Living with Prejudice

An MtF perspective

Theresa Collinge

Web-only article from "Stigma" issue of Visions Journal, 2005, 2(6)

stock photoThere are many forms of discrimination faced by the male-to-female (MtF) transsexual, from all areas of society. There are some people who will use religion as a reason to hate us and to discriminate against us. A lot of people snicker, make jokes, yell obscenities and death threats out of car windows as they pass us on the street. They call us "sir" when we present ourselves as female.

When we go into transition, as long as we go with our eyes wide open, we know we are taking the chance of losing our jobs, those that are near and dear to us, and everything we own. In terms of our lives after transition, we often have to start at square one.

We face discrimination in attempts to find employment and housing. Some women's groups won't accept us and men's groups don't accept us-and some of us have no desire to belong to men's groups, for obvious reasons.

In many ways we face discrimination from our own families. We lose our relationships with brothers, sisters, parents, and friends. In my family, out of seven siblings, plus nieces and nephews, there is just one member of my family who will communicate with me. I have been disowned by the rest.

We also face discrimination from the medical field. For example; there are only two endocrinologists and one psychiatrist in the province of British Columbia who are willing to take new transsexual patients. The psychiatrist is in Victoria, and the endocrinologists are in Victoria and Abbotsford. This makes it extremely difficult for transsexuals who happen to live elsewhere in BC. Worst of all, our provincial government only accepts letters authorizing surgery from two psychiatrists in the province and there is an eight to 10 month waiting list just to get in to see them, and they will only see you in Vancouver or Victoria.

I personally have gone to the hospital here in Nanaimo and presented myself as female, only to be repeatedly addressed by my male name, despite the fact that my female name does appear on hospital records.

The problem in the medical field is that nurses, doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists are not taught anything about the transsexual experience during their training. How are clinicians supposed to understand something when they don't know what it is or what causes it?

Most in the field still treat it as a mental condition. Transsexualism (renamed recently as gender identity disorder) is listed in the DSM-IV-TR,1 the manual that categorizes mental conditions, but I don't feel it is a mental condition. New research is starting to look more at the biological roots of it, particularly the neurological and endocrinological (hormonal) influences. But inclusion among the list of mental illnesses adds prejudice to my life. Because that's not how it feels; it feels very much that it is a condition that occurs in our bodies before we are born. This is not a choice we make, to live this way. And for some of us, the choice becomes dire: either to change or to take our lives.

Society's great double standard is: a female can dress in men's clothing and nothing is said, but if a man (or someone whom the world sees as a man) dresses as a woman, society reacts negatively, without ever trying to find out why a man might dress this way. Everyone is very quick to judge this person. A lot of the stigma and discrimination would stop if people could just open up their minds, use their mouths and ask us why we do this.

My partner and I have found that educating others about this does help. We talk to students and anyone else who shows an interest.

So, I ask: please open your minds and try to learn about us.

 
About the author

Theresa was raised as a male, but always knew she was a girl inside. Theresa eventually reached a point where she could no longer live her life for everyone else, and began transitioning to female in 2003. She is a member of the Phoenix Centre Clubhouse in Nanaimo.

Footnotes:
  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders DSM-IV-TR (4th ed., text revision). Washington, DC: Author.

 

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