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Touching, isn’t it?

  • Posted on October 28, 2013 at 1:03 pm

It’s a cultural thing – who touches whom, when, how and why. I have relaxed into being a whole lot more touchy-feely recently. As a woman, in England, I feel OK touching someone’s arm in conversation, greeting or saying goodbye with a hug. I was never allowed to do that as a man, lest it be misinterpreted, even by me. OK, sometimes I did, but not as a regular thing. When a man touches a woman’s arm or leg, it’s either a presumption, an advance, or it’s effeminate. Hugs before always had that constraint: not too warm, not too close, not too long. Air-kissing only.

It’s as if physical contact is largely reserved for sexual intimacy. Singular hugs are remembered: the last hug with my wife, the last hug with my daughter, a special hug one Christmas with someone I felt deeply for. The kiss that could have led to a mistaken journey. A French kiss that was so needed, but never again repeated. I’ve often written about my yearning for intimacy, for the next ‘real’ kiss that means more than friends, the hand in a place no-one else has touched for a very long time.

And yet now I am learning something quite new through the dance and the people I meet there. Human touch, understood differently, is nurturing, healing, and increases self-awareness and wholeness. In a small group this week, we explored self-awareness in the body to its six extents: fingertips, toes, head and tail. Yes, you know, those little bones at the end of your spine that are free to wiggle. This week involved touching the tail.

Isn’t it funny, the way we ignore parts of ourselves in Western society? Men have breasts, just undeveloped and unspoken about. But they are there and sensate. We have navels that have inner connections and psychological significance, and the most we do is pierce them. Women’s breasts are sexualised, yet they are so much more than erogenous zones. Men don’t communicate that they hold their penises many times a day, and the conversational barrier between men and women, even between women and women about vaginas, leaves everyone communicating poorly. We have a sense of at least some taboo about things we all deal with throughout every day of our lives, not in the one per cent or less time spent in sexual activity. There are things we value and enjoy, and yet pretend they don’t exist or aren’t really part of our enjoyed lives.

I am learning how much is lost in the separation of sensory and sensual experience from communal life, and its exclusive adoption into single-partner expression. No, I haven’t gone all swingy and free-love – far from it. I am just touching other people, and they are touching me, and we are understanding its importance. We are communicating a shared awareness in a way I never found possible before. There are always caveats in our dance, that if the other isn’t comfortable with a touch, it is avoided. We don’t get to really intimate erogenous zones, because that would raise ambiguities, but we still talk about it and respect each other. Many other animals regularly touch, hug, groom each other, and it is bonding. We as Western humans have lost a lot to supposed correctness, fear of taking advantage, and loss of trust.

You can’t tickle yourself. And you can’t hug yourself. A duvet and a cuddly toy may be comforting, but it is not a hug. An orgasm may be a beautiful experience, but it’s all the touching, skin contact and caressing that creates an awareness of mutual trust and love. And I have found that there is another non-sexual layer of physical contact between people that is simply shared awareness of who and what we are, without which we are only partly aware. So I am really liking my new community of people who touch and hug, who make contact in dance, who will pull and push legs and arms, wiggle a tail bone, and who will invigorate, or stroke, and remind me of my extension in all directions as a living being.

Could I have found this before? It’s a difficult question. I know I would have felt the same in myself, but I know it wouldn’t have fitted with life as I knew it. And now, I know that this is exploration I always wanted but never found, not even in my marriage.

A moving story

  • Posted on October 19, 2013 at 7:24 pm

This week on Facebook, a friend shared a video about some whale conservationists who came upon an apparently dead humpback. It was just lying very still in the water near their boat, but then it blew. Cautious investigation revealed that it was completely entangled in fishing net and lines, its tail fin and both pectorals bound, so it could not swim. It was in straightjacket of nylon mesh, with no means to free itself. But it was alive, so the conservationists needed to release it. A humpback of course is an extremely powerful animal, and they could not communicate to make the creature understand their intentions. How do you make a whale stay still until it is not just partly free, but entirely so? (You can’t even do it with a child!)

It was a very moving story because, in the course of hours, a diver was able to cut the mesh away. Part-way through the whale did swim off and feel some limited freedom, but its powerful tail was still enmeshed. It returned, and allowed the helpers to continue until it was completely freed. For an hour after that it stayed near the boat, giving an exuberant display of breaching and tail slaps, and everything else a whale does when it is enjoying itself. Was this just a ‘whoopee-freedom!’ behaviour, or a way of saying thank you? Of course we can’t really know, but animal behaviour without our kind of language can be sophisticated and highly intentional. This week we also learned on the news that marmosets, for example, will talk but never interrupt each other. We have much to learn about our apparently superior selves.

Bound to be cut loose

I too am lying in the water right now, feeling very constrained, and at a point of being cut loose. My mail has already ben redirected to a new address, my Internet connection has been terminated, my main email address has gone forever, I am surrounded by cardboard boxes, nothing is accessible, and I am yet to exchange contracts on the flat I am buying. I am lying in trust that, as I have been provided for over these last few years (I think I was too blind to notice before that), everything will work out just fine, and that I shall not be homeless at the end of the month in just over a week!

It feels almost like a necessary thing. All my email clutter that had built up has gone. Yes, I must reregister my logins with all sorts of things, from buying flowers and ordering clothes online, to website redirects, annual accounts and so on. I hope my memory and imagination are good! But in a way, it is a cutting loose from an interim stage where my email address reflected the year I came to understand myself (andie2010@). I am even unable to upload this blog until I visit an Internet-enabled café or a friend, or go into work. I can’t lookup addresses and directions to places, and email is awkward on my little mobile. I am in some ways electronically free from distraction and all the unimportant falling leaves. But I can still write, and I can focus on packing up my last things. It may be my last weekend in this current refuge.

Last night in dance I had a lovely time, sharing movement with several people, feeling really expressive – until the last piece of music, which was very poignant and clear: ‘not going home’. I can’t remember what the song was, but it cut me down completely, and I just could not dance my way through it. This week my house was sold and others moved in. I shall never again return to a place that was home. This is more than moving house together, from one home to another, as always before. This is a complete cutting away of shared space, for good. And I mean that in both ways. But I can’t celebrate this by leaping in the water, because it is a profound sadness: that it is all because I was never loved for myself in those spaces anyway. All my memories are now tempered by that knowing.

I wonder how bound I was before, with all that accumulated clutter? How bound was I, knowing there was something essentially and innately wrong but unknown, that led me into being so afraid of what I was, and of how tenuous that love I knew, really was? I think I was enmeshed a long time ago. Better, I thought, to be loved with pectorals bound to my sides, than to be free in a vast and lonely ocean.

New owner

At the end of the dance workshop this week, I expressed that I feel for the first that I really own my body. The context? These workshops are about anatomy, about corporeal awareness, about fluidity and connectedness. And in asking where the group needed focus (for example we have worked with the fluid in joints, and with breathing), someone asked for attention to the sexual and reproductive organs. I’ve said before how my innermost awareness is of organs in my body that simply are not there. I will have my restorations in due course, but how can I fully explore this in a way that an unambiguous man or woman can? I am happy to disclose my gender issues with this group – after all, I must be obvious, even if acceptable and welcomed, which I am. If someone suggested I work with what I do have, that would be every bit as psychologically threatening as being asked to wear a tie (or explain why not) in a brass band. So what do I do? Cut the net away and work with the body I do know, imagined, felt and real in equal measure?

What I do feel right now, is that I have the opportunity of discovering and building a new life, providing I am happy that others are cutting me free, and that I am happy to celebrate in an ocean that may not be as empty as I have feared. And that means a new ownership of what is uniquely mine, not what is seen on the outside.

National coming out day

  • Posted on October 12, 2013 at 8:36 am

I realised a little too late that October 11 was National Coming Out Day. Not that I would have done anything different. I sort of assume in the main that I am obvious, and have no qualms explaining gender dysphoria to anyone. I feel somewhat immune to the issues by now. I know I am different, and I know that it makes a difference to other people. It is a stumbling block to forming relationships, like a cellar door that remains closed and scary for others. I could say ‘Hey, there’s a light on down there! It’s cosy and furnished, it’s alright!’, but for some a cellar door is preferable.

So the idea of coming out is a tricky one. Partly, coming out makes a difference to you too. It’s the point of no more hiding and being free to express yourself, and that changes you. There’s no going back in other than among a completely new group of people. There are people I never came out to, simply because they never knew me before, and simply accept me as I am. After the first coming out, you begin wondering why you have to keep on doing it. It’s an explanation of course, but why? Coming out is itself an acknowledgement that parts of society don’t want you, or don’t want to really include you.

Coming out is also a big day for each individual friend, colleague, family member. I don’t remember any particular coming out to my daughter, for my wife it was an extended thing over years, accelerating to a point of no return. For others it was more a realisation that things would never be quite the same, but that it was OK. On a number of occasions it was group thing. But for each, my coming out was a decision point for them. How were they going to deal with the new knowledge and awareness? How was living with, loving, or knowing a transsexual woman going to affect their lives, and did they want to have to deal with that wholeheartedly, at arms length, or not at all?

Coming Out is a statement that who you are matters more than being loved or accepted for not being who you are. It is a transaction in which both sides evaluate acceptance of reality and the ability to cope with it.

Isn’t that sad? That as a society we make evaluations on the acceptability of reality? That October 11 2013 has been a day of people rejecting others for being authentic, and a day of realisation that self-authenticity has a price. It has also been a day of great reliefs, where people have found unexpected acceptance and even greater openness in others.

Last night I had a lovely conversation after dance with someone who hasn’t been well. We both live in our dance, we both write poetry, we are both musical. We met, in a way you don’t meet people in other settings. We shared, we hugged and kissed. It’s what people do in these wonderful new spaces I am finding. Did she know about my gender past? I have no idea, because either way it clearly didn’t matter.


Behind so much of the issues of coming out or being out, is fear. Insecurity. How will gender difference in myself or another affect me? Will it change me, stretch or challenge me? Can I cope if it does? Why? The further I travel the more ridiculous it seems that gender matters that much.

This branch of coming out is not about sexuality, which is another bundle of preconceptions and fears. Sexuality is more simply whether you would ever want to have sex with the other, and 99.9 per cent of the time, that is irrelevant. No, there is something about gender that is not about what you do in private. There is an unspoken fear that you are upsetting some social apple-cart by being different, or that you are deliberately undermining the meaning of life, even! And that does make it difficult to understand how an intimate relationship might be found, developed and survived. Fear hangs on.

I was walking and talking with a friend this week. Had my experience been a Pandora’s box? If so, my fanged creatures were winged and had long departed, leaving some rather good things free to emerge unsuppressed. I suggested we all have Pandora’s boxes of varying sizes, and acknowledged that I had spent the whole of my marriage in fear of being discovered, found out, for I knew not what. It really is lovely knowing that all that fear has completely gone away. Life really does feel very different. Fear and love are strange companions. I lost both; no more fighting between the two.

In a dance workshop this week, we explored breathing. This involved feeling each other’s breath, increasing perception, releasing. It was physical, and I felt accepting hands, another’s awareness of my body, a closeness, that I have not felt for years. It was a very profound thing for me, though not strange in these places, and something I have increasing comfort with. It’s great therapy for fear as well.

I think the antidote to fear, and indeed to coming out, is trust. Not throw-yourself-off-a-cliff-someone-will-catch you kind of trust, but where you know another accepts you for being who you are, not what they would like you to be. There are always some people like that, and whatever their decision on your coming out day or days, you know it matters more to them that you are true to yourself than that you play to their tune.

Obsession and an open door

  • Posted on October 5, 2013 at 8:37 am

Last night at Five Rhythms dance, my evening drew to a close with having a vision of an open door and a sense of freedom to go through.

The night before I had driven to a dance workshop under an evenly-pink sky painted with a rainbow, and the dance had evoked awareness of our being as trees or plants, desperately clinging to roots held in nourishment, yet wanting to burst free in flower and move around.

A couple of nights earlier I had the most tangible experience of strength and support during a meditation that I have perhaps ever had.

The night before that had been both the anniversary of my leaving the place where I had known love for so long, and the night I was rapped over the knuckles for writing my felt experiences here, of being faced with a requirement of maleness, and how that affected my feelings of self, of being, of respect.

A couple of days ago I also lost my email address (it was dumped by my provider) and with it a lot of old connections. I will try to sort the mess out, but it will also allow me to let go of more past too.


In the midst of this I was chastened by having threatened a friendship by having been too self-obsessed, and having to return to my house, to where used to be my home, for the last time, say goodbye to my cats I may never see again, collect my last few things and my art from the walls. I have left a legacy of self, in how I created so much in that house, and have withdrawn the last vestiges.

Have I been writing these years out of self-obsession? I guess I’m much closer to that than I have to writing about other people, and whenever a third party has been involved, only very few readers will actually be able to identify them (or themselves). I always try to observe, not criticise. Most of my thousands of readers are in other countries, a few hundred in the UK, and very few local. One, perhaps two, are family. I speak more to people who I shall never meet. And yet I know from my (non-blog) chastening this week, that talking honestly can be painful. Sometimes openness is mis-read or misunderstood, or its intention lost, and talking is best. I heard what my friend was saying, and was deeply hurt that what she said was true: I hadn’t listened enough to her enough to understand her fragility.

We talked at length, the friendship is restored, and I have learned something important, we are stronger. We made the effort to understand.

But here, all I can do is write. It is my experience, my story, and no-one else’s.

Reasons for obsession

I recall reading Helen Boyd’s remark that people with gender dysphoria, when they begin to understand what they have to do, see everything in gender terms. Nothing is more important than gender. It’s an obsession. She’s right. If society allowed us to simply be, without having to be identified, labelled, dressed, as M or F, and even allowed us to move freely about between, then it would be a lot easier and more natural. The terrible truth is that this is nigh impossible. If we do, we are ‘weird’, unnatural, and strange. If we don’t, either we are trapped, or committed not so much to transition as switching, before we are ready.

In one sense, such obsession is unforgiveable and selfish (see also Self, Self(ish), Selfish), but as I have explained at times, when you are drowning, you don’t politely raise a hand and say ‘excuse me …!’. No, you thrash about, make waves, noise and shout, hoping that rescue may come. Sometimes it feels as if though rescue has not come, especially from those you’ve loved and you thought loved you, and that coincidentally your thrashing has been swimming and you find a distant shore.

And that thrashing about, that survival instinct, can make it difficult for others to deal with.

I have loved Neil Diamond’s Jonathan Livingstone Seagull (Be) since I first heard it in the 70s, and I recall:

on a distant shore
on the wings of dreams
through an open door
you may find him …
if you may find him.

is a page that aches
for a word which speaks
on a theme that is timeless
and the one god will make for your day.

is a song in search
of a voice that is silent
and the sun god will make for your way

And we dance
to a whispered voice
overheard by the soul
undertook by the heart
you may know it
if you may know it …

And it reminds me of the explorers that sailed to the edge of the flat earth. And beyond. And returned. My journey has been an obsession too, misunderstood, labelled as brave. And when I have said the earth is round (or that gender and genderedness, even as simply a feminist, is not as taught), I have been thought of as unnecessarily rocking the boat.

Writing here, I know, has helped other people in similar situations. It has been therapy for me, and at times simply the noise of survival. It was better than the suicidal thoughts. It was better than giving in to the waves.

An open door

In losing my home, now my house, I am released one bit more from my past. I closed that door for the last time yesterday.

My last blog on Calling Time is part of that. It was a wide-reaching sense of moving on, and reading it selectively would be unjust. Anything that pushes me back from the open door is not open for discussion any more. I can see that obsession has also held me back; why not just quietly walk through? I feel that now I can.

Accuse me of speaking too openly about the felt experience if you like; all I have done for nearly two years is observe myself and the impact of gender dysphoria on other people, and I think, looking back, that this has been more than a personal therapy. If you have been splashed by my thrashing about, then I apologise. But I have not been waving (Stevie Smith).