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Dealing with disappointment

  • Posted on May 11, 2015 at 9:17 pm

I am not a political animal.

Now there’s a statement that is always followed by ‘but’! I’m not, really. I don’t feel informed, educated, well-read enough to stand on any platform. This morning, however, I have read through a number of articles and blogs that echo the sentiments and feelings I was left with on Friday, following the UK General Election. I shared some on Facebook, and despite knowing some Conservative supporters, I have as yet not seen any blogs celebrating or supporting the outcome, with any arguments for why we are in for a very good five years ahead. The outcome was unexpected, to say the least. Only one in four UK voters marked their ballot papers for a Conservative MP, and yet we have a (slim) majority government. That means between half and three-quarters of UK voters actively do not want this political party in government. And so the petitions are starting: do not abolish the Human Rights Act, do not further privatise the NHS, do not pass TTIP on corporate-protected transatlantic trade. Graphs and tables of who has fared worst from Tory policies over the past five years, and who has gained most. Who has slipped deeper into disadvantage, and who has become richer; why so many food banks now, and why so many working poor are branded as scroungers.

I seem to remember from my university degree days that the old testament prophets shared a common theme: justice and righteousness, against self-serving rulers and free market forces. And I am not religious either.

But. When I see how we are persuaded (and follow) so easily into comforts and convenience, and social decision-making handed to us while we sleep, I see that we have lost attention on society protecting the vulnerable. We are offered ‘the good life’ for being ‘hard-working families’, and yet fail to analyse what is really being said here. Who defines a good life, and in what currency? Who defines hard-working, and is it in terms of brain-power, slavish compliance with a corporate-market consumerist idea of being human together? Is it in terms of hours worked, how tired you feel at the end of every day? How do we define not just deservedness of great wealth, but deservedness of security and of decent food?

So yes; unpoltical and unreligious as I am, I fear for the direction in which we are being steered by this government, for the sake of those without security, or robustness of mental well-being, or in disadvantaging circumstances of health, location or age. Every minority group and every vulnerable group in the UK is now a bit more uncertain of how life is going to be in another five years time. Fear and uncertainty about those responsible for all our social well-being, those un-voted for and not representing them in any direct or chosen way.

It’s not fair. It’s not right.

What? Life? No. Nobody ever said it was.

Yesterday I should have triumphantly hobbled over the line after 26.5 miles for a charity walk. It was even perfect weather. My partner and I had done practice walks, bought new walking shoes and socks, Nordic poles, even and a windproof no-sweat jacket. We got sponsors for the charity running the event, planned, travelled, camped and prepared with colleagues. We walked maybe five miles together the afternoon before, and 100 metres from camp, I slipped on a grassy bank and heard a crack in my ankle. It’s only a tendon or ligament, and it will mend, but within moments I knew I wasn’t going to walk a marathon the next day. It isn’t about the pain. I can do that. It very much is about the disappointment. I couldn’t drive, I could hardly walk at all, and the day would be long. With extraordinary generosity, my partner decided not to pick the walk up half way, so as to not leave me alone. We made good of the afternoon, but we both cried, because we had really wanted to do this walk.

My first comment is not to reflect that many who suffer under our current political regime, and a strong western money-value society, suffer as a result of lesser an accident of circumstances – though that is often true. I was in a hard-walking group and living a good life when in a fraction of a second I was neither.

No; it was about my reaction, our reaction, and where it left us, not altogether different from how many will have felt as the election result materialised. Cursing and shouting and enumerating all the possible consequences, will not help. Initially my little secure world collapsed. My fragility was for all to see. And yes, I got practical: protect, rest, ice, compression and elevation (the PRICE first aid rule). That evening we made basic decisions so that the effects on the whole group were limited. The next day at the midway point we met up, and made further decisions. Not what we wanted at all, but there was space for real kindness. And by the end of the day we were looking at alternative walks for when my ankle is healed. We will do justice to those who sponsored us, and we will find our achievements and challenges in another way. I can’t dance for a few weeks: shall we commit to swimming instead? Can I get to work? Who can I ask? Today I feel more robust; uncomfortable and disappointed still, but feeling a bit more in charge.

A similar theme has marked social media about the election. We don’t have to sit by and watch things pushed out of our control. We don’t have to let the agenda be owned by people who do not represent us. We can act in small but coordinated ways. If we talk to each other, share ideas and motivations, assert our right to be heard, stick to the validity of ourselves as people, we can change the game. It isn’t going to just happen for us though, and it may never be as we expect or prefer. Life isn’t about the lily-pads being where we want. It’s about them being there with a route to hop across the water, even if circuitous.

I hope I have begun to learn this. My motto of ‘why not?’ persists. Gender transition is not an easy thing to do, and you need real courage to face up to the process and persist with it. It’s no good bemoaning that lily-pads have been swept away, or that you can only see one ahead. It’s no good dwelling on your inevitable losses. Yes, I’m preaching to myself. Life is what you create it to be.

And it can be very unexpected.

Come on in, but not for an explanation

  • Posted on May 3, 2015 at 4:20 pm

Society is very dysfunctional at times. Some of those times are when things change. Which is all the time. Nothing is as dysfunctional as when one group doesn’t understand another group and doesn’t want to. That’s where wars start, families break down, cities dissolve into riot, and discrimination breeds hatred. But let’s look on the bright side instead.

What happens when a status quo challenges the prevailing view and people do want to understand?

I was challenged last summer over social issues, which in the end boiled down to the argument that if A and B are different, it isn’t up to B to educate A in order to gain acceptance or equality. Rather, it is up to A to gain an understanding such that equality is simply no longer at issue. The principle seems to be that if A has privilege (i.e. they never need to explain being different from B), then as privileged people they should be the ones to make the effort, challenge their own privilege. Why should B need to defend and explain anything? After all, both A and B are equally different …. The problem is the privilege, not the difference.

So far this seems quite reasonable, fair and logical. And yet at the time this was presented to me, it seemed equally reasonable that I should be able to have dialogue with B in order to understand why I was seen as having this ‘privilege’ of simply being (by accident) me-where-I-am. And dialogue was being refused on grounds of ‘it’s not up to me to educate you’. How else was I to gain insights, since everything else short of dialogue was going to only provide an outsider view of the difference between me (A) and B? I think I came to an impasse over this in the end.

My social range is changing (as is that of my partner!) and what this implies is that each of us is going to meet new people. Some will be surprised – by our differences: our age difference, that we are in a lesbian relationship, that I have a trans history, meaning (for them) I ‘used to be a man’. And that sort of screws up the lesbian thing a bit and, if they’ve never met a transsexual person before, make them wonder quite what I am altogether.

This places us both in a situation where explanations may be wanted. My big thing is that we don’t owe anyone an explanation about anything. Why are we in a happy relationship, living together, making a new home life? Well, it’s easy. We love each other, we feel we are good for each other, and it all feels to us the most natural and normal thing to be doing. So what should be more requiring of explanation than love, well-being and happiness? I guess some will nonetheless find us hard to understand straight away, whilst more than expected simply wish us well and be happy for us. Explanations will always be around the corner, and we can either offer them or ignore them.

So what are explanations about?

I think that what I might need to explain is why the other person feels uncomfortable or uncertain about ‘how to treat me’. In other words, I can describe the condition of being transsexual, and (as in this blog as a whole) describe my experience of discovering myself and going through a transition – but that is not an explanation. I can offer theories to date of how a person can have a gender that is not in agreement with their physiological sex characteristics, and this will offer an explanation of how I came to be transsexual at birth. But it doesn’t explain anything. What seems to be requiring an explanation is why my ‘condition’ (now fixed) is an issue, why it brings people up short, why it presents any confusion in them, and why it concerns them at all by feeling I must be ‘different’ in any way that matters. Maybe I am unpredictable, mentally unwell, weird, dare I say it, perverted, you know, sexually? Because they don’t know.

In other words, I am explaining not myself, but them. Why is this my job? Try this:

I saw someone today, and I couldn’t decide if they were a man or a woman. Then I saw them kissing another woman, and I thought, ‘I wonder what she must be thinking and feeling with someone so unusual and odd’. I couldn’t stop thinking about them all afternoon, so I talked to some colleagues, and they thought it was funny. I didn’t want to laugh, so I felt awkward joining in. I wondered, if someone like that came into my shop and asked to try on a dress, how it would make me feel. I couldn’t decide how I would address them, and thought how embarrassing it could be. Then I realised I might be more embarrassed than they, and wondered why I was thinking about it so much. Why was I feeling so uncomfortable? It’s a bit like not knowing when to help someone in a wheelchair, or where to look if someone has a disability. My friend used to say ‘look at the person, not the disability’, but I don’t think the person I saw today was disabled. Just odd.

Where is the best explanation needed? The explanation the observed person might give is simply: ‘Oh; I’m trans. I guess you noticed.’ The real explanation of the situation is more like: ‘Transsexual people make up a percentage of the population. Some you notice, some you don’t. If you’re really not sure what pronouns to use, just ask. But if you feel uncomfortable, it’s time you did a bit of simple research on gender, because your discomfort arises from a basic misunderstanding. This person you saw doesn’t share your misunderstanding, so if you want to feel better about it, sort out your own discomfort.’

It doesn’t need my life story to provide an explanation, because it doesn’t do that. The story is just how I came to understand, and what I did about it. I can always offer that for anyone who needs to know, because (as previous blogs recently) it’s come to be an ordinary fact of life. It helps people in similar situations, but it explains nothing to the uncomfortable. I remember people who said to me years ago: ‘I’m not ready to meet you yet’ (they never did), and realise that no explanation of this kind would help them anyway. I can give the facts, but the explanation of why people need to ask is, in most cases, up to them.

And so it is that I came to the conclusion that there is no more ‘coming out’ to do. That was an event that enabled me to inform people, not explain. What happens now is ‘coming in’, where anyone who wants to be part of my life is welcome to understand why they might not want to, drop this, and join me. In all our entirely shared and equal differences.

This can probably be generalised quite usefully. First find out if people socially different to you really are potentially harmful (not just conflicting with your beliefs), or not. If not, they are just different from you (and equally, you from them). They might be as uncertain about you and think you harmful. If we are all open to learn about others (and change our beliefs and prejudices accordingly), then in turn we become open to let others in. Then the whole of society has a better chance of being less dysfunctional.

I’m not coming out, but you are welcome to come in.