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Who does she think I am?

  • Posted on April 26, 2014 at 8:36 pm

Nearly two years ago, just before I decided I had to leave my home and walk away from my marriage, I tried to write from my wife’s perspective. I wrote Who does she think she is? It was an honest attempt to see what it was like for a husband to be replaced by an intruder, a woman, uninvited. At the time we were in therapy, and she objected to this post, despite its caveat, and asked that I remove it. One of our therapists said no, it was my valid experience and expression. I still feel that I captured something, even if it wasn’t my wife’s voice as she would have written it herself.

This question: ‘Who does she think I am?’ is again my imagined question, as if from my ex, in response to my protestations over the past few years. Again, I cannot claim to speak for her, I’m only trying to see the other side.

This week was bruising. I am a writer, and I can’t resist the urge to write. In my work I am meticulous in removing ambiguity, in my poetry I ‘show not tell’, deliberately introducing ambiguity. In my emails, at least with my ex, I am a terrible writer. I write when I should not, and I write in a way that is easily misunderstood, and probably show misunderstanding. I can hardly write dispassionately and objectively though, so I constantly make mistakes. Every time I attempt dialogue, she feels I’m invalidating her feelings, every time I try to stretch her imagination, I remind myself that it’s all over and that it is not my place to know her life as I used to. It is factually immaterial that I lost all family life, along with all we’d built together. It is not for me to claim that I lost more than she did, and there is no point speaking about the responsibility each of us shares. Everything has gone and we both lost. No-one won in this one.

And then an exchange on Facebook about trans suicide rates came up. Add to the ‘at least attempted’ all those who considered it, and the score is horrifically high. Fundamentally it is because being transsexual robs you of your place in society, among friends, in your family, and wrecks a large slice of your personal life. Faced with the choice of being wanted or loved for what you are not, and being authentic whilst losing it all, sometimes the only way out is down.

Then an entry in the thread, by a wife, pulled me up short. Suicide can be for spouses and partners too.

It really is that big. Why should you have to change your world view? It’s an earthquake in your life; it is traumatic, unexpected and unwanted. ‘What have I done, for my very macho, strong, secure, masculine husband to be removing all his body hair and transforming into something that looks a bit like a woman, whilst claiming that’s what they are?’ How can you live with that? This person who used to love you as a man is willfully undermining everything you hold dear, every reason you loved them, becoming a stranger and negotiating very little. How can that be OK? You do not have to go along with it, and maybe your survival means detaching from it. No, I was not the macho husband-man, nor was my ex suicidal. But I still perceive the reaction:

It’s obvious, isn’t it?! Who does she think I am?

From the inside, from the other side

Never ask a transsexual person to understand what it is like to be ‘cis’. We honestly don’t know. We can only imagine from the other side of transition, when memories fade. And don’t ask us to remember like you do. We can’t. Every single one of us can only remember our past experience in terms of what it meant or felt like to be ‘me’, from the inside. I wrote to my ex: ‘In a land without mirrors, my face has become ugly, and everyone can see it except me.’ What I meant was not that I am completely unattractive, but that (a) from the inside I cannot really understand why no-one wants to get physically close to me any more, and that (b) all my memories are from the inside of me, whilst everyone else’s memories of me are of the outside.

But I do still try to understand the impact of my transition, and I don’t take it lightly. Grief, rather than belligerence, mars my understanding. I do know that my wife had a man as a husband, and that this was the deal. Had I known at the time that I was born with gender dysphoria, I hope I would have been honest and dealt with it then. I would not have enjoyed 30 years living with my wife; we would never have married, because she was not looking for a woman. She would not have looked twice at me, and today, perhaps we would simply be writing occasional letters as friends from university days.

I am responsible for dissolving the husband/man façade in front of her eyes, pleading, yes, to be seen as a person not as a strictly gendered accessory. From my perspective, I can’t see why sex is so confined, and why people aren’t more attractive than their bodies. I can’t see why intimacy has to be hetero-binary. I can’t, because this is not the land I live in. But I do know that in her land, the ‘normal’ land, this is exactly how it is. Adam and Eve, Tarzan and Jane, and that is the way that most of us are made. It isn’t about the intellectual explanation, or the analysis I’ve been at pains to work through on this blog. It isn’t open to persuasion. My land is not her land, and she’s gone home. We went to the border, and she waved me off. If I was writing an apologetic for my country, then as a writer I failed, I was unpersuasive. That pen must now finally be put down.

If I have anything to say to you dear reader, if you have a transsexual spouse, or know someone who has, we may be unable to escape our gender dysphoria, but it does not mean we don’t try to understand how it is for you. It is just that authenticity comes first, and we have been forced finally to face inescapable realities that we have no choice than to embrace. You have that choice, and we cannot presume to make it for you. I hope your love is of a kind that prevails, but sadly it is rare, and you would not be unusual.

I argued a long time back to my then wife, that in the land of the blind, my hands would still feel the same, and love would not be turned away. I just see things differently, and as much as I cannot describe the colour blue to you, other than by attaching it to things, so I must accept that I could never describe my world to her. Her land is her land, and I no longer have a passport, but she has a life to lead, and maybe I’d just better not try to meet through the wire.

Which reminds me of a poem some while ago: Losing my touch (I counted on you).

Show, not tell

  • Posted on April 18, 2014 at 8:56 am

It’s Easter. Two years ago I dug around the story, and was reminded today by a Facebook image doing the rounds saying that Easter comes from the goddess Ishtar. I knew this to be wrong, because I’d dug around Eostre instead. The poem is here, if you already need a digression!

At the time I felt the poem may be a little obscure, because most people were still just starting to realise that my transition was something real, and my objective in writing poetry was to lead not push. I could write prose, which is why I started this blog, but some people don’t like to be told, because they come head to head with their idea against mine, and that’s uncomfortable. Poetry that just ‘says it’ can be boring. A picture of a witch is just a picture, take it or leave it. But that familiar optical illusion that can switch mentally from being a drawing of an old woman in furs, to a witch’s head, is fascinating.

Sometimes we just can’t take being told

This week I took my poem Unspoken to a workshop, and resisted the temptation to say what it was about. I had dared to read it on local radio last year, but revisiting it, I still felt I needed reassurance and feedback. It still means something real and deep to me, it is still relevant, but it is all ‘show not tell’, and it is precisely about those things you can’t say because they could undo everything in an instant.

This reminded me very much of the whole business of coming out, of learning and speaking my truth. It felt subversive (something I like about poetry, but which felt uncomfortable to live out). I am not alone in the way I behaved, and I suspect this is a feature of many trans* people’s lives when they are working out how to tell the world that things need to change.

So this blog is for people coming out, for their friends and families. You can’t just be told, you need to realise a few things first to prepare you for understanding. For anyone to transition may be to find peace and authenticity, but it is one of the hardest things to do, because you know it won’t be understood.

And this is why we start wearing bits of the ‘wrong’ clothing, jewellery or make-up, begin to soften in our ways, and why things appear in our wardrobes that ‘shouldn’t be there’. For people transitioning female to male, that may be a lot less obvious, rather ‘why don’t you like doing that any more?’ It may not be the best way to do this! But what many of us are trying to do is introduce new ideas about ourselves, new ways of seeing us, new understandings of being the same person looking different, feeling better. You might just se this as weird or even disturbing. It may not be what you want. But what we are trying to show is that we have to change, we want you to notice, and we need you to ask, so we can be open without thrusting it on you. This conversation can lead to shared understanding and travelling forward together, or it may lead to separation and loss. We don’t intend to hurt anyone by coming out. After all, we are only being true to ourselves.

To you it probably seems like deception. We are writing poetry in our lives, and you want the classic story with a happy ending.

Deception was an unfortunate keynote in the divorce petition against me. It was felt necessary, it wasn’t a grudge. But it was there; it was the remembered thing. Shoes were in the wardrobe, and that meant I was going out. Without permission. How embarrassing. My gender dysphoria was an unacceptable behaviour. (Popular link to my page on behaviour, here.) But I remember wanting desperately to be discovered from hints so that a legitimate enquiry could be made, for me to explain. There were things left sometimes accidentally, sometimes deliberately, stuck in a drawer, trapped in wardrobe doors. Nail varnish left on, beads worn with my old clothes, new mannerisms, books and leaflets on trans* issues; all sorts.

My ‘Unspoken’ poem obviously spoke, because my fellow poets in Brighton picked up on the emotions, the situation and the meaning of the poem quite easily. I still feel embarrassed about my hints before coming out. So I wrote another poem:

Show not tell

Was I really learning the art,
poet in the making, risk averse?

A skirt caught in closet doors,
an obvious symbol without reason.

Without rhyme, hoping to scan as
pent… something, I am… bic

in hand, but blocked, right as
blocked, wrong to be spoken.

So the coloured skirt, in draft
as a chill wind stirring flowers

invisible but spoken, my self
trying to show, not tell.

Once again, this is a poem where the sounds of the words and how they join, really matter. Find the words that carry two meanings. It’s just another way of saying that when we communicate in a way that invites enquiry, it can be because we have something to say that we can’t just speak out on. We need your wanting to understand.

So if your spouse, or sibling, or child, or parent or friend is acting strangely, and you know something isn’t right any more, ask what they are trying to show you so that you can see, not so that an explanation and justification can be given and things go ‘back to normal’.


  • Posted on April 13, 2014 at 12:02 pm

You know those pictures on ‘inner beauty’? Heart warming images of the old and wise, the no-longer attractive, or even the disfigured and disabled. They’re an invitation to see people differently, and to redefine beauty.

This last week there was an online furore and newspaper columns concerning an advert (since withdrawn) for Veet depilation cream. Another broke out over men posting online non-consensual videos of women daring to snack on the underground. A lot of very sensible things were said, mainly by women, about being taught by a male-dominated society what was acceptable or not about the natural female body in order to be the desired beautiful, as if we owe it. We fart, shit, grow hair, get hungry, get stressed and cry. We just don’t joke about it the same way as men do. We want honest bodies. Female hair fetishists aside, hairy legs and arms are a no-no, a real turn-off. But then so are prickly legs and arms two days after. Our faces are so much more acceptable with make-up to enhance them, that it becomes a dare-to-bare thing online to show an un-made-up face on Facebook. The list of feminine attributes that require daily modification is not one made up by women.

You are beautiful if …
I find you attractive when …
I will love you more if you …
You are less beautiful when you don’t …
I don’t find you attractive when you don’t …
I only love you because you fit my image of what I need you to be …

I feel a need to be ‘presentable’ when I get ready for work each morning. I like to look ‘good’ if I’m going out or entertaining. Partly, it is so that I am not in danger of being misgendered, about which I am still a bit sensitive – not because I will be upset, but to avoid mistakes and explanations and chatter in the wings.

Almost every trans* person when they make their decision to start living as they feel has this worry. Trans men fear being too naturally soft and feminine, trans women fear being too naturally angular and masculine. When we say we want to ‘pass’ we mean that we want others to see us as attractive or beautiful people, not as mistakes, approximations, odd or ‘different’. Some you may look at and wonder how a particular transsexual person could ever have presented differently. I watched an interview with rock star Laura Jane Grace and felt (tattoos aside) how lovely it would be to have been so naturally feminine. I feel too old to be beautiful.

It does work the other way round too, so this is not just a feminist diatribe. My ex-wife had a thing about men wearing smart overcoats. I had one. In fact because I was reluctant to wear one, I had several, because none was quite right enough to want to wear it. What I really disliked was that I did not want to be the handsome man, and there is nothing like a smart overcoat to make you a handsome mature man. What is more, at the age of something like six or seven, my Mum produced an overcoat as junior imitation of grown-up smart. (One did this, then, when ‘going to town’) and I hated it. Other men say the same about the hairstyle their wives like, which isn’t quite what they want.

We want other people to be attractive. We want them to be beautiful to us.

I have had this enormous fear since transition that I will never be attractive to another. I get the kind of heart-warming admiration-of-the-inner, phrased as bravery or courage, which can be a way of saying ‘nice spirit, shame about the face’. Why do I feel that people need to focus away from my appearance, or like the female body au naturelle, need it to be more conforming to be likeable, let alone lovable? I feel this! I epilate, do my make-up, check my breast development, buy hair products, and brush to hide my male-pattern hairline recession. And still no-one has given me a second glance that indicates attraction! I pass. That feels like a grade ‘C’.

A beautiful dance, a dance of the beautiful

On Friday night I went to 5 Rhythms dance again, after a very mentally-active week at work. I needed the lyricism, maybe the chaos, certainly the flow … Unusually (because this rarely happens) someone chose to dance with me, and what followed was the most wonderful, tender, almost symbiotic experience I’ve had for years. It was a dance of shared understanding, of empathy and trust. Maybe not unusual in 5 Rhythms for a lot of people, but deeper than anything I’ve experience there so far. I was glad that the other was damp with sweat too; we both were, and we were close enough to blend it, and it didn’t matter, it was almost part of it. It was two women sharing something unspoken but understood, in dance.

I had spoken exchanges afterwards with three people that affirmed something I also shared in the group circle. ‘Tonight I was going to say it was a beautiful time. What I realise I really wanted to say, is that tonight I felt beautiful.’

I have no idea where my dance comes from. It is unlearned, uninstructed, arrived out of the blue at the age of 56, and finds me with a surprising balance, lightness of feet and grace. Others say so.

And I felt beautiful. Don’t place me in a disco with a square metre of my own, to jerk around to 4/4 tunes. Give me a hall where I can explore space and really move. I am beautiful, not because I have a wizened face and wisdom, not because I’ve navigated the very difficult experience of being transsexual with courage, but because I express the inner with grace and to no-one’s pattern but my own.

This morning I used the epilator on my legs and arms. Because I like it that way, not for anyone else. And I am still a 40A and happy with that.

Suddenly, the suspended sentence …

  • Posted on April 5, 2014 at 9:19 am

I returned to dancing last night, my first opportunity in a month after playing in an orchestra for a concert, which occupied the same evening of the week. It was really lovely to see friends again, have a hug or two and dance, and dance, and sweat, and express and release. I had it marked in my diary as ‘2 years!’

On April 4 2012, someone, somewhere, date stamped my deed poll, and I became legally Ms Andie.

I’ve gone through other two-year markers, but this is the one that is taken as the starting blocks for transition and eligibility for true recognition in your own gender identity. Until this point, the assertion is that you are still in your birth-assigned gender, and that anything else is unproven. For two years I have been Ms Andie by name only, with the proviso that if I could make it through, I would have the right to apply to legally change my gender marker, including my birth certificate. It is true that, had I faltered, I would be referred to as a man, trying to be something I wasn’t. It has been just like a suspended sentence, and that period is now over for good.

A quick review then of living under a suspended sentence

I remember the day I simply gave up waiting for approval, and filled in my deed poll application. Downloaded forms, filled in and signed, no second thoughts about a very simple name, taken to a good friend to be witnessed, a small cheque and into the post. And the day it came back, date stamped stating that I was no longer entitled to be addressed for any official purpose by any other name.

I remember clearing my wardrobe and drawers. Some to the textile recycling, most to a charity shop. And the feeling of returning home to the absence of all the old trappings, my own clothes no longer crushed into the wardrobe.

This was the time when all intimacy in my life ended, and I have known none since. Family life (my daughter aside) continued for another six months, but I was no longer welcome in my own home. I made it through my son’s graduation in Falmouth, which was a big enough and public enough event, with all the other parents around, but no-one gave me a look or batted an eyelid.

This was the start of my assessment too. One month after the deed poll (yes, after!) I saw the first of four psychiatrists, in order to be assessed as to whether I was mentally or emotionally disturbed or whether, indeed, I was born transsexual. The suspended sentence began.

Soon after the deed poll I also knew I needed to find employment; being self-employed wasn’t guaranteed to provide an income for life on my own. Partly by chance I gained the opportunity to do some consultancy, and that turned into full-time employment within three months. It was the first time in 30 years that I was not a manager, and it has been both safe but frustrating. I found complete acceptance at work, and to be honest, looking at my photos from the time, I can see that courage and confidence was everything!

With the start of work, the same week, I started self-prescribed hormones and testosterone blockers. Carefully, and researched, but yes, against the rules, because I knew that clinical attention was going to take a long time. It did; in fact it took a year before I was able to gain prescriptions. Several very widely-spaced trips to London and the gender identity clinic, dragged me across the two years entirely beholden to the judgement of others. It was like being called in to check the terms and compliance of my probation. There were no hiccups in terms of my feelings about myself, and no doubts ever expressed over my declared identity, just a lot of time, misleading expectations, and ultimate failure to deliver timely clinical interventions.

Back to June 2012 though, and I hit rock bottom just two months after the deed poll. I felt destined never to be truly regarded as a woman. Or indeed as a man. Rather, it hit me hard that I had to face the rest of my life being nothing. Excluded from normal human expectations, I felt it was better not to live at all. I knew that I may never be truly loved and cherished ever again. I might have been right; I’ve just learned for now to live with it. In therapy at this time, I made a promise to myself not to kill myself, and I have a token of that promise in the form of a piece of quartz crystal I was given, that stays at my bedside.

And just two months after this I knew, for my own safety from myself, I had to move out on my own. This was the worst time of all, and I’ve written enough about it. But I found a lovely place to go, very quickly and easily, and by October I was living on my own, stranger to my family, confirmed in permanent employment, and learning to rebuild a domestic life in my own style. I would not have done this at all well without the help of just a few, and one particular, close friend.

It took until the end of the year to actually have my first appointment at the gender identity clinic, but being a woman in the world, feeling the effects of hormones, and finding my feet with no shadow of the past dragging me back, was wonderful. I had a public poetry reading at the South Bank, a very lonely Christmas, discovered dance, finally shed the prosthetic aids (boobs and hair) took myself back to counselling to straighten out my grief and loss, went through a very instructive episode of pneumonia all before appointment number two in London. By this time (May 2013) I was feeling so completely naturalised in living my gender that having to submit to these consultations was annoying. The third (not until September 2013, was deeply irritating). But the May diagnosis did at least get me the prescriptions.

Summer brought me into regular Five Rhythms dance, from which I have never recovered. It is my deepest expression of self amongst some of the nicest and most genuine people I have met, and a season of small-group workshops in the autumn was an added privilege.

Autumn 2013 saw me cleared for gender confirmation surgery, and the story of how I am now fast tracked for July treatment is in recent blogs. I finally sold the marital home, bought a flat nearer to friends, and settled. Three months ago I was divorced. From now on, it’s just me.

So much more has happened, but all these things have been with a sense of very normal living, a deep gratitude for being finally ‘allowed’ to be myself, finding great happiness in that, and knowing day by day that I’m ‘getting there’. Not easy, and I have been a real pain to even my best friends at times, but I am where I should be, not just where I want to be.

Judgement over

What this blog is about, is simply that all these major changes have happened under the banner of the suspended sentence, termed variously as ‘real life experience’, ‘living as a woman’ and so on, as if it were all temporary, subject to change and approval before I could ‘really’ claim to be be myself, a woman, and not just transgendered or transsexual. It is as much an affirmation that I have not changed, I have just found myself.

April 4, 2014; finally the suspended sentence …

… is over.