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The truth can sting

  • Posted on February 9, 2012 at 10:27 pm

I often reflect on why people love each other, and what can change that, as times and life changes. There is the obvious case of a husband who turns to drink or to crime, and we would all urge the wife to leave him – or better, kick him out. It’s unacceptable behaviour, unlikely to change, and we recognise it. So why do some stick by their man and take the punishment, claiming still to love him? I won’t attempt to answer that here.

Flip that thought now, and think of spouses who have to deal with accidents, illnesses and disabilities. We pity parents with disabled children, thankful it is not us, but recognise that one can’t divorce a baby that isn’t quite as ‘normal’ as expected. But the husband or wife, when the other goes blind, loses their faculties prematurely, or becomes immobilised? Again, we pity, we sympathise, we even help if we can, but we recognise that it can all become too much. And for a young person, we endorse a divorce that allows the healthy one to find a new and more fulfilling partnership for the rest of their lives.

I just watched a BBC 4 Horizon programme on what makes us good or evil. It was disturbing in concluding that psychopaths have a clearly marked genetic disposition that, combined with an abusive or damaging upbringing, makes them prone to acts we would describe as evil – and yet it is not entirely their fault. Somehow their free will (still present) has been compromised. What if all our antisocial traits have biological roots? The programme asserted the role of oxytocin in making people team players (it is measurably increased in pre-match warm-ups), whilst recognising that testosterone creates the aggressive competitive drive so the team wins the game.

No-one should endure violence, physical or psychological, just because they see the good in another, and with a good understanding of causes, maybe we can make ‘evil’ people less dangerous. And there passes the shadow of clinical cures for homosexuality … and the assignment of gender identity disorders in directories of mental illness.

But as these thoughts about causes drifted around my head, I also remembered a story in today’s Daily Mail. The headline was ’My husband became my wife: transgender woman reveals how a bee-sting led to her sex-change … and how the woman she had married stayed by her’. Setting aside the mis-concept of sex change, the story reveals that a very rare reaction to the sting toxin led to a dramatic reduction in testosterone.

There are two strands that came out of this for me: first, the woman, Chloe, was actually only unmasked. Beneath the testosterone there was something about her ready and waiting to be fully expressed as female. It wasn’t the bee sting that was powerful, it had been the testosterone. She did have a prior history of some gender uncertainty, but had fathered children and been a good husband for eight years. She too had no choice in the matter, and genetically, psychologically, she simply became what she was beneath the influence of the male hormone. But second, was the response of her wife, Renee. We find in the article that they are no longer married (they are two women, neither of whom describe themselves as lesbian) but they do share their home and family as two women together in a committed relationship of love.

What is it about Renee’s love that meant she didn’t wave goodbye to Chloe? Many women would have done. Those who have read Helen Boyd’s account of living on the brink of her husband transitioning to female in She’s not the Man I Married, find how heart-rending it can be (and Helen and Betty did stay together through transition). I don’t think anyone would equate the decision to stay after gender identity change, with the decision to support a disabled partner (total loyalty through major change) – but should they? Does either break a marriage contract, in that neither situation is one of choice?

That takes us on to the issue of Gender Recognition Certificates (GRC), and the requirement to dissolve a marriage in order to be officially recognised in the gender that feels most authentic. (How odd that you could then reunite in a civil partnership, even though neither partner identifies as lesbian …) It makes us examine our authenticity, and the awkward concept of who you are in context of what you are. We do contract marriages and partnerships because of what we are (male, female, fertile, intelligent, capable, wealthy even), but it is really more because of who we are (supportive, loving, helpful, kind, lively, entertaining, like-minded). Yes, the two do merge, but what I mean here is that I am still the same person if, once wealthy, I fall on hard times, whereas I am really not the same if I lose my loving and kind personality. The GRC says that the what has changed even though the who is merely a lot happier – and therefore ‘something must be done’.

My heteronormative upbringing meant I never even entertained the possibility that I might find a man attractive. I was only looking at women when I found my wife. I’m still not attracted to men in any way, and my wife’s experience is the same the other way round. So it’s hardly surprising that the question of attractiveness comes up. Big time. I am still attracted to the woman I love so much; she, of course finds it rather difficult. What I am has been changing. Who I am, I maintain (from the personal, internal experience) has not.

Back to where we began: what makes people love each other? Or stop loving? Why, or how much, does my gender identity affect yours? Am I validated as heteronormative by you fitting my heteronormative picture, (and that can seem very important)? What trumps who, time and again. If my heteronormative picture isn’t that strong (as for Helen Boyd) it is less of a problem, but still there. So when does love become a decision, with a decision tree to help you get there (and yes, how and if you do sex is a box along the way)? Can I only be a non-lesbian woman in a partnership if you are not a woman?

The whole business of how much we choose to be what we are, regardless of who we are, is fraught. Serious crime and punishment? Dead easy, but now, perhaps, disturbing. Antisocial behaviour? Easy. Disability? A source of sympathy. Gender? Ah, now there you have me. Because I am not a woman, I am transgender, and even the most loving people can have a hard time deciding what I am and whether the who has changed and which was the main source of love. Congratulations to Chloe and Renee, Betty and Helen, and all those who have made it through, and most of all for sharing your stories, to keep us on our toes.

 

  • And as so often, I have a poem in sympathy with this thought: Hands

A normal transgender person

  • Posted on February 8, 2012 at 10:32 am

I have left a poem Front Page News that is part of this story. It came about after the Metro newspaper landed on commuters in and around London in September 2011, juxtaposing two headlines:

‘The £1 million man from Atlantis. Walliams completes his torturous Thames odyssey … and raises a fortune for charity in the process’

– and

‘Boy, 10, who went back to school a girl’.

It made me think: why is it so normal to swim the Thames, and why does it make you such a hero, compared with a 10-year-old who braves the opprobrium of parents, friends, family (and, under headlines now, the world) and causes a sensation? Most real heroes, when asked, say that their act was not a matter of choice, but instinct, so you judge who is most heroic here. It felt such an irony to see these two together, and quite sad too.

Since then several children have made headlines, and with immense bravery shared by their parents, have pressed forward the case for transgender identity to be normal. Not just normal, but acceptable; beyond sensational headlines, beyond despicable use of words that make trans people different, reviled or just a subject of ridicule. This has been the most difficult year of my life. It’s odd that for fifty years I have struggled with not feeling normal, and now I feel completely normal, I struggle with a society that says I have become abnormal. So I applaud organisations like Trans Media Watch who tackle the prejudice, deliberate sensationalising, or even the sheer thoughtlessness and ignorance, of journalists and editors everywhere. I wish I was one of them: I wish I was up there at the front being bolshie and noisy about being normal, and making others like me a bit safer and more accepted.

So I admire these children and their families for risking so much to be seen, to be listened to on their own terms. I know who is the heroine in the headlines.

Normal?

I immediately know that the statisticians among you will say that normal has a definite meaning: the majority group in the middle of the bell curve of variance. What I mean by normal is that ‘this happens: rather a lot more than most of us know’ and that as a result, being trans is an everyday part of diversity. There are many places you can read up the stats on transgender people, intersex incidence etc., if you haven’t, just be aware that you will likely have met, maybe know, people whose transgender identity, past or present, simply isn’t apparent to you. Part of the reason for this is that it can be so difficult to reveal or fulfill a transgender personality. By doing so, you make a statement that still shocks, that so runs counter to preconceptions it tears families apart. There is no blame, there is no cause: it just happens, and because we don’t accept it as normal we have to set it apart, in case it’s dangerous or subversive.

If we all accept that there is a bit of the feminine in all men, and a bit of the masculine in all women, we are inevitably faced with the question: ‘yes, but how much’? And how much is ‘too much’? Too much for what? Our personal gender security? Even if it could be properly measured, how could we ever determine a maximum percentage for a definition of normal?

So as I watch, support, and follow the children who recently have made the front pages and the breakfast TV, my heart is with them. I wish I had known at an early age that there is a language for this, a space in life and society, and that it’s OK: you can be loved, you can express who you are and you can live a normal life. Meanwhile, I am still up against the buffers, where people can choose to be associated with me or not, on grounds of my kind or normality (‘Don’t let anyone think I’m the kind of person who finds this normal’!).

I can’t walk away from being transgender, but they can. If they can only feel safely normal by distancing themselves, they will. I am a normal transgender person – why do you feel your personal sense of gender is so betrayed? I hope these children work a miracle in the popular mind, until one day there is no media sensation, no permissible transphobia, and it is perfectly normal to love, be seen with, be a parent – as a transgender person.

Front page news

  • Posted on February 8, 2012 at 9:22 am

David Walliams swam 140 miles up the Thames for sports charity in September 2011. He did in fact save a dog on his way. The articles appeared in The Metro on September 13.

On the day a man swims the Thames
and raises a million for all those miles,
a boy, 10, goes back to school a girl.
Together, they are front page news on every seat
on trains in and out of London today.

And tomorrow, one will have a bath
and be glad he’s going nowhere except
to a fluffy embrace, be dry, warm – and will
reminisce about the day he also saved a dog,
and talk, and tell and forever be – the man
who swam the Thames.

The other has plunged into a turbulence –
white water with only his body board, and miles
ahead, so many miles, and his alone to leave behind,
in swirling judgement of parents unwilling to see
the reach of an unfamiliar stroke, of a girl
in a class of her own.

One page – picked up, picked over, passport of a morning
and tired but persistent on the journey home –
carries its stories to three million hands (and a million
pounds for the courage in a river no surprise) –
but the courage of a daughter born a boy?

Reported ignorance, condemnation, shock and taunts –
protests at ‘lack of consultation’ by the school
reflected in uncharitable commuter chat and chafe –
and the prayers of many quiet knowing hearts in stations
everywhere, who have travelled home this way before.

2011 © Andie Davidson

From the new collection Realisations published by Bramley Press.

Jerusalem

  • Posted on February 4, 2012 at 8:08 pm
This one is about living a dual-gender life, where you can’t always live in your authentic gender, but out of love and compassion revert to what is comfortable for another for a while. This is what it can feel like to take yourself apart.

Peace and Jerusalem come to mind –
the hair a bowl in my hands
cooling, and laying to rest while
still filled with my thoughts – my
heart sinking to the floor with my
skirts and the rose-framed spectacles
on the bed now framing down-cast earrings,
bracelets, beads, small-time watch.

Cotton pads become my face, but
all smudged, blurred and blended,
all lips and eyes, the foundation
of an abstract, discarded and limp –
while a man’s face examines me
from the bathroom mirror, tells me
the bra must go with its silicone
bounty for a plain, striped shirt.

The unheard ticking under the
pink face behind the rose-framed
lenses the shape of eyes, oversees the
truce of the refugee woman who does not
exist outside her timeframe, placed
as she is in a holy time that is not
Jerusalem except that it is contested behind
a wailing wall with prayers for peace.

And for the sake of peace she is in
retreat, falling to pieces, shedding to
lighten the burden as she flees away
to secrets, first spread in colours on the
bed where she cannot rest, then folded
gathered, rolled and ark-ived wholly
without covenant or promise except my
benediction: you shall never be denied.

2011 © Andie Davidson

From the new collection Realisations published by Bramley Press.

Riddle

  • Posted on February 3, 2012 at 6:23 pm

They are as old as entertainment, perhaps as old as the camp-fire. A riddle is a mental puzzle starting with several usually contradictory statements, ending: ‘what am I?’

And by golly being transgender is confusing to people! What am I?

‘You used to be a …’ is perfectly understandable and so completely wrong! No, I never was! How can I explain that feeling of looking around at other men and thinking: ‘well, I know I’m not one of those!’? It follows that it is just as hard to understand, when what I say is that I am a transgender person. Not a man, not a woman; a transgender person.

‘No, no, no! you have to be one or the other!’

I do know how it is for those who have a strong binary view of gender, and feel they have the wrong body and want the other kind. I can understand that. Reassignment or corrective surgery and hormone treatment changes their physical attributes and takes away the pain of inhabiting a body with the wrong parts. I just know that this is not quite me.

I am transgender. I always shall be. I am most comfortable when dressed as a woman and at peace with myself. It says nothing about my sexual orientation (and that is my business anyway, so it isn’t your right to ask – the answer is confusing too, probably.) You, dear observer, may be uncomfortable with this. Why am I wearing women’s clothes? I am not a transvestite: the layer between my soul and my clothes just happens to look different to how I feel about myself. So please listen carefully to this: my body was shaped by hormones from before I was born; my mind was not, and possibly not the physiology of my brain. So when I put on shirt and trousers, I am transgender – but dressed as a man. So today I am transgender and dressed as a woman.

I am not my clothes, and I am not my body, but I am a person – and I am not the problem either. The real riddle is that we ever managed to believe gender was as simple as male and female. That’s just how babies are made.

How I am challenges you though, doesn’t it? I confuse. I become a riddle for which you don’t have an answer, and when I give it, it still makes no sense. Well, all that means is that we all have a lot to learn. All I ask is that you appreciate that the riddle will only make sense when you understand what I am not.

Ah! yes! I get it now. I am a man, she is a woman and you are transgender.

What do we like about riddles? I think it’s that we feel really bright when we get the answer first, but don’t feel totally stupid when we don’t, because suddenly we realise something new. Discovering life riddles should add to the fun and variety, not be a source of ridicule, fear and hatred. So please, try to appreciate this riddle and accept. I am transgender.