Change

Tuesday 1 June 2004

An ex-colleague is going through a sex change process. It’s the kind of thing that is easy to make light of. There’s plenty of nasty humor that comes bubbling up when hearing the news or gossiping about the details.

Personally, I can’t imagine going through something like this, for two reasons. First, I have absolutely no interest in changing myself this drastically. I hesitate to change the style of my hair. Halley Suitt just wrote about gender identity: Feeling. I’m with her: the other half is fascinating, compelling and attractive, but utterly foreign.

Second, think of the sheer volume of friction you’d encounter trying to make something like this happen. He has (or had, I’m not sure) a wife and a family. He has an entire social network, including all of his co-workers. To take on changing something so fundamental about yourself, and to change it so drastically, is a Herculean task. There’s got to be a huge amount of pressure to leave things be.

I imagine how I would feel dressing as a woman, trying to “be” a woman, and I know how awkward, wrong, and out of place I would feel. It would be an oppressive burden every moment I was attempting it. People say that they go through a sex change because that is how it felt to them to be in their birth gender. They say that they are willing to go through the enormous effort, cost, risk, and social back pressure, to get to a place that feels normal to them, regardless of how it looks to the rest of us.

As I say, I’ll never know how these things feel, but I’m trying to understand the pain he must have been feeling to have undertaken such a thing. In commenting on the effect this will have on his family, I’ve heard that people have said, “He’d be better off dead.” I can’t imagine either needing to do something that would provoke that response, or actually doing it. It’s an enormous change. I wish him/her good luck.

Comments

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Damien Katz 10:45 PM on 1 Jun 2004

Excellent entry Ned. One of the worst feelings one can have is not being comfortable with yourself, I know how that feels. It can take all the enjoyment out of life.

I've worked fairly closely with this person in the past, and I must say the news of the sex change caught me very much by surprise. I never saw anything that seemed in any way feminine about him, I suppose because he was hiding it. I think it takes a lot of guts for him to actually get this out in the open, he's got a lot to lose if his friends, family or colleagues turn on him.

I guess I should start saying "her".

Anyway, I'd gladly work with her again.

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Nishad 2:03 AM on 2 Jun 2004

Read this on a blog somewhere:

I'm transsexual, and jumped the fence from male to female about six or seven years ago; so I've seen this one from both sides.

One of the biggest joys ("comforts" might be a better word) of my new female status is that I no longer am the recipient of all the subliminal hostility. Which wasn't all that subliminal, if you get right down to it.

As a man walks down the street, pretty much everybody is evaluating him for potential danger. It's mild, but pervasive. I hear young black men have it even worse; but even middle-age white men get it.

I find it much more peaceful over here on the women's side. Your mileage may vary.

Amazing

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Doug L. 6:39 PM on 2 Jun 2004

I saw a thoughtful treatment of the subject last year on HBO: Tom Wilkinson and Jessica Lange in "Normal".

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andrew 10:29 PM on 2 Jun 2004

Yeah, "Normal" was actually a pretty good movie. I went into it with the usual scepticism, only to watch it to the end.

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Dana 12:05 PM on 4 Jun 2004

I just want to thank you for the realistic and non-judgmental comments you wrote about me in your blog.

When your identity is not congruent with you birth sex it is a private and monumental grief that many transsexual people endure their entire lives. We learn socially at a very young age that this is not something that you talk about and in turn harbor shame, guilt and inadequacy. Ultimately most of us try to 'fit in' and respond to the pressures of 'just be a man', often the anxiety associated with this becomes unbearable and in my case you begin to become unable to continue to experience the world through a calculative and finely tuned persona.

We transsexuals in transition look to shed our shame and attempt to finally achieve a sense of self that will correct a biological injustice. Ultimately, after all is said done, I will be just another woman with perhaps a bit of bizarre history.

As for the folks who may have communicated that I'd be better off dead, think of the impact that would have had on my family. I feel it would be far worse for my child to have one parent struggling to get by and each grieving for their losses than to have 2 loving parents, working to raise our child with love, compassion and respect.

Sincerely,
Dana

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Laura 8:31 PM on 4 Jun 2004

I am the spoken of soon to be "x wife" of Dana, and I would just like to shed some light on the true effect a transition like this has on a family. As with anything, there are good points and bad points. The bad points being rather obvious, the losses, the changes, the uncertainty, the warranted worry for the state of mind of your children (present and future). However, these issues are inherent to many transitions in life, any divorce for one, same sex couples with children for another.
Whatever the issue may be that raises challenges for a family, the important thing to remember is that good, loving parents are good, loving parents whatever challenges they may face. A child who is lucky enough to have two will have a solid foundation for the future of his/her love relationships and any challenges that may be faced in the future.
There is no doubt that I am grieving the loss of Bill, and am getting to know Dana slowly, many characteristics of course I am quite familiar with. We are talking about the same person. But, I want Dana to be happy, truly happy. Isn't that what love is about? Dana is happier, her relationship with our daughter has improved, she is more nurturing, more "present" when playing with her. It is wonderful to see Dana truly enjoying the smaller moments. This wasn't possible before. Dana and I will remain best friends as we have always been, working through the pain we are feeling, and reveling in the joys of co-parenting a wonderful little girl. It's great to still have Dana in our lives. Thanks for reading.

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Tara 3:33 PM on 5 Jun 2004

I am a friend of both Dana (met her personally) and Laura (talked on the phone and will meet her soon) and am a post-op transsexual woman. I'm watching her go through the same basic steps I did: start hormones, telling family, friends and employer, getting electrolysis (imagine a hot needle being poked in your face hundreds of times an hour!), etc. Then there are the painful and expensive surgeries. Most insurance companies refuse to cover any gender-related medicines or procedures, claiming they are "cosmetic" or "experimental" (despite 30,000 sex change operations performed in the US per year) and costs can easily add up to to $40k or more.

We are arguably the most discriminated against minority--even gays and lesbians have more rights. In most states a person can be fired merely for being transgendered. Pre-op transsexuals also have a higher than average suicide rate and both pre-op and post-ops are often the brunt of taunts, violence, even murder.

Much of society has misunderstandings about transsexuals, which is understandable as most people people get their knowledge about us from shows like Jerry Springer and transsexual, or "shemale" porn, though we are finally receiving mainstream coverage.
To say one is "Better off dead," or similar comments, not only shows an ignorance of transsexualism, but is callous and prejudiced. We are not this way by choice. In fact, most of us tried to suppress and hide it only to find later in life that's impossible. Most people today wouldn't dare say that African Americans are "better off dead." Yet, they will easily say that about people who have as much choice in their gender identity as in their skin color.

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Jeff Atwood 10:44 PM on 16 Aug 2004

For some reason, sex change operations are much more statistically likely for programmers. There are a number of famous game programmers who went this route:

Game Designers Just Wanna Be Girls:
Interview with Jamie Faye Fenton

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Janet 2:48 PM on 16 Oct 2009

Jeff:

I suspect trans-women are attracted to programming because, while it is a well-paid, male dominated occupation, there has always been an openness to women lacking in older professions. Further programming lacks many of the macho elements found in older technical professions, like engineering.

In the early days, many people worked their way into programming from a wildly varied range of backgrounds, from college math and business majors (IIRC Admiral Hopper was a mathematician) to humble typists and keypunch operators. This openness allowed many women into the profession who would not have suffered through the hazing women were subjected to in the professional schools of that era.

Indeed, the success of women programmers even goes back long before the establishment of the computer industry: Ada Byron Lovelace is heralded as the worlds first programmer, despite having died nearly a century before the first stored program electronic computers were built.

I suspect these factors figure into the disproportionate presence of transwomen in the computer industry. I'm sure those factors subconsciously influenced my choice of a career.

Then there is another factor: The nature of programmer's work makes it conducive to transitioning on the job, something that just isn't open to, say, an oil-field roughneck or iron-worker.

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