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The strangeness of memory

  • Posted on June 29, 2012 at 11:27 pm

What was it I said?

Yesterday does not exist, tomorrow does not exist. There is only now.
For yesterday is just our interpretations and tomorrow is just our imaginings.

Something like that. And we all know that memories are not photographic, but filtered by meaning, so that we remember in a way tempered by significance and emotion, and that false memories can be evoked. This is why memories can sometimes be echoes: memories of memories. Do I really remember lying alone in a pram? The braiding around the hood? Or do I remember recalling this, albeit at a very early age? And it is why memories can still hurt for a lifetime. We remember the pain with the memory, and never reinterpret it. Maybe the real purpose of memory is not to have a nice mental photo album or video diary, but to retain significance as an advantage for survival. So a bird can return to its nest after migration, and an eel or a salmon its spawning ground, or a penguin find its partner after a season at sea. If so, memory is complex, involving not just the obvious cues such as visual and olfactory, but other things, such as the subtle patterns of magnetic fields. The bee’s waggle dance that directs its fellows to nectar is not exactly a satnav, but much more subtle. Indeed there are possible clues of awareness of quantum fields (read here if you want to know the mathematical trail).

So what we store, how and where, when we create memories is very interesting indeed, and anything but a simple recording of events.

Memory and time

One of the strange effects I have felt in recent months is my own memories of self, but whether it demonstrates the reliability of memory or its unreliability, I’m really not sure. Someone came up to me this week, said a very bright ‘hello!’ and shook my hand, and launched into conversation. Which was fine, except they hadn’t see me as a woman before, hadn’t been told, and showed no flicker of strangeness, despite not having seen each other for a few years. OK, I am recognisable, to the extent that I got away with a new passport photo without needing a new witness to it. The eyes, nose, mouth alignments are, of course exactly as they were. No, I wasn’t disappointed not to be complimented on my new look (and certainly not to get the usual ‘goodness, you are brave!’). Really it reminded me of my own memories of self.

Just a few months ago I was still presenting a male persona at least half of the time, and I wrote about the odd experience one day, looking at myself in the usual trousers and shirt, and thinking: ‘why am I wearing someone else’s clothes?’ That was a point at which cross-dressing meant wearing male clothes. Now, it seems my memories, like a sponge, are soaking back my feminine awareness and resolution, such that it is actually hard to recall what it felt like to ‘be a man’. It is as if I have always been this, so I expect my memories to be the memories of a woman. Certainly there is no memory of it being very different, only that the struggle has gone from those memories. Everything that felt wrong, now has meaning and a place to be. Everything that I remember of me now comes from me, not from the façade I lived behind. The little ways I was ‘different’, the inner intentions I always had, as well as the yearnings and sense of displacement or not belonging, have become rooted in my female self where they always belonged, and it is the male persona that is becoming detached. My past is becoming my past, not to change it, but to own it properly, as if it never really belonged to ‘him’ – who no longer has a purpose, served well in the circumstances, but now has long retired, remaining only in memory as a fact.


I rather like this rediscovery of self. It explains so much and takes away the crisis of becoming something new in front of everyone I know. It also means that I don’t disown my past, I don’t feel guilty, and there is no severance of self. Of course this isn’t how everyone else sees it. For the caterpillar lovers, this butterfly is strange indeed, and will be a curiosity for a while to come. It is new, previously unknown. And so they don’t know that it was me all along, beneath the male façade, that this was who was living, loving, giving, working, playing the music and painting the days. And which is why my deepest grief is that, having put matters right, having arrived at this understanding, this realisation of where I have always been coming from – I am met with lack of recognition, and all my access codes are denied, sometimes in the places that matter most.

All my memories are mine (ever bought a new computer and transferred all your creative writing, and felt the sense of relief at it all being there?). I really was there! But I was there, and now I know who I was all along. That is something I guess you can never quite know in the same way, and so to some, I am different and ‘he’ was another person. But I have the easier explanation, in which no-one dies. When Copernicus asserted that the Earth went around the Sun, he simply made the explanation, the mathematics, very easy. You can do the maths based on geocentricity, but it’s awfully complex stuff! I’m glad to leave the complexity behind, but I recognise Copernicus had a hard time of it too.


  • Posted on June 19, 2012 at 10:03 am

For something we see so little of, the tapestry is a rich source of imagery and metaphor. Once the rich man’s insulating wallpaper, now we tend to see them in dark rooms, faded or disintegrating, protected from the light, their rich colours gone. And yet ‘all part of life’s rich tapestry’ and ideas of crimson threads through the picture remind us that life is a painstaking picture full of many juxtapositions, characters, journeys.

It’s there in the continuity of the stitches, the first use of the pixel or picture element, long predating pointillism too. I hope I have a long canvas left still to be stitched, but what I am seeing so far is a lot of completed journey, a band of work in progress, and a need for a lot more thread. Crimson or otherwise. In graphic design we talk of ‘graduated tints’ where one colour blends into another seamlessly, and I love the way Dru Marland uses natural skies at dawn or dusk as such backgrounds to her illustrations. You have to stand back from old tapestries a bit to see it, but they did their best with the treads they had.

My tapestry has such a graduated tint in its background. We could stereotype it from blue to pink I guess, but that only helps explain what I mean rather than being the colours I would choose. But I see it as a dawn sky rather than a dusk, as light arriving rather than fading, and the continuous whole has a dawning meaning too, a realisation of how the picture is.

Tapestries of course were very expensive, and therefore they got reused, sometimes in parts if the whole was damaged. So you can come across captured scenes in smaller, rebordered tapestries, that are just a glimpse of the whole picture, and which can be very misleading! I imagine the rescued parts made a pleasing picture, and sometimes it might have been a way of losing the bit that was never liked, or keeping the bit that was special.

To some people, it appears I have two tapestries. One that was cut short and a new one started, using ideas of the first, but so different it is a piece on its own. Some people never saw the beginning part in all its freshness, and it is a dim and incomprehensible picture. So the question as always is: wherein lies the continuity? New friends would be very surprised to have the early work interpreted, but I know they wouldn’t ask it to be cut away. I don’t disown it either – it is my story (his story if you want the pun). Some so liked the old, before the dawning light that they would rather cut it off and keep it, as a story ended. And as I stitch away, pixel by pixel, some watch with fascination as the picture emerges, while others ‘rather liked his early work – shame about the new, I really wouldn’t have that on my wall!’

But my tapestry, incomplete as it is, has a beauty of its own, as a unique journey, maybe as my insulation against the winds of life, here in this blog as an illustration for others to see and appreciate (or otherwise). And it is one complete whole. The figure in the top left corner, the character in each vignette (woops! an anachronism for tapestry!) is me. If you cut away the bit you liked you are making a statement about tapestries and how they may be used or reused, but you are also destroying my picture, making my integrity impossible to see or hold.

I like Carol King and have listened to her since my teens. I remember the words of her classic ‘Tapestry’ very well (in full here) including:

My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue
An everlasting vision of the everchanging view
A wondrous woven magic in bits of blue and gold
A tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold

I’m not saying it’s my story, I just like it! And for those who click to the lyrics, or rememebr – I have not turned into a toad.

First Fathers’ Day

  • Posted on June 17, 2012 at 7:58 am
This poem celebrates those who find a way to be both trans* and a parent. It is based on something I heard last year, which was lovely. This year is my first such day, and I hope one day I might read it as my own.

I couldn’t find a card
so I drew this flower instead
and wondered if we should
switch to Mothers’ Day.

No. You’re Dad, this is yours and
I never knew your breasts.
Which I still can’t understand
but I do like your dress.

Shall we go out then?
It’s your day, not any day
and I still love you and nothing
changes me from daughter.

Let’s just remember I’m your girl.
Let’s play Daughter’s Day to celebrate
the one who fathered, nurtured, cared
and loved me into who I am.

That’s what we are.
What we always shall be.
Here, I bought you this necklace.
It’s very pretty, don’t you think?

2012 © Andie Davidson

See also:

It’s time to talk about Dad

  • Posted on June 13, 2012 at 12:13 pm

This post has been a long time in the making. It is the sludge of life, the sediment that sinks and settles and into which feet get stuck. In a rising tide, that isn’t good. Drown, or leave your familiar boots behind. It is a difficult one, it is intensely personal, and not just about me, so I shall try to be sensitive.

Ron the lemurIt is time also because in a few days the UK has Fathers Day. Card shops are full of jokey ineptitudes of dads on golf courses, indulging footie or booze, heads under car bonnets pretending to know what they’re doing – all the fond stereotypes that try to say ‘we love you for all you failings’. I will always be a father to two children; that is my history. But there was never a Fathers Day card that spoke to me. They are all men, and I never was one really, however hard I tried. My DIY was never inept or bodged though, and I still genuinely fix things of all kinds. Last year for Fathers Day I was given the adoption of a Lemur at Aspinall’s Zoo. Ron, in his fluffy black and white glory (I so love lemurs) is sponsored by Andie, one of my early registrations of the real me, and if I can, I would like to go and see him, though of course on my own now.

Although dad still exists as the person forever inside the rather more lovely Andie, Fathers Day this year will be very different. I wrote a poem last year, based on another trans* father’s experience, and might still post it here (it is in the Realisations collection). But it will never be mine.

Role over

Realising a trans* (transgender or transsexual) identity as a family person involves a partner and children in enormous upheaval for all of you. If mum or dad (wife or husband) has been fighting with their identity for most of their lives, and you never knew or understood the essential nature of it until it all came out irresistably, and now they are not, to all intents and purposes, what they were, the rest of the family feels floored. Should they have known? What would have happened if all this has come out earlier? Would I not have married this trans* person at all? Was it all about gender? Would I never have been born? Where is my mum/dad now?

I suppose fundamentally we live on the level of roles. We spread the responsibilities about for a sense of balance and complimentarities: you play this, I’ll play that, you do the other. So long as mum doesn’t try mending the car, dad doesn’t try braiding your hair, and I know who to talk to about boyfriends, and you know who to look to for real strength (and I’m trying not to be sexist here!) we all know our place. Somehow we start as people who find an attraction of personalities, a sexual attraction too. Our babies are born as unknown people waiting to be discovered, and shaped, and worried over. We don’t mind what they are or what they do in the beginning, because they are just being. Gradually over time most of us find we are playing roles far more than simply being ourselves, and often realise this in mid life, as children grow in independence, and we start taking up interests outside the family that reassert our individuality. But we are still identified by our roles: the mum who bakes, the dad who plays music, the daughter who dances, the son who plays loud music. And that’s what we are then expected to do; we are what we do. Just like at parties: ‘What do you do? Oh, I’m a (job/profession/parent-at-home).’

And sometimes, it is enough just to be.

Imagine a scenario. Daughter’s bedroom is impeccable, son is cleaning the kitchen to Mozart, mum is fixing the shed roof and dad is sewing a dress. And everyone is happy because each knows the other has found something that expresses how they feel about themselves. The roles were useful once, but now they are all grown up enough and can be themselves. Mum may understand growing up as a girl, dad may be better informed on electrical wiring, daughter still has social problems to talk about, and son needs a job and how to present at interview. But role expectations are changing. Dependencies are changing.

Do you remember bringing your first baby home? Do you remember feeling so helpless and not really knowing what to do? Do you remember your life changing forever as you took on a parent role? Do you remember the first time the child was playing in someone else’s house and you were not there? And the early days of school, and the first empty house mornings? And rediscovering partnership out of parenthood? We have already undergone radical role changes in our lives, and in many ways.

And I have lost a role. I am not Father. I am not Husband. I am back to being simply me. I have no role any more. Role over.

The father who never left, the husband who never died

The role changed; not me. I was there at every family event, from the first romantic gesture, the friendship become love, the love become marriage. Believe it or not I was there at conception, at births, and through every little event that life brought us. And I disown none of it. So who am I now?

I am the father who never left. The words might be tricky, and seriously, I don’t mind ‘dad’ so long as the male role expectations aren’t hung on it, and I am introduced as: ‘she is my dad’, with honesty. I haven’t gone anywhere, but I do acknowledge the sheer embarrassment I cause. Schools do not teach about trans* issues, they do not appreciate that the world really is not divided into male and female, and so my (grown up) children are very shocked to find that it isn’t so. And their friends. The boyfriend’s family too. O. M. G. How do you become the daughter or son of a trans* parent, when every popular image is of transvestites, bizarre behaviour, fetishistic performance, kinkiness and – goodness, surely, a touch of perversion in there? Weird, or what?

You can only do it by finding out what trans* identity means, looking up gender dysphoria, laying all roles aside and asking:

‘What is it that is so important that a grown man starts living as a woman, and is changing in front of all their family, friends, colleagues and social circle? What drives anyone to do that, even to the extent of losing everything they have and hold most dear?’

Whatever it is, it must be worth finding out, because it is not a game or a lifestyle choice, or a betrayal of any previously held role. Who is this person, beyond the roles, who has the guts to change so radically rather late in life? They are not doing this to you. And sooner or later you may realise that a friend or a colleague or a client has a trans* history too, but you never knew. You never needed to. Meantime, the father who never left has been dropped from the team and the rejection is settling like mud, the feet are getting stuck and the way out is getting lost.

It’s time to talk about Dad.

More than that, it’s time to talk to Dad, and find the person behind the role, who feels no differently about her family than they ever did. Dad isn’t leaving, but you can leave Dad of course, believing she doesn’t love you any more. Well, she does.

And the husband who never died? She was there all along and played a role that she cannot play any more. But that person hasn’t died with the role, and their being there still is an important part of the conversation about Dad. If the role of father has gone, and the (entirely socio-sexual) role of husband has gone, and those roles were all that I was, then by all means talk about Dad without me. But if I am still the person who witnessed your lives in every detail, and held back myself in order to support and protect you for so many years, then let’s talk about Dad together before you leave, not after. You might not like me not playing the role any more, but this is who I am and how I am. I was born this way, and sooner or later, this had to happen, and it does need understanding before conversations become impossible, life becomes too entangled, and so we can all accept the reality, make our choices and move on.

It’s Fathers Day. It’s time to talk about Dad. And when you’re ready, her name is just Andie.

Quite ordinary really

  • Posted on June 7, 2012 at 7:01 am

Being normal is such a strange thing. We all think we’re normal until someone defines it in a way that leaves us ever so slightly outside, and we’re tempted to shift a bit to nudge ourselves in. And then life throws something at you that makes you so very not normal in the way most others describe, and all that goes out the window. It’s a bit like severe stress reactions; people behave in very strange ways out of self preservation, fear, trauma, and yet all they are doing is reacting very normally to very abnormal situations. Or one day you finally wake up to the fact that the gender everyone else has given you all your life isn’t right, and you start living differently. So many people think it just isn’t normal, because they have known you as something else for a long time.

And then they sit down with you, share a coffee and talk about all the things you always have talked about, and they realise that you are still the same. You’ve adjusted your appearance, made some changes and planned a few more. A few weeks ago they would have been talking to a man (apparently) and now they’re talking to a woman, who is offering the same responses, thoughtfulness and kindnesses, and, well – it’s still you, and you are so comfortable and natural, even more peaceful and happy in yourself. You have become normal. A bit unusual in making this kind of change perhaps, but normal.

It’s this ordinariness that strikes many trans* people too. We don’t choose our clothes for any reason other than that they feel the most appropriate. We don’t set about a very protracted and in places very painful and uncomfortable, expensive and difficult journey for fun. We do it because it makes us ordinary and normal in the way that feels most right. There’s a lot to learn of course, and this takes us places we have never been before. It shoves us up against some things we may rather not know about. We rub shoulders with people who have quite different issues and get confused with fetishists and thought of as practitioners of weird and strange sexual practices. Some think we are to be feared and present a threat to children – or just normality. And all we feel as we find ourselves, is ordinary.

To begin with, coming out and telling people this extraordinary thing, that we are going to live the rest of our lives differently gendered from before, is very challenging. Whether workplaces, social environments, close family or wherever, most people haven’t a clue what it’s all about, so there are adjustments we want to steer and get right. And that certainly makes life complicated. Some will never accept ‘our story’ and we have to accept that. We lose people and we gain people, some lose jobs, homes and everything. And if we survive that, and our personal emotional response to the challenges, we chase the surf over the reef and find ourselves in a wonderful lagoon. The storms are past and we survey our rigging and assess the damage.

But it is calm, because we are in the only place we can be safe and at rest. Some of the crew may have jumped ship, but now it’s time for the carpenters to fix things, the cooks to get breakfast, the navigator to get the maps out, and you, the captain to take charge. It is ordinary. It is normal. There are losses, but the ship is where it is meant to be.

I have had people remark to me how natural I am like this (and long before I finally let go fully, too). I have had trans* people ask why they feel so ordinary going to work, doing a job, living an ordinary life, after all the trauma of gender change. I guess it is because the old ideas of normality were only other people’s guesses anyway, and breaking them simply showed how false they really were. Why did it all have to be such a big deal? Well, some people just wanted us the way we were and don’t want us the way we are now. We have maybe upset too many applecarts – or they were into our apples and now we’re offering pears. I can’t help that, but it is very galling when your fruit is good but it’s just the wrong shape. But in the end all we were after was being ordinary and normal in an unusual way.

It isn’t easy of course; we get very hurt in the process. We learn things most people never have to think about, and I suppose we feel a bit ‘special’ or unique – not that anyone would choose this path given the choice of the easier, unquestioning, understanding of gender.

My closest family is very normal, and like with any trauma, their responses are all normal. One shows complete, silent denial and rejection; one is familiar and accepting; another understands it completely and simply doesn’t want it. All entirely normal, all very ordinary in a tale told a million times in the lives of trans* people like me.

I wrote of courage earlier, and how I disowned the idea when people ’admired my courage’ in coming out. Now I realise the courage isn’t in the change or the exposure, it’s in the ordinariness. It is in the daily rejection in your own home, it is in suddenly becoming the inappropriate lover after ten thousand days of being the appropriate lover. It is in learning where not to touch, in learning not to be kissed, in learning to be out there alone once more. It is in knowing you are the cause of so much grief and cannot do a thing about it, except to carry on being your same loving, kind self, and simply accept it. Grief too is a very ordinary thing.