A Paper by Dr Tracie O’Keefe DCH presented to the Gendys Conference 2002, UK
Some of the forgotten factors of many transpeople (by transpeople I include all trans identities, sub-categories and intersexed), and their careers concern their general health and physical condition. It has been assumed, previous to the new ongoing wave of global trans acceptance by varying societies, that transpeople should simply be satisfied with being allowed to exist, and demands for access to health facilities and sport would be excessive. Due to Body Dysmorphic Disorder (unhappiness with one’s own body), and gender dysphoria (unhappiness with one’s gender role in society), trans people themselves can be afraid to have their bodies seen and recognised in public.
Belligerent or fascist members of society can be hostile towards transpeople taking part in health facilities and activities because they find the bodies and presentation of transpeople an abomination. Being neither exclusively male nor female can be perceived as being wrong, sinful, tasteless or simply ridiculous in a bipolar male/female society. The accumulations of the aforementioned factors can lead transpeople to not properly take care of their health, deterring them from thinking of their bodies in terms of excellence, and pathologising themselves. If a person thinks of themselves in terms of being ill then they will act out that self-fulfilling prophecy, both to satisfy their own beliefs and the expectations of others that they are in some way deficient.
The emotional distress and cognitive disturbance that some transpeople can experience about the inappropriateness and incongruency between their mind, bodies and social presentation should not be generalised to all of life’s expectancies. Just because a person self-identifies as having a trans identity it should not necessarily mean that their bodies are any less in need of dietary control and exercise in line with the general population. The use of cross-sex hormone administration to transpeople can cause weight problems and excessive lipids to be present in the blood stream. Long-term problems associated with such administration is as yet truly unknown because data collection has been very difficult. The only long-term follow ups that have been done are at the Amsterdam Free Hospital by Professor Gooren and his team, but even those are limited.
What is well known in health and medicine is that it is the individual who takes the best care of themselves. The person who pays attention to their physical, mental and spiritual needs is the ones who has the highest quality of life experience. This principle, as knowledge of trans identities grows, must now be applied to the pre-transition, transition, post-transition and non-transitioning transpersons.
During his transition from biological female to transmale Brian complained, “It’s very hard you know being on male hormones, having a moustache, deep voice and having to bind my breasts so tight every morning, before I go jogging, that I can hardly breathe. I want to get fit for my chest surgery but the pure fear and humiliation of anyone in the park seeing my chest means I have to wear two large sweat shirts. I dare not go to the local gym because if I get
read I feel I will never be able to go back there after surgery in case they remember me as I have been. It’s really depressing having my body at times.”
After surgery Brian joined the health club and none of the fellow users were any the less wise about his former identity. He no longer felt depressed about his chest and in fact became enormously proud of his physique. Because not all transpeople can or want to be stealth (not recognised as being trans) like Brian then change of body alone cannot be the access point for comfortable use of facilities or trans physical presence. The trans person in all their forms needs to have both a physical as well as a social and mental presence in society.
Fiona, who was 6ft 2″, had undergone treatment at a gender clinic including genital surgery to create a neo-vagina. Despite all her treatment she found it hard to pass as female in society and was constantly being challenged by members of the public as to what sex she was and whether she had a right to be in female changing rooms or toilets. She had no sense of transpride and eventually gave up on exercise altogether, ate junk food, went up to 22 stone and attempted suicide. “Its just not worth it … that is all the aggro and hassle I get. When I’m fat they just think I am just some fat bitch, but when I was thinner the neighbour’s children would scream ‘trannie’ when I passed them. What would you do … be fat and depressed about your weight … or healthy and read by every Tom, Harry and dickhead?”
From 1990 to 2000 transpolitics were revolutionised in much of the Western world. The trans community became aware, dissatisfied with their lot, and campaigned unlike any other minority group in history had to get bad laws changed, faster than was normally possible. There is still a long way to go in educating the public that transpeople are a variation in nature and maybe even nurture. More anti-discrimination laws need to be put in place all over the world just as happens with the women’s movement and racial equality movement. All this change, however, will not leave the collective ego of the trans community in tact and functioning well unless we begin to take more pride in our physical as well as our social selves.
Unfortunately the way society stands at the moment, transpeople have to prove dysfunction to qualify for treatment funding. Excessive weight gain brought on by hormone treatment and lifestyle can be combatted by regular exercise, no matter where and when that may take place. That exercise does need to be twice a week and at least 20 minutes of each session being aerobic to stimulate the cardiovascular system, burning up fat.
By changing to a raw food vegan diet, most overweight conditions can be managed and brought under control. A raw food vegan diet involves eating no animal products at all and eating all food uncooked, treated or processed. Treating food damages its ability to interact with the body’s digestive system, therefore making digestion sluggish and causing too much storage of energy as sub-cutaneous fat. We are not polar bears and do not need to store great amounts of fat so that we will not starve to death over the winter.
Those who have no experience of raw food veganism may find the change of eating habits daunting but the transition period does need to take place over a time frame of around three months, sometimes longer. Self-hypnosis can be used in order to reprogramme the behavioural eating patterns and help the individual to reconsider their approach to their health and body. Many raw foodist groups exist, and books on raw food eating and nutrition are available in bookshops and can be ordered from libraries.
The raw food journey is one I can talk about from personal experience. After years of battling with oestrogen therapy and increasing thighs, buttocks and belly, raw foodism totally changed the way I am able to eat. With a raw food lifestyle, you can eat as much as you like – and I eat a lot every day, never putting on a pound any more. By eating more of the right foods, my body lost three stone in six months and remains at a constant, healthy and comfortable weight and shape. No more yo-yo dieting, because raw foodism is a lifestyle choice, not a faddy diet and each thing I eat adds to my health and never detracts from it. My energy levels are higher than at any time in my life because I burn naturally shortly after it is eaten.
As a group of people, the trans community is haunted with a history of poor self-image. We have seen ourselves as being physically unworthy within our own bodies and victims of varying forms of dysphoria. The medical and psychological professions have colluded with that self-denigration to construct a pathology labelled gender dysphoria – the medical disorder. Whatever happened to choice?
Now is time for transpeople not only to gain equal social and legal rights but also to reconsider the way we see our physical selves. Undoubtedly health in body does promote health of mind. Transbeautiful is something that we are ready for – more than that, it is something we most desperately need. If we refuse to see ourselves as being able to have pride in our own physical selves, how can be expect others to respect us holistically? Transfat, transugly, transdecrepit, trans-self-defeating are all myths we create for ourselves and are allowing others to foist upon us.
Health, wealth and happiness will come much more easily to those transpeople who work on themselves, physically, mentally and spiritually to create and embrace an image of being Trans body fantastic.
Dr Tracie O’Keefe DCH, BHSc, ND, Clinical Hypnotherapist, Psychotherapist. Counsellor, PACFA registered Mental Health Professional and Naturopath In Sydney. You can get help by booking an appointment with her at Australian Health & Education Centre.