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Partly Sage, Rosemary, and Time

  • Posted on May 25, 2014 at 10:27 am

Yesterday I had tremendous fun performing my poetry at a Brighton venue called Minge Fringe.

The night before I had amazing dances with women at my usual Five Rhythms class.

On Monday I went out to eat, talk, and share a wonderful concert with my former wife.

And a close friend has noticed that our friendship has really changed for the better.

I have moved on.

I think I know myself so much better than I did before all this gender stuff really kicked off the need to do something. I am also aware of the sheer drain and strain it has placed on me and everyone around me. I am watching people I know, go through what will very soon be my final stage of dependency, but now it is right there, in my grasp, it feels different. I have forced myself to confront the potential misdirection, being swept up in the ‘right thing to do’ by the company I have kept, and I am quite clear that it is the proper outcome for me, which will only anchor my past in the past. It’s raised the issue of who I am, whether I have, or what has, changed – or whether I have simply been released to fulfil my identity, my sense of self, at last.

Why do I now stop strangers to ask directions? Why do I dance so freely? Why do I have total confidence whilst surrounded by sculptures and paintings of vulvas? Why do I not even stop to excuse myself any more, explaining that ‘if you haven’t guessed, I’m transsexual’? Why do I hold hands tenderly and mingle sweat with people I hardly know? Why do I feel so part of life?

And how can I now meet my former wife (I’m really trying hard to stop saying ex) with understanding, familiarity, real fondness and with past grief? People always say, as if it’s a truism, that time is a great healer. I know what they mean, but I don’t actually think it’s true. Time, of itself is inactive. Over time we forget, we let go, we simply give up, weary of repetitions. But time also does not always wipe away people’s bitterness, or insecurity, fear or trauma. Feuds persist across generations, bigotry can increase, religious fervour can burn stronger and breed hatred and supremacy.

Time is a herbal healer

I am not a great one for time as a healer. Time has nothing much to do with it. All time is, is a space or span within which to learn and grow. Time does not heal grief, it can only assist and give strength to natural processes, boosting what is naturally there to be more effective, like a herbal remedy. It gives space to learn to live with grief – the ‘unlosable gift’ that ‘finds its place to wear’, when the wind blows. And time will not heal my wounds after surgery; the biggest help will be the wisdom in knowing what not to do, as much of taking the active care. I know that part of that process will be understanding my body afresh, learning that it really is different. Without that I could be healed without being whole. Maybe I need to go back to Minge Fringe and mould some clay vulvas.

(Strange as it sounds, I do love this ownership of the vagina, that it is there for yourself, not as a receptacle for others, that it is private because precious, not from shame, and therefore shareable entirely on your own terms.)

Time is an opportunity, rather, to learn a bit of wisdom: hence this title, partly sage, Rosemary and time (because in my case, there really was a Rosemary who was instrumental in my becoming an honest poet, and in finding myself as a woman).

Natural remedies

Little these days touches me as personally and as deeply as my dance, and the encounters it brings. I apologised at the end of Friday’s dance, for my sweat-dripping face, horribly aware that I am the wettest dancer in the whole group. I was reassured that no, we were both sweaty and that sharing it is OK. And there we were, head against head, damp hair on damp hair, holding hands close to our bodies, hearing each other’s breath, having shared movement, a kind of empathy and understanding that could not have been spoken if we’d tried, scripted only by the emotions we were feeling. This, if anything is the meaning of being alive.

The space I walked into the following afternoon was equally unscripted, with the most amazing artistic talent expressed for free. And just like the dance, it was a safe space, where people depend on trust, on humanity, including unanimously asking a rather inebriated person to leave because he couldn’t shut up. I was completely liberated to perform with sensuality, to draw people in, to open people up, to share what it means to love and be lonely, and alive.

And the previous Monday? Kletz Mahler at the Brighton Festival was an utter feast of musicianship at its best, fast and furious Yiddish East European wedding music. Things done with clarinets that didn’t ought to be done with clarinets … Music without the stays, vibrant, alive. And of course, the strange experience of meeting someone I shared so many years with in complete intimacy, with a sense of all those things we perhaps never knew about each other. How might we use the remedies of time, learn a new wisdom, find in each other new and maybe unexpected things that could give us a new sense of what it is to be alive?

That, of course will take, partly, sage and time. With thanks to Rosemary for showing me along the way to where I am now.

Ordinariness; nearly there

  • Posted on May 17, 2014 at 11:42 pm

There is a number in my diary this week: 8.

In 8 weeks I shall be changed for good. Now is the best time to test my conviction and all I have said and done over the past three years.

What if … What if in 9 weeks time I were to wake, as if from a trance, and come to my senses and think: ‘Oh my goodness! What have I done?!’ Have I just been carried along on a wave, retro-rationalising everything I’ve said, reconstructing a narrative out of a merely uncomfortable childhood, supported by people with ‘real’ gender dysphoria? What if gender is such a social construct that all of this has been unnecessary, and I could have lived some kind of a life as a ‘different’ kind of man? I guess it is conceivable that since gender dysphoria is primarily self-diagnosed, I have blind-sided four psychiatrists.

It is imperative that people like me force our imaginations into these places. What follows now is irreversible, so it had better be right. Changing my mind at the eleventh hour cannot be more embarrassing than coming out and being not very good at being a woman in front of a load of people who have never heard of gender dysphoria other than tabloid ‘sex-swap’ headlines.

So if you get to this stage too, I would urge you to think the unthinkable, take yourself there and see what you find. Stand on the edge of your current reality and play-act a realisation that you were wrong after all. Imagine the waking up and thinking it was all a dream, just as the anaesthetic starts to take effect. Any shadows of doubt in there?

I have done this – and I am still longing for the outcome.

Going solo

This feels a lonely time, all the same. It’s a door only I can go through. Eight weeks is a short time, and I need to be very well planned at home and at work. I don’t come home to a partner or carers, though I have one friend and a sister who will get me started on the road to recovery. A few have promised to come round in the following weeks, but I am expecting a tiring slog through very careful maintenance, accompanied by books, none of the usual social activities, recorded music, not played, and a degree of boredom. I must write poetry, though I don’t think much of the time will be inspiring!

This is the unglamorous reality. At the start, the realisation that I might be understood rather than wicked, was very comforting. Buying clothes, starting to look right, was a challenge I could at first retreat from if necessary, but it felt very good. As I moved on, came out, left to live alone, at least people were calling me brave and courageous! This now reminds me of an earlier poem ‘Guts’, and I am not sure as to whether I am giving birth or being born!

It’s lonely because I am gradually saying no to summer events, to projects at work, and cutting myself out of things I would normally throw myself into.

It’s lonely because I no longer have the one best friend who might have been close by and practical.

It’s lonely because the one person I loved most in the world is now living her own life with no reference to me.

It’s lonely because whilst I have friends on Facebook and ‘out there’, this time I need practical help to get through my days, get it right, feel reassured, know there is someone there.

And when I get back to work a lot will have happened in my absence, in the band the concerts will be over, and the dance will be cautious. I shall no doubt feel quite out of touch and tired, unable to commit so much, and not getting into work so early.

No-one can do this but me. I shall get there, the other side is in sight, but for the first time in my life I face a real physical challenge with no nearest and dearest. A friend told me recently to be really busy in the last three weeks. I feel the need already!


A friend said to me this morning that he had watched me changing a great deal over the last two years, from the nice man he met and who made him feel welcome, to announcing my change, reappearing as a woman, and gradually changing in shape and manner until now, when I appear so completely comfortable in myself. It makes me realise that, although two years is not so long, the journey has been. I am very settled, and I do admit that although I am still here the same as ever, inside this skin, I have come a very long way. I sat and talked with my ex-wife recently, and for all the total familiarity, I must seem so very different externally, especially since she has not watched it happen week to week. When I left her, I had just finished part-timing, just finished compromising, and had yet really to grow into myself.

I also am aware that just as I have moved away from trans spaces, this next step becomes the end of the conversation. If I can help other trans people find their way forward, then I will. But as for identifying as trans, though it was my starting point for how I am, it becomes my history. Do I still have gender dysphoria? In most ways, no I don’t. The end is so in sight, that the real work is done. After this I am just a woman, and my goals are anything other than further change. I shall continue to develop of course, but life plans and decisions go back to normal. And the conversations about gender will become fewer and further between. Everyone will breathe a sigh of relief. Maybe I shall find new friends who don’t need the resilience!

What feels important to me now that the dialogue is dying away, is that I come to real understanding with my ex-wife. I hate saying ‘my ex’, because it summons antagonism, falling out, acrimony, and I never felt that, only grief and disappointment. I can only call her by name, like any other friend, seek pre-booked time-slots like any other, and compete with better friends. Until we find what friendship either of us wants, all I can do is try to rebuild her trust in this woman who used to be her husband, and who still loves her, but will forever be separated.

It all feels very ordinary compared with the intensity and traumas of seeking treatment, learning to live differently, and being aware of stares and comments. It has been long and arduous, and I am amazed to be here and feel safe. But I am tired, very tired, because of all it has also taken away. I need to be ordinary. In a way I really do hope that’s what it will be. After all, the past is a sticky thing, and I am no better understood, not really. I was greeted on Monday this week with ‘Did you see who won Eurovision? I saw Conchita and thought of you!’

Oh for some real ordinariness!

People! Who’d be one??

  • Posted on May 10, 2014 at 6:05 pm

Every now and then I realise deep, deep down, that to be human is the loneliest thing in the universe. As people, we make life as individuals horribly isolated and complicated. There is no alternative to the singularity of human life, and the only way not to be alone is to acknowledge this state of affairs and do something about it. And I believe the only way, is to expose the vulnerability of it, and not pretend otherwise.

I am a committing, bonding person, always have been, and probably always will be. That makes me something like a free radical. (Look them up on Google to find out more.) Basically they are molecules with a bit missing, that makes them highly reactive. Find them another molecule with a spare electron (or need of one) and they want to bond to make something new and extra.

It got me into trouble again. My natural tendency to bond made me too radical. My ‘missing’ particle, under discussion over a cup of tea, was subsequently interpreted as ‘too needy’ – and I lost a dear friend. Yes, another. But it’s alright, because very soon it won’t be able to happen, because I shall have run out of close friends. Look on the bright side.

I’m not being cynical or unduly sad, and certainly not bitter. What I want to repeat, is that going through gender transition – coming to terms with, and actually dealing with gender dysphoria – is a particularly difficult thing to do. One one hand, it is a tremendous self-actualisation, and unimagined move into happiness with self, that at times even feels absurd for being allowed to feel this good. On the other hand, there is everyone else. Those who shout in the street, those who humour you, those who distance themselves, and those who flatly reject you. So when one or two embrace your change, they don’t know what they are letting themselves in for. Self-obsession, a need for reassurance (or simply to be hugged without reservation), constant focus on the ‘big issue’, or no conversation that hasn’t got something in it relating to the problems of starting a gender life all over. It’s all there. Please don’t blame the transitioning person; they will get over it in a year or two! But please go gently, because it is so desperately hard at times to hold your new life together in the absence of love and affection and close support, and especially when you have lost it for becoming the best you can be. We take time to get there. My daily motto is still ‘I’m getting there …’ Maybe I should have it engraved on my headstone!

But this week also I got to the point where all the arguments, diatribes, philosophy and rationalisation are over, I feel it’s all been said. Over 200 blog posts since I started, and I have little to add. I shall write through the final phase, of course, since that too may help others, but when it comes to other people, this is it. A bit of genital reconstruction, a lot of pain, hassle and stuff to get through, and I shall be asking nothing more of anyone to help me ‘arrive’. The rest is self-discovery and development, with no ‘big things’. Take me or leave me, there are no permissions to seek; I am what I am. Period.

So anyway, what does this mean about us as people – all of us? What makes us feel safe? In a crowd, pressed together, we don’t fall over. Out on our own, and a little shove shows how vulnerable we all are. Some of us cope, by becoming small or lying down, where falling hurts less. Some hold onto one big thing that gives valency in the world – their lamp-post, shedding just enough light to give them a safe place. Maybe we are all looking for a simple, safe place, even if we venture out into daring other places and back again. I think I have faced some of this loneliness and outer darkness as never before, and have learned a little more. It is not so much threatening as empty. The scary bit is that if you were to need it, there might be no-one there, so I err on the side of daring to be hurt rather than playing safe. I think I’d rather stay a free and needy radical and work it out as I go along. Maybe there is a lot more hurt ahead, but maybe nothing worse than I’ve already felt. And maybe, just maybe, there is some other person willing to take the risk with me.

Being a people is so complicated – isn’t it?

I had a sleepless night chewing over how I had managed to lose my best friend. There’s no blame, a few reasons, and enough to reflect on and learn from. It made me realise (a good thing) a bit more of the impact of my words on my ex-wife through these transitioning years, and helped me see in a more generous light the hurt I too had caused.

And all I wanted was to start making peace with my oldest companion, friend, life-help and partner. It can’t be put back together, whatever friendship we find will be different, each free to go our own way – but we have over 30 years of memories that are shared, and always shall. Flowers, some tearful but sincere apologies from me, and I’m looking to make peace. Just that. A first hug in several years, and a hope that all this horrible mess of being people can be made a little more sense of, and with a little more kindness than I have shown. I think we are agreed on that.

We aren’t always good at being people, at being kind, or recognising the inherent loneliness we all have, simply being human. It’s a messy, untidy thing, and we hurt each other over and over, perhaps because we are lonely, and needy.

People! Hah! Who would be one?

Being a people is so complicated. My complication? Well the real one is that I still love the one I’m trying to make peace with, and that might scare her off too.

And you? Go on, do something radical. It’s OK to reach out and share needs. Love someone today, just because …

Inside out

  • Posted on May 3, 2014 at 8:19 am

I am reminded that for some people, genital surgery is unimaginable, or should not, could not, be imagined. Scary isn’t it, that something so intimate and personal might undergo intervention with a knife.

Look away now, read some other post on here instead, because this is one of probably several to explain, without the gory detail, what I am looking forward to in another 11 weeks.

The first thing I want to say is that what lies ahead for me is not the allure of something horrible being removed (I am not that kind of dysphoric), but of something being given. I have not at present got the parts that I feel in my deepest place of self-awareness, belong to me. Yes, having a vagina means everything, after which I can die in peace (not for a while yet though!). It is not unusual for people like me to feel that our minds, brains, inner awareness and attachments have made it all the way there some time before we give our bodies up to the experts.

I do remember my ex saying one night that she couldn’t imagine having the dangly bits, and I do remember saying that I could easily imagine having her bits. I have thought that for a very long time. It came through in meditation quite strongly, long before I transitioned, even before I really appreciated that gender dysphoria was a diagnosis for my turmoil. Nowadays, it comes through very deeply in dance, where body-awareness is part of the approach.

Ah! No gory detail yet, then! You’re still reading, with one foot over the brake.

You see, if you are just naturally heterosexual, and strongly binary, your sexual partner’s bits are the attractive complement to your own. You can’t imagine actually being like that, you like them because they fit yours, and partly because they are so different. I mean, if this is your way of being, why would you want to touch someone else’s bits if they looked like yours? Yuk! (That’s how it is, isn’t it?)

Similarly, if you were born with the same bits as me, and are hetero-binary, then your crown jewels, your orbs and sceptre, are incredibly precious. They give you the power to be sexual, don’t they?

So I do understand how what I am facing seems very odd, even objectionable to you. Are you a partner of a trans person, hoping to god that they don’t want to actually do this? Let’s try to understand each other. A bit, anyway.

For starters, you can probably see that for someone like me to fervently seek this surgery, it has to be both serious and very different from your own experience. Using your male bits, and enjoying the experience, is no indication that the feeling of missing something else is present. It isn’t a double-think, and it isn’t any kind of denial, and I understand that taking something away can seem a very hurtful, bizarre thing to ask for. It is, therefore, something that cannot easily be spoken about with non-transsexual people.

For those of you who want to continue reading …

There are three parts to my surgery, and all of it is simply a process of recycling. Not much is wasted, though some of course is not needed any more. The first is vaginoplasty, which involves turning you inside out, or rather outside in. We share a lot of very similar tissue, it has simply developed and grown in different directions, after all of us having had a proto-uterus in early embryonic weeks. So don’t be surprised. The second is clitoroplasty (why waste a good sensation?), which recycles the bit that feels nicest. This is perhaps the element most likely to fail to ‘perform’, so I’m crossing my fingers. The third is labioplasty, which gives you the outer shape. OK? Not too squeamish still? Don’t think about the knife, just understand that the result is an amazing reconstruction of what my head believes is the real form I should take anyway. Maybe like you. You like how you are? It feels natural? Of course. Same for me, when it’s all done.

What I am trying to express, knowing that the concept is very alien to hetero-non-trans people, is that we share a lot of the same raw material down there, but in our head or hearts or wherever ‘self’ is, we have a fairly clear idea of our own body, mapped into our minds. Mine is as real as yours, and I accept that it is different.

This is why I say that the procedure for me is all about what I gain, not what is taken away. It is a big putting right, a correction. So don’t ball-up in squeamish imagination of anything being ‘cut off’, relax, and think that something instead is being restored.