You are currently browsing the archives for January 2012.
Displaying 1 - 5 of 8 entries.

Shoes

  • Posted on January 30, 2012 at 7:00 pm

There’s a boy in my son’s class
who wears girls’ shoes.
Next term, we’ve been told,
he is Katie.
My son has no problem with this.
I said: He is Katie?
My son has a new girl friend;
he says she’s funny.
And happy now
she wears girls’ shoes.

Parents stand, all jeans and
coloured t-shirts in the playground
and wait in trainers
for the bell.
I wonder what I’m training for
as Katie and my son
run bursting out
for Mum.

They part to race to me,
to her. She stands,
perhaps in training too, but
wearing sandals and a skirt –
pretty as a flower.
She stands alone, with
Katie in his shorts and shoes.
What does he know?
He waves to my son,
takes her hand
and skips away.

Mum!
You could wear pretty shoes too!

I could.
But it isn’t uniform
and I am in trainers
pretending to learn.
Katie’s mum
moves on
trailing eyes and opinions.
Katie has a friend.
So does my son.
I hope he’s happy
in his shoes.

© 2011 Andie Davidson

From the new collection Realisations published by Bramley Press.

Honesty

  • Posted on January 30, 2012 at 6:47 pm

I could start by asking ‘What is truth?’

When you find yourself on the outside of some social niche, looking in, knowing that everyone else thinks you belong, and you don’t, you question very deeply: is something wrong with me? Or is something wrong with the available range of places I could fit? The given ‘truth’ about gender is that there are two, and from these arise sexuality. So you are male or you are female and yes you may also be lesbian, gay or bi.

That’s interesting. We are still so sure about male and female, but allow all sorts of variation in how a person of a particular gender interacts sexually? Our concept of gender is terribly, grievously, outdated.

Just to ensure my position is credible, remember that perhaps four per cent of births give rise to some ambiguity about assigning gender. Most of the time it is perfectly clear: ‘It’s a boy/girl!’ But sometimes it isn’t. We call this condition intersex. That, in our society is unacceptable: the birth certificate awaits and the baby will be assigned for life. Some corrective surgery may be decided on, maybe a decision about gender socialisation. For an unlucky few, their assigned gender subsequently changes with puberty as hormones do or do not kick in as expected. For others, their gender is never, ever resolved.

That’s interesting too. At the coalface, midwives and clinicians know that physiology isn’t always as clear as we would like. Why is this covered over so much? Why is it so important to be either 100 per cent male or 100 per cent female, when we know it just isn’t true?

Here isn’t the space for the full description of those few genes and their positions and activity that make life complicated, nor about how we all start female and develop according to maternal hormones as well as our own. Suffice it to say, the variations in gender are many. Recent work on brain scans shows the typical gender balance of grey and white matter – and that the great majority of people who fundamentally question their gender, have good grounds for doing so: their brain does not entirely agree with the rest of their bodies. So you thought you knew you were 100 per cent male or female? Probably no-one is. So why do we accept a little bit of female in a man and a little bit of male in a woman, but not a lot? What about a 50/50 person, or a man who is more female in the inside?

Back to the top: what is truth? When it comes to gender, the truth is that we are not polarised into the male/female binary description very well at all. Oh dear me …

Tell me about honesty, then.

Honesty must be telling the truth as you know it, and not hiding it. OK: I am transgender. That is my honesty. But what about everything I said and did as a man for over 50 years? Where was the honesty in that? I covered over things I felt, and I didn’t always come clean and I suppose I therefore wasn’t even honest about being male. Well, not all male anyway. The trouble is, I didn’t have access to the truth and lacked a language to describe how I felt about myself. But I do now, and I have to live with knowing things that most people do not. As I learned the truth and it dawned on me that all was not well in man-land, I hid things, physically and mentally, from myself and my wife and from friends. The consequences of the truth and being honest can be very hard to bear, just as the consequences of being secretive, hiding, or in denial.

Here is another uncomfortable truth then: I am transgender and I am still the same person who was a romantic young man a long time ago. That’s hard to grasp too: how can I be? I look like a woman a lot of the time now, and that is how I feel most comfortable. And yet my sexual orientation has not changed one bit. Our inability to embrace the truth of gender in the same way that we have accepted natural diversity in sexuality, shows that we are powerfully conditioned. Deep inside we all harbour at least a bit of homophobia and rather a lot of transphobia (that’s fear, not hate, in this context) – because all these things challenge those aspects of social order based on having to be a man or a woman. And for most of us, that identity and our sexual inclination determine not just who we are attracted to, but who we feel we must not. What we feel about our gender also sets up roadblocks to keep us on our own straight and narrow (oh, so important, to feel ‘normal’!).

So you live with or are married to a transgender person? Coming out changes you more than it changes them. They stop questioning themselves, and you start questioning yourself. Their honesty makes you suddenly the partner/husband/wife of a transgender person. Can you take that label? Explain it, and defend it? The best relationship in the world, based on honesty and love, now falls down to the personal comparison with social norms and acceptability: what others think of you, and what you think of yourself. Is it OK to learn a new language of romance (even of sex) with a transgender partner? In what way will they disappoint? I do accept entirely that gender reassignment surgery is the ultimate challenge, don’t get me wrong. But it does reveal how much our love of another is an expression of personal attraction and self-reflection, rather than the meeting of souls that might be our ideal. So tell me about your love: and maybe I can dare to be honest and trust I haven’t just blown it away.

Now then; can you understand why I need to talk about honesty? How can I be honest with you and explain that my honesty has been emergent? Am I being most dishonest if I turn up as a man, or as a woman? Is my honesty tempered by the kind of reception I am likely to get? Tell me what you think, and why, when I arrive in a skirt and blouse, prosthetic breasts and a wig. Honestly. Let’s talk about it – so long as I can ask you any question back about you too. And I shall be honest with you about truths you don’t yet know. And if you still think that I am in disguise, or mentally disturbed, or just plain weird, I have to say I am just being honest.

And honesty in being transgender can sometimes be very confusing, until we really listen to it.

Being : at home

  • Posted on January 27, 2012 at 10:03 am

Self-recognition as transgender, especially later in life, is probably the hardest thing anyone ever has to go through. That’s probably because it’s a point at which you give in to the inevitable, rather than being the courageous individual ‘coming out’ to an uncertain (and confused) world. The point at which you know it no longer matters what anyone says or thinks – and the sense of persistent identity just drives your life forwards – is a point of no return. If you think you’re going to look stupid in a wig and skirt, learning to walk again, think of the alternative: ‘going in’ and renouncing what you know to be true and authentic about yourself. I guess that’s the difference between being a cross-dresser and being transgender, and I remember when I came to the realisation that I was definitely the latter, not the former.

And it is strange, going through this period of self understanding, where you learn to find, be and present your true self. How many start by cross-dressing in secret, all alone at home, where the whole object is not to be seen (even if it becomes known) because you couldn’t handle the consequences? I did. But the next stage can be going out as female but still not letting on at home. Suddenly anywhere is acceptable for being female – except home. I remember my wife’s dawning realisation that shoes are not just meant for the house, if jewelry matters it’s because it’s meant to be seen, and no-one does make-up just for hour’s fun at home. ‘You’re what? You go out …? Like that?’ Yes darling: I go out as a woman.

Well there you go; but it isn’t a passport to being a woman at home, because that is complicated. Are you in disguise? Are you role-playing? Are you pretending something to yourself? Whatever the question, the answer is no: you’re just being authentic. Rather than disguise, it’s a revealing, an uncovering. There is no getting away from it though: wigs, silicone breasts etc. are there for more than other people – they do make you feel more complete. Women who lose theirs have a coming-to-terms with a choice to use prosthetics. So do we. Sometimes something that shouldn’t have happened to our bodies did, and something that should have happened didn’t.

So there you are at home with the ones you love, saying that this is the real, true, authentic you, that this is you simply being, not doing. And they look at you and say they don’t know you like this. Inside you feel more liberated than ever, and they just think you’re weird. Even when you’ve read and shared all the theory and real-life experiences, and come to terms with the reality of being transgender, you have a wife who didn’t marry a woman and kids who used to have a male dad.

It takes time. But meanwhile, what do you do when the central heating engineer (big, hairy ‘real’ man) comes round? If it’s just me in the house, I’m a woman. If there is anyone else at home, it isn’t me, it’s the historical man again. I don’t want to embarrass them (I make the judgement that heating engineers, like postmen, meet all sorts all the time and have learned not to show dismay), and it is a home we share. But it does lead always back to the question of mutual respect and balance. Why do I as a transgender end up avoiding the embarrassment of others rather than being myself, and suggesting they just get over it? Maybe it’s because I fear they might never.

You can compromise on behaviour, but can you compromise on simply being true to yourself? If I compromise by not wearing a skirt when the heating engineer comes round, I’m not compromising the behaviour of skirt-wearing, I’m compromising my sense of identity.

The heating engineer has just left. Compromise over. Coffee darling?

Grrl Alex

  • Posted on January 25, 2012 at 2:04 pm

I consider Brighton a kind place. I go anywhere I like and have had very few negative experiences as a transgender woman. I don’t pride myself in ‘passing’, but I do try without going over the top. I don’t call it a disguise, though I appreciate to some that it is hiding male traits. I call it revealing what I should be: it’s just how I feel about myself from the inside. If someone looks twice at mean and thinks: ‘OK, I think there’s a man under there’ I don’t really care. That’s just how they have learned to think, and it really isn’t as simple as that.

A few months back I met Alex Drummond, a unique trans writer among other things (I really admire her joinery skills). He was over from Wales for a conference, and I wanted to talk about publishing, so we met up at the lunch break and migrated to a café. Sometime into our lunch and conversation, one of the waiters calls over, across the floor: ‘Love the hair!’ I’m not used to flattery, so I turned round. ‘Thanks!’ replies Alex. Huh! Either I was passing very well, or really not at all. Alex, resplendent in black jumper, cross-checked skirt, black tights and rather nice boots, bedecked with beads (hmmm: we actually have the same bead bracelet …) is certainly distinguished by the long brunette hair.

And beard.

So what can it mean to be transgender? I thought I didn’t know, then I thought I did, then I met Alex. Stylish, individual, assertively ‘out’, he just doesn’t need to try in order to be himself. Even if I do hesitate every time I use a pronoun. But what I really respect about Alex is that he is authentic, if different, and unafraid to be an example – and has really done the homework including an transgender-themed MSc. I found that really useful, because alongside her autobiographical account of self-discovery (which I found both funny and very close to home), it helped me understand what my ‘normal’ could be.

Grrl Alex book coverI was really pleased finally to be able to publish the revised edition of Grrl Alex: A journey to a transgender identity in January 2012, including a Kindle edition – not least because I think the unconventional message has a lot to say to all of us transgender people, and to those we know and love.

What do you say?

  • Posted on January 25, 2012 at 12:43 pm

I have a slightly complicated life. Yes, I am transgender and I am totally out about it, but with some discretion. I don’t want to be a distraction from what I’m doing, but I don’t want to be dishonest with myself either. When I did come out as trans in 2011, it was the same time that I reawakened my interest in writing poetry. Well, it’s no use writing what no-one reads, and you don’t get better by not sharing and working on it with others. So I joined the Poetry Society, adopted a mentor, and started going to monthly meetings. With more than half my portfolio addressing transgender issues, what to do? It would be very odd to go in different modes, and much more difficult to come out late in the day. For me, Andie the girl is the inspiration and the poet, so she got the job. My friends in poetry probably don’t need telling that there is a reason my skeleton is crafted by testosterone, but as a writer, I am a girl. Late middle-aged, but a girl (I’m still catching up on a lifetime).

I am also a musician, amateur, a little above average, but very busy with it. We amateur musicians can be rather promiscuous. Why play in one orchestra or band if you can play in three? It’s good for variety in music and style as well as socially. But it does mean you can never come out to just one group! You might jump in the deep end and tell the whole of one group, and then find that one person doesn’t want to understand, or talk to you personally, and as a member of another band or orchestra starts to gossip there instead. Suddenly there are sixty more people hearing things about you, and you don’t know who they are or what they are passing on to whom. Great.

Well, one friend who does now know, was very kind in asking what I would like them to say if asked about ‘the bloke with the trumpet who wears nail varnish’. In case it’s useful when you are coming out as transgender, or you can improve on it for me, here is what I said.

A good question, though not an easy one. One or two people have asked, and I just reply that I ‘have a transgendered personality’ – or some such. That’s honest: I am transgender, and have lived that way for a year now. Nail varnish is left over from my female days, bracelets and rings are a way to feel at home with myself. I want to have my ears pierced but that is very obvious (and I can’t choose to put my ears in my pockets!)

The misunderstandings I want to avoid are that (a) I am gay – no, I’m not (few male to female transgender people are) and (b) I’m about to ‘have a sex change’ (wrong terminology, and again, no). Transgender is about sense of identity and self, so I don’t and can’t shy away from it any more. If it would help, I’d stand up in front of the group and explain. If I did, it would be something on the lines of:

“All men have a female side, and all women a masculine side. I am not even in the middle of that distinction, so whatever I look like now on the outside to you, I express myself as easily if not more so, as female. The biological or psychological distinctions of gender that we’ve been taught, are in no way adequate to express how hundreds of thousands of people like me actually feel about ourselves, which itself can be very different. Repressing those feelings all your life is deeply damaging and stressful. But being completely open about it always feels like a tremendous risk, because people often don’t want to understand just how much we do know about gender diversity. I am entirely comfortable with myself and happy to talk to anyone about it, and answer any questions that you wouldn’t mind being asked about yourself. I don’t want to be a distraction, but neither do I want to be the focus for uninformed gossip just because someone doesn’t have the courage or openness to talk about it or try to understand.”

When I am living as female I just blend in, so I do want it to be clear that I’m not some awful cross-dresser or drag queen: not within a million miles. But I have my man days too out of respect for those I know can’t cope with me yet.

So the short answer is “Oh, he’s just transgender. That means he feels he’s really more female than male inside, and lives that way as best she can.” (yes, pronouns are difficult!)

Maybe you can suggest better what people like me can do when life isn’t completely ‘out’.