I shall hold you as an egg
admire the colours of your fragility
for eggs should only be broken
from the inside
- being out
- Bramley Press
- Charing Cross
- coming out
- conversion therapy
- cross dressing
- gender dysphoria
- gender queer
- genital surgery
- Grrl Alex
- marriage vows
- muesli love
- name change
- raw sex
- real life experience
- trans children
- transgender poetry
I shall hold you as an egg
Some go to the harbour
for the buoys
or gaze out to sea;
others fly to crested castles
for knights hoping
for a favour, to be won;
we go down to the undercliff
where the spray
catches us, reeling.
Landed, quiet and still
wrapped in you, I feel
your breath on my shoulder;
each exhalation full of
fragments of dreaming;
every inhalation drawing
inspiration for more.
Our limbs become branches
of a single tree,
2016 © Andie Davidson
A friend of mine has been writing what we hope to be a book, with some contributions from me, interleaving experience and reflection with research. It’s not about being anything, but the meaning there is in it, as it is. In some ways it’s a challenge. ‘How about a chapter on your experience of gender dysphoria?’ Sounds innocent enough; we both know that it isn’t a generalisation but a personal experience, just my narrative and my interpretation of it.
I had a go. By the end of a day of hard writing and thinking, I wasn’t particularly satisfied. How many different ways could I have told the story as a chapter (not a whole big boring book)? Rather a lot of trans people have written their own books, and some are really good, and helped me. I have also seen some that are not so good, and are a reflection that many of us want just to tell our story, though we are not all writers. I guess if I were asked to tell my story to several people with very different backgrounds, I would tell it differently each time. So what matters most to me?
The more I think back, the more my story connects up, as I remember little things, the circumstances of the times, the pressures not to speak of certain things, the need to conform, and even the lack of sufficient understanding to think that I might not have been what everyone told me I was. On one level my story is a happy life. On another it is life characterised by a constant fear. On one reading it is very singularly my own, on another terribly familiar. But the reason that I have this story at all has an absolutely common thread, understood by every transgender person.
I am looking forward to seeing the file ‘The Danish Girl’, and have seen the trailer, and a few interviews with the key actor playing Lili Elbe, Eddie Redmayne. If the trailer made me cry, I’m sure I won’t make it through the film. The big trigger, I expect, will be that first unavoidable confession of knowing your gender is different. The way I phrased the feeling of falling into that realisation, was ‘it just feels perfect’.
The trouble with revisiting the story after several years, is that having settled very perfectly, you can still remember that there was real happiness in your life before too. I don’t want to lose that, but neither is it easy to embrace. If I look at photos of my daughter’s wedding a few months ago, or of my ex-wife looking really happy, giving the wedding speech, her being there and not me … or remember too vividly past Christmases … or holidays, or at pictures of happy homes we made and shared … and … and … Then I remember that but for one thing about me, everything was good.
The story of Lili Elbe, and of many other people who have transitioned, is one of devotion. Love somehow survives the hurt and carries on. Here, there will be pain and loss too, but something mattered too much to let it go. And this is where too much reflection and retelling the story doesn’t help. I was one of the majority who lost their marriage and family, and my deepest regret is that it was for no other reason than my gender. I still recall saying: ‘I can’t walk away from this. You can. Please don’t.’
Rage spoils memories
I was trying to remember something I said when writing the chapter, and from searching around, came across a few pages I wrote at the beginning of transition, when I knew it was all over with my wife and family. It was rage in black and white. Rage that I was not allowed to be angry, that I had to be the one who must understand how difficult this all was for everyone else. It was rage that this one thing that made me feel perfect at last made everything else fall apart. That I could come to a clear understanding, and that in doing so I was no longer wanted as a partner, companion, parent, even though I was still me, crawling out from under a blanket of fear where I had stayed for the sake of everyone else.
And behind that rage was a whole lifetime of tender loving memories that felt completely betrayed. Yes, I had to understand how difficult this was, how impossible for those closest to me to sustain. So every time I hear of love enduring through transition, I remember. Memories of rage? Memories of betrayal? Memories of happiness? Memories of love?
Just as I could think after writing my chapter, of all the ways I could have told the story, so there are many ways of remembering. And it is hard to remember how I had to walk away, not from my own love but from a door closed by others. I think it takes a lot longer than I had thought, to wipe the soot and dust off good memories, so that they don’t simply hurt, but become treasures. I struggle sometimes with talking about a good life that I had, as if by confessing their goodness I want them back. I don’t, because they are long past, and they were all a shared possession, not just mine. And I don’t ever want to live with fear again, least of all fear of my authentic self being a reason not to be loved or wanted. So somehow I need to become able to see photographs, read things and remember, in a different way, where the ending isn’t part of every moment. I will get there, but it has been a reminder to me that just as you can tell your story to other people in many ways, so you can to yourself. Mine is not a sad story, just a brilliant chapter with a very sad ending.
I really don’t want to live with any resentment or anger, and largely it has gone. I simply want to feel gratitude for everything good that has happened in my life. Right now it is good, I am grateful for the love that I share, for the life my partner and I are building together, and for all the new experiences we bring to each other. Life is all about learning, all the way, beginning to end, and after so much telling over the past few years, now I still need to learn how to remember well and safely, because the story continues.
I have a ring. Like many things I reflect on much, it quickly gained symbolic significance. It is stainless steel, not precious metal, and not a complete circle. But in that point of apparent weakness it grasps an amethyst. It has always meant for me strength that does not corrode, with an element of seemingly naked vulnerable beauty and colour. I remember the day I bought it, and where, the circumstances, the tentative permission-seeking to buy a ring that was feminine, and the feelings running through me on that day, the pub lunch that followed, the dawning fear and awareness that my life was about to change and that there was nothing I could do to alter that.
The ring has been with me, long worn now on my left hand, third finger. At times I wondered whether that might be seen as relevant to others, whether anyone held back, wondered if I was in a relationship, or if indeed it had become a replacement for the wedding ring now worn by a small rabbit sitting by my bed. The ring is between me and myself, and still is a reminder of what acceptance and love are, and that both begin in oneself.
Dealing with loss
After a year, maybe less, I was careless enough to not remove it when doing some DIY task. The gem was lost and I could not find it anywhere. The empty stainless ring looked truly broken, and it seemed also relevant that I knew my marriage was well and truly over. In a back road in town, I found a craft jeweller able to find a matching stone, and it felt that any price would have been acceptable. I think maybe the stone cost more to replace than the original ring. The ring stays on my finger night and day, and I do rather less DIY than I did, mainly for living in a flat, not a house. I do sometimes take it off for safety, but not much.
Some time later, I was clearing things from the loft in the house that was going to have to be sold. I was moving out, and being the only one who dared to take the awkward jump into the loft, it was down to me to sort everything out for who would keep what. Schoolbooks, boxes of cuddly toys and past affection, a spare bed, cases, Christmas decorations, stuff; all sorts of stuff. Part-boarded by me, deep in rockwool by me, wired by me, and a place only I had actually been into, among our family … It was an awkward space that I should probably have spend money on fully boarding, which meant stepping on rafters some of the time. There I lifted an awkward heavy box, caught my finger, and realised I had again sprung the ring and the gem was gone. Casting around, I realised that surrounded by loose rockwool insulation and gappy boards, I was even less likely to find it than the last one. I stopped after a few minutes, because short of a truly time-losing forensic and meticulous search, I was unlikely to find this tiny purple dot. Instead I did what I had done before and spoke to it. ‘If you want to be found, you will be.’
I picked up one suitcase and carefully set it aside, and there it was. Immediately I set to resetting the stone – a lot more difficult than it was knocking it out. I have done this with other things. Maybe I forget the things that don’t turn up, maybe I just need to calm down, maybe a dowsing instinct takes over (and I can do this, though somewhat untrained). Either way, I felt that whatever weakness had lain in the original ring, my determination since, to add something precious to strength, had been reinforced. The symbolism felt stronger.
That’s all it is. No superstition; just a reminder to self, which is important. Where I wear it is a reminder too, that I am a committing person in love and relationships. I can read all sorts into it, but I am left with a feeling that it also wants to stay with me. I am strong. There is something held in me, incomplete as I am, that is precious and sparkles. Together those two attributes give me a better sense of self than ever I had when I was just supposed to be plain, complete and strong.
We are all embedded in constant change. We can try to sit still while it washes over, like a rock in a river, and become beautiful and worn, or we can become the river and be just that – wherever we flow, whatever the change, whatever the pace. Sometimes we try too hard and miss things that want to be found. A year ago this week I walked into a room and met my partner for the first time. I was the more noticeable, just three months after surgery, and had decided that if I stayed out of the flow, I was going to get nowhere and neither meet nor be met, nor change anything. Our eyes did not ‘meet across a crowded room’, and I was immediately something different, rather than a future friend, let alone more. It took time (not much), but we both jumped into the same river in the end and started swimming it together.
I maintain that many things require more letting go than sheer effort, skill or knowledge. In fact, gaining skills and knowledge can be helped by letting go of ‘I can’t’.
This week I again read a poem by Mary Oliver in her latest volume of poetry, Felicity, which says how I feel in a short and lovely poem:
Not anyone who says
Not anyone who says, “I’m going to be
careful and smart in matters of love,”
who says, “I’m going to choose slowly,”
but only those lovers who didn’t choose at all
but were, as it were, chosen
by something invisible and powerful and uncontrollable
and beautiful and possibly even
only those know what I’m talking about
in this talking about love.
Loss, change, letting go, finding
We are all trans. Transient, that is. Everyone of us and everything is temporarily what we are. You have nothing to lose other than what you have had the privilege of having or being. Loss is gaining space for something else. Change is moving from one space to another, where hanging on to anything may become a barrier to another possibility. Many things want to be found. Maybe it’s the future you.*
I have real regrets about a young girl’s life never lived, about a daughter’s life detached, about a love set aside … but also a gratitude for insights I could never otherwise have gained. In a very real sense I have been given a second life; maybe two half-lives that can be equally complete. I have had a very tangible sense of being led through these past years of transition from one place of transience into another, and of being found rather than lost.
I have understood what it is to be strong and resilient, to complete the circle, and to hold onto something precious.
* The workshop where my partner and I met was called ‘Future you’.
On our sides we are unarmed:
half the hold, so limbs won’t sleep
before we, wishing the whole
embrace, fall to peace.
Under your neck, beneath my arm,
tightly try to keep a flow
from heart to fingertips—until
our weight draws tingles
and admission, that much as we
are made to hug, we must turn
reluctantly, to curve ourselves
in long touch, nose to toes.
Skin then speaks, not in the press
fully armed, but in a million
minute nerves, ours, counting
what ten fingers can’t.
Skin to skin, folded more fine
than any paper crane is turned
we become one shape, a single
sense of all we need to say—
the extent of which we never know,
unfolded gently by our dreams
then close again in sleep, and wake,
to hold, half-hold, find our length.
2015 © Andie Davidson