Sometimes Hollywood helps to shine a light on an issue that some in society would prefer not to consider. Those going through, and having gone through, sexual reassignment surgery, are in many ways in the spotlight these days with the ongoing revelations about Bruce Jenner, and his transitioning process to womanhood.
Red Deer resident Dana Moran, 63, underwent sexual reassignment surgery in 2005. After years of struggle and self-doubt, he consulted with an Edmonton specialist who was satisfied that Moran was eligible for reassignment.
“Being transgendered is becoming more of an open topic now, better understood and more widely known about,” she explained during a recent interview.
“If you take a step back and look at things – for a long time, being gay was not acceptable and now being gay has become much more acceptable. Now, trans-gender is following along that trail. And with people like Bruce Jenner and Chaz Bono and TV shows like Transparent and Orange is the New Black, it’s putting transgendered people in the forefront and showing they often are not what the expectations of the general public may be.”
Misconceptions are plentiful. “One of the big ones is that if you are transgendered, you have to be gay. Which actually gets quite confusing,” she said, describing situations where a partner concludes they are transgendered but that they still love his or her spouse.
“The actual orientation of who they care about hasn’t changed,” she said, adding studies have shown there are different parts of the brain that organize sexual orientation and gender orientation.
“The biggest problem with marital relationships when someone decides they are trans-gendered is the input from friends, relatives and the general public,” she said.
Other misconceptions are that once a transgender process is complete, the person, for example a man to a woman transition, will want to take up a whole new slate of female-oriented activities. Not so. “The things you like to do remain the things you like to do.”
Regardless of the progress made about shining more light on the transgendered community, she is troubled about the violence aimed at the community in general internationally. “It’s often not reported to the police, and that person sometimes doesn’t want their family to know. There are in Edmonton and Calgary, LGBTQ alliances with the police departments which tends to help.”
Moran also attends events marking the International Transgender Day of Remembrance in November. “There are memorial services for the transgendered people that have been murdered over the past year. That numbers about 350 – that’s the ones that we know of,” she explained. “These are people who have been identified as being transgendered people. They are selectively targeted, and the killings are almost all extremely violent.”
For Moran, beginning the process included counseling, hormonal therapy and living as a woman for one year prior to the operation. Adjusting to the dramatic anatomical change wasn’t that hard. There was some post-operative recovery time during the 10-day stay in Montreal, then she was home. Moran will have to take hormone therapy for the rest of her life.
Looking back, she knew as a six-year-old boy there was something different about how she felt about things. “You feel like something isn’t the same (for you) – it’s not that it isn’t right – it’s just not the same.”
It’s hard for folks to understand, she said, but part of the problem comes from the desire many have to compartmentalize so much about life.
“Everything has to fit in a box, and if it doesn’t, they don’t understand it,” she said. “And there are so many ways that being transgendered affects people.” Some people can live the lifestyle of being transgendered but not opt for surgery, for example. For others, the desire for change is much stronger.”
At the time, there was funding available for the surgery and Moran has never regretted her decision.
“It’s a part of you. It’s like teaching a left-handed kid to write with their right hand. You can force them to do it, and maybe he will do it. But that’s not the child.”
Born in High River and raised in Edmonton, Moran recalls not liking the typical games or activities other boys seemed to like. And as a youngster approaching adolescence, he continued to define himself more as a female.
In her early 20s, Moran said she didn’t experience much harassment growing up when a preference for being a girl was surfacing. Home, on the other hand, wasn’t quite as smooth and Moran, who explained that she was abused during that time as well, ultimately ended up running away at one point and in a foster home.
In her early 20s, she tried to build a masculine identity. Moran even married and fathered two sons.
But although Moran, a former government worker, was meeting society’s expectations of what she should be like, it was a miserable season. The marriage didn’t last and Moran was left to figure out the next step.
These days, Moran said she has found a place of peace.
“I’m at the point where a lot of transgendered people get. And I’ve been at this point for quite awhile – I just want to be myself, go places, do things and I don’t want any problems – I don’t want any hassle.”
Meanwhile, the Central Alberta AIDS Network Society is starting up a support group for transgendered people.
The goal is to provide a social group to ‘promote well-being and a sense of belonging for members of the trans, inter-sex and all non-binary communities’. More information is available by calling the CAANS office at 403-346-8858.
Support groups can be a huge help, said Moran, who estimates there are about 25 people in the local area that have undergone sexual re-assignment surgery and several hundreds of others who would potentially identify as transgender.
“You can meet others with the same mind-set so that you know you aren’t alone. You find out you aren’t the only one.”