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The first year …

  • Posted on March 29, 2013 at 8:42 pm

It’s my first year of school. I remember all sorts of things; so much impressed itself on me. The climbing frame in the playground was a welded metal pipe affair in the days before soft ground, of coloured coatings, and attractive shapes like tanks. (Why, dear god why, do we make tanks for kids to play on? Or tractors, or why not animals?) Anyhow, I remember the cold metal, how brown and shiny it was in all the places most played on. Looking at it today it would be maybe five feet tall, mainly cubic in design with a high point. That was for king of the castle. For boys to shout from, while girls used the swings. They brought their own skipping ropes. I had one, with blue handles, because I asked for one, and didn’t see why only my sister should have one.

I think that one day I may have got to the top, and thought it bravely high, but I didn’t go on the climbing frame with the boy swarm. There was a bar instead that girls swung around. It once had attachments, but no more; just the same brown-shiny, hand-polished, tummy-buffed bar. Girls at least used to do that: swing upside down from their knees, and show their knickers because this was before they wore trousers. And I am in this playground, walking around the perimeter kerb between grass and gravel, talking to a girl, sharing biscuits, belonging.

People still ask me: ‘When did you know?’ Of course I didn’t ‘know’, I just didn’t feel the same as everyone else. Thankfully at home I didn’t have many expectations placed on me, and had the freedom to play with dolls, at house, anything my sister and the girl up the road wanted to. I didn’t especially do boy stuff, other than that is what I was given, so a boat with a motor that went the length of the bath in two seconds and had to be turned around, was just as fun, if limited to weekly bath times. Mixing cement was no different from mixing a cake (both when very young). It was just joining in.

My first year of junior school, placed me in a grim and blackened old building, where entrances were headed ‘Girls’ and ‘Boys’ in sandstone swirls, behind which lay girls’ and boys’ cloakrooms. Separate playgrounds prevented boys from being too rough around girls, because their games were so different. I never did find the playground where I could feel safe. This same year saw our one family holiday, conceded with yellow holiday forms during term time. There was special pocket money budget for the week in mixed-weather Wales, and my sister chose a toffee coloured bear (actually he was chocolate and I remember the smell of his fur, but ‘toffee’ made a better name). That bear was loved and hugged every day and went everywhere. I chose a yacht with red sails called Diana. I can’t remember the choosing process much, but my dad enjoyed it, sailed it, reinforced the rigging because the weather wasn’t very good, had to buy a boat hook, then a ball and string in order to retrieve it after the wind blew it (of course) from A to B, where B was the other side of accessible. I can’t remember how many times it sailed, but it must in all have been about half a dozen times I stood and watched my boat. I got what boys got. Yes I felt a proud owner, but it wasn’t, in so many ways, mine.

A visiting aunt bought us a little present to come home to, and they were little pairs of dancers about two inches high. My sister’s were ballet dancers. Mine were Hawaiian and I loved them; especially the girl, for the swirl of her hair and blue skirt, the smoothness of her body, the sway of her arms. There was more liking and meaning in that tiny figure than any boats and rockets. Maybe I was already dancing inside.

My first year of (single sex) grammar school has featured in another blog, but for the first time I was in a place without rescue, where the expectations, academically, socially, behaviourally, were fairly plain, and this was where boys became men. Thus undistracted by everything most of my peers liked to do in breaks, after school or at weekends, I kept my head down and simply did very well. It was the year I was ill with scarlet fever, self-diagnosed by intuition, guided by goodness-knows what, but which took me into isolation for a number of weeks. I think it was the last time I had an illness that really grounded me for more than a couple of weeks, until pneumonia this month. It was about the same time of year as this. I read, copiously. It snowed.

My first year of university was probably my lowest ever point. I scraped in on clearing, separated from my best friend, my girlfriend, and entered a men’s hall of residence, with the blokiest blokes you can imagine, sharing a study with one, and understanding nothing of their way of life. By now feminine urges were long in place, but this was scary. I could be found out, and I was completely alone.

My first year in employment wasn’t good either. Sending a fresh creative postgraduate to Stockton on Tees (no offence, I’m sure it’s much improved!) into then somewhat gender-segregated management isn’t clever, especially when they have chosen office management (a largely female domain at the time) and are expected to do the male things outside work in a competitive commercial environment. I did not fit, was not well-trained or supported and found my way back into publishing in order to retrieve my integrity and self-esteem. And can you imagine an unknowing trans 20-something having to stocktake women’s clothes? I felt extremely vulnerable.

Of course since then there have been other first years, with better outcomes, but just as equivocal. However, being more of my choosing, at least were moderated with some small sense of security.

But of course the significance really, having just been asked again yesterday: ‘When did you first know?’, is that this weekend is my first anniversary. One year ago I kicked over the traces and forever left the presumption of male. One year ago I was truly freed, not with permissions (that was very mixed) but with complete certainty and conviction. The year between is largely in this blog. Some bits I intend to feature more carefully in weeks to come (now that I feel I can), and some are quite sensitive. But as it is now, I’ve gone through so much, and every single potential challenge to my transition has been as mist. Clinging, maybe, dragging on, but finally, I feel now, laid to rest. I am where I want to be, and when I walk into my next gender clinic assessment in just over a month, there will be a very settled and ordinary woman with things to discuss about her future.

It may have been a traumatic year, but it has all come good so far. No climbing, no kings and castles, no more struggling to fit into behaviours and roles that were never mine, and life is very much my choice.

Happy Anniversary, Andie.

Cat flaps. And self-understanding

  • Posted on March 23, 2013 at 11:04 am

There’s a cat flap on the inside of an A and E ambulance. At least in West Sussex.

Actually, it’s lovely bit of lateral thinking, a flip-top bin on the wall that won’t lose sharps on a nasty turn.

‘Next of kin?’ I wasn’t intending to die, not yet, not today. But I was stumped. We passed on. Interesting question.

I thought how much easier it was to buy a few thousand Staywell pet doors than to custom design a wall bin for sharps, and then not be able to get spares.

I wasn’t going to make it to A and E on my own that day. And so it was a real ambulance and ‘A Team’ that arrived at the GP surgery. They must have loved me. No blood, nasties or arguments. A good half hour for them, and they were very good. It’s nice to joke with your crew when you haven’t a clue what’s coming next. I texted a friend to empty my third washload of the morning after a particularly sweaty night, and close a window. All a triumph of care, of hand-over, communication and co-operation.

Recovering back home yesterday with a friend, we realised another ‘A Team’ of female trumpet players all of whose names begin with A had, through complete absence of co-operation and communication by male colleagues, come to a sudden end. It’s a shame, because as a section, some of us go back 6 or 7 years, and have played very well together and had a lot of fun. We concluded that men do not always co-operate well, are not always inclusive, and their communication skills can be lacking. We shall move on to new things and new opportunities.


The funny thing about being ill, but not so completely out of it, is that you become a more acute observer of people. And cat flaps. I was struck by the difference in male and female friends, and what they naturally gave of themselves, and understood. Empathy? More than that or less? I was a bit disappointed when I first gave a squeak for help on Facebook, and when I first mentioned pneumonia (before hospital day), that just one family member knew, said nothing, made no contact and didn’t even pass that word along.

Then when people call you, what do they say? No-one is asking more than ‘being there’ but some find that so hard. Particularly men. You’re ill, you get over it. Home from hospital? I had a friend like that; now let’s talk about something I’m interested in. And as every woman knows, if you’re going to have a visitor who can find tea bags, spot the washing up, and just be present and nice, make sure they’re a woman.

So I made a few choices, had some polite exchanges, and with an immense amount of kindness, find myself on the right side of pneumonia again. Re-engaging with life on my own terms once more. I have taken a few lessons too, on fear, on freedom, on choice. Simple things like not sitting in my usual place in the lounge, where I had spiralled down for several dark hours waiting for a doctor on call, and a simple hand on mine had made all the difference. Like choosing an evening style where I eat early enough to digest, without TV simply for company, but a book and music. Or like realising sleeping on the other side of the bed would break the fear of night, the heat of the radiator, the light outside, and be next to the door. All in one. I’ve woken in the night smiling and happy a couple of times, just knowing that life itself is incredibly strong and generous.


Not bad for a week. I was aware from time to time also of my position. ‘Good morning madam, how may I help?’ When I first called the GP it was a pleasant reminder, not least because everything drops away when you’re ill and my (then) flu voice wasn’t exactly how I would have liked to sound. Then there was the GP appointment. No: full face treatment and makeup were not on the list, and I had rather given up already.

The second time round (we’d like to see you, you sound a bit worse) all my nighties were still in the washing machine (hence the message from the ambulance to my friend), and I just about had time to pull tights on and go. My final question to my GP as we waited for the ambulance was about the HRT. She hadn’t read my notes, and had no idea at all of my gender status. When you are that low, that unguarded, that back-to-basics, and it is a surprise to someone who’s been taking a good look at you for half an hour, believe me, it’s a lovely bit of encouragement, especially as you head into women’s spaces in hospitals, not knowing what you may later need to explain.

I imagined being kept in. Nightie? Soap? No worries; and a friend can bring your own things later. Razor?

A little bit of me felt a little more arrived at, that night back home in bed. In all sorts of little ways these past days, I have felt so normalised as a woman, but also so distanced from ‘being trans’ in the sense that the old borderlines and demarcations have faded out of sight. Medical notes are blind, the gendered behaviours of others are ordinary but marked, and I am completely at peace with myself. I am a woman with a couple of clinical issues. Pneumonia and GD. If I lift my hem, and turn through the little tickets on washing, materials, manufacture, spare sequin, etc., there is a small one with a rainbow. I sense it’s fading with the wash a bit.


A little light went on last night, as in a tall black building opposite. A small yellow square with a pull-blind in silhouette. Someone having a spare-room rummage for something lost, then giving up and switching off again. I stopped taking my clutch of vitamins and anti-androgens when all the other medications and painkillers flooded in. Wisest to go vanilla, especially on a largely empty stomach. Now antibiotics only, and once a day, eating again, and unrepressed, a little light came on: do you remember testosterone?

Having T lifted from my system has been bliss. Not just because it’s good for my hair, but because it is so bloody intrusive. It’s a bully, and for all my life stopped me from doing and being so much how and who I could have been. So now, after all the above, a small reminder. Don’t you miss it? Just a little bit? Like the sex drive? Wasn’t it fun? What would it mean to be able to do that again, like that? Such a toy of an idea. Would it betray all I have been through, to like the idea? Would refusal to face it merely be denial of a part of myself? I know trans people in the leading months to GCS (surgery) having to come off all hormone support and being flooded with T, going through hell. I can understand, because it is a simple chemical that can do so much damage, psychologically as much as physically.

Back on the vitamins then, back on the blockers, and I shall keep on learning about how interesting it is to be human, how we communicate so badly sometimes, or are chemically driven, but yet have such capacity for kindness.

Thank you, NHS

  • Posted on March 21, 2013 at 4:11 pm

I only want to say one thing today, but very big and very bold.

Thank you, NHS Worthing. From my GP who called me in at 11 am, took great care, and decided I needed an ambulance, and sent me off.

To the crew who were so wonderful all the way and stayed with me.

To the radiographer who just did her job, but so kindly.

To the nurse who did her tests and again, with real kindness.

To the lovely Scottish doctor who explained, and reassured and took his time (and my blood), and even wheeled my from A to B. (So you looked me up?)

All the way to the porter who saw me to getting a taxi back.

Oh, and again, to the first GP, who, at the end, when I thought I’d better ask about if the HRT made any difference, really, honestly didn’t know I was trans.

As if it mattered to a single person all day.

Thank you, one and all.

Unreasonable behaviour

  • Posted on March 17, 2013 at 10:58 am

I have felt so unwell this week I haven’t even been reading books. I am not a lot better now, so no profound reflections this week, just this short piece I prepared earlier.

This is the week in which Vicky Pryce and Chris Huhne were handed custodial sentences for perverting the course of justice. The heart of it seems simply to be that Huhne has a tendency to drive too fast and get caught, and stood to lose his licence, and some mobility as a then Euro MP. It seems reasonable from the evidence that his then wife was under at least strong emotional pressure to dig him out of his hole. The law says it would not have been unreasonable for her to say no, but it was wrong to say yes. Huhne plainly didn’t think it unreasonable to ask. It’s what partnership is about, isn’t it?

Last weekend I encountered a neighbour from the flat below. She clearly suffers with dementia, having let her in several times from outside the front door in cold conditions, not sure what to do. She is vulnerable and I have sometimes felt bad about not taking time to stop and talk because I am on my way somewhere. She seems to have a thing about my flat, and at the weekend was knocking on my door. I let her in, a bit lost, but it happened several times in the afternoon, and whilst I did bring her in and sit her down and offer tea, she did just walk straight in without waiting. And she sees people and things not there and addresses them. Anyhow, the night I went down with flu she was talking to herself on my landing for a while, knocked on my door at 3 am and loitered, talking, in my lobby for hours. I didn’t sleep. Was she being unreasonable? I had two options: call the police (it wasn’t her fault) or wait and call social services. I did the latter, but it doesn’t guarantee anything, and my sleep may again be disturbed all night.

The following morning, with a half-hour walk in snow, not feeling too good, I found myself talking to a solicitor on my own. How, and when, and to what advantage, should we process divorce? There I was, aiming to kick into motion the one thing I never, ever wanted to do. I still don’t want this to have been the only reasonable thing we could have done. But we came soon to grounds for divorce. Either we live apart for two years (what’s this? More ‘real life experience’?) with loose ends on shared assets, or one must petition against the other. How do you dissolve a marriage that one partner does not want to hang onto, and the other cannot afford to? There was no adultery, violence or even what one would term unreasonable behaviour. It isn’t unreasonable to be what you were born, I wasn’t diagnosed until recently. I didn’t ‘turn into anything’, and it isn’t unreasonable to be a woman. More importantly, it isn’t behaviour. But equally, is it unreasonable for a wife to withdraw all emotional and sexual support? It’s in the legal list –, but for a trans partner? So to respond to the finality of my wife’s decision, one of us has to have behaved unreasonably, at the same time as saying we don’t blame each other. Maybe neither of us has. So the law would not allow us to stay married (if I want gender recognition) and has no mechanism to allow us blamelessly to part without simply waiting on a situation that cannot change.

So, back to Pryce and Huhne and justice. If we do a deal, one to petition the other for unreasonable behaviour, when truly we don’t feel that to be true –, would that be to pervert the course of justice? I shall not contest: there is no point. So what do you have to do, to really, really demonstrate that marriage has come to an irretrievable end because one partner has apparently ‘changed sex’? Just wait? I shall be up for my gender recognition certificate before we can do it that way. A one night stand would be so simple by comparison …

So a desperate politician, a loyal or afraid wife, an old lady with dementia, a wife who can’t love a woman and a woman being as reasonable as she can about herself. Maybe justice isn’t always as clear or obtainable as we would like it to be.

Be careful what you love

  • Posted on March 9, 2013 at 3:31 pm

Oh, be careful what you love
lest the underlying form be unexpected.
Be careful what you see as well
for everything is the shape of your eyes.

Sometimes I am an elephant
described by five blind men, in parts.
Believe me when I say that ultimately
I am as unknowable as a mythical beast.

Or as a dryad among leaves, seen only
from the corner of your eye by dawn or dusk,
proves that seeing can never be believing
as a hand, clasping breath, is empty.

So, when you close your eyes and touch
or look away to catch the slightest glimpse,
beware of what you hope to find and keep.
Oh, be careful what you love.


2013 © Andie Davidson