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A love less ordinary: Laura Newman

  • Posted on November 24, 2012 at 10:58 pm

This weekA Love Less Ordinary; Laura Newman I turned up a scanned article someone helpfully sent me ages ago. It was about Helen Boyd and Betty in the early days. Great! There was Betty doing Helen’s make-up, and then Betty resting her head lovingly on Helen’s shoulder. This was a love less ordinary, surely?

I was desperate, when I began to realise that my big unknown was gender dysphoria, to read, to buy books, to share the coming-to-understand. Desperate to show it wasn’t just me, in the hope that understanding would preserve the love in my partnership. I bought, as so many, My Husband Betty by Helen Boyd. We read it. It’s a great book.

The article has a pull-quote that says if Betty were ever to head for physical transition, their marriage would be over.

A trans friend asked if I had read the second book, She’s not the Man I Married. I wasn’t sure about doing that. It is in some ways the book of doubts. It’s the story of the uncertainty and impending change, it’s about love, identity and sexuality. One chapter is titled ‘Genitals are the least of it’. Phew! Could that be true? But it is about the period during which Betty had yet to commit to surgical reassignment (or correction). And the book ends still with all the fuzziness of not really knowing all that marriage and a trans partner implies, and whether Helen would still be the same Helen if Betty were ‘really’ to be just Betty. It was not a reassuring book to share, honest as it was.

Here was Helen full of doubts but full of love, accepting that her charming man she fell in love with was just an illusion.

My friend then said: ‘You know Betty has transitioned now?’ And if I remember rightly, I later read that Helen’s subsequent sentiment that has kept them together and campaigning, is that she just wanted still to be waking up with the person she has always loved most. But that isn’t in the book.

How many times did I say, usually in tears and fear: ‘You can walk away from this. I can’t!’? Hoping that the answer would be ‘I could never do that!’

There isn’t a third book, and we worked our way through personal stories, case studies of diverse lives, academic research. In fact most of the serious stuff you could get. It is all shot through with love, in the end, being the least of it, and why: that staying with a trans person erodes your own personality, identity, sexual certainty. That love is not – cannot be – enough.

There was nothing to say: ‘Hold on, this can work out. If this person [my trans partner] can go through so much, face such change, so much fear and pain, and retain self-identity, dignity and sense of self, stronger than ever – then maybe I can too.’

The new book: A Love Les Ordinary

Laura Newman’s book A Love Les Ordinary: sharing life, laughter and handbags with my transgender partner heads straight for this corner. It isn’t just the challenge of having – being known to have – a trans partner, it is that you can lose yourself in all the pressures and expectations of life anyway, and it is often the trans partner who shows the greatest honesty, strength and courage to be true to self. What if we were all able to do that? What if the issues aren’t about the trans partner, but about knowing that you are free to live life the way you should be, not just playing roles and meeting expectations? What makes a wonderful relationship? The sex you always thought correct? The ‘orientation’ you feel most fitting or comfortable with? No. It is one in which you know and love yourself with such honesty that you can be all you are with another who can do the same, regardless. Because then there is no compromise, no sell-out, no resentment that the other is preventing you being all you are. It doesn’t mean no give and take, it just means you both know it’s there and have agreed it freely. And it doesn’t mean no change, but that you can accept it together.

Maybe this harks back to something I wrote a long while back about other people not actually changing you, about honesty, and about how loving a person who never really was the ‘opposite’ but now shows it, doesn’t suddenly make you gay or lesbian.

The core of this understanding of love is that you cannot love another unless you love yourself, but that when you do, love matters more than any expectations.

You may have been told that already, through: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ (which is only a minimum requirement – you can end up hating yourself and therefore your neighbour!), or through the Buddhist tenet of lovingkindness needing you to love yourself first. But Laura demonstrates how this works out in a good relationship, how it makes a great relationship, and why being fully, honestly yourself is therefore a prerequisite.

There is surprise when I explain to others that, given the choice to have my lover and my family and my home back, with 40 more healthy years of life ahead, in exchange for living as a man – or to be the woman I am on medications that could endanger my life, and alone – that the latter is the only thing I could ever do. I can only love from who I am, loving myself as I am.

Laura’s book is not for trans people. It is mainly for women facing unconventional relationships, and the quandry of loving someone others would not respect you for. What does it do to you, and why does it do anything to you at all? Laura does address sexuality, but again, if you loosen your understanding of gender, perhaps you can just as easily adjust your understanding of what it means to love someone who looks more like you.

This book is not about accepting trans people or any special dispensation, it is about how two people can make a wonderful loving partnership through knowing themselves equally, so that they can give love unconditionally. There are amazing possibilities here, for any love relationship, and Laura’s earlier experience with an insecure transvestite left a significant foundation for starting a very different relationship. Helen Boyd also knew she was dating a cross-dresser from the start. I shall shortly review Emma Canton’s If You Really Loved Me properly too, so all three books of successful survival were neither taken by surprise after a long and happy marriage, nor unrelentingly heterosexual.

A Love Les Ordinary is a really valuable addition to the reading list for partners who have to come to terms with what it means to love someone who is transgendered. It does not go so far as to address the implications of a partner who is transsexual, but even there it is a good start. And it should be thrust into the hands of anyone who says they cannot understand how you could actually love, let alone be intimate with, someone transgendered.

I am still waiting for the book that says how a spouse can unconditionally love a partner who comes to terms with their gender rather late on, without losing their own sense of self. It is probably something to do with the realisation that they have happily loved a person not knowing that so much of what they appreciated came from something they would never have chosen. But I do know of a small number of marriages that have continued on the basis of ‘they are still the same person (not “man”) I married’.

When it is written, I hope still to be around to review it, because it would be such useful reading. Meanwhile, I am just longing for a love less ordinary.

Turning the page: life reflected in poetry

  • Posted on March 23, 2012 at 4:19 pm

Little can be as emotional and emotive as gender identity. It’s the heart of being – it’s just that for most of us there is never a question to ask, so never a disturbance. And when it’s someone else we know, we can choose a comfortable distance. I know that some of the very many people I have told will be more comfortable not having to know what being transgender is all about. Like being gay or lesbian. ‘Just get on with it, we’ll leave each other alone, no questions, I don’t need to know.’ So long as there is respect in that, I really don’t mind. After all, in a few years time my new normal will be an old normal, and I will blend back into the scenery. I will have new friends and colleagues who know me no other way. They may never know how I used to be.

Meanwhile there are freshly turned pages.

Over a year ago I began writing poetry again; nothing like stirred emotions to awaken the muse! After a while, I realised it might amount to being a little more than poorly-crafted angst, easing my soul, and started for the first time in my life, to let other people see. I took advice: I wanted to be good at what I was doing, and I had something to say. Through many sessions with Kim Lasky over many months, I learned how to craft poetry out of inspiration, and began telling the stories of perspectives of transgender journeys. As the pile of poetry grew I felt bolder and started to imagine titles of a collection. It was about perspectives, voices, journeys. But in the end my title is Realisations. All along, I was making myself more real, as well as realising things that I’d been blind to, or ignorant of, for over 40 years.

I have written a lot that has nothing to do with this collection, and was immensely gratified in October 2011, to win – at my first appearance, at my first public reading of anything – a poetry slam. My only regret was that I stood up as a man, whilst naming the poem as a woman.

RealisationsToday I turned the last page on the collection, completed my final edits and layout, and sent my final copy and cover design off to print. In a couple of weeks, I shall be in print. It isn’t the end. I’ve already imagined what the title of the sequel might be, and what direction it might take. But the point is, I knew that the collection was complete, and there was nothing more of that part of the journey I wanted to say. As such, the book will be a nice reflection, but maybe of most inspiration or reassurance to those who are following after, still finding their first steps on the ladder of self-recognition and dealing with family, friends, society at large.

And for all the investment, I have moved on. Some of the events and memories feel already old, though no less real. I have closed the book just as readers open it. I hope it will be useful. Most of all, I hope that readers will read the poems several times over, and realise that what I have really done is write some quite deep and concentrated poetry, with a language to intrigue and savour, whatever the subject.

If poetry is not your thing (and it really is not for many people) this will pass you by. For me it’s a small achievement as a writer, and a memoir of a time I shall never have to go through again. What lies ahead may be more difficult still. I shall be writing. If poetry is your thing, I really would like you to buy this beautiful little thing, and understand the heart behind it. If you do, I hope to be able to make a donation from the proceeds to the Clare Project that has sustained me during my first year of real-I-sation.

Grrl Alex

  • Posted on January 25, 2012 at 2:04 pm

I consider Brighton a kind place. I go anywhere I like and have had very few negative experiences as a transgender woman. I don’t pride myself in ‘passing’, but I do try without going over the top. I don’t call it a disguise, though I appreciate to some that it is hiding male traits. I call it revealing what I should be: it’s just how I feel about myself from the inside. If someone looks twice at mean and thinks: ‘OK, I think there’s a man under there’ I don’t really care. That’s just how they have learned to think, and it really isn’t as simple as that.

A few months back I met Alex Drummond, a unique trans writer among other things (I really admire her joinery skills). He was over from Wales for a conference, and I wanted to talk about publishing, so we met up at the lunch break and migrated to a café. Sometime into our lunch and conversation, one of the waiters calls over, across the floor: ‘Love the hair!’ I’m not used to flattery, so I turned round. ‘Thanks!’ replies Alex. Huh! Either I was passing very well, or really not at all. Alex, resplendent in black jumper, cross-checked skirt, black tights and rather nice boots, bedecked with beads (hmmm: we actually have the same bead bracelet …) is certainly distinguished by the long brunette hair.

And beard.

So what can it mean to be transgender? I thought I didn’t know, then I thought I did, then I met Alex. Stylish, individual, assertively ‘out’, he just doesn’t need to try in order to be himself. Even if I do hesitate every time I use a pronoun. But what I really respect about Alex is that he is authentic, if different, and unafraid to be an example – and has really done the homework including an transgender-themed MSc. I found that really useful, because alongside her autobiographical account of self-discovery (which I found both funny and very close to home), it helped me understand what my ‘normal’ could be.

Grrl Alex book coverI was really pleased finally to be able to publish the revised edition of Grrl Alex: A journey to a transgender identity in January 2012, including a Kindle edition – not least because I think the unconventional message has a lot to say to all of us transgender people, and to those we know and love.