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Missing persons

  • Posted on April 29, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Maybe we were all surprised at the sudden re-emergence of the Madeleine McCann story. Not because she’s forgotten, but because it seemed no-one knew what else to do. Then 192 missed leads were identified, a photo of how she would look today, and then a clear statement from the Portuguese police that there was no reason to reopen the case.

The case. Madeleine is a case now.

This morning I listened to another mother whose son, then aged 15, disappeared from a railway platform on his way home from school over 30 years ago. It reminded me of another programme on missing persons a week earlier, outlining all the problems of not being able to deal with a death and grieve properly. Even the slightest, tiniest hope, causes agonies over and again, because there is no closure. How could anyone give up on a loved one just because of the passing of time? Death, even a reason or possible explanation, is better than living with the eternal possibility of restoration.

These are not files. These are not cases. These are people, and there are maybe a quarter of a million people go missing each year. 99 per cent are resolved within a year, which means every year over 2,000 remain missing, with an unsurprising bulge in the data in late-teens people, and another around mid-life. (Source: Missing Persons Bureau)

But it was the link between this kind of non-bereavement and the many stories that keep coming up among trans people (and LGB too) that struck me today. Real people who finally own up to themselves, their innnate birth identity and a lifetime of disorientation, and achieve what I describe as authentication, only to be rejected by those closest to them. Terrible stories of parents disowning children, partners disowning the other, and yes, described as bereavement in both directions.

I had a weekend of considering bereavement and missing persons.

For I too am a bereaver by losing my old male identity. Yes, I have ‘killed off’ the persona formerly presented as me. I didn’t exactly ask permission, because in the end it could not be negotiated. It wasn’t like an argument over who has the car, or whether to watch football or domestic makeovers, or whether I like a coat that you don’t. It was about my fundamental authenticity. At one level it is all about change (and therefore loss) whilst at another level there is no change at all. Inside, as so many of us always say, there is ‘me’, full of all the same capacities, emotions, intentions and aspirations – and love.

And so there is a missing person. Put me in a file, call me a case, let me be un-dead, and I shall still be pleading from inside that thin dark space: ‘I am here!’.

And who put me there really? I did. Why?

I’m in that missing persons file because it’s the only place where I am truly me, where I can clothe my inner with respectability. And as much as I call, write or strive to make contact, the only thing that is wanted back is the inauthentic outer that was taken away. Yes, some missing persons have a reason to disappear, and can find no other way out. Find me as I really am, by all means, but don’t live in expectation of the old persona’s return.

I want to be found. Not the old outer persona – if that is what is wanted, then it isn’t me you want at all. You want something that I am not, more than the someone that I am. And the someone isn’t a missing person at all.

No-one chooses to place themselves in a position of becoming bereaved either. But I have done that too. It hasn’t happened to me, it is a direct consequence of finding out the truth about myself and acting on it. My mental picture is that of a dedicated worker who has been a model employee and a real contributor, helpful and achieving all through a long career. Then HR turns up with your original, yellowed, 30-year old application form and says: ‘You never had the required degree did you? I’m afraid you aren’t qualified for this job so I’m terminating your employment. Clear your desk and go.’ Yes: I am saying that HR has a choice – policy or value, whereas you can never go back a lifetime and get the qualification you never had. Was the career performance no qualification at all?

I am not bitter. After all I have found myself, and there can’t be a much bigger goal in life than that. But I am disappointed about that qualification which would entitle me to continued partnership. And these are just words after all, that I will hear back to me and must let go.

 

My happy note in the midst of this was finally releasing the agony and achieving my first public concert looking more glamorous than I have ever before as a trumpet player. I can’t express how deep that ran in me, even if I can’t share it quite as I would like.

Write lightly,
yours truly,
dear diary.

(Who remembers where that comes from? Ideal for a blog. And it comes from Threshhold of a Dream. How appropriate.)

Living in the present

  • Posted on April 23, 2012 at 11:57 pm

There is no yesterday: yesterday does not exist.
There is no tomorrow: tomorrow does not exist.
For our yesterdays are merely our interpretations,
and our tomorrows are but our imaginings.

There is only now. There is only this.

This is how I worked it out some time ago. I guess it’s Buddhist at heart. I still believe it’s true. This is the nature of time, of existence, of life. But like you, I fear the future for what it might take away, and grieve the past as past futures – so badly imagined and now so critically interpreted.

And then I sit and meditate, and all my awareness is that I am whole, that I am safe, that I am present. And that unmistakeably, I am woman. And I look around now and I see men of all kinds busy being men, and I think: how could I ever have believed I was really one of those? As I came home today I had a sense of overwhelming gratitude that being a man was not my future, that all my tomorrows are as a woman.

Which all sounds terribly obsessed with gender, and not at all to do with the here and now. In a previous blog I spoke of the plea that ‘I am still here!’, meaning that inside I have not changed, that this now is the same as all my past nows in terms of how I am expressed. Maybe. I struggle for illustrations that make this make sense to other people. It’s like putting glasses on for the first time and realising what normal is supposed to feel like: the same eyes, but seeing clearly, the same you looking out, and everyone else calling you four-eyes. Who? Me?

Something in me is crying out to be loved for who I am, not for what I appear to be, or have appeared to be.

Does my present re-interpret my past, and change it?

I hold out my hand, and say: this is my hand, the same hand, that tells the story of my life, as you – as I – have known it. It has been wondered at, it has been functional, it has known drains and delicacy, it has destroyed and it has created. It has helped and it has healed. It has enacted at all times for me.

And this is my heart, the same heart that first loved, that felt, that feels, that hopes. Unchanged, all its hopes and expressions have been from the same source as they are today. Only today I know that if my heart has gender at all, it is not the heart of a man. In every present moment now past, I should have known, but my interpretation of the past is that I did not know. Un-named, ungendered, this female heart of mine, like my hand, did so much. As the source of so much, it was unquestioned, and was nothing but loved and accepted in return. Every interpretation, every imagining, created a present that was fitting, that was good.

But this heart of mine is now named! I am so completely filled with the joy of that recognition, that my present is alive and lit as never before, despite all the other anxious matters of employment, earning, returning to economic viability, and finding my social place again. But there go my imaginings … Will I be able to find fulfilling work, with the now inherent disadvantages of not just being 55, and female, but trans? Be present! Tomorrow does not exist!

And there go my interpretations too. Have I only been loved because I was living under false pretences? My hand was the hand of a woman?! My heart was a female heart?! If that had been known, would either have had consent? Does my present invalidate all my past, reinterpreting it?

And there goes my present … There is only now – and now, I am a woman in some inappropriate places. What my hand did yesterday it may not do today. All that came from my heart yesterday may be an inappropriate expression of its aspirations for tomorrow.

I am woman. There is only now. Yesterday does not exist. Tomorrow does not exist. There is only this, and in this alone is where all love lies – and where it has only ever lain. I must trust, I must be present. In truth, nothing else actually exists at all.

This is the hand

  • Posted on April 23, 2012 at 10:51 pm
This poem is reflecting continuity and change, versatility and curiosity, selfhood and identity. Hands that reach out can be held or let go. Our hands are the stories of our lives … This is a Brief History of Mine.

This is the hand
that curled around the enormity
of a finger outstretched in wonder
at my tiny, perfect, nails.

This is the hand
that pointed to nipples in the bath
asking: ‘mummy what are these for?’
no – not for anything.

This is the hand
that stool-high stirred a cake, that sat
gritty, dirty, mixing cement for a wall –
distinguishing neither.

This is the hand
that learned the pen, figure and script,
to describe, shooting high: ‘I know, miss!’
too often to answer.

This is the hand
that dressed a paper doll and made a dart,
that sprayed the scent and built with bricks
high enough to fall.

This is the hand
that curled around my enormity
not knowing what it was for or why,
and was afraid.

This is the hand
that wrote songs, found what it was
to touch another, know resonance,
strike a chord.

This is the hand
that painted pictures with film,
with brush, and the brush of filmy
sensuous things.

This is the hand
that built from wood, that sewed, sawed
ironed, mended with iron – and delved
the stinking drain.

This is the hand
that held a bucket of blood – loved, willed
that everything would be alright again,
but limp with fear.

This is the hand
that held the finger of the boy
as long as my forearm, in wonder
at his tiny perfect nails.

This is the hand
that made cakes into cars and, blackened
with grease, made cars go a little longer
earnings eased.

This is the hand
that every day turned mind into money
and money into memories, memories
into bonds.

This is the hand
that gave you your first orgasm,
breaking out of my closing preserve,
ending its cheat.

This is the hand
instrument of the heart, that curls now
around this new enormity, outstretched
and is empty.

This is the hand
that stirred, that moved, that made –
that unnamed, but always female, has
become inappropriate.

This is the hand.
Discovered.
That waves.
That drowns.

2012 © Andie Davidson

De facto, defect or, defector?

  • Posted on April 15, 2012 at 12:11 pm

It’s not right.

Is it?

Men are men and women are women and I am . . . well, I thought I was, and now you’re saying . . . what?

Look, maybe it isn’t any harder to handle than a software upgrade. You know, when the drop-down menus, the toolbar choices, the sheer logic of saving files (what type is that? Compatible?) is just a bit unfamiliar, and ‘but surely – I must still be able to to do that!’

This is the week that I am meeting rather a lot of friends and colleagues for the first time not dressed as a man. For me it is perfectly normal, since I’ve been living this way increasingly for over a year, but I do recognise that it will be difficult for some.

‘Do I go and talk to him (woops! her!), or will he/she (I’m getting stuck already!) feel awkward if I do? What do I say?’

‘Actually I think it’s just the person I used to know, dressed up and I don’t understand why, and I feel stupid talking to him like that!’

It is true that I have felt much safer and more embraced through this change by women than by men. Women have immediately offered tips and help, men have praised my courage. And I think I know why. I’m becoming a feminist.

So this post is not for those who have already shown their support (thank you, all) but for those who find the whole thing a bit uncomfortable.

De facto

Because of the way I live, the way my mind, my personality, my heart and soul work, because I have changed my title and my name with legal force, I am a woman. Anything else would be a pretence, and I am, de facto, not a man. I have a deed poll certificate that has allowed me to become ‘Ms’ in almost every aspect of life. It doesn’t entitle me to legally declare my gender as corrected, but as a matter of fact, I am Ms, and that is how, in law, I must be addressed. In fact I am no longer allowed to present myself under my old title or name.

So what can I say? This is how I am; get over it.

Defect, or …

Some people will not easily get over it. Some women will think I am a bit presumptuous aligning myself with them, especially since I still have some significant interventions even to begin. Some men will feel obliged to regard me as a faulty example, a man where something went wrong. In both cases, I understand the challenge: how can it be so easy to suddenly say you are not something that seems to have been blindingly obvious for so long? To have lived in a male body all these years … there must be a serious defect here! Maybe it is a mental disorder that should be put right. Some people think they are Napoleon – or an orange! Or curtains: just pull yourself together!

I am not mentally unwell, my body is healthy, but something has never quite been right. It all makes sense to me at last, and the reason it looks like a defect is that we were all taught, all our lives, that men are men and women are women, and you can tell. Well, can’t you?

Not so. It simply is not as easy or straightforward as that. In the same way that a space probe to Mercury can’t be placed accurately using Newton’s laws of motion, and those GPS satellites we depend on require laws of relativity to speak the truth back at us. Newton was OK for the ordinary stuff, but was too simplistic a view of how things really are. So it is with matters of sex and gender. The only way to know someone’s gender is to ask them.

This is not a defect, it’s just a difference.

Defector

And then there are the gender politics. Am I an intruder, as far as women are concerned? To some I certainly am. Why are you in the ladies’ loo?! Well, it’s because I am not a man, and I am not disabled. And I am not a spy either. I am who I am, and I know where I fit easily and best. I do not think about you like a man does.

More to the point, for some men I am a threat. I am a defector from a place of privilege and power, who is undermining the solidarity of the male realm. Goodness! What would happen to male authority if too many people like me started to climb down and join the other side? If that is you, and you need reassurance, I was never on your side, never a part of your tribe, even though I made a decent presentation of it most of the time. I don’t hate men, I just never did man stuff very well and I never liked the idea of male privilege. Some people were most persuaded by my ‘male skills’ – that I was taught in school just because it was a boys’ school.

I am not defecting; I was just never legitimately in the right team. And I’m not taking sides now either. I am just being myself.

Summary for the newly puzzled

I understand that I have changed you without your permission. You are now the person who knows a transsexual, or a transgender person (please just don’t say tranny), and the closer you are the more difficult that may feel. I got over it, so can you.

De facto: this is how I am, so get used to it.

There is no defect or illness about me, and I am happier to be as I am now, than ever before in my life.

I am not a defector from a place I never belonged, so please don’t be afraid that I am an intruder either.

Name changing

  • Posted on April 14, 2012 at 12:15 am

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
(Romeo and Juliet)

Isn’t identity, in naming, fascinating? Juliet wished Romeo could just be Romeo without the family name that caused such conflict. When I protest that I am still me – same eyes, same hands, same heart – I am saying my gender title and name do not define the person, and changing them does not change me, my memories or my intentions.

But names are memories aren’t they? I remembered the name of the girl I played with at my first school, aged five. I remember her face very well too, even now, though we soon after went to separate schools afterwards. She was Jane. And remembering her brought back a host of other memories from that time, including the huge green petrol-driven scythe that cut the grass, and the smell of it, or the milk crates (and the smell of them). And I remember that friendship. Somewhere around this time I started having nightmares. Nothing specific, just frightening, and I fought them away by making up stories in my head about the two koala glove puppets my sister and I had, imagining them having a happy day. Mine was Joe, hers was Jane. I also remember the name of the girl I so wanted to sit next to and be friends with, aged 11 (girls and boys mostly sat separately until then). I remember her face very well, even though we soon after went to separate schools. She was Jayne. And this brings back a host of memories too, including the aromatic tobacco of our teacher who smoked a pipe in break times and played a concertina, and thought it a good thing to mix boys and girls in together. And then there were our neighbours through these years; we didn’t play round other people’s houses much but they were a brother and sister too, of our ages, and we often went round on a Saturday. She was Jane too, and as we grew up, I was diverted to play with her brother instead. It was strange that growing up meant growing away from girls, and then going to a boys’ school. I do remember my friends at grammar school, and have related a names story a little while back in a blog here. There were no boys called Jane – only Shirley. But I did end up partnering a girl in chemistry lessons when the school subsequently was merged with two girls’ grammar schools. I remember we were pretty good at titrations. She was called Jane.

No, I was never called Tarzan, in case you were wondering, and all these significant Janes weren’t the only girls I knew, and as it happens, I never had a girlfriend called Jane either. All I am noting is that names bring back a lot of memories, and that this is part of how trans people make decisions about what to call themselves. To lose a former life, or to keep it? To take a the name of a family member, friend or significant other? Many names have male and female equivalents, but some of us want to dissociate, others don’t want to throw anything away, some want a clean break, others to retain continuity and make life easier. Sometimes a name with particular associations is important too, and this played an important part for me. I can understand all these points of view, and it is a lovely time to assert your true identity.

(I didn’t call myself Jane.)

This week my Deed Poll forms came back, with my legal change of title and name, and so I had to start the paper chase to set many records straight. Some may take a while, and some have to follow in sequence, and some in completeness cannot yet be done. But it was remarkably simple to just phone quite a few and report the change. After going through the bank details, carefully repeating that the title was changed to ‘Ms’, I felt quite elated. Then: ‘Anything else, sir?’ she said … Oh well! Friends have said that the hardest bit to remember is she/her. What I like most on the documents is that I am no longer allowed to use the old name, and nor is anyone else. Like the piles of clothes awaiting redistribution, it will never be worn again, and like the clothes, sits there with lots of memories attached to it. But just like I never stopped wearing clothes, so I have merely put on what I prefer, and to be honest, like the clothes, I had gradually introduced Andie into my life already. It’s been in my email and online for ages, even on my bank cards, and all the time it’s been me, not some intruder or imposter.

Once again I am reminded that, as I have revisited my life story to make better sense of it, I have been there narrating a subtext all along. The conflict was there in the name, like Romeo’s, and now the rose has a corrected name. To me it’s not just as sweet, it’s sweeter.

Poems ‘Jane’, ‘How the boy got her name’, and ‘Dear Alan’ feature in the collection Realisations available on Amazon.