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Of sadness and light

  • Posted on August 31, 2012 at 11:37 pm

Only a few times in my life have I reached the very depths of sadness. Today I’m distinguishing it from grief. Grief is loss and coming to terms – a process. Sadness is not always loss; rather it is when the mismatch between what you hope at your best has no bearing on how life presents itself to you. But somehow it is drained by expressing it. You can fill and empty all over again, of course, but somehow it gets flushed out by glimmers of hope, as if the sadness is darkness and hope is light. And yes, you can get to like sadness as an attractor for sympathy, and refuse the light, but light overcomes darkness in a way darkness can never overcome light.

A glimmer reminded me in my deepest sadness, and it was enough for me to see what I must do, what I could hope, and what I must trust for as an outcome in a dark place.

I thought today that if I were to have written my story as it really began to take form eighteen months ago, I would not have believed it. I wouldn’t have welcomed it either because of that. And if I wrote it now, a lot of people would say I had idealised it, shortened it to make it fit, that it wasn’t quite real enough. I have often said I have been incredibly lucky. A lot of people say I have shown a lot of courage. Maybe neither is true. As it happens I am atheist with a strong belief that this life is connected with all life outside of this time scheme, and that sometimes things work well here, that people meet here, because of that connection and the coherence of all life. I don’t find a reason or grand purpose, and I don’t find destiny; I just find the connection, the absence of clear boundaries. Quite a mess of thought really, with tinges of Buddhism and Bohm&#8217s implicate order. I must read more about both and much in between.

And so it is that I have sometimes remarked that it has been as if someone were holding my hand. And that if there is any purpose at all in my deepest sadness, it must be because someone, somewhere, needs me to be free again, so that I can give myself freely once more. That someone needs the kind of love I can give, and needs it to be freely available. It’s the end of giving that hurts most right now, and for now I must learn that profound giving is too precious to be assumed as to where it is needed.

Every step along my eighteen-month journey thus far has been a falling into place, and every time I have held a fear of the impossibility of the next step, my foot has found firm ground. It isn’t so for everyone, and it isn’t because I’m thick skinned, wealthy, connected or anything else. It is just the way it has been for me. It is time to step forward now in this new way of life, and to stop feeling anything is happening to me. Nothing has happened to me thus far, I have simply responded as best I could to each prompting for the next step. And my sadness has been at times simply due to taking too long a pause to look back, or fearing some sword of Damocles will cut yet more away. You know those moments in films, as when our hero stops and looks back in their escape and you are screaming at them ‘No! Move on while you can! The bridge is about to collapse!’ The best action is positive, decisive and owned.

I am responsible for my life. Where I am now is entirely my responsibility. So too is where I am next. And no, I am not running away from anything, only towards where the next coming-together will be.

Is someone holding my hand? Well, maybe that’s too individual and personal for what I really mean. But it would be nice to know! Because some things ahead of me seem like dark and very lonely spaces where I must first go before I find out where it leads. My image is the cave diver who must head into a dark narrow passageway full of water, and the only way is through. No turning, rising, pausing, room for one only, until the crystal cavern is lit by their lamp as they emerge, relieved but completely awed.

Right now I am diving and holding my breath.

What am I? A riddle

  • Posted on August 25, 2012 at 7:57 am

If you were to catch me at night, between clothes, you would see a male body and short grey hair. You wouldn’t see a man’s body, because it isn’t owned by a man. Ironically, you would see a woman’s body that doesn’t look female. But if you could look inside, beneath the skin, you would see me; I would be her. Close your eyes and hold me, and what would you feel? The gentleness of a woman, or the hard reality of the body? What might you kiss, a male mouth or another woman’s kiss in return?

I am like a classic ancient riddle, where a series of intriguing statements can be made, apparently paradoxical, but true. And when you hear the punch line it all makes sense; cue applause at the cleverness of it. I know, riddles were used by jesters to tell awkward truths to monarchs. Am I the Joker, or the Riddle? (And if you’re a Batman fan, stop right there! Batman just gives me the creeps.)

Living with this paradox is no joke though. If I asked people ‘What am I?’ they would be polite, telling me I am a woman, of course. That’s lovely, but since I need the love of a woman, does that make me lesbian? In other words, does it actually change anything about me, or does it just correct that much-needed label? Last blog I wrote of labels being tickets. Where does this one let me in?

Ask another person in the shadow of the wings, offstage for a moment, and they might say ‘He’s a man who wants to be a woman.’ They would be trying to be honest about what they see. They may be kindness itself, but it wouldn’t change their label. Where would this ticket let me in?

My ticket, or label, says neither ‘Stalls’ nor ‘Grand Circle’. I am not a man; no, really. I am not really a woman, because I have a male body, albeit subtly changing. I am not hetero, because I am not a man, I am not gay, because I am not a man, and no, I am not attracted to men. I am not lesbian, because I do not have a female body, and I am not bisexual. But I still yearn for the understanding love of a woman, and to love a woman with understanding. What? Because she is a woman? No; because she is not a man. But could a woman love me because I am not a man?

Catch me at night, between clothes, and tell me: ‘What am I?’ Maybe you find out by touching me. Do I change you? If you hold me, and I am a man, does that alter what you are? If you hold me and you experience a woman’s embrace, does that change you? If I change you, and it is because of what I am, not who I am, does that help you decide: ‘What am I’? What would you say I need, if I am not to change the other person by sharing love?

The answer to what I am, is someone, just a person, in a transition that will never be perfect, that will always be a patch, a substitute, but with which I am immeasurably more comfortable. Maybe I don’t need ‘a woman’s love’ at all. I just need a person’s love, who can see the male/female paradox, but experience me as a woman, without that changing them.

This is all terribly personal, and it is about what I am feeling inside. I know plenty of other trans* people who have no paradox: they are 100 percent the gender they express, and the rest is just a biological disaster from birth. I respect that. Just as I respect those who can live and express alternately their male side and their female side, whatever the stronger preference may be. I know where I need to be; my life now is as a woman, unequivocally, while not denying that I still have male aspects, like everyone else. This is not about being definitive or setting a paradigm, nor about any particular person in relation to me. It is just my personal paradox, which I may never resolve. Unlabelled, unticketed, unaccessed …

What am I?

I am just a person who wants to be loved for who they are. Completely. For being wholly strange, yet strangely whole. I want to be riddled with love again.

Trans Siberian Dissident

  • Posted on August 12, 2012 at 10:33 am

There’s always a lot of talk about LGBT (GBLT or whatever – never TBLG) and whether it is coherent. It doesn’t cater for asexuals or pansexuals, which is odd, because on the face of it, it is all about sexuality. I suppose the reason is that these groups are much less visible and distinctive. But what is shared is societal attitudes to sex. Or gender. Maybe. In fact it isn’t about gender at all, it’s about rejecting people for being different in regards their non-heterosexuality. It is about equality for sexual dissidents, not in specific acts, but in eligibility. It’s about not exiling people who don’t fit the cultural regime into a place apart. Gay and lesbian people (and more as a consequence than deliberation, bi) used to have their own Siberia but, long before it was recognised that a province of that Siberia also held people who were transgender, they were allowed back.

Why did the ‘T’ people not come back with them?

The grounds of dissent are different. LGB folk were not dissenting about gender, but in a way were affirming the gender binary state, simply asserting that binary did not mean polarity. Trans* people are still out there in various forms of exile, dissidents of the binary state.

I do sympathise. I mean, how can we know where we are if we can’t label each other correctly, even with the addition of LGB? You’re a lesbian. OK, so you’re a woman, I can go with that. You’re male bisexual? OK, so you’re a man. I can go with that. You’re intersex? You prefer women as sexual partners … Oooo Kaaay. Right. So you’re male intersex, is that right? What? You identify as lesbian? And you’re not a woman? What shall I put on your tax form? Best put male, that way at least we go with your birth certificate and save a bit on the pension.

Yes, there is a real cruelty for intersex people, for whom gender decisions are often made at birth by people who have no idea what the person’s true gender is. And they get it wrong. And LGB tags don’t get them out of Siberia. It does not make them asexual or any less in need of love and intimacy. It just exiles them from most people, because the gender binary is so ingrained as an affirmation of other people’s own legitimacy.

Born that way, trying it out, deciding

These days we accept that people are born to be gay or lesbian, in the same way that birth assigns others to being intersex. It is not a state of mind, a disorder or a psychological aberration. The same is not generally held to be true of trans* people. In the same way that huge numbers of hetero people experiment with gay or lesbian relationships, so there are many people loosely under the trans* flag, for whom clothing, as an expression of fluidity, is a way of testing just how binary the world has to be. And the world notices, sometimes harshly, the lesbian who dates a man, or the man who wears a dress.

But they can all find where they belong, and settle back into acceptability within a gender binary culture. Just decide, then it won’t matter, because there will always be someone for you: another lesbian, gay or bi person who appreciates the sex of your body, and if it’s just your clothes at least we know what’s underneath. But how could anyone appreciate the sex of your body – male, female, intersex, transitional – without it affecting their sense of sexuality? No-one, in a binarist culture.

Out there in Trans Siberia, there are dissidents. It’s called internal exile. Same nation, but disqualified from full participation.

Some will come home as women, some as men, but while they are trans, it’s cold, and they stay where they are. Sometimes they hug each other for warmth, because no-one else will, except out of charity, or because they are an exotic accessory. But while they remain in a body developed by the wrong hormones for their heart and soul, they remain firmly gender dissidents (Kate Borstein’s term is gender outlaw, and I wouldn’t want to steal her thunder).

Being exiled

Tickets, anyone? All aboard the Tran-Siberien railway.Imagine the Trans Siberian dissident on the day of exile. That final moment when sentence is passed, and it is decided: as far as we are concerned, you are neither a man nor a woman. You betray all sexual preferences, you confuse everyone, you break apart what we know to be right. You are now disqualified from being heterosexual, from being gay or lesbian. You must become asexual until you conform. And besides, how can we know how to tax you if we can’t decide what you are? We do not have the right forms for people like you; the cost of changing our tick boxes is too high. You can call yourself what you like, but just look at you. We know you aren’t one of us.

And the day after exile? I cannot embrace you. You are a dissident, and what you call yourself is no longer what I want, because to want you would make me something I don’t identify as. Never mind yesterday, your sentence changes how I can touch and interact with you. I understand that you are no longer qualified to have a legitimate sexuality label, that you are in exile from all intimacy, that everyone will say the same, except maybe your fellow dissidents in Trans Siberia. Can’t you find one of them to love you?

Yes, Trans Siberia is a place even those closest to you will send you. Some maintain a correspondence, but can no longer relate you as they did. Your dissidence disqualifies you from all the things to do with love and intimacy that conforming gender binary people take for granted. You really are not wanted for a having a body developed by hormones that your heart and soul did not choose. This is exile. And even if you come back ‘corrected’ into gender conformance you are not ‘real’ to everyone. You are the man/woman who used to be a woman/man. And if you don’t conform, you stay in exile.

LGB people are no longer dissidents in this country, but they recognise that those in other countries are still persecuted and exiled and killed. They know Siberia exists. But all too often there is an LGB Siberia and a Trans Siberia that hardly recognise they are neighbours.

Ticket or label?

I am a dissident. I have no idea what my labels should be. As far as I am concerned I am a woman, with a body developed by testosterone. The repairs will take the rest of my life in some ways. And I love a woman and have no attraction to men. Am I lesbian? Well, that depends on who lets me in. Some radical feminists will never admit trans women are women at all, so as far as they are concerned, I am not a man, not a woman and certainly never a lesbian. I am an exile. And normal, hetero women? Again, I am not a man, they understand I identify as a woman, and they want a ‘real’ man or a ‘real’ woman, because anything else threatens to change their label.

I am reminded of all those pictures of evacuees, of lonesome children, perhaps in their best clothes, with a suitcase. With a label. Like luggage. Is this their ticket to a safe place? Or just a label? What would happen if you dared to take it off? Would you get lost or left behind, or forget who you were or where you belonged?

We think our labels are tickets. Tickets that will give us entrance, acceptance, permission and identity. No-one wants to give up their label in case they lose their ticket to wherever it may be. I think this is a terrible misconception. I have no label anymore, so the ticket inspectors won’t let me in. I am an exile. And all the other ticket-holders in line look blankly at me. If they let me in, it would invalidate their tickets, their right to stand in line. To become the person who drops their ticket, leaves the line, and completely embraces the exile? Surely that would mean exile too; at least exile from self.

I am not in line. I am a Trans Siberian Dissident, in exile from intimacy. I tore my label up so you can’t read it, because it wasn’t right. And you don’t need it either. How much do you really need yours? Is it a label? Is it your ID card? Is it your ticket? Is it your vote for Trans Siberia?

Don’t get me wrong, the sun shines in Trans Siberia, and those of us there would rather be there than anywhere else that would require us to lose our self-identity. For many of us it is a rebirth, and a really wonderful experience. But it does lack a certain intimacy, a certain inclusion, a certain belonging among everyone else. We just want to be loved for who we are. Completely.


Disclaimer: as always this isn’t just about me, I am trying to voice what I know other trans* people experience too. And it isn’t despair, because I know there are trans* people out there with wonderful loving partnerships. But every day I also read the notes of many exiles who are less fortunate in finding love, and the root of it all is the cultural concept of binary gender and its impact on our sense of sexuality.

Acceptably different

  • Posted on August 4, 2012 at 7:28 pm

It’s a conversation that will never end: if society has one standard and we don’t fit, and the standard doesn’t look like changing any time soon, what should we do? The choice is varied and individual, but the opinions collide when they are too strong. Those of us with a conviction that something was horribly wrong with our bodies almost from birth, have no need of a description other than of their innately-felt gender. Only one thing matters: correction. Being trans* is transitory. It ends. At the other end of the spectrum, those who appreciate and enjoy fluidity love to occupy and even celebrate being of mixed or ambiguous gender (or none).

And everything in between. For many the saying applies that transition never ends. It does mean that our relationships with cisgender or gender-binary social attitudes can be very different. Yet the one thing that probably occupies all of us along this spectrum, is the need to live within society with freedom of expression and acceptance as we are.

Ay, there’s the rub (as Hamlet said, thinking about uncertain dreams).

When celebrants of overt diversity are taken as icons of transness, those who wish to disappear into their singular (binary) gender identity (called going stealth) can find it hard. Whilst one will dance in a club and shout ‘I’m a tranny!’, reclaiming abuse as empowerment, the other lives in fear of some slight giveaway in their otherwise complete physical transition ‘outing’ them. I am more on the border, lucky enough to blend like camouflage except under closer inspection, happy enough to explain my position, and just seeking acceptance as always a bit different.

For me, cisgenderism (ie, insistence on the binary) is simply not good enough. The sheer numbers of us who do not fit, whatever our response, are overwhelming. A proportion of us are transsexual, meaning we have a sense of the binary and a definite preference that we feel we must attain, but that doesn’t mean we don’t recognise others are most definitely non-binary. I have no idea how many trans* people of all kinds I am nominally connected to thanks to the Internet, but it must run into many thousands around the world, even if we only count friends of friends, and there is a huge diversity.

Male and Female are as meaningless as the bodily humours in mediaeval medicine. They once sort of helped describe most animals at a very broad level, but I suppose it was also long before gender-changing creatures were discovered to be so. Nonetheless, cultures developed around the world that understood and held in esteem, those who were neither male nor female in some sense. And I cannot say this loud enough, in our culture that has forgotten this: the gender binary concept is false.

For me, though, it is still firmly in place. I have to accept that for the majority of people I am different. Two things have been on my mind in the past days and weeks: who notices and who cares? Whenever we see something that stands out a bit, we want to know why, so we can get it back into order in our minds. Today I was walking in busy streets and just felt noticed a bit more than usual. I don’t think the lack of mascara was the only reason, and maybe it really was only me, but when a couple walking by simultaneously look at you and hold their gaze a tad too long, you sort of know they spotted something not quite right. Does it bother me? No, not a lot, I just wish it never happened.

The other situation was potentially a lot more tricky. A new job. Suddenly I am under close scrutiny by the same people from 9 to 5 every day. And no, the voice does not hold up too well. I don’t think husky meant sexy! As it happens I have been incredibly well received. I know they know, of course. They know I know that too, etc. And I feel … well, normal. I am just me, and all my old skills, experience and knowledge are being used again, and I am just working. I know that some questions have been asked, and they have been formally answered, and I have had no sideways glances in my presence. It is lovely just to get on and do what I do, officially female, discernibly transsexual, but at work and earning my keep, hoping I don’t get asked about family things like marital status.

I got called ‘he’ twice this week. And I haven’t even worn trousers once. I put it down to fitting in with the blokes because my experience lies in understanding technology like they do, thinking about it like they do, explaining it as they do. Who else would discuss these things that way? ‘He’ does. Maybe she is not a proper woman after all. But accepted nonetheless.

As time goes on, I will recognise that they know I know they know about me, and I will freely correct them without feeling I am outing myself and needing to explain in more detail. But I shouldn’t have to. Being trans should already be so normal, because the gender binary is so patently incorrect, that it is OK to be unequivocally trans with whatever identity I choose to live with.

And so I accept my being different, I call it normal, and I recognise that some people do not get it. And this is why I feel so let down by the UK’s wonderful NHS. By the time I am prescribed hormones I shall be well on the way to being able to apply for my gender recognition certificate (GRC) simply by virtue of having got on and lived as a woman for long enough. Thank goodness for the Internet! These protracted periods of being unsupported, delayed, forced to live with a physiology that feels all wrong, may be called ‘real life experience’ by clinicians, but believe me, once you have committed yourself in society as ‘acceptably different’ you will know if there are any doubts, and every day you are forced not to progress is not ‘real’ at all, it is damaging. If you can’t get the hormones, if you can’t afford laser or electrolysis treatment, you can be unacceptably different for much too long.

It isn’t all grouse though. I want to thank the lovely people at work who have included me, by complimenting me on my dress, or my necklace, or my nails, and by sending me emails on doing my nails a different way, or where they get their favourite cosmetics. That all means I can live with this painfully slow journey into being as little different as possible.

(Just don’t call me ‘he’!)