Change Your World-NOT your Body

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Menstruastion (period) Shame/Dysphoria Does NOT Equal Trans

I am putting both these comments in a separate post because I do not want to see their message get buried beneath other posts.

A few days ago Femme Avenger said...
Dirt,
The shame that you talk about that little girls feel about their bodies, their choices of how to be 'a girl' was not reserved merely to 'butch' little girl's experience. Sadly, the rigid gender education of boys and girls is designed to condition them to social rules in order to slot them into the appropriate categories governed by social, political and religious hegemony. I don't know how many non-butch lesbians I have known (or tomboy straight girls) that have spoken your words. I don't know one woman that rejoiced as a little girl, the day her first period arrived. I was a ‘girly girl’ child, loved dress-ups, loved pink, loved dolls. I was 11 turning 12 when I got my first period and the day it arrived; I sat on the toilet and just cried, I was scared and knew that I hated this it was ‘yucky’ traumatic painful and wanted it to just go away. I should also mention that I felt shame about not only my period, but the arrival of pubic hair, breasts and curves. I looked different to my other little girl friends, most of whom did not reach puberty until years later. Sleep-over parties filled me with dread as did school swimming carnivals, sports days, and even standing up and walking to the front of the class around period time was terrifying because I feared I may have blood on my skirt. I also felt aware of myself as a sexually developed female and began to feel the ‘male gaze’ for the first time and this also made me aware and ashamed of my body. The boys at school looked at me 'funny' and laughed at my body, and my 'boobies!'.

If on the day that my period arrived, and for so many years later, I could have taken a pill to stop my period ever coming back, I would have taken it. I was so ashamed of not only of the physical aspects of menstruation (even its name includes the word ‘men’) but the social responsibility. I was so scared of anyone knowing I had my period that I made my father purchase sanitary pads for me. My mother treated it like a coming of age celebration and made it a family occasion to proclaim “Oh! My little girl became “a woman” today. My brothers burst out laughing and they teased me about it. I was mortified that my mother could take something so private and treat it like some kind of public rite of passage. She was proclaiming to me and my whole family “you are different now” and that made me feel more ashamed.
How many of us still feel the weight of social responsibility and continue to feel shame about our “monthly visitors”? How many of us don’t hesitate in the isles of the supermarket when approaching the ‘women’s hygiene products’ section? How many of us rejoice when our ‘visitors’ arrive each month? How many of us would like to round up and throw a grenade at advertising executives that write advertisements for sanitary products showing fit, non-bloated, ‘happy’ women (often eating health food-yeah right) running through the breeze in skimpy underwear?

We need as women to talk about our experiences of our bodies at various stages in development and ageing, so we can see that these issues of shame and discomfort are often shared. By keeping these stories in the closet, we are not sharing and learning from each other. There are more similarities than differences in our experiences and we need to voice them so that we are not assuming ‘I am the only one that felt shame’ or ‘different’ and that these feelings of 'being different' in our bodies automatically = GID.

FA x
Today I answered her with this: FA,
Great points! I recently asked a handful of females I know (some hetero/some lesbian), that if after starting their periods, if someone had offered them testosterone and told them this drug would relieve them of their periods albeit changing their feminine appearance would they have taken it, ALL said yes! They said due how uncomfortable they felt, the shame, the dysphoria, the hormone changes, the pain, the worry of bleeding through clothes, the how could my body do this to me feelings etc. they believe they would have done anything to stop having them.

This is a HUGE area where both the lesbian community (especially Femme/Butch spaces) and the shrinks who issue “T” have a lot of work to do! As lesbians we need to express the feelings we’ve all had in and around menstruation, especially the shame based areas and shrinks need to include this in their understanding of how this issue alone can cause a female to seek transition.

Shame, dysphoria, embarrassment, fear, hate, all these feelings around menstruation can be quite “normal” for many females, it is NOT an indication that females who feel this way are “trans” and should “transition”. Until we begin real talks about how our bodies are during periods and how we mentally deal or mentally crumble during our periods, the shame and dysphoria will continue plaguing us and some females will continue seeking solace in a bottle of testosterone.

dirt
July 17, 2010 11:10 AM

The truth is periods bring on a sense of shame and body dysphoria, the intensity of which depends on a multitude of variables but none the less something nearly all females feel, sometimes for a short time, sometimes for years and sometimes until they go through menopause and never have one again. It isnt uncommon, it doesnt mean you are trans or a man trapped in a female body. It means we live in a male dominated world that shames us because our bodies are biologically different (different-NOT inferior) and menstruation is yet another weapon males wield against women by shaming us for a natural process, a process if it did not exist, neither would we. And through that shame, if it sets deep enough create dysphoric feelings alienating us from our very own bodies.

And all this isnt me saying lets all paint each other in menstrual blood during a full moon around a drum circle, periods are natural, doesnt mean they are beautiful., they are often painful, messy and gross. But so is something like the flu when we're hacking up a lung or horking small green globs or our nose turns into a faucet. We're not ashamed of those things, and that's not because they arent painful, messy and gross, its because men also get flu's and colds as well, unlike periods. Because periods are alien to men, they create an atmosphere that makes periods alien to us as well which alienates us from our bodies. 

What are your experiences in the menstruation realm? Given that there is a fair amount of trans(men) traffic going through here, tell us in all honesty how you felt about getting your period, tell us how or if it contributed to your transition. There has been a slew of hate messages and quite a few about wanting dialogue and better understanding, so lets here your stories too trans(men). And I'd like to know from all the other women, would you have taken "T" or been sterilized to halt your period as a teenager or later?

dirt

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16 comments:

  1. I definitely didn't want periods. I knew nothing about sex or biology when I started bleeding at 10 years, so it was horrifying to me! My mother was old school and didn't consider it necessary to tell me the 'facts of life', so I had NO idea what was going on with my body and it was terrifying.

    I would have been sterilised as soon as I found out and in fact, did pursue oblation later in life (your womb gets 'microwaved'), but changed my mind a week before the operation, as I was made redundant and was worried about the expense, given my change in financial situation.

    I can't imagine too many women greet their periods with unreserved joy.

    Best
    Christina

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  2. As someone trained in the field, I think it's necessary to differentiate between legitimate dysphoria (which is never directly connected to GID in any necessary way, though correlations are obviously high) and a normal reaction to what is typically an abrupt, arguably traumatic life change. Growing up as a female, I can't think of one peer or female in my life that greeted menstruation with anything but negativity--not only do we live in a culture that cultivates shame around menstruation, but the absolute value of the situation, especially in the eyes of an adolescent, is hardly positive. I was never happy about it, but I also wasn't dysphoric and didn't experience any problematic emotions, cognitions, etc. surrounding it. It was just a feeling of "Well, shit, I knew this was going to happen" and got used to it.

    Now, as a man--yes, it's pretty great to not have a cycle and I plain to maintain this state...but if for whatever reason there was a prospect of returning to having a menstrual cycle, it wouldn't be of too much worry to me. In short, I've usually always thought of it with ambivalence, and maybe some passive negativity, but nothing too strong to note.

    But back to my first point--I want to emphasize that, while correlations between menstruation dysphoria and GID are probably very high, I agree that menstruation dysphoria is never a necessary and/or sufficient criterion for GID or any sort of trans identity. So I think it's realistic to say that the higher the levels of menstruation dysphoria (paired with gender dysphoria or not), the higher the likelihood that someone would take an opportunity to halt their period...but again, someone's wanting to halt their period (whether it's through hormone replacement therapy, sterilization, or otherwise) does not create a linear path where that person HAS to be trans. Trans-identities are often so complicated and compounded with years upon years of confusion, dysphoria, and more, that I would venture to say a majority of the time they need to be legitimately diagnosed by a professional. Granted, there are more professionals in the field right now that were trained under a heterosexist, gender-congruent, patriarchal system, but I'm excited to say that that's changing rapidly (more rapidly than those not working in the field are able to notice).

    I definitely understand the frustration expressed on this blog surrounding the confusion between trans-identities and butch lesbians (overlooking how distasteful, misinformed, and hateful some of it is), and I agree that being trans is definitely a fad right now for a variety of reasons. As an "FTM" (I loathe the terminology), it's frustrating to see your own identity just as tokenized, stereotyped, and delegitimized by anyone, including those jumping on the transition wagon prematurely because it's a "quick fix" compared to exploring what their real problems are.

    However, all of these misunderstandings, stereotypes, etc. are a result of a COLLECTIVE failure by all in society (hetero, homo, gender-congruent, not-gender-congruent, etc.) to take the time and effort to understand one another. Working for the understanding of hetero-mindedness alone while abandoning all other outlooks is just as irresponsible as focusing only on butch identities at the expense of, say, transmen. I think the problem with so-called GLBT "communities" and all of those who may fall under those categories (whether or not they self-identify that way) is many use their bitterness about their own situation as a justification for refusing to understand others.

    I'm thankful that my transition has given me the capacity to understand that while I don't understand everyone or everything because I only know my lived experience, I can learn a lot more by simply listening, and that taking in negativity, oppression and shame only to regurgitate it back onto others is the worst way to live my life.

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  3. Christina,

    10 years old? Good lord woman!

    I dont know about where you're at but here girls are getting their periods younger and younger due to all the hormones in our meat products. One can only hazard a guess (or in your case know) at how having a period at such a young age will effect these girls today in larger and larger numbers.

    dirt

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  4. Yep, 10 years!! The primary school I was at didn't have any sanitary facilities, so a special bin had to be placed in one toilet cubicle, so I had somewhere to put my used pads. My sister started bleeding at 11 years and is still going today at 54 years, proving the adage that 'the earlier you start, the later you finish' :-(

    To add to the torment, I also developed very large breasts at the same age (my first bra was a C cup!) and was the only child in primary school to wear a bra. As we still had unisex changing for sport, I had to be given a private area to get changed in, as obviously the boys were hugely interested in what my bra was covering. Was a horrible time.

    Yes, I had heard about the hormones in meat bringing on menstruation far younger. I read an article that said in some parts of the world, there are children starting bleeding as young as 4 or 5 years. Quite horrific.

    Best
    Christina

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  5. First of all, from "Anonymous" comment:

    "As someone trained in the field..." = "As someone who's memorized current junk-science psychiatric cut-n-drug label justifications..."

    "Correlations..." (and similar jargon that tries to sound scientific and unbiased) = absolutely nothing, since what's "measured" and "studied" is done with complete bias and intent to reach a certain conclusion. No surprise that it, in fact, does.

    Second of all, to the topic at hand:

    My enlightened mother had given me all sorts of info about periods and such before it happened, and I still cried. I thought my 12-year life was over. And I had intense shame over my period.

    Funny I never had shame over any of my other body functions, and some (like belching) I took to high, teenaged standards of excellence ;)

    When I reached my early 20s, though, I happened into a small butch sisterhood, and we healed our period shame by taking the same butch perspective about it that we did everything else: make fun of it, and just be our butch selves through it. Doing so, we took away its cultural power to make us feel inferior and trapped.

    For example, we would brag/tease about who was "butch-er" based on who was using the "butchest" (meaning heaviest duty) tampons at the time.

    It helped, I think, because (having come of age in an earlier time), we knew about the amazons and other female warriors in history. We KNEW it's possible to be completely female in all the ways that means, AND just as butch as we were, as well. We knew that having a period never stopped a female warrior, for example, for lopping an enemies head off (In fact, it may have helped ;) We knew that in previous cultures, women's ability to bleed each month was known as proof of their power - a power that men could never have - unlike modern western cultures, the worst of which insists women's periods are "proof" of their "inferiority".

    Since then, even though I struggled with other body shame (as over breasts), I've never had period shame. I'm still looking forward to menopause, yes - but that's just so I don't have to deal with it any longer, not because it's a shame to me.

    And that's something to consider, because even though I was never vulnerable to the "FtM" junk-science madness over my period, I was because of the rest of my body shame. Learning to heal the rest of my body shame has helped me move past the desire to chemically and surgically mutilate who I really am to try and become some other fake "real" self.

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  6. I come from a slightly different side of the coin. I identify as femme. I also have POS, polycysitc ovarian syndrom. I have eggs, they just don't release and can become large fluid filled cysts.

    I didn't get my period unitl I was 14. I can remember being a tomboy and not giving a second thought to a period. My sister who is 4 years younger stared before I did. I never gave it to much thought. unitl high school, gym class ment we had to change uniforms and shower before out next class. Then it became a huge issues. I felt like there was something wrong with me, not only did I not get my period but I was more intrested in playing sports than doing my hair and makeup. The other girls noticed these things.

    After highschool when your personal life went back to being your personal life, I stop feeling the shame of not being a "real" woman. I would have a period once every 6 or 7 months, I did go 3 years with out one. At first the Dr's wanted to give me birth control to produce periods. At first I went along with the perscribed treatment. Then I decided that I no longer wanted to have my period. It was liberating in the fact that I did not have to worry about having a period every month. Tho occasinally I would have one for a few days. I went on like this for 5 years or so.

    It wasn't until I wanted to have a child that not having a period became such a major issue.

    So in the end, now I had to re-process not having a period, and how I felt like less of a woman. It was self punishment, just like the self punishment I went through to accept my attraction to women.

    As women we start out life the same as men that we "morph" into something that male socitey loves and hates at the same time. Even though we have our science and we understand pregancy and it's relation to periods. For men we are the aliens, the monsters, the others.

    I would love to have society make fun of men's erections the way women's periods are made fun of. Families don't anounce a boy getting his first erection. There is no running to the store to get contraptions to strap around your body to "handle" the erection. They don't have to spend ungodly amounts of money to take care of something that is a normal body function. The price of pads and tampons is such a complete rip off.

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  7. hey Dirt,

    I've been reading your blog and enjoying *most* of it :) The heading on this latest piece got my attention because as I move towards 50 I'm quite happy to be getting my period every month. I'm sure not looking forward to menopause so with that in mind, I'm loving seeing them monthly on time. Probably helps that mine aren't so bad... I've always hated them though, up until just recently..

    I'm Butch btw and went through all the shame of puberty that has been described here. Finally realising that I wasnt a "boy" really hurt big time. I've thought about transitioning, but I just dont believe shooting my body full of T is going to make me a man. No matter what I do, I'll never be a bio guy.. and for someone that has massive penis envy passing for me isnt the issue. I guess I'm 42 this year and only recently been okay with being female. I wouldnt say I love my body (I don't) but I was born with it and in this life at least I'm female.

    I feel pretty good that I can just be who I am.. and hanging out with people (that have nothing to do with any *queer* community) have really helped me be "me".

    Thanks for the some of the insight you are giving here- like you and others I am concerned about the numbers of women transitioning these days.. it feels like the latest fad to me. It's also good to realise that there are people that can appreciate Butches just for who we are..

    Cheers

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  8. HELL YES! Menstrual dysphoria is serious problem and it goes hand in hand with vulvaphobia. Hating your female body is a perfectly normal reaction to our Culture of Misogyny. Pretending otherwise HURTS EVERYONE.

    Love! Love! LOVE you Dirt and Femme Avenger!! Also love the cold analogy-- it's PERFECT!!

    As an o.b. tampon user, but I can't TELL YOU how many women have refused my tiny tampons because they can't stand to touch themselves. Oooh- it's messy! Gross!

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  9. Nat,

    Spot on as usual, and thank you for sharing.

    dirt

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  10. Jacq,

    Thanks for your comment and thanks for sharing your experience with the "queer" community and just what a dangerous place that has become for us Butches. It IS liberating removing ones self from the narrow mindedness held by "queers" and their "community".

    dirt

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  11. As a young woman I already knew I was a lesbian, and I was already quite keenly aware I was Butch by the time my body got around to sabotaging everything by starting menastration. I remember the first time I bled I felt thoroughly disgusted with myself; with my body and it’s natural function. I felt once again betrayed by my body – almost as much as when I started to grow boobs - and I hated it; absolutely and undenyably hated every second of it. My 2 years younger sister had started her “period” a couple of years before me, and I can remember thinking with relief “better her than me” at the time. I was secretly hoping that because I felt so Butch in my head that somehow my body would stay true and I would never have to menastrate. Boy was I wrong.
    I got used to the boobs eventually, but I’ve always hated my period. If I had been given the chance for a full hystorectomy to end my period at any time I would have taken it in a heart beat. I chose very early in life not to have children, they just were not something I was even remotely interested in adding to my life. Even as a young teen I knew that I would never have my own child, I was totally freaked out by the whole concept of child bearing; the mere idea of my body giving birth to another human was just out of my range of comfort. So to me the ovaries and the uterus had no business being inside my body. I wished they would shrivel up and disappear many many times.
    I cried during my periods. I cried especially hard during the first few, I felt so dysphoric and so “wrong” that I was menastrating that I would have done just about anything to stop it. Would I have taken testosterone? Knowing what I know now, no. But at that time, without the knowledge I have today I would have very likely chosen to do just that. And not because I had any desire to be a man, but because I had all of the desire to stop my menstral cycles, stop the bleeding and end any chance of it ever happening again!
    Now I am 48 and beginning peri-menopause. My cycles are no longer consitant and sometimes I can go 3-4 months without bleeding. I cannot wait until it stops completely. I figure I am close enough to that happening in my life that I no longer wish for the hystorectomy. Why do the surgery when it’s going to naturally stop on it’s own in just a mere matter of time now? But 30 years ago, I would have done it at the drop of a hat.
    I think it’s a personal choice what we do with our own bodies. I, personally, never wanted to be a guy, but I try to understand that there are some people in the world that have the desire and need to change their genders; to alter their bodies and appearance perhaps to match the way they feel and see themselves. I try to be understanding and take a “live and let live” view/stance on this issue. People are opting for plastic surgery to change a very wide variety of physical features nowadays, from nose jobs to removing pounds of fat from bellies, legs, arms and butts. While I would not personally alter my own body in any kind of surgical way, and I am happy being a female identified Butch, I say that if changing one’s gender is an option and a person very seriously believes that they are born into the wrong gender, then I cannot/should not criticize them for their choice to change it. I have nothing against one making their own adult choices to alter themselves in any way they see fit – that doesn’t mean I will ever fully understand the choice, but I accept people for who they strive to be, and who they legitimately present themselves to me as.
    I am new to reading your blogs, and I may not agree with everything you are writing, but I am learning and knowledge is something I can never get enough of. I find these conversations interesting and infomative, and thought provoking to say the least!
    Regards,
    ~MainelyButch

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  12. Something I do enjoy about the lead-up to my period is being in that state when you are uncontrollably horny. That powerful surge of hormones just takes over my brain and body and some days I am so ravenous I literally pant. And come on, what about PMS ‘forgive me’ make-up sex? That's pretty fun too.

    Came to actually love the fact that when living in close quarters with other bio women, we would all start to 'cycle' together. It's always fun with a new partner, seeing whose menstrual cycle will take the lead and signal which one of us is the 'alpha female'. My ex also helped her female colleague get pregnant – stay with me people – because she has regular menstrual cycle and her colleague didn’t and after about a year of working together, their cycles were in sync, she started getting regular periods and she was able to get pregnant.

    I think it’s pretty cool to have a body that works on auto-pilot. Our vagina is self-cleaning; our cycle tells us when it’s time for bucket-loads of chocolate and having a good cry, and those vaginal muscles sure know how to help us enjoy a good performance and they even applaud the performer(s) for us while we are yelling for more.

    FA x

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  13. Also quoted from Meiko Elias Xavier Myspace blog (on Google cache: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:wVDQexdHcA4J:blogs.myspace.com/index.cfm%3Ffuseaction%3Dblog.view%26friendId%3D38549054%26blogId%3D363152651+meiko+elias+xavier&cd=5&hl=en&ct=clnk)

    "The issue is that emotionally the estrogen is tearing me down about a week out of the month. I know many females tend to get grumpy, and well, let's just admit it folks, downright bitchy during and around their period. I know I am. But this feeling for me is intensified by about 100. Basically I cried pretty much non stop for about 3, almost 4 days. Even the crying itself felt like it was a feeling coming from the very pit of my soul. I felt like something terrible had happened, like someone had died."

    Come on girl, do you use nuclear bomb at home when chasing bugs ?

    So if you have very painful PMS, don't you just take the appropriate cure instead of going on T ?

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  14. I'm in love with a pre-op, pre hormone, pre everything transman who feels low when he gets his period.I'm a hetero ciswoman.

    When I got my first period, my mother handled it well. I was praised for becoming a 'big girl'and there was a celebratory dinner.
    I had imbalanced hormones and bled for 15 days non stop. It affected going to school and disrupted regular life for me. But others around me were supportive and I never hated getting my period. By the age of 13, they evened out to 5 days of normal flow. I know getting my period is a sign my body is functioning normally.

    When I was in my late 20s I developed irregular periods and a host of health problems. Later I realised I had PCOS. I took steps to handle the PCOS and now I am only too happy to get my period. It's a sign of normal health for me. A promise that I will not get endometrial cancer.

    Lots of women I know are only too glad to get their period. What they may not like is the inconvenience.
    You cant wear white trousers, and you have PMS.

    Many religions believe that you should not touch a holy book during your period. I dont believe in this. I feel perfectly free to touch a holy book and pray. After all it is the creator who made women and all that goes with it.

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  15. I didn't get my period until 12 hours before I turned 16, no joke. So it wasn't nearly as traumatic as it was for my friends who started at 10 and 11. I was being treated like an adult and preparing to go off to college. For the first 18 months of menstruation, my reaction was all "This is no big deal! It doesn't even hurt, and some months it's so light I don't need tampons. Way overrated."

    Whoops! By the time I went off to college, I was mired in excruciatingly heavy flow and cramps that left me bedridden. The pill, however – or any fake hormones – make me seriously ill, as I am a migraine-with-aura patient since age 12. The older I've gotten, the more I have menstrual dysphoria, and it's partially because all my het peers are getting knocked up, which grosses me out, but it's mainly because of the damn pain. I take heavy opiates "that time of month" now and just ignore as best I can.

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  16. I have to be really honest here, i have never been bothered about the bleed, its just biology to me something that happens. I started my periods at age 9, and never felt any shame, no was i ever shamed for it. I did not have any brothers to compare myself to. I dont get many problems with my periods, maybe a small amount of cramp and while im on i carry on being as active as i normally am as i dont see why my life should be ruled by one body system. I feel less connected to my womb then the average woman. Im 31 now, probably only another 10-15 years to go and i wont have to think about it anymore anyway. For me im more bothered about the other effects of estrogen. The gender issues i have come and go, ive always hated being a girl as i think i could have been a much better person and had a much better life had i been a man, i feel i have a masculine aspect i cannot express as a woman as im not physically butch, if i dress really masculine all it does is draw attention to the fact im a woman as i cannot carry it off. So i dress more androgynouse. I dont have body shame for being female, instead i realise im in good shape for all the exercise i do. I just wish that maybe tommorrow morning i may wake up and the sex of my body wont be the first thing i think about. The issue has always been with me, but only as ive got towards my 30's has it been painful. When i was young i used to joke about it, at age 22 i could look in the mirror and see nothing of my real self there, and laugth it off in some private joke of how i get to hide inside a female body away from all the aggression young men impose on each other. I was trying to pass as my own sex in those times and used to fear one day people would realise i was not really a woman, i used to believe some people could see i was not really a woman and that i had a male soul. I convinced myself there was no gender, subscribed to feminist ideas, did everything i could to escape these feelings, including creating a female persona to hide myself. But over the past year or two it has caught up with me. Now ive taken a new route, one to express my masculinity as a woman in any way i can. When i first had my boyish haircut etc, i felt better for a while, but slowly the problem is coming back. Now i find myself thinking all the time about how i spent so many years trying to hide my none conventional gender expression, not to hide being a lesbian but to hide being possibly trans. I have by doing so made my situation worse and not better. When i was young i was also convinced i was being poisioned by my hormones, i looked into ways to stop my overys from working but backed out to keep my bone strangth. When i was young i did not know ftm transexuality even existed, had i got help at age 22 i would have transitioned and never looked back.

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