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 didn’t write last week; for the first time I missed. I had things that I wanted to fill my time instead, but in a way I feel I betrayed the blog itself rather than my readership. Hey, we all have time off. And times are changing, and it’s all about making room right now. Do I always want to write about being trans*? Actually, no. I don’t want to be invisible by any means, but I have said much of what there is to say for a while. I’m not an advisor, nor an expert, just experienced in transition. I feel very keenly for friends (local and via social media) whose journey is protracted and are still waiting for treatment. I feel the injustice of years of judgement before self-knowledge is acknowledged, and I follow all the debates about responsibility in being openly trans for the sake of all those who cannot avoid visibility. The world is still very far from accepting of trans existence as an equal status being human. But I am now nine months on from my final and very successful treatment, and observing what it means to remain different but to inhabit very much the same old world.
So what was I doing last week, to spend blogging hours differently? Actually, I was doing a 50 shades of grey 1,000 piece jigsaw. Sorry; much less intriguing really, it was a mainly monochrome scene in London, manufactured in Germany, which my partner received from her mother for Christmas, not an erotic experience! Jigsaws have great potential as well as being addictive, because they challenge pattern recognition, involve strategies, and create space for neutral conversation abstracted from the obsessions of working life. It was fun, and reminded me of happy times with my mother, when we were the only two interested in doing the Christmas jigsaw.
They are a great destressor too, because they require such concentrated attention, and both of us have had our recent stresses over work (she has too much to achieve and I have much too little), as well as thinking ahead to our future. Before too long we are planning to share our living space, rather than living in two places and alternately out of bags on each other’s bedroom floors. Life is a game of consequences, and we face more than some. My partner may hold admiration for the way I’ve travelled these past few years, but that doesn’t mean having a partner of different nationality, same gender, transsexual and considerably older is an easy thing to land on family, friends and colleagues! I am very aware that I am not an altogether simple addition to her life, and that we come to a place of increasing commitment from very different directions. We may fit very comfortably well and share far more in common than we could have expected but, as everyone, we gaze into the more distant future, where some certainties exist, a few challenges, many questions, and the choice of grasping opportunities while we can. It is a very different situation from the one I faced when I got married, young, inexperienced, naïve and very afraid of being discovered. I won’t try to speak for my partner, but what we have now is probably far from her expectations. And being unanticipated, not everything we think, or need to make our minds up on, lies on prepared ground.
We want to expand socially together, get to know each other’s circles, and I know that I have disappeared pretty much online in recent times. Social media was my lifeline for years, it was where I discovered I was not perverted but simply transgender, and found support and advice to set my life straight for the first time. I have needed to move away from social media again, and now to find a good role for it rather than an obsessive one. I think that together we can find new activities and social groups, gain confidence in making new friends, and make the most of the relationship we have. I find it exciting to know that life can continue to change and bring new experiences, and my motto remains ‘Warum nicht? Why not?’.
As we start thinking seriously about what it means to share a home, we turn to our things and where they will fit. For me, life is not what I have accumulated, it is what I can create and recreate every day. My things are just my things. Some have captured memories, some inspire, but many are just the skin I constantly need to shed, in order to grow. Some are simply useful, such as rather too many practical home maintenance spares and tools!
I am very aware that leaving my old life was not a denial of anything good I achieved, but a necessary separation nonetheless. Despite keeping the toolboxes, I had no trousers for years, I chose more overtly feminine things in order to create contrast, and I created a safe space where my intentions were obvious, and ambiguity or ambivalence were excluded. I bought many things cheaply because I was replacing so much at once. I did well, but it’s time to share the making of home again. I feel safe, with a very trusting relationship, and a security in my own skin that still delights me. My things, my rooms, can now belong to this, rather than define it. Maybe a better analogy is that I built scaffolding to support my transition years, and now I feel properly restructured and strong, the scaffolding can come down.
I’m sorry if you Googled this page based on trans* spaces, bathroom bills, and changing-rooms for trans women. I only meant to say that my living space is set to change again, for the better, and that I’m looking forward to it all over again. I have transitioned; I have moved over; and change remains a welcome thing because it is once more being led by love.
(And no stupid analogies about piecing my life back together again from a thousand scattered pieces!)
I guess it’s really funny. The years I spent described (not by me) as being ‘in role’, as if ‘living as a woman’ was an act, a choice, a play or a deceit … and now, here I am examining – my ‘role’!
Yes, the point is that in terms of my working life, I took a big step down, and now, long since the fear that I would be forever unemployable as trans* was proven wrong, I am feeling very under-employed. I feel a certain sexism that is not quite discrimination, but is nevertheless there at times, and part of me is screaming to be recognised for just how much I am capable of without having to fight for it.
My guess is that many women in work after family events breaking their careers, feel much the same.
But what is more in mind is how, over the past few months, living with a professional partner in a vastly more responsible job than I may ever see again, I am experiencing reversed roles. Not that I am complaining; it is genuinely interesting to see both sides, as I recall the hours I used to work, coming home late, and sometimes taking work with me on holiday. Nowadays, I am more likely to be first home from work, will set to making a meal, will accommodate late hours, the bringing home of office troubles and stress, looking after the home(s), and generally take a back seat when it comes to the pressures of work in life versus domestic pleasures. Don’t get me wrong, we do share things out very well – far better perhaps than I did when I was married – but I am recognising a bit of what it is to be the domestic wife supporting the (lesbian) husband!
Tonight I am starting this blog to fill in time while my partner works late to finish a report to a deadline. We hope to leave at 10:00 pm for our first weekend away, and employer demands have pushed us into second place. I can’t be angry, other than at situations intruding into precious personal life. I would have done the same. But I now see and understand what I was doing when I was the husband with the more important job, expecting everyone to fit around me. Once again, as a trans woman, I am seeing both sides of life: the privilege, the seniority, the primacy, the supporting act, the home-maker, the forgiver. This isn’t about rights and wrongs, but I am being faced with the feelings that I must have evoked when my job was so important (at least to me) that my wife simply had to sit and watch and wait until I was present and ready. (I’m not making an argument about employer pressure, our response, rights or wrongs; this happens, and we all try to do the best all-round thing at the time.)
I still do think it a privilege to live on both sides of life, see it as man and as woman, as husband and as wife, as lead earner, and as sideline. Quite what to do with this knowledge beyond personal enrichment, I’m not sure, but it is giving me plenty to reflect on, as to how our society’s patterns of working conflict with making the most or personhood and finding a ‘good life’.
Well, we did get away and had a wonderful weekend. We celebrated the ease with which, in this part of southern England, we could be ourselves, the clearly lesbian couple away for a weekend together. We spoke to kind strangers in the sauna as well as out walking, sat and people-watched over lunch, held hands everywhere and enjoyed the ease we have with each other.
Three months into our relationship, I still feel some surprise to be loved, but with it, day by day feel more completely in my gender. Friends did tell me before I had surgery that the onward journey had a great deal more change in it than I was expecting. Now I understand. The scars that healed many months ago are completely forgotten. The scars still healing are those from a lifetime of discomforts, and events and expectations joined to them. They don’t hurt the same, but as they fade into the life and love I am able to experience now, I am realising just how much I needed this complete transition.
And part of that is the understanding of role, the appreciation of gendered worlds, the very difficult male-minded design of work and commerce, the lesser value attached to person-oriented activities, the simply being female in society. I am very thankful to have known both sides and have gained a better appreciation of what it is to be human in the here and now, and I am happy to be wife and support, and possibly because I know that I also have an empowerment to be fully myself.