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Permission? Tell me about your childhood …

  • Posted on March 9, 2013 at 1:42 pm

aspects of love diagramOver the course of counselling, I have prepared or gathered my thoughts by sketching diagrams to relate all my possible feelings about something. I start with words on the page, positioned intuitively as blobs, then join them up as they seem most naturally to relate, and a picture emerges in a fresh, clearer way. I have one on emotions, for example, with a big black blob in the middle called ‘undermining self’ linked to ‘exclusion’, ‘anger’ dissonance’. Another is on love, with the sexy ‘excitement’ and ‘thrill’ bursting out the top, but this much bigger iceberg zone with ‘trust’, ‘commitment’, ‘bonding’, ‘togetherness’, ‘wholeness’ below the waterline. Then I have one centred around ‘core self-beliefs’, surrounded by ‘validation’, acceptance’, ‘connection’, ‘self-esteem’. These aren’t complete descriptions of the diagrams, but they are interesting to return to and ponder.

Then I came to the appreciation that the root of my emotional responses to not being loved as I thought I had been, was this whole business of permission, and the way I grew up as a child to understand it.

Now before I continue, some of you reading this will be thinking I am being unreasonable on the issue of not being loved as I thought. Yes, I was loved by my wife, and we looked after each other very well in our 32 years. We cared a lot, the sex was very comforting, if pretty vanilla. It was fulfilling in terms of bonding, if unadventurous. We supported each other through employment traumas, through illness, and loved each other in these ways faithfully the whole time. So I am not denying any of that, only that I now realise that the very fact I could not share my need for help, the very fact that I was frightened to disclose my problems, was because I knew there were limits to being accepted, and that I could exceed permissions by which that love was bounded. Had it been a worry about a congenital disease, or cancer, or mental health, I could have spoken. Impotence? We’d have coped with that. But this?

I was (and we all do this), living by permission. I can only do what the other allows. It’s not the same as ‘tie me but don’t spank me’ kind of permission, which is about respect (and no, I never was into BDSM in any way), or ‘booze with your pals so long as you come home quietly and don’t disturb me’ (I’ve never really been drunk). This is not about tolerance, but letting the other grow and live safely as themselves, as all they can be. It’s about not setting boundaries (even ‘don’t ask don’t tell’) where the other only feels loved for being and doing what the other approves of.

Tell me about your childhood

It is clear now that much derives from upbringing. I always knew I could never be good enough. Which is strange, given my performance at school.

Were we poor? I think probably we were, but our family values were a veneer of being a class above the reality. Others were honestly poor, we were respectable, and that meant hiding quite a lot, in retrospect. But a core value was that any pride or self-satisfaction, any celebration of achievement would lead to arrogance. Therefore, any sense of self-esteem being shared with another was bad. So I passed my 11 plus and went to grammar school? That was simply as it should be. So in my first year there, I had scarlet fever (curiously self-diagnosed correctly before seeing a doctor, and without the Internet). I was off school between the period of taking exams in every subject, and the results being given. I came top in just about every subject except Art. A great surprise to me, but this was simply as it should be. I did it again and again. If that was my natural place, it was just a natural place. I was a soloist with two instruments at school, and after a performance this was just as it should be. If this is what you can do, then without need of praise or pride, this is simply what you do. Nothing was special; nothing was good enough for reward. And so I found myself in 1980, surrounded by friends jumping up and down with delight for their 2:2 degrees, reporting simply on the phone that I had indeed received the only first in my subject. It was a very ordinary day. A simple thing. As it should be.

So having a successful marriage was not just unusual, it was nothing to celebrate. Being loved as I was, was not a recognition of anything about me. It was simply fitting. And so being rejected for being the wrong fit (see last blog) was, once more, not being able to be ever good enough to be wanted.

What a legacy! I can never be good enough to be truly loved.


In this setting, there is no permission to celebrate. I remember my wife saying in the past that I should celebrate more my achievements. That I should reward myself for good things and feel good about myself. When I reminded her of this regarding my feelings of achieving self-hood in terms of fulfilling my true gender, of course I was back to square one. ‘I can’t celebrate it, so don’t expect to celebrate it here.’ I spent far too many decades of my life living within the permission of others. Permission to have things, to give things, to think things, to celebrate being. How could I ever have believed that life should be so small as to live in fear that stepping over someone’s line of who I was allowed to be, was a requirement of love?

We give so much away, and reduce ourselves so much, all for the sake of acceptance and approval, without which our core beliefs seem challenged. Maybe we aren’t right whenever someone disagrees or won’t allow us simply to be? I still walk past things in Tesco telling myself I’m not allowed to have that. I still have things in my freezer that I tell myself I must save until I can share it with someone else. Why? I used to look in the fridge frequently, seeing something nice, believing it must be for the kids, or some special reason, never for me.

I have lived in self-denial in many ways, all my life. Layer that with the whole business of gender, and I feel a long way from the possibility of being loved for all that I am, and even believing that I ever could be, let alone that I ever have been.

One phrase I have often used in the past few months, is my response to the tentative enquiry: ‘Are you happy?’ The only thing I can say is ‘If I had known I was allowed to be this happy with myself, I’d have done this a very long time ago.’ Despite those closest to me rejecting me for being this. This is my permission to self, out-facing everyone else for the first time in my life.


My real transition at this rather late juncture, is not my gender presentation. I have always been what I am, but I didn’t know and I didn’t allow myself a higher permission. No, my transition is from living by permission to loving myself.

That’s a long journey from the day I wrote ‘I love me’ on a pencil case (everyone else was naming a girlfriend), and had it instantly obliterated by my mother because self-love was arrogance and forbidden.

I have transitioned from being what you need me to be, to who I am; from being loved providing I presented the right shape, to being who I am in the face of maybe never being the right shape for anyone ever again. I have transitioned from the conditional life, to freedom. It happens to involve moving from living as a man, to simply living. I am a woman, and I need no-one’s permission to say that.

What hasn’t changed is who and what I am. I am a lovely person. I have my faults, and I know that. I can be a bit too vocal, a bit overbearing at times. But I am one of the kindest, most loving, committing and considerate people you might wish for. I share and give freely, I help and support openly. I am intelligent without being arrogant, thoughtful without being obstructive (OK, most of the time!), I am intuitive, creative, expressive and honest. I have so much to give. I even want to discover generous sex as something I can receive, not just give. I know that the second half of my life is one that leads into growing old, but I want to share that experience with another. I want a lover, I want a companion, I want shared happiness. Not the avoidance of problems and life-tangles, but someone who can massage my knots away as I do theirs.

I love myself. And finally, I realise, I need no permission. Somewhere, they may be someone for me who has found the same. I do hope so.

No illusions. Back to Plan D

  • Posted on March 2, 2013 at 9:09 pm

I have been going to counselling sessions again, and it feels a very safe place. Maybe I would like a bit more probing, but I do understand it is a space in which to work things out. I try to prepare, think what’s been going on, what it means, observe myself, learn. But I also have this sneaky feeling that it makes me rehearse my story again and again, without helping me to really understand the plot.

Imagine I had been shopping and bought something the wrong size. I might be a bit upset when I got home, especially if I couldn’t go back and change it. I’d incurred cost, not been advised, not checked carefully enough, so quite rightly kicking myself. What should I do?

Plan A
might be to see if I could make it fit. Why not? Sometimes a tuck in a waistband is a reasonable thing to do. Not perfect, but comfortable and not looking stupid.

Plan B
might be to count my losses and take it into a charity shop. Never mind; lesson learned, my expense has benefitted someone else at least.

Plan C
might be to tell everyone my regret. And there would be at least two responses. The first would be, yes, that was a bit careless wasn’t it, but no point staying fed up about it forever. You made a mistake. We all do. The second might be, it’s OK, why don’t you come round for a coffee, and tell me all about it. How about every Tuesday for six weeks, and see how you feel?

After a while (plan D) I may feel that it might have been better to bang my head smartly on the wall ten times and promise not to let it happen again. And forgive myself and/or the shop that sold the ill-sized item to me. Even if the shops are shut forever.

So why am I not doing just that? Why am I stuck in Plan C?

I have written over and above anything really necessary, about grief and loss. If you’ve stuck with my blog you’ve done exceptionally well! I have done it because I am not the only one for whom being born transsexual has meant loss of family, love, and more, and feeling completely undeserving of such rejection. And I have done it as a form of therapy, as this page is now. I can’t pull myself up by my own shoelaces, but I can at least make sure I don’t trip over them as I struggle to my feet.

Be careful what you blame

If you buy something and it doesn’t fit, you don’t blame the colour. Maybe the style, as well as the size, but not the texture either. What do we – as trans people – blame for not fitting? Our nature? Or society/culture?

Maybe, like me, you get assured that it is not about blame (‘don’t blame me for being normal and I won’t blame you for being different’). Maybe in the end, there is no ‘blame’ in the world at all. Just the way things are. So if you prefer, let’s talk about the way things are.

And what about cause? Our first thought, and that of others, is that our gender mix-up is the root cause of it all, without which everything would be alright. That’s true; but it is no valid reason for looking at how we suddenly don’t fit other people’s lives and blaming ourselves. And we do, don’t we? Somewhere along the line, maybe many times, we look at our situation and blame ourselves. It’s like an apology to everyone who feels hurt or at risk by our life situation. Please accept us if we promise not to be ourselves, or not to embarrass you. Or change you.

And we just take it. And we must not. It is self-flagellation where there is neither sin nor forgiveness.

The cause of the item of clothing not fitting is twofold. And the reason is not that we bought the ‘wrong thing’. The reason is that the item size is not our size: nothing else! We thought at the point of transaction that we had a match, and we were mistaken. The clothing didn’t make a mistake in being too big, our body didn’t make a mistake in being too small. Wishful thinking may sometimes make us buy too small, and we might decide to lose weight. But too big? When did you last decide to fatten up to fit a rather nice dress? The mismatch is not the dress’s fault and it is not our body’s fault. But combined there is a reason, and of course a huge disappointment. A realisation of expectation unfulfilled.

What have you really lost?

The biggest question for me is about what has been lost by emerging as my true gender. And, make no mistake, when you gain authenticity like this, the gain is incomparable, however tinged with grief and pain. And for my wife and I, the loss is not what we thought it was, and that is where I have to come to terms, and I suspect, so does she (though I will not try to speak for her). I believe that she has lost something that made her feel more complete as herself. That was not me. It was the competent, self-assured, masculine figure that made her the nurturing, complementary, desirable woman. Not just that, but certainly that. So she has lost something she never had: the ‘man’ was nurturing, not so complementary, wanting to be as desirable; and a woman.

I feel that I have lost what I thought was a regard for me as a whole person. What I thought was unconditional commitment for who I am, was nothing of the sort. It made me feel safe, not alone in the world, loved, really cared about for everything and anything. To me, it was so many things other than being required to be a man. So I have lost something I never in fact had either. The love was not unconditional, but sex-dependent. It wasn’t a love for the whole of me at all, but for the required parts to complete another.

Within that illusion we were one of the best partnerships I have ever seen. Kind, caring, no real arguments, stable and loving. But it was, and it really was, an illusion.

And that is why I need to bang my head smartly against the wall ten times and come to my senses, rather than rehearse my story and drag myself down again and again. I have to come to terms with the fact that I have not been rejected for being the amazing and lovely person I know myself to be. That’s the colour and the texture, not the fit. And that no tuck would adjust me to be what I was wanted to be. And there is no point being angry that the ‘purchase’ led to disappointment. My wife did not know any more than I did, that it was my gender that was in trouble. And I did not know that she was in love with a bunch of things that made her complete (the fit), not with me as a whole person (colour and texture). And let’s be honest we have all loved beautiful clothes that would never fit us.

I don’t have regrets as such. I helped bring up a family, all the way, and now they have gone. It was good, and I believe I did well enough at it. But I wish, so deeply now, that I had known. That I had known I could have been released as a woman long, long ago, and that I could have avoided being the flattering dress in the wardrobe that never actually fitted like it should. That was scrunched up on a trouser hanger, wanted but never truly worn.

Harsh truth

This is the harsh truth. I was always a woman, I was always mistaken for a man, I was loved only for being like a man, and that this love had little to do with me being, simply, me. And on top of that, I wholeheartedly gave my love in return for that, when maybe I could have found something far greater.

I can’t do Plan B. I can’t call my 30 plus years of loving marriage a stupid mistake. I can’t un-love that easily. I feel so horribly, deeply, hurt that I was not loved with an extraordinary love, that I have been cruelly subject to the social conditioning that makes the ‘wrong’ sex something that cannot be accommodated through love. But there’s the fit. This is the world that has shaped us all, and that dissuades the extraordinary.

In a previous blog I described the love bond as two hands, each holding the opposite wrist; it takes two to let go. I think I should correct that now. Love is a link with two ends, one for each, and only one has to let go. I’ve been hanging onto a love that is not there. Maybe I too have loved the love, the colour and texture, not the fit.

Plan D. Pick me up if I knock myself out. I have places to go.

My gift; my story

  • Posted on March 1, 2013 at 1:43 pm

It’s all I have to give. Time and again I have told my story. The little things wrong for so long. For a lifetime. The narrow escapes, the self-hatred, the anger. The not-belonging, the being drawn to the wrong gender group. The denial and punishment, often self-punishment. And until little more than two years ago I thought I was alone – or that everyone had these feelings. I repeated the story online, I repeated it to people I was close to, then to family, and to a psychiatrist who was in a position to refer me to further psychiatrists, who were in a position to make an adjudication. She is not mad.

It still hits me every time I listen to someone telling exactly the same story. Every close brush with suicide, every desperate coming-to-terms with the possibility that you cannot be loved ever again. Why? Why so many stories, like independent eye witnesses to something strange and unbelievable? Why are we not more readily believed? And if we are believed, why suddenly either welcomed or rejected? Why do we evoke such polarised reactions? Why are we either permitted into personal space or thrown out of it?

I went to see Cloud Atlas, directed by Lana Waschowski, who also co-directed The Matrix series with her brother. Quite by chance, I turned up her You Tube acceptance speech at Human Rights Campaign. It’s half an hour, but it held me. It’s worth watching, because it is another story, very like mine. I shall never be famous, though I do hope that like her, I shall one day find a partner who loves me for all I am. But one thing she said rang true for me, and it is spoken in the film towards the end: ‘If I had remained invisible, the truth would have remained hidden, and I couldn’t allow that’ – and that there are some things we do for ourselves and some things we do for others. My loss of my private life may have value if in giving it up someone else understands.

I also met an old (work and family) friend this week for the first time in years, and for the first time since I stopped pretending the wrong gender was viable. I had been her manager for 17 years at work, and she recognised that I had always been different. It was interesting, because I was able to explain to her as best I could (knowing that she has heard and responded to the ‘other side of the [marital] story’ completely already) what it felt like to be only loved for pretending to be something you are not. If it had been her, she said would have thrown me out straight away! I hope now that there are doubts about that at least. And once again, I had told my story, and once again, the best part of it was that one more person has knowingly met a transsexual person, and will relate that to several more, and I hope, favourably. In Cloud Atlas Sonmi, a fabricant in futuristic New Seoul is facing execution for telling the truth. ‘What if no-one believes you?’ she is asked. ‘Someone already does’, she replies. You can repeat a prejudice, but you can’t untell the truth.

In my poem Shocking I related an event that changed everything. But it’s the words that I want to draw attention to, as a stocking, left belatedly on a radiator to dry, is presented in accusation:

No relief wrapped in a reply
can change this gift
this poison present.

The present (moment/thing given) is something needing to be unwrapped. It is poison (Gift is German for poison, and it alone was fatally toxic to my marriage), it is a gift that cannot be swapped for something more preferable. It is given. It is what it is. What can you do with that? This wasn’t a moment for saying: ‘yes darling; I’m a woman really. Isn’t that wonderful?’

Have I been also handed something toxic to others? Is being trans* a poisoned chalice? Or is it a gift indeed: an opportunity to bring others into this moment and to see things as they are, not as presumed; an awakening to reality being not what it seems? That in gender being an example, much more should be seen, not just believed as taught? Cloud Atlas was a healthy dose of sometimes being given an impossible task that can only influence at great distance and at great cost.

I had this awful and awesome sense this last week that I have been given something of great value. Why not, if the cost has been so high? That by being fully, confidently and assertively trans*, with a blog like this, frank poetry, and an imperviousness to opinion (well, mostly!) I have something very meaningful to present. It isn’t about being ‘worthy’ – I am not; it is about the need for trans* people to be seen, validated and present, not repressed, denied, disbelieved, othered or driven beyond despair.

People in general need to begin to understand that trans* people are equal, equally deserving, lovable and loving, as anyone. (OK, some, as any minority, as a result of treatment and reaction have huge chips on their shoulders – but understand why.) No, we shall never really be understood in the way we know ourselves, but by analogy, description and our stories, we can eventually become completely accepted. One day.

I am tired, really tired, of having always to be the one who understands why others find it so hard to live with people like me, not the other way round.

‘If I had found out you were “one of those”, I would have kicked you out straight away!’

I have a gift. I have a story. I hope you can now ask yourself: Why would you do that?

In the answer, wrapped in the reply, is not a poison (yuk! you make me one of those!) but a realisation about love and about personhood more widely. It is the beginning of unconditionality. And that, I believe, is worth finding.