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Change: what it means in the end, in the beginning

  • Posted on February 26, 2015 at 8:35 pm

Just over three years ago, I stopped fighting and set out on a journey. In almost every way it was a solo journey. Along the way people and friends came and went, and materially I lost much of what I had gained and relative financial security. And yet I persisted for a long time in the insistence that I was still me, I was the same person. So why did I feel so rejected, when essentially the real me was the same?

It wasn’t fair! It never is. Fairness was never promised us. And yet that unfairness set me free to truly change.

As I now watch trans friends following the same route, at different speeds and with different individual experiences, I see much more clearly. I watch them sometimes succeeding in family relationships. I see them turned from their own doorsteps. I see them successfully in work. I see them struggling to find work. I see them almost continuing as normal, and I see them penniless. I see some with excellent clinical or surgical outcomes, and others whose outcomes have been less enabling. Some form relationships, some are desperately lonely. Some appear to celebrate being affirmatively trans, while others disappear. Some float by on a cloud, others really struggle. I can still stand in front of a public audience and read poetry that can only be explained in the context of being transsexual. And yet from day to day I forget. I am lucky, and I am grateful.

And then I reflect. It comes out of the blue to me. I have changed. I have really changed. Not just physically; I can meet people for the first time in years who aren’t sure who I am – do they know me? Mentally, I have become wholly confident that I am being true to myself. The self-deception has completely gone, the half-known fraudulence of being the very nice, understanding man with a terrifying secret has not been replaced with a new deception. What I am now is absolutely what you see. The best bit is that I actually like myself, even when people are unkind about the minority groupings I find myself in. There is still a great deal of unkindness, especially of religious origin and tradition, that would say I am a dangerous aberration, unworthy to be a parent, a destructive element in an otherwise stable society, even something evil, sinful, or just to be pitied – and excluded.

It isn’t that I don’t mind; I do! I hate it when people who have been friends find me ‘difficult’ to accept, or who can never take my word for it that I really am born this way, and happier after treatment. But I find the science of gender, and indeed the history in other cultures, enough explanation of how I came to be as I am.

The change is huge. My head is full of all the memories of my life, most of them good and a source of gratitude, at least for surviving. And I never again need to be something I am not, in order to feel accepted. And there it is. This is where the change finds itself, in authenticity. In authenticity you begin constructing the puzzle of life with the right pieces, the right way up. There is no other way. The inauthentic life hands you pieces from the wrong puzzle, so the picture and shape never form with any great reassurance.

Instead, I am becoming beautiful. A body ravaged and shaped by testosterone is not an auspicious start late in life, and yet I often don’t wear much make-up under my thinning hair, and more often wear jeans. No; it’s what I feel inside. I don’t care that anyone reading this says ‘Beautiful?! Have you seen yourself?!

What I compare is what I saw myself as just over three years ago, and what I see myself as now, seven months post surgery, and in a very comfortable lesbian relationship. The love I feel, share and give, and the love I receive, make me feel beautiful, because it is the most honest and open love I have ever known. It is a learning love and an unguarded love, and in that it is changing me for the better. Our future is no more predictable than any other relationship, but today, right now, it is a gift to be nurtured and celebrated.

For the first time in my life I have been wanted for the complete, authentic me that I am. No compromise. Not perfect by a very long way, annoying in a number of ways I am quite sure. But learning without lies, growing without guilt, developing without deceit. The experience is one I would describe as spiritual, which is why religious bigotry about my gender or my sexuality feels so hateful. It is spiritual, because it is all finding its place in my sense of purpose, of life fulfilment, and of belonging.

Allow me to add this familiar but meaningful poem by Mary Oliver: Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

This helps explain how I feel, recognising myself in the world, belonging as never before, having a place and being part of nature, not an aberration.

This is what I mean by change, this is what I mean by beautiful.

This is what it means to have found myself, and this is where my beginning truly lies.

Broken lines

  • Posted on February 24, 2015 at 1:19 pm

I imagine the sky beneath your feet
being smoothed by the underbelly of the plane
and below that, the diminishing of sea
from mountains into ripples and glints.

Your ears hear nothing of this, your eyes
lose curiosity with the hours, the drift
between us to your disconnected places,
now turned summer, under alien trees.

I watch a tiny green gaming piece, which is
your plane on my screen, tracking a tracer of sky
vulnerable dashes on wide oceans, microscopically
teasing me to watch its infinitesimal play.

I sleep. Perhaps you do too, blanket and blinds,
unseeing each other—the line is lost and incrementally
I wake in your night to read you have sometime safely
landed, lost to miles, found on my phone, so far.

Today you tell me you are three thousand mountain
metres in the sky, the highest you’ve ever been with feet
on the ground while mine are flying to you lifted
with words of loving, fast as light but out of time.

I imagine Bogota under your shoes, its strange dust,
beautiful people, and money in case of robbers
held tight as your head fills with unfamiliar Spanish
routed via watchfulness and gratitude of home.

We touch each day, through fingertips, pressed down
in constantly-crossed messages, until the wires,
wound across continents, laid beneath oceans,
knitting our longings, our remoteness, become frayed.


2015 © Andie Davidson

Well, really? Reality and freedom of speech

  • Posted on February 21, 2015 at 4:04 pm

OK, so last blog was a bit weird and surreal, but what I was trying to get at is that we create and impose realities that simply fix ideas, and in the course of this lose touch with the dynamism and possibilities of life. We should allow things to appear surreal in order to let the subconscious speak, and learn how to be free to change and change again.

This week has seen yet another furore about prominent feminist voices of a particular kind, and the legitimacy of being free to impose the fixities of their reality as some kind of authority, when those views directly harm others. Then, when those who have been oppressed by this view of reality shout and kick back, they are seen as being the aggressors. Plenty of other and better bloggers have taken the circumstances apart, framed as an issue of free speech and debate within university circles, where debate is an essential part of life. But I remember student protests at racist speakers when I was studying, because hate speech and reducing others on grounds of a ‘difference’ regarded as socially excluding, is not a good proposition for debate. Unfortunately, these people write in prominent places too, places regarded as authoritative and informative, where readers (even critical readers) are persuaded by the personalities or reputations.

In this case, the argument returned to whether sex and or gender (interestingly, not sexuality) are essential: i.e., whether they are mutable or fixed, psychological or unchangeably biological according to visual interpretation. In a society where the gender and sex binaries rule, this does matter. She is a real woman, he is a real man. She is a real woman because she has the right bits and experiences in life. She is not. She is a man with a vagina and breasts because you can’t change from one into another. She is a woman born without a uterus, he is a man with a micro-penis, she is a man because she does not have clear XX chromosomes, he is a woman because he does. She is a traitor to women everywhere because she is living as if she was a man, he is a rapist because he thinks he is a woman and goes to the women’s toilets to invade their space. They are all pretending, because instead of looking in their knickers and being honest they are talking about ‘identity’ as if it were distinct.

And worst of all, it isn’t for them to say. The debaters, thriving on controversy and profile as popular voices, are who decide what anyone’s legitimate identity is. Because reality is … what?

It all sounds rather mediaeval that a fixed world view by some can oppress anyone defined by them as different. And yet it is very strongly there. My gender is not a subject up for third party debate, especially in universities where real research is done that is revealing the fragility of established ideas.

It is mid-February and 11 trans* women have been murdered this year for being trans. The suicides are not counted, we just strongly hear of those leaving explanatory suicide notes online. The statistics don’t change much year by year. That means societal pressures are leading almost half of all trans people to at least attempt suicide. Maybe three-quarters seriously consider it. And all because what? Because we stand aside when those with strong views and opinions about the illegitimacy of gender broadcast them. Essentially, when someone with a powerful or popular voice, affirms or asserts that the identity of another person is not real, they are being violent. Violence is not a reasonable defence for freedom of speech.

I will never forget the night it hit me, in my marital bedroom, that I faced the rest of my life never being real. Not-a-man-not-a-woman, ever, when there were no socially legitimate normal alternatives. I was being cast into outer darkness because my naked body was showing one thing, my being was shouting another, and I was no longer wanted, let alone loved, for either. For anything. Not for being myself, and not for being honest. Whatever nice words were being offered, this was the base truth. I was no longer real, and would never be real again.

Nor will I ever forget the darkness and desperate emptiness that this realisation presented me with. I’m over it now, but it was a place no-one should ever find themselves.

Self-understanding among trans* people is diverse. Some like to be affirmatively trans* all their lives, many disappear from their trans* groupings and social circles, knowing others, being friends, but making nothing of their transition pasts. Even after full surgical transition, some will honestly say that they are not completely the gender they live in. They create a clear presentation in a binary sense, as a convenience to avoid questions and hassle – which is not the assertion other trans* people will make, that they are definitely ‘in the binary’.

So it seems some of us live in a binary gender identity simply to adopt a reality that is fixed by society, by all those around us. Let’s face it, in most cultures, your are pretty much obliged to cast your identity in a binary way. Your only way to avoid being the conversation, is to live someone else’s reality, not your own. I guess in some ways I do. I always said that I know much more definitely what I am not, than what I am. I think this is because saying what you are presupposes that you know what someone else feels like, to be that thing. Maybe nobody can explain why they ‘know’ they are a woman, though they have plenty of explanations for why they are not a man. We can list attributes and comparative traits (not all of which every other woman will share), but these are just clues and indicators. Surely everyone just says ‘I am me’, and everything else is a comparison for the sake of others. ‘I am me’ is the most real it gets.

And then Nature journal published a paper this week published Sex redefined. Claire Ainsworth explains the current research which shows that there are too many competing definitions of sex and gender, in physiological terms. Our bodies are frequently contradictory in the common signs of gender or sex (the word sex remained binary until now, whilst the word gender has split into a spectrum). Sex has been presumed to be the means by which one person can categorise another, whilst gender has come to mean self-identity, because it has relied on the four physical attributes of anatomy, cells, chromosomes or hormones. The big trouble, the reality, is that of those four, they just don’t all point simultaneously in the same direction. Each tells its own story, and they simply don’t always agree, to the point that the author states that intersex conditions are not the usual statistic of 1 in 2,000, but more like 1 in 100. Most of us will never know, because we feel OK with the outer physical presentation compared with our inner feelings. But one per cent means an awful lot of people must be squeezing themselves into a social reality that limits them, or makes them dissatisfied or uncomfortable with their appearance or feelings compared with the standardised attributes of ‘man’ or ‘woman’.

And this is the emerging truth about human sex and gender, that the binary clarity is actually and scientifically speaking, wrong. Now if light dawned, and the binary suddenly lost its significance, it wouldn’t mean people stopped falling in love, or that those born with a fertile uterus would stop having babies, or that we would be thrown into confusion (oh, my goodness, I suddenly don’t know who is what!). Maybe we would understand the pointlessness of ‘Title’ on all the forms we fill in, and maybe we would lose the presumed superiority of the ‘male gender’ and find a more natural equality. And maybe people who speak in university venues would understand that transsexuality just happens, and is real. After all it is the university research (and not just the sociologists) that says so.

As my last blog, isn’t it time to understand that what we take to be real could change into a new reality? Maybe then we would talk about kindness rather than fighting over freedom of speech.

The surrealism of life

  • Posted on February 15, 2015 at 11:03 am

It took an artist, André Breton, to invent surrealism: as a way of representing the unconscious in rational life. The unconscious can seem a rattle bag of impossibilities, misalignments, bizarre-made-ordinary, and vision. It can seem both confusing and enlightening at the same time. A common response to surrealist art is that of course, this is not how it really is, it is just a construct of fragmentary mental images and elements. We can be fascinated by our dreams and by surrealist art, but settle safely back into reality, perhaps with a little added inspiration.

Some things seem closer to realism, because the idea is familiar, and some very ordinary things can turn surreal when they slip sideways out of the normal view. A surrealist piece of art can be disturbing, even frightening, and real life can too … I have lost a sense of reality as I knew it. Where I am now feeds me with surrealist viewpoints all the time, and they challenge my ideas of reality that I used to hold close. If I constantly say to myself ‘Why not?’ in order to break out of my impossibilities, and to open up whole new ones, then I am challenging my reality constructs, the very ones that make the surreal surreal. We are limited only by our minds and what we fill them with. We can never know with these minds and brains how anything really is, unless reality is confined to human experience – and of course it is not.

No, I am not in la-la land, and in an hour I shall be in the supermarket with a list of earthy things. This week, time is on my mind again. Where is the reality of time? The supermarket list represents eating for a week or so. My lover is ten days from her return (hello! I hope you can read this before then!) from thousands of miles and five hours time-shift away, so communication is different and sporadic. Yesterday I had lunch with a friend who is waiting at the point I was a year ago, to progress to her gender surgery. Other friends I know have taken much longer, and the conversations on social media continue to reiterate every conversations I had over the past three years. I often drive past the hospital I was in, on the way to my lover’s flat, and always I think of the six people this week, every week, who have gone through the same surgery as I did. Some things change, many are repeated, some things seem never to change. The sunshine this morning is calling me to walk, the list is calling me to shop before crowds, the washing machine is telling me to wait and hang things up, and this blog is saying, stay, write …

My time is being called on from moment to moment; but it is only flow. It’s the way things are joined together, and they make sense by inviting constructs. It is reality only in terms of perception, and the moment I freeze these perceptions, I lose touch with reality. So where is surrealism? In my reality construct, or in my open subconscious? What does it mean to make sense of anything? Somewhere between the rational shopping I shall do and my response to the washing machine that has just stopped, there needs to be an ability to know the moment, not the experience or the expectation. Is this la-la land? Where, let’s face it, you can’t get on with the practicality of life by meditating about the moment all the time? Is this surreal, where nothing has the same meaning all the time and you can see the back of your head by looking in a mirror? Or is this a way of breaking out of our limitations, seeing possibilities in everything, and recreating our reality differently?

Why not create reality? Why does it have to be pre-fabricated? What will your and my thoughts about reality be when we face our certain moment of dying? A void? A disappointment? A finished achievement? A predicted outcome? A tragedy? Or a triumph of release into a whole new reality to which we belong already, and just need that deconstruction of knowing? So why wait? Maybe our current construct is as surreal as anything is, and maybe taking this day, this moment, and making it, is the richest thing we can do.

Last week I wrote about the reality of life plans, and the ‘normal’ path so many of us expect to fulfil. I wrote how reality doesn’t match the expectation for most people, and yet we hang onto it. When I was fairly newly married, a friend from university, in his 20s, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour. Trained as a medical doctor, he married and within two years he was dead. He was one of the cheeriest and most positive people I knew. Not many years later, a colleague of my wife, a couple who had become friends, had a very rare cancer in her 30s, and despite aggressive treatment, also died. Today another (retired) friend is facing post-surgical treatment for a brain tumour and has been given 12 years; not bad, as things go, at all. The recent film ‘The Theory of Everything’ told the life of Stephen Hawking, his diagnosis with motor neurone disease, given two years to live as a student, and still challenging our physics of reality and everything with humour in his 70s. Grief is a recognition that despite the fact we all die, that relationships end, that life changes our circumstances, we are loved. Grief is unavoidable wherever there is love. Grief is there in the surreality of life when the construct is broken, just as love creates surreality by opening up unforeseen possibilities. If we love, we shall, for certain grieve, and none of us knows why, for whom or when. The important thing in creating our reality here and now, moment by moment, is to love. Is anything as mysterious and surreal as love?

When I say I am aware of surreality in my life, it is a way of recognising that my constructs were challenged in many ways by being born transsexual. Had being trans been part of social reality when I was born, everything would have been different, but it wasn’t. I have enormous gratitude that despite this, my subconscious was able finally to break free of the constructs, and that as a result I have changed my perceptions of life altogether. My ideas of security, of love and of grief have been turned over, and are still turning. I haven’t replaced one hard construct with another, and I hope I won’t be tempted to. I am still inspired by possibilities, and amazed by the gifts of life. As every one of us, my body shall eventually grow old, but I have no intention of ever becoming old. I want the break-out to continue, I want discovery, and to recognise that I am only limited by my mind, and by the constructs I choose to keep.

I have previous blogs that marked Valentine’s day, with grief and loss, exclusion and sadness. This year I have been overwhelmed by not just having someone to love, but in being so loved. We are apart, but we left gifts and cards, and above all, we have the knowing of the togetherness we shall return to. It is a very present love, and so unexpected. What can be more surreal, and more real, that this?

The gift, the present

  • Posted on February 8, 2015 at 8:10 pm

It is cold. February is an uncertain time, not least because we always forget that despite lengthening days, it can bring the worst of winter. February is not Spring. This morning the sun is shining because the sky is clear, not because it doesn’t always shine, even night as well as day. And I am feeling regret, because my lover flies to the other side of the world in less than two days, for over two weeks. This will be the longest we have lived apart since we found each other and began this exploration of something new and wonderful.

I feel regret; perhaps some envy? I am thinking though, that she will return with a head full of new things that I shall never see and therefore never be able to share the ‘do you remember when …’ moments. It will be a long enough time for each of us to reflect on our first two months together, how it has impacted our lives and changed us. Whether there are things we might have done together better, ways we have interacted that might have been more thoughtful, and how we then feel about moving forward together. I think we are simply wanting to be mindful about our relationship, rather than planned or aspirational, and this feels good.

I wrote a long time ago that I knew my next romantic / love / intimate relationship would be very different from anything I had previously known, and it is. I am not, however, going to write about it in any detail! It is very personal, and whilst I have been very open in blogging my transition, my lost love, marriage and family, I have always made a point not to draw anyone else into the narrative. What I can do is say a bit about why, for me, this is so different, because I feel I have learned some important lessons through all this grief and turmoil of finding my true self and living authentically.

I think the biggest thing is that when I began marriage all those years ago, I held the concept of it being part of the big picture of ‘how things are’. Life, in any normal sense had a pattern of marry, build career, buy a home, have children, buy a bigger home, increase the cars and/or pets, see the kids through education to adulthood (and repeat your own path), and then retire to grandchildren (who would grow and repeat the path …), in comfort and continue to ignore one’s mortality until it became inevitable.

Of course, this isn’t the way it goes for most people any more, though the dream remains. I know so many people who have lost and gained partners, children, futures, careers – found new sexualities even. And mortality? That is the one we still ignore or shy away from. So what are relationships for? Mutual support, understanding, sharing. A place to trust and a place to be honest.

And most of the time, they are conditional. There is a time when we just give up, because we feel we cannot, or should not, continue giving or loving. It happens in most relationships, including between family members, and this is the reality. There can come a time when you realise love was a deal, and that the conditions have changed.

How frightening. Which is why we don’t think of relationships this way. The result? We do not know how to meet and part with real love, because we do not learn this rhythm. I know that my former wife tried to end our marriage kindly. It was no longer what she wanted, whilst I felt she was all I could ever have, because I was so committed to her. And so I went through extraordinary hurt. A large part of my hurt was my singular belief in love, in my love, and that I had found the only one I could ever have. Yes, I still feel that the love she held for me was completely contingent on my gender, not my person. It was a relationship that required me to exhibit a male gender, and therefore I knew it was less than I had thought it was. And this was the love and the relationship upon which I hung my whole life, and which inevitably made constraints on both of us in terms of whether we really made the most of our own lives, and of each other’s lives.

And so I am learning about relationships and about love.

Dancing yesterday was again a thing I go to on my own, as yet something we don’t share. It gave me space to think and express something of what I was feeling about my lover going away. Why my sadness? Why so much regret of parting? What was I afraid of? The future? Of our relationship being so young, possibly fragile? I don’t think it is. Instead I began to feel strong. It was the realisation that I have come through a very significant event in life, and done more than just survive. I am rejuvenated in every part and experiencing life in so many new ways, that I can hardly say any more that being born trans was a disaster! I feel authentic, knowing myself and with this great sense of belonging in the web of all life. I feel greater and stronger as a person than ever before, and with a clearer vision of what it means to love and be loved. I am no longer holding that old, repeated concept of how life goes. No; life is what you create each day anew, in the application of love and kindness and preparedness to learn it better.

So now I imagine the possibilities of two people creating each new day, with their love not for the relationship, not for their own expectations, but for each other. This is new, because it is renewing, rather than rote. I love, and I am loved and it is a gift. The gift is not a thing, it is just a present. A present moment, a present opportunity. Not a constant but a constant opportunity to realise love, to make it real. I returned again to what I have written about before: love as the extremely difficult realisation that someone else is real. As I danced, I began to understand my authenticity, my reality, my sense of belonging. And in that sense of belonging, a security. And in that security, the understanding that the one I now love has her own reality which is quite other than mine, and to be given to, nurtured, upheld, freed; never possessed or drawn into myself as someone or something I need in order to complete myself.

This is a time when all I have written and thought about love over the years of this blog is being tested and tried for real. Do I mean what I said and wrote of as theory? I think I am coming to understand far better what it means to love another. It is in one sense less ‘secure’ that the old concept of a process of growing together, staying together, ending life together, but in another far more definite in being what it is. Love is. You can receive it, give it, but never own it, because it is alive, never runs short and makes relationships all they can humanly be. It is this constant exchange that gives love meaning, and understanding this meaning is what encourages more love.

The gift is the present: love is now.

And now …

… and now …