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Ten Years After

  • Posted on April 10, 2021 at 8:21 pm

It is ten years ago this month since I plucked up the courage to seek active support. I looked up a local trans group that had a weekly drop-in afternoon, and basically had no idea what I was letting myself in for. I scarcely knew where I was in life, only that things were changing and I hadn’t a clue what next. I was unemployed and just made redundant, worried about jobs after the age of 50, a son at university and a daughter growing our of home. I was at the level of sinking feelings that I was understanding something true, but unwanted. It was a growing realisation that felt a bit like the cranking up of a rollercoaster. It felt controlled, but heading for something that felt like free-fall.

I went to the support group, and it felt weird. So I wasn’t alone, which was great, but here was a room full (yes, full) of people who were so diverse that it wasn’t exactly reassuring at first! Where did I fit? That in itself proved very important, because I wasn’t presented with the ‘right’ way of being.

What happened after that is the subject of the whole of this blog, and it took me a year in which to understand that I would be going alone, losing much of what I had held dear for 30 years. It took a further 2 years to complete the foundation of this journey, and now 7 years on from that, it’s a whole decade of my life later.

So, ten years after? What was I doing on the 2021 Trans Day of Visibility?

I wasn’t doing anything.

Well, despite Covid, I was working. And I forgot. Should I have let people know? ‘Hey, everyone! It’s been ten years!’

In some ways this has been a quiet year. The gender-critical feminists had their time over the Gender Recognition Certificate consultation, that was published, fudged by the Women and Equalities Minister, and returned to the public for further contribution. I replied (here, if you’re interested). And so it goes on.

Worldwide, the tide washes this way and that, and trans people are as vulnerable to prejudice, discrimination and loss of rights as ever. I said it took me 2 years to complete the foundation of my journey: by which I meant that from my first consultation at a gender clinic to completing surgery, it was that long. It felt like an absolute age for me. You know, when you can see the answer to a puzzle, and people are saying, nah! put it back in the box for later, when we can solve it together. For you there’s no need; right now will do fine. As it turns out I was incredibly lucky, because the system was soon after overwhelmed and under-resourced. Waiting times are currently ‘extremely long’ (NHS GIC, 2020) and first appointments are taking 3 years.

In the past 7 years I have simply resolved into being who and what I am. And it is a peaceful place, gender-wise. The only disruption is face-to-face with the gender-critical ‘feminists’ who might grudgingly allow me to be ‘a woman, sort of’. Which would be OK, if they didn’t also petition and lobby for my exclusion from normal life. The rest of the time I don’t talk about it, other than to honest friends and to those it helps. So why this page? Are you interested? You really don’t have to be, but if you are on the same kind of journey, or have doubts about being able to find your way through, I hope it helps.

Visibility? I don’t really know. If nobody else minds, I have nothing to add. Ask me honestly and I will explain. I will petition and stand up, support, comment freely, protest for trans rights, and you will not know, unless you’re on the wrong side of the argument. I am not sure I want to be more visible than that, not least because I shouldn’t have to be. I just don’t hide anything: trans, lesbian partner, I’m just there.

Ten Years After?

That reminds me. The rock group of the same name was active during my grammar school years and I do look back and reflect. My hair was longer then (even after these lockdown times), and my musical preferences haven’t changed. Working from home, I have often given myself a background of the music of the times, especially progressive rock. These are our most formative years, and I wish I had understood myself as trans at the time, instead of the confusions, complications, and disruptions of simply feeling out of kilter with myself. My life would have been completely different of course, and I would never have had what I subsequently lost. My family would never have had the distress of my change. But that’s how it is. The old music still tells me that you are what you are, and that, for all that does change, many of the essentials never do. I am different, yes, but in most things I am not.

So wherever you are in life, being trans is just a part of what you are, and you really can get through the surf, or the storms and just be yourself. People will kick up, or even kick at you, but it is quite possible to get on, be authentic, be strong. And live. It’s a crazy world, but you don’t have to be.

Cereal Killer

  • Posted on June 2, 2019 at 7:38 pm

It came from the supermarket, like every other time. A box of cornflakes. It went into the cupboard to wait for the last packet to be finished. It was one hurried morning on the way to other things that it was opened, bowl and milk at the ready. The flap was opened, the inner pulled apart and wheesh! Into the bowl. My bowl. Breakfast.

Something was wrong and only I seemed to notice. Everyone too busy, but it was my bowl, my breakfast. The milk was already in, and I could hear it. Snap, crackle and pop is how it is usually described. And cornflakes don’t do that. I ate the cereal. I enjoyed it, even though this was not what we usually bought.

The next morning I asked for rice krispies.

No, you don’t like them, have your usual cornflakes. Here.

I took the box and was about to pour my new option into the bowl, when I almost said: these are rice krispies, aren’t they? But I didn’t. Everyone was as rushed as usual, nobody noticed. I enjoyed.

On Saturday I said nothing, and poured my cereal.

Why are you eating rice krispies? Where did you get those from?

Indignation! I explained that all week, I had been using the cornflakes packet and enjoying rice krispies. My mother grabbed the box off the table, scrutinised the outside, scrabbled into the inner, shook it and sniffed.

This is wrong! They’ve put the wrong thing in. It’s too late to take it back now. You should have said. Krispies are cheaper too, so I’ll have to complain next time we go shopping.

I like rice krispies … I began to explain, already halfway through the bowl, my mouth still crackling with a spoonful.

Don’t talk while you’re eating. It’s rude. And you like cornflakes; you always have.

I looked at the picture on the box, feeling chastened for bucking the trend, for departing from the norm.

Serving suggestion. I began to wonder which the variables were that made this a disclaimer from disappointment. Was it the milk? Or that you didn’t have to use a blue-striped bowl? Was the spoon optional so you could drink it up from the edge of the bowl? Or was it the cornflakes?

On Sunday I asked for rice krispies. The box was tabled assertively in front of me.

You can have cornflakes as usual, OK? These are cornflakes. And it you have to pretend, pretend, but you can see what’s on the box. Now eat your cornflakes.

I quietly enjoyed my corn krispies. That’s what I called them now, and everyone made a jolly joke of it. So I laughed with them. And the thing is, the same happened the next time we bought cornflakes. Only this time we had friends to stay for a few days, and of course we had breakfast together. There was a choice of cereal, but not rice krispies. They had to be called cornflakes (but not very good ones, so choose something different). It was too much to own that you had something mistaken. Too much that you might like something that is not what you wanted it to be.

I stuck to my imagined serving suggestion and covertly enjoyed this brief period of corn krispies. The joke lasted a childhood, but these day?

I buy rice krispies.

Being transgender isn’t a serving suggestion. It isn’t a choice or a mistake, and not a trend or a joke. It’s what is actually in the box that matters.

Biological Sex and Transgender People

  • Posted on January 12, 2019 at 5:29 pm

I’ve nothing against trans people, but they are not …

It’s fun to work out how many ways you can say a trans person is either of no gender or definitely the ‘oppposite’ of what they say they are. Isn’t it?

This is a particular form of protectionism that can be very hard to understand. A justified fear of male violence leads to assumptions that all trans people (no, let’s be honest, trans women) are a potential danger.

  • There is no evidence that this is true.
  • Trans women are much more likely to be attacked violently than non-trans women.
  • No man intending harm to women is protected by trans rights, and trans rights do not better enable him.
  • Policing people by their outward appearance harms androgynous people everywhere.
  • Presenting gender identification documentation at every venue will never be a requirement.
  • Gender documentation is no defence for criminal behaviour or intent.

Anyone with antipathy against patriarchy wants equal and fair treatment. Destroying patriarchy is not destroying men or maleness, nor is it creating a matriarchy (though I often feel that might be better and safer). By putting trans and/or intersex people into a category or categories of their own may not seem harmful, but is a distinct way of othering them, and originates primarily from a lack of understanding that intersex people and those with what has become described as gender dysphoria, are what they are as a result of their pre-natal development. Being trans is not a behaviour and is not a psychological disorder, and trans people are everywhere and always have been. This attitude of trans people as other helps no-one, solves nothing and undermines the principles of equal and fair treatment. You do not know or notice most of us, but by othering trans people as a class, you attack that anonymity – and everyone has a right to that kind of anonymity.

Trans people aren’t weird, do not behave uniquely or distinguishably, and their gender or sex has nothing to do with their equally innate sexuality. Why do trans people make you uncomfortable?

  • They dress strangely. (Well, you never notice the ones who don’t.)
  • I don’t like talking to a woman with a deep voice or a man with a high one.
  • I used to know this person as the ‘opposite’ of what they are now.
  • God doesn’t make mistakes; this is just wrong behaviour.
  • I like to know where I stand when I meet someone and people who don’t match my stereotypes mean I don’t.
  • It’s all about sex isn’t it? (You mean sexual behaviour, which surely must be odd, perverted or strange.)

Why are we happy to acknowledge intersex conditions as ‘what can happen during prenatal development’, as an effect of in utero hormones and developmental triggers, and yet not acknowledge the same for trans people? This article sets out some comparisons, if you will excuse the term ‘transsexualism’:

I am not saying that intersex conditions and transgender are the same, just pointing out both have underlying causes that may be very similar.

Sex is absolute, gender is a social construct

It depends on your language and your culture even whether sex and gender are different words. Some languages do not distinguish, and you could examine the history and past use of the two words in English, but it wouldn’t help. Words convey concepts, they have their own definitions for shared understanding, but they define nothing.

Many ancient cultures and traditions have more than two sexes and/or more than two genders. Naturally, because that’s the way we find human beings. And yet certain modern western feminist ideologies, borrowing from western religious ideologies and culture, insist there are only two ‘biological’ sexes and only offer minor and unhelpful reference to intersex people as exceptions. More people are intersex than have red hair.

As of October 2018, the Trump administration in the USA has tried to move to binary determinism: that every person is irreversibly the sex given to them at birth. And yet many cases of intersex are not identified at birth, maybe only late into puberty. And so the US HHS (Health and Human Services) has proceeded to delete all references to ‘gender’ from their website, the US Department of Justice has ruled that transgender people (presumably because they no longer are supposed to exist) can be discriminated against in any way from health to rights of property or services, or to employment, and the USA is reported to be urging the United Nations to eleiminate all reference to ‘gender’ in favour of only referring to ‘sex’. (See above about different languages and terms.)

Understanding sex is the business of scientists and clinicians, not religion or politics

There is plenty of material from a clinical point of view that explains the complexities of sex determination. Everything that follows from the argument that ‘biological sex’ is a clear and binary thing has no real foundations.

So you still think that sex or gender is a clear binary thing? What do you intend to do with every person who does not fit within a certain median percent that matches all your criteria? You don’t know who they are, and quite often they do not know themselves. Are you right in the middle, having tested your chromosomes, checked your physiology and come to a researched conclusion? Or might you be like a deeply racist person who discovers from their DNA that they are 30 per cent what they hate? What would you do if you discovered that you have mosaic chromosomes, for example (where you have both XX and XY  combinations in different cells)?

Or do you simply find it simpler to go on believing it is a clear binary? You will have to run counter to science, to medicine and to honest human endeavour in pursuit of knowledge – but then plenty of people do run counter. Welcome to conspiracy theory, flat-earth, climate change denying society, you are not alone.

I have nothing against trans people, but …

I think what you really mean is that, like any group of people by any characteristic, some people who identify as trans are really quite marginal. There are strident feminists, there are strident trans people. There are criminal red-heads, there are criminal trans people. There are lovely kind policemen, and there are those who shoot with racial bias. And some are trans. Treating individuals based on a presumption of class characteristics is almost always unfair and wrong. And dangerous to some fellow human beings.

I would urge you simply to let the flock run away a while, stop and do your own Internet research about what determines sex determination, and prevalence of intersex and trans people in the world. Maybe you will come to realise that we do not choose this, we are this. And we are not to be feared, excluded, mistrusted or discriminated against. Every day, after all, you meet, are served by and interact with both intersex and trans people without knowing it. You may not even yourself be as 100 per cent as binary in biological terms as you think.

Paradox of visibility

  • Posted on December 20, 2017 at 10:21 pm

I wrote a great deal during the years of transition, and whilst it felt like forever, suddenly I am realising that this is the sixth Christmas without my family. I have grown a significant distance from the urgency of transition, and it it quite difficult to actually remember life before. I do sometimes come across photographs of that former existence. It isn’t a former self, not a separate former life, just me before I found peace with myself and the world. I hardly recognise it as me, and yet I am very much the same inside. And so it is that I find myself at times caught between not wanting to need to tell my story, and understanding how important it nevertheless is.

I know that my life marks me out forever, and that in places, or in future times, it may almost become an important secret to keep. There are places in the world, where politics, religion and culture are becoming better educated, and others where science and knowledge are becoming subservient. This lengthy blog will remain to inform and help, even if I add little to it beyond some poetry and occasional comment like this. It will turn some away from people like me too, because it invites challenge to preconceived ideas.

But is this blog, this story, just ‘thought-provoking’?

I do want to provoke thought, but I also want to change it. I was in a situation recently where a topic of discussion was a third sex option being offered for intersex people in Germany. The language presents difficulties, because whilst in English ‘gender’ and ‘sex’ have become differentiated in use, there is only one word in German. ‘Social sex’ more or less means gender presentation, but already suggests something optional rather than innate. And so the conversation came to include transgender people as well. Ah, but how comes I knew so much about a topic others were new to? There is only one honest answer, so I gave it, and passed on the URL to this blog. I can digest the experience of transgender, or the research, by way of explanation, but I think people have to find their own path, perhaps with story that touches, rather than facts that educate.

I don’t think anyone will ever say they read all of this. I guess it’s actually tedious. But I hope it invites a bit more reading and thinking, not just a first dip.

Meanwhile, at work, I still don’t know who knows my back story. If they do it doesn’t matter. But if they don’t, I still feel some concern that I could be accused of being deceptive for not saying.

I still think that very few non-trans people really grasp what it is and what it means, and I still wonder what my lost family and friends think and feel now. There has been so much opportunity in the media to see different perspectives, from trans people of all ages, in documentary, comedy and story, but I wonder whether those who chose never to meet me ‘like this’, or who resented it so much, or who could not adapt their own ideas – or who simply needed me not to be trans – even want to move on in understanding.

And so I need to be both visible but also not visible. I want to show that someone as ordinary as I am, represents a majority of trans people; that we are not dodgy, suspect, something to be uncertain and unsure about. We are just people whose biological make-up has been deliberately suppressed in the interests of social conformity and for particular reasons. Being invisible proves that, but doesn’t tell it. And it doesn’t make fellow human beings nice, kind or just towards us, especially towards those who find it hard, or just don’t want, to conform to one gender anyway.

I will never know the minds and the changes in those who wanted me to go on living and looking as I used to. I hope they do change, and forgive the desperate need I had to change myself. I was a ship that crossed a treacherous reef because that’s the way the wind blew. I had no choice. But they did, and still do.

As a life experience for me, it has been pure gold in terms of the enrichment. But it came from ore. And I understand that some cannot face smelting and would rather keep a rough rock on the shelf.

Reflections as I near three years old

  • Posted on July 2, 2017 at 12:58 pm

I am nearly three years old. My gestation was longer than that of an elephant. Those three years feel like – I don’t know &#8211 ten or more. Every week I read someone else going through the final stages. It might be surgery, or a gender recognition certificate, birth certificate, or a new job in a new presentation. It might just be the latest verbal or physical threat, of psychological pressure to stop. I still feel very lucky indeed to have had such an easy ride through. But I still count years. When did I first realise; when did I first ‘come out’; when did I first go out – yes, ‘like that’, when did I realise I had to set out alone; when did I leave; when did I last see or speak to my daughter; when did I come home from hospital; when did I burn my mistaken birth certificate and know it was all, finally, over, no questions?

I remember a friend who had gone before me, in a café a few days before my op, saying that it was not the end. It was more like a start, and that it would be five years before it was all fully realised. I am feeling it is certainly three. But then I have the fortune of having found a quite complete new life, in many places where I was not known before. I have no need to hide, no need to proclaim. I can go to the beach in a bikini and swim, share life experiences as a woman, not be known as suspicious, unsettling or a curiosity. My joys and uncertainties are no different from any other woman my age, on HRT, considering her pension, keeping fit and enjoying life.

But I don’t need to look far over the fence to know that I live in a safe place. I have four characteristics that threaten me in a lot of places in the world, and sometimes it feels like those threats are getting closer: trans*, lesbian, woman, older. In past civilisations, these would have been different. Not absent, but different. There is something about religions that has eaten into modern civilisations everywhere, that claims some deity, invariably male, says that women are secondary, purposed for procreation and male pleasure, and that any characteristics undermining the power of patriarchy should be eradicated. It is writ overtly in the presidency of the United States, but embedded in most institutions and organisations still.

I think I would be much more frustrated if I were younger, trying still to forge a career, rather than gracefully letting such aspirations slide away. Yes, society, at least where I live, has vastly improved for women, older, lesbian or trans*, but it is still only slowly improving. Why no female coders where I work? why were the admin staff female and the sales engineers male, in my previous job, and why male senior leadership in the one before that? And I cannot imagine in that job, ever finding universal acceptance while transitioning in work. It wasn’t all bad, but it still isn’t all good. Only this week, a new report (NatCen report PDF) abut trans* acceptance was that the majority of survey respondents claimed not to be transphobic, but that only a third thought it acceptable for a trans* person to be a primary school teacher or police officer. The majority of people around us in everyday life are afraid of what we might do. We represent a risk. We represent a danger. If we speak up, we are a subversive ‘trans lobby’.

I am three years old, and born into disadvantage. Welcome to the world of women. Welcome into the world of transgender.

Don’t look back in anger

The point of this blog is not to criticise what is painfully obvious, nor to complain about the role of religion and culture in threatening my existence. Rather it is to pause and reflect, for all those following after me, what it is going to be like in the years ahead.

Expect normality. If you don’t, you won’t find it. Don’t belong more to the inside world of trans than to the outside, but speak normally about your life if you need to, or if it helps to defend the lives of others.

Recognise that life ‘before’ will change in your memory. If you weren’t male, don’t imagine your memories will be. So neither deny your memories as something to disown. They contain your life skills, many achievements, and the good ones are worth keeping safe. Yes, you have to be careful, for example, when you are assumed to have been the one giving birth, but you were still there. It may be surprising to be a woman who knows plumbing and wiring a house, but be real, be honest, and never hide from yourself.

Hormones and surgery change your physiology and drives, but they don’t change who you are. That’s why others think you have changed more than you do. However, we all change throughout our lives, so don’t hold back from new challenges, or be afraid to drop things that no longer inspire.

Accept that whilst regrets change nothing, they can be real. I regret many things about how I could have lived, learned and expressed myself, growing up perceived as a girl. Maybe I do regret some of the downsides too, because they would have formed me, shaped my observations, positioned me differently. Never let someone call you ‘lucky’ for not experiencing these things. We had enough downsides ourselves, and lacking self-acceptance can be more damaging and limiting than lacking the acceptance of another.

Allow your dreams and visualisations to feel real. Maybe they can never be; maybe it is too late; maybe they would always only have been dreams anyway. But they too are a part of you. Just don’t let them distract from what you can achieve.

Never believe that you owe anyone anything in reparation for being trans, and for finding your authenticity. I see many people living in guilt for being born as they were, giving over everything they gained in life to separated families, partners, spouses, children, colleagues. It is not selfish to be equal, so never take on board the blame that others throw at you just because they feel hurt by the way life is. Being trans* is not decision, trait or behaviour, and what you are is not less than what anyone else is. Live your life as only you know how.