Making the change

When Marc Eden transitioned to a man, his grandmother jokingly called him “Cousin Itt” after the character in The Addams Family.

The nickname, he says, is somewhat apt. As a female-to-male transsexual, “I see myself as something other than one gender or another,” Eden reveals.

Blending genders is not uncommon among nontransgender people either, notes Asheville psychologist Diana Stone. As people age, “They start learning and picking up traits of the other gender, because we’re becoming more and more whole,” she says. “The qualities of male and female get more balanced.”

Stone, in fact, counsels her transgender clients to retain some aspects of their birth sex. “It’s really important to embrace all [of] who we are and then find out what’s the proper balance,” she asserts.

By the time they were 4 or 5, many of her clients say they’d realized that they were different from their peers of the same gender. “Some of them, I thought, were pretty happy, healthy people who just thought they really got the wrong body and wanted to correct that,” notes Stone.

“Correcting that,” however, takes considerable effort. Gender identity disorder is included in the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual, and people who want to transition — whether through hormone therapy alone or with hormones plus surgery — generally must follow treatment standards to make sure they’re mentally balanced. The protocol includes mental-health therapy and living full time as the opposite gender for a year.

Society doesn’t make transitioning easy either. Most people view gender as strictly male or female. “We’re very judgmental as a culture,” says Stone. “If we can’t categorize it, we get freaked out.”

Some cultures, on the other hand, acknowledge a third gender that blends female and male traits. “There is that possibility that people are between those groups,” notes Siti Kusujiarti, who teaches in the sociology and women’s studies departments at Warren Wilson College. Some religions, however, reject that possibility as a violation of social, biological and moral principles, she says.

“God created you to be either male or female, and he created you to be that way for a reason,” declares Jim Katsoudas, co-director of Clean Heart Ministries in Charlotte. “You shouldn’t change it. That’s saying God made a mistake with your gender; God doesn’t make mistakes.” Clean Heart, a Christian organization, aims to help gay and transgender people overcome their issues.

People who have conflicts about their gender should use professional counseling, prayer and support groups, Katsoudas maintains. “Those feelings can be reversed when they’re worked through,” he says.

One of Stone’s clients, a male-to-female, changed his mind, stopped taking estrogen and reclaimed his male name, she recalls. Issues from childhood had led to his pursuing transition; how often that happens is anybody’s guess.

And even in the transgender world, people who transition can go too far, some say.

“There’s this tendency to jump ship from masculine to feminine, and suddenly they can’t change a tire when before they were auto mechanics,” says Eden. “It’s OK to be a balanced human being; it’s OK not to be a Rambo or a bimbo.”

Eden says he’s had to find a balance. For a while, he denied his stereotypically feminine aspects, but now he sews again and enjoys gardening and cooking.

Still, he sometimes “packs” (pads his crotch), if he feels insecure or wants to make others feel more comfortable. “I pass very well, but I’m always aware that I’m passing,” he says.

And whether the goal is to be female, male, a mix or neither, for some transgender people the journey is ongoing.

“We’re always in a situation of becoming,” says Eden. “Transition is a lot of that. I don’t see it as ever ending.”

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