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Show, not tell

  • Posted on April 18, 2014 at 8:56 am

It’s Easter. Two years ago I dug around the story, and was reminded today by a Facebook image doing the rounds saying that Easter comes from the goddess Ishtar. I knew this to be wrong, because I’d dug around Eostre instead. The poem is here, if you already need a digression!

At the time I felt the poem may be a little obscure, because most people were still just starting to realise that my transition was something real, and my objective in writing poetry was to lead not push. I could write prose, which is why I started this blog, but some people don’t like to be told, because they come head to head with their idea against mine, and that’s uncomfortable. Poetry that just ‘says it’ can be boring. A picture of a witch is just a picture, take it or leave it. But that familiar optical illusion that can switch mentally from being a drawing of an old woman in furs, to a witch’s head, is fascinating.

Sometimes we just can’t take being told

This week I took my poem Unspoken to a workshop, and resisted the temptation to say what it was about. I had dared to read it on local radio last year, but revisiting it, I still felt I needed reassurance and feedback. It still means something real and deep to me, it is still relevant, but it is all ‘show not tell’, and it is precisely about those things you can’t say because they could undo everything in an instant.

This reminded me very much of the whole business of coming out, of learning and speaking my truth. It felt subversive (something I like about poetry, but which felt uncomfortable to live out). I am not alone in the way I behaved, and I suspect this is a feature of many trans* people’s lives when they are working out how to tell the world that things need to change.

So this blog is for people coming out, for their friends and families. You can’t just be told, you need to realise a few things first to prepare you for understanding. For anyone to transition may be to find peace and authenticity, but it is one of the hardest things to do, because you know it won’t be understood.

And this is why we start wearing bits of the ‘wrong’ clothing, jewellery or make-up, begin to soften in our ways, and why things appear in our wardrobes that ‘shouldn’t be there’. For people transitioning female to male, that may be a lot less obvious, rather ‘why don’t you like doing that any more?’ It may not be the best way to do this! But what many of us are trying to do is introduce new ideas about ourselves, new ways of seeing us, new understandings of being the same person looking different, feeling better. You might just se this as weird or even disturbing. It may not be what you want. But what we are trying to show is that we have to change, we want you to notice, and we need you to ask, so we can be open without thrusting it on you. This conversation can lead to shared understanding and travelling forward together, or it may lead to separation and loss. We don’t intend to hurt anyone by coming out. After all, we are only being true to ourselves.

To you it probably seems like deception. We are writing poetry in our lives, and you want the classic story with a happy ending.

Deception was an unfortunate keynote in the divorce petition against me. It was felt necessary, it wasn’t a grudge. But it was there; it was the remembered thing. Shoes were in the wardrobe, and that meant I was going out. Without permission. How embarrassing. My gender dysphoria was an unacceptable behaviour. (Popular link to my page on behaviour, here.) But I remember wanting desperately to be discovered from hints so that a legitimate enquiry could be made, for me to explain. There were things left sometimes accidentally, sometimes deliberately, stuck in a drawer, trapped in wardrobe doors. Nail varnish left on, beads worn with my old clothes, new mannerisms, books and leaflets on trans* issues; all sorts.

My ‘Unspoken’ poem obviously spoke, because my fellow poets in Brighton picked up on the emotions, the situation and the meaning of the poem quite easily. I still feel embarrassed about my hints before coming out. So I wrote another poem:

Show not tell

Was I really learning the art,
poet in the making, risk averse?

A skirt caught in closet doors,
an obvious symbol without reason.

Without rhyme, hoping to scan as
pent… something, I am… bic

in hand, but blocked, right as
blocked, wrong to be spoken.

So the coloured skirt, in draft
as a chill wind stirring flowers

invisible but spoken, my self
trying to show, not tell.

Once again, this is a poem where the sounds of the words and how they join, really matter. Find the words that carry two meanings. It’s just another way of saying that when we communicate in a way that invites enquiry, it can be because we have something to say that we can’t just speak out on. We need your wanting to understand.

So if your spouse, or sibling, or child, or parent or friend is acting strangely, and you know something isn’t right any more, ask what they are trying to show you so that you can see, not so that an explanation and justification can be given and things go ‘back to normal’.

Out and about

  • Posted on January 25, 2014 at 11:19 pm

When I began this blog over two years ago, I had realised where I was heading. I had given up fighting and self-hating, and was determined that all pretence should be over. I decided the best way to survive was to communicate, and that meant being ‘out’, online and well before announcing myself fully to my world, and losing my marriage and family. I was just me, and that must mean natural, and if different, then normally different. I no longer felt terrified of being discovered for being the wicked, even perverted, person I had long thought I must be, underneath the much nicer façade everyone knew.

I have said most of what needs to be said, I think. I can debate many things over and again, and there are some subjects I want to return to in coming months. But I guess my writing should embrace wider thoughts, and I want to bring in more poetry. I have begun doing this, and in speaking with people I meet, I casually say they can read it online. Well, it’s one thing to have a poetry blog, quite another to host it on a site that was set up to explain and observe gender dysphoria!

This blog outs me as much now as it did at the start. I am getting used to the fact that some people simply don’t know my ‘gender status’, so now it’s doing the opposite. Back then, people still encountered me as if I were a man, and I was saying ‘No! I’m not!’. Now people who only know me as a woman are finding out my history by reading the same thing. Are they thinking I’m not really a woman? Well, I have to live with that. My history is my history, and there’s no point hiding it. I would rather help the cause that a lot of people are born trans, and some of them truly transsexual, and that this is a perfectly normal human experience. Yes, it runs counter to the comforting social division of male and female, but it’s about time we faced that truth.

For me, there is a great deal of continuity, with a massive step change, but for some new readers, it may come as a surprise. Will I change my view in six months’ time? I am heading finally to the surgical treatment I need in order to conform with my identity. Once gain I shall have to think carefully how to phrase the explanation for an absence at work and socially. Some will be incredulous or squeamish, some may understand. My feeling is that ‘reconstructive surgery’ says enough and accurately so. But something will need to be said, just like my first big coming out, to avoid speculative, uninformed and unnecessary gossip.

For my part, I am of course going to feel a lot of anxiety the closer this time gets. It’s scary as well as the thing I’ve dreamed of for quite some time. Having seen the reality of what I can expect, my innermost feelings of how I should be, have gone into overdrive. The effect is to put me, much further ahead than necessary, into nesting mode. I’ve been sorting my flat out by completing renovations to my bathroom. No longer truffle brown, it is oyster and pink (I know, I did say lilac before, but pink just happened). And I could have painted the whole place today, the more I felt I was putting my own homeliness into it. I’ve started thinking about collecting my favourite music, a supply of books, lining up friends to visit and help, and planning projects at work to finish in time. I’m excited already.

If anyone wanted proof of a gender dysphoria diagnosis, this must be it! Who else in their right mind would have this as a dream of fulfilment? And afterwards, when there is nothing more that has to be done, will I still want to be out, or just content to explain when required? I suspect ‘open’ will be a better description than ‘out’.

Today I spent all afternoon and evening in my old overalls, painting, fixing, fitting up a new heated towel rail to plumb in tomorrow, and smeared and spotted with paint. For the first time the decorating has been just for me. No-one to say: ‘Um; isn’t that just a bit too pink?’ And that in itself feels strange. But I caught myself in the mirror towards the end, and was almost surprised to see not what I was when I’ve always done this before, but genuinely looking girly. A girl in overalls, doing what I’ve always done.

I feel good. Very good. This is my nest, and I’m not hiding why. Out and about, that’s me, and this blog.

National coming out day

  • Posted on October 12, 2013 at 8:36 am

I realised a little too late that October 11 was National Coming Out Day. Not that I would have done anything different. I sort of assume in the main that I am obvious, and have no qualms explaining gender dysphoria to anyone. I feel somewhat immune to the issues by now. I know I am different, and I know that it makes a difference to other people. It is a stumbling block to forming relationships, like a cellar door that remains closed and scary for others. I could say ‘Hey, there’s a light on down there! It’s cosy and furnished, it’s alright!’, but for some a cellar door is preferable.

So the idea of coming out is a tricky one. Partly, coming out makes a difference to you too. It’s the point of no more hiding and being free to express yourself, and that changes you. There’s no going back in other than among a completely new group of people. There are people I never came out to, simply because they never knew me before, and simply accept me as I am. After the first coming out, you begin wondering why you have to keep on doing it. It’s an explanation of course, but why? Coming out is itself an acknowledgement that parts of society don’t want you, or don’t want to really include you.

Coming out is also a big day for each individual friend, colleague, family member. I don’t remember any particular coming out to my daughter, for my wife it was an extended thing over years, accelerating to a point of no return. For others it was more a realisation that things would never be quite the same, but that it was OK. On a number of occasions it was group thing. But for each, my coming out was a decision point for them. How were they going to deal with the new knowledge and awareness? How was living with, loving, or knowing a transsexual woman going to affect their lives, and did they want to have to deal with that wholeheartedly, at arms length, or not at all?

Coming Out is a statement that who you are matters more than being loved or accepted for not being who you are. It is a transaction in which both sides evaluate acceptance of reality and the ability to cope with it.

Isn’t that sad? That as a society we make evaluations on the acceptability of reality? That October 11 2013 has been a day of people rejecting others for being authentic, and a day of realisation that self-authenticity has a price. It has also been a day of great reliefs, where people have found unexpected acceptance and even greater openness in others.

Last night I had a lovely conversation after dance with someone who hasn’t been well. We both live in our dance, we both write poetry, we are both musical. We met, in a way you don’t meet people in other settings. We shared, we hugged and kissed. It’s what people do in these wonderful new spaces I am finding. Did she know about my gender past? I have no idea, because either way it clearly didn’t matter.


Behind so much of the issues of coming out or being out, is fear. Insecurity. How will gender difference in myself or another affect me? Will it change me, stretch or challenge me? Can I cope if it does? Why? The further I travel the more ridiculous it seems that gender matters that much.

This branch of coming out is not about sexuality, which is another bundle of preconceptions and fears. Sexuality is more simply whether you would ever want to have sex with the other, and 99.9 per cent of the time, that is irrelevant. No, there is something about gender that is not about what you do in private. There is an unspoken fear that you are upsetting some social apple-cart by being different, or that you are deliberately undermining the meaning of life, even! And that does make it difficult to understand how an intimate relationship might be found, developed and survived. Fear hangs on.

I was walking and talking with a friend this week. Had my experience been a Pandora’s box? If so, my fanged creatures were winged and had long departed, leaving some rather good things free to emerge unsuppressed. I suggested we all have Pandora’s boxes of varying sizes, and acknowledged that I had spent the whole of my marriage in fear of being discovered, found out, for I knew not what. It really is lovely knowing that all that fear has completely gone away. Life really does feel very different. Fear and love are strange companions. I lost both; no more fighting between the two.

In a dance workshop this week, we explored breathing. This involved feeling each other’s breath, increasing perception, releasing. It was physical, and I felt accepting hands, another’s awareness of my body, a closeness, that I have not felt for years. It was a very profound thing for me, though not strange in these places, and something I have increasing comfort with. It’s great therapy for fear as well.

I think the antidote to fear, and indeed to coming out, is trust. Not throw-yourself-off-a-cliff-someone-will-catch you kind of trust, but where you know another accepts you for being who you are, not what they would like you to be. There are always some people like that, and whatever their decision on your coming out day or days, you know it matters more to them that you are true to yourself than that you play to their tune.

A difficult friend to have

  • Posted on May 24, 2013 at 11:36 pm

Just as I turned my corner and things felt like they really had settled down, I realised that I was spending more time than ever alone. It’s not a complaint, and it’s not just me. Single people just don’t get invited anywhere. It’s assumed you must be busy, or want more than just a coffee and chat, while all the time you’re sitting alone, or just getting on with stuff and wishing you simply had someone talk to you, and do ordinary, everyday things with.

But I’ve had to realise that I’ve been a pretty demanding (or just demanding, never mind the pretty) friend to have over the last year. Losing everything you hold dear and love is hard, so keeping it under when you’re with a friend is the last thing you want to do. That’s what friends are for isn’t it? We take it in turns to have hard times and to support. And sometimes we have hard times at the same time, and don’t offer the listening we should for each other. Looking back, as my life fell apart around me and I grew into more than I could have dreamed of, I was on an emotional rollercoaster. It’s just that those stomach-churning drops seemed to take longer than any steady climbs. A male history had left me with few friends, all girl friends, and all of them were going through difficult times too. And I know that I was talking too much and too intensely and too long and about me. So I screwed up really; and now I feel I’ve just worn them out. I suspect none read my blog!

I do hope I’ve learned about myself through this; I certainly feel very different now, and I hope friendships will grow back in coming months, now that I feel more ordinary than ever. I’m over the grief and mostly over the rejection, but I have to admit still to a bitter feeling about losing the love of the person I shared everything with so well, for so many years – and through no fault of my own. That will soften with time until one day I just won’t care anymore, but the matter-of-factness I’m getting about divorce is not quite how I feel about it. But now is no longer the time to speak of that, or share it with friends. I think they’ve had enough of the me, me, me.

As always, my week has gathered some coherent thoughts from different directions. This week, with so much parliamentary discussion over equal marriage, and a not-altogether satisfactory outcome for transsexual partners, there have been a lot of aggrieved people feeling cheated. Once again we can’t just let it go. Being transsexual is still a real tag-on-the-end of society. Why should time be spent considering so few people? And that’s how we come to feel about ourselves: hard done by, hard done to, neglected, separated, dispensable. Who will defend us, if we don’t defend ourselves? Can’t we just accept our lot and get on with it? Why do we push our presence, and our equality and rights on other people? What do you want? Special treatment?

At the heart of these feelings, and I guess why I wore friendships thin, is fear. Fear that we can never again be fully integrated in society. Who will want or desire us now? Some are lucky, most are not, and we know that. Deep down we know we are not the same when it comes to getting too close to another. And so we assert ourselves and remind others that life is hard at times, being trans. We want others to realise that we are just normal as people, even if our bodies betray that we are different.

Many, if not most, of us will have come to the impossible dilemma of choosing between self-authenticity, and relationships of trust and love. Someone this week described being trans as being given ‘a shit hand’ in life, and someone else on Facebook disagreed, and yes, we all know it’s what you make of it. I even wrote of it as a gift a couple of months ago. But whatever it is, it’s tough. It’s heartbreak, it’s emotional trauma, it’s grief, it’s sheer hard work; it’s about being obvious, about making mistakes, it’s about standing out and being different, and knowing you’ll be different forever. It’s about uncertainty and having to convince professional clinicians over period of years that it’s ‘real’, while you get it all wrong and gradually start to get it right. It’s about vulnerability and fragility. And fear of further loss. Every coming out is a potential disaster, and every time it isn’t, it’s a relief.

It does wonderful things to you, and nothing compares with the authenticity you can achieve. But it’s hard, and often leaves us quite on our own. And we take that to our friends. During transition, life is focussed on ourselves; we have been described as making Narcissus seem an empathic extrovert. We swamp friends in our fear and insecurity, because that’s what it’s like inside. And when we succeed, and develop, again we’re full of it and want to tell everyone, hardly believing we could have managed it. No; you can’t just get on in life when you begin transition. And your friends are on the receiving end.

I think, as well, that I had 32 years of someone I completely trusted, in whom I could confide, share troubles and joys, and know that I would always be loved – and that was suddenly withdrawn, leaving me with no replacement. I am still learning to have those conversations with myself, because I have no-one else. It’s less comforting, but it’s better than silence. And sometimes I do feel terribly alone.

None of this is unique to me. We can be very difficult friends, and all I can say to anyone who I’ve affected during my transition, is that I appreciate your fortitude, and understand you taking a breather. But I still need you, in a less demanding way I hope, and want to offer something back. So please don’t stay away and distant; I can be a good friend too.

Steam radio and my tranny experience

  • Posted on May 4, 2013 at 9:14 pm
valve radio

I alluded in a previous blog (Risk of shock) to the joys of valve radios, amplifiers and similar. Not quite the kind that you toasted marshmallows on, and I remember ‘acorn valves’, which were the first step in miniaturisation. They were easy. If they glowed, they were probably working, and if the wax capacitors around them were mere blobs, something had gone wrong. Of course in those days they took time to warm up: no instant sound. A bit like my digital TV and radio really … I remember it well But I also remember buying my first, small white…