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Grrl Alex

  • Posted on January 25, 2012 at 2:04 pm

I consider Brighton a kind place. I go anywhere I like and have had very few negative experiences as a transgender woman. I don’t pride myself in ‘passing’, but I do try without going over the top. I don’t call it a disguise, though I appreciate to some that it is hiding male traits. I call it revealing what I should be: it’s just how I feel about myself from the inside. If someone looks twice at mean and thinks: ‘OK, I think there’s a man under there’ I don’t really care. That’s just how they have learned to think, and it really isn’t as simple as that.

A few months back I met Alex Drummond, a unique trans writer among other things (I really admire her joinery skills). He was over from Wales for a conference, and I wanted to talk about publishing, so we met up at the lunch break and migrated to a café. Sometime into our lunch and conversation, one of the waiters calls over, across the floor: ‘Love the hair!’ I’m not used to flattery, so I turned round. ‘Thanks!’ replies Alex. Huh! Either I was passing very well, or really not at all. Alex, resplendent in black jumper, cross-checked skirt, black tights and rather nice boots, bedecked with beads (hmmm: we actually have the same bead bracelet …) is certainly distinguished by the long brunette hair.

And beard.

So what can it mean to be transgender? I thought I didn’t know, then I thought I did, then I met Alex. Stylish, individual, assertively ‘out’, he just doesn’t need to try in order to be himself. Even if I do hesitate every time I use a pronoun. But what I really respect about Alex is that he is authentic, if different, and unafraid to be an example – and has really done the homework including an transgender-themed MSc. I found that really useful, because alongside her autobiographical account of self-discovery (which I found both funny and very close to home), it helped me understand what my ‘normal’ could be.

Grrl Alex book coverI was really pleased finally to be able to publish the revised edition of Grrl Alex: A journey to a transgender identity in January 2012, including a Kindle edition – not least because I think the unconventional message has a lot to say to all of us transgender people, and to those we know and love.

What do you say?

  • Posted on January 25, 2012 at 12:43 pm

I have a slightly complicated life. Yes, I am transgender and I am totally out about it, but with some discretion. I don’t want to be a distraction from what I’m doing, but I don’t want to be dishonest with myself either. When I did come out as trans in 2011, it was the same time that I reawakened my interest in writing poetry. Well, it’s no use writing what no-one reads, and you don’t get better by not sharing and working on it with others. So I joined the Poetry Society, adopted a mentor, and started going to monthly meetings. With more than half my portfolio addressing transgender issues, what to do? It would be very odd to go in different modes, and much more difficult to come out late in the day. For me, Andie the girl is the inspiration and the poet, so she got the job. My friends in poetry probably don’t need telling that there is a reason my skeleton is crafted by testosterone, but as a writer, I am a girl. Late middle-aged, but a girl (I’m still catching up on a lifetime).

I am also a musician, amateur, a little above average, but very busy with it. We amateur musicians can be rather promiscuous. Why play in one orchestra or band if you can play in three? It’s good for variety in music and style as well as socially. But it does mean you can never come out to just one group! You might jump in the deep end and tell the whole of one group, and then find that one person doesn’t want to understand, or talk to you personally, and as a member of another band or orchestra starts to gossip there instead. Suddenly there are sixty more people hearing things about you, and you don’t know who they are or what they are passing on to whom. Great.

Well, one friend who does now know, was very kind in asking what I would like them to say if asked about ‘the bloke with the trumpet who wears nail varnish’. In case it’s useful when you are coming out as transgender, or you can improve on it for me, here is what I said.

A good question, though not an easy one. One or two people have asked, and I just reply that I ‘have a transgendered personality’ – or some such. That’s honest: I am transgender, and have lived that way for a year now. Nail varnish is left over from my female days, bracelets and rings are a way to feel at home with myself. I want to have my ears pierced but that is very obvious (and I can’t choose to put my ears in my pockets!)

The misunderstandings I want to avoid are that (a) I am gay – no, I’m not (few male to female transgender people are) and (b) I’m about to ‘have a sex change’ (wrong terminology, and again, no). Transgender is about sense of identity and self, so I don’t and can’t shy away from it any more. If it would help, I’d stand up in front of the group and explain. If I did, it would be something on the lines of:

“All men have a female side, and all women a masculine side. I am not even in the middle of that distinction, so whatever I look like now on the outside to you, I express myself as easily if not more so, as female. The biological or psychological distinctions of gender that we’ve been taught, are in no way adequate to express how hundreds of thousands of people like me actually feel about ourselves, which itself can be very different. Repressing those feelings all your life is deeply damaging and stressful. But being completely open about it always feels like a tremendous risk, because people often don’t want to understand just how much we do know about gender diversity. I am entirely comfortable with myself and happy to talk to anyone about it, and answer any questions that you wouldn’t mind being asked about yourself. I don’t want to be a distraction, but neither do I want to be the focus for uninformed gossip just because someone doesn’t have the courage or openness to talk about it or try to understand.”

When I am living as female I just blend in, so I do want it to be clear that I’m not some awful cross-dresser or drag queen: not within a million miles. But I have my man days too out of respect for those I know can’t cope with me yet.

So the short answer is “Oh, he’s just transgender. That means he feels he’s really more female than male inside, and lives that way as best she can.” (yes, pronouns are difficult!)

Maybe you can suggest better what people like me can do when life isn’t completely ‘out’.

Simple; too simple

  • Posted on January 25, 2012 at 12:16 pm

It is so simple isn’t it? We know what male and female mean, what a woman and a man are. We know why we need the two, and what we are. Well, most of us are pretty certain about ourselves. Sexual orientation? Now that’s something different. Look, you’re just fine knowing your are a woman, and lesbian (or: man, gay), and that doesn’t alter your certainty about male and female, does it?

Surprisingly, the statistics about intersex incidence (where the sexual classification of a newborn by genital appearance is unclear) are high (maybe four per cent). But we don’t see this, not least because decisions are made to increase the certainty: an identity is settled on as much for parental peace of mind as anything, there is surgical intervention and social determination. But it happens.

But where exactly is gender found? Between the thighs or between the ears? Physiology apart, the brain and the mind, the personal sense of identity, is not always at peace with the body. For very good reasons, the brain can develop physically in one gender profile, while the body does something else. A very few genes on a very few chromosomes can cause this identity conflict from birth, at puberty, or really at any stage of life’s journey. It is genuine, and it can happen for anyone. Some people just know from their earliest years, others, not knowing what the problem is or what to call it, just feel discomfort. The more they don’t fit with what they are ‘supposed’ to be, they more they hide it, suppress it, and suffer for it. Some cope with that tension, others cannot cope at all. For many, there is a point of inevitability where ‘coming out’ almost happens to them rather than being a conscious decision. And all hell can break loose. I will share some of my experience and understanding here, so that if you are unfamiliar and just think a person ‘dressed in the wrong clothes’ is weird or mentally disturbed, you might learn just how many people simply don’t fit the idea of male or female. Call it ‘heteronormativity’ and it sounds authoritative, but there is nothing ‘right’ about dividing people up into precisely male and female according to their (you’re guessing anyway) genitals.