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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):

Midas disenchanted

  • Posted on December 20, 2014 at 11:40 am

‘I am not a lesbian …’, she said, as she lay in my arms, aglow.

‘No’, I replied, ‘I don’t make you anything. You are a lover.’

Midas sulked. We had found gold, because we had touched each other without enchantments, neither to gain nor to grasp, not to enrich ourselves nor possess, but to share what we had to give. We did not turn each other into anything; only lovers.

From the beginning of this blog, I have known that for very many people, simply to know me is almost too much. I evoke a response by being present. I disturb expectations with my confidence, with my presumption that I belong wherever I go. I confuse by not enacting that I am different. I am who I am, not changed, but released; but I am also an influence, a provoker of response, simply by being there.

Just over three years ago I would walk on the side of the street in the same direction as traffic, so that no-one driving would have time to look at me and decide I was not a woman after all. Once, when I didn’t, I was shouted at from a car. The story is Hey, Mr Transvestite, where I learned that people’s responses said more about them than about me. Always. Even my then wife, who would no longer undress fully in front of me, because of the implication of having a woman in her bedroom, even if I did not look like one, at the end of each day.

And so I learned to think of Midas, of the awful truth, that anyone who touched me would be changed, would be afraid to touch.

Over the years I have missed touch more than anything else, but yes, I have changed people. Those who have said that at first it was hard to be with me, but who came to see that I was real and honest. Those who decided that I am unacceptable, and in whom something of themselves has fossilised. And those I have met for the first time with my subsequent complete confidence in being alive, who may have been surprised that I dare be ‘normal’. Or who did not, or do not, know my past, and then come to find out, with a realisation that I am authentic, not acting, trustworthy.

Yes, I change people, but none of this is about me.

This last week, I and a woman I really like and trust, fell in love. Without expectation or condition, we could never have matched up in online dating, only in meeting minds and finding that unspoken connection. Guided? I feel so. But the most wonderful part of it all has been having no need to explain in order to be touched and experienced. We left the labels on the floor by the door. She is. I am. We are. And together we experience togetherness in a way I feel I have never known. Maybe because I have never been so honest and uncomplicated. Maybe because I ask nothing but honesty in return. Mostly, because there is no strength in anything without honesty and complete vulnerability, and I would rather give of myself out of this, than make deals on anything less.

The advantage? Well, maybe hundreds of pages of this blog, in which I have bared my soul, and at times my body, almost. I can have no pretence, and I no longer can bear to. So I have few secrets from my lover, who has read so much.

And yet we still face the shadow of Midas, sulking, disenchanted. Am I a woman? Or am I just forever trans, suspect, ambiguous? Which, if either, of us is lesbian to other people? What does this mean to friends and family? The chain reaction goes on, because to us we are simply what we are together, and only when we part and move with others does any of this matter. Midas’s shadow is out there, with all the wrong values, whilst we have found something far beyond gold.

Dieses Blog ist für dich, mein Herz … Midas ist tod.

I don’t have gender dysphoria

  • Posted on July 23, 2014 at 8:10 pm

I have told friends before and written it here somewhere. Years before I came to really understand the way I was, I would slip out from my office, cross the narrow street and spend a lunchtime in the Brighton (Triratna) Buddhist Centre. No religion, no doctrines, no god, just a chance to experience guided meditation and a break from a busy day.

There I would step out of my shoes, leave my role behind, grab cushions and fold my stockinged feet (no, not socks) into meditative balance. I felt the ‘wrong’ appearances may be at least understood a little. And these little hints were certainly beginning to slip out. Nobody minded, if they noticed at all.

And there I sat, deeply mindful, cultivating loving kindness, or just sitting. And in just sitting, my inner perception of my body was serenely different. I could no longer feel the presence of my bits, crammed into the ‘wrong’ underwear (since my teens – no, not ideal) but I was aware of an inner anatomy not my own, and of ‘my’ breasts. Quietly and calmly, I was not a man at all. It wasn’t distracting, or exciting. It simply was. Equally, it was unshakeable. Was it somehow ‘real’? Or was it a developing delusion to get me out of the impossible situation I was heading towards?

Somewhere in intervening years, I learned what a female orgasm was. Too much info.? Come on, these are likeable things we all do. The important thing for me was the discovery that a completely different kind of stimulus, in different and imagined (inaccessible) places could have a completely different outcome, even when my body was as it was. I ‘knew’ the parts of me that weren’t there, and I knew exactly where they were! OK, I admit that the tuition of 30 years marriage meant few secrets, and I’m a highly intuitive person … But then there was today.

Uncomfortable about genitals? Look away now. Come back next week. But I have always maintained the principle of real observation in this blog, and I feel this is important.

Today was the grand unveiling. This morning all surgical dressings were removed and for the first time I had to open (dilate) my vagina. Shiny perspex ‘stents’ are used, in various sizes, in order to stretch and maintain the channel created by surgery. It isn’t painful (or pleasurable yet). During the reconstructive surgery your own tissue is rearranged, including nerve endings. Isn’t this going to feel like a muddle? What is this opening that has never existed before? What direction? How deep? Of course you don’t know until you’ve been shown, and try it.

I saw exactly what I’d expected. You really do need to work through the surgical outcomes pictures before this moment. My outcomes included minimal or no bruising, textbook normal. Next, the first insertion. In it went, all the way and I held it there, relaxing for the required time. Weird? No. The only impression I had was of normality, as if I’d done this lots of times before. In my mind I had; and in my mind, as in the meditation, I’d somehow got it right.

This reminds me of my dance that came from nowhere. Both will continue to improve, both are intuitive. And both are, for me, a profound affirmation of what and who I am.

I used to have gender dysphoria. Now I don’t.

No, I still can’t explain it, or rationalise it. I do know for certain I wouldn’t be here now if it was a matter of preference or choice, and that this has been the only practical resolution. If you feel it is a choice, don’t do it. But if it is the only way out, I can reassure that it is not an escape but a very positive authentic act. It may also be that you too can never find sufficient explanation for those bemused friends or family who simply cannot imagine why anyone could want this. That is not our concern. I have received a gift here for which I shall be eternally grateful, but only because it was more important than anything else in being true to myself.

Good luck in your journey, or being alongside another’s.

Getting there

  • Posted on June 21, 2014 at 11:32 pm

My personal motto over the past few years has been ‘I’m getting there!’

Partly, it has been recognition of slow and steady progress, partly it has been self-reassurance when another day goes by and nothing has happened. Now ‘getting there’ means just a few more weeks, and then nowhere particularly to get to. I shall re-evaluate where ‘next’ might mean, in completely different terms. First, simply healing and gaining confidence in my body again, but after that it will be things like: what work can I best do or find that will make a contribution to my pension before it’s too late. And perhaps, how might I find love and romance again? Some things will continue, such as facial electrolysis … But there’s no story in that!

‘Getting there’ also means that this blog may also change. I may not write every week, or it may be occasionally reflective but with more poetry. I think what I have liked about getting here, is that I have met other people along the way, helped a few, and learned so much. Have I said it all, with regards the male to female transition? Three years ago, information was on the Internet to be found, but social media groups were fewer than they are now. Sometimes it seems everyone who successfully transitions has an urge to set up another page, write another book, start another group. Maybe it’s just me, but there seems to be more openness, and hopefully, more acceptance. Some people have suggested that I create a book out of this blog, and I might. Distilled down, perhaps I can take a different angle on the whole business of gender self-identification and the impact on other people.

Meanwhile, the next few weeks (I was advised to be busy, very busy!) will be strange. I still have a few important things to prepare, people I want to see, things to write and concerts to play. And I have refused to allow anything to interfere with dance. Mercifully, my decapeptyl (testosterone-blocker) dosage runs through to surgery. The three-monthly jab will have been almost exactly three months ago, so it means no rush of testosterone coming unwelcome at the last. (Never have I been more grateful for a drug than this.) Already, I have had to drop the oestrogen, because it holds a thrombosis risk in surgery. How my body will feel for the next six weeks without it I don’t yet know, but I will be very glad to be back on it. It will also be almost exactly a year since I was given official and full dosage, and in that time my body has significantly changed in its overall shape – not just breast growth, but waist and hips. I like what I see in the mirror (well, from that point up) and my legs are good. This is what ‘getting there’ has also meant.

And perhaps strangely, excitement lives with me. I say strangely, because this is major surgery, and as I explain my forthcoming absence to people who don’t know what is being done, they look terribly worried, and then I excitedly say not to, because it isn’t life-threatening! But I don’t explain. After all, I’m only ‘getting there’. Every time my ‘bits’ get in the way, feel awkward or painfully squished, I know it isn’t for much longer; and it simply feels good, very good. I’m so looking forward to looking in the mirror, naked, in less than one month’s time. And to simple things like my knickers fitting properly (!), and dancing in leggings, or wearing a swimsuit.

Encounters remind me of the distance travelled: people who notice my body looks different. Today I came across a photo of me and my former wife when she ran the Brighton marathon just three years ago. I wondered who the rather unattractive grey-headed bloke was, standing next to her, as I stared at the thumbnail icon on the computer. Enlarged, he was wearing an unfamiliar tee-shirt: ‘Proud husband of …’, thoughtfully procured by my since-estranged daughter. And then there was a photo of my last Christmas with wife and son. Who was the bulgy bloke with longer grey hair? And how could he have been attractive to the woman next to him? And I realise that she may find another similar to take my place. If that’s what she wanted, well, I am a long way away from that.

Other encounters are much simpler now; the poet who took the trouble to find and contact me to express appreciation – which was mutual. The dancer in tears from the emotional experience of a very shared dance with me. The busker who sang just the right song as I was passing, leaving me in deep, quiet tears in the middle of the street. The German lesbian visitor who described me to a friend as a strong woman. And all those who don’t know what ‘getting there’ means to me, as I arrange my two months’ absence. My masseuse who kneads my body back into shape each month, who has been so supportive over ten years and shares my gratitude for this journey.

If anything, I feel this week like someone who has run a marathon, who is walking the final yards because the time no longer matters, it’s not about the clock, just about getting there.

Phoenix

  • Posted on March 14, 2014 at 11:24 pm
phoenix

I sometimes wonder whether I’ll run out of interesting thoughts for this blog and be really stumped. But life moves on and I’m aware as I do, that I may be able to draw others along in my wake. This week the day finally came and went that I had my first surgical consultation at the hospital where I shall go in a few months to be completed. It was so absolutely wonderful to be there, talking about procedures and schedules, knowing that what I need is finally, actually going to happen, with lovely people who want the best for…