On the Front Lines in the Gender Wars

True-Life Experiences at the Gender Clinics

Originally appeared in Transgender Tapestry #98, Summer 2002.


Sharon, who was interviewed in the last issue of Chrysalis Quarterly, is a 41-year-old post-operative male-to- female transsexual person. She has lived full-time as a woman for nearly two years. She works in a professional capacity, and says she has never been happier. This is what she tells us about her experience with a gender clinic in a large mid-southern city in the late 1970s.

I was in my early thirties when I finally came to terms with myself. My marriage had failed, I had left graduate school, and I was crossdressing more and more. I didn?t even need to ask myself if I wanted to change my sex. I knew I did. I had always known. I just admitted it to myself.

There was a gender clinic at a university in my city. It was the only place I knew to go. I was honest and aboveboard with them. I had considering going crossdressed, but that didn?t seem honest, somehow, as my body and my social role were forcing me to be a man. I had an appointment or two with the director, and then took a battery of psychological tests?it was funny; they were the same tests I had learned to give in school.

All in all, I spent about $500 before the director gave me the word. And the word was this: Word 1: ?You?re not so dysphoric that you aren?t able to hold a job.? (That just shows I?m not totally screwy, doesn?t it?) Word 2: ?You?re heterosexual.? (OK. So maybe I?ll be a lesbian. I have no problem with that. Why do you?) Word 3: ?You don?t look very much like a woman to us.? (No shit, Sherlock. Why do you think I?m here asking for help?)

The director told me the clinic would not give me hormones or surgery, or help me to feminize myself in any way, but would give me counseling to help me live as a man. Yeah, right. Make my decisions for me. I went to a half-dozen or so sessions, and then I walked in and showed my therapist some articles about self-castration and my copy of Gray?s Anatomy. It didn?t phase him: no hormones.

That did it. I refused to allow the clinic control over my gender and my life. I never went back. Instead, I went to two or three physicians in private practice, but since I had no clue as to who worked with transsexual people and who didn?t, trying to find a doctor who would give me medication was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. So the last one I visited (I didn?t like his attitude), I lifted the top dozen or so sheets from his prescription pad and stuck ?em in my pocket. I went home and got out my PDR (Physician?s Desk Reference?Ed.), found the section on estrogens, picked one, and wrote a prescription for it. It was easy, since I knew what went on the prescription; I had learned in a nursing class in a mental hospital at which I had once worked.

I hated to do something illegal, but I was at the point of desperation. I had nowhere else to go. I kept myself on hormones for years, until I finally found another source for help?and then I got a legitimate prescription. I don?t regret having acted as my own physician, but I am angry for having been forced into having to take such an action.

Starting myself on hormones saved me. I had been getting more and more male by the day. I had been losing my hair big time, getting more body hair. That started to change. I softened, and most of my hair came back, and the body hair went away. After a few years on hormones, I had electrolysis, and I eventually began living full-time. I?ve had no major problems with transition, for I look unremarkably like a woman. But had I delayed starting hormones?

I don?t like to think about it.

If I had listened to those fools, my life would have been ruined. It scares me to think about what would have happened if I had handed over the reins to my life, like the clinic wanted. And I am saddened by the thought of all the others who must have done just that.

I would like to find the man who was director of that clinic and let him know what I think of him. This is what I would like to tell him: wherever you are, you were playing God. You tried to establish dominion over me, and I didn?t allow it. I refused to let you have the locus of control. You were the only source of help I could find, and you denied that help and didn?t assist me to find other resources. History has proved you wrong, and me right, for I have made a successful adjustment in my new gender. You were an obstacle in my life, and not the helping force you were trained to be. You forced me into taking an action which was illegal, and which went against my nature. I resent you for making such an action necessary; I think you incompetent for it; I find you in violation of your hippocratic oath for it. I saved myself, but how many others didn?t? I cry for them. Do you?



Carla is a tall and lanky post-op male-to-female transsexual person. Her experience is with a gender clinic in New England in the early 1970s.

They were writing a book. That?s what I call it when their damned research is more important than the needs of their patients.

I had done everything right, and they just weren?t being forthcoming with what I needed. It took three years to get a letter for hormones. Three years after going into real-life test, they still hadn?t approved my surgery. They kept saying I would get it soon, but ?soon? never came. I guess they needed more material for that chapter. I finally said ?Screw ?em,? and went elsewhere.

But that?s what it was. They were writing a book. They tried to keep me around until they finished it. But there?s a blank page in that book, for I got wise and left.



A combat veteran of Viet Nam, Alicia has been successfully living as a woman since the early 1980s. She works for a large newspaper, doing word processing. Her experience was a gender clinic at a state-operated psychiatric hospital in a large Southern city in the early 1980s.

They wouldn?t accept me because I hadn?t played with dolls. They wanted me to be some kind of puppet, to dance on their strings, and I just couldn?t bring myself to do it. They went down their little checklist, asking me all their transie questions, and I failed.

At the clinic, they weren?t interested in helping transsexual people. They were interested in controlling them. They set themselves up as capable of determining who was and who was not transsexual.

They were really very arrogant. They had a preconceived notion of transsexualism. If you did not fit their template, then you were not transsexual, pure and simple. Part of their idea was that if you had lived your life up to that point as a male, then you were not suitable. They didn?t understand that basically there are two kinds of transsexual people; those who go sissy at an early age, and those who fight it. If it were not for the fact that my father was raising soldiers, I probably would have been effeminate.

When I asked for hormones, they refused. When I insisted, they gave me a minimal dose, to placate me. But they were giving large amounts to the drag queens they thought were transsexuals.

Basically, the clinic was a source of free hormones for female impersonators. The staff was totally obsessed with the idea of drag bars. Every time I had an appointment, they would ask me if I had been getting dressed up and going to drag shows. It was a big deal for them.



Britt is thin and pretty; she looks like a model. She has been living as a woman for two years. Britt had an experience with the same gender clinic as did Alicia.

Finally, it was time to hear the results of all the tests. I went into the room and sat down. The staff was making small talk. It was as if I weren?t there. They were good at making you feel like you didn?t exist. Finally, the head guy cleared his throat and said, ?Frankly, we?re worried because you?ve read so much on the subject of transsexualism. We have grave doubts as to whether, by seeking a sex change, you?re embarking on the right course. Also, you?ll have trouble passing. Because of that, and because of your age (I was eighteen), we do not feel comfortable with prescribing hormones for you.

?Our recommendation is that you be discharged?or, we will help you to work on alternative lifestyles.?

I had always been attracted to females. I wasn?t gay, nor did I want to be. Even today, I am still more interested in females than in males. I got an uneasy feeling in my stomach. ?What do you mean, alternative lifestyles??

He cleared his throat again. He was always clearing his throat. ?Alternate lifestyles. Homosexuality.?

?I?m not homosexual. Nor do I want to be. I want to be a woman.?

He banged his fist on the table. ?We?re not here to negotiate! You?ve heard our terms. Take them or leave them.?

I left them. Thank God.



Anna, who is from Alberta, made several trips to a gender clinic in a large Canadian city in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Anna spoke to CQ in Brussels, Belgium, where she had just had sex reassignment surgery.

My first trip to the clinic was in September, 1989. I saw a psychometrist who is in charge of the program. He gave me two tests. Then I saw a psychiatrist. I had an interview with another psychiatrist, but he canceled. The next interview was with a man who was not very nice to me. We argued the whole time. He told me my hands and feet were too big, that I was too tall, that I would never pass, that everything was wrong with me. He was very hateful.

CQ: Didn?t you have a name that worked in both genders?

L: Yes. My first name was Lonnie?I had started to spell it Loni?and my second named worked, too. But the clinic told me I had to change it.

CQ: Wasn?t it just a suggestion? (In the chapter on real-life test in Blanchard and Steiner?s 1990 text, Clinical Management of Gender Identity Disorders in Children and Adults, Leonard Clemmensen writes that the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry ?encourages? transsexual people to replace unisex names with more clearly sex-typed names. Was this what Anna?s clinic was doing??encouraging???Ed.)

L: No, they told me I had to change it or forget about the program. They told me to choose a surgeon, and they would write a letter for me. But I already had a letter from my doctor. The clinic didn?t help at all.



Britt, a registered nurse, had SRS on the same day as Anna. She had an experience with the same clinic.

My psychiatrist made me go through a bunch of those weird tests in his office in Edmonton. He put electrodes on my dick and showed me pictures of little naked boys being whipped, different sorts of fellatio, just to see if I passed the pervert test. He did the basic psychological profile. He suggested that I go to a certain gender clinic.

We contacted the clinic, and they sent me a big questionnaire. They wanted a profile about when I first started crossdressing, what my sexual preferences were?more pervert stuff.

About six months later, they set me up to go to the clinic, which was half a continent away. I asked if I couldn?t be examined in Edmonton, since it would be expensive to travel so far. They said no, that I had to come.

I was working as an aircraft maintenance technician. I really liked it. My psychiatrist told me I had to quit. I think he did so on advice from the gender clinic. He said it wasn?t a very feminine thing to do. I said, ?I?m not into flower arranging or basket weaving!? He made me quit, and I entered a continuing education program.

My first trip to the gender clinic was in the summer of ?86. I remember two doctors in particular, a woman and a man. They were very obstructionistic. ?You?ll never be happy. You?ll always be lonely. If you have a male partner, he?ll be of below average intelligence, a homosexual, or a criminal.?

?How can you be sure of that??

?We just know it.?

I went to the gender clinic again after I started my nursing program. I saw the male doctor I had spoken to before.

?Why do you want to be a male??


?Are you going from F to M??

?No. I?m going from M to F.?

?Oh. So you?re a hooker. And you?re on drugs.?


?You?re lying.?

?No I?m not. I?m enrolled full-time in a nursing program.?

?Bullshit. I don?t believe you.?

He wanted to see the documentation about the nursing program.

?We don?t think you?re ready.? (This, after two years of cross-living.) ?We want you to finish the nursing program.?

?I?m not sure I want to finish. I don?t like it.?

He told me if I didn?t finish nursing to forget it. (No doubt this man would say he ?encouraged? Britt to stay in nursing?Ed.)

The third time to the clinic was in May, 1990. The same doctor again. ?You look very nice. You?re small. That?s good. What are you doing??

?I finished my nursing program. I?m now an registered nurse.?

?I don?t believe you.?

Well, this time I had brought documentation.

?Oh, excellent. You?re one of us.?

?One of us??

?You?re in the business. You?re looking good, doing well. We had a conference about you, and we?ve decided to recommend you for surgery. We think you?ll do well, but you?re going to be a lesbian.?

?I don?t think so.?

?Oh, yes, we know that for a fact. If you liked women before, you?ll be a lezzie. How do you feel about that??

Despite his insistence that I would turn out to be lesbian, I didn?t. My work now is exciting, but you know?I really liked working as an aircraft technician.


All of the people above have made satisfactory, and even exemplary, adjustments in their new gender?although most of them were turned down by gender clinics. Their success in real-life test would seem to provide evidence that the gender clinics turned away many viable candidates for sex reassignment. We are sure that there are thousands more like them out there?Ed.
Tabbas? viewpoint is one of the more radical held by transgendered people. We have included it because it is far from uncommon.