‘The government has vowed …’ It’s what? I hear and notice it a lot and wonder what it means. A vow is, depending on your dictionary, a solemn promise, and earnest promise, a serious one, a personal one. It seems in origin to have religious overtones, in other words a promise that your god hears and will hold you to. It’s really about your best intent. Of course for many of us the first and only vows we are asked to make are marriage vows. How lovely that in modern ceremonies you can devise your own, word them as you…
I got drawn this week into another of those dialogues about the legitimacy of the transgendered identity. The comparison as so often was between being gay/lesbian (i.e. sexuality) and gender dysphoria, where the former finds agreement between body and mind (identity), but a disagrement with social tradition or culture, and the latter finds a disagreement between body and mind (identity) as well as with culture and society. It’s tough, because if you are trans*, the chances are you also have a sexuality that is questioned by society, including the gay/lesbian part of it.
It’s like being trans* gets you shut out of almost every kind of accepted normality, where anyone except yourself can decide what your legitimate identity is allowed to be. As if society is afraid of your behaviour, perhaps thinking you are unpredictable or potentially predatory. Sometimes I have been treated as intrusive simply for being; there can be a lot of exclusion for being trans*. The worst kind is trans erasure, where certain groups define us out of existence, saying in effect that what we are is only in our minds.
Believe me, there is nothing about being transsexual that is behavioural. In fact, being transsexual need not involve you doing anything at all. It is only about being. Part of the problem is that the trans-spectrum people who are most visible are either the most flamboyant (deliberate) or the most physically disadvantaged (unfortunate). I don’t get noticed anymore, but knowing what I am gets me associated with stereotypical ideas of what I do (or salacious imaginings of what I might do).
There are people who knew me before transition, and who, two years later, still find it hard to stop thinking of me as I used to present. Everything is still a reference to how I used to be to them, which leaves me with the distinct feeling that they can only regard this as a chosen lifestyle. In other words, that this is behavioural, and therefore subject to judgement as to its rationale or authenticity.
What does it take?
I wrote a poem last year about an innocent prisoner being discharged, based on the feelings of what it must be like to be the only person in the courtroom who actually knows the truth. No-one else does, though they have the power to imprison or release. If you know you are innocent, should you be grateful for acquittal by people who were not there, who have made judgements based on external and partial evidence?
Sometimes being transsexual feels like that: others get together to make judgements on the validity of your claim to authenticity, whereas only you can actually know this. Even trans* people make judgements about each other on ‘degrees of transness’, perhaps as self-protection for their own sense of identity, or out of insecurity.
This is where you come to understand, if you haven’t before, just how completely lonely the human spirit really is. No other can climb inside yourself and share your experience. You can become aware of resonance with another, but you know that when they choose to go away from you, they take nothing and leave nothing but thoughts. The closest you can get to another is by communicating through some intermediary language, verbal or not, that you hope is shared. In the end you are isolated and insulated, and love is a reflexive verb.
Oh no, not the trans lobby again!
If there is one thing that those who like to discuss trans legitimacy don’t like, it is the ‘trans lobby’ – people who stand up and object every time to this discussion. How improper! These discussants feel they have more right to say whether transgendered people are real, than transgendered people themselves. Well, I guess if you think we aren’t real, then we have no right. But why are we not real? Because our discussants have only one traditional concept of gender? And if there is one sure way to create a trans lobby, it must surely be to declare that a trans woman is ‘really’ a man, or a trans woman is ‘really’ a woman. Or indeed, that neither are either.
I find it interesting to try to understand where our eager or insistent discussants place those with intersex conditions. Bodies can be very ambiguous, and more than we like to believe, are. Genital/reproductive abnormalities may be as high at 1 in 100, and real ambiguity as high as 1 in 2,000. What, without question, defines a woman or a man, since our discussants seem so clear? It certainly isn’t a complete and clear possession of all the sexual markers, whether organs or chromosomes. XY, with androgen insensitivity, for example?
With such crass disregard for the reality of human physiology, chromosomal, reproductive or sexual, it is hardly surprising that there seems to be a trans lobby that jumps to defence. So I was very cautious about entering this week’s conversation, lest I too be labelled a lobbyist.
Society creates disorders
Part of the discussion we trans folk are presented with, is: what if society were so accepting of transgendered identities that we would not even consider surgical reparation or correction? It is a fair question, because any parent of an intersex baby will want to know what to do. Intervene, in order to avoid the dreadful uncertainty of growing up without definition? Or risk surgically defining the baby in a way that proves to be wrong? Maybe we, as a society, can get over this one by being simply honest about physiological birth differences. But what about transsexuals? Is this just a different case of intersex? Can I imagine a society that is accepting enough for me to say I really have no need of intervention, hormonal or surgical? For some of us, I really do believe that dysphoria has no other origin than our innate sense of being. For others, not – but for me, I know the sense of not being ‘right’ has not been planted by nurture or social interaction. Who would go through the social trauma and physical struggles, if there were an alternative? Is it just that society is so unkind to us, and so unaccepting?
Here is a parallel that I keep coming back to: what if society were so accepting of, say, a deformed limb that could, through surgery, be straightened?
The same social argument would apply: ‘surely there is no real need for corrective surgery or treatment; there’s nothing wrong with a limp or the inability to run.’ Well, it’s fine for the one without the deformity, but highly presumptive that the other might not genuinely prefer to be able to run.
Much of the time, our discussants on our legitimacy are gay or lesbian, who have seen a revolution in the UK over acceptability of their sexuality as innate. Look what they went through in the past, and look how society is now! Surely we can just calm down and be different, like they are? And here is the difference between LGB and TQI: we don’t want to be different. We feel our normality is there, in the gender we feel ourselves to be. Most of us don’t want some halfway house, some different, either hated or exalted status. We know we can’t alter the way we were born, but we can do our best to put things right and leave it behind. LGB people don’t do that; they live it. LGB people need each other for intimate relationships. Transsexual people do not. If we have any togetherness, it is only because we’re better at understanding each other.
So I don’t believe that I have a cultural disorder. Something congenital and off the normal distribution mean, yes, but more than a matter of social convention. My ‘condition’ hasn’t been created any more than the case of the deformed limb. So when I read non-trans people questioning my validity, I find it somewhat arrogant. It isn’t for anyone else to decide another’s legitimate identity. Perhaps there is an enormous clue in people born with intersex conditions. No observer can say what their gender is, only they themselves. They may naturally feel strongly that they have a binary identity, or indeed none. We all have this. You can lose all your physiological markers through illness, disease, accident, surgery, and still you would know what your felt gender is. That’s what it feels like for me.
Gender is indeed intriguing and fascinating, and I know what gender I am not. But to imagine that my identity is up for debate without knowing this from the inside, is a tad presumptive. And remember, always, especially if you are gay or lesbian: sexuality is not like gender.
I sometimes wonder whether I’ll run out of interesting thoughts for this blog and be really stumped. But life moves on and I’m aware as I do, that I may be able to draw others along in my wake. This week the day finally came and went that I had my first surgical consultation at the hospital where I shall go in a few months to be completed. It was so absolutely wonderful to be there, talking about procedures and schedules, knowing that what I need is finally, actually going to happen, with lovely people who want the best for…
This week I was revisited by a feeling of being alone. After several vibrant long days at work, with some small sense of achievement, coming home to a silent flat for a whole evening alone hasn’t felt like fun. Nor was it sufficient stimulus for the opportunity of doing the dusting! I did some writing, which was good. In fact two poems, one, Voice, I put up here pending revision and better crafting, the other left me in a quandry.
Lyricists have long been in danger of writing love songs to people they’ve subsequently cheated on, poets are often asked if it’s autobiographical, and novelists where such ideas could have come from other than within. So it is with this other poem I wrote. I actually like it, because it’s neat with use of words and ambiguity, a touch flirtatious, but heartfelt too. And though it doesn’t speak of love, it is a love poem. And it speaks about when love is unspeakable. Perhaps there is nothing as bittersweet as unrequited love, especially when it isn’t just intoxication or infatuation.
As I approach the two-year point since the final vestiges of living-as-male were shed, everything seems so far away. By now it is unreachable. I have memories, and I dare to touch them again, though I’m still not sure whether they are people frozen as statues as in Narnia, or moving images like photographs in Harry Potter. Both are an evil magic in some ways. But more to the point, nothing has filled the space. And I don’t really know what the space is any more. What does ‘a committed relationship’ mean now? I don’t want the claustrophobia of me or a partner not being able to do their own thing because everything has to be done together, but I do want to know that there is someone who always puts my interests ahead of others, simply because they always care, and because I know they have a love that won’t change from day to day. I want affection; I want to be wanted; I want to be cuddled. More: I want to give the same without it being blocked because of what I am.
How do you say this?
I dipped a toe in the online dating pond, not as far as paying, only as profiling. In response to ‘woman seeking woman, Brighton, within 60 miles’ and lots of good things about me, I have had a stream of people who might be interested (overlapping profiles) – from Scotland, Lancashire, Northern Ireland and it may as well be Timbuctoo! OK, unless I pay, there won’t be real matches, but they’re not exactly encouraging me to sign up and pay. And anyway, I actually don’t want this kind of relationship-finding displacing a best friendship I already have. Nor do I want to lose a friendship by saying anything I shouldn’t say.
As yet I have not experienced anyone showing the slightest ‘interest’ in me. Just as my wife would tell me ‘I just don’t know how to relate to you (as a woman)’, I don’t think people do know. I’m safe as a friend, but I’m not in the category of possibles, because, well, what am I? That was my last relationships blog, so I won’t go there again, but it does fit this feeling of ‘so far away’. Anyone I think may be a possible ever-closer friend/partner knows exactly where to stop and defend territory (or any inclination to make me an exception). As soon as I am not one thing or I am another, I know we are destined to be ‘just friends’. And that is how I fear it will always be, however I feel.
This isn’t a grouse, but I keep thinking about this Midas Touch – not that I turn anything into gold and add value, but that what I am is a danger to anyone who gets too close: I would change them. Know me, and you instantly become one of those people who knows a transsexual person. Touch me and you instantly become someone who touches … Kiss me and you instantly become someone of ‘other’ sexuality. Love me? I can be your friend while you go dating.
I don’t know how to bridge the gap, so if you have any really good ideas, please let me know. Anyone I talk to about this is terribly kind in their words. Of course I’ll find someone, I mean, haven’t I a lot going for me? Musician? Artist? Writer? Dancer? Thinker? Philosopher? Terrible jokes, but somehow still fun? Highly intelligent and witty? Committing, loyal, kind and deeply loving?
Sadly, none of these things count if, when you imagine being intimate, what I am makes you feel less than what you want to feel you are. You’re ‘not wired’ for people like me? Being wired differently myself, I can never understand that either.
Ideas on a postcard please.
And just because I really like it for touching a really tender spot, here is ‘So far away’ by Carole King.
I was teased by something that was said about voice. It flashed into my mind from several directions at once. Voice is what people hear of you. We speak of giving a voice, meaning empowering. We speak of having no voice as disenfranchised. We speak of something voiced, to imply the speaker would not otherwise be heard. Voice is breath with meaningful sound, so it marks the human spirit, and enables communication. And voices can be so different, from gentle to strident, pleading to dictatorial. ‘Performative utterance’ is a voice that makes something happen. Voice is also song. Grammatically, it can be active or passive. A bad cold or throat, and we can lose it to a whisper. And of course for someone shifting their life into a different gender voice is a scary givaway. Female to male transition is so enviably easy! The other way round has us searching YouTube, downloading voice analysis software, messing with keyboards, avoiding falsettos, pushing and visualising our pitch, learning cadence and even vocabulary and gestures that make our voice more as we would like. We imagine hanging our voice higher each day, or putting it on a high shelf. We risk sounding posh or Australian without noticing. We breathe and enunciate, listen to favourite actresses, and sing along with female vocalists in the car. And then there is the telephone. Voice, as the genuine expression of self, the journey out of the lie, is hard won.
And for the hard-of-reading, here is me reading it!
voice is speaking, voice is singing, voice
is breath made sound, voice is expression, is
meaning, voice is unique, may harmonise
or may sound alone
voice is me made known to you and you to me
voice is given, voice is found, voice
is lost, remains, in echo, voice is
what I speak, is what I utter, voice is heart
in sound, is hurt, is love
voice is to you, is to me,
is to empty air, but where
I have a voice, I have two voices, one
I do not use; but if I were to sing, it may
find its place; I miss singing but not
the voice, not that voice; did it lie? no,
it was natural in an expanded throat, did I lie?
no, I just did not
know I had another voice
I have not used that voice for
years, last sounded for seconds
a year ago, and could not take it anymore, it is strange,
in my teens I heard it recorded
and it was light and high, and I
felt embarrassed with myself, now
I cannot bear to hear it so, how
did people hear my voice?
if they heard what they saw, they did not see
what they heard, my tenor was sufficient
trick on the ear, and my voice, my real voice
was silent, I had something
waiting to be said, I said, I had something
waiting, something, weighting my voice, down,
I was unspoken, the real I
a wheel uncentred, loosened
from its hub, un-spoke-en, but I
found my voice, I found my song, I
found my breath, joined rib to hum
joined rim to hub and
turned; I had to learn
to speak, as if it were song, moving
white to black to white, key by key, back
to light, more afraid to be too low,
to be so low, I hung my voice
on hooks, sat it
on a shelf, taught it a new place where
it could rest, and there
it is, my voice, so
ordinary to me I have
little left to say
‘I like your voice’, she said. ‘Please read for me.’
my voice has quite become me
2014 © Andie Davidson