You are currently browsing the archives for August 2015.
Displaying 1 - 4 of 4 entries.

Identity and I-dentity

  • Posted on August 31, 2015 at 8:05 pm

Show me your ID.

It is hugely important these days to have your ID. Maybe you look younger than you are and you can’t be served alcohol. Perhaps you can’t get into a building without it. Or you are stopped for any reason and someone in authority demands your ID. It isn’t just your passport anymore, it instead has become something more important than your word, or your name. You have become an entity, you have become a thing. A thing that has more substance than you, where it matters. Without it you are not what you say. You have become a singularity that cannot exist, nor cease to exist, separately from your ID.

It was Descartes who declared: ‘I think, therefore I am’ (cogito ergo sum). This is the Western philosophy of individualism, by which we are separated, even isolated from each other in the ultimate loneliness of the spirit creature answerable only to some god. Most world religions are based around the individual as one accountable to a deity for every action or inaction. We sense that loneliness in facing life and in facing death, and this feeling is exacerbated by beliefs about good acts deserving future reward and bad acts deserving future punishment. Accountability amongst ourselves and agreeing rules in one thing, but the urge to have absolute rules and absolute authority to decide what is good and what is bad brings more guilt than it brings inner peace. And yet, surely, we all have a sense of self long before we are troubled by whether we have a sense of a deity or supreme invisible being, let alone one that is concerned with our daily thoughts and doings.

I am interested in this sense of self, and whether or how it relates to a sense of identity, and then whether this sense has meaning in our personal philosophy (and most of us at least adopt some convenient philosophy to get us by in life, even if we don’t bother to develop and grow one for ourselves). In recent years I have been confronted by many different ideas about gender identity: what it is, whether it is essential (unchanging) or fluid, innate or socialised. And gender identity is but one aspect of how we feel about ourselves, and perhaps not even the most important. Nevertheless, our bodies substantiate some sense of identity, because our bodies move around freely and separately from other bodies (if we can simply agree to the exceptions, you understand what I mean). So it is reasonable to describe ourselves as individuals. Consequently, we create narratives, files and records that identify these distinctive lives. Only now we can wrap each up in a code for easy access, and thus our identities have become externalised and mechanised. Even our DNA, and possibly our entire genome, can be attached as a file to this code, giving a more permanent and definitive identity than we have ever had before. Is the individual still a person, or an entity, a thing? And who creates identity: the ‘administration’, or the individual – and who has precedence?

It sounds like I rub roughly against this aspect of society and against religion? Well, I do. I can see how they develop and why; everything seems quite reasonable – except for the outcome. Ultimately, I think religion has done us more harm as a species with ‘civilisation’ at its heart, than it has done us good. It has created absolute systems out of nothing, that differ and disagree, and thus as absolutes cause lasting conflicts. Further, our philosophies have been developed out of religion as much as from anything else. To survive religious authorities, the past great philosophers have in the main had to frame their thoughts within accepted religious dictat. Descartes, not least, spent much time and effort in proving the existence of (a) god. How can a philosophical development have meaning when it is constrained by prior beliefs that maintain an independent absolute authority? Scientific method (itself a philosophy) struggles to this day against fundamentalist (or simply conservative) religious belief, as if the latter was as reasoned and reasonable. We must be free to observe, and remain open to consideration of from where our interpretations derive, if we are to be enquiring and intelligent creatures. We also can only observe with limited senses and scope, and must always keep that in mind. We do not, and cannot, see the whole, when the whole is not in ‘sight’ and ‘sight’ is our only, limited, sense.

For this reason, I want to think aloud in this blog about what identity is, and what it means to say ‘I’.

Aspects I would like to cover include:

  • the identity (separability) of anything, including subatomic particles, or even electromagnetic vibration, since that is the nature, the sole content, of everything we express as ‘existing’.
  • the identity of a living cell, its possible evolution, stem cells, regeneration, and why identity and DNA seem so important.
  • the concept of identity within mosaicism and chimerism, and why this may matter to any of us, and phenomena such as personality changes following transplant, and concepts such as the fluid genome.
  • so far as I can begin to understand it, the idea of implicate and explicate order, as descriptions of how things are (David Bohm).
  • how separate anything is when we do not name anything, and thus, whether it is we who create this individualistic identity by which we increasingly live.

These are big ideas, and all I can do is poke a stick at them and see what stirs. But given the importance of ‘identity’ in the history of this blog, I think it’s worth a go over coming weeks.

No single story

  • Posted on August 16, 2015 at 12:23 pm

One year ago I wrote a piece about meeting a glamour photographer whilst still in the hospital where my clinical transition was completed. It was one of those strange things that life turns up from time to time, reminding you of the connectedness of all things. I have often written about my sense of greater belonging in the world, or rather belonging among all things, so I shouldn’t be surprised any more. But these completing meetings that reattach parts of life are good. Two years ago I returned to my teenage haunts in Derbyshire, deliberately to reconnect old and new. But still there are moments where I have cause to remember and reconnect my past without having to deny it, but rather be grateful for greater understanding. Without the past my story is incomplete, and sometimes now I have to be careful not to erase parts of it to avoid awkward questions. I have children: where are they? How was childbirth for you? You played with Meccano? Sorry – a boy’s grammar school? And do I say my son lives with my ex, or with his mother? And so on. I have a past, not just a present. There was no single point of separation from it.

This week I Facebook-friended a very familiar face, that of Caroline Cossey. It was a huge surprise for several reasons. Firstly that we are of very similar age, secondly that we (for all her fame) find ourselves on a level in this social space, and understand many shared experiences. Most of all, that for all the differences in our life stories, we have something, in the end, very much in common. I remember her modelling name of Tula. I had the Mayfair and Playboy issues (quite coincidentally, because I really didn’t buy that many!) that featured her (glamour, not porn in those days). I had a ‘respectable’ book too, of glamour photos that featured her. And I remember the front cover exposure of this incredibly beautiful woman who ‘used to be man’. At the time I simply stared in disbelief, and could not connect it with any possibility for myself. A wish; no more. I simply didn’t really understand how it could be possible, and saw it only as a choice. Caroline represented something unattainable, part of another world. Only twenty years later did I see the TV interviews she did, after being outed by the media. She was a victim, she was also a heroine, and I am here now in part due to all she went through and fought for.

Today, finally, I downloaded her book to my Kindle. 1992: My Story. Her story. History. Not my story, but many places where the stitches are familiar. The familiarity all starts with a very early childhood sense of not belonging. Of the world being a confusing place with nowhere to go, and of feeling there is no-one you can explain this to, no-one who will understand and make it all make sense.

That’s it. Not belonging. Something really not right about the way people tell you you should be, or feel, or behave, or dress, or play, or simply be …

Now imagine telling that story to people. They will tell you how they don’t feel they belong either: maybe they don’t play sports too well, or are very mediocre at music, bad at drawing, middle to bottom of the class academically, or simply introvert and never had many friends or anyone they felt understood them. So what is it, in the stories we tell as trans people, that is different? Yes, stories, because they are in many ways similar and many more ways individual. Telling the story, nevertheless is critical to accessing routes to change. Not all routes involve treatment. Not everyone wants hormones, let alone surgery. Many of us find some comfort in there being a diagnosis, by whatever name (but dislike the names anyway), because it is confirming to know that you aren’t alone. But what everyone must do, whose gender is not what others tell them it is, is tell their own story. I often wondered how easy it would be to learn the narrative that gets you through a gender clinic. I also know many who have been honest about being gender queer and who seek part-treatments, and who have found it very difficult to obtain it.

I walked around the playground in my first year of school, with a girl. I remember Jane Pringle very clearly as someone I trusted, as all the other boys competed on the climbing frame and shouted together. I felt she was someone like me, and that the boys were not. But that didn’t make me trans.

I talked in my first year of transition with people who hated their bodies, some who either could not look at themselves in a mirror, or feel comfortable to even touch their genitals. This was not my story. My sense of being in the wrong body was that I hated my impulses. I hated that if I put a dress on it didn’t make me look like a girl, even if it felt good inside. I looked at photos taken by Joanie Allum and I liked that a woman was glamourising women. I looked at pictures of Tula and found her dignified and beautiful. But I wasn’t spending my days hating my penis. As my life began expanding with the growing up of children, I learned to express myself in drawing, painting, writing and music. A lesbian friend reminded me that I could be desirable and made me feel more alive, after which I walked in sunlit woods at lunchtime from work, and imagined how wonderful it would be to be wearing a dress every summer day.

I really wished I could feel comfortable and find myself, but the more I tried to introduce the feminine desires I felt, the more I found resistance in my marriage. I was the only one who wanted this, and if I was going to do that, I was going to have to do it alone. And if I was going to do it at all completely, I was going to have to tell the story of my Gender Dysphoria. I was going to have to admit to some kind of disorder, a significant impairment, a medical diagnosis. I felt that I was having to reduce myself rather than grow more complete, drop any idea of my social status, of my achievements, almost to the point of being labelled as a freak. I was going to have to enter a bureaucratic sequence that ended in much of my documented history being sequestered away for my own protection. I was going to have to go through therapy, counselling, psychiatric assessment and examination, judgement and evaluation by people who knew nothing about me other than the story I would tell.

For many of us, there is some pressure to get the story ‘right’. People ask this on Facebook: I’m going to the gender clinic next week, what should I say to ‘get through’? Sometimes it feels that my individual story is not enough to convince the gatekeepers who are just looking for the right identity pass card. We should all be able to be honest enough and to tell many stories.

And the story we tell those closest to us? The one story, the classic story of being ‘born in the wrong body’? This can make us into liars and deceivers (Why didn’t you tell me?) rather than confused and unable to know. And if it isn’t the wrong body, why are you making such a big deal out of it? In 1992 Caroline Cossey described it as being ‘born between two sexes’. This is not the same as intersex conditions, which are (perhaps) more easily described through physical examination. Differences in physiological sexual development do not make life easier (it can be harder), and there is some evidence that many transsexual people may also have physiological determinants of their sense of gender, but which a clinician cannot prod and say ‘ah, yes’ to. For all of us, something biological happened in our initial development, for which there was no erratum in any Your New Baby manual.

And so we end up trying to tell our own stories, to people who would like it to be one simple story. We risk being disbelieved, being told that we simply don’t understand ourselves, or the way things are. Society doesn’t want us to have stories that don’t fit the way things are supposed to be. Either we are confused and keep silent and anonymous, or speak our stories and everyone else gets confused. There has to be a better way.

I don’t have gender dysphoria. I used to, in the sense that I described my non-belonging in the world, my self-understanding and my need to change, as being perceived as male whilst feeling more naturally female. The changes I made put it all right, so whatever you call the diagnosis, my gender, as I now show and live and express it, is correct. Had those changes not required clinical intervention, I may never have included the label in my story. But my own complete story is one of development, from confused little boy all the way through to happy woman.

My story, your story, Caroline’s story, every famous trans woman and pioneer’s story, and every anonymous trans man and woman’s story, is singular. But what we are all saying is that no-one can write or narrate our stories for us, let alone make it all the same story.

Change and impermanence

  • Posted on August 9, 2015 at 10:25 am

I lay on the beach, a slight warm breeze and a hot sun making my skin aware of its wholeness. Salt water was drying as the sea slowly drew nearer my toes with the tide. I have lived by the sea for twenty years but rarely ventured in. I think I have always balanced its cold unpredictability against my uncertainties of how strong a swimmer I am, and how much I like cold water. I remember still one Easter, at about the age of 13, jumping into an icy river from a snowy bank and losing my breath. It was teachers showing boys what it is to be a man. That isn’t what I learned. Ten years ago I impressed myself by swimming about one kilometre on solo visits to the pool. Impressed, but not convinced.

Today I had been persuaded to get into the sea, and was the first to dive into the waves. And here I was, fully aware of my body and how right it felt, in public, on the beach, in a swimming costume and feeling complete. Another first. I fully understand the Buddhist tenet of impermanence, that everything is in a constant state of flux. I protested too long that I was not changing, and that I was ‘just the same’. In some ways I am, and in many ways I have moved on far from where I was just a year ago. My confidence in the sea was in part due to the fact that I now swim 2.5 km in the pool without feeling exhausted. And also because on our recent holiday, we visited a thermal spa with a number of increasingly hot saunas and an outdoor cold pool. Right now, I am facing things that challenge my boundaries (my ideas of things that can’t change) more easily. Maybe the experience of transition made a lot more seem possible. Maybe the previous feeling of impossibility in ever resolving my inner conflicts made me less willing to create change in other ways.

I stood uncomfortably in a cocktail bar, beat music hammering a tired and aching head, surrounded by glassy-eyed people enjoying the jerky dance that one square metre and a cocktail glass in one hand allows. Was I just too tired? Am I too old? Both may be contributing factors, but I have never felt comfortable in this reality that isn’t really. As yet, that hasn’t changed as yet. I was fascinated by the dramatic hyper-efficient moves of the bar staff as they performed a chemistry more complex than I have ever done. I thought of the money changing hands. I thought of the lives behind the bizarre dress in groups out to celebrate maybe a wedding or a birth. I thought of the empty silent bar tomorrow and a thousand heavy heads earned from the rewards of Monday to Friday in unloved jobs. And how the bar staff feel after many hours every night in the loud darkness and constant flow where you can barely hear the orders. And I knew that for me, as yet, this discomfort has not changed. Maybe I don’t want it to.

This morning is bright and sunny. It will be hot. I watch it from the window, unable to sleep long enough to repair the night. It is also still wedding season. Many weddings featured in our conversations over a birthday dinner, there are family and friends, and my colleague at work. I was wearing my pearl earrings, simply because they matched a non-pearl necklace in colour. I feel they have no value, as I remember buying them from a shared account, to mark 30 years of marriage just weeks before leaving. I hope my daughter will have a sunny day like today in two weeks time, for her wedding. I am wondering who I can ask to take and sneak a few photographs for me. It reminds me that once, I was starting out, with all the hopes of a lifelong commitment, of learning, sharing, developing the expected lifetime of change. To a program, to a happy conclusion, and to passing the same expectations on to the next generation. This was how life was to be. The right kind of change; but I wouldn’t have called it impermanence. No – I think I would have used the word permanence.

I interpret, because I don’t know, that my daughter is angry that her father must always have known what he was going to do. Maybe she feels betrayed and that I lied, and took something essential away from her. Whether that makes her feel that I changed beyond recognition, I also don’t know. But this is a change that she didn’t want to change her life. People give me encouraging words, that one day she will come round. I don’t even know what ‘come round’ means. That she will change her mind, or that she will change? Or that something else will change her?

I wish I could talk to her about change. Marriage will change her. If she has a family of her own, it will change immeasurably. She has no more guarantees of permanence than I had, and it is only by changing that she will be able to find a complete and fulfilling life. She and her husband will change over time, and sometimes change isn’t
what happens to you, but what you decide you can do. I hope they can change together, that they will allow changes in their lives and treat it as bonding rather than dividing. Most of all, I hope she comes to understand how important the response to change can be, that it represents growth, not loss. Maybe one day she can lie on a beach and know that her life changes have made her more than she was. I hope she can go on pushing her boundaries (I’m still not sure about the skydiving!) and letting go. And maybe one day she will stand glassy-eyed in a cocktail bar and know that she finds herself more truly in solitude. Maybe that’s where we may meet again.

Meanwhile, from this sunny place, I want to wish her well. I wish I could, but I cannot even get a message to her that she will accept or read. I cannot change that, but yes, it may also be impermanent.


  • Posted on August 9, 2015 at 9:56 am

that’s the colour it will be.
Or maybe not. I imagine
I imagine how and for want
of colour I choose white.
She is beautiful on her special day
I imagine, and remember mine


that was the colour of her dress
then – I remember grey. My grey
wanting colour; grey and white
and the green under an overcast sky.
She was beautiful on our special day
I remember and imagine mine


the colour of a clean sheet
for writing the best story of
your life, your future, your love
to read, to share, to tell, to live.
To be beautiful on your special day
an imagine-and-remember time


that’s the colour it might be. I
may never know. My name
unprinted on any page, unmade
in being unspoken, unable
to see you beautiful on this day
unrememberable, unimaginably


that’s the lie, I imagine
when you are asked about your
father who does not give you away
and you say estranged but not
especially on this beautiful day
and you’ll remember without imagination


your small lie, if not your dress and
a page in our lives and a wish
to give you a way—and imagine
how a wedding presence could
still be beautiful on your day
I can’t imagine I won’t remember.


2015 © Andie Davidson