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Ordinary or stupid?

  • Posted on April 26, 2015 at 2:59 pm

Have I run out of a reason to blog? It’s an interesting question, because writing about transition has been a seriously valid exercise that I know other people have valued. But why listen to my thoughts now? I add poetry from time to time, and who knows, one day I should just have a poetry blog. In the meantime I have no intentions towards public rants, and feel that the transition era is almost completely behind me.

And yet I have friends who were hot on my heels for clinical treatment, who for various reasons got caught in delays by an inexcusably bad system, and I still wait for them to catch up. Others have come through already, and it is interesting to see their reactions to completion. Some remain very active in trans* matters, some just disappear. And still, there is social contention about transgender people. I am occasionally touched by it too, and every time there is something possibly respectable in terms of a documentary or media story, I look out for how representative and helpful it is. Maybe something, someday, will make my daughter realise (for example) that a trans* parent was born trans*, and is just a person with an otherwise normal life. It’s as if I still need some of the noise in order to normalise what I have been through. I shall always have been born with a problem, however resolved it now is or can be, and so I shall always be interested in the place of trans* people in society and in healthcare.

It has crossed my mind that it would be interesting now to build a collection of poetry to follow after Realisations, featuring the experience of returning to a normal life after transition. For many of us, even though we have accessed specialist treatment, and a diverse community of people with a shared condition, there is no need to ‘be’ transsexual or transgender any more. We can be representative, and we can remember. We can be advocates and advisers, or just supportive and empathic. But as much as we move away from the treatment years, we move into lives not dissimilar to before, though without the distress, anxiety and fear. I don’t advocate ‘stealth’ because it can lead back to fear of unwanted discovery, but I think society needs to see that we can live very ordinary lives.

In fact, I think it’s very important. If you can see a thousand very ordinary transitioned people doing ordinary jobs, having ordinary homes to go to, having ordinary friendships and participating in anything from yoga to cookery classes, then someone you know (famous or not) coming out, isn’t going to seem so alien and difficult to deal with. Right now, the defensive mechanism so many people fall back on is to ridicule us: isn’t it just funny to see a man saying he’s a woman? (Because a woman in an executive suit, or jeans and sweater, with a masculine haircut, just doesn’t look so odd.) Yes, there will always be religious-indoctrinated people hanging onto strange beliefs that being transsexual is a sin-loaded choice, but apart from that, hey, we are pretty harmless. What we are doing is revoking the uniform. Just as people in positions of control wear a uniform to look like they have authority (military, police, security etc.) so men are invested with a notional uniform of priority. When people like me throw that off openly, we threaten the authority or primacy. But otherwise we are ordinary, and unthreatening to anyone.

How ordinary is my life then?

To be clear, I have found myself with a degree of security, settled, in a loving relationship and a worthwhile job. My friends are not all trans*, and in fact I don’t go out of my way to go to gender-related gatherings, mainly because my time is full enough with other things. I feel as ordinary as anyone who has a broken marriage behind them, an estranged family, and a degree of financial loss. These things hurt and change you, making you more cautious about restoring more of the same.

But you know, and I know, that in my brain are many memories that don’t quite synchronise with how I now am. Much as I would like it, I cannot remember growing up as a teenage girl. I cannot remember coming to terms with overt same-sex intimacy in a world that doesn’t always like it. I can remember (though it feels surprising vague) having a different kind of body, and how other people related to me that way. I can remember an enormous waste of energy and time over my dysphoria, my felt difference from everyone else. And I can remember being loved for being something I was not. All this is in my head, but is it any more unique than any other individual? Maybe not.

What is different for me is the sense of a new lease of life. It isn’t my fault in any way that I spent too long not knowing, and I am left with a real wish that I hadn’t. It’s just that like so many, I did not want to hurt other people, or become the ‘bad guy’. Much of the change in my life right now is no different from any other divorced or family-estranged person. Much is no different from anyone who finds a new life with a new person. On the outside, I really do hope that I present ordinariness.

But only I can relate the feelings inside. What does it feel like to have my body look and feel so different from how it was before? What does it mean to be loved without secrets, and just for being me? What does it feel like to have sex in a different way? What is it really like to have made such a transition after so long? These are the things I can’t really describe too well, though I try. These are the inner reflections that can never be ordinary, because to be honest, I am still filled with a bit of a sense of wonder that only I can know. If I seem happy, it is partly because a bit of me finds it hard to believe how right everything feels.

So somewhere between the unique and the ordinary, there is – just me. I don’t want to be called anything else, labelled, or made representative as such. I just want to be seen to be ordinary, but in a way that says if someone happened to be born transsexual, it’s OK, it’s normal.

Yes, but …

What about the cause? Am I being a touch exclusive, some might say privileged? Why am I not fighting for transgender rights, for people identifying as no-gender, queer, cross-dressing (non-fetish, because I think that can be a rather different thing), or gender-declaratory (i.e. deliberately overt)? Maybe it’s simply because I’m not the best person to do it, and I don’t feel connected enough. Maybe because I feel it would dominate my life without being the most important thing to me.

Last night we were watching The Age of Stupid, a 2008 documentary-style film about climate change, looking back from a devastated inhospitable world in 2055. The film led to the 10:10 movement, and I was reminded that I haven’t heard anything much about #notstupid or 10:10 since. Why has climate change lost urgency? In 2005-10 I was heavily into climate and peak-resources issues, and I too lost focus. And yet climate change is far more important in humanity’s terms. Which all leads me to the point that in the midst of all our ordinary lives, we have to choose where to focus, what is important, and where we can make a difference. I was an activist in other issues years ago, before my life caught up with me. So I’m not afraid to get involved, stand up, and speak out about things that matter.

Perhaps I need to go back to books I bought just before ‘recent events’, which I intended to read and digest but didn’t get round to. Now then; what was the first on the shelf? Ah, yes:

Transition Towns

List, or inclination

  • Posted on April 24, 2015 at 1:05 pm

I was just out walking one lunchtime, down an old railway track now a walking route, and saw someone had dropped a piece of paper. It was an unusual list of penciled items, and it made me wonder what lay behind it …

Blue print said ‘Redevelopment Planning Consent’
the obverse stanza, scanned, less clear.
Having fluttered from pocket to leaf litter
I hoped it was remembered better than the fall.

It began simply enough with ‘Bra’
‘Slippers’, weaving narrative out of clothes to
cleaning tasks and things to take until arriving at
felt, and sewing: what was felt? … a needless thread.

Sometime folded in four, pristine and neat
containing aspirations, maybe hopes, intent
maybe consent, planning redevelopment with
ideas and reminders to be stitched, to wear.

Was she walking her dog, to return this way,
would she notice her script on the leaves?
Was it enough to write and remember
the list, or was it just an inclination?

 

2015 © Andie Davidson

Negative thoughts: what’s in a memory?

  • Posted on April 11, 2015 at 1:23 pm

When cameras shot rolls of film in 24s and 36s, you got envelopes back, with the developed film in cut strips. These (if you were like me) you filed, along with the rubbish prints that never made it to an album. Filed? Well, probably stacked in a box and never looked at again. I did the filing in case I wanted to enlarge or reprint from a negative strip. On a few rare occasions I did. A few. And so it is that I now have a heavy box on my sofa, regurgitating these envelopes, and retrieving a few photos of my children. These are the easy ones. If the birthday cake says ‘7’ on it, then I can tell when it was taken. But the steam train? The castle? The rainbow?

This is a heavy task, and you can well ask why I am doing it. The boxes aren’t so big that they couldn’t find yet another stuff-away place, it’s just that this time I know I shall never squint at the negative strips and make decisions about reprinting. It’s a heavy task, because those plastic strips represent my life, and split it in two. I can’t share the task either. My ex has the family print albums, and at some point I want to borrow them to take digital page-snapshots. But I don’t think just yet. Not now.

Albums wake up memories, and are best shared. (Where was that? Do you remember that house / holiday / event / thing we did?) Suddenly I don’t have anyone I can ask or refer to, let alone enjoy the memory with. Yes, I remember, and from behind these eyes, I think that’s OK. From the packs I’ve already been through, and the few discarded print retrievals, I have had a rich life. What I can’t handle so well are the prints (few) in which I have been captured. Here is a person, a young person (well, younger) who clearly loves their family, their spouse and kids, doing, making, sharing, giving, playing. They look like they were loved, enjoyed and valued too. It was fun.

Wasn’t it?

But who the fuck is young beardy with my family …? What right has he to be in my place? I feel angry, because he looks familiar but I don’t know him. He has stolen my family away. The birthday cakes, the holidays, the Christmases, the homes, gardens, pets. The belonging. The love.

He. Has stolen. My life.

I understand what you are thinking: that they feel I have stolen this person away, and that it’s my fault, and that’s why I no longer have any link to this pile of photographic records. But that isn’t how it feels to me. The problem is young beardy there, because I know he is smiling to the camera and enjoying life, while all the time I know exactly what he is thinking, feeling, doing – when alone. He is hiding, running, scared and not telling. Of course he can’t, can he? Because if he speaks his mind, heart or fears, all these pictures will stop. Bending parents over small children, crouched over books and toys, will stand up, shocked and horrified. Toddlers in the bath will stop giggling. The music will stop, the game will be over, the smiles will fall. So he didn’t.

And so it’s his fault now, that I have a carrier bag of paper wallets and scrap prints, and another of plastic sprocketed strips, on the floor, and half a box on my sofa, and honest confusion in my head. Am I throwing anything away? Untouched negatives, unwanted prints, space takers and careless memory-joggers. And there is nothing I can do about it. I am simply reminded that I never was going to do anything with the negatives when I said ‘you take the albums’, as I walked away from the ruins of the last family home. And that the memories in your head only really mean all they should, when the same memories are in the head of another with whom you can share them with knowing, prompted by these images.

The little boy? He seemed a lot happier when little. He’s had a less easy life than I would ever have wished for him, and now he has sole responsibility for his adult life. I helped launch him into life’s orbit, but he’s up there on his own now, communicating sporadically, and I can do little more as a parent. And anyway, how can it be as the same parent now?

The little girl laughs a lot, and plays with her brother. She really is very cute. And she would hate me even more for saying that. She has grown into an attractive woman, and I imagine that she would never want to see a photo with her and young beardy together, ever again. Well, not if she thinks that parent is still alive and thinking of her. I imagine that it’s more comfortable to put him among the dead ancestors. Either way it’s his fault that we aren’t able to communicate any more. Yes, I helped launch her into orbit too, but like a malfunctioning remote lander, or a satellite without working antennae, she is real and out there but with a location and activity quite unknown to me. If I had been there instead of young beardy, I would still have a daughter.

The mother. The mother is still an attractive woman, still kind, sociable and generous. You can tell she loved young beardy, and I guess he took all the pictures with equal sentiment. Yes, they look good together. Equal. Devoted. Happy. But where was I?

I feel angry. Where am I in these pictures? Why are they mine? Why is this family not mine? Why was it taken away from me? Why can I not remember together any more? Why are my memories in free and disconnected orbit? Why was young beardy the favoured one, the loved parent, the spouse, the partner, the beloved? Why not me? I am left thinking that he is the betrayer, the liar, not me sitting here with the remnants. And yet everyone else would say that I am.

And this is the problem. The little boy is the young man in orbit. The little girl is the soon-to-be married woman, in orbit. The wife, the mother, the attractive divorcee, the successful sociable woman – she too is still fully connected to her past, her family, and together they circle the life they have always had together, the cloud of memories. Every negative makes sense to them, every print is connected to retrievable memories, the memories are shared and bring joy. Young beardy though; he simply does not belong in the picture. He is no longer in orbit, and has been completely ex-communicated from this world of memories. Something is out there, but not recognisably him, not with any means of tuning in.

I have inherited the memories, as if digitised in a back-up drive, but I am not him. Young beardy was a fearful liar, and has gone. And having gone digital, the hyperlinks on all my memory files can be read, but connect to no-one else. I click on the birthday cake. I click in the sand-pit. I click on the old house, the red tractor with the little boy, the trampoline and the girl, the beautiful wife and none of the links works. I just have the picture of each, on its own.

What is a memory when it is unshared?

You know what really hurts the most? Where the grief really lies? It is that I was there. Either in the picture or behind the camera. And in my life I have had an enormous amount of happiness, love and reward. Not one of these pictures reminds me of conflict, or argument, not even disagreement. There is no distrust, aversion or hate, and in not one is there the remotest hint of something hidden. I was – we were – truly happy as people together, and yet it always did hang on one small thing: that how I felt inside had to be kept inside. Love and happiness depended entirely on me playing young beardy, every day.

What the pictures never show is how I felt on my own. They never show what I had to hide. They never showed the pain or fear, anger, hate or frustration. Because I loved my family too much to lose them, for as long as I could. Predictably, that love all evaporated as soon as my authentic self began to tear the fabric of my outer, not-so-young, no-longer-beardy self, completely apart, top to bottom.

But I loved. I truly, deeply loved. And that is why every memory is happiness and hurts, and can no longer be shared with anyone.

There is a small stack of prints left, mainly relating the early years of marriage and early childhood of my two children. And with these are a few more, of one or two people I loved a long time ago, and a few of these remind me of another girl, and the happiest time of my younger life. I feel comforted, because I know that I love; that I go on loving, however difficult life gets, and with love comes that insistent drive of life, of growing, of being. Of becoming.

I am about to take the bags down to the bins in the yard. There is a sense of loss, even if I was never going to refer to the thousands of negatives ever again. What is in a memory, when it is not shared? For me, the capacity to live and to love; the self-assurance that I can do nothing else. Pictures may remind me of loss, but without the negative thoughts, what is printed in my memory is still gratitude that I have shared in a lot of real happiness through love.

My partner and I have a list stuck to the fridge, of things we want to do. At the bottom is says ‘photography day out’.

There will be no negatives this time.

 

See also (poetry):

Changing rooms

  • Posted on April 3, 2015 at 1:01 pm

I didn’t write last week; for the first time I missed. I had things that I wanted to fill my time instead, but in a way I feel I betrayed the blog itself rather than my readership. Hey, we all have time off. And times are changing, and it’s all about making room right now. Do I always want to write about being trans*? Actually, no. I don’t want to be invisible by any means, but I have said much of what there is to say for a while. I’m not an advisor, nor an expert, just experienced in transition. I feel very keenly for friends (local and via social media) whose journey is protracted and are still waiting for treatment. I feel the injustice of years of judgement before self-knowledge is acknowledged, and I follow all the debates about responsibility in being openly trans for the sake of all those who cannot avoid visibility. The world is still very far from accepting of trans existence as an equal status being human. But I am now nine months on from my final and very successful treatment, and observing what it means to remain different but to inhabit very much the same old world.

So what was I doing last week, to spend blogging hours differently? Actually, I was doing a 50 shades of grey 1,000 piece jigsaw. Sorry; much less intriguing really, it was a mainly monochrome scene in London, manufactured in Germany, which my partner received from her mother for Christmas, not an erotic experience! Jigsaws have great potential as well as being addictive, because they challenge pattern recognition, involve strategies, and create space for neutral conversation abstracted from the obsessions of working life. It was fun, and reminded me of happy times with my mother, when we were the only two interested in doing the Christmas jigsaw.

They are a great destressor too, because they require such concentrated attention, and both of us have had our recent stresses over work (she has too much to achieve and I have much too little), as well as thinking ahead to our future. Before too long we are planning to share our living space, rather than living in two places and alternately out of bags on each other’s bedroom floors. Life is a game of consequences, and we face more than some. My partner may hold admiration for the way I’ve travelled these past few years, but that doesn’t mean having a partner of different nationality, same gender, transsexual and considerably older is an easy thing to land on family, friends and colleagues! I am very aware that I am not an altogether simple addition to her life, and that we come to a place of increasing commitment from very different directions. We may fit very comfortably well and share far more in common than we could have expected but, as everyone, we gaze into the more distant future, where some certainties exist, a few challenges, many questions, and the choice of grasping opportunities while we can. It is a very different situation from the one I faced when I got married, young, inexperienced, naïve and very afraid of being discovered. I won’t try to speak for my partner, but what we have now is probably far from her expectations. And being unanticipated, not everything we think, or need to make our minds up on, lies on prepared ground.

We want to expand socially together, get to know each other’s circles, and I know that I have disappeared pretty much online in recent times. Social media was my lifeline for years, it was where I discovered I was not perverted but simply transgender, and found support and advice to set my life straight for the first time. I have needed to move away from social media again, and now to find a good role for it rather than an obsessive one. I think that together we can find new activities and social groups, gain confidence in making new friends, and make the most of the relationship we have. I find it exciting to know that life can continue to change and bring new experiences, and my motto remains ‘Warum nicht? Why not?’.

As we start thinking seriously about what it means to share a home, we turn to our things and where they will fit. For me, life is not what I have accumulated, it is what I can create and recreate every day. My things are just my things. Some have captured memories, some inspire, but many are just the skin I constantly need to shed, in order to grow. Some are simply useful, such as rather too many practical home maintenance spares and tools!

I am very aware that leaving my old life was not a denial of anything good I achieved, but a necessary separation nonetheless. Despite keeping the toolboxes, I had no trousers for years, I chose more overtly feminine things in order to create contrast, and I created a safe space where my intentions were obvious, and ambiguity or ambivalence were excluded. I bought many things cheaply because I was replacing so much at once. I did well, but it’s time to share the making of home again. I feel safe, with a very trusting relationship, and a security in my own skin that still delights me. My things, my rooms, can now belong to this, rather than define it. Maybe a better analogy is that I built scaffolding to support my transition years, and now I feel properly restructured and strong, the scaffolding can come down.

I’m sorry if you Googled this page based on trans* spaces, bathroom bills, and changing-rooms for trans women. I only meant to say that my living space is set to change again, for the better, and that I’m looking forward to it all over again. I have transitioned; I have moved over; and change remains a welcome thing because it is once more being led by love.

(And no stupid analogies about piecing my life back together again from a thousand scattered pieces!)

Dementia

  • Posted on April 3, 2015 at 11:33 am

You said ‘bitch’ which I have not heard
you accuse before, like that. It is an unkindness
wedged amongst broken exposed neurons.

It is an insult without interpretation, a word
that robs our sense of kin-ness, confuses
kind in deconstruction with cruel revelation.

Where was ‘bitch’ before entering your mouth as
utter contempt for your consideration? Betrayal
of layers—or delamination of mind?

Somewhere between memory and repetition,
intent and imagination, lies the confluence
of meaning and demeaning in grey shadows.

This is the catch, as time tears your fabric,
like a wind reducing buildings to their bones in
an empty street, and wandering, a lone canine stray.

 

2015 © Andie Davidson

 

This poem was provoked by the experience of my mother, slipping from all we knew into degrees of dementia. Mainly at present it is forgetfulness, but in this, a forgetting of context, and of trust, in her own capacity and of others. There must be an awareness that all is not as it was. When reminded of things quickly forgotten or misplaced, in moments of greater clarity, a dawning, just as dawnings themselves become misty experiences, that mind is slipping, and with it the crafted character. How much of personality is soul, and how much a fabricated façade? Not to be false, but even to be what we want to be. Can memories of others’ patterns of behaviour and speech be as falling beams in a collapsing house? That fall into places previously occupied by our own character? Or does the fabric collapse just expose our more basic instinctive responses? I don’t know. The poem merely expresses this doubt and the sadness of it. Again, my written style is to use many ambiguous words, allusion and internal cross-reference to create layers of meaning from rereading the poem several times.