelsea is first expected to pursue HRT and surgery even as the same news segment is reporting on her current lack of access to any of these medical resources. They’re clearly aware of the situation she faces, and their use of it as an excuse rings hollow – yet they choose to use it anyway.

In spite of Tapper’s (and presumably CNN’s) continuing insistence that they care about the struggles of LGBT people, their priorities clearly lie with making things as simple as possible for their cisgender audience to understand no matter the cost. These networks’ refusal to update their protocol sets an example for the cis world at large that a refusal to learn about or understand transgender people is acceptable. When supposedly liberal networks insist that trans people are too confusing to accommodate, society at large follows their lead.

These news outlets have substituted their empty declarations of self-assigned allyhood for any meaningful actions that would demonstrate true support for us. In their self-centered hypersensitivity, they balk at being thought of as bigots or criticized by LGBT people on Twitter. But they exhibit hardly any sense of the gravity of their own responsibilities. They sit in a position of great influence over the public’s understanding of trans people; with that position, they intentionally promote oversimplified taglines of “HE wants to be a SHE!” – authoritatively confirming to viewers that this is all they need to know or care about. The role of the news is to report events accurately and keep the public informed. And when they’re more concerned about being made fun of on Twitter, this shows that they don’t consider trans people’s lives to be important enough to bother getting the story right. “Ally” is not an identity; it is an action. They are claiming themselves as allies and refusing to do any of the work.

When the precedence for dismissal has been set, it’s hardly surprising to see the ensuing painful dismissal of the necessity and validity of treatment for gender dysphoria. The willfulness of the ignorance surrounding Chelsea’s gender extends to the persistent mischaracterization of her treatment. The medications she needs are both common and cheap while being uncommonly effective, yet Lauren was continually bombarded with questions over whether taxpayers should have to foot the bill and whether counseling should be considered sufficient. A cursory glance at the WPATH Standards of Care could have settled both of those questions, but when CNN says “Bradley wants to be a woman” instead of the correct “Chelsea is a woman,” they have misled the public to believe that this is the frivolous whim of a prisoner rather than a serious and treatable condition. As Lauren was repeatedly forced to explain, this should no more be up for debate than treating diabetes, but CNN and other networks’ word choice has made it seem so. Tapper stated that he was offended by being called a bigot. He may not like it and he may not be the decision maker here, but CNN’s actions are bigoted.

The medical aspects of gender dysphoria and the legal basis for the necessity of treating trans people in prison are incredibly clear and well-established. This is a real condition recognized by actual medical authorities, unlike some transphobe’s mocking contention that they now identify as a tree. Gender dysphoria has been studied extensively over the past century. Its defining features have been identified; its risks when untreated are known to be severe, and the only effective treatment has become so empirically obvious that it cannot be ignored.

As it stands, there remains no serious medical or scientific debate over whether transsexualism exists. Trans people are real people who live in the real world, not some mere flight of fancy so bizarre as to warrant suspicion that this is a fiction. But such bafflement and incomprehension are what an outlet like CNN encourages when they – one of the world’s leading media organizations – are mysteriously unable to educate themselves on the indisputable facts of this issue.

Whether CNN chooses to acknowledge it or not, trans people are a part of their audience. We are taxpayers, viewers, consumers, citizens, soldiers, and sometimes prisoners. We are not political debates. We are not an agenda. We are entitled to treatment where necessary and acknowledgment of our identities irrespective of the irrelevant opinions of lay persons and news reporters. The military has refused to provide a prisoner with the treatment she requires. That is a tragedy, and the only relevant news item.

While a CNN anchor may suggest contacting the network’s policymakers to bring about change, the attitude expressed in their coverage makes it all too clear that such an attempt would be thwarted at every turn. They’ve already decided which LGBT organizations they’ll listen to, selectively choosing to hear only the HRC’s silence while dismissing GLAAD’s unambiguous guidance as the product of a questionable agenda. They’ve recklessly delegitimized trans people’s existence in the eyes of millions then demanded we stifle our own justified anger. When these self-proclaimed allies can’t bring themselves to listen to the very people they’ve publicly maligned, how are we supposed to believe that they care about respecting us at all?


Heather McNamara writes about indie literature, politics, and civil rights at HeatherMcNamara.net.

Behind the scenes at CNN: How the media fails on Chelsea Manning’s gender

An open letter to CNN on Chelsea Manning

Guest post by Heather McNamara

To whom it may concern:

My name is Heather McNamara. My fiancée, Lauren McNamara, was a confidante of Chelsea Manning’s and testified in her trial. As such, Lauren was recently interviewed by Jake Tapper on The Lead and will be appearing again tomorrow morning on New Day Saturday.

During Lauren’s interview on The Lead, Mr. Tapper explained that CNN would be referring to Chelsea Manning by her former name Bradley and using male pronouns until such a time as her name is officially changed and her physical transition process has begun. NPR made similar decisions, and it is my understanding that this has led to some backlash from transgender people concerned that this is disrespectful of Chelsea Manning and her gender.

Mr. Tapper explained to me that CNN is interested in being sensitive to the LGBT community and certainly intended no harm, but that it is difficult to understand the needs of a largely invisible minority and what constitutes respect. I believe that CNN has the LGBT community’s best interests in mind, and it is my hope that I can assist in shedding some light on some simple strategies for demonstrating respect to trans people.

While trans identities can seem difficult to understand at first, it can actually be made quite simple. Mr. Tapper expressed to me that it may be confusing for CNN’s audience to comprehend an abrupt change from two years of news coverage as Bradley Manning to Chelsea Manning. There’s nothing disrespectful about being confused by a sudden name change. It may assist viewers’ understanding to refer to her as “Chelsea” and add the caveat “formerly known as Bradley Manning” while people continue to learn her new name. This proclamation and clarification will remove the necessity of continuing to refer to Chelsea as “he” and “him.”

Where further questions arrive, it can sometimes be helpful to imagine replacing words associated with gender with words associated with sexual orientation to determine whether a statement or policy would be offensive. For example: Mr. Tapper said that Lauren was “once a gay man.” Although gay people may have gone through a time in their lives where they formed heterosexual relationships before coming out, they are no less gay for having done so. Ellen DeGeneres went to prom with a boy, but it would be disrespectful to refer to her as once having been a straight woman.

The societal understanding is that there is so much pressure on gay people to be straight or keep it secret that it is difficult for them to understand their identities and be open about them immediately. The same is true for trans people. Chelsea has not changed. The only thing that has changed is that she is now presenting outwardly as the person she has always been within. Further, we prefer “trans” or “transgender” to be used as adjectives rather than nouns. “A gay” would be bad form, and so would “a trans.” “A lesbian” continues to be the only exception to this rule.

Waiting for Chelsea to achieve a legal name change and physical transition, including hormone treatment and possible surgery, is unnecessary and inhumane. The military currently refuses to treat transgender people with hormone replacement therapy and/or surgery. In any case, that line is arbitrary. There is good reason that trans people consider coming out to be the only step necessary to command respect of their genders.

At what point would her hormone replacement be considered sufficient? When a blood test showed her testosterone as sufficiently repressed? Or not until surgery? Only one in five trans women get sex reassignment surgery, and even fewer trans men – only one in 26. The surgery is prohibitively expensive and can lead to complications. At what point would she be considered to be presenting as a woman? When she wears make-up and dresses? And if I wear pants and no make-up, am I therefore presenting as a man? Would it then be acceptable to call me “he?” I hope you can understand that, under scrutiny, it becomes significantly more confusing to deny a trans person’s gender than to accept it.

As Lauren mentioned on Mr. Tapper’s show, 41% of transgender people will attempt suicide at some point in their lives. Social ostracism and denial of agency can and do seriously harm people. CNN’s anchors’ word choice will make a difference in how the public understands and discusses transgender people. Setting an example of respect and dignity will change the lives of trans people everywhere for the better.

CNN would not be alone. In fact, if these changes are not made, CNN may be left in the dust. Since speaking with Mr. Tapper this afternoon, MSNBC, Slate, Huffington Post, and NPR have all agreed to refer to Chelsea by her chosen name and female pronouns. It’s too late to take the lead, but it’s not too late to catch up.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,
Heather McNamara


Heather McNamara writes about indie literature, politics, and civil rights at HeatherMcNamara.net.

An open letter to CNN on Chelsea Manning

My day

Guest post by Heather McNamara

10:00 a.m.: fiancee Lauren McNamara texts me at work that she will be doing some interviews on CNN today about Chelsea Manning, who came out this morning.

10:00:01 a.m.: I tell everyone within earshot that my famous awesome beautiful amazing brilliant genius girlfriend is going to be on television.

12:30 p.m.: Lunch time. I tell some other people. My friends hide faces/walk away embarrassed that I’m admitting out loud to people outside of our circle of trust that my girlfriend is trans.

1:00p.m.-3:00p.m.: television at office plays Chelsea Manning story on loop; news anchors asking “hard-hitting” questions like whether those poor taxpayers might have to pay for Chelsea’s medical care.

4:10 p.m.: at doctor’s office with sons. CNN plays on TV. Lauren, my children’s stepmom, comes on TV. Two people in the waiting room snort and laugh. I ask if they think transgender people are funny. They laugh and stare at their laps. One of them says “Yeah.” I reply “assholes.”

4:11 p.m.: CNN news anchor continually calls Chelsea “he” and “him” and postulates that Lauren, too, was “once a gay man.”

5:00 p.m.: Arrive home. Cousin’s wife on Facebook has posted a status about how horrifying it is that her daughter has to share a bathroom with “a confused boy” at school. No really. I am not making this up.

6:00 p.m.: I call my counselor for a session.


Heather McNamara writes about indie literature, politics, and civil rights at HeatherMcNamara.net.

My day

Why I'm having an orchiectomy

I recently decided to begin working towards obtaining a bilateral orchiectomy, one of the many surgeries available to transgender women. This refers to the permanent removal of both testes, while leaving the penis intact. It’s also known as an orchi (rhymes with “Yorkie”), castration, or in animals, neutering. In short, it’s the polite term for having your balls cut out.

One of the first questions I’m often asked about this, particularly by people who value their testes, is “dear god why!?” For most ball-owners, it seems that few things provoke a more visceral reaction than the prospect of losing them. But this is a valid question – it’s worth exploring what exactly this surgery does, the role it plays in transitioning, and why I’ve decided that this is right for me.

How HRT works

This will be a significant milestone for me: the first surgery I’ll be having as part of my transition. And while that is a big step, I tend to think of it as simply being an extension of hormone replacement therapy, which is the only medical procedure I’ve had so far. HRT for trans women generally includes supplemental estrogen, as well as anti-androgen drugs to suppress testosterone. These anti-androgens are designed to shut down the production of testosterone, block its action at receptors, or prevent it from being converted into more potent forms. This clears the way for estrogen to produce physical feminization more effectively.

However, anti-androgens do have side effects. One common drug causes frequent urination, and can theoretically result in dangerously high potassium levels, although this almost never happens. Others have been associated with a small risk of liver toxicity. Overall, there’s little data available on the effects of using them for several decades.

Removing the testes eliminates the main source of testosterone – but as long as I still have them, I’ll need to monitor my testosterone to make sure it’s being adequately suppressed by anti-androgens. Furthermore, if I ever went off HRT for any reason, its feminizing effects would largely be reversed as my body began to produce normal male levels of testosterone again. My breasts would shrink away, my body hair would grow back thicker and darker, my skin would become rougher and more oily, my hairline would recede and male-pattern baldness could set in, my sex drive would become uncomfortably active again, my face would lose much of its feminine aspects, my facial hair would start to spread, my body would return to a more masculine shape, and all of these effects of testosterone would continue to accumulate as I aged.

What an orchi would change

An orchi can largely prevent this from ever happening. After having my testes removed, my testosterone levels would fall to within a normal female range – possibly even lower, due to the absence of any testosterone production from ovaries. This effect would be permanent, so there would no longer be any need for anti-androgens, and no risk of physical regression or re-masculinization due to uncontrolled testosterone.

At that point, the only HRT regimen I’d need would consist of estrogen and possibly progesterone. This would also permit me to lower my dose of estrogen, which reduces the risk of potentially life-threatening blood clots. If I ever did have to stop HRT, the regression of feminine features would be minimal, similar to that experienced by cis women during menopause. Practically speaking, an orchi would effectively lock in the feminizing effects of HRT.

Still, lacking any testes or ovaries would leave me dependent on supplemental sex hormones for the rest of my life, in order to avoid symptoms such as bone loss. At this point, I’m pretty comfortable with that degree of commitment. I’ve been on HRT for almost a year now, and even if I didn’t get an orchi, I would still need to keep taking it indefinitely in order to continue transitioning. By now, I’ve become accustomed to this as a part of my life.

I don’t intend to go back, so realistically, this isn’t a choice between needing medication or not. Rather, it’s a choice between needing more medication or less. And crucially, it means choosing between remaining in a limbo state of perpetually staving off masculinization, or making these changes more permanent and resilient.

Why not vaginoplasty?

Some people have asked why I wouldn’t instead choose to have a vaginoplasty, commonly known as sex reassignment surgery, or SRS. During SRS, the penile and scrotal tissue are used to create a vulva and a vagina. When people say “the surgery”, this is the one they’re talking about.

It’s usually easy for people to understand why a trans woman would want a vagina – they can recognize that, as women, we want this to be a part of our bodies. So it can sometimes be puzzling to them when we don’t, especially given that an orchi doesn’t do anything to align my genitals with normative female standards, and even takes them further away from normative male standards. Quite simply, I’ve taken the benefits and risks into account, and I’m not ready to have SRS at this time. While I’m certainly curious about what it would be like to have a vagina, it’s not something I have a particularly strong need for.

I’m comfortable with the way my genitals currently function, and SRS would alter that significantly, with a potential risk of losing sensation and the ability to orgasm. There are also a number of serious complications that can occur, and revision surgeries are often necessary. If SRS were perfect, I’d be much more willing to have it done. But as is, I personally don’t consider it worth the risk of compromising what I have now. This is just my own evaluation of my options – something that each person has to decide for themselves.

On the other hand, an orchi is a much simpler surgery in almost every way. It doesn’t involve repurposing the genitals to change their function or create a whole new organ – there’s no delicate crafting involved. Instead, it’s the relatively straightforward removal of two small bits of tissue that are just hanging out there, waiting to be excised. SRS is a highly specialized operation, uncommon enough that the surgeons who make a career of it are very well-known to trans women. These specialists are scattered around the world: getting SRS with your surgeon of choice can mean traveling across the country, or to the other side of the planet. And because it’s such a unique form of reconstructive surgery, it can cost $10-20,000, usually out-of-pocket.

An orchi is a relatively routine and commonplace procedure with a low risk of complications. It’s likely performed for more cis men than trans women, and there are many more surgeons in everyday hospitals who can do it safely and effectively – you don’t have to travel to Thailand to find someone who can give you the perfect orchi. It’s a minor operation using a small incision and local anesthetic, and many trans women report staying awake for the entire surgery. The recovery time is only a week or two. And given that it doesn’t require such detailed work, it can be obtained for as little as $2,500 in some areas.

Furthermore, this is not an either-or decision. Having an orchi still leaves open the choice to have SRS in the future – the testes are not a crucial component of vaginoplasty, and they’re discarded during the procedure. Some surgeons prefer not to perform SRS after an orchi, and others will charge more for it, but it is possible. And post-operative HRT regimens are essentially the same whether you’ve had an orchi or SRS. Right now, I’m not pursuing this, so an orchi will give me the hormone-related benefits without requiring me to have such a major operation.

My priorities in transitioning

I should emphasize that I personally find the whole-body changes induced by HRT to be much more important than obtaining a vagina. People tend to reduce all of transitioning to being solely about correcting your genitals, as if that’s the entirety of what a “sex change” is. And yes, for many trans women, having a vagina is a priority. But there’s still much more to this than rearranging small pieces of flesh that most people will never even see.

Over the past year, I’ve been amazed to discover that HRT changes almost everything. It’s changed the way my face looks, how my body is shaped, the way I move, my hair, my skin, and my physical strength. It’s also changed how I experience the world, my emotions, and even sex. My body and my mind feel so much more right for me, and this has improved my life in nearly every respect. It’s fixed whatever was missing for me, and for the first time, everything matters and I can actually find a reason to care about things. My life is worth living now. Without question, this has made me more complete as a person.

This isn’t like putting on makeup – this has fundamentally changed my physical presence in the world. I consider these changes to be integral to who I am now, and I don’t ever want to lose them. As I move forward in life, it’s very important to me to ensure that these effects will become a permanent part of myself – that’s my priority. An orchi will give me that certainty, and if I ever do feel the need to get a vagina, that option will be available as well.

Miscellaneous questions

Some people have wondered how an orchi would affect sexual functioning, and a few were apparently under the impression that erection and orgasm are impossible without testes. However, that’s not really how that works, for cis men or for trans women. I should note that HRT has already reduced my testosterone to the levels I would have after an orchi – essentially, I’ve already been “chemically castrated”.

Those levels will be the same both pre-op and post-op, and the sexual effects of this are likely to be similar as well. Every trans woman experiences sex differently, but for me, this already hasn’t compromised my ability to orgasm – if you really must know. And, well, let’s just say it’s not all about erections anymore.

Others have asked if I’ve banked sperm prior to this. I haven’t, and I don’t intend to. HRT has already made me practically infertile, and I would have to go off it for several months to have even a chance of regaining some fertility. In that time, most of the feminizing changes would be reversed, which is exactly what I want to avoid. If you had been in my shoes, and experienced all the differences between living with testosterone and replacing it with estrogen, trust me: you wouldn’t want to go back, ever.

I also don’t personally consider it very important to pass on my genes, and I never intended to have biological children anyway. I already have two wonderful stepkids, and they’re the best in the world – they’re all I need. For me, reproducing isn’t a big deal, and I really don’t mind if my gametes are forever erased from existence.

Some have questioned whether being hit or kicked in the area hurts as much after an orchi. I’ve asked other trans women who’ve had an orchi, and they report that being hit in the balls doesn’t hurt when you have no balls. Personally, I’m looking forward to having this glaring vulnerability fixed.

Most interestingly, some people have asked whether I’ll get to keep them after they’ve been removed. And some surgeons do let you take them home! I figure we’ll preserve them in a jar, display it on our bookshelves, and use it as a weird prop for videos. (Anyone who knows what chemicals and processes are necessary to do this, hit me up.)

Where we stand now

At this point, I’m highly certain that an orchi is right for me. I’ve been seriously considering it for several months, and during that time, I’ve only become more comfortable with the possibility. I’ve never particularly valued these organs, nor are they a necessary or important part of my self-concept. Beyond just a weighing of benefits and risks, I’ve reached a point where I’m happy to regard them as merely a temporary part of my body. I don’t feel I’ll regret permanently separating them from myself.

Nevertheless, I’ll still have plenty more time to think it over – there’s a lot of work to be done. I have to obtain the necessary referral letters, find a surgeon, and see if there’s any way my insurance could cover some or all of the costs. As I don’t yet know how this will turn out, I’ve made a goal of saving $4,000 to cover medical expenses, travel, time off work, and other incidentals. While this is a substantial amount, I’m aiming to have an orchi before the end of next year.

Those are the parameters. I’m making this happen, and I’ll continue to keep you all updated on how it goes. Wish me luck!

Why I'm having an orchiectomy

Why I’m having an orchiectomy

I recently decided to begin working towards obtaining a bilateral orchiectomy, one of the many surgeries available to transgender women. This refers to the permanent removal of both testes, while leaving the penis intact. It’s also known as an orchi (rhymes with “Yorkie”), castration, or in animals, neutering. In short, it’s the polite term for having your balls cut out.

One of the first questions I’m often asked about this, particularly by people who value their testes, is “dear god why!?” For most ball-owners, it seems that few things provoke a more visceral reaction than the prospect of losing them. But this is a valid question – it’s worth exploring what exactly this surgery does, the role it plays in transitioning, and why I’ve decided that this is right for me.

How HRT works

This will be a significant milestone for me: the first surgery I’ll be having as part of my transition. And while that is a big step, I tend to think of it as simply being an extension of hormone replacement therapy, which is the only medical procedure I’ve had so far. HRT for trans women generally includes supplemental estrogen, as well as anti-androgen drugs to suppress testosterone. These anti-androgens are designed to shut down the production of testosterone, block its action at receptors, or prevent it from being converted into more potent forms. This clears the way for estrogen to produce physical feminization more effectively.

However, anti-androgens do have side effects. One common drug causes frequent urination, and can theoretically result in dangerously high potassium levels, although this almost never happens. Others have been associated with a small risk of liver toxicity. Overall, there’s little data available on the effects of using them for several decades.

Removing the testes eliminates the main source of testosterone – but as long as I still have them, I’ll need to monitor my testosterone to make sure it’s being adequately suppressed by anti-androgens. Furthermore, if I ever went off HRT for any reason, its feminizing effects would largely be reversed as my body began to produce normal male levels of testosterone again. My breasts would shrink away, my body hair would grow back thicker and darker, my skin would become rougher and more oily, my hairline would recede and male-pattern baldness could set in, my sex drive would become uncomfortably active again, my face would lose much of its feminine aspects, my facial hair would start to spread, my body would return to a more masculine shape, and all of these effects of testosterone would continue to accumulate as I aged.

What an orchi would change

An orchi can largely prevent this from ever happening. After having my testes removed, my testosterone levels would fall to within a normal female range – possibly even lower, due to the absence of any testosterone production from ovaries. This effect would be permanent, so there would no longer be any need for anti-androgens, and no risk of physical regression or re-masculinization due to uncontrolled testosterone.

At that point, the only HRT regimen I’d need would consist of estrogen and possibly progesterone. This would also permit me to lower my dose of estrogen, which reduces the risk of potentially life-threatening blood clots. If I ever did have to stop HRT, the regression of feminine features would be minimal, similar to that experienced by cis women during menopause. Practically speaking, an orchi would effectively lock in the feminizing effects of HRT.

Still, lacking any testes or ovaries would leave me dependent on supplemental sex hormones for the rest of my life, in order to avoid symptoms such as bone loss. At this point, I’m pretty comfortable with that degree of commitment. I’ve been on HRT for almost a year now, and even if I didn’t get an orchi, I would still need to keep taking it indefinitely in order to continue transitioning. By now, I’ve become accustomed to this as a part of my life.

I don’t intend to go back, so realistically, this isn’t a choice between needing medication or not. Rather, it’s a choice between needing more medication or less. And crucially, it means choosing between remaining in a limbo state of perpetually staving off masculinization, or making these changes more permanent and resilient.

Why not vaginoplasty?

Some people have asked why I wouldn’t instead choose to have a vaginoplasty, commonly known as sex reassignment surgery, or SRS. During SRS, the penile and scrotal tissue are used to create a vulva and a vagina. When people say “the surgery”, this is the one they’re talking about.

It’s usually easy for people to understand why a trans woman would want a vagina – they can recognize that, as women, we want this to be a part of our bodies. So it can sometimes be puzzling to them when we don’t, especially given that an orchi doesn’t do anything to align my genitals with normative female standards, and even takes them further away from normative male standards. Quite simply, I’ve taken the benefits and risks into account, and I’m not ready to have SRS at this time. While I’m certainly curious about what it would be like to have a vagina, it’s not something I have a particularly strong need for.

I’m comfortable with the way my genitals currently function, and SRS would alter that significantly, with a potential risk of losing sensation and the ability to orgasm. There are also a number of serious complications that can occur, and revision surgeries are often necessary. If SRS were perfect, I’d be much more willing to have it done. But as is, I personally don’t consider it worth the risk of compromising what I have now. This is just my own evaluation of my options – something that each person has to decide for themselves.

On the other hand, an orchi is a much simpler surgery in almost every way. It doesn’t involve repurposing the genitals to change their function or create a whole new organ – there’s no delicate crafting involved. Instead, it’s the relatively straightforward removal of two small bits of tissue that are just hanging out there, waiting to be excised. SRS is a highly specialized operation, uncommon enough that the surgeons who make a career of it are very well-known to trans women. These specialists are scattered around the world: getting SRS with your surgeon of choice can mean traveling across the country, or to the other side of the planet. And because it’s such a unique form of reconstructive surgery, it can cost $10-20,000, usually out-of-pocket.

An orchi is a relatively routine and commonplace procedure with a low risk of complications. It’s likely performed for more cis men than trans women, and there are many more surgeons in everyday hospitals who can do it safely and effectively – you don’t have to travel to Thailand to find someone who can give you the perfect orchi. It’s a minor operation using a small incision and local anesthetic, and many trans women report staying awake for the entire surgery. The recovery time is only a week or two. And given that it doesn’t require such detailed work, it can be obtained for as little as $2,500 in some areas.

Furthermore, this is not an either-or decision. Having an orchi still leaves open the choice to have SRS in the future – the testes are not a crucial component of vaginoplasty, and they’re discarded during the procedure. Some surgeons prefer not to perform SRS after an orchi, and others will charge more for it, but it is possible. And post-operative HRT regimens are essentially the same whether you’ve had an orchi or SRS. Right now, I’m not pursuing this, so an orchi will give me the hormone-related benefits without requiring me to have such a major operation.

My priorities in transitioning

I should emphasize that I personally find the whole-body changes induced by HRT to be much more important than obtaining a vagina. People tend to reduce all of transitioning to being solely about correcting your genitals, as if that’s the entirety of what a “sex change” is. And yes, for many trans women, having a vagina is a priority. But there’s still much more to this than rearranging small pieces of flesh that most people will never even see.

Over the past year, I’ve been amazed to discover that HRT changes almost everything. It’s changed the way my face looks, how my body is shaped, the way I move, my hair, my skin, and my physical strength. It’s also changed how I experience the world, my emotions, and even sex. My body and my mind feel so much more right for me, and this has improved my life in nearly every respect. It’s fixed whatever was missing for me, and for the first time, everything matters and I can actually find a reason to care about things. My life is worth living now. Without question, this has made me more complete as a person.

This isn’t like putting on makeup – this has fundamentally changed my physical presence in the world. I consider these changes to be integral to who I am now, and I don’t ever want to lose them. As I move forward in life, it’s very important to me to ensure that these effects will become a permanent part of myself – that’s my priority. An orchi will give me that certainty, and if I ever do feel the need to get a vagina, that option will be available as well.

Miscellaneous questions

Some people have wondered how an orchi would affect sexual functioning, and a few were apparently under the impression that erection and orgasm are impossible without testes. However, that’s not really how that works, for cis men or for trans women. I should note that HRT has already reduced my testosterone to the levels I would have after an orchi – essentially, I’ve already been “chemically castrated”.

Those levels will be the same both pre-op and post-op, and the sexual effects of this are likely to be similar as well. Every trans woman experiences sex differently, but for me, this already hasn’t compromised my ability to orgasm – if you really must know. And, well, let’s just say it’s not all about erections anymore.

Others have asked if I’ve banked sperm prior to this. I haven’t, and I don’t intend to. HRT has already made me practically infertile, and I would have to go off it for several months to have even a chance of regaining some fertility. In that time, most of the feminizing changes would be reversed, which is exactly what I want to avoid. If you had been in my shoes, and experienced all the differences between living with testosterone and replacing it with estrogen, trust me: you wouldn’t want to go back, ever.

I also don’t personally consider it very important to pass on my genes, and I never intended to have biological children anyway. I already have two wonderful stepkids, and they’re the best in the world – they’re all I need. For me, reproducing isn’t a big deal, and I really don’t mind if my gametes are forever erased from existence.

Some have questioned whether being hit or kicked in the area hurts as much after an orchi. I’ve asked other trans women who’ve had an orchi, and they report that being hit in the balls doesn’t hurt when you have no balls. Personally, I’m looking forward to having this glaring vulnerability fixed.

Most interestingly, some people have asked whether I’ll get to keep them after they’ve been removed. And some surgeons do let you take them home! I figure we’ll preserve them in a jar, display it on our bookshelves, and use it as a weird prop for videos. (Anyone who knows what chemicals and processes are necessary to do this, hit me up.)

Where we stand now

At this point, I’m highly certain that an orchi is right for me. I’ve been seriously considering it for several months, and during that time, I’ve only become more comfortable with the possibility. I’ve never particularly valued these organs, nor are they a necessary or important part of my self-concept. Beyond just a weighing of benefits and risks, I’ve reached a point where I’m happy to regard them as merely a temporary part of my body. I don’t feel I’ll regret permanently separating them from myself.

Nevertheless, I’ll still have plenty more time to think it over – there’s a lot of work to be done. I have to obtain the necessary referral letters, find a surgeon, and see if there’s any way my insurance could cover some or all of the costs. As I don’t yet know how this will turn out, I’ve made a goal of saving $4,000 to cover medical expenses, travel, time off work, and other incidentals. While this is a substantial amount, I’m aiming to have an orchi before the end of next year.

Those are the parameters. I’m making this happen, and I’ll continue to keep you all updated on how it goes. Wish me luck!

Why I’m having an orchiectomy