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Tiller hand

  • Posted on September 17, 2014 at 9:29 pm

tiller hand   on polished wood
imbued with salt   worked
a partnership   seaward or home
familiar   this practical bond
shared   between many
tillers   hands
so present   comfortable
her hand   on my knee
a reassurance   leaning, home
familiar   this practical bond
shared   between many
sisters   hands
toes, connected   knees
shoulders soft   strong
a belonging   through journeys
familiar   this practical bond
understanding   we need
tillers   hands
tell her hand   on polished knee
salted by eyes   she steers
a journey   no harbour, no beach
familiar   this practical bond
because we are   many
sisters   islands


2014 © Andie Davidson

Partly Sage, Rosemary, and Time

  • Posted on May 25, 2014 at 10:27 am

Yesterday I had tremendous fun performing my poetry at a Brighton venue called Minge Fringe.

The night before I had amazing dances with women at my usual Five Rhythms class.

On Monday I went out to eat, talk, and share a wonderful concert with my former wife.

And a close friend has noticed that our friendship has really changed for the better.

I have moved on.

I think I know myself so much better than I did before all this gender stuff really kicked off the need to do something. I am also aware of the sheer drain and strain it has placed on me and everyone around me. I am watching people I know, go through what will very soon be my final stage of dependency, but now it is right there, in my grasp, it feels different. I have forced myself to confront the potential misdirection, being swept up in the ‘right thing to do’ by the company I have kept, and I am quite clear that it is the proper outcome for me, which will only anchor my past in the past. It’s raised the issue of who I am, whether I have, or what has, changed – or whether I have simply been released to fulfil my identity, my sense of self, at last.

Why do I now stop strangers to ask directions? Why do I dance so freely? Why do I have total confidence whilst surrounded by sculptures and paintings of vulvas? Why do I not even stop to excuse myself any more, explaining that ‘if you haven’t guessed, I’m transsexual’? Why do I hold hands tenderly and mingle sweat with people I hardly know? Why do I feel so part of life?

And how can I now meet my former wife (I’m really trying hard to stop saying ex) with understanding, familiarity, real fondness and with past grief? People always say, as if it’s a truism, that time is a great healer. I know what they mean, but I don’t actually think it’s true. Time, of itself is inactive. Over time we forget, we let go, we simply give up, weary of repetitions. But time also does not always wipe away people’s bitterness, or insecurity, fear or trauma. Feuds persist across generations, bigotry can increase, religious fervour can burn stronger and breed hatred and supremacy.

Time is a herbal healer

I am not a great one for time as a healer. Time has nothing much to do with it. All time is, is a space or span within which to learn and grow. Time does not heal grief, it can only assist and give strength to natural processes, boosting what is naturally there to be more effective, like a herbal remedy. It gives space to learn to live with grief – the ‘unlosable gift’ that ‘finds its place to wear’, when the wind blows. And time will not heal my wounds after surgery; the biggest help will be the wisdom in knowing what not to do, as much of taking the active care. I know that part of that process will be understanding my body afresh, learning that it really is different. Without that I could be healed without being whole. Maybe I need to go back to Minge Fringe and mould some clay vulvas.

(Strange as it sounds, I do love this ownership of the vagina, that it is there for yourself, not as a receptacle for others, that it is private because precious, not from shame, and therefore shareable entirely on your own terms.)

Time is an opportunity, rather, to learn a bit of wisdom: hence this title, partly sage, Rosemary and time (because in my case, there really was a Rosemary who was instrumental in my becoming an honest poet, and in finding myself as a woman).

Natural remedies

Little these days touches me as personally and as deeply as my dance, and the encounters it brings. I apologised at the end of Friday’s dance, for my sweat-dripping face, horribly aware that I am the wettest dancer in the whole group. I was reassured that no, we were both sweaty and that sharing it is OK. And there we were, head against head, damp hair on damp hair, holding hands close to our bodies, hearing each other’s breath, having shared movement, a kind of empathy and understanding that could not have been spoken if we’d tried, scripted only by the emotions we were feeling. This, if anything is the meaning of being alive.

The space I walked into the following afternoon was equally unscripted, with the most amazing artistic talent expressed for free. And just like the dance, it was a safe space, where people depend on trust, on humanity, including unanimously asking a rather inebriated person to leave because he couldn’t shut up. I was completely liberated to perform with sensuality, to draw people in, to open people up, to share what it means to love and be lonely, and alive.

And the previous Monday? Kletz Mahler at the Brighton Festival was an utter feast of musicianship at its best, fast and furious Yiddish East European wedding music. Things done with clarinets that didn’t ought to be done with clarinets … Music without the stays, vibrant, alive. And of course, the strange experience of meeting someone I shared so many years with in complete intimacy, with a sense of all those things we perhaps never knew about each other. How might we use the remedies of time, learn a new wisdom, find in each other new and maybe unexpected things that could give us a new sense of what it is to be alive?

That, of course will take, partly, sage and time. With thanks to Rosemary for showing me along the way to where I am now.

People! Who’d be one??

  • Posted on May 10, 2014 at 6:05 pm

Every now and then I realise deep, deep down, that to be human is the loneliest thing in the universe. As people, we make life as individuals horribly isolated and complicated. There is no alternative to the singularity of human life, and the only way not to be alone is to acknowledge this state of affairs and do something about it. And I believe the only way, is to expose the vulnerability of it, and not pretend otherwise.

I am a committing, bonding person, always have been, and probably always will be. That makes me something like a free radical. (Look them up on Google to find out more.) Basically they are molecules with a bit missing, that makes them highly reactive. Find them another molecule with a spare electron (or need of one) and they want to bond to make something new and extra.

It got me into trouble again. My natural tendency to bond made me too radical. My ‘missing’ particle, under discussion over a cup of tea, was subsequently interpreted as ‘too needy’ – and I lost a dear friend. Yes, another. But it’s alright, because very soon it won’t be able to happen, because I shall have run out of close friends. Look on the bright side.

I’m not being cynical or unduly sad, and certainly not bitter. What I want to repeat, is that going through gender transition – coming to terms with, and actually dealing with gender dysphoria – is a particularly difficult thing to do. One one hand, it is a tremendous self-actualisation, and unimagined move into happiness with self, that at times even feels absurd for being allowed to feel this good. On the other hand, there is everyone else. Those who shout in the street, those who humour you, those who distance themselves, and those who flatly reject you. So when one or two embrace your change, they don’t know what they are letting themselves in for. Self-obsession, a need for reassurance (or simply to be hugged without reservation), constant focus on the ‘big issue’, or no conversation that hasn’t got something in it relating to the problems of starting a gender life all over. It’s all there. Please don’t blame the transitioning person; they will get over it in a year or two! But please go gently, because it is so desperately hard at times to hold your new life together in the absence of love and affection and close support, and especially when you have lost it for becoming the best you can be. We take time to get there. My daily motto is still ‘I’m getting there …’ Maybe I should have it engraved on my headstone!

But this week also I got to the point where all the arguments, diatribes, philosophy and rationalisation are over, I feel it’s all been said. Over 200 blog posts since I started, and I have little to add. I shall write through the final phase, of course, since that too may help others, but when it comes to other people, this is it. A bit of genital reconstruction, a lot of pain, hassle and stuff to get through, and I shall be asking nothing more of anyone to help me ‘arrive’. The rest is self-discovery and development, with no ‘big things’. Take me or leave me, there are no permissions to seek; I am what I am. Period.

So anyway, what does this mean about us as people – all of us? What makes us feel safe? In a crowd, pressed together, we don’t fall over. Out on our own, and a little shove shows how vulnerable we all are. Some of us cope, by becoming small or lying down, where falling hurts less. Some hold onto one big thing that gives valency in the world – their lamp-post, shedding just enough light to give them a safe place. Maybe we are all looking for a simple, safe place, even if we venture out into daring other places and back again. I think I have faced some of this loneliness and outer darkness as never before, and have learned a little more. It is not so much threatening as empty. The scary bit is that if you were to need it, there might be no-one there, so I err on the side of daring to be hurt rather than playing safe. I think I’d rather stay a free and needy radical and work it out as I go along. Maybe there is a lot more hurt ahead, but maybe nothing worse than I’ve already felt. And maybe, just maybe, there is some other person willing to take the risk with me.

Being a people is so complicated – isn’t it?

I had a sleepless night chewing over how I had managed to lose my best friend. There’s no blame, a few reasons, and enough to reflect on and learn from. It made me realise (a good thing) a bit more of the impact of my words on my ex-wife through these transitioning years, and helped me see in a more generous light the hurt I too had caused.

And all I wanted was to start making peace with my oldest companion, friend, life-help and partner. It can’t be put back together, whatever friendship we find will be different, each free to go our own way – but we have over 30 years of memories that are shared, and always shall. Flowers, some tearful but sincere apologies from me, and I’m looking to make peace. Just that. A first hug in several years, and a hope that all this horrible mess of being people can be made a little more sense of, and with a little more kindness than I have shown. I think we are agreed on that.

We aren’t always good at being people, at being kind, or recognising the inherent loneliness we all have, simply being human. It’s a messy, untidy thing, and we hurt each other over and over, perhaps because we are lonely, and needy.

People! Hah! Who would be one?

Being a people is so complicated. My complication? Well the real one is that I still love the one I’m trying to make peace with, and that might scare her off too.

And you? Go on, do something radical. It’s OK to reach out and share needs. Love someone today, just because …

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’.

Suddenly, the suspended sentence …

  • Posted on April 5, 2014 at 9:19 am

I returned to dancing last night, my first opportunity in a month after playing in an orchestra for a concert, which occupied the same evening of the week. It was really lovely to see friends again, have a hug or two and dance, and dance, and sweat, and express and release. I had it marked in my diary as ‘2 years!’

On April 4 2012, someone, somewhere, date stamped my deed poll, and I became legally Ms Andie.

I’ve gone through other two-year markers, but this is the one that is taken as the starting blocks for transition and eligibility for true recognition in your own gender identity. Until this point, the assertion is that you are still in your birth-assigned gender, and that anything else is unproven. For two years I have been Ms Andie by name only, with the proviso that if I could make it through, I would have the right to apply to legally change my gender marker, including my birth certificate. It is true that, had I faltered, I would be referred to as a man, trying to be something I wasn’t. It has been just like a suspended sentence, and that period is now over for good.

A quick review then of living under a suspended sentence

I remember the day I simply gave up waiting for approval, and filled in my deed poll application. Downloaded forms, filled in and signed, no second thoughts about a very simple name, taken to a good friend to be witnessed, a small cheque and into the post. And the day it came back, date stamped stating that I was no longer entitled to be addressed for any official purpose by any other name.

I remember clearing my wardrobe and drawers. Some to the textile recycling, most to a charity shop. And the feeling of returning home to the absence of all the old trappings, my own clothes no longer crushed into the wardrobe.

This was the time when all intimacy in my life ended, and I have known none since. Family life (my daughter aside) continued for another six months, but I was no longer welcome in my own home. I made it through my son’s graduation in Falmouth, which was a big enough and public enough event, with all the other parents around, but no-one gave me a look or batted an eyelid.

This was the start of my assessment too. One month after the deed poll (yes, after!) I saw the first of four psychiatrists, in order to be assessed as to whether I was mentally or emotionally disturbed or whether, indeed, I was born transsexual. The suspended sentence began.

Soon after the deed poll I also knew I needed to find employment; being self-employed wasn’t guaranteed to provide an income for life on my own. Partly by chance I gained the opportunity to do some consultancy, and that turned into full-time employment within three months. It was the first time in 30 years that I was not a manager, and it has been both safe but frustrating. I found complete acceptance at work, and to be honest, looking at my photos from the time, I can see that courage and confidence was everything!

With the start of work, the same week, I started self-prescribed hormones and testosterone blockers. Carefully, and researched, but yes, against the rules, because I knew that clinical attention was going to take a long time. It did; in fact it took a year before I was able to gain prescriptions. Several very widely-spaced trips to London and the gender identity clinic, dragged me across the two years entirely beholden to the judgement of others. It was like being called in to check the terms and compliance of my probation. There were no hiccups in terms of my feelings about myself, and no doubts ever expressed over my declared identity, just a lot of time, misleading expectations, and ultimate failure to deliver timely clinical interventions.

Back to June 2012 though, and I hit rock bottom just two months after the deed poll. I felt destined never to be truly regarded as a woman. Or indeed as a man. Rather, it hit me hard that I had to face the rest of my life being nothing. Excluded from normal human expectations, I felt it was better not to live at all. I knew that I may never be truly loved and cherished ever again. I might have been right; I’ve just learned for now to live with it. In therapy at this time, I made a promise to myself not to kill myself, and I have a token of that promise in the form of a piece of quartz crystal I was given, that stays at my bedside.

And just two months after this I knew, for my own safety from myself, I had to move out on my own. This was the worst time of all, and I’ve written enough about it. But I found a lovely place to go, very quickly and easily, and by October I was living on my own, stranger to my family, confirmed in permanent employment, and learning to rebuild a domestic life in my own style. I would not have done this at all well without the help of just a few, and one particular, close friend.

It took until the end of the year to actually have my first appointment at the gender identity clinic, but being a woman in the world, feeling the effects of hormones, and finding my feet with no shadow of the past dragging me back, was wonderful. I had a public poetry reading at the South Bank, a very lonely Christmas, discovered dance, finally shed the prosthetic aids (boobs and hair) took myself back to counselling to straighten out my grief and loss, went through a very instructive episode of pneumonia all before appointment number two in London. By this time (May 2013) I was feeling so completely naturalised in living my gender that having to submit to these consultations was annoying. The third (not until September 2013, was deeply irritating). But the May diagnosis did at least get me the prescriptions.

Summer brought me into regular Five Rhythms dance, from which I have never recovered. It is my deepest expression of self amongst some of the nicest and most genuine people I have met, and a season of small-group workshops in the autumn was an added privilege.

Autumn 2013 saw me cleared for gender confirmation surgery, and the story of how I am now fast tracked for July treatment is in recent blogs. I finally sold the marital home, bought a flat nearer to friends, and settled. Three months ago I was divorced. From now on, it’s just me.

So much more has happened, but all these things have been with a sense of very normal living, a deep gratitude for being finally ‘allowed’ to be myself, finding great happiness in that, and knowing day by day that I’m ‘getting there’. Not easy, and I have been a real pain to even my best friends at times, but I am where I should be, not just where I want to be.

Judgement over

What this blog is about, is simply that all these major changes have happened under the banner of the suspended sentence, termed variously as ‘real life experience’, ‘living as a woman’ and so on, as if it were all temporary, subject to change and approval before I could ‘really’ claim to be be myself, a woman, and not just transgendered or transsexual. It is as much an affirmation that I have not changed, I have just found myself.

April 4, 2014; finally the suspended sentence …

… is over.