2020 Update - Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
This list originally appeared in 2016 during a tumultuous time for me personally and those around me, when I had a limited vocabulary and lacked a depth of knowledge. Four years later, how would I answer those questions today with the knowledge I have now. There will be a dose of Acceptance in my answers, and you have to expect that from me, Acceptance without Understanding™.
How did you choose your name Cynthia Alison Fortlage?
I kept my last name as I wanted some connection to my birth name. Many people change it completely.
I chose my first name because it was my paternal grandmother's name, although I never met her.
My middle name is Alison; according to my Mom, that was the name she picked out as she thought I would be born a girl based upon the way her pregnancy went. It turns out she was right, and I am happy to accept the name she picked for me!
Wow, so you wanted to be even trendier than Ellen DeGeneres?
It's nothing new, but it's been in the media more lately. Transgender people have existed throughout history and worldwide. Indigenous languages in North America dating back between 5000 to 7000 years had as many as seven words to describe gender as a spectrum. Medical advances in this century have made it possible for male-to-female transgender persons to achieve nearly identical physiology as females.
Most people don't differentiate between sex and gender. Sex is biological, and gender is social. The bulk of the difference is social. From the earliest age, boys are to act this way, and girls are to behave a different way. Because these social pressures are so pervasive, they almost seem natural unless you step back and think about them. We simply accept social pressure to behave in a manner associated with our genitals.
So, is this a sex issue?
No, there is a difference between our gender identity in our brains and our genitalia. We use a generic term "Sex" as the medical community declares your gender-based upon your genitalia and not what's in your mind. Until we gain control of the use of language as young people to be able to say what our gender is, everyone assumes that our genitalia determines our gender. This incongruence is a medical condition called Gender Dysphoria.
So, is this a gender issue?
Yep. There are many kinds of transgender people. Transgender is a general term for crossdressers, transsexuals, female and male impersonators, drag queens/kings, intersex persons, non-binary persons, and those for whom other gender labels do not fit. I usually tell people I'm a transgender woman to be specific, and that I'm part of the transgender community, which encompasses all of us.
So, more like RuPaul?
Um, no. RuPaul is a drag queen. They are entertainers who use excessive femininity in their acts. Torch Song Trilogy, La Cage Aux Folles, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the Birdcage, Paris Is Burning-- they're all about drag queens. In the same vein are female illusionists whose goal is to portray a convincing act of femininity onstage and sometimes off. Maybe you saw The Crying Game or have been to the Baton nightclub. Those would be examples of very good female illusionists (they get touchy about the word "impersonator," and you don't want one of them mad at you.
So, more like a Cross Dresser?
Um, no. Crossdressing is a sexual fetish. Some well-known crossdressers are Dennis Rodman, J. Edgar Hoover, and a vast list of other very masculine men. Crossdressers get sexual or emotional satisfaction from touching or wearing women's clothing. Almost all are straight males. The generally accepted number is around 1 in 50 men.
So, like a hermaphrodite?
I've been describing what I'm not to clear that up first. One last thing I'm not is intersex. An intersex (hermaphrodite) person is born between (inter) sexes, having partially or fully developed pairs of female and male sex organs. "Intersex" is a more appropriate word than "Hermaphrodite," which is considered slander. These conditions are genetic and occur about as frequently as twins.
OK, you're Transgender. What does that mean?
Transgender persons feel their body does not match the way they think and feel, and they seek to remedy this by changing their body to match their mind. There are almost as many female-to-male (F2M) persons as there are male to female (M2F). For some reason, FTMs get ignored-- probably because they almost invariably are indistinguishable from genetic men. The effects of testosterone on females at birth is more dramatic than the effects of estrogen on males at birth.
As much as I hate to admit it, Yes, Caitlyn Jenner and I have this in common that we are both transgender women.
So are you, like, gay or something?
Gender identity and sexual orientation are separate traits, although most people don't think about them as different. There are straight and gay transgender persons. I identify as pansexual as my sexual identity; I see a person, not a gender.
While transgender persons are different from gays and lesbians, we have many of the same issues, since we are all going against what society has constructed as appropriate gender behaviour. The Stonewall Riot that sparked the gay rights movement was instigated by drag queens and transgender women of colour, which is why they marched first in the Stonewall 25 parade. Several women's groups have also embraced the current medical understanding of the issues. They have acknowledged that transgender persons disrupt gender-based stereotypes by forcing people to think about how much of it is merely social instead of "natal."
How did you get this way?
Many medical specialists believe there is a biological component. The most common theory involves hormones affecting fetal brain development. I don't care what the cause is I've felt this way as long as I can remember, and I think it's better to look forward than backwards.
How did you know?
I knew something was up from the earliest memory. I have several specific memories from around age 4. I was scared to death to tell my parents how I felt, though. By the time I got to middle school, I was starting to have a lot of problems with classmates because I was effeminate, so I made every effort to act the way boys did. This strategy worked, and I decided that I'd be better off putting all that behind me. Eventually, I decided I could manage my feelings without doing anything about them.
By a few years ago, I started to realize that I was getting more and more unhappy because I wasn't addressing those feelings. I started therapy and quickly concluded what I suspected early on.
I have begun planning for transition, getting everything taken care of before going full-time. Preparations include telling everyone outside of work, having laser & electrolysis to remove my body hair (youch!), having manicured nails, piercing my ears, cleaning up my brows, starting hormone therapy, growing my hair, developing a female voice, and some cosmetic surgery. I will legally change my name on all documents.
How did you go about this?
The global medical community has developed standards of care (WPATH) regarding gender confirmation surgeries. Each country has adopted and modified within the context of that countries medical system; Canada has the CPATH standards. My transition process is following these standards.
Why transition at work?
The final stage of the Standards of Care is the Real Life Test (RLT), which involves living as a member of the desired gender for at least one year before surgery. The RLT is to help transgender persons determine if gender confirmation surgery is right for them. Most psychiatric professionals require a minimum of one-year RLT before giving their approval for gender-reassignment operation.
Gender Confirmation Surgery (GCS) is the final event in the gender-reassignment procedure. Although transgender women have no reproductive organs (uterus/ovaries), the final result is cosmetically and functionally indistinguishable from that of genetic females. Some decide not to have this surgery, and I will have that surgery when I have met the required conditions.
What bathroom are you going to use?
I don't want people to feel uncomfortable about this, and there are no gender-neutral bathrooms in the building that I can use to avoid the issue. As Cynthia I use women's restrooms when necessary without any problems-- it's just a bathroom, after all
So, when do you appear on Jerry Springer?
Every group has its share of kooks and idiots. Unfortunately, that's true of transgender persons too. The problem is, the morons who go on shows like Jerry Springer end up getting more media coverage than the doctors, lawyers, and other professionals I know.
For example, my four closest transgender friends are a bus driver, an engineer, a teacher, and a computer programmer. They lead very healthy lives and seek to blend into society rather than stand out. That is my goal, as well.
The other group of transgender folks who get noticed are those who are visibly gender variant. While they should get as much respect as those who are female, they must deal with additional discrimination and harassment. They also have become the cliché of a transgender person. Those who are accepted as females do not get noticed.
I'm sure you have encountered several transgender persons without even knowing. I have been fortunate enough to go about my life without getting "read" or "clocked" very often. While I'm not ashamed to be a transgender person, I hope it eventually becomes a very incidental part of my life so I can get on with more important things.
What is deadnaming?
While I have legally changed my name, what is hurtful are those who don't try or maliciously use my old name. Using my old name in any way is deadnaming, it says you don't acknowledge or accept who I am authentic. As long as you try and get the name and pronouns right and we help each other remember that is what being respectful to each other is. Maybe you feel you cannot accept until you understand?
What we are asking you to do is accept us as human beings on our life journey just as you are a unique human being on your life journey. We are asking you to accept us without understanding us first.
If you consider yourself a friend, you are already accepting, while I suspect most of you don't understand, and you are not alone. The reality is that you may never understand. So please accept us without understanding
What should I do if I have other questions?
Everyone is welcome to come to talk with me. I'm happy to answer any questions (well, almost any), and I assure you I will tell no one what you asked me. I'm pretty good at keeping things secret.
Con Amor y Abrazos de Colombia