That time Dr. Norman Spack was my endo, or, The “dollmaker” loves autogynephiles

I was 17 when the psych first told my parents he was ready to refer me to the endo to start hormones, but my dad threw a fit during family therapy. He called the psych a quack, made up some mental illnesses that didn’t exist which he said I had, and yelled a lot. It sucked. I really liked the psych. He was an extremely tall, gentle man, with glasses and a grey mustache. He lived with his (male) partner in a fancy brownstone in the south end of Boston (where he saw patients in his office on the ground floor), had an original Andy Warhol soup can print in the hall, and let me smoke cigarettes during our sessions. I always felt really cool sitting in the leather chair in his office, looking at all the books on his shelves and putting out my unfiltered Camels in a glass ashtray.

Anyway the so-called compromise was that I would go to college as a girl, but put off hormones for a year. Needless to say, at the end of the year I dropped out, got a job in the city, and started buying my own hormones (from the plastic surgeon Benito Risch, who didn’t require a script if he thought you looked trans). But then I got into drugs, and in one of my few acts of self preservation I ran away from my drug friends and went back home to live with my parents. This also meant going off hormones which sucked in a way it’s hard to describe.

Eventually things got straightened out and I had a succession of endos, and got back on E. I also got $5000 from a student loan refund so I got an orchiectomy. I didn’t like the idea of being dependent on the medical-industrial establishment for the rest of my life, and at the time I assumed that post-orchi I could quit hormones if I wanted to, and it wouldn’t be a big deal. At least I wouldn’t have any more of the poisonous testosterone fucking up my body! And they’d been prescribing me premarin (literally made from the pee of pregnant mares), which made my stomach hurt.

I did indeed quit taking estrogen, but actually it stunk. It wasn’t as bad as the first time I stopped, because besides it being my own choice, my testicles were gone (thank god!) and my testosterone production was a lot lower. But your body still produces hormones even without gonads, and my body was making more T than E. Over about a year I became flat as a board again, my face got leaner, and worst of all I started having hot flashes. I wasn’t sure what they were at first but I was dating a woman who was 40-something and she diagnosed it. (I was 23. I was also a vegan, a chain smoker, and an alcoholic, which I’m sure contributed to my problems haha. Though I never would have admitted it at the time.)

My primary care doctor was like “You need to get back on hormones, at least something!” (Meaning: either estrogen or testosterone.) She was worried I would get osteoperosis. But she wasn’t in touch with my previous endo, so she referred me to Dr. Spack.

Dr. Spack’s childhood gender clinic was pretty new at the time, but he also saw patients in “private practice” at a separate office out in the suburbs. I was deemed “too old” for the clinic, though I also have a feeling part of this decision was made based on my looks and my backstory. I had been hanging out in the gay community since I was 16-17, and then from 18-22 most of my friends were artsy lesbians. So, I wore pants from the thrift store that didn’t fit, knit hats in the summer, tshirts with holes and random paint stains, and smoked unfiltered cigarettes. (Though I guess that last was a holdover from teenage boyhood.) Lesbians my age definitely knew where I was coming from because they usually assumed I was one of theirs, but Spack wasn’t sure what to make of me. Not to mention, the fact I had quit hormones of my own choice after the orchi perplexed him. But at the same time, I wasn’t an easy “do your business and get out” client like most of the daddy transitioners. He couldn’t male bond with me, or objectify me! Oh, the horror.

As I came to find out, at my first appointment, the “private practice” was where he saw all his adult autogynephile patients. I didn’t know that word at the time (this is 97-98) but it was totally clear once I read about it on Anne Lawrence’s site a year later. And not only did Spack have two offices, but he had two appointment books, one for each clinic. Everything was separate: his “showpiece” (child) patients, and his money-making patients.

Like my primary care doctor, Spack was worried about osteoperosis, but he wasn’t sure how to dose me because of the orchi (and the smoking), so he put me on the patch. Except it really didn’t work well, they were too weak so I had to wear two at a time, and they gave me rashes. He insisted on patch over pills because he said he was worried about my liver, but I can’t help thinking he was being overly conservative because I didn’t make any sense to him. I certainly wasn’t the beautiful doll he talks about in his disgusting TED talk! The fact that I’d already been living full time for thee years and changed all my id by the time I was 21 just seemed confusing to him.

I only remember two appointments really clearly. The most memorable was certainly my first encounter with a daddy transitioner. Anyone who’s ever taken hormones or worked at a clinic that prescribes them has seen some of the weirdos who come in. The trans providers at Boston City Hospital were always going back and forth about scheduling all the trans clients on the same day, or just mingling them in with the rest of the patients. The theory being, maybe the weirdos will weird fewer people out if they all come and go in a block. Or maybe it’s worse to concetrate them? Who knows?

Anyway I very carefully had my nose buried in a book because I sure as hell didn’t want to talk to anyone at Dr. Spack’s private clinic. And what made it even worse was that there was no receptionist – just Spack in with a patient, and me and the weirdo in the waiting room. I think she had been there when I arrived, but then she left for the evening. (It was a Saturday.) What was left of the weirdo’s hair was a wispy blond ring around the back and sides, grown out too long (think Brian Eno), and he had correspondingly light eyebrows and eyelashes. After trying to make eye contact for a few minutes he finally leaned toward me and said “You’re so pretty, when did you start hormones?” I looked at him, and his long disgusting fingers, and the slight puffiness around his lips and the softening around his eyes that made it obvious that he too was on hormones, and I didn’t even know what to say. Fucking terrifying.

I can’t really remember but I think maybe I said “I don’t want to talk about it” and turned the page. He sat back in his chair, looking unhappy. I felt super tense until Spack’s other patient came out, and he brought me in. And then I left as soon as I could. Later I worried I had acted “transphobic”, but I talked it over with my mom and she was immediately sympathetic and said “That sounds really uncomfortable. You were totally in the right.” Thanks mom! I love you!

The other appointment I remember was mundane, but supremely irritating. The secretary apparently “put me in the wrong book”, so when I showed up to Chestnut Hill they didn’t have me on the schedule. And then Spack made me wait three hours, until he’d seen all his daddy transitioners, and then couldn’t understand why I was irritated. That was the final straw for me with his bumbling bullshit. (If you watch the video, you’ll see what I mean – this man is far from a genius.)

I ended up seeing a really delightful Thai endo after that, who I only stopped seeing because he moved away. Which was tragic because then I had to see a complete fucking creep named Dr. Safer, who frankly looked a lot like that long-fingered blond daddy, except with less hair. Total pervert vibe. He was so horrible I just started ordering hormones off the internet and self-medding for a few years.

A year or so after I stopped seeing Spack, I made friends with a trans girl a few years younger than me, who had started hormones and transitioned while still in high school. It turned out that she had been seeing Spack at the Children’s Hospital clinic, ever since it first opened. It was 2000 now, and we had both been reading Anne Lawrence’s writing about autogynephilia. One day, she confided to me:

When I first read about autogynephilia, it was a relief. It exactly explained my entire experience. When I was a kid I constantly daydreamed about being a girl, and then after puberty I fantasized about it. The thought of being female has always turned me on. But I knew I couldn’t bring it up with the doctors. I just told them I’d always felt like a girl. But it feels great to know I’m not the only one like this!

Once again, it was really driven home to me what total bullshit gatekeeping was, in practice. Spack thought this girl was a “true transsexual”, because she was gender-conforming, she lived in the same suburb he did, her parents drove her to her appointments, and she repeated all the lies she’d been told to repeat by the generations of trans women before her. But based on the way I dressed, the friends I kept, and the fact that I was critical of the trans narrative and trying to live free from gender, he lumped me in with the autogynephiles. Good intuition there, buddy!

The more my trans friend thought about autogynephilia, the more confused she got. She had always had long hair and dressed stereotypically feminine, but she decided to experiment. She got a short haircut, started dating another trans woman, and adopted a kind of “butch” presentation. She and her girlfriend (well, one of her girlfriends – needless to say, these people were all poly) would take turns topping each other in anal. Good for them, I guess? I mean, I’m all about questioning the narrative, but the girlfriend was certainly a male-privilege-denying trans misogynist. Ultimately, I semi-intentionally lost touch with them. Not because of the trans stuff, but because I got fed up with the endless polyamorous drama! Seriously!!

Thinking about Radical Feminism as an mtf

Backstory: I was born male but I’ve been living as a girl/woman for over half of my life now, and I’ve read a lot of radical feminist texts. In fact, the first feminist book I read was Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse, when I was 15. So I’ve been thinking about radical feminism for even longer than I’ve been transsexual! This post is kind of long, because it takes a while to build a foundation. Please try to read the whole thing!

My understanding of radical feminism, and why transwomen are different from females

Radical feminism is based on the analysis that females as a sex class are oppressed by males as a sex class. It’s not about individuals. If you don’t believe that patriarchy exists, you might want to review statistics about violent crime world-wide. It’s overwhelmingly perpetrated by males against females. But I’ll assume you (the reader) already know this.

Since you do believe that patriarchy exists, then you have to acknowledge that on average, trans women grew up with male privilege. Trans women who were visibly gender non-conforming in childhood probably suffered oppression for being gender non-conforming. But many/most trans women live outwardly as gender conforming boys/men up until their “discovery” of their trans identity. In fact, many trans women live as men into their 30’s, working as men in male-dominated fields, marrying women and fathering children. Hint: that’s not ‘female privilege!’

Since trans women grow up with male privilege, which is a totally different way of seeing the world, it’s legitimate to differentiate between females and transwomen. Female socialization means “you’re not a full human being.” For females, that starts at birth, and continues in your adult life. Transwomen as a class don’t experience that socialization from birth. In fact, we don’t experience it until we began passing as female. After all, gender is an assigned characteristic based on perceived sex, not an identity.

Since transwomen and females are legitimately different in important ways (socialization, biology), it’s to the benefit of all women (both female and trans-) that we have spaces exclusive to our own kind. Females need somewhere to unpack the bullshit around being female socialized from birth. Transwomen need somewhere to discuss the whole of our lives, including the parts when we lived as boys/men, without fear of that discussion changing the way people perceive our gender.

So wbw is not transphobic – it’s not even about us! The least we can do as (trans) women is to support our female sisters. If we don’t support them, why should they support us?

Practical things

So, let’s consider some practical implications. I think it’s valid and important for females to have wbw spaces – in my mind, this means things like MWMF, Radfem2013, and female-only discussion groups, whether it’s a book club, a survivors of CSA group, or whatever. If a group of women invites a transwomen to join them, great. But transwomen don’t have any “right” to female space – please! That’s like complaining to the teacher in elementary school that some “mean kids” left you out, and then the teacher tells those kids they “have to be” friends with you.

Transwomen shouldn’t use women’s locker rooms (or other spaces where people get naked) unless they pass, and they’re discrete enough that no one notices if they’re preop. Sorry but penis doesn’t belong in female space, even if it’s on someone who’s perceived to be a woman. That’s just out of safe-space considerations for females who’ve been raped. Likewise, the presence of a transwoman who’s obviously male in a space where women are naked is also triggering for obvious reasons. Whether or not a non-passing transwoman has had surgery doesn’t matter in this case, unfortunately.

Bathrooms are a little more flexible, since there’s no expectation of nudity. My perspective is that the right time to switch public bathrooms is when you’re likely to cause less commotion in one than the other. But this has to be reality-based. A while ago Cathy Brennan posted an incredible story of a transwoman who was asked to leave the women’s bathroom. She described her encounter with the security guard: “When I said it had never caused a problem before, and no-one has either noticed or cared I was trans, he replied that they noticed – implying that I do not pass as a woman, which I don’t believe is correct.” Hahaha we don’t get to decide if we pass, that’s up to other people!

That said, we as transwomen need to stop pretending that it “never happens” that trans women use bathrooms and locker rooms for “improper purposes”. We need to call these people out! If we don’t do the difficult work of policing the boundaries of our community by calling Colleen Francis a male sex predator, or calling out Reed Barrow aka sissytgkristal or whatever, then trans gets redefined as “sexually predatory males.”

Likewise, we need to call out the anti-lesbian rape apologists, like Morgan Paige, Julia Serrano, Savanah Garmond aka leftytgirl, etc. We also need to call out trans women who advocate physical violence against females – that would be Monica Roberts, Kinsey Hope/genderbitch, Anthony Casebaer, Char the butcher, etc.

You may have noticed a pattern, which is that all of these people have been profiled on pretendbians. (Except genderbitch, who definitely should be.) So, I actually don’t support pretendbians being taken down, until these people change their behavior! Maybe it’s not the place of a non-trans-identified lesbian to do the callouts, but since the trans community has failed, I’m glad someone is doing it.

How this effected me personally

I personally experienced male privilege growing up, because my interests in technical fields (which translates to high-paying career in adulthood) were encouraged. Nobody said “You like math, you should be a teacher!”, they said “You like math, you should be a scientist!” That’s a pay difference of about $70k btw. It’s kind of the definition of patriarchal bullshit in elementary school education!

I also personally experienced a lot of prejudice because in middle and high school, I was gender non-conforming. This came in the form of verbal and physical harassment, both by students and by teachers and school administrators. It really messed up my self-worth, and unfortunately I still haven’t recovered 100% from that.

Despite the occasional physical abuse I experienced, my physiology allowed me a much greater sense of physical safety than many of my female friends in general – I was taller, I had broader shoulders, I had more upper body strength, and I wasn’t worried about getting raped, since I didn’t have a vagina. I also had the first 13 years of my life when I wasn’t as obviously gender non-conforming, where I had felt sure of the physical integrity of my body. In contrast, I had a number of female friends who were sexually abused as children. CSA is much more common among females, btw! It’s related to that patriarchy thing.

So, the privilege and the oppression didn’t just “cancel each other out” – rather, they intersected in some complicated ways, which for obvious reasons is the definition of intersectionality!

My first introduction to gay and lesbian theory was to radical feminism, thank god! I later got swept up in queer theory, but I had to discard it eventually since it failed to explain the world I live in. 99% of the people in the world base their definitions of man and woman on physical sex, and secondarily on conformance with sex roles. Trans theory assumes that a tiny fraction of the population gets to make up new definitions which have nothing to do with anything, and everyone else is wrong! That analysis left me really depressed, because it’s so in conflict with the real world, so I discarded it.

Recently I’ve taken up radical feminist analysis again. It’s challenging to me but ultimately feels a lot more liberatory. I am a male who lives as a woman. I’m never going to not be male. By accepting that fact, it can’t hurt me any more. That doesn’t mean I’m going to be out all the time. It doesn’t mean I’m going to stop hanging out with women and “go back to my roots” by joining a men’s movement group (lol). But it means that maybe I have some hope of finding peace in my life.

I don’t know “why” I’m trans. At this point, it happened a lot time ago, and it’s kind of a done deal. Were my motivations “correct”? I don’t know. I definitely said some sexist bullshit when I was a teenager and thinking about transitioning! All I know now is that I’m happier at this point in my life than I’ve ever been, so I probably made the right decisions.

I’m very selective about who I talk about being trans with irl, because I know how the rumor mill works, and I know how people will change their behavior towards me when they find out I’m transsexual. The only way to cut that bullshit out that I have found, was to not talk about being transsexual irl. I also cut a lot of people out of my life, over the many years after I transitioned.

That means life is kind of lonely sometimes, but thank god I have tumblr, other internet communities, a few irl trans friends who I intentionally sought out, and a few special female friends who I can talk about it with.