1:1 with Camille: Real Talk about being Transgender. By Robin Wallace

 

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Camille, formerly Marc, was born with male reproductive organs.  However, she had a sense as early as age four that her body did not match her gender identity.  Throughout life, she has struggled to define her desire to be female.  In Camille’s mind, the term “transgender” always represented flamboyant drag queens.  She didn’t understand the full spectrum of the transgender community, and quickly dismissed any notion that she might belong.  However, quite recently, she became aware that there were other individuals, apparently much more modest, who also suffered from a conflict between sex and gender identity.  I Am Jazz, a television show about a transgender teenage girl, hit the air, and Camille discovered a whole new definition of the word.  She gained inspiration and courage from those who went before, and decided to undergo a transition of her own.

A year ago this August, Camille began taking testosterone blockers as well as feminizing hormones.  She is in her 40s.  At first, Camille was concerned that, having already gone through puberty, her masculine physical features would be too far solidified, and that the process of transitioning to a more feminine appearance would be too much of an undertaking.  However, she accepted the challenge.  She consulted with a doctor who now
her transition process, and educated herself on changes she could expect to experience.  The chart below outlines some of these changes.

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Thus far, Camille has experienced increased breast growth to a full A cup, and expects to eventually reach a B cup with ongoing hormone treatment.  Some individuals desire more growth and therefore elect to have breast augmentation.  She will likely undergo this surgery.  She has also experienced softening of the skin, some body fat redistribution (to chest and hips), thinning of body hair, and some decrease in male sexual function.  Perhaps surprisingly, testosterone blockers will not reduce facial hair, so she has begun laser hair removal as part of her feminization process.  The blockers and feminizing hormones also do not change the voice quality (unlike testosterone which lowers the voice of those hoping to masculinize).  There are, however, exercises one can do to strengthen the upper range for a more feminine quality to the voice.  The following website is useful and provides a link to an app offering additional information:

EVA: MtF Voice Training App.

While Camille is excited to see changes (albeit slowly), there are substantial risks to taking hormones.  She is at an increased risk for heart attack and stroke, and has personally experienced an increase in migraines.  Camille has also encountered difficulties interpersonally.  She was married to a heterosexual woman before coming out as transgender, and although her wife was aware of her desire to experience womanhood, the decision to undergo a transition brought up many fears and questions.  The biggest question for her wife…could she be attracted to a female?  Camille’s wife admittedly went through a grieving process, and refers to that time as the most difficult part of their marriage.  They even separated for a time.  She ultimately realized, however, that (in her words) “It was the person I married, not the body.”  Camille’s wife underwent a shift of her own, from identifying as heterosexual to pansexual, a term used by individuals for whom sex and gender are insignificant or irrelevant in determining sexual attraction.

Camille realizes there is still some distance to go, but she is encouraged by the overwhelming support she has received from friends, family, colleagues, her employer, and even strangers she encounters on the street.  Even with the purchase of her first skirt, she began to hold her head higher and greet strangers with a smile – a stark difference from the closed off and often angry version of herself she’d known for so long.  Her operations and procedures are largely covered by insurance, as they are now defined as “correctional” rather than “cosmetic,” further reaffirming her decision.

While there has been an increase in awareness and support for individuals undergoing changes in gender identification and sexual reassignment, there are still several kinks in the healthcare system that need to be addressed.  Intake forms are often binary, only offering options to select “male” or “female,” not accounting for individuals who find themselves somewhere in-between.  For this dilemma, Camille suggests healthcare providers offer a third option for “other.”  However, perhaps more concerning than binary medical forms is the availability of medical records which are often lost once a person changes gender, sex, or officially changes his/her name.  No longer does the personal information on previous records match the current ones, and matching social security numbers only send off a red flag for identity theft.

Hopefully, with further education for healthcare providers and openness from transgender individuals like Camille, we can find more ways to provide an emotionally and physically safe environment for these important members of our community.  With knowledge comes understanding, and with understanding comes unity.

 

Written By: Robin Wallace

 

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