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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):

A return to ‘acceptably different’

  • Posted on March 21, 2015 at 11:01 pm

Back in August 2012 I wrote about being ‘acceptably different’, by which I meant recognising that at the time I was still quite visibly in transition, and that it was best to go with the flow, knowing that there was no hiding my ambiguity. A lot has happened since then, and in reality I have very little reference from day to day with my ‘trans history’. It isn’t that can forget it, or that I avoid it. It just happens a lot less these days.

A few days ago a colleague at work called in to say they would be late, and I was there early enough to be the one to take their call. They didn’t recognise my voice, probably thinking that I was one of the several male Andys. My voice without my face, I expect, sounds anomalous. It’s confusing.

I sometimes ask my partner (whom I trust to be honest) what my most obvious giveaways are. It seems love blinds one to these things though; it’s me, not my face or my almost absent waist, that matters. And yet I know, even though it really doesn’t matter, that she will always be able to ‘see the man in me’ because it’s there. A puberty and a life fed by testosterone inevitably does that to you, and nothing will change it. Together we can be honest about this. And it doesn’t matter. And yet to one of her friends, it (and/or our lesbian relationship) does, and she has had to decide whether to stand with me, where my trans history/status is not welcome, or ignore this and go to an event without me. I know that I/we carry the stigma wherever the stigma exists in another person’s mind.

Out walking one lunchtime this week with two female colleagues, we were talking about marriage, friendships and relationships, and how we all change, and have to accept that relationships of all kinds don’t always last well as a result. Co-dependency, possessiveness, restricting each other’s natural growth and development, are not good for us. ‘I’m not the girl I was at twenty!’, said my colleague. ‘Nor am I’, I replied spontaneously. And we all burst out laughing helplessly …

My partner and I sat together today to sort a financial matter out with a bank. Being divorced, I guess they had to be sure my credit rating could be verified, so one question was: ‘Have you ever been known by any other name?’ I declined to answer (is that suspicious?) because to do so would reveal more than a name, and that matter is now entirely and legally confidential. But I wondered: did the nice young man understand because he could see that I was a rather unusual-looking woman, and being in a cosmopolitan city, guessed my history? If he did, it didn’t matter.

So on the whole, nearly three years on, I find myself almost universally accepted. My voice hasn’t improved (I have probably gotten lazy), but I hardly ever talk about transition any more. My past is there, which can’t be avoided, but it is my past. It is not me now. So much so that as I browsed old photos with my partner this week, I realised that my only connection with my childhood in my mind, is to think of how I was as a little girl.

I have changed a great deal, even in the last two years, physically, mentally, psychologically and socially, but some things will always give me away, through appearance, habit, manner or simply the knowledge of how I used to live. And people still have to decide: am I acceptable. Thankfully, for almost everyone, I am. But the acceptance is as a different kind of person. And so I still check in with myself as to whether I am disappointed not to be completely and exclusively perceived to be a ‘normal woman’ – because I am not, and I cannot be.

On the whole, I am not. If I was in my twenties, I might be, but at least my face would be in a better shape and my body more youthful. However, I am aware that for many trans women appearance can be a burden. Confidence carries you a long way, appropriate dressing is very important as part of realistic expectations, and personal acceptance to save undermining yourself, essential. It’s all very well to talk about being acceptably different to other people, but accepting one’s own difference with good grace takes more than a brave face. If someone else looks at you and you can tell that they know straightaway that you are trans, you can say ‘well, that’s their problem, not mine’. But if, after as complete treatment as you can get or afford, you still look at yourself in the mirror and feel wrong, you’d better find a way of coping and understanding yourself.

In a therapy session before I had to walk away from my marriage, one of the counselors remarked that some trans women can’t cope after complete transition because they feel they can never be as ‘good’ as they expected or wanted to be. I already knew that wouldn’t be my problem, but I think now I would be less overall dismissive. So once again, if I have anything to say to people beginning or in transition, it would be that you have to dig very deep in your preparation for change, taking your imagination to the worse possible outcomes to test your fears. But also dig deep to test your reaction to the best possible outcomes. You really don’t know before those final steps quite how it’s going (honestly, truthfully) to feel. You can kid yourself that it’s everything you want, and you can equally kid yourself that you can manage without it. When reminded that surgical outcomes can be less than optimal, believe it could be you and test your resilience. But also, prepare yourself for the best of outcomes, and get to know your body beyond past experiences, believing that it can be acceptable, to a future partner and to yourself.

I know a number of people for whom surgery was less than optimal, just as I know those for whom everything was good. I know that I was lucky, but I don’t want to speak from that as if it is the only outcome. I only want to say that I was very well prepared mentally, psychologically and physically, and that it paid off. To my partner, my body is perfectly acceptable, responds surprisingly well, and we are very happy together. To me, I am relieved – that I do not have to worry about being imperfect or, if ‘the man’ remnant still in me is visible, that it actually doesn’t matter at all. But I believe that I came through so easily only because I’d already explored the dark corners.

In sum, ‘acceptably different’ has gained two sides: dealing with people who know my past, and dealing with myself who has that past. The first can’t just be dismissed because there will always be the tripping moments (like those above). The second is vital, and must not be ignored. I hear too many people losing self-belief during transition, feeling defeated by the things they cannot change. If you have gender dysphoria, you have to accept your difference is something to live with – even after transition. The dysphoria goes, but the world doesn’t change. In a word: prepare. Prepare very well.

Idol thoughts

  • Posted on March 7, 2015 at 10:40 pm

This week, bulldozers were running over 3,000 year-old treasured remains of the ancient city of Nimrud. I remember it from my university studies and visits to the British Museum, as containing very powerful symbols of a civilisation that dominated the region that is now Iraq. I always found it quite absorbing imagining the people who actually made the statues, built the temples, walls and gates, used the artifacts in their daily lives but also in their rituals. 3,000 years in one way is relatively recent, but in another is really ancient. The same artifacts that I could recall, then appeared this week being pounded under sledgehammers by men from the so-called Islamic State or ISIL.

It isn’t new though. Throughout history, histories have been obliterated, and religious extremists of all kinds have destroyed things precious in our eyes for secular reasons. In the Reformation in England, iconoclasm, or the removal of religious symbolism, was every bit as destructive. In 2001 the Taliban destroyed the 1,700 year-old Buddhas of Bamiyan because they were considered idols. In Nimrud, the destruction was again because significance was perceived to exist in objects we might just see as art. The same has now happened in Hatra. So what is an idol, that deserves such treatment?

We don’t have them much around here – do we?

An idol, even in biblical times, was an object invested with power. It doesn’t mean that the stone or wood, once chiselled and shaped, actually had any power, only that it was believed to have such, and therefore influenced people’s behaviours in relation to it. At the extremes, of course, such objects can become fetishes, and through suggestion are seen as being very powerful supernatural objects. Believe in the magic, or power, juju or voodoo, and real things do happen; charms, enchantments and curses really can affect people. But if you or I were innocently to find such an object, it would just be at most a sinister-looking piece of handcraft.

It is peculiar how as humans in societies, we create these things out of nothing, and then fear them, curse and bless with them, and render them dangerous enough to destroy again. And it’s all in the human mind. Religion, in this sense, still intrigues me. How is it that we can construct the edifices of a very wide variety of supernatural and superstitious beliefs, which necessarily must be limited by contemporary awareness and understanding and context, and then invest them with such infallibility that they become immutable doctrines, dogmas, rules, beliefs and faiths?
Essential to this activity is that the ‘knowledge’ has come from beyond, not from within, despite all evidence to the contrary.

That every divine being elucidated in literature has chosen to communicate with mankind through chosen individuals and mysterious beings, ending up being written down and susceptible to mistranslation and misunderstanding, may seem suspicious. (Is there really no better or more certain and secure way?) Even more so when this divine knowledge is expressed in temporally-bound terms. And yet here we are, in a world flooded with religions purporting to free us, whilst drowning us in guilt, self-destruction, rigid principles, and immune to improving knowledge and understanding. Copernicus and Galileo are stark reminders, but have we really moved on?

I had a slightly testy conversation recently over social media, that had been evoked by religious influence in a legal case. A judge had expressed his opinion about same-sex parenting, in court, and had been reprimanded, and a petition had been raised by Christian people to reinstate him. I objected to personal faith in a courtroom, but also to the underlying assumption that I was now unworthy of being a parent simply by virtue of being transsexual and also lesbian. Love, it seems, is not the same thing in a family with me as parent, as it would previously have been. Out trotted the usual mantra: ‘God made man and woman and marriage for the procreation and stable upbringing of children and this is the only natural way.’

Well, I went back with them over the definitions and current state of scientific understanding of the origins and meaning of sex and sexuality, explaining that you can either believe the man/woman binary system in the face of all evidence to the contrary, or you can see that in fact it isn’t quite as simplistic as that at all. And if the man/woman binary thing is unsafe, and you stop believing in it in the face of the facts, where does that leave you with concepts of marriage and parenting, families and households? The trouble with religions is that you can’t let them out of the bottle. So am I unfairly hitting back at religion, because it is so prevalent in the misunderstanding and bigotry against LGBTQI people? I began with a religious situation destroying the secular, in the belief that it was not secular but idolatrous. And now I am saying that religions easily make their own beliefs iconic and protected from secular understanding. Is it just that religion of any kind gets into a muddle, because it is not based on knowledge, and an understanding what knowledge actually is?

Having ranted and explained, I then came across a vlogger patiently going through some very interesting material on how presupposition affects perception (example: generally, we think male babies are bigger and stronger than female babies, not because of what we observe, but simply because we have been told a particular baby is male or female.) There are many researched examples that demonstrate our perception is skewed easily. Interview a person with your hands round a warm drink, and you will feel better towards them than if you hold a cold drink. Yes, that basic. So if you have a set of strongly-held beliefs or opinions, of course the world is a different place, and you actually think things are different. You have a faith? Then in your hands it has a supernatural power and changes the way the world is, around you. Even if you have an iconoclastic faith, your faith itself is an icon.

But this vlogger was even more interesting, because she vlogs as an atheist, experiencing atheist transphobia (a small percentage of transphobes whose attitudes cannot be attributed to religious cultural conditioning). Her conclusion was that the atheism itself had become a faith, and that the problem of the transphobes is that they have closed their understanding to new knowledge, to learning, and new ways of looking at things.

It all makes you wonder what ‘faith’ is. Is it just the ability to think without thinking about thinking?

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.

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?