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Dealing with disappointment

  • Posted on May 11, 2015 at 9:17 pm

I am not a political animal.

Now there’s a statement that is always followed by ‘but’! I’m not, really. I don’t feel informed, educated, well-read enough to stand on any platform. This morning, however, I have read through a number of articles and blogs that echo the sentiments and feelings I was left with on Friday, following the UK General Election. I shared some on Facebook, and despite knowing some Conservative supporters, I have as yet not seen any blogs celebrating or supporting the outcome, with any arguments for why we are in for a very good five years ahead. The outcome was unexpected, to say the least. Only one in four UK voters marked their ballot papers for a Conservative MP, and yet we have a (slim) majority government. That means between half and three-quarters of UK voters actively do not want this political party in government. And so the petitions are starting: do not abolish the Human Rights Act, do not further privatise the NHS, do not pass TTIP on corporate-protected transatlantic trade. Graphs and tables of who has fared worst from Tory policies over the past five years, and who has gained most. Who has slipped deeper into disadvantage, and who has become richer; why so many food banks now, and why so many working poor are branded as scroungers.

I seem to remember from my university degree days that the old testament prophets shared a common theme: justice and righteousness, against self-serving rulers and free market forces. And I am not religious either.

But. When I see how we are persuaded (and follow) so easily into comforts and convenience, and social decision-making handed to us while we sleep, I see that we have lost attention on society protecting the vulnerable. We are offered ‘the good life’ for being ‘hard-working families’, and yet fail to analyse what is really being said here. Who defines a good life, and in what currency? Who defines hard-working, and is it in terms of brain-power, slavish compliance with a corporate-market consumerist idea of being human together? Is it in terms of hours worked, how tired you feel at the end of every day? How do we define not just deservedness of great wealth, but deservedness of security and of decent food?

So yes; unpoltical and unreligious as I am, I fear for the direction in which we are being steered by this government, for the sake of those without security, or robustness of mental well-being, or in disadvantaging circumstances of health, location or age. Every minority group and every vulnerable group in the UK is now a bit more uncertain of how life is going to be in another five years time. Fear and uncertainty about those responsible for all our social well-being, those un-voted for and not representing them in any direct or chosen way.

It’s not fair. It’s not right.

What? Life? No. Nobody ever said it was.

Yesterday I should have triumphantly hobbled over the line after 26.5 miles for a charity walk. It was even perfect weather. My partner and I had done practice walks, bought new walking shoes and socks, Nordic poles, even and a windproof no-sweat jacket. We got sponsors for the charity running the event, planned, travelled, camped and prepared with colleagues. We walked maybe five miles together the afternoon before, and 100 metres from camp, I slipped on a grassy bank and heard a crack in my ankle. It’s only a tendon or ligament, and it will mend, but within moments I knew I wasn’t going to walk a marathon the next day. It isn’t about the pain. I can do that. It very much is about the disappointment. I couldn’t drive, I could hardly walk at all, and the day would be long. With extraordinary generosity, my partner decided not to pick the walk up half way, so as to not leave me alone. We made good of the afternoon, but we both cried, because we had really wanted to do this walk.

My first comment is not to reflect that many who suffer under our current political regime, and a strong western money-value society, suffer as a result of lesser an accident of circumstances – though that is often true. I was in a hard-walking group and living a good life when in a fraction of a second I was neither.

No; it was about my reaction, our reaction, and where it left us, not altogether different from how many will have felt as the election result materialised. Cursing and shouting and enumerating all the possible consequences, will not help. Initially my little secure world collapsed. My fragility was for all to see. And yes, I got practical: protect, rest, ice, compression and elevation (the PRICE first aid rule). That evening we made basic decisions so that the effects on the whole group were limited. The next day at the midway point we met up, and made further decisions. Not what we wanted at all, but there was space for real kindness. And by the end of the day we were looking at alternative walks for when my ankle is healed. We will do justice to those who sponsored us, and we will find our achievements and challenges in another way. I can’t dance for a few weeks: shall we commit to swimming instead? Can I get to work? Who can I ask? Today I feel more robust; uncomfortable and disappointed still, but feeling a bit more in charge.

A similar theme has marked social media about the election. We don’t have to sit by and watch things pushed out of our control. We don’t have to let the agenda be owned by people who do not represent us. We can act in small but coordinated ways. If we talk to each other, share ideas and motivations, assert our right to be heard, stick to the validity of ourselves as people, we can change the game. It isn’t going to just happen for us though, and it may never be as we expect or prefer. Life isn’t about the lily-pads being where we want. It’s about them being there with a route to hop across the water, even if circuitous.

I hope I have begun to learn this. My motto of ‘why not?’ persists. Gender transition is not an easy thing to do, and you need real courage to face up to the process and persist with it. It’s no good bemoaning that lily-pads have been swept away, or that you can only see one ahead. It’s no good dwelling on your inevitable losses. Yes, I’m preaching to myself. Life is what you create it to be.

And it can be very unexpected.

Ordinary or stupid?

  • Posted on April 26, 2015 at 2:59 pm

Have I run out of a reason to blog? It’s an interesting question, because writing about transition has been a seriously valid exercise that I know other people have valued. But why listen to my thoughts now? I add poetry from time to time, and who knows, one day I should just have a poetry blog. In the meantime I have no intentions towards public rants, and feel that the transition era is almost completely behind me.

And yet I have friends who were hot on my heels for clinical treatment, who for various reasons got caught in delays by an inexcusably bad system, and I still wait for them to catch up. Others have come through already, and it is interesting to see their reactions to completion. Some remain very active in trans* matters, some just disappear. And still, there is social contention about transgender people. I am occasionally touched by it too, and every time there is something possibly respectable in terms of a documentary or media story, I look out for how representative and helpful it is. Maybe something, someday, will make my daughter realise (for example) that a trans* parent was born trans*, and is just a person with an otherwise normal life. It’s as if I still need some of the noise in order to normalise what I have been through. I shall always have been born with a problem, however resolved it now is or can be, and so I shall always be interested in the place of trans* people in society and in healthcare.

It has crossed my mind that it would be interesting now to build a collection of poetry to follow after Realisations, featuring the experience of returning to a normal life after transition. For many of us, even though we have accessed specialist treatment, and a diverse community of people with a shared condition, there is no need to &#8216be’ transsexual or transgender any more. We can be representative, and we can remember. We can be advocates and advisers, or just supportive and empathic. But as much as we move away from the treatment years, we move into lives not dissimilar to before, though without the distress, anxiety and fear. I don’t advocate ‘stealth’ because it can lead back to fear of unwanted discovery, but I think society needs to see that we can live very ordinary lives.

In fact, I think it’s very important. If you can see a thousand very ordinary transitioned people doing ordinary jobs, having ordinary homes to go to, having ordinary friendships and participating in anything from yoga to cookery classes, then someone you know (famous or not) coming out, isn’t going to seem so alien and difficult to deal with. Right now, the defensive mechanism so many people fall back on is to ridicule us: isn’t it just funny to see a man saying he’s a woman? (Because a woman in an executive suit, or jeans and sweater, with a masculine haircut, just doesn’t look so odd.) Yes, there will always be religious-indoctrinated people hanging onto strange beliefs that being transsexual is a sin-loaded choice, but apart from that, hey, we are pretty harmless. What we are doing is revoking the uniform. Just as people in positions of control wear a uniform to look like they have authority (military, police, security etc.) so men are invested with a notional uniform of priority. When people like me throw that off openly, we threaten the authority or primacy. But otherwise we are ordinary, and unthreatening to anyone.

How ordinary is my life then?

To be clear, I have found myself with a degree of security, settled, in a loving relationship and a worthwhile job. My friends are not all trans*, and in fact I don’t go out of my way to go to gender-related gatherings, mainly because my time is full enough with other things. I feel as ordinary as anyone who has a broken marriage behind them, an estranged family, and a degree of financial loss. These things hurt and change you, making you more cautious about restoring more of the same.

But you know, and I know, that in my brain are many memories that don’t quite synchronise with how I now am. Much as I would like it, I cannot remember growing up as a teenage girl. I cannot remember coming to terms with overt same-sex intimacy in a world that doesn’t always like it. I can remember (though it feels surprising vague) having a different kind of body, and how other people related to me that way. I can remember an enormous waste of energy and time over my dysphoria, my felt difference from everyone else. And I can remember being loved for being something I was not. All this is in my head, but is it any more unique than any other individual? Maybe not.

What is different for me is the sense of a new lease of life. It isn’t my fault in any way that I spent too long not knowing, and I am left with a real wish that I hadn’t. It’s just that like so many, I did not want to hurt other people, or become the ‘bad guy’. Much of the change in my life right now is no different from any other divorced or family-estranged person. Much is no different from anyone who finds a new life with a new person. On the outside, I really do hope that I present ordinariness.

But only I can relate the feelings inside. What does it feel like to have my body look and feel so different from how it was before? What does it mean to be loved without secrets, and just for being me? What does it feel like to have sex in a different way? What is it really like to have made such a transition after so long? These are the things I can’t really describe too well, though I try. These are the inner reflections that can never be ordinary, because to be honest, I am still filled with a bit of a sense of wonder that only I can know. If I seem happy, it is partly because a bit of me finds it hard to believe how right everything feels.

So somewhere between the unique and the ordinary, there is – just me. I don’t want to be called anything else, labelled, or made representative as such. I just want to be seen to be ordinary, but in a way that says if someone happened to be born transsexual, it’s OK, it’s normal.

Yes, but …

What about the cause? Am I being a touch exclusive, some might say privileged? Why am I not fighting for transgender rights, for people identifying as no-gender, queer, cross-dressing (non-fetish, because I think that can be a rather different thing), or gender-declaratory (i.e. deliberately overt)? Maybe it’s simply because I’m not the best person to do it, and I don’t feel connected enough. Maybe because I feel it would dominate my life without being the most important thing to me.

Last night we were watching The Age of Stupid, a 2008 documentary-style film about climate change, looking back from a devastated inhospitable world in 2055. The film led to the 10:10 movement, and I was reminded that I haven’t heard anything much about #notstupid or 10:10 since. Why has climate change lost urgency? In 2005-10 I was heavily into climate and peak-resources issues, and I too lost focus. And yet climate change is far more important in humanity’s terms. Which all leads me to the point that in the midst of all our ordinary lives, we have to choose where to focus, what is important, and where we can make a difference. I was an activist in other issues years ago, before my life caught up with me. So I’m not afraid to get involved, stand up, and speak out about things that matter.

Perhaps I need to go back to books I bought just before ‘recent events’, which I intended to read and digest but didn’t get round to. Now then; what was the first on the shelf? Ah, yes:

Transition Towns

Negative thoughts: what’s in a memory?

  • Posted on April 11, 2015 at 1:23 pm

When cameras shot rolls of film in 24s and 36s, you got envelopes back, with the developed film in cut strips. These (if you were like me) you filed, along with the rubbish prints that never made it to an album. Filed? Well, probably stacked in a box and never looked at again. I did the filing in case I wanted to enlarge or reprint from a negative strip. On a few rare occasions I did. A few. And so it is that I now have a heavy box on my sofa, regurgitating these envelopes, and retrieving a few photos of my children. These are the easy ones. If the birthday cake says ‘7’ on it, then I can tell when it was taken. But the steam train? The castle? The rainbow?

This is a heavy task, and you can well ask why I am doing it. The boxes aren’t so big that they couldn’t find yet another stuff-away place, it’s just that this time I know I shall never squint at the negative strips and make decisions about reprinting. It’s a heavy task, because those plastic strips represent my life, and split it in two. I can’t share the task either. My ex has the family print albums, and at some point I want to borrow them to take digital page-snapshots. But I don’t think just yet. Not now.

Albums wake up memories, and are best shared. (Where was that? Do you remember that house / holiday / event / thing we did?) Suddenly I don’t have anyone I can ask or refer to, let alone enjoy the memory with. Yes, I remember, and from behind these eyes, I think that’s OK. From the packs I’ve already been through, and the few discarded print retrievals, I have had a rich life. What I can’t handle so well are the prints (few) in which I have been captured. Here is a person, a young person (well, younger) who clearly loves their family, their spouse and kids, doing, making, sharing, giving, playing. They look like they were loved, enjoyed and valued too. It was fun.

Wasn’t it?

But who the fuck is young beardy with my family …? What right has he to be in my place? I feel angry, because he looks familiar but I don’t know him. He has stolen my family away. The birthday cakes, the holidays, the Christmases, the homes, gardens, pets. The belonging. The love.

He. Has stolen. My life.

I understand what you are thinking: that they feel I have stolen this person away, and that it’s my fault, and that’s why I no longer have any link to this pile of photographic records. But that isn’t how it feels to me. The problem is young beardy there, because I know he is smiling to the camera and enjoying life, while all the time I know exactly what he is thinking, feeling, doing – when alone. He is hiding, running, scared and not telling. Of course he can’t, can he? Because if he speaks his mind, heart or fears, all these pictures will stop. Bending parents over small children, crouched over books and toys, will stand up, shocked and horrified. Toddlers in the bath will stop giggling. The music will stop, the game will be over, the smiles will fall. So he didn’t.

And so it’s his fault now, that I have a carrier bag of paper wallets and scrap prints, and another of plastic sprocketed strips, on the floor, and half a box on my sofa, and honest confusion in my head. Am I throwing anything away? Untouched negatives, unwanted prints, space takers and careless memory-joggers. And there is nothing I can do about it. I am simply reminded that I never was going to do anything with the negatives when I said ‘you take the albums’, as I walked away from the ruins of the last family home. And that the memories in your head only really mean all they should, when the same memories are in the head of another with whom you can share them with knowing, prompted by these images.

The little boy? He seemed a lot happier when little. He’s had a less easy life than I would ever have wished for him, and now he has sole responsibility for his adult life. I helped launch him into life’s orbit, but he’s up there on his own now, communicating sporadically, and I can do little more as a parent. And anyway, how can it be as the same parent now?

The little girl laughs a lot, and plays with her brother. She really is very cute. And she would hate me even more for saying that. She has grown into an attractive woman, and I imagine that she would never want to see a photo with her and young beardy together, ever again. Well, not if she thinks that parent is still alive and thinking of her. I imagine that it’s more comfortable to put him among the dead ancestors. Either way it’s his fault that we aren’t able to communicate any more. Yes, I helped launch her into orbit too, but like a malfunctioning remote lander, or a satellite without working antennae, she is real and out there but with a location and activity quite unknown to me. If I had been there instead of young beardy, I would still have a daughter.

The mother. The mother is still an attractive woman, still kind, sociable and generous. You can tell she loved young beardy, and I guess he took all the pictures with equal sentiment. Yes, they look good together. Equal. Devoted. Happy. But where was I?

I feel angry. Where am I in these pictures? Why are they mine? Why is this family not mine? Why was it taken away from me? Why can I not remember together any more? Why are my memories in free and disconnected orbit? Why was young beardy the favoured one, the loved parent, the spouse, the partner, the beloved? Why not me? I am left thinking that he is the betrayer, the liar, not me sitting here with the remnants. And yet everyone else would say that I am.

And this is the problem. The little boy is the young man in orbit. The little girl is the soon-to-be married woman, in orbit. The wife, the mother, the attractive divorcee, the successful sociable woman – she too is still fully connected to her past, her family, and together they circle the life they have always had together, the cloud of memories. Every negative makes sense to them, every print is connected to retrievable memories, the memories are shared and bring joy. Young beardy though; he simply does not belong in the picture. He is no longer in orbit, and has been completely ex-communicated from this world of memories. Something is out there, but not recognisably him, not with any means of tuning in.

I have inherited the memories, as if digitised in a back-up drive, but I am not him. Young beardy was a fearful liar, and has gone. And having gone digital, the hyperlinks on all my memory files can be read, but connect to no-one else. I click on the birthday cake. I click in the sand-pit. I click on the old house, the red tractor with the little boy, the trampoline and the girl, the beautiful wife and none of the links works. I just have the picture of each, on its own.

What is a memory when it is unshared?

You know what really hurts the most? Where the grief really lies? It is that I was there. Either in the picture or behind the camera. And in my life I have had an enormous amount of happiness, love and reward. Not one of these pictures reminds me of conflict, or argument, not even disagreement. There is no distrust, aversion or hate, and in not one is there the remotest hint of something hidden. I was – we were – truly happy as people together, and yet it always did hang on one small thing: that how I felt inside had to be kept inside. Love and happiness depended entirely on me playing young beardy, every day.

What the pictures never show is how I felt on my own. They never show what I had to hide. They never showed the pain or fear, anger, hate or frustration. Because I loved my family too much to lose them, for as long as I could. Predictably, that love all evaporated as soon as my authentic self began to tear the fabric of my outer, not-so-young, no-longer-beardy self, completely apart, top to bottom.

But I loved. I truly, deeply loved. And that is why every memory is happiness and hurts, and can no longer be shared with anyone.

There is a small stack of prints left, mainly relating the early years of marriage and early childhood of my two children. And with these are a few more, of one or two people I loved a long time ago, and a few of these remind me of another girl, and the happiest time of my younger life. I feel comforted, because I know that I love; that I go on loving, however difficult life gets, and with love comes that insistent drive of life, of growing, of being. Of becoming.

I am about to take the bags down to the bins in the yard. There is a sense of loss, even if I was never going to refer to the thousands of negatives ever again. What is in a memory, when it is not shared? For me, the capacity to live and to love; the self-assurance that I can do nothing else. Pictures may remind me of loss, but without the negative thoughts, what is printed in my memory is still gratitude that I have shared in a lot of real happiness through love.

My partner and I have a list stuck to the fridge, of things we want to do. At the bottom is says ‘photography day out’.

There will be no negatives this time.


See also (poetry):

The surrealism of life

  • Posted on February 15, 2015 at 11:03 am

It took an artist, André Breton, to invent surrealism: as a way of representing the unconscious in rational life. The unconscious can seem a rattle bag of impossibilities, misalignments, bizarre-made-ordinary, and vision. It can seem both confusing and enlightening at the same time. A common response to surrealist art is that of course, this is not how it really is, it is just a construct of fragmentary mental images and elements. We can be fascinated by our dreams and by surrealist art, but settle safely back into reality, perhaps with a little added inspiration.

Some things seem closer to realism, because the idea is familiar, and some very ordinary things can turn surreal when they slip sideways out of the normal view. A surrealist piece of art can be disturbing, even frightening, and real life can too … I have lost a sense of reality as I knew it. Where I am now feeds me with surrealist viewpoints all the time, and they challenge my ideas of reality that I used to hold close. If I constantly say to myself ‘Why not?’ in order to break out of my impossibilities, and to open up whole new ones, then I am challenging my reality constructs, the very ones that make the surreal surreal. We are limited only by our minds and what we fill them with. We can never know with these minds and brains how anything really is, unless reality is confined to human experience – and of course it is not.

No, I am not in la-la land, and in an hour I shall be in the supermarket with a list of earthy things. This week, time is on my mind again. Where is the reality of time? The supermarket list represents eating for a week or so. My lover is ten days from her return (hello! I hope you can read this before then!) from thousands of miles and five hours time-shift away, so communication is different and sporadic. Yesterday I had lunch with a friend who is waiting at the point I was a year ago, to progress to her gender surgery. Other friends I know have taken much longer, and the conversations on social media continue to reiterate every conversations I had over the past three years. I often drive past the hospital I was in, on the way to my lover’s flat, and always I think of the six people this week, every week, who have gone through the same surgery as I did. Some things change, many are repeated, some things seem never to change. The sunshine this morning is calling me to walk, the list is calling me to shop before crowds, the washing machine is telling me to wait and hang things up, and this blog is saying, stay, write …

My time is being called on from moment to moment; but it is only flow. It’s the way things are joined together, and they make sense by inviting constructs. It is reality only in terms of perception, and the moment I freeze these perceptions, I lose touch with reality. So where is surrealism? In my reality construct, or in my open subconscious? What does it mean to make sense of anything? Somewhere between the rational shopping I shall do and my response to the washing machine that has just stopped, there needs to be an ability to know the moment, not the experience or the expectation. Is this la-la land? Where, let’s face it, you can’t get on with the practicality of life by meditating about the moment all the time? Is this surreal, where nothing has the same meaning all the time and you can see the back of your head by looking in a mirror? Or is this a way of breaking out of our limitations, seeing possibilities in everything, and recreating our reality differently?

Why not create reality? Why does it have to be pre-fabricated? What will your and my thoughts about reality be when we face our certain moment of dying? A void? A disappointment? A finished achievement? A predicted outcome? A tragedy? Or a triumph of release into a whole new reality to which we belong already, and just need that deconstruction of knowing? So why wait? Maybe our current construct is as surreal as anything is, and maybe taking this day, this moment, and making it, is the richest thing we can do.

Last week I wrote about the reality of life plans, and the ‘normal’ path so many of us expect to fulfil. I wrote how reality doesn’t match the expectation for most people, and yet we hang onto it. When I was fairly newly married, a friend from university, in his 20s, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour. Trained as a medical doctor, he married and within two years he was dead. He was one of the cheeriest and most positive people I knew. Not many years later, a colleague of my wife, a couple who had become friends, had a very rare cancer in her 30s, and despite aggressive treatment, also died. Today another (retired) friend is facing post-surgical treatment for a brain tumour and has been given 12 years; not bad, as things go, at all. The recent film ‘The Theory of Everything’ told the life of Stephen Hawking, his diagnosis with motor neurone disease, given two years to live as a student, and still challenging our physics of reality and everything with humour in his 70s. Grief is a recognition that despite the fact we all die, that relationships end, that life changes our circumstances, we are loved. Grief is unavoidable wherever there is love. Grief is there in the surreality of life when the construct is broken, just as love creates surreality by opening up unforeseen possibilities. If we love, we shall, for certain grieve, and none of us knows why, for whom or when. The important thing in creating our reality here and now, moment by moment, is to love. Is anything as mysterious and surreal as love?

When I say I am aware of surreality in my life, it is a way of recognising that my constructs were challenged in many ways by being born transsexual. Had being trans been part of social reality when I was born, everything would have been different, but it wasn’t. I have enormous gratitude that despite this, my subconscious was able finally to break free of the constructs, and that as a result I have changed my perceptions of life altogether. My ideas of security, of love and of grief have been turned over, and are still turning. I haven’t replaced one hard construct with another, and I hope I won’t be tempted to. I am still inspired by possibilities, and amazed by the gifts of life. As every one of us, my body shall eventually grow old, but I have no intention of ever becoming old. I want the break-out to continue, I want discovery, and to recognise that I am only limited by my mind, and by the constructs I choose to keep.

I have previous blogs that marked Valentine’s day, with grief and loss, exclusion and sadness. This year I have been overwhelmed by not just having someone to love, but in being so loved. We are apart, but we left gifts and cards, and above all, we have the knowing of the togetherness we shall return to. It is a very present love, and so unexpected. What can be more surreal, and more real, that this?

Out and about: a new year

  • Posted on December 31, 2014 at 11:44 am
cat and book learning to be present

I looked across at my friend on Christmas Day. ‘I don’t really do groups any more’, she said. ‘No, nor do I’, I replied. We agreed that we would help any trans* person needing support, but we just didn’t need to belong to anything trans* any more. We are who we are, we find our acceptance, and we get on with life. Out and about, no-one really notices us, and we have no need to be noticed or avoid being noticed. Neither of us is an activist, though well-known and visible in online groups, still commenting and observing with similar…