She sits, paws tucked, squeezing eyes in the low late sun by the lake’s edge, under wind-weaving willow possesses in her heart a thousand drifting fish sleek and dappled and slow within her paw’s caress. Content to rest, lives uncounted beyond the first, present and only in this moment feline confidence in herself. I know, for I am she tumbled from such height counting lives, free fall yet landing on my feet and now, because I may, I am contained in a purr, content in a moment in a perfect world. 2013 © Andie Davidson Tweet
It is bad enough to face divorce at any time, unless it really is a relief and an escape for you. It must be awful under the existing regime, to be a transsexual marriage survivor and have to choose between your legal gender identity (Gender Recognition Certificate, or GRC) and your marriage. Identity is your most essential right, and to require another’s permission or conditions, to be registered for who you are, is plain wrong. Under the proposed Equal Marriage legislation, a transsexual partner will still require permission from their partner to request their GRC. This too is entirely wrong, simply on principle. For a working marriage, of course it is not a barrier, but it is in no-one’s rights to even have the capacity to grant or withhold another’s identity.
Write or wrong?
Should I write about my divorce? I cast no blame and I accept none. It is personal, but also it is not private. This is a public declaration of the dissolution of a marriage. That is the whole point. Marriage is specifically public, and divorce is too.
I want to relate the experience as I go through it, because I think it raises issues of equality, fairness and justice. Let me say that what I write is not against my wife in any way, but against the system in which I feel trapped.
At this first stage, I asked to be petitioned (rather than be separated for two years) for two reasons. One is financial, and there is no need to discuss that. The other is that my GRC really matters to me, and that I can claim it long before an uncontested two-year separation, which would allow the marriage simply to dissolve. I believe it is wrong that my identity depends on my marital status, however that has been damaged.
More than this, I was brought up sharp by the realisation that legally I am still male. I cannot divorce as a female, or stay married as a female, and therefore cannot be identified as a female in the petition. And so, Ms Andie Davidson is ‘he’ throughout. There is no alternative; Catch 22. My old name and title cannot be used (I have the legal document), nor can my true gender (I cannot obtain that legal document). I have to be mismatched, and I find that objectionable.
Is it unreasonable?
And then there are the available grounds here in English law. It would have been a lot more fun to have had an adulterous affair, then at least I could have enjoyed what would lead to a very easy petition! But because I still love my wife, and because I will not call anything she has done unreasonable, there is, for people like us, only one option: to say that being transsexual is both a behaviour, and unreasonable.
I do not believe that you can call the traumatic coming out as transsexual, and the long trail up to a formal diagnosis, unreasonable behaviour. But I have to. I recognise that it was not a process of reasoned and calm discussion: ‘Darling, I think I’m trans. Can we talk about it and find a way to understand this together?’ No it was years of not understanding, longing to be discovered, and pleading to be accepted. We become not so much unreasonable as irrational in believing that clues about ourselves will make sense and derive sympathy rather than revulsion. And along the way I could have done some things better. But the outcome would have been the same. People like me live in utter fear. And the more they love, the more scared they are. I used to say: ‘I can’t walk away from this. You can. Please don’t.’
Was it unreasonable to buy heels for going out in? Or only to keep them discreet? I guess the old battered brown loafers would have looked just as unreasonable with a skirt. Is it unreasonable to wear a skirt when you know you are really a woman? Or was it unreasonable to live in fear and hide things away rather than leaping home with: ‘Look at these lovely shoes I found today!’?
Well, you tell me. The bottom line for me is that, contrary to the solicitor’s expression (I will not blame my wife for any of the actual words), I am, and was not, a transvestite, indulging unfairly in cross-dressing for perhaps fetishistic reasons in expectation that she would accept or enjoy it. Anything I did that was unreasonable was due to being undiagnosed, and therefore not knowing what was going on, or how I should live with that knowledge.
So, for me to claim my identity as soon as I wish, I must ask for divorce, and to obtain a divorce I must be named as male, indulging in ‘unreasonable behaviour’, which in the end was only congruent with my identity, which should not be in anyone’s gift to withhold from me.
In legal terms, I do think that we need at least to provide for an unwilling partner in a marriage to say that, their partner having been diagnosed as misgendered, the agreed contract of marriage has been simply broken. No blame, no bad words, no necessary legal accusations, just that formal diagnosis changes the basis of the original contract.
I have to say that being written about in this way in the petition, and at such length, has been like a victim having to relive their experience, be taken through court and cross-examined, accused and threatened, when the fault is none of their own. I don’t see myself as a victim of anything, only that the scenario of being named male, and my identity spoken of as behaviour and unreasonable, puts me back through a lifetime of self-hate that I have left behind.
So please, understand that this piece is not a personal statement of what I have to do, in order to slight anyone else. This is rather a protest about the confusion of law and its incapacity to deal with people like me fairly. If marriage were a conditional contract rather than a pretence of unconditional love, then the grounds for annulment would be much more straightforward. But of course it isn’t. Some marriages put up with adultery and are ‘open’. A few embrace an altered gender recognition (it isn’t gender change). The former, however, is grounds for divorce, the latter is not. Or maybe we should just have ‘I shall marry you and stay faithful for as long as it suits me’. That, at least would be honest.
And the rest
What I haven’t discussed here, is those not diagnosed as transsexual, but who are not in the regular, ‘legal gender binary’, and who similarly feel that being honestly who they are in gender terms is no more a choice than mine. Why should their status be regarded as unreasonable or behavioural? If you married someone who turns out to be gender queer, or who was born intersex and mis-corrected at birth, or indeed whose sexuality was not clear, they should not need to be blamed in legal terms just because you dislike it to the degree that you prefer to end the marriage.
I have to say this again, because it is near the bone. The only real reason I need a divorce on grounds, rather than after two years irreconcilable differences, is to secure my identity. The decision to end my marriage was not mine, but since it has been made, comfort in its execution should not be reason to delay obtaining my legal identity. If the marriage were not ending, I would wait for the Equal Marriage legislation to catch up, however wrong I feel that to be.
If my self-understanding is correct; if my clinical diagnosis is correct, then my wife married, loved and lived with a woman in a man’s body for 30 years, and enjoyed what we were. She doesn’t have to like that fact, now we both know it, but this scenario does not have a legal reference in order to deal with it fairly and properly.
Never mind the shoes, never mínd the mile
climb up inside me, reach over my smile
Adjust your seat, be comfy, and rise
until without strain you see through my eyes
Watch me knock, push the bell, and feel the start
where love is a stranger – yet still draws my heart
Scan books that tell stories of holidays and times
I, reading science and she, reading crimes
Climb steps to the loft, find childhoods stored
rummage things forgotten, and toys once adored
Feel grass underfoot where I mowed, where I lay
smell the flowers, stroke the cats, let it all go away
Clear the shed where the wood is cut into shapes
of parts of my home, of my heart, of my hopes
And now watch me turn, watch me leave it behind
see the images blur until we are blind
Is it something I said? Is it something I did?
Was I harsh or unloving? Infidelities hid?
Did I fall? Did I fail, for this all to be gone?
It was none of these things, just the way I was born.
2013 © Andie Davidson
Sometimes I just ache for loving contact and touch. I knew it every day for over thirty years, and gave the same freely and with real affection and love. This has been a real cliff edge, and as much as I accept that my marriage is over, I am haunted.
This week my black dog has been prowling, asking for walkies, claws clicking on the floor, and looking at me with doleful eyes. My black dog arrived the first night I descended into the awful realisation that I had shed my pretence of being male where I was loved and desired, into a place where I was sufficiently female to be unlovable but insufficiently female to be desired. That place, where I might never know love and intimacy ever again was my greatest nightmare. It was then my black dog chased me to the brink and I seriously considered that all meaningful life had come to an end.
Dramatic, isn’t it? Of course not. It isn’t any different from a million other lonely women who either don’t want a man or can’t find anyone attracted, or can’t communicate their feelings lest it break a friendship. So I don’t count myself exceptional, and among fellow transsexual women, this is de rigeur.
‘Count your blessings!’, I am told. I even tell myself. And yes, my life is richer now than ever in many ways. But I don’t need to be told this, as I have explained in previous blogs, and tell over and over, the explosion of reality for me that transcends everything else, is my sense of authenticity.
Yes. I am real. I feel whole and normal and complete (well, almost – give me another year!)
And ready. Ready to love and be loved and feel wonderful, and share life and wholeness with another. Wow! It’s amazing! But I am standing alone on an empty stage and the play is elsewhere, the lights are out, and I am not in it. I have a feeling that if only I can find the right stage I may just be mistaken for an extra, so long as my lines are convincing. But I have the feeling that my script just isn’t the right one any more.
You see, this is my script and I don’t want someone else’s.
Probably the worst underlying thing about being born transsexual is that only another transsexual really gets it. I am reminded by the way accepting friends act and speak, that their acceptance is simply that – and they still don’t fully get it. It’s in the handshake you get when the woman next to you gets an air-kiss. It’s the explanation of how you never had to grow up with the vulnerability of being a girl. It’s the male banter as if you aren’t present as a woman, that you will ‘understand’ because you ‘used to be a man’. It’s the comment: ‘I shall always think of you how you used to be’.
My history will haunt me for ever. I am neither ashamed nor embarrassed by it, but it just isn’t normal is it? I was reminded robustly by a friend that I don’t exactly present as your average lesbian. Real lesbians grew up as women facing male presumptions and female vulnerabilities and judgements. I, on the other hand, was fully socialised as a man and took all the privileges – so don’t expect any sympathy there (mate). You can never be a real lesbian with that kind of background. It seems even wearing a skirt and being feminine is in itself surrender to male dominance and betrayal of some lesbian fundamental. And yet I really don’t (at least as yet) feel that I could let the average man into my personal space. I think it’s partly because I’ve seen male attitudes, the male psyche (which I don’t feel I ever truly shared), and behaviours from the inside, being expected to do the same, and experiencing men in the absence of women.
‘Why don’t you find another trans person? They will understand you much better!’ As if being trans defines your personality, your philosophy, your tastes and abilities, and makes you all of a kind. Ginger hair? Go join the gingers! Does that sound any more or less reasonable? It’s as if people feel safer if I don’t get too close. My authenticity is, in this way, questioned or denied. Real people, this way; less real people: over there please.
So despite my complete sense of authenticity, the world is full of well-meaning people who insist on labels that simply are inadequate. *Sigh*. It seems we’re back with the ‘what’ being more important than the ‘who’. Nothing pronounces this more than dating sites. Blokes browse my profile (no money exchanged yet so there are no exchanges) despite ‘F seeking F’ – and women either explain their lesbian past or ‘only seek friendship, nothing more’.
I’m a person! I’m screaming inside. Where can I find another person for whom our pasts and our unlearned selves are far less important than who we are now? I only want to love and be loved!
OK, you’ve had enough of the apparent angst. So have I. But what is so wrong with yearning for love? Having the capacity to love, care and commit, and finding that your labels don’t qualify you for being wanted and trusted is truly awful.
Because authenticity seems to count for less.
Because what you are makes people defensive, lest you change them by being too close.
Because in the end I had to choose between authenticity and the love of my life.
It all leaves me wondering if I would have really got to grips with and faced authenticity (and how many people do) were it not for this. Most of us have an idea by the time we are adult, of how life goes. We adjust expectations to reality all the time, but we lose bits of ourselves all along the way. Life is like that, this is how it is, never a bed of roses, you have to compromise, count your blessings, please others, keep your head down, it isn’t the end of the world, there are many people worse off than you.
And yet this real-I-sation for me, this truly knowing with awe and wonder, that I am meant to be like this, is a wholly different awareness than I have ever had. And it isn’t just about my gender, it’s about my sense of self. And it means that I will never allow my authenticity to be compromised ever again. Is that why I don’t know the script any more?
I’m having trouble with trousers.
I can’t imagine how I ever found them really comfortable. I shall – within a year – but for now I only wear them when it’s really necessary, even though a lot of the time I’m the only woman in a skirt. They are, as well, an unwelcome reminder of how I used to be, and they remind me of self-restriction, denial, tension, drab – and obligation.
More to the point, I’ve been asking myself how much I ‘wore the trousers’ when I had a wife and family. I never wanted to, and it didn’t come naturally, but I think I lived in a shared expectation of some primacy. I regret that it was my career (or more precisely, job) that took precedence. I regret that as a couple we were not better balanced at having our own lives beyond the home. I was the one who took art classes, I was the one who took up music again and was out all the time. I was the over-working campaigner for five years. In every way I was the one ‘on top’. Some of that was expected male privilege, which now I reject fiercely. So yes, trousers remind me of expectations, and of a position that I feel sometimes quite angry about having to take. They remind me too that my PSO was denied advantages and earnings because we accepted this default, and whilst she will get half my lifetime pension, and has a rewarding if difficult job, her earnings and job security are poor.
I also find that I am aware, not just of lost ‘male privilege’ (which I never wanted) but of the same expectation of being second-rank (welcome to womanhood, I hear you say!). Oh how feminism kicks in when you belong to the other side! I intend to write soon about radical feminism (and the TERFs who pour such vitriol on trans women) because I do understand many of the arguments. Feminists wear trousers a lot more than I do, but I wear the assertiveness.
Getting on top of things again
I am now also part of two communities that are both quite new to me. I am a transsexual woman, and I am lesbian. In the first, many of us just revel in finding our femininity. After 55 years a skirt feels pretty wonderful, and we late-lifers desperately want to make up for lost time. It’s not sexy, it’s just so damn right. In the second, many of us (dare I, please, say ‘us’ and be included?) wear trousers. And I still don’t feel like being ‘on top’. I want my rights, I don’t want to be second-rated simply for being a woman, but I want to be wanted. I want to not have to take the lead … and I don’t want to be the hunter in finding a new life-companion; I want to be found.
Poetic interlude: what it felt like to be in the wrong role. Lying in bed.
But the thing is, I don’t know how easy it is going to be, as a feminist skirt-wearing lesbian, in being taken seriously. Do I make myself less attractive by being attractive in the way I feel comfortable? Will it always still take trousers to be wanted? Do I feel attractive being more feminine because I am conditioned by heterosexual society? Do I have credibility in being trans-woman-lesbian?
I feel attracted the same as ever. I feel the desires and needs, the yearnings, hopes and longings. In fact I am attracted, but feel I cannot as yet voice it. And I am afraid if or when I do, I will not be genuine enough, without making someone feel their own identity is being compromised, in the same way my PSO was. Will I always change anyone who gets too close to me – unless I wear trousers?
Friendships with legs
Life will never be the same again. I assumed the traditional approach of getting a partner, getting married, playing the part, making a couple. And it worked, it really worked. I never got so itchy that I moved outside the marriage, but I had no other deep friendships until quite late on. I remember saying to one girl friend after we moved into our final family house how ‘I wished I was a girl so we could just have an evening out’. A married man with another woman isn’t an easy option, and maybe it would suggest to itself greater intimacy, because that’s what potentially sexual friendships can be like, and doubts are sown everywhere.
And now? I have all the freedom I might want – and I am worried about trousers! There are people I know who might have been more attracted to me (if available) as a man, who now feel much safer just as friends. And there are those who might be attracted more if I had always been the woman I am now. And again, there are those who find me ambiguous as I currently am, and will feel more comfortable when all is resolved in a year’s time.
And yet I am yearning for some commitment, for the opportunity of mutual love, for affection, trust, for once again ‘being at home’ with another. I talk with friends about ‘being ready’ for another ‘relationship’ – by which I guess we mean exclusivity and daily sharedness.
How will I know when I or the other is ready? When we are both wearing trousers? Or when I and the other are feeling emotionally stable and know that what we want is a new and different and desirable way forward? I feel the whole path forward is going to be quite different from what I have expected before, and from what has been expected of me. I don’t even want to be the one who directs a new relationship or is presumed to know how it should be; I want real equality this time. I want a clean slate and no presumptions.
I just long for that first kiss – again.
But today? No trousers.
PSO: Previously Significant Other
TERF: Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist