ETCETERA / ANgST: Expert advice on your problems

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The Independent Culture
Suzie was a close friend of mine when I lived in France 20 years ago. When I left to come back to England, we lost contact. Now she has written saying she is coming here and wants to visit us. Or rather, I should say, he has written - because Suzie has had a sex change. My dilemma is this: a friend who knows Suzie (now called Sam) says the operation has not been particularly successful in that the testosterone did not work very well. As a result, Sam looks very strange and has a peculiar lilting voice. I have two children aged seven and 14 and they will be here when he arrives. What shall I do about them?

You have to distinguish between your own anxiety and anticipated reactions and what you think your children's will be. Kids, at least young ones, are usually pretty tolerant unless they have been taught to view particular behaviour as strange. They will follow your lead. The second thing is that the different ages of the children will result in different responses. The 14-year-old will be working out his or her own gender role and is more likely to pick up deviations from normal gender behaviour than the younger child. You might regard this as an opportunity for a constructive discussion, not just around the subject of gender, but about tolerance and compassion for a wide range of behaviour as well. Your seven-year-old would at least be able to understand and benefit from that.

Janet Reibstein (0223 359260), author, with Martin Richards, of 'Sexual Arrangements' (Mandarin pounds 4.99).

My daughter suffers from terrible acne and it makes her very unhappy. She has tried being fairly careful with her diet, and we have tried several different treatments from the chemists - but none of them has helped. Our GP suggests hormone treatment, but that sounds very drastic. I would like to know whether there is anything else my daughter can try first.

Some doctors, dermatologists and beauty clinics have begun to treat acne with glycolic acid, a new formulation in this country, which has proved successful in America in treating liver spots, fine lines and wrinkles. It is usually used in conjunction with antibiotics. Glycolic acid takes the tops off the spots and allows the pores to drain more naturally. It also enables other products, such as the antibiotics, which have an antibacterial action, to penetrate better. It is not possible to buy high-concentration glycolic acid over the counter, but a lower concentration will be available from chemists in this country later this year.

Dr Patrick Bowler, GP. For further information and details of doctors and clinics write to: 33 Shenfield Road, Brentwood, Essex CM15 8AQ, or telephone 0268 723232.

A few years ago I was shocked to find that I was pregnant after having consistently used birth control for many years and having taken no risks. We had already decided that we would not have a baby, so I had a termination and my husband had a vasectomy. I now find that I am obsessed by this 'lost' baby and I would very much like to have one. Please can you tell me whether vasectomies can be reversed, and at the same time offer me any advice as to how I can come to terms with my feelings of loss?

It is unfortunate that in some cases women do look back and regret having made the decision to terminate a pregnancy. You don't say whether you had an opportunity to explore the options at the time, and to look ahead, before making this decision. The most important thing now, however, is to address your feelings and the practical problems you have raised. If you contact us we can arrange for you to see a trained counsellor, who will offer support and give you the chance to explore the feelings of anxiety and obsessiveness which are affecting you now. We would also be able to talk to you about the possibility of a vasectomy reversal (which has about a 20 per cent success rate), and some of the other options available if you decide that having a baby is really what you want to try to do.

British Pregnancy Advisory Service, Austy Manor, Wootton Wawen, Solihull, West Midlands B95 6BX (0564 793225). Head office: 021-455 7333.