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Cat flaps. And self-understanding

  • Posted on March 23, 2013 at 11:04 am

There’s a cat flap on the inside of an A and E ambulance. At least in West Sussex.

Actually, it’s lovely bit of lateral thinking, a flip-top bin on the wall that won’t lose sharps on a nasty turn.

‘Next of kin?’ I wasn’t intending to die, not yet, not today. But I was stumped. We passed on. Interesting question.

I thought how much easier it was to buy a few thousand Staywell pet doors than to custom design a wall bin for sharps, and then not be able to get spares.

I wasn’t going to make it to A and E on my own that day. And so it was a real ambulance and ‘A Team’ that arrived at the GP surgery. They must have loved me. No blood, nasties or arguments. A good half hour for them, and they were very good. It’s nice to joke with your crew when you haven’t a clue what’s coming next. I texted a friend to empty my third washload of the morning after a particularly sweaty night, and close a window. All a triumph of care, of hand-over, communication and co-operation.

Recovering back home yesterday with a friend, we realised another ‘A Team’ of female trumpet players all of whose names begin with A had, through complete absence of co-operation and communication by male colleagues, come to a sudden end. It’s a shame, because as a section, some of us go back 6 or 7 years, and have played very well together and had a lot of fun. We concluded that men do not always co-operate well, are not always inclusive, and their communication skills can be lacking. We shall move on to new things and new opportunities.


The funny thing about being ill, but not so completely out of it, is that you become a more acute observer of people. And cat flaps. I was struck by the difference in male and female friends, and what they naturally gave of themselves, and understood. Empathy? More than that or less? I was a bit disappointed when I first gave a squeak for help on Facebook, and when I first mentioned pneumonia (before hospital day), that just one family member knew, said nothing, made no contact and didn’t even pass that word along.

Then when people call you, what do they say? No-one is asking more than ‘being there’ but some find that so hard. Particularly men. You’re ill, you get over it. Home from hospital? I had a friend like that; now let’s talk about something I’m interested in. And as every woman knows, if you’re going to have a visitor who can find tea bags, spot the washing up, and just be present and nice, make sure they’re a woman.

So I made a few choices, had some polite exchanges, and with an immense amount of kindness, find myself on the right side of pneumonia again. Re-engaging with life on my own terms once more. I have taken a few lessons too, on fear, on freedom, on choice. Simple things like not sitting in my usual place in the lounge, where I had spiralled down for several dark hours waiting for a doctor on call, and a simple hand on mine had made all the difference. Like choosing an evening style where I eat early enough to digest, without TV simply for company, but a book and music. Or like realising sleeping on the other side of the bed would break the fear of night, the heat of the radiator, the light outside, and be next to the door. All in one. I’ve woken in the night smiling and happy a couple of times, just knowing that life itself is incredibly strong and generous.


Not bad for a week. I was aware from time to time also of my position. ‘Good morning madam, how may I help?’ When I first called the GP it was a pleasant reminder, not least because everything drops away when you’re ill and my (then) flu voice wasn’t exactly how I would have liked to sound. Then there was the GP appointment. No: full face treatment and makeup were not on the list, and I had rather given up already.

The second time round (we’d like to see you, you sound a bit worse) all my nighties were still in the washing machine (hence the message from the ambulance to my friend), and I just about had time to pull tights on and go. My final question to my GP as we waited for the ambulance was about the HRT. She hadn’t read my notes, and had no idea at all of my gender status. When you are that low, that unguarded, that back-to-basics, and it is a surprise to someone who’s been taking a good look at you for half an hour, believe me, it’s a lovely bit of encouragement, especially as you head into women’s spaces in hospitals, not knowing what you may later need to explain.

I imagined being kept in. Nightie? Soap? No worries; and a friend can bring your own things later. Razor?

A little bit of me felt a little more arrived at, that night back home in bed. In all sorts of little ways these past days, I have felt so normalised as a woman, but also so distanced from ‘being trans’ in the sense that the old borderlines and demarcations have faded out of sight. Medical notes are blind, the gendered behaviours of others are ordinary but marked, and I am completely at peace with myself. I am a woman with a couple of clinical issues. Pneumonia and GD. If I lift my hem, and turn through the little tickets on washing, materials, manufacture, spare sequin, etc., there is a small one with a rainbow. I sense it’s fading with the wash a bit.


A little light went on last night, as in a tall black building opposite. A small yellow square with a pull-blind in silhouette. Someone having a spare-room rummage for something lost, then giving up and switching off again. I stopped taking my clutch of vitamins and anti-androgens when all the other medications and painkillers flooded in. Wisest to go vanilla, especially on a largely empty stomach. Now antibiotics only, and once a day, eating again, and unrepressed, a little light came on: do you remember testosterone?

Having T lifted from my system has been bliss. Not just because it’s good for my hair, but because it is so bloody intrusive. It’s a bully, and for all my life stopped me from doing and being so much how and who I could have been. So now, after all the above, a small reminder. Don’t you miss it? Just a little bit? Like the sex drive? Wasn’t it fun? What would it mean to be able to do that again, like that? Such a toy of an idea. Would it betray all I have been through, to like the idea? Would refusal to face it merely be denial of a part of myself? I know trans people in the leading months to GCS (surgery) having to come off all hormone support and being flooded with T, going through hell. I can understand, because it is a simple chemical that can do so much damage, psychologically as much as physically.

Back on the vitamins then, back on the blockers, and I shall keep on learning about how interesting it is to be human, how we communicate so badly sometimes, or are chemically driven, but yet have such capacity for kindness.