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Happy anniversary

  • Posted on July 18, 2015 at 7:07 pm

My partner went to bed at about 3am this morning. She did’t wake me, because my phone was switched off and her messages from Germany only popped up this morning. Before leaving this week, she had left me a beautiful pair of earrings and a card, with a keyring inscribed ‘you are loved’, tucked secretly in the back of a drawer.

Rather than write a long and philosophical blog this week, I just want to celebrate my first anniversary, of perhaps the most significant day in my life so far.

This day last year I woke to no breakfast, only the promise of an enema. Oh; and surgery. I waited longer than expected, and for a while sat writing my thoughts in my notebook. I never copied them out, but here they are:

This is a bit unexpected. I awoke so peaceful and calm. It is not that the coming hours are matter-of-fact. But there is something of a watershed here. A grand leaving behind of a whole side of life, about which, yes, there is some relief, but mostly just that it’s true. It’s a strange thing to see and touch part of yourself that has been important and know that soon it will be gone. Mainly, though, I’m full of wonder that how I shall soon be is a fulfilment of my deepest self-image. Are you familiar with Rupert Sheldrake’s concept of morphic resonance? That there is an energetic space that our bodies fill? Without claiming this as ‘fact’, I have an intuitive empathy with this, and a strong feeling that this is how I shall feel – a better, truer fit with my energetic self. Will that innate sense of body, experienced in meditation, come finally to rest in me? Over coming weeks I shall get to know a new reality, but already I know it will be right.

I was right, and now, one year to the day I am in an unexpected place. The surgery was as perfect as could be, my healing was quick and unproblematic, the high heat of summer turned to autumn and I finally let go a number of final strands of my past. These were mental ones; ones that helped me in decluttering my flat this year. They were cutting loose my grief, even cutting free my acceptance of loneliness. I started going out to do things that would reattach me to a progressive world; I started to look for the future me.

And it was in a ‘Future You’ workshop series that I quite unexpectedly met my partner. Of all the things that happened this last year, this is the one that has changed life the most. No-one has been so accepting of all my realities, and that in itself is tremendously grounding. To be loved, and to love, I find the most validating experiences anyone can have.

A number of trans women have commented (or advised) that the few years after surgery are ones of ongoing self-realisation. Certainly, they are unencumbered by other people’s decisions, clinical treatment, uncertainty about the next appointment and a constant sense of waiting, kicking your heels. And I think I must agree. Had I not wanted the treatment, then it would not have been a watershed, but once you are committed to seeing it through, it feels like nothing else matters. I no longer had the obsession this day last year, so the time since has been one of free self-development.

Speaking only for myself, I do not feel in a trans space any more. I know I still need to explain sometimes to people why I may seem a bit different, but I don’t feel ‘trans’ or queer in myself. I wouldn’t mind if I did, but I just don’t. The body I enjoy now looks OK, it feels OK, and better than that, sharing it with my partner has never been other than completely natural and complete. Even writing my blog on trans matters can feel like an old story. I write still, to encourage, and to observe even this.

If this is your journey, and you are still travelling, it may seem long; just trust that you will get there, and that it’s good. If you know someone who is trans, and going through the hormone and /or surgery route, try to celebrate with them that this is the most authenticating experience they will ever have. If you are trans but not inclined to have every or any clinical intervention, then be happy and fulfilled. It’s just that I did need it, and it for me it’s the best thing I could ever have done.

Going quietly

  • Posted on June 2, 2015 at 8:19 pm

I missed three weeks writing this blog. Just being in other places, or too busy with life really. And not having sufficient reason to write something meaningful. In the meantime I’ve been nursing a sprained ankle back to strength, clearing out a lot of clutter and being more creative about space with and for my partner. I’m liking the whole idea of restarting shared life and not being the only one to make decisions about home-making. In fact I’m liking it so much, that all that happened last year is seeming like a very long time ago indeed.

Doing this as a grown adult rather than a twenties person is quite different. We know much more what to do, and why. We can make decisions, even think slightly radical thoughts about use of space and things owned too long. We can do things we’ve done before, and things we haven’t tried yet. It’s up to us. I like this freedom, to disagree, consider, agree, act. Freedom; a few years ago I was looking for freedom to be myself by changing, and at the time a lot of what I ended up being freed from felt a lot like other people’s decisions.

Freedom is a funny old thing, that we all want, and then find one person’s freedom restricts another’s. We then get tangled in words like ‘compromise’ and ‘expectations’. Our recent UK elections gave us a sense of pride in political freedom, to vote for whoever we liked. It’s a free country. Except that two-thirds of us who are entitled to vote did not get a representative government at all. I still regularly see social media posts from people who don’t feel free to be themselves, or, if they want to express themselves, realise that being free in one way means being rejected in another, bringing instead, restrictions.

I’m free now from a whole load of things I carried all my life. I’m even free of the system that enabled me to become finally free. And yet my obligations include a job too far from home, not exactly doing what I love, and not as rewarding as I’d like. I want to be free to learn something new and use it to benefit other people, not just earn money. In this respect I am not free. Earning is an obligation that cannot be paused. Hey ho. The answer, again, is for me to work out for myself, to do what matters most to me. I think I am in another kind of transition phase, from disruption back into gradual change, and getting used to walking instead of running obstacle courses. I’m walking, quietly.

It might seem I am walking away from some things. Where am I on Facebook, or Twitter? Very quiet. Meeting less frequently with other trans* people, and contributing less to online conversations, or even trans*-related blogging. I am even thinking about letting this blog drift off into poetry, and writing about writing instead. Why not? In some ways I really am going quietly, slipping back into a steady life, where I am happily loving and living and making a new social life. I don’t need to say anything much any more; my learning is different. I was invited last week to read my poetry at a local literary gathering in Brighton, and chose a set that had really nothing much to do with my recent transition. The theme was ‘place and permission’, reflecting on various things, from clearing a deceased relative’s house to observing life as a flat-dweller, to places with memories that stay with you, where you can’t really ever go again.

Did I go quietly, when I left my comfortable existence? No; not really. I was angry and noisy and preserving my dignity all at the same time. But I have gained a sense of belonging, to places and to people, that are some new, some just changed. This is still happening, so the poetry evening was followed the next day by a trip with a band I play with, for an extended weekend of outdoor concerts in Kent. It’s something I’ve often done, but this time I was going with my partner, for who it was a new and unknown experience. It was lovely, really lovely (apart from the weather not being as warm and quiet as it might). And of course we were a couple. Just quietly there with people I’ve known for ten years, but as the only trans* person in the band and now as the only lesbian couple too. It’s very reassuring to be accepted with question or explanation.

Apart from the ff parts, and sitting right in front of the timpani, it all went quietly.

The final settling

  • Posted on June 2, 2015 at 8:02 pm

I

This is the final settling
of dust, like the hour after snow –
silence unmarked by footfall,
respect before action.

The place of greeting now
just a door, in fallen leaves –
a winter of junk mail and news
unforaged: a single red-bill berry.

The hallway familiar in every detail –
except an assertive absence. And an
unfamiliar permission to touch
to tidy, to trammel, to trespass

into drawers and cupboards and
under-beds, unseen and thick
with dust and long-dead dramas
and dreams – and the bags. The carrier bags …

II

A life left in untidy fragments
furred over with a feeling of
do not touch, I have not been
touched for so long, so long.

In this tangible stillness,
the fine particles of his wearing,
on and in and out and settled – is an
unsettling presence lingering on.

And all those personal things –
glasses, teeth, hearing aids and combs,
their once-warm readiness to wear and use
now greasy, stale, waxy – hard to touch.

Beneath the dust is dust, and –
as if they’d run away to hide
in every rummage place, counting –
over two hundred obscure cameras.

III

Taps. First clean the taps. The sink.
The loo. Fresh soap. A towel. Bring
cleanness into this with Marigolds –
and retreat to a cafe for lunch.

The dirt is easy, the kitchen
unasked for and unasked about –
all thought of rescues for a
useful knife or tin, discarded

with biscuits, butter and green
things unspeakably prodded
into bags, beginnings of this final
settling of unanswerable neglect.

Something new intrudes this space,
room to move, space for sacks
black and bloating with the
obvious discards of a house.

IV

A drawer drags out like an open mouth
waiting for a dentist’s probe, forgiving
the intrusion for the sake of a fix, cavities
and old fillings of rolled-up socks.

A door discloses dreary clothes
that hang alike from left to right
shaking themselves out on shoes
foot-moulded and hard with time.

Bits and boxes, fallen hangers,
things best cleared long ago but
forgotten and left as too much trouble
in the surrender of age and energy.

In places, dust is alleviated by a hope –
an expectation, a desire for secrets –
some final revelation of a private life
betrayed by the carelessness of dying.

But the grey decay sinks too deep and
nothing, a solid total nothing, signs
and underlines every cranny as seen,
lacking even interpretation of surprise.

V

The second day, the third – tea bags
and biscuits in an oasis, black sacks
piled outside, windows such as can be
opened for air, doors long stuck still stubborn.

Decisions tumble out now, freed from
pretence of any finds among worthless
souvenirs and foreign coins, useful gadgets,
buttons, needles, cards in backs of drawers.

The only care is with the collected cameras.
What to do with so many unknowns, their
recognition evaporating, thinner than the dust,
as we rack them, pack them, crate them home.

And all those carrier bags – disintegrating embraces of
letters, statements, documents, curled photos,
the latent lists of life and leftovers, unsorted
and waiting for the hours of unfolding.

Rebagged and removed they will
trace and track the strands still reaching
out and away from this house into
a world that carries on – and needs to know.

 

2011 © Andie Davidson

Dealing with disappointment

  • Posted on May 11, 2015 at 9:17 pm

I am not a political animal.

Now there’s a statement that is always followed by ‘but’! I’m not, really. I don’t feel informed, educated, well-read enough to stand on any platform. This morning, however, I have read through a number of articles and blogs that echo the sentiments and feelings I was left with on Friday, following the UK General Election. I shared some on Facebook, and despite knowing some Conservative supporters, I have as yet not seen any blogs celebrating or supporting the outcome, with any arguments for why we are in for a very good five years ahead. The outcome was unexpected, to say the least. Only one in four UK voters marked their ballot papers for a Conservative MP, and yet we have a (slim) majority government. That means between half and three-quarters of UK voters actively do not want this political party in government. And so the petitions are starting: do not abolish the Human Rights Act, do not further privatise the NHS, do not pass TTIP on corporate-protected transatlantic trade. Graphs and tables of who has fared worst from Tory policies over the past five years, and who has gained most. Who has slipped deeper into disadvantage, and who has become richer; why so many food banks now, and why so many working poor are branded as scroungers.

I seem to remember from my university degree days that the old testament prophets shared a common theme: justice and righteousness, against self-serving rulers and free market forces. And I am not religious either.

But. When I see how we are persuaded (and follow) so easily into comforts and convenience, and social decision-making handed to us while we sleep, I see that we have lost attention on society protecting the vulnerable. We are offered ‘the good life’ for being ‘hard-working families’, and yet fail to analyse what is really being said here. Who defines a good life, and in what currency? Who defines hard-working, and is it in terms of brain-power, slavish compliance with a corporate-market consumerist idea of being human together? Is it in terms of hours worked, how tired you feel at the end of every day? How do we define not just deservedness of great wealth, but deservedness of security and of decent food?

So yes; unpoltical and unreligious as I am, I fear for the direction in which we are being steered by this government, for the sake of those without security, or robustness of mental well-being, or in disadvantaging circumstances of health, location or age. Every minority group and every vulnerable group in the UK is now a bit more uncertain of how life is going to be in another five years time. Fear and uncertainty about those responsible for all our social well-being, those un-voted for and not representing them in any direct or chosen way.

It’s not fair. It’s not right.

What? Life? No. Nobody ever said it was.

Yesterday I should have triumphantly hobbled over the line after 26.5 miles for a charity walk. It was even perfect weather. My partner and I had done practice walks, bought new walking shoes and socks, Nordic poles, even and a windproof no-sweat jacket. We got sponsors for the charity running the event, planned, travelled, camped and prepared with colleagues. We walked maybe five miles together the afternoon before, and 100 metres from camp, I slipped on a grassy bank and heard a crack in my ankle. It’s only a tendon or ligament, and it will mend, but within moments I knew I wasn’t going to walk a marathon the next day. It isn’t about the pain. I can do that. It very much is about the disappointment. I couldn’t drive, I could hardly walk at all, and the day would be long. With extraordinary generosity, my partner decided not to pick the walk up half way, so as to not leave me alone. We made good of the afternoon, but we both cried, because we had really wanted to do this walk.

My first comment is not to reflect that many who suffer under our current political regime, and a strong western money-value society, suffer as a result of lesser an accident of circumstances – though that is often true. I was in a hard-walking group and living a good life when in a fraction of a second I was neither.

No; it was about my reaction, our reaction, and where it left us, not altogether different from how many will have felt as the election result materialised. Cursing and shouting and enumerating all the possible consequences, will not help. Initially my little secure world collapsed. My fragility was for all to see. And yes, I got practical: protect, rest, ice, compression and elevation (the PRICE first aid rule). That evening we made basic decisions so that the effects on the whole group were limited. The next day at the midway point we met up, and made further decisions. Not what we wanted at all, but there was space for real kindness. And by the end of the day we were looking at alternative walks for when my ankle is healed. We will do justice to those who sponsored us, and we will find our achievements and challenges in another way. I can’t dance for a few weeks: shall we commit to swimming instead? Can I get to work? Who can I ask? Today I feel more robust; uncomfortable and disappointed still, but feeling a bit more in charge.

A similar theme has marked social media about the election. We don’t have to sit by and watch things pushed out of our control. We don’t have to let the agenda be owned by people who do not represent us. We can act in small but coordinated ways. If we talk to each other, share ideas and motivations, assert our right to be heard, stick to the validity of ourselves as people, we can change the game. It isn’t going to just happen for us though, and it may never be as we expect or prefer. Life isn’t about the lily-pads being where we want. It’s about them being there with a route to hop across the water, even if circuitous.

I hope I have begun to learn this. My motto of ‘why not?’ persists. Gender transition is not an easy thing to do, and you need real courage to face up to the process and persist with it. It’s no good bemoaning that lily-pads have been swept away, or that you can only see one ahead. It’s no good dwelling on your inevitable losses. Yes, I’m preaching to myself. Life is what you create it to be.

And it can be very unexpected.

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