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Leaving peripherals behind; letting go (2)

  • Posted on January 26, 2013 at 3:32 pm

Winnie the Pooh: E.H. ShepherdThis is my 100th blog post. Not that it’s an achievement, only ‘OMG no-one’s going to read that any more’! But it has been therapeutic for me, helpful for some, and spoken for others, so I don’t think it’s a waste of time.

Anyhow, today’s reading is taken from the book of Pooh:

‘Hello, Rabbit,’ he [Pooh] said, ‘is that you?’

‘Let’s pretend it isn’t,’ said Rabbit, ‘and see what happens.’

How do you know when someone is pretending to be themselves?


In the privacy of your soul, there is something that no-one else can ever know. And it is you.

You think you can understand it, and if you can explain it, in words, an image, in music, by analogy, then another will know who you are, and understand.

They think they can understand it, because they are thinking, intelligent, empathic, and – like you – people with life experiences as parallels and comparisons.

And the most loving among us try so hard. But when it comes down to it, we fail. I don’t think I’m any better than anyone else at this. I just hope I am now learning that I can’t know another anything like they know themselves, and to respect that. And if I love them, to recognise what it is that I love.

I have tried so hard to explain what it means to be transgender. I’ve written poems and prose, made analogies and comparisons, intellectual arguments and philosophical positions. I’ve explained clinically, emotionally, psychologically, personally, objectively. And now I have to accept that this private part of my soul can never be understood or known. Even those with whom I have been most open, visible, vulnerable, for however long, will never really know.

And that is why I feel in my heart of hearts, that for most people, my transition will always be something I did, that I chose, that I elected to become – rather than something so innate that it has always been part of my being, my heart and soul. I no longer believe that I can say anything that could ever reach that level of knowing. If I could, maybe I would not lose the love I had; but I can’t. So I give up.

The importance of peripherals

It has to be of no consequence now what others think, or how they respond. I must simply live. And let go. It’s been ten months now, and those who don’t let go of me I shall be safe with. Those who do nothing as I do let go, aren’t good to hang onto. Those who think I have changed least are those closest to that private part of myself, those who think I have changed most are closest to my peripheral attributes.

And I also realise that I have to let go of those peripheral attributes too. One of these is ‘husband’. That’s easy, because it’s obvious and I never felt comfortable with the label: it presumed things that I didn’t want to be identified with in my love relationship. Another lies in things where I have led. I was a chair of governors for a school. I was lead trumpet in a band. I was a manager. I was active on many committees. I helped to lead a protest that took me all over the country and to Europe. Lots of things. Things I did naturally (and feel good about, to be honest), and that felt important at the time – in doing something worthwhile and being appreciated. I have very little of any of this left. It isn’t that I am nobody, just that the somebody I really am is here inside, in this privacy of the soul.

This week I have felt a bit battered by egos: people vying for position to be seen, heard, applauded, approved, included, better. All things I guess I have done too. And I have to let it all go, and say: sometimes it is enough just to be. Enough to be, even if there is no-one who loves you and to whom you are that really special person. (And there are so many trans people who lose their families.) I have to let go of what I was to others and dare to be alone, in the privacy of the soul. There, I have to learn, is enough security and resource, so long as I don’t compare myself with others. And enough to finally let go of everything I meant, to those who used to be closest to me.

I am nothing. I am everything.

For sure, I don’t ever want to find again that my peripherals are more loved than my essence. That sounds frightfully frightfully, doesn’t it? It just means that my sense of personhood matters far more than the clothes I wear or the profile of my body. Those things have to be congruent with my person, not the other way round. But I can never explain to you, if you have never known incongruence, that my peripherals do not define me, even if they are necessary for you to love me.

Giving up, letting go, walking away from people I never wanted to lose cannot be understood either. But I finally know I have to do it, and can, because I have come to accept that no-one else will ever understand what it is to be transsexual anyway. There is no more to say. I’m not walking away from love; I have withheld nothing. No, I’m walking away from only being accepted as something I am not.

The only way I can explain ‘blue’ to an unsighted person is by describing what it means to me. It matters not if I say the sky is blue, or give an electromagnetic frequency range. I can only say how blue is my favourite colour, it feels cool, or healing, or calm.

So as I walk away, as I let go, let me just say that knowing my gender is like ‘blue’ and I need to wear it. If you think you understand – if you want to – walk with me. You are most welcome.

Live poetry

  • Posted on January 18, 2013 at 11:07 pm

Red Roaster: Brighton and Hove Stanza of the Poetry SocietyLast night was wonderful hassle. Leaving work early to get home so I could get something to eat before going out to Brighton. I wasn’t feeling too well, rather wobbly in fact, but determined, and couldn’t decide if soup would keep me going or the final spag bol decision would finish me off. Then parking near enough to walk to the Red Roaster without getting frozen on the way back. Gawping at what I had forgotten about Brighton parking: you need 6 pound coins if you want to stay even slightly over one hour, and it was 6:50pm until free parking at 8. I risked it, hoping some jobsworth wasn’t taking delight in a last patrol at 7:55. I’m sure I wasn’t looking my best either.

But once there and warming up, and talking with friends from the Brighton and Hove Stanza of the Poetry Society, I was at home. That was except when I was feeling faint and hoping I wouldn’t embarrass myself by keeling over. I actually relish the opportunity to read my poetry. You can only read it one way, so you lose the neat, deliberate ambiguity of the written word (‘peeling is a tearing … all lies in pieces after tears’ – Cooking with onions; ‘With intent I listen/ there is no rhythm in the rain’ – Intent is an image under canvas). The compensation is that you show how it feels and runs.

What a lovely evening; consistent but very varied poetry, all to a really high standard, and very individual. All as worthy of publication as the big names, in my opinion. But what touched me most was the number of people who made a point of coming to me to say how much, or why, they had enjoyed my pieces. Yes, I had been open in explaining the origin of some of my work in being transsexual. I’d rather people heard the words than spent time trying to work out my gender, and it is the heartbeat of much of what I write, even when it isn’t explicit. So to learn that I had evoked deep feelings of childbirth in a mum of two, felt almost an honour. There’s something quite moving about your words reaching some deep place in another, not because you’ve thrust your words on them, but because someone has just received them and taken them in, where they have resonated. That’s much more of a meeting than a handshake and hello.

Writing for me is an imperative, even though I do it all day as a job too. Cooking with onions was a line in my head ten days ago, when I woke up one morning, and evolved in my mind on the journey to work, where I captured enough on paper to remind me later, and the allusions multiplied. That’s how it is, and somehow it really works.

Here are the poems I read, in case you were there and want to read them again, or missed them:

I hope you like them.

For your hand

  • Posted on January 18, 2013 at 10:21 pm

I have deep veins –
pure white, crystal veins
held in a hardness
that was mud, that is stone.

I have been grains –
crushed in dark fire
melted in vastness
made layers, made folds.

I am refined –
yet broken again
ground from a roughness
by oceans, by cold.

I have returned –
a fragment, a stone
somehow a wholeness
a new thing, an old.

I am defined –
through all I have lost
shaped into roundness
for your hand, for your hold.


2012 © Andie Davidson

We have had enough

  • Posted on January 15, 2013 at 10:28 pm

This week I am deferring the next episode of ‘letting go’, which is due, and not writing about me at all. High time.

Last weekend, I am glad I wrote early, because everything went wild by Sunday. It had been a week in which Dr Curtis, the only private consultant on gender dysphoria, came under examination by the GMC as a result of a handful of complaints. The one lifeline for so many – and why? Because if the NHS in your neck of the woods is represented by blocking, ignorance or worse, you cannot find satisfactory diagnosis, let alone treatment for gender dysphoria. You don’t even get close to talking about it properly with a clinician.

The most positive outcome as that story circulated was a Twitter stream with the hashtag #TransDocFail representing personal accounts of treatment by, shall we say, ‘unsympathetic’ doctors or consultants. Thousands of accounts came through of not merely rejection but abuse, verbal and otherwise. And none of those complaints would be formally reported against GPs or even the Gender Identity Clinics across the land.

Why not? Well, if you have no other lifeline, no funds, and no desire to skip across to Thailand, you risk alienating yourself so far from the NHS that your hopes of receiving diagnosis and treatment are effectively ended. It’s almost an required attitude to keep your hood up and shuffle along silently in the queue so no-one notices you.

Then there was the offending remark in an otherwise excellent feminist article in The New Statesman by Suzanne Moore, regarding Brazilian transsexuals. We try not to offend minorities these days, and Suzanne I guess/hope didn’t mean to, or at best was thoughtless. She was picked up on it quite objectively, but quickly compounded the matter herself. And anger flared, because transgendered people have had enough.

We have managed to dispense with jokes that negatively stereotype races, disabilities, sexual orientation and much else, but, it seems, transgendered people are still fair game. Suzanne could have apologised straight away, but by digging her heels in a bit and becoming abusive, ended up being Tweeted back with some nasty comments, and making some more pretty nasty ones herself. And flounced off, ‘hounded out by a trans cabal’.

Good may yet come of it. Her journalist friend Julie Burchill wrote what must be the most hideous piece ever published, in The Observer, Sunday 13 January. I can’t link directly because a tsunami of protest from the early hours and lasting all day led to its removal online. Yes, that bad. PCC complaints, I don’t know how many letters to editors, countless Facebook comments and Tweets, and quite a few very good blogs from trans people, feminists and sane others. Basically, if Burchill had written a similar piece relating to Jews, gay people, black people, or even women, using such insulting, threatening and inaccurate terms, she might well have been arrested.

What better way to resolve this flashpoint then, than for The Daily Telegraph to republish the same article?!

This is not about an article any more though, it is about complex institutional and cultural transphobia, and it is now very plain to see, so a lot more people have encountered it than otherwise would. There is more to come, I am sure. A lot more.

You see, referring to Brazilian transsexuals means referring not just to beautiful people as a ridiculous ideal, but to beautiful people who are murdered there in hundreds simply for being trans. This is what cultural transphobia does. This is what respected journalists insulting and abusing trans people achieves: bolstering the opinions of the ignorant and resulting in abuse, discrimination and violence against trans people. This used to happen daily to gay and lesbian people, and sometimes still does, except in this country it is no longer commonly acceptable. We climbed out of the ‘no Irish, no blacks’ landlady culture a long time ago. But ‘no trans’ may just as well be posted by landlords, neighbours and employers (and some social groups) today.

This week I questioned the constant references to the ‘transgender community’ by asking why we don’t have a ‘red-haired community’ who we insult with ‘gingers’ or ‘carrot-tops’. (It used to happen in some places.) Community is unity in togetherness, and we cluster most tightly when in defence. There is a trans community because we are not widely accepted. Some like me, are very lucky, but very many more are not. This is why our abusers feel attacked by ‘the trans community’: it is because they abuse us. Criticise one person with red hair for daring to have red hair, and a community will not rise against you on Twitter or anywhere. Criticise one trans person for daring to be born with gender dysphoria, and you criticise us all.

It also occurred to me as the argument of ‘how dare you call me cis’ went on along the sidelines, that there was a time when people said ‘how dare you call me heterosexual’? The implication always being that ‘no, I am just normal. And that anyone not like me, gay, lesbian, red-haired or trans etc. is a freak.’ Well, all cis means is people whose gender and physiology are aligned – is that insulting? Maybe anyone in doubt should reflect on why they don’t like labels whilst applying them to others.

It is time to stop the othering of trans people, recognise that gender dysphoria is not about drag, fetish or sexual behaviour, and applaud the Dr Curtises of this world. On balance his benefit to the trans community is probably a lot better than that of the NHS as a whole. And it’s time to end the acceptability of editors and journalists to degrade a vulnerable sector of society, who are in part vulnerable because of them.

So much has been written, and much of it eloquently, in the last ten days, that surely the time has come. Because we have had enough.

Cooking with onions

  • Posted on January 12, 2013 at 3:05 pm

I’m cooking with onions.
Beneath its brown tissue,
unwrapping, smoothness, naked.

The inner skin is moist, and firm,
its curves reassuring to hold
around, down to the soft root mat.

The raw peeling is a tearing,
unlayering making its acid
reaction to my quick undressing—

or to the intimacy of the edge
that pares and parts and spaces,
destroying dignity for its strong taste.

But the pieces slide in hot virgin
as I ravish the soft sweet heart
pungent and raw and persistent.

I lost those smooth round curves,
the naked skin, moist root mat—
it all lies in pieces, after tears.

And since there are no tissues to hand
and there are no kisses to blend,
I’m cooking with onions. But eating the heart.

2013 © Andie Davidson