I’ve been putting off posting about this for a long while, so I’m hazy on the details. But how many Americans can give a first hand account of gender therapy in the Netherlands? I feel a duty to post. This kind of meanders into TMI a bit, though. Be warned.
Ok, so when I last spoke of my therapy issues, I’d seen a regular shrink who wasn’t sure what to do with me and who did not speak very fluent English. (I want to clarify that I’m not criticizing anyone when I say they don’t speak English well. It’s not like I speak Dutch well, which is the language of the land. When I mention that somebody doesn’t have high English skills, it’s just to clarify that communication was not overly clear. This is a sub-optimal situation to have with a shrink.) She asked me about going to see the gender specialists at the university in Amsterdam. There was back and forth. Finally, she referred me to a center in Voorburg.
Several days later, a letter came in the mail giving me a date and time for an appointment. Fortunately, my assigned time did not conflict with my class schedule. I biked the several kilometers to the PsyQ building there. PsyQ is some sort of organization that deals with people’s mental issues. I don’t know if they’re public or private or some mixture thereof. People seem to largely have private insurance in this country. Anyway, so I showed up and walked through an automatic door to an entry alcove. There was a large glass window with a woman behind it and a microphone. There was no opening in the window at all. It was solid glass (or whatever). I had to show ID to the woman behind the glass and also present my appointment letter. She pressed a button and the automatic glass sliding door to the lobby opened.
Of course, they deal with crazy people, so they need security to protect themselves. From people like me.
The woman took my insurance card (they only reimburse and don’t cover anxiety, which is specifically mentioned on my appointment letter, but whatever) and asked me questions so she could fill out paperwork for me. Because my Dutch skills are too low to fill out any of the forms by myself. People are generally very nice about my inability to communicate in their language. Anyway.
I went to the waiting room and a woman came to meet me and explained that she was filling in for whomever I was actually supposed to meet with. She asked me all the stereotypical shrink things while taking copious notes. How did I get along with my mother? My father? What was my childhood like? I told her about coming out in Catholic school. The first girl I kissed. blah blah blah. She wanted to know about my earlier childhood. At home, I played with boys. At school, I played with girls. My parents and grandparents always got me girl toys. I had a collection of Barbies, but found them to be dull. You dress them up? Who cares? Until, one day, my friend Christy from school came over one afternoon and wanted to play with my Barbies. She pulled off their clothes and a bisexual Barbie orgy ensued. Apparently, what you do with Barbies is make them have sex with each other.
“So she taught you how to play with Barbies?” the shrink asked, very seriously. Um, yeah, am I paying for this? Because I suddenly feel like I’m stupidly wasting everyone’s time.
She changed the subject. “So what makes you think you might be -”
“I don’t know.” I cut her off. I said “I don’t know” a lot. She asked me if I would rather talk to a man or a woman. Was this a trick question? If I say woman, then I’m really a lesbian? If I say a man, then, I’m really a man? Which way should I go? Ack. I asked for a fluent English speaker. Then I started coughing and couldn’t stop. I went home and felt crappy and got a fever and was sick in bed on my birthday (I’m 31 now, btw) poor me.
A week or so later, I went back to the same place, still feeling like I had a cold. I met a different woman, the head of the sexology department. She explained that the woman I had talked to previously was no longer employed by PsyQ and since they are having a staff meeting on March 5th to figure out what to do with me, somebody there should have met me in person. I was very careful the whole time not to say the word “transsexual.” (Because I am totally logical.) She asked me a few times the same question that the other woman had asked more than once. Did I have problems during sex? (Problems only in that the ladies can’t get enough of me. heh heh.) I asked her to explain herself. Well, my lack of a penis might make it difficult. (good lord) Then she asked me how I felt about my period. (um, well, questions about it make me feel uncomfortable.) I don’t think I dislike it significantly more than anybody else I know who has it. She asked me why I hadn’t stopped it with birth control. I explained that I really don’t like taking pills or whatever and don’t want to mess too much with things like that unless I have to for some reason. I’ve heard women talking about birth control side fx and stuff and always have felt glad I don’t have to mess with it. Emotional messes. Mojo killing. No thanks. “But it’s possible to stop it. Why don’t you do it?” she pushed. Yeah, but it can make your breasts bigger, I pointed out. She accepted that. She wanted to know why I hadn’t gone to Amsterdam to the university. Hey, I’ve just been going where y’all have been sending me.
I got the vibe that if I had asked for a referral for testosterone, she would have been willing to write one right then. (Actually, normally, they make you get 5 appointments in Amsterdam and then you carry forward. I don’t know if the appointments are to get a note for hormones or for surgery.) She clearly thought I was – that word that I was carefully shying away from. Which, I mean, what did I expect? A pat on the back and a “good for you being genderqueer!”? If I was fine just the way I am, why am I seeing a shrink anyway?
Then she talked to me about what she’s going to recommend they do with me. Anxiety therapy is the first priority.
god help me, I’ll get off Zoloft soon.
I’ve been off school for the last week. No classes! I didn’t go anywhere. I did an application for Birmingham (UK, not AL) and sat around. Today, I had a duo recording with a improv guy from the composition department. I took a deep breath and screamed “I don’t know who I am” as loud and as long as I could, though my tuba. (Metaphor, but not really.) Blat blat blat, I screamed, inhaled, bellowed improperly attacked breathy notes that don’t know where they’re going, what pitch they want to be, how they will resonate, where they are now, what valves are pressed or how much. Wail, blat blat blat.
Afterwards, I felt so much better. I didn’t even know I felt tense, but afterwards, I just felt so like I’d worked something out. so maybe the key to getting off Zoloft is playing loud, angsty tuba? I came home and actually mixed a piece of music. this entailed both me getting Ardour to work and having the attention span to mix something. Tuba is key.
I’m trying to be proactive. I used to tell myself to wait on things. I didn’t need to worry about my mental health problems as long as I could walk and eat and stuff. In the book Breaking Silence, I read about lesbian nuns developing stomach problems from stress and what I got form that was that I could wait until I had stomach problems. Yeah, last summer counted. I always wait like that. I went to a support group for FTMs once in San Francisco. One old guy there said that if you have to transition, eventually you’ll have to. In She’s Not There, Boylan writes of her experience at age 41, just being totally unable to carry on without taking action. I don’t want to be a mess in 10 years. I don’t want to delay and have my first stubble come in grey. I want to deal with this now and take action or put it behind me. I want to move forward from where I am now.
I know that’s it’s not a path of discovery, that it’s a path of creation. I have agency. I apply technologies of the self to create my own identity. It needs to be an identity I can make some peace with. that might require some more therapy. Or more tuba.
2 thoughts on “Gender Therapy in the Low Lands”
dude, can’t believe you haven’t gotten any comments on this yet. i’m not sure traditional therapy is the way to go, but of course you know better than anyone what is gonna help you. . . what sorts of stuffs are you reading connected to this? online communities? i just feel like there’s gotta be a better way than talking to people who don’t have that much experience with this stuff.
I imagine that people must be too alarmed by the topic to comment.
I read a bunch of TG groups on lj, including genderqueer, ftm, transgender life_without_transition and I read a Yahoo group called no_going_back which is for people who transitioned and then changed their minds. I like to think I’m getting a wide spectrum of opinion on the matter.
The last two shrinks that I saw are specialists in gender stuff, but they do have a more binary perspective which might be cultural or might just be their medical bias.