The fat green arrow bent left in a right angle. Guide? Instruction? Or imperative – if we were to arrive where we were going in time. I hadn’t used a satnav before, but taking my friend to an early hospital appointment made nose-following less than wholly wise. (And as it happened, we were led into a dead end because the satnav didn’t know about a new road.) The fat green arrow at my next glance was straight. We were going from A to B still, just as we had when we pulled away in Hove, but without it really registering…
There’s a picture I really wanted, but agreed without comment not to claim, because my ex wanted it and said so first. I’m not going to suggest tearing it in half, however symbolic that may be, but I could try contacting the artist Bob Seymour for a copy.
It’s a large photo (the one on the left is not it), colour, but only greys, a close-up of a smooth pebble emerging and drying from the water of a shoreline so it almost looks like a bright moon. Bearing in mind one of my favourite poems ‘For Your Hand’, it might seem most appropriate to leave it anyway. It is symbolic for that reason: I am smooth and round, emerging and being more beautiful for what I have become than what I used to be. I had to lose a lot to be what I am.
And it was a 26th wedding anniversary gift to each other.
I remember walking down the road in the sunshine in Hartland, Devon, where we were on holiday at the time, and I was in torment. It was over four years ago and I still hadn’t a clue that people could be transgender. I was just tearing myself apart inside, the ‘silent scream’, as I called it, was a crescendo. In retrospect, we were just both very frightened.
And it was all over a pair of tights.
Yes, I know, to you and most people, and to my wife at the time, that means something (nudge, nudge, wink, wink; know what I mean?) about sex. No, about fetish! What else could it be? And what could be worse? I was in effect asking permission to do what I had been doing for some time, to be allowed to wear very limited and unseen female things on a daily basis, but also to share it, not hide it from her. Yes, it felt nice too, very nice. It felt right, and I wanted acceptance. And if it was just a sex thing, maybe that could be alright, but ironically, not if it meant anything else. I didn’t understand it, I knew it wasn’t wanted, it felt such a small thing, but it was a huge issue. We were both facing fear of something with unexpected consequences.
What does this make a man, when he starts experimenting with things that only women wear, and it isn’t just because it keeps him warm on his dumper truck? (Yes, many men wear tights for comfort and warmth. I know, because a nurse casually checked with me once when she needed a bare ankle for an ECG electrode.) It’s scary. Either he is just a bit weird, or something is happening that feels beyond control.
What did it make me, when I felt right doing things that everyone else would see as wrong? Not optional, variant; wrong. Later it became ‘you can do that so long as I don’t have to see’. So I knew that there was something seriously wrong with me; I just hadn’t a clue what.
So, with a pair of tights asphyxiating our wedding anniversary, we went to buy this picture. We came away with not just the pebble, but four – and our fear. With our separate fears. I was reminded by her this week, of the fear that I engendered in her, and how I had been vociferous in defending myself and denying that it meant I wanted to be a woman. It didn’t even seem possible to me, and I couldn’t see why it would mean that anyway. Readers of my blog will know I was still saying this when I started writing it in January 2012. By then everyone else seemed to know but me. They were just waiting for it to happen. But back in 2008, I was still in love after 26 years and I too was living in total fear that whatever was tearing me apart would tear us apart. And I so wanted to let free whatever it was, and travel with my wife, together.
I knew even then, that I could only be loved by suppressing whatever it was that seemed an irresistible force and energy within me. Can you imagine being in love, after 26 years, and coming to realise that something bigger that you, that had always been there, was coming to light to destroy it? It must be like living in a country all your life, and having a knock on the door at three in the morning to be told you have no right of citizenship, and will be put on a plane forthwith and returned to a strange place you have never known, away from your family, your lover, all that seems familiar and safe.
That was our fear, unvoiced, misunderstood. There was something about me that could mean I would never belong as a lover again. Denial? Or fear? This was not choosing about doing; this was the beginning of choosing about being.
And there is nothing so scary as being, because it is essential. Sometimes it is enough just to be. But if being true to self means you are no longer wanted by the people you care most about, are committed to and loyal to, ‘just being’ is very frightening indeed.
And for my wife at the time? Being herself meant that she could never entertain intimacy with a woman. Her insulation from this dilemma is that I changed. I had been loved for being a man; it made her the woman she wanted to be. The choice, in the end, was clear: be a man or you cannot be my lover. I had no such insulation, because this was me, not some addition, some lifestyle choice; this was what I knew I had always been, coming out. For her, I really did use to be a man, so everything that went before was legitimate. I now know that everything that went before was not, from my perspective, legitimate at all.
My gender has not changed. My understanding of it has, and no-one is to blame. But however I felt I had to be at the time, however taught, and whatever I believed was the way I had to live my life, I was a woman, albeit stuck with a male body. And that made me look normal. I did what I could with what I had – until I began to fall apart, and the ‘pain of being a man’ became unavoidable. And the fear, not just the periodic self-anger and self-hate, kicked in.
It’s alright, I know you can’t understand this; nobody without this experience can, really. You will tell me I was a man (some people will in ignorance tell me that I still am). The body is not what defines you. Your gender does not change. Nor is there a choice. I completed a questionnaire this week that asked: ‘Do you identify as …’ (choose from the following list of sexualities and gender expressions). ‘Identify’ is quite the wrong word. Do you ‘identify as’ what you are? You can choose descriptors, but identity is more than description; Descartes did not say ‘I think, therefore I identify as alive’.
So this is a story about fear. A pebble that represents me, emerging smooth and round. A picture that cannot be shared, like a moon that will never rise again, on a wall that is as much mine as hers. It is her fear and it is mine, that came to be fulfilled. She married a woman; OK, a trans-woman if you must. But she is safe, because for her, I was a man. I am not safe, because I know I was not. In my ignorance, my love for her was fraudulently given.
I faced many fears in therapy, that became very real suicidal thoughts and intentions. Many fears, like being able to transition successfully, find work and be accepted, were groundless, but my fear, like that anniversary day in 2008, is that I may never find legitimacy in sexual love, because no-one really understands what being me is all about, especially when I say I was born female. Could you love me, without being made to feel gay, or lesbian, or bi, or something you cannot imagine ever being? And how could you even be a real lesbian if you don’t think I am a real woman, or truly hetero if you think I used to be a man, and so on … What would I make you?
Yes, I still have very real fears, and if they mean loss of identity, that’s where I come unstuck all over again. Picture me instead as a pebble, the result of much loss, shaped, left – and if you dare, pick me up simply for what is beautiful about me. Nothing more.
At the heart of so much inequality is the insistence that what we are matters more than who we are. A king is a king, no matter what their personality. A soldier, a leader, an engineer, all are wanted for what they are. They fulfil a role. And traditionally a woman has filled a role, a man has filled a role, and anyone feeling they were not what they appeared to be in this respect had no role. A wife had a role, a husband had a role, and similarly were wanted for what they were. You could be my husband because you are a man. You could never be my wife, because I am a woman.
It is much easier when we can know what we are by knowing what we are not. And to my mind, there was a lot of this behind the discussions of equal marriage. Why was it increasingly referred to and discussed as ‘gay marriage’ rather than ‘equal’? I think that many commentators, many politicians and journalists did not want it to be a matter of equality, because they do not regard people for who they are, but for what they are, and because they need reassurance of definitely not being ‘one of those’, themselves.
There is a lot I liked in David Lammy’s speech in the Commons this week. I really would commend its full reading to you, if you didn’t hear it. Even if you don’t particularly like him, because it contains a lot of common sense.
‘Let me speak frankly. “Separate but equal” is a fraud. “Separate but equal” is the language that tried to push Rosa Parks to the back of the bus.’
In other words, you cannot do what I do, because you are not one of us. And if you are allowed to do what we do, you will inevitably change what we are too. We need separation! Never mind about me as a person or you as a person, think about what I am, what I represent, and what you are. ‘What’ matters more than ‘who’. And for the dogmatically ‘biblical’ (who interpret the bible so piecemeal and wrongly):
‘The Bible is complicated. But its enduring message is not that homosexuality is wrong, it is to “love thy neighbour”. It offers no caveats. “Love thy neighbour” whether they are black or white, rich or poor. “Love thy neighbour” whether they are short or tall, gay or straight, man or woman.
‘Love him, even if he used to be a she.
‘So how can we claim to love our neighbour if we do not allow them to love someone else in turn?’
Love has nothing to do with what you are, only to do with who you are. But the trouble is, we so easily define ourselves, find our security, but being something. We separate ourselves from criminals, because we do not wish to be associated with what they do. But that is also why prisons have revolving doors. We separate ourselves from the homeless because we would never take them in, and it is someone else’s job after all. We hope that someone else can see the person and meet their needs, but to us they are something we dare not get too close to. Politicians of a certain colour have been inclined to regard people without sufficient employment income as skivers, shirkers and work-shy, despite the many interviews with struggling individuals who cannot get out of their situation. The politicians never have to deal with the ‘who’ behind the ‘what’.
I am troubled by an NHS that, as far as I can see, treats my son’s condition as a thing, to see once in a while and ponder over, rather than seeing him as a person with something preventing him from finding work, having a meaningful life, and getting started on earning his pension fairly and equally with his peers. He needs care, not his condition.
Maybe you separate yourself from gay and lesbian people, because it reaffirms what you are, and you might be questioned by association. If you are gay or lesbian, you are likely to be defined as something in priority over who you are. And for many people I will not be me primarily, but ‘the woman who used to be a man’, classified by what before who.
And ‘what’ matters so much … I didn’t lose my daughter, wife, home, family, cousin, aunt because of who I am, but because they feel ‘I can’t be properly what I am if you are going to be one of those.’ (i.e. a woman, let alone a transwoman) Yes; in the most important ways, the ways that matter most to me, what I am really does trump who I am.
But then I recall 20 years ago thinking desperately that my sole role in life was in terms of what I could do, rather than being appreciated for myself. I even wrote poetry about it in a splurge of desperate creativity, likening myself to a stone cairn on a mountain track, where what was placed on me defined me and gave people their position, but wishing people would instead take a stone with them and value a part of me.
So what is love? I leave you with this from Iris Murdoch:
‘Love is the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real. Love, and so art and morals, is the discovery of reality.’
I just want someone to love me, fully, for who I am, not for my gender to be the first and most important question to be asked in order to give me legitimacy. Am I real? Touch me, I dare you …
Touch me. Go on. I dare you.
No. Don’t. I want you to touch
because your hand cannot be stayed.
I want your heart to pump the
hydraulics of your arm, with power
to reach, and with precision, delve
and stop. Because you know
what is there and must not be harmed,
and pause. Because you care.
Reach me. Go on. I shall not stay you.
I trust you, but you must believe
that this is exploration, not exhumation
and only by digging deep can you see
that I lie ready, whole, intact, longing
to be touched and brought to life again.
But I need you to want, to reach,
to hope, to welcome, to understand,
to touch. Go on. I dare you.
2013 © Andie Davidson
The grass is growing. My grass.
My green grass is growing and
my feet shall not feel it when it is
dew-cold to be felt on the soles
of my feet with the sun, as only
early morning birdsong sung
can be felt with the soul, smelled
with the soil and the dew on the grass,
on my grass where my feet shall not
press their soles in belonging to the
ground, to my ground. Growing
in another spring under a sun
that still warms, where birds sing,
and where I am now forbidden, with
memories of grass, of dew, and that
sense of being as the grass, as the
ground with its cool earthy heart,
as the birds, of belonging to sky.
I had a garden, and the grass I mowed,
weeded, nurtured, sprawled upon,
no longer knows my morning feet
or how I needed it for more than
the tickle between my toes or the
sense of nature for an urban child.
The grass is growing now. I do not lie
to gaze at birds against the sun and
feel both free and grounded, or rise
because in fact it is hard and bumpy and
as uncomfortable as it is real. Instead
my wide window gathers sun, far above
a small lake, with fish, with trees and
with grass that I and a hundred dwellers
should not walk on, or feel the dew.
Gulls circle, willows weave the wind,
the water stirs with fins and a postman
draws the path. The unfelt grass is growing.
2013 © Andie Davidson