Life is a Journey - Make sure you get the right roadmap to the universe

I'm quite sure I picked up the wrong one on my way out the door....

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Difference Between Men's and Women's Brain's Explained.

What is it that makes men and women's brains so different? I've been pondering this question for some time in reading and in research. Although it is likely obvious to even the most casual of observers that there are variances between the genders, it is one which most of us have come to slough off for one reason or another, with a simple joke. We often hear the term that "Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus" to identify, in a jocular manner, the differences. Often, one will hear someone simply state some gender slur bluntly, such as "Women Drivers" or "Typical guy... never listens to what I say". I wanted to understand why women tend to be more emotional, cry more and emote more than men. I needed to understand the "why" behind the differences. I was not satisfied with simply joking about it. Being transgender provided special significance to understanding my own self in retrospect. Being born sexed as male but feeling more comfortable conversing, emoting and thinking as female has provided the motivation to finding out why. Below, I go into a summary of what I did find out.

All humans are born with ambiguous sexual attributes. . Although chromosomally, we may be destined to be male or female, the instructions carried by those chromosomes are not acted upon for the first 6 to 8 weeks of gestation of the fetus. In a sense, we are relatively all the same sex for those very first few weeks. It is after these formative few weeks that changes begin. If one is chromosomally destined to be male, then destruction of the female reproductive structures will occur and formation of the male structures will commence. As this paper is concerned primarily with the formation of the brain, we will continue to follow this thread going forward and with concentration on how the male brain differs from that of the female.

The brain has two hemispheres as we most likely all are aware of. They are the left and right hemispheres with each being responsible for a different set of functions in the adult human body. The left hemisphere controls such aspects as deal with the logical such as is needed in problem solving and in analysis while the right hemisphere controls aspects such as the visual, emotional and feeling. As the fetus develops, it is bathed in a wash of hormones as it develops. For a female, this would be estrogen and for a male, testosterone. These hormones affect how the brain develops, what areas develop to a greater degree and, very importantly, how the two hemispheres of the brain interconnect with each other.

Through Magnetic Resonance Imaging, (MRI's), it is possible to map which areas of the brain are utilized when we form a thought or work through a problem. In real time, it has been possible to watch these actions and reactions within the brain and to develop a generalized mapping of how the brain thinks and functions as thoughts are processed and decisions are made. We are able to witness the magnitudes of energy levels in each area of the brain and, most importantly, we have been able to develop a clearly defined relationship between the male and female brains.

Let's continue on with our developing fetus as it develops as either male or female. As the male brain develops and is washed by testosterone, key areas of the brain which deal with the left hemisphere are enhanced with greater numbers of synaptic connections. Such skills as reading maps, visualizing three dimensional objects from a 2d drawing, judging distances and direction and skills in construction and building are heightened. Areas such as communications skills are diminished however. It has been shown that men utilize, on average, about 7,000 words per day while women command a greater vocabulary of an average of 20,000 words per day in their daily conversations. Men talk less than women and prefer to get to the point of their discussion immediately while women can tend to parallel think and ramble more often. How many times I used to hear my dad, who was always brief and to the point, yell at my mother, "Would you please just get to the point!!". Additionally, we see that individuals with fully masculinized brains, do not tend to communicate and "share" information with others as well as women do. In example, how many times has a wife spoken to their husband asking and wishing him to talk to her more... to communicate and share his thoughts and feelings. Men just are not programmed by nature to do this very well.

As a result of the heightened formation of the left half of the brain, men tend to have greater command of all things logically derived such as mathematics or task oriented activities. Women, on the other hand, benefit from estrogen to a greater overall degree in their brain development in a number of ways. Estrogen has the unique ability to "interconnect" the two hemispheres of the brain. Estrogen BUILDS synaptic connections which allow the logically oriented left hemisphere to work in unison with the more visually oriented right hemisphere. This is a feature which is omitted for the male. Males which have a fully masculinized brain must generally learn to function with their dominant hemisphere. This is in stark contrast to womens' brains, which are able to utilize both hemispheres simultaneously in their thought processes as interchanges of information occur between the two hemispheres.

Another interesting fact is that women's brain sizes, physically, are smaller than men's but.... they are shown on average to be 3% more intelligent than men's. The reason for this increase in intelligence is two fold. Because women are able to utilize both halves of their brain more effectively than men can, they can parallel process thoughts more thoroughly. The second reason is in relation to the amount of what is termed "gray matter" in the brain. Women have more of this "gray matter" and it is important to realize that this is akin to a computer's memory (RAM) where on the fly processing is done for any task that may need to be accomplished. Men have significantly less "random access memory" (gray matter) than women and so are at a partial disadvantage in this respect.

Additionally, analysis has shown that women have a smaller development of their hypothalamus than do men. It has also been noted that biological males who identify as transgender females also have a hypothalamus which is relational in size to that of an equivalently proportioned female.

Studies have shown, that because a woman has greater correspondence between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, and because she can cross communicate between them more effectively, she not only utilizes more of her brain on a given task than would a man, but, she also has the ability to cross learn in both hemispheres. Estrogen helps to build these connections between the two halves of the brain along a conduit known as the Corpus Collosum. Men do not have as strong connection between their two halves and must rely on one half more than the other. It has been shown, statistically, that women who have suffered a stroke and have damaged areas of their brain which control, for example, speech, have less difficulty in recovering or will show less symptoms as a result of that stroke than will men. The reason for this is simply that a woman can remap and cross connect to another area of the brain more effectively than men to work around the damaged area.

So with all of this information in place, how does this help to understand how a person who is transgender feel as though their gender does not match their sex. Simply put, a person who is transgender is a person whose brain has developed as one sex but whose body has developed as the opposite. How is this possible, one might ask? In further reading up on the subject area in question, we have to turn back to the developing fetus once again. The male fetus is, after that 6 to 8 week mark, beginning to be washed in testosterone. The, brain, as we have talked about earlier, will grow in ways either male or female based upon this wash of hormones. Areas which govern our sexual identity (who we are attracted to, male or female) and gender identity (who we feel we are) are part of this developmental process. What can happen during development however, is that testosterone can be received in varying amounts by different parts of the body. Physically, the body can receive the testosterone it needs to become male, but not always will the brain process what it has been given. These are conditions known as Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome in which the male hormones are not picked up by receptors within the body and processed. The end result of this condition is that the male brain may not fully "masculinize" and the end result will be a male body with a female wired and developed brain.

One of the more interesting anecdotes I have read in response to what may cause variances in testosterone delivery to the developing fetus was as a result of stress on the mother during her pregnancy. It has been documented that stress to the pregnant mother during this important developmental period for the fetus, can lower the amount of testosterone which a mother imparts to a developing male child.

In my own case, I found that my own mother, was taking a drug during her pregnancy with me which was banned in the early 1970's as being unsafe. This drug was called DES and was touted to prevent miscarriage and to promote healthy babies. The drug was actually a very, very potent form of synthetic estrogen and was a strong endocrine disruptor. It infused the fetus with a wash of female hormones and denied it the male hormones during development. As a result, a higher incidence rate of transgenderism has been duly noted in collected and reported data, by those individuals who were born to a mother who was taking this drug. I was one of those children.

Because their are huge variances on the continuum of humanity in levels and degrees of this early development, there are also, correlative variances in the degree of masculinization of the brain. Because of these variances in development, individuals who identify with this paradox and are considered to be transgender, will have varying degrees of what is termed as "gender dysphoria" or "feeling that they are in the wrong gender". What a person who is transgender is feeling then, is the variance between a female patterned brain and a male body. Usually, this variance is more strongly noted as one develops through childhood and into adulthood as they begin to take stock and note of how males and females act, emote and behave in society and then take a close look at themselves and realize that they feel more aligned in their own behaviors with those of the sex they were not born into.

There are no reparative therapies and no drugs which can be given to a transgender individual once their brain has finalized development in those first few years of life. Although the concepts and understanding of how the brain develops and that transgenderism is, within the professional medical community, accepted as a very real and very tangible medical condition, the wider population and society has yet to come to terms with it. Unfortunately, we still live in a society which widely discredits anything that is not binary and not black or white. In reality however, there are more variations in all of human kind than just "one" or "the other". The entire human race just cannot be summed up in just two boxes. I hope that one day, we will all come to realize this very simple fact and to come to appreciate and respect that we are all humans first and foremost, and that we each deserve respect and rejoice in who we all are inside as unique members of the human race.

For an excellent read on how the femal brain develops and contrasts the male brain, please consider the following book:

I also relate my experiences learning of my mom's taking of DES and transgenderism, both my own and for others.   More at this link here:

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Stepping Over the Invisible Boundary

Another ephemeral and non-tangible boundary crossed and another vantage whose perspective is now more clear obtained. Last Thursday marked a significant although, at the time, seemingly innocuous change. Yet, what I have found, in time and time again, is that these seemingly minor changes are having incrementally profound impacts in my perception and in my realizations of what is coming to be. It was a minor procedure, a facial peel designed to target hyper-pigmentation. Over the course of an hour, it would take me another step into that realm of the feminine which I could not imagine, at the time, that it would.

I began to realize the reality of the changes a few days later, on Saturday, as I prepared to get ready to go out. No longer was I finding the need to apply the camouflage of concealers needed prior to cover what appeared to be a mustache but which was only discoloration that appeared as such. My skin and pores were finer now and more porcelain. But the day was just beginning and the events which would unfold, although minor, would bring me to another plateau in this journey of a lifetime.

It was that evening that we met with a good friend for dinner out at a local restaurant. Upon alighting from the car, we met in the parking lot and proceeded in to the restaurant. It was at the doors that I had the first of encounters that would be yielded to me in the evening ahead. A gentleman with his wife held the door open for her but, upon seeing my spouse and myself, motioned visually and verbally that we ladies should proceed as well. It was nothing unusual, as this had happened in the past, but, there were differences. They were differences in the way in which he eyed us and especially me, in ways which I had not seen prior. It happened again and again that evening. I would get up and stroll past tables to the ladies room or to procure cheese and crackers at the common table set up in the entryway. Waiting in line for my turn at the cheese and crackers table, I watched as others would glance my way and continue their business. A gentleman offered me to step in line ahead of him with a smile. It was all very fluid. Everything that evening was natural and fluid.

Things were different somehow and I knew what it was now. I was blending in. I was not being noticed except by those that were interested. It was an eerily calmness that settled across me and my confidence became quietly more relaxed in knowing cathis. No one knew and no one suspected any variance in any way about my persona. I was who I felt inside and I was being affirmed that in the passive absenteeism of doubt and quizzical looks by others.

Upon returning to the table, my spouse, Joanne, did make it known to me that I was the object of visual attention by a number of males at the bar. She was observant enough to the point that she noted what aspects they were surmising of my physical being as I passed by their perches at the tables and the bar. My dress was casual, with a flowery, faux-layered top in purples paired with a pair of black jeans and low, peep-toe heels. None of the women paid me any mind or attention as I had noted more-so in the past. It was their scrutinizing looks I might receive on occasion that were absent. It was their looks toward me as they perhaps realized something of in congruency in my femininity that set their radar into motion. It was the look of something not adding up but of not being sure either.

Those looks from the women were gone and I was invisible now to them. In that place, now arising, were looks from the men. They were studying me in a way that men do of natal women. It was not something I was looking for now something I even care to want. There was no interest in them by me for I am only interested in my spouse. But what I did find interesting was that I was fluid now in the realm of the feminine and that I was coming closer and perhaps had just crossed that elusive boundary.

I've been vacillating back and forth along that gender boundary for some time... and continue to do so today. But... it is of notable interest that as I move along this continuum towards the feminine, that the pendulum does not swing as far back into that male realm as it had. This is becoming the thing which is prompting more looks of late as well. Simply stated, it appears that I am being scrutinized more in my male persona now and that this scrutiny is becoming all but absent in my female one. Without being on hormones and without the benefits of surgeries, facially or otherwise, that I am crossing a very important boundary in my life. It is the boundary which is the summation of all the little changes I have been and continue to make in my life.

What I had hoped for in my life, was that I was just a guy who liked to wear women's clothes on occasion. Life would have been so much simpler if it was that way. I would dress occasionally, enjoy the feel and texture of the clothes I wore, snap some pictures and then regain my male persona. I would have my fill and be done with the girl inside, putting her away for another day. But what I have found as I continue this journey, is that this is not me. There is no excitement and spark in putting on makeup and primping my hair. There is no tactile pleasures in the feel of nylons or a slinky dress. What there is, is a sense of calmness and of centered being in who I am when I do. I cannot describe it in any other way but when I am able to present as the woman I see within, that I am whole, I am transparent as a woman to the world, and I am at peace. I am not cognizant when I am out, of those clothes I am wearing, nor do I feel I am hiding as a male behind a constructed facade of makeup and clothing. I am simply finding that I am just me. I am interacting with the world in a place that I feel as who I am inside and the world relates back to me in a way that feels comfortable. It feels, as there is no other way that I can put this, as a woman, that I am home.

In closing, I will say that I have the most wonderful of spouses to thank for helping me to find myself and to manifest and realize the woman within. She has been the inspiration and the means by which I have made it to this point in my life. It is not easy for her, to watch the physical presence of her husband slowly disappear, only to be replaced by a woman which has lived inside for so long. Yet, she wishes for us both to be happy and for me to find some freedom from the dark place I have lived in for so many years of my life. She has seen the tears in my eyes and has wiped them away with her love for me and with her compassion. This is truly a very special journey for us both.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Clouds in my Coffee.... Clouds In The Life Transgender

In the semi-conscious lucidity that one resides in just after awakening, I stared into the clouds of my morning coffee as I read a story that struck a chord in me... in a way that has me wondering how much of a civilized world we really live in.

Stories such as this really give me pause to wonder what type of world we live in that a person whose death as victim of a hate crime, can be simply sloughed off as being expected for being who they are.  I suppose it doesn't matter if you are intelligent, compassionate, witty or a compassionate, empathetic or loving human being.  I suppose what it seems that matters is more the package that the world sees visually.

From my own personal experience, and from what I have seen first hand, is that we are at the least, silently laughed at or mocked and at worst, victims of hate crimes.  Fear and ignorance play a large part in all of this.  What is different is to be scorned, laughed at and, if possible, intimidated enough so that one effectively removes oneself from society.

There was a great... absolutely fantastic Twilight Zone Episode back from the 1960's, that materialized these concepts and brought them to light.  Rod Serling's genius in telling the story was remarkable for its era and holds so very true today.

A short clip, which you may remember, is here....

Start at the 2 minute mark as this cuts to the point of the entire episode.

In the episode, there is one very memorable quote that strikes true, hidden as it may seem at the surface, within our own society....  "We must cut out all that is different, like a cancerous filth".  In our society, we allow that to happen of it's own in such a way that society, as a whole, does not take the blame.  We see trans persons being discriminated against being passed up for jobs, denied insurance or health benefits, victims of crimes both of hate and daily through laughter and jeers when out.

I know that when I am out, I pass pretty well.  Not very many people can pick off that I am trans.  I seek to blend in quietly into society.  But I also feel like I am hiding within it as well.  I feel often when out in a crowd, like a sheep disguised as the wolf in a pack of wolves.  I am always on guard and on my toes, visually and perceptually.  I am careful of the environments I place myself, my actions and the perception of the responses I receive.  When I am most comfortable with who I am, I run the risk of making the world around me less comfortable.  In male mode, I am safe but I am at constant odds with my own being and with the facade of the person who the world is comfortable in seeing but for which causes me great anxiety both day and night... 365 days a year for 40+ years that I can recall.

Being gay or lesbian would be infinitely easier than being trans.  At least no one can look at a person and in the course of 3 seconds, determine them to be who they are and react.  Being trans is visible.  If one does not convincingly pass as the gender they are presenting as, then it is akin to a person who is gay or lesbian, walking around with a sign pasted on them in bold letters, pronouncing to the world... "I am gay"  or  "I am a lesbian".  And being transgender is even less understood because it is hidden.... hidden by those who would face the wraths of victimization, humiliation or the prejudices of society.  And because so many hide to protect themselves, so many others in general society do not know or understand.   It is a self-fulfilling vicious feedback cycle and one which feeds a conformist society.

Acknowledging that one is transgender is a very life changing and eye-opening realization.  Knowing that one can not change who they are inside... at least truthfully to themselves, but perhaps as a facade we present to the world... knowing this...yields  a person who must either blend in seamlessly and perfectly as the gender they feel inside they were born as... or face the possibilities and higher probabilities of a lifetime of prejudice and harassment by the society around them.  Some are luckier, or more fortunate than others in these regards... but shouldn't there be justice in being free to present as who one feels one is?  If there can be movements toward racial equality and equality for women through the women's movement in society, why cannot there not be the justice of equality for equal treatment and respect for those who identify as being transgender?

I'm off to get another cup of coffee....I'd prefer it, as I would my life, to be without clouds....

FYI - The original news story of this tragedy from the Washington Blade, is linked here....

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Perspectives and Reflections

It is week two of having my spouse's nephew up staying with us during his summer vacation.  He is having the time of his life as we do all the things with him that his parents never extend the effort to do.  We've taken him on ever more challenging bikerides of 20+ miles and hikes up and into the alpine tundra zones of the high peaks in the Presidential Range in New Hampshire.  He's shared time and an ability to speak and communicate with us as his peer and as his mentor when need and opportunity present.  He's enjoyed us as friends and as family.  He's enjoyed spending time with me as his uncle and... his aunt.

It speaks volumes when he is able to clearly evoke in his own words that it doesn't matter if I am presenting as a male, wearing hiking pants and covered in mud on a trail in the forest or donning a pretty blouse, skirt and heels and made up to the nines.  To him, I am the same person and the same persona.  He has told us countless times how his mom and dad don't care to be involved in his life but rather spend their energy is strictly enforcing regime and rule upon him.  There is no praise to be gained from them from doing good and only retribution when something is not done right or well enough to their own expectations.  His own dreams languish in the negative sentiments expressed by them whenever he presents something he wants to be involved in but which they could care less.

He sees that his own father's morals falters in plain view of the family and relatives around him.  A commander in the navy, who wants his own son to excel, but provides little time for him as a peer and not knowing how to relate to him - but rather only to order him as a subjugate when he is around.  He knows too that his father has had affairs in the past, has had many a woman in his naval adventures, whose computer history bears testament and evidence of a journey through an explicit world of visual and online sexual fulfillment.  And I can see how knowing this of him has and is affecting him.  He often watches from his place in the congregation while his father preaches portions of the Sunday mass at church.  He sees the dichotomy and he knows.   He sees his own mother, who battles the love she has for her husband with the truth behind the veneer.  She battles the torment daily and languishes in the false hope of deliverance which bottles of pills can only hope to deliver as her weight and blood pressure continue to rise into zones which scare us all.

The saddest part about all of this is the fact that the father would be the first one to denounce me as a freak and a deviant.  He has no conception of gender variance and would relate it to a sexual one.   I would be a person who would turn his son gay or trans or whatever.  But in reality, what we have seen, is that his son is, through us, becoming more sure of who he is and is finding the strength and support to move ahead in his own sense of life and of self that he was not finding in his home.

Through relating my own story in growing up and realizing that I am different and that it is OK to be different, he is learning to accept that it is OK for him to not feel he has to conform to the expectations and objectives which his parents and more-so his father, is attempting to box him into.  He is learning that we are all unique and special as individuals and that this is something to be celebrated and nurtured, not stifled and repressed.

A famous quotation from the 1960's British Television Series entitled "The Prisoner", provided an allegorical representation to being "boxed" in life.  The most famous of these quotes being retold here:

I've often said, of myself, that I don't have GID (Gender Identity Dysphoria), but rather that the world has SAD  (Societal Acceptance Disorder).  Realizing that we all have differences and a special uniqueness and accepting that within others would go a long way towards realizing our full potentials as individuals and within society.  I am seeing that my nephew is learning this and taking this with him on his own journeys in life.  What better gift can one give than to share that wisdom with someone at an early age.  If only I had figured this out 40+ years ago, things might have been a lot different and not filled with the years of anxiety and distress I had to endure.  I think he, at least, is seeing this and accepting it all earlier than did I and it will, I believe, make a huge difference in his life going forward.