This week’s thoughts have been like the waves washing the shore, advancing, retreating and ever-changing. A lot of life’s sediments following this final move to a place of permanence, this reduction in big uncertainties, are settling. So much has moved beyond discussion and become fixed, and my final frustrating resolutions have a (distant) horizon. In so many ways life is a mix of the utterly ordinariness of living, and the potential for more. I came to realise that with the closing of the dance workshop this week, and all its wonderful new creativity, I had grown. I remember feeling such…
Sandra Bullock spinning wildly, freely in space. ‘Untethered!’ – she remains professional, following communications protocol, completely unable to control her spin or direction. There is no traction in space, hurtling weightless around the planet. One person (George Clooney) has the capacity to save her, because he has a jet-pack. But he has too much to do, with what little resource he has … I won’t spoil the story if you haven’t yet seen the film Gravity, but I will recommend the 3D version, for the tears in space. The gravity of gravity I work in a place where the value…
I’ve told a few cis friends that I shall be going to a TDOR event this month. TDOR, on the 20th November each year is the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Hot on the heels of Remembrance Sunday and the 11th November memorials, some assume that it must be something to do with trans people in the two world wars. Understandable, but it did set me thinking.
First of all, what is TDOR all about? Observed all around the world now, it commemorates all those transgender and transsexual people who have been killed through the year as a direct result of transphobic actions arising from fear and hatred. Roll-calls of the dead are read out, and those who suffer from transphobia are remembered. In many countries murders of trans people are not recorded as hate crimes, and any other reason than transphobia can be given as motive. We remember people in countries where transphobia is cultural and endemic, and those who take their own lives because others make living intolerable.
This should be on mainstream news bulletins, but being a minority issue, it rarely gets covered. Why should the world remark? There are fewer trans people than many other minorities, and to be frank, few people actually care about transphobia, maybe because they don’t understand that people are born trans, and that so many end up in unfortunate circumstances that lead to being very vulnerable, simply because society finds being trans confusing, curious and, well, weird. It’s time the world came to see that a small percentage of every population consists of people whose brains and natures for real physiological reasons are at odds with their reproductive organs. Yes, that’s all it boils down to. It happens. Rather a lot.
Back to the confusion. The word ‘remembrance’ is not used much, in fact we mostly only hear it in reference to war. Younger generations now question so much remembrance at such distance over events they can’t imagine being repeated, and see the side that almost justifies war for producing heroism. The ‘war to end all wars’ did not, and many wars have followed. Fighting still seems a human necessity, and talking, sharing, negotiating, understanding, still are not good enough for us to live peaceably. We do not like change from what we believe were unalterable foundations.
In the West, the gender binary is such a foundation too, almost like a nation’s borders are sacrosanct and to be defended.
Transgender Remembrance? I recall the many times I have been called brave, courageous, almost heroic, for being visibly, honestly trans. I mean, what was that choice all about? Following the order by an officer to go ‘over the top’ was obedience. To be killed doing so was heroic. That’s millions of heroes over the years doing what they thought was right, learned primarily from others and the mores of the day. But being trans? There is no order from anyone else. In fact coming out as trans in many ways goes against everyone else’s expectations, hopes and wishes. And yet we are still being told we are pioneering, brave, even heroic, for daring to be different. Maybe there is greater courage in being true to yourself – even though it means risk, danger and rejection or worse – than in fighting someone else’s war, even for your country, if only because you do it alone, and out of who you are, not what you believe in.
No. We are different, we don’t just think differently. Just as you as a cis woman, or you as a cis man, are different from all the others who are not. It’s just that you have a validated name, and we do not. And for that, the world over, some of us are murdered. It’s a few hundred, but it is specific and targeted. That means in some countries and circumstances I too would be in real danger whereas you as a cis person would not. Yes, it is also true of being gay or lesbian, but at least most of the world will rise up against that kind of discrimination now, whereas for trans people they still stand back.
So in this remembrance for those of us who are killed, there is no particular bravery or courage other than the imperative to be true to ourselves.
Thankfully, where I live, I do not have to think where I am going when I go out alone at night. I am too old to frequent clubs and drunken younger people, and not all that obvious visually. But for millions of people like me in other places, watching your back, for the way you were born, is a daily way of living.
This remembrance is an important one, so if it’s new to you, hang onto it, and just think that if you count me a friend, even an Internet friend, I am merely one of the lucky ones who as yet has not been roughed up, attacked, beaten or worse for being trans. But I might. Tell others about TDOR; don’t be embarrassed. They might meet me or another trans person one day and realise how normal we can be, and how at risk.
… when leaving the train. It’s an everyday announcement. I’m not sure if it means don’t leave a bomb please, or please save us the lost property, but you hear it so many times it doesn’t remind you to do anything. Just mind the gap. That really does matter!
This is my first blog from my new home, and it’s taken me lot of adjusting to come to recognise that I am permanently here (as in, I am going to be here quite a long time). No, I shan’t be moving again next year or the year after, and whatever I dislike or that feels awkward or less than I really want, this is it. Water-leaks into my cupboards are my leaks. Truffle-coloured walls are for me to sort out, and there just isn’t much of this place to alter to my individuality. (But the olive-green wall was the first to go, painted three times on the day before I moved in!)
I’ve been having dance workshops in someone’s home, in a room as big as the floorplan of my flat. And yet this bedroom is really lovely, and I’m glad it’s as big as my lounge. I shall get used to restricted space and limitations, and probably swap the car for something rather smaller that will find the under-sized parking spaces possible.
I used to live in a more spacious semi-detached house, with a large garden. I have always lived in a semi, always with a garden, often with fruit and veg growing, sometimes a pond. I have a larger car because it’s been useful for larger pieces of wood, garden provisions, and taking things away, for transporting my son to university and back, and for family holidays.
And now, I have none of these things. That dream, for what it was worth, and for all its enjoyments, is over.
So why is it that the most difficult space has been my second bedroom? In reality it is my office/working space, and potentially it was to be where a guest could stay, as in my last rented flat. But this time, it has acquired history from my family house. I rescued some OK-ish white metal shelving for storage, and added my belongings that I’d taken with me.
I guess I didn’t want to fall down the gap, so as I left, I checked around that I had everything. Bench vice (the bench went), angle grinder (for loan: I have nothing to grind), router (for woodworking, not the Internet), and tools for everything (some of which really have been useful already). I don’t want to call in any handyman to do what I know how to do myself. A girl can be self-sufficient when she’s learned what to do.
And yet, after a morning assembling the shelving, and an afternoon of putting everything away in them as neatly as a first shot could permit, I was left looking at a wall that was dominating domestic space in what has to be said is an unusual way. It isn’t how most spare bedrooms look. My dad had one, but then he had five bedrooms to play with and no shed. I like having my practical means of survival. These are my skills and abilities, encapsulated. Yes, this is a part of me; these are my belongings, and whilst I do know other women equally capable, it does leave me wondering whether some of these are belongings I should leave behind, and whether for anyone else, they are a marker of not being a ‘real’ woman. Does this room detract from my femininity? I have already thought of screening the shelves with floral or pink/purple curtains, but the truth is, the futon won’t fold out for a guest because of the shelves and the rest of my stuff that won’t quite fit in. Portfolios of years of art classes, pictures with too few walls to go on, boots without cupboards, regular office equipment and stationery …
I have left the train, and I am stationary. Some things have moved off without me already. What are my belongings? Is there lost property? Should I ditch some of this in order to become a more regular female traveller? It isn’t materialism so much as attachment to the means of doing things, that I feel torn by.
Today is also my birthday. It is only the second time in my life that there has been no-one special to have thought or asked: ‘what would you like for your birthday?’ But a card from a friend arrived in time, a pretty card from my mum, and a very pink ‘Sister’ card (bless you: you have no idea what a wonderful feeling that gives me). I shall never again receive a blokey card, featuring some sport I have never played, boats I have never wanted to be sick on, diy debacles, or drunken lounging. Why did I ever get any of those? And yet some of the things on my ‘second bedroom’ shelves would have appeared on them – and I don’t want a card with a girl wearing a tool belt.
It is many years ago that I was in a short poetry interlude, writing from a hurting heart, and several times about wanting to be wanted for who I am, not for what I can do. It felt as if my place in life was to be able, not simply to be. And here I am, being more me than ever, yet still hanging onto belongings that define what I can do.
And if I could swap my room full of these belongings for a person who wanted me simply for who I am, I would leap out of bed now and throw it all away in an instant. It isn’t about belongings. It’s about belonging.
The whole theme of my script with the many psychiatrists it took to decide that the problem is my body, not my mind – was that of not belonging in the gender assigned me at birth. Not belonging with male peers from the word go, on a boys’ table, in a boys’ playground, in a boys’ school, as a teen boy, among young men, in a male team and environment.
As I woman, I belong at last, in the right place. But perhaps with too many belongings, and no-one special to belong with.
A man went to a tailor to buy a suit. He tried one on and looked at himself in the mirror. It was good, but he noticed the waistcoat was a bit skew. ‘Don’t worry’, the tailor said, ‘just pull the short side down with your left hand and no-one will notice.’ The man did this, and then noticed that one lapel curled up a bit. ‘Oh, that’s nothing’, said the tailor. ‘Just turn your head a little and hold it down with your chin.’ The man tried this, and indeed, all seemed well, except he noticed that the trousers were a bit tight around the crotch and a tad short in the leg. ‘No problem’, said the tailor. ‘Just pull the seam down with your right hand, and that will sort it out.’ The man added this adjustment, and yes, the suit was fine. He bought it and left. The next day, proudly wearing his new suit, with the required adjustments, he walked (a little awkwardly) through the town. Two women, sitting outside a café with their shopping, watched as he limped by. ‘Oh, just look at that poor crippled man!’ said one to the other. Her friend watched a while and then replied, ‘Such a shame to see someone suffer like that. But what a lovely suit he has!’
That’s a retelling from Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, which struck me suddenly this morning. The context is about women (especially), who lose their true selves in being what everyone calls out for them to be. It’s a chapter about folk narratives of having one’s pelt stolen when caught unawares, and about finding one’s way home again to your true soul-self.
It reminded me of something I told no-one until in therapy a couple of years ago with my PSO. Since I was a teenager, I had a frequent and recurrent dream theme, sometimes even in daydream, in which, whatever I was doing, I would be leaning on a walking stick, or on crutches. Time and again I tried to work out what it meant, and never came to an answer. Why should I, a fit and capable person, have this self-image, so persistently? Was it an issue of confidence, of self-esteem? What did the crutches represent? What prop was I using to keep myself going? What was the injury or disability? I wasn’t aware of an injury, there was no ‘bad leg’ in the dreams, just the stick or crutches. Was it psychological, a mental prop, something I was leaning on for moral support, some inadequacy? I never worked it out, there was never a moment of revelation or sudden dawning of understanding.
All I know is that I haven’t had that image in any dream since I came to understand that I was female in a basically male body.
In my first job, I chose to wear a 3-piece suit. In my last job, I was the last person in the organisation to relinquish the tie at work, as dress codes relaxed substantially over the years (yes, irony, if you read ‘The ties that bind’!). I still wore a smart jacket to work every day until the last short while. And my massage therapist (who has treated me for well over a decade) remarked how different I had always been, in being so conventional. I tried too hard, making the suit fit.
Women Who Run With the Wolves has been inspiring in dealing with the primordial self of returning to self, and I interpret my dream theme now as a life-long insecurity with living as male. Smart suit, shame about the limp.
Interestingly, I was having a conversation last night about similar issues. Knowing yourself, your gender, your sexuality, your boundaries, maybe even your morphic field (Google ‘Sheldrake’ on this if it’s new to you) is a real challenge, when you have been shaped by others’ social expectations all your life. Some of us will learn to stand up straight and see that the suit is awry. Others will realise that they can dance to a different music. But all of us have a greater self than we have been dressed as. In personal scope, I have found immense freedom and feel my personal energy and field (aura?) have expanded enormously. For all the trauma of passing through, I would never choose to be as I was ever again.