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Keeping up appearances

  • Posted on March 15, 2012 at 4:26 pm

Today I bought a Daily Mail for the first time in ages. It was because there was a story of how Jane Fae and her daughter Tash came to terms with Dad being transgender. I wish the trauma in our house had been so easily resolved – but envy will get me nowhere.

On the way, I called in at a print shop where I’d been and got a good deal the day before. And the bank to drop some cheques in. Well that was easy: at the bank was the branch manager with whom I’d arranged a business account a couple of months earlier, so she knew the woman presenting the cheques, recognised me, and remembered probably her first openly transgendered client. Yesterday might have been different.

I slid along to the print shop next door, and my first explanation was ‘Sorry: I was dressed as a man yesterday: I know, it can be confusing’, but she was so totally OK about it, I didn’t need to say. Maybe I was hoping she wouldn’t recognise me! But then I wanted her to remember the deal we’d made. We had a lovely chat instead.

That was all after yet another visit from a heating engineer to fix our central heating. Very prompt service, but he met the woman of the house this morning, because yesterday I was expecting to have to crawl around the loft and a sludgy header tank, so I dressed (or didn’t) to do that. The pink blouse and denim skirt didn’t faze him one bit. ’Nah, don’t worry about that, doesn’t bother me!’ He sees all sorts probably, and I didn’t look like I was going to proposition him! We talked about the technical details of heating systems, tuning old cars etc. instead. He was so pleased to talk to someone who actually understood!

What he found today was that the last man in had wrongly diagnosed a faulty pump and replaced it – upside down. I had before and after photos and an invitation form for CheckaTrade. In a couple of hours, the first man was back, humbly giving the pink lady a cheque for £190 reimbursement!

I brought the Daily Mail back home to ‘leave around’, in case it helps break the deadlock. Jane Fae had an interesting blog this morning too, comparing those young trans people we know and love who are sooo young and girly, we just feel a poor second; middle-aged women who, because they look like middle-aged women, look a bit more like middle-aged men than girly-girls. Actually I think Jane looks very creditable. But the comments about her under the Daily Mail online were as awful as ever. People who, in the anonymity of the Internet, find it necessary to be very personal, very derogatory and rude, and feed off each other in showing how utterly ‘normal’ they are. (They don’t do this anywhere else. You won’t catch any of them walking up to a less-than-attractive woman in the high street, just to tell them they look ugly, or to someone with a disfigurement to tell them their plastic surgery has been a waste of NHS money that should have been spent on them instead.)

Well, today I felt more normal than that. I am, after all, just being myself, and keeping up appearances.

It’s just that I have a beautiful grown-up very girly-girl daughter who can’t see me. Here’s another poem from the forthcoming Realisations volume:


Trans parent

  • Posted on March 15, 2012 at 4:23 pm

There is nothing so opaque as being
a trans parent. And yet, in familiarity,
they see right through you. Able only to see

in a distance who you were, without
resting on your heart. It’s hard
to understand whether a father left off

caring, understanding or being strong
when somewhere, inside this not-mother
a voice speaks, vulnerable as they.

I shall never pass here, only be different –
as if swallowed, digested, absorbed
by someone uninvited to their home.

I have become thin – a veil on their whole
lifetime, from first blue-eyed recognition
to this struggle with a strangeness.

So thin, so hard to focus on, that I am
deep as an ocean, clear as water, a sea
through which a seahorse passes unseen.

2012 © Andie Davidson

From the new collection Realisations.

Equality, mistakes and diversity

  • Posted on March 11, 2012 at 3:21 pm

What an extraordinary day. Today in Roman Catholic churches all over the UK, congregations will be exhorted to stand up for tradition. Nothing new in that, since the RC church has more tradition and ritual associated with it than any other.

Today it is about the tradition of marriage. Well, actually about the western christian church’s tradition about marriage. It seems the tradition that marriage is first and foremost about procreation and raising kids (and therefore really tough luck if it turns out you cannot) and that every other reason for a committed, sealed partnership is a poor second. Including sex for bonding, comfort or just pleasure. That seems to be allowed of course, because between the fun and bonding, there is a family.

Marriage is supposed to continue for life by this argument, so that there is a stable extended family. Grandparents matter too. But marriage is not about equality.

The matter of fertility

Nowadays we can tell before marriage if we are fertile, whereas when the early church adopted various existing marriage rites and principles, people largely could not. That’s a shame, because the primacy of procreation and family would have meant infertile couples could not marry – or the purpose and benefits of marriage would have been expressed differently. If so, today’s tradition argument against same-sex marriage would not have arisen in quite the same way.

It isn’t quite so clear what individual priests in the RC church like to say about couples who marry with no intention of raising a family (or who cannot) – a very recent statement by one was clear that marriage would not be offered. So is this as sinful as having sex with someone to whom you are not married? Since one of the arguments about same-sex marriage is that the sex itself is sinful, it would appear to be on a par with deliberately persistent non-procreative hetero sex within marriage. But maybe we do know about that too, since there is clear RC policy on contraception, even though the other denominations do not.

So is fertility the real heart of the marriage tradition? How does that inform our structure of marriage today?

The Bible doesn’t have a lot to say about lesbian relationships, maybe because it assumes no real sharing of fluids, at a time when reproductive biology was pretty rudimentary? Gay sex isn’t explained, but I can only assume that the sharing of fluids that were not understood was, on the face of it, as risky a thing to do as eating parasite-infested pork and similar forbidden foods.

Divine mistakes or divine permission?

Is all this a sound basis for marriage tradition, as if traditions have never changed? Are all traditions ‘right first time’? If so, that is the best example of total quality assurance ever: give Moses an ISO 9001! As for mistakes in manufacture, isn’t that the basis for evolution and survival? Creationists aside, we don’t call the platypus one of God’s mistakes, and similarly, traditions evolve. This marriage tradition isn’t a duck just because it has a beak and lays eggs.

Gay, lesbian, queer, intersex and trans people do not choose to be how they are. Not many would strongly claim that God deliberately made them that way, and certainly the RC church (this is today’s conversation, I’m not picking on anyone) cannot say either that God did so, or that He (I insist – She) made a mistake. At best, God ‘lets LGBTQI and infertility happen’, but many in the RC church implicitly deny that anything other than a heteronormative procreative way of being can be socially valid. Tradition excludes, not God. Which is odd, since St Paul has a very strong line on ‘neither slave nor freeman, neither Greek nor Roman’ kind of equality in the eyes of God.

And our planet’s remarkable biodiversity: is it a story of divine deliberation, mistakes or laissez faire? Or is the variety of penguins authentic, whilst homosexuality among penguins (yes, and with no social pressure) is not? Look at racial diversity: Babel is a mythic attempt to explain that, and the result is seen as diversity, which increasingly the whole world respects. Now look at gender and sexuality as we understand it today, in terms of what genetic factors drive it. Why is that not set at the same level of diversity as race, the platypus and the gay penguin?

LGBTQI and marriage equality

Society for all its traditions changes, hugely. Knowledge and understanding likewise, whether of biology, sociology, health – or diversity.

So God does not make mistakes over gender and sexuality, does not do this deliberately, and the ‘woops!’ result therefore means everyone who does not actually procreate within a marriage and then stay in that marriage, is an outsider to the RC faith, and God’s world, and is forbidden the primary partnering relationship based on love?

Civil marriage has tagged for too long on the absurdity of this particular religious tradition with all its notional exceptions. A church, founded on the love of God and a message to love one another, is exceptionally discriminatory and rejecting when the one solid rite of creating stable committed partnerships of love is so selective. As such, the church has no business at all telling everyone else how they can express their love in formal social relationships. And the one thing that really sticks in my craw is that when one partner in a marriage comes to understand they are transgender, to establish their authentic gender identity, the marriage has to be dissolved and replaced with a civil partnership, which is not available to heterosexual couples! Only a fossilised church tradition could find logic in that.

I hope that individuals in RC congregations everywhere also think, and fail to see the purpose and validity of the marriage tradition as it is being expressed today. I hope they also fail to see the authority in a church with an appalling reputation throughout its history, recently with respect to abuse of children in its care, and make their own minds up about equality.

And I hope that our civil lawmakers brush today’s message aside, with those from other traditions in recent weeks, and embrace the diversity that exists, with a truly equal regard and respect.


For more about how this situation arose, Christine Burns has an excellent article at Just Plain Sense.

Check your baggage …

  • Posted on March 4, 2012 at 4:45 pm

I had this vision of meeting someone the other day … They were walking along, but struggling under the weight of two holdalls, one in each hand.

They seemed happy enough: I would be, if I had two heavy bags full of something valuable! I offered to carry one, because we were going the same way. But no, they insisted they carried both (my mother used to say this when I offered with the shopping) – because they were ‘balanced’. Well, maybe that makes sense; it saves a bad back.

But the trouble was, they couldn’t get on very quickly, and opening doors was a bit difficult. I asked how long had they been carrying the bags? ‘Oh, as along as I can remember’, they said. ‘Doesn’t everyone?’ I replied that they must be very inconvenient, but no: ‘they’re mine!’

‘When did you last open them, and need what’s inside them? And how do you know which is which, when you pick them up?’ I inquired.

‘Oh, I don’t know,’ they replied. ‘I’m so used to carrying them, it hardly matters! It’s just what I have to carry.’

‘Maybe you don’t need them any more?’ I suggested. ‘Why don’t you put them down and look inside? Perhaps they aren’t as important or useful as you think?’

Well, it took a great deal of persuasion, but as we talked, the weight of the bags seemed to become questionable, and finally the bags were lowered and let go – not without some relief. Together we worked the zippers that hadn’t been pulled for a very long time, until they dragged their teeth apart to reveal the contents.

Each bag seemed to contain pretty much the same thing: bricks. Just bricks. A little dusty from rubbing together so long, but still – just bricks. They probably fitted together quite well, and who knows, something useful might be built with them. Maybe those from one bag and those from the other, put together, might be even better, but deciding which came from which bag, to put them back again afterwards, would be really quite difficult. Maybe it didn’t matter.

‘Oh.’ my companion said, ‘I really didn’t know what was in the bags. They’re so heavy and they seemed so important. But they’re just bricks!’

‘Then perhaps you can leave them behind now?’ I ventured, looking up at them. Then, glancing down at these impeccably balanced burdens, I noticed there were tired, old labels tied to the handles. I rubbed the dust off the fading ink, and when I’d worked out which way was up, saw that one read ‘male’ and the other ‘female’.

We took a couple of bricks out and examined them more closely. Yes, there were slight differences in shape, where they would fit together for strength, but otherwise they were all very much alike.

‘What are you going to do now?’ I asked.

‘Dunno. But I’m not carrying these bags around any more; no point. I’ll just take a couple – could be useful. Here, any two will do.’

‘Don’t you want one from each bag?’

‘No. It doesn’t matter. I only want them to keep doors open.’

Learning points

  • check your baggage: did you pack it yourself?
  • question the contents: are they important?
  • just because you have a balanced burden doesn’t mean you can’t put it down
  • whatever your burdens, keep your doors open
  • never stretch a metaphor too far; just see if it helps!
We all carry around far too much baggage about the useless gender binary of male and female, and in doing so fail to see others as they really are. Instead we constrain them and us, so we can’t even shake hands or hold doors open for each other. Put these bags down. Walk away.