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Plus ça change

  • Posted on January 12, 2014 at 9:23 am

A young man is standing at night on the walls of the old city of Jerusalem. The scent of orange blossoms hangs in the warm Easter air. A growing warmth is also drawing him to a young woman who seems to like him. Over breakfast of pitta bread with strawberry jam, grape juice and Turkish coffee she likes his eyes, his sense of integrity, his humour and sense of where he is going.

A middle-aged woman is remembering her graduation year, the daring to go to Israel to see the archaeology and history just weeks before finals while everyone else was sweating their revision. She is remembering the morning muezzin after an evening of romantic feelings, and how her eyes had been so attractive to someone else.

A young man is descending a Peak District hill on a hot summer day. He has been struggling with something and walking is therapeutic. His rucksack contains the day’s essentials to protect him against change in weather and he is churning over thoughts as poetic lines and songs in his head. His boots strike the gritstone rocks as he negotiates the bracken hillside. The map in his pack is also in his head as he heads for the road that leads to toasted teacakes. This has all been familiar territory for some time.

A middle-aged woman in stout boots, jeans, rucksack and warm jumper has just left the crag-climbers behind as she follows the track through bracken and down to a grassy path and a familiar church. You can always follow the steeples as you come off the moor; this she learned when quite young, and first came to the Peak District by bus. A very old map is in her rucksack, the folds now open tears, but it is a reminder and a prompt if she fancies a new track or diversion. She’s come further than she had imagined to be here now. The valley will welcome her with a cosy tea shop, where she will distil some thoughts in her poetry notebook.

It is a daring moment for the father of two, as he begins work on a new house together. His plumbing skills will be called for, and some re-wiring, and he doesn’t yet realise, but the tiling job will turn into his first plastering job, and he will do it well to make a perfect little family bathroom. Before he leaves he will have renovated the kitchen, rebuilt doorways, installed full-length sliding wardrobe doors and interior and redecorated throughout. He will be cared for through back surgery, and he will also be found out for what he really is.

A 57-year old woman is detaching the soil pipe from a lavatory pan and clearing the bathroom in her flat for some renovation. By the time she finishes, the room will be quite different, with neatly boxed pipes and tiled surfaces, new flooring and attractive lilac walls. Here she will take her showers in a morning, and hot baths to candles and music at weekends. Other jobs will get sorted over time. About to be divorced, she is getting used to living alone and doing everything for herself. Soon she will be getting an appointment for surgery, and is wondering what it will be like, dealing with pain and recovery, alone.

A middle-aged man is lying on a gurney, a line in his arm and a pain in his back. If he is to walk normally again, parts of his body will be removed, the place closed, and he will recover. If the surgeon does his job well, the pain will be gone and he will stand on his toes again. His pain has evoked sympathy, support and loving care, and he has learnt a lot about pain, the mind, sense of value to others, and vulnerability. He has been scared, disturbed by a body that isn’t right, and prepared himself for this moment. Later, his eyes open in a disoriented state. It is over. Any pain is different. It will diminish in coming days, and life will return to normal.

A later-middle-aged woman is lying on a gurney, a line in her arm, and a yearning in her heart. Soon her eyes will close, and if the surgeon does his job well, her pain will be gone and she will dream of returning to dance, but in clothes that fit properly, and without having to disguise anything. She knows plenty of people who have come this way before her, and is reassured. But she will not be returning home to the love and care of a family. She has learned a lot about truth and authenticity, and about the conditionality of love. In a few hours, her eyes will open in a disoriented state of euphoria, and she will experience considerable pain before she begins to heal. But for the first time, she will feel really, fully, whole.

She may also lie there in the coming days and catch the scent of orange blossom in a shower gel or bar of soap. She may imagine the smell of strong coffee or ask for strawberry jam. Visitors may see a new light in her eyes, or recognise a strong integrity and a sense of arrival in someone who knows where they’re going. Her humour will break through as usual, unchanged. There may be a mixture of tears, from pain, from joy, and from the memory of a romance that started in Jerusalem and lasted over 30 years, and that depended entirely on that young man who woke with the muezzin. And that was conditional on her not being here, now, like this.

This is the story of a single person, in short episodes. Anyone really knowing this person may well say ‘plus ça change’. There may seem to be external changes, and indeed there are. But there is no pretence, and a lifetime of being one and the same person has finally come together. Very little can be considered ‘lost’ about this person. Her life has changed, and inside the difference is incomprehensibly better. But you will always know who she is.

But I don’t actually want this story to be about me. I want it to be a perspective for people starting out in the realisation that they have gender dysphoria, and for anyone who knows, loves and cares for them. I want also to show how being transsexual is a perfectly normal difference to be born with, and that avoiding the awareness and the issues is cruel and unnecessary. If this was the familiar story, rather than the sensational documentary about ‘sex swaps’, then we might all have grown up with acceptance. I have had to learn to be open and confident. To begin with it was daunting and I felt very vulnerable. That was after a lifetime of fear of being found out as something bad. I already knew it was bad to be thinking about my gender as different, and the parallels above illustrate how wrong and unnecessary the split life has been. I am not a different person, and if I have changed in some ways, it is only for the better. But most of me by far is the same, including the eyes.

This week I was asked if I was one of those men who likes to dance in a skirt. The misunderstanding was mine. As it transpired, the only reason I was asked was my name (more commonly sounding like a man’s name) and because in the dance I do, there is a background principle that allows wearing clothes that broaden your shared experience of being simply human rather than gendered. It was perfectly reasonable to guess, but it was not because of how I look. This, I didn’t mind, and it afforded to opportunity to explain openly what it means to be transsexual to someone who genuinely wanted to understand. I hope I shall always be prepared to sit down like this and explain. If I, and people like me don’t, the world will be full of men in the story above, who are too afraid to be who they really are (the woman in all the episodes above), and families and colleagues uncertain about being associated with us, and journalists who think that we are freaks and perverts and bad for society.

Plus ça change? I think so, despite my journey over the last few years. We all change over the course of our lives, and mine may seem like greater changes, but never ever think of people like me as becoming anything other than who we really are. Some things change when someone ‘transitions’, but many more do not.

Calling time

  • Posted on September 28, 2013 at 8:38 am

Last blog I wrote that I was not letting my life be put on hold for waiting until ‘completion’. Maybe too many people have said ‘It’s early days’ to me and I’ve believed it. In some ways it must appear like that, because the previous 55 years in comparison seem so long! But it is as true that I have been the same inside all along, and that for me it is no longer early days at all. As I explained at my last consultation at Charing Cross, I genuinely find it hard to recall ‘being male’, because that was only external. I remember being places and doing things, roles and jobs, but only that I was there. As this.

‘Early days’ is for other people, in equally losing their memory of how I used to live. It is not for me, because in many ways I have arrived where I belong. I am calling time on ‘transition’, recognising that I am growing now, not just changing (apparently) from male to female.

This week I went to a sequential dance workshop. Actually an expression workshop. It echoes a conversation I wrote about earlier, of how creative people often have multiple outlets (writing, dancing, painting etc.) that inform and inspire each other. We began after warming up by physically loosening each other up before moving back into dance with a new flow, one partner dancing, the other witnessing, then drawing and describing the fluidity in the dance. Then the dancer went on to write their awareness and feelings. Each pair then exchanged their artistic and written experiences. Finally, each pair recreated dance to the words read out for the whole group. It was all very unfinished and impromptu.

I brought a lot back from it. One was compliments on my reading voice. As you can imagine, this is a stumbling block for me! I listened back to my radio interview a couple of weeks ago, and I was very pleased really with the voice I’ve found. I regret that yesterday calling for an MOT on the phone evoked the usual ‘Yes, sir, let me put you through’, because there are cis women with voices not so different, and they too must get it all the time. But to be complemented for the sound and flow in reading was very gratefully received.

Another was being asked to perform my dancing-to-words first. Have you ever performed impromptu dance for ten minutes, to a kind of poetry and no music, in front of a group? Without seeing anyone else do it first? Scary? Maybe my trans experience has given me a new confidence, or more correctly, release, but I didn’t think twice or hesitate. How I dance, I can see now, is just as other dancers do. It has real rhythm and flow, and yes, it is beautiful, not just inwardly to me.

I went home in a kind of wonder, that I am in this place, not moving into it any more, that it is natural and that I have found people who are simply lovely to be with. I contrasted it with my band tie experience of late. My refusal to be ‘made man’ in order to play music evoked an extraordinary general meeting that I could not attend, though I did offer the feminist aspect of the argument in writing. (I don’t see why I should now have to explain to the whole band that I am trans and that wearing a tie is still psychologically damaging in the circumstances.) Huddles and meetings have afforded me a concession, but I do not want concession, I want simple respect without question. Must one debate whether making a trans woman look like a man might be hurtful, and whether it should be nonetheless insisted upon? One more big concert (sans tie) and I think I shall call time and politely move on.

And this week too, I learned that I should be moving in the next few weeks to my own flat in Hove. Again, I have called time on this rent. I have to be out by the end of next month, so completion on the sale of my house has to happen by then or I shall be homeless, with rather a lot of stuff. It is also a signing off from my family home, even though I did leave it a year go this week. I shall never again be in place where I was once loved, and that is a deep thing still.

Last night I went to Five Rhythms dance a usual. The pace was a little slower than usual, it seems many of us were tired and we moved to half-time rather than double-time. We worked on loosening hips. Yes, that whole part of the evening did evoke memories of sensuality, even of sexuality, and – oh dear – such deep longing. Since my PSO called time herself on loving me and accepting my loving (I can’t remember how long ago) I have had so little touch and no intimacy. How, I don’t know, but I have called time on waiting ‘to be put right’ before I seek to fulfil this vital part of life (for me).

Somebody, surely, somewhere, would find fulfilment in sharing with me. My heart aches to give and receive love again … It’s time.

Poetic identity

  • Posted on September 21, 2013 at 8:47 am
ANdie Davidson with Dino and Sue Evans

You know how you walk into a party and someone asks you: ‘And what do you do?’ The frequent answers are either your job title in current employment, or perhaps ‘home-maker’ for some mums or wives, but rarely what you feel you really are. Your status in relation to others is what pays you most, not what you find most rewarding. Recently I’ve needed to supply short biographies, and it always stumps me slightly. I mean, how can I encapsulate my life in 70 words or less? Do I start with the job? Do I disclose my trans identity, because…

What shit is

  • Posted on August 10, 2013 at 10:40 am

‘Shit’ used to be a deprecated word in English. But it’s a very old word, a purposeful word, and an honest word. It’s the stuff that’s left over when all the goodness has been extracted for the purpose of sustaining healthy life. It’s the stuff that isn’t good for you. It’s the gunk that was always bad, or useless, and it was the indigestible fibrous bulk that was necessary to get the bad stuff out efficiently.

And the thing about shit (unless it’s a medical thing, and you analyse it as information) is that we handle our own OK, but seriously dislike everyone else’s. It’s a healthy attitude really, but it’s partly a cultural thing too. We don’t talk about it, even though we encounter it every day from birth to death. We don’t talk about it like we do about food, even though it’s just the opposite end of the same argument.

I’ve taken in a lot of good stuff all my life. I’ve been lucky to have had a stable childhood, a good education, an adequate social circle, for a while a small degree of affluence (in UK, not global terms – I accept my position there is very different), a few wonderful (romantic) girlfriends, a successful and long marriage, two grown-up children, and a series of jobs that I could at least really make my own. I have skills and talents I indulge in expressing, and now … And now?

From some things, all I have left is the shit.

My soon-to-be ex hears all my sadness and grief as anger and recrimination. I hear all her coping mechanism as defensive, cold and distanced. There is no exchange of love any more. There is no meaningful relationship. This is refined shit, with all the goodness taken out. My daughter hasn’t spoken or communicated with me for over two years, and I frankly expect no change any more.

And I have no intimacy and no sex, and I can’t remember the last time or when. That’s pure shit too.

I’m worth more than this. And yet I have to ask, what am I feasting on now?

A new diet

Last week I blogged anger about Pride becoming carnival rather than protest. But as I walked up the main road to the event, surrounded by hundreds of lovely people, most of whom had been through a similar crisis of acceptability and identity as I have (and realised I was the only trans* person in sight) I saw openness, vulnerability, strength, romance, love and happiness. We joined thousands already in the park, the music was loud, the atmosphere was amazing, and I felt completely safe, completely accepted. Why should I not be happy too? In the Literature Tent, some of the anger, the protest and the meaning of Pride was voiced. Enough for me not to do the same. My angry poem stayed in the folder, my envisaged introduction unspoken. There was a consistent, articulate trans* voice in the event, and that was enough, so I added my own with a different poem.

I’d never even brushed close to Pride before, and here I was seriously enjoying myself and meeting new and lovely and welcoming people I could never have met before. If my flat purchase in Hove succeeds, it will feel very much like coming home. ‘My people’ are different people now, and it feels good. In fact, where was I, and where were they, all my life?

Today, once more, my legs are aching, but my feet less sore, from dancing barefoot all evening. This week, not Five Rhythms, but ecstatic dance. What? Who? Me? Yes me, dancing with 30 others, doing my thing, synching with people I’ve never otherwise met, flying around the floor at times like a bird set free. This is the person who was the massage client described only a few years ago as ‘very different’, not for being trans* in hiding or denial or not understanding, but for being so conventional! My previous life-diet signified one thing: either I was severely constipated, or I was shitting pure goodness without digesting it, and not growing as I should. And now I am learning where the best food is, chewing it, appreciating it, accepting the shit.

The whole point of this, is that these last two years have been a really bad time for me, to go through such heartbreak, so many destroyed ideas of what love and life are all about, feeling that I have only ever been loved as an object of significance, not as person of value. I haven’t lost everything at all. A lot, yes. Things that most people would only imagine losing through infidelity, serious misdemeanour, or death. But everything was a result only of my integrity and their choice. I have told the story to death, and the book’s binding is tearing loose, the lettering no longer gold.

With all the goodness extracted from the previous three decades and more, I have been left with the shit. And the significance of this, is that everything in the shit was inside my life before. Some of it just useful roughage, but the truths of being loved for significance rather than self were there all along. Contingent love looked different when its dependency was safe. And now all the crap is out. That means no longer in. It should instead feel like relief.

I love. I love other people. I have a few deep friendships, and a new ability and freedom to truly encounter and share with the people I meet. I know what it means that women are sisters. I know what it means for me to express my emotions and intuition openly and freely, and to find the same in others. I know that in some ways I have entered a whole new world of personhood, inhabited by people I could never truly have known before, who share my love and exploration of life and meaning, who eschew ordinariness as impoverishing. I will probably never live in a suburban semi with garden again, though somewhere I can have a cat or dog would be welcome

I have real questions about my previous concept of marriage and the merging of people into singular coupleness. I like the word ‘partner’ because it sounds more equal and less role-dependent. It seems to leave people intact and able to do their own thing and find their own way. I would love to find romance, and real commitment, but without the suspiciousness that marriage can bring. Maybe it’s my age! And I really long for kisses and intimacy … My diet may have changed, but I still need a complete diet.

It takes a while to understand shit, to accept that it is waste, and is meant to be waste, that it can contaminate and needs to be disposed of and washed away properly. But there will always be some, and it is better out than in. It is the product of imperfect goodness, and no reason not to feast. The shit is over. Long live shit.

Take two

  • Posted on July 20, 2013 at 9:11 am

My weekend schedule is screwed. My Tesco weekly is deferred by two days, and I shall probably need to work half of Sunday too. That means a late walk on my own somewhere, then back to work. Why?

After my Chakradance workshop I worked out that Five Rhythms dance was a similar opportunity for me to do what I was already doing in my own space. But once more, down in Brighton the group was on Wednesday night, a popular night for everything, including band practices. I booked up a couple of other events in the autumn, again, not far removed from what I do. However, I then got invited over to Lewes Five Rhythms, and last night turned up to a new experience in dance. Well, almost everything is a new experience for me in dance. I sat out for 40 years at almost every disco, did the Gay Gordons when a reception demanded it, the odd skip at a Ceilidh, and even a few short weeks learning Lindy Hop. The one memorable event I have is when a girlfriend and I choreographed and performed a small dance when working at a community centre in Devon. That was a wonderful experience for me. None of those other forms are for me though, any more than I shall spend my time carefully crafting sonnets or sestinas. I write free verse and I dance free dance.

So for two solid hours, I and 30 others danced continuously, thoughtfully, mindfully, expressively. And sweated. I was in my element. After all these years, here was a room full of people who took my new self-discovery for granted. I think it did me a lot of good, so dance has to be part of my life now. Well, I’m not going to be invited to any parties any time soon, so I shall go and find dance. What can I do with it? Where can it take me? I don’t know, but it feels as essential as music and writing to me.

As I walked up the hill to the car afterwards, thankful for a warm night in my wet things, I was thinking how I got here. At 56 I was discovering things about myself that must have been latent all my life. At junior (primary) school, where we went in at doors engraved ‘boys’ and ‘girls’, I remember ‘being a tree’ or a butterfly or … Well, it was called music and movement, and I didn’t know I was dancing. After that I was plain awkward, and soon realised that I just didn’t do ‘bloke dancing’ at discos. But now? I was dancing, and wondering why I hadn’t been doing it all my life.

The feeling is one of release. First, no-one to ask permission if it was alright to skip Tesco and go off 20 miles to do some New Age thing with strangers. Second, no permission to get it wrong. What if I turned up and it was alien? But third, the freedom to discover myself and to set loose things that have been suppressed for all my life. No, it isn’t too late. The funny thing is, I never felt like I was the kid ‘trapped in the wrong body’, but I have lived all my adult life not expressing some innate and very deep aspects of self. This is release. This is the unspeakably awesome turning point of my life. This is a whole cage-full of white doves sent up into a blue sky and sunlight.

When the clapper-board of life comes down, and the action stops, and those you have been acting with retire to separate trailers and you are standing alone, you don’t expect it to come down again for ‘take two!’. I have been embedded in all I have lost, in terms of relationships, from family to friends who have simply withdrawn, and those who just don’t want me to get too close. And yet everywhere I go now, I find new acceptance, new welcome, and the most amazing inclusion in new things. Maybe, just maybe, someone will dare to get close, really close, and that first white dove will land and coo again.