Steam radio and my tranny experience

  • Posted on May 4, 2013 at 9:14 pm

valve radioI alluded in a previous blog (Risk of shock) to the joys of valve radios, amplifiers and similar. Not quite the kind that you toasted marshmallows on, and I remember ‘acorn valves’, which were the first step in miniaturisation. They were easy. If they glowed, they were probably working, and if the wax capacitors around them were mere blobs, something had gone wrong. Of course in those days they took time to warm up: no instant sound. A bit like my digital TV and radio really …

I remember it well

But I also remember buying my first, small white plastic-box, radio in a black leather case (that ate PP3 batteries like I eat cheese), from a friend. Under the bedcovers, turned the right way round, and it got Radio Luxembourg on 208m. That’s when things got personal.

They were called trannies. I can still remember the smell of the leather; and the studs …

And so I lived with a tranny for years. In bed at night they made my world a special place, and loosened all sorts of constraints, opening my eyes to the wider world. A tranny helped me grow up. And I understood them, on the inside; compared with what I had grown up to know, I could see real integrity.

On my 18th birthday a tranny arrived, and went to university with me, finally ending up spattered with paint while involved in home-making with me years later. I thought I understood trannies really well, until people started looking closely and saying: ‘Ah! I see!’

Actually they were saying ‘IC’. What I had thought of as integrity was now merely a chip, a small black centipede called an integrated circuit.

Reception: 208 or 101?

Whatever letters you choose, maybe LGBTQI or more (and in any sequence), there is a notion that everyone who is not heteronormative is part of an integrated circuit of sex/gender minority variants: one frequency band, tune in as you see fit. Some people on each segment carry a chip, but few are satisfied with the overall reception, and many have very sensitive antennae. But one thing it is not, is straight FM.

People born intersex have very little in common with the letters belonging to sexual orientation. People who feel they have no single fixed gender in the male/female convention will find it very difficult to decide what both their gender and sexual orientation handles could possibly be. Transsexuals may be less clear than non-transitioning transgender people about what it means to be homosexual, because gender is not sex. LGB people may not understand the differences between these ambiguities, especially when transvestites/cross-dressers of either gender base (or none) are added to the mix.

One reason the LGBTQI[...] grouping exists is because all are treated as minorities and are (or have been) discriminated against, in society and law, and are perceived by those who don’t or can’t or won’t understand, as ‘other’ and less than equal humans. Yes, they all have, or have had, a really bad reception. But that does not place them all in the same station, with the same frequency.

They all have their names. Just as I remember Luxembourg and Hilversum, Moscow, Paris, Monte Carlo (and Home, Light and Third), the pirates crept in, like Caroline, and Northsea International. So LGBTQI people have had their names too. They change, of course, and the triumph of some has been to reclaim and own them. Poof has no real impact, queer has been requisitioned elsewhere, others are happy and gay, my dearest lesbian friend offers dyke (she isn’t Welsh!) and there are few terms that really bite as insults in relation to sexual orientation, because in this country social acceptability has grown so much. You can’t jeer at someone for owning a mobile phone if almost everyone has one, or for having red hair (when you also see pink, green and purple), these days.

But you wouldn’t call a person of black African origin a n***er (and even I use asterisks to save me from Internet filters), even if you have heard a black comedian use the term.

Back to trannies

I’ve read a number of comments, social media threads, blogs and had conversations recently, on the use of the word Tranny. Offensive? Owned? Well-defined? Where are we? Well, it does depend on what country you live in, but here in the UK it does tend to be used for transvestites/cross-dressers, or drag behaviour, where it is about over-dressing, sometimes to parody. This isn’t a criticism by the way. When I realised my lifelong problem was gender identity I tried to hang onto my life as it was, by seeing myself as a cross-dresser, and conversed online with straight-up-and-proud trannies. But as I slipped out of that into the cold realisation that gender dysphoria was something a whole lot more serious to deal with, all the meaning and context of ‘tranny’ became foreign to me. If someone called me a tranny after that, it was a completely mistake of identity. Not appearance – identity. I was being mixed up with a chosen behaviour, a lifestyle, a temporary pretence, or even an indecision and gender part-timing. But I was no longer a man doing girl, I was a woman. And certainly not a tranny.

I wrote a poem Are you a man?! at a time when I would have honestly faced up to being a transvestite, and I was shouted at publicly in the street. I was OK as a tranny then, I guess. Now? Absolutely NOT! I have no doubts at all about my self-description: I am a woman with a transsexual history. That’s right, history. (It was his story, now it’s mine!) Some transsexuals feel perfectly comfortable at Sparkle (The National Transgender Celebration), and it is a wonderful opportunity for trans people of all kinds to meet, celebrate and feel they entirely belong and are accepted, however they choose to present. I don’t knock it one bit. It’s just that I identify as a woman, and sometimes now it’s a jolt to remember I’m off to a gender clinic again, because I have a diagnosis of ‘transsexual’. Why would an ordinary woman go to Sparkle? I guess they do, but it’s not for me.

So the simple thing to remember, when you’re joking in the pub, or even exchanging opinions about me when I’m not there, or commenting on a TV character or an article in the Daily Mail on the latest ‘sex-swap’ sensation (not), is that gender-lettered people in LGBTQI[...] are not the same as the sexuality-lettered people, and that transsexuals leap right out of the bracket for one simple reason.

If you are gay or bi or lesbian (even if you are also trans*) you tend to need other similar friends or lovers, because they affirm how you are. You can celebrate your sexuality but it doesn’t announce itself just because you come out. If you are transsexual, as soon as you come out everyone knows, you probably do it badly at first, but as you progress you can change and disappear again. The ambition of most of us is to become indistinguishable. Being a trans woman doesn’t require a transsexual partner or friends. In your old life everyone thought of you as a man, by the end everyone thinks of you as a woman. There’s nothing embarrassing or shameful about it, but you do leave it behind as far as possible. I don’t celebrate being transsexual, but I do celebrate my life as different and resolved.

So if you shout ‘Dykes!’ at two women holding hands, the intended insult will probably disappear as vapour in an instant (you deserve their rude reply). But if you shout ‘Tranny᾿ at me, you are saying I am inauthentic, and that hurts.

 

Footnotes

My first tranny had seven separate transistors. The first four-function calculators had seventy on a chip. Counting my personal digital devices now (TV, DAB radio, computers, phone, iPod etc.) I own over a billion transistors! A tranny will never be the same again.

It may seem that I am excluding F to M transsexuals. I’m not intending to be exclusive, but I think there is a lot less use of the tranny word against trans men, and I suspect the male drag scene is somewhat smaller and self-refers differently.

 

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