Tuesday, April 26, 2011

GUEST REVIEW: The Uninvited Dilemma by Kim Elizabeth Stuart

Welcome to the first of this week's Spring Celebration reading recommendations. Stopping by this afternoon with a guest review is one of my very favourite people in the transgender world, Calie (from T-Central and Calie's Chronicles)

I’ve often said that if you really want to better understand just what makes you tick, then you need to get into the heads of others whom you perceive to be similar to yourself.

I’ve done this by making friends with both crossdressers and transsexuals and, once we get to know, respect, and trust each other, we've shared our most private and intimate thoughts.  By doing so, I was able to determine that the difference between me and a crossdresser is like the difference between oil and water.  I say this with respect towards my CD sisters and not in any sort of demeaning way.

But, what if you don’t have that good friend to share personal thoughts and feelings with across the table at a Starbucks?

Well, I’d suggest picking up a copy of the the book, The Uninvited Dilemma – A Question of Gender, written by Kim Elizabeth Stuart (a now retired therapist).  Although it was written in 1991, it’s still available and, in my opinion, it’s absolutely the best book ever written on the subject of transsexuality.

I consider this book my bible on the subject.  The reason is that Kim got into the heads of not only transsexuals, but transvestites. She did this by interviewing over 75 transsexuals (both FtM and MtF) and, by securing their trust, was able to get them to share their most private and intimate thoughts.  She also interviewed transvestites.

Now, as we all know (but may not always admit), sex is part of being transsexual or, for that matter, transvestite.  And, as far as sex is concerned, Kim left no stone unturned.  This is important because, as Kim states more than once in her book, many transsexuals, prior to transitioning, are confused by their sexual orientation and by the reaction of their male genitals to various forms of stimulation.

Kim starts the book out by defining various terms and phrases. 

When defining the word, transsexual, Kim states:

Definitions of this term are not at all uniform.  Some define a transsexual as any person who has gender discomfort.  Others only use the term in connection with a person who has had genital surgery (a former transsexual).  Dictionaries vary widely when defining the term.  It is little wonder that confusion is rampant concerning the subject of transsexualism.  It would seem to me a simple, but appropriate definition is: A transsexual is a person who has a long standing, internal image of possessing inappropriate sexual characteristics.  Though it may not be definitive enough for some, or too inclusive for others, my research clearly indicates it is a valid definition.
Later in the book, Kim muses that the word, transgender (rarely used in the 80's and 90's) would actually be a more appropriate term for what we call a transsexual.

One phrase used throughout the book is “Former Transsexual.”  I like this.  It’s simple and it makes sense.  Kim’s definition:

Someone who has had surgery to alter his or her genitals to be more characteristic of persons of the opposite gender.
In Chapter 2, Kim dives right into the subject of transvestism.  Now, remember that this book was written in 1991, when the word, transvestite was the common term used to describe crossdressers.  While transvestites are not the subject of the book, Kim felt that the general public simply equated transvestites and transsexuals as one and the same. 

Not so, she says:

Transvestism is a condition which is frequently misunderstood.  It is commonly linked to transsexualism, because transsexuals and transvestites often cross-dress.  Transsexualism may involve sexual orientation and sexual activity, but it revolves around gender discomfort.  Transvestism also can relate to sexual orientation and to sexual activity.  Gender confusion may be involved with either condition, but it is quite different from gender discomfort. 
It’s interesting, isn’t it, that the confusion still exists, 20 years after this book was published.

So, the book discusses transvestites, transsexuals and former transsexuals.  It’s a nice, tidy way to separate the three.  The word, transgender, is only used three times in the book.

Throughout the book, whether the subject is sex, sexual orientation, regrets, motivation, or whatever, the discussion involves the private and intimate responses to a long series of questions that were asked of everyone interviewed.  The questions are listed in the back of the book but include inquiries regarding family history, relationship history, educational history, work and job history, medical history, transsexual history, and personal opinions.  A total of 238 questions were asked of every interviewee.

Many of the stories are highly emotional like the story of Helen, a woman in her late thirties:

She sought gender congruity surgery and received it.  She felt that if her body and the role she played in society were changed, she could cope from emotional problems with which she had never learned to cope.  “I used transsexualism to escape from the things that were happening in my life.  I wanted to become a different person, and I found out afterwards that I wasn’t a different person.”  Those are Helen’s own words, not mine, and she said it better than I can describe it.  She had not cross-lived prior to surgery and paid a dreadful price for not doing so.  Only after the surgery had been performed did she realize she had been a very confused homosexual male, and she still had all of her original problems.  Now, she had a new and devastating one to add to the list.  She was without the sexual characteristics which would allow her to participate in the gay world. 
Kim adds:

But not unlike the man without a country, Helen wanders the world of sexuality – sentenced forever to sexual isolation – always searching, never belonging.
This is just a taste of the of the true stories, confessions, and admissions included in this book and I must say that I have learned more about myself by reading this book than from any other of the many books I have read on the subject. 

Kim gets it:

Throughout this book, I have used the term “gender discomfort” in reference to transsexuals.  This term is, perhaps, somewhat misleading.  The word, discomfort, does not connote unbearable pain, or anything close to it.  All of us live with some discomfort from time to time during our lives, and it certainly does not cause us to do something as radical as change genders.  Gender discomfort, as applied to transsexuals, means a great deal more than mild discomfort.  Transsexuals undergo very real agonizing emotional pain and usually suffer from a relentless drive which often results in compulsive behavior.  There seems to be little they can do to control this drive, and the urge for completion dominates their lives.  In childhood, the compulsion usually takes the form of cross-dressing and a preoccupation surrounded by confusion and fear.  In adulthood, it progresses into a desire to translate fantasies, drives and compulsions in the direction of actually changing their gender roles.  The feelings are wrenching, guilt ridden, and usually terribly disruptive of their lives.  So, make no mistake; gender discomfort is something few could tolerate in their lives without trying to resolve it.  To be confronted with a loved one who is a declared transsexual is often a devastating blow. 
I strongly recommend the The Uninvited Dilemma - A Question of Gender to anyone who thinks they might just be transsexual.  The author has done her homework and many of the words in the book are those of transsexuals speaking from the heart.


A huge thank you to Calie for taking the time to share with us such a wonderful review. We have been following one another for a while now (she was actually one of the first followers here!), and I am constantly amazed by her efforts. Her T-Central blog is, quite simply, one of the best transgender resources around and I thank her for it every day . . . even if I don't tell her often enough. :)


With Calie here to help keep our Spring Celebration going strong, it's also time for you - the readers - to do your part by stopping by, saying hello, and hopefully even sharing a few thoughts on her review, or on her blog.

Don't forget, this is your next opportunity to become eligible for this week's giveaway, so be sure to include your email address in your comment. Of course, you don't have to be a follower to win, but being a follower will earn you a bonus entry for the week (just let me know in your comment if you're a new follower or an old favourite).

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