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A moving story

  • Posted on October 19, 2013 at 7:24 pm

This week on Facebook, a friend shared a video about some whale conservationists who came upon an apparently dead humpback. It was just lying very still in the water near their boat, but then it blew. Cautious investigation revealed that it was completely entangled in fishing net and lines, its tail fin and both pectorals bound, so it could not swim. It was in straightjacket of nylon mesh, with no means to free itself. But it was alive, so the conservationists needed to release it. A humpback of course is an extremely powerful animal, and they could not communicate to make the creature understand their intentions. How do you make a whale stay still until it is not just partly free, but entirely so? (You can’t even do it with a child!)

It was a very moving story because, in the course of hours, a diver was able to cut the mesh away. Part-way through the whale did swim off and feel some limited freedom, but its powerful tail was still enmeshed. It returned, and allowed the helpers to continue until it was completely freed. For an hour after that it stayed near the boat, giving an exuberant display of breaching and tail slaps, and everything else a whale does when it is enjoying itself. Was this just a ‘whoopee-freedom!’ behaviour, or a way of saying thank you? Of course we can’t really know, but animal behaviour without our kind of language can be sophisticated and highly intentional. This week we also learned on the news that marmosets, for example, will talk but never interrupt each other. We have much to learn about our apparently superior selves.

Bound to be cut loose

I too am lying in the water right now, feeling very constrained, and at a point of being cut loose. My mail has already ben redirected to a new address, my Internet connection has been terminated, my main email address has gone forever, I am surrounded by cardboard boxes, nothing is accessible, and I am yet to exchange contracts on the flat I am buying. I am lying in trust that, as I have been provided for over these last few years (I think I was too blind to notice before that), everything will work out just fine, and that I shall not be homeless at the end of the month in just over a week!

It feels almost like a necessary thing. All my email clutter that had built up has gone. Yes, I must reregister my logins with all sorts of things, from buying flowers and ordering clothes online, to website redirects, annual accounts and so on. I hope my memory and imagination are good! But in a way, it is a cutting loose from an interim stage where my email address reflected the year I came to understand myself (andie2010@). I am even unable to upload this blog until I visit an Internet-enabled café or a friend, or go into work. I can’t lookup addresses and directions to places, and email is awkward on my little mobile. I am in some ways electronically free from distraction and all the unimportant falling leaves. But I can still write, and I can focus on packing up my last things. It may be my last weekend in this current refuge.

Last night in dance I had a lovely time, sharing movement with several people, feeling really expressive – until the last piece of music, which was very poignant and clear: ‘not going home’. I can’t remember what the song was, but it cut me down completely, and I just could not dance my way through it. This week my house was sold and others moved in. I shall never again return to a place that was home. This is more than moving house together, from one home to another, as always before. This is a complete cutting away of shared space, for good. And I mean that in both ways. But I can’t celebrate this by leaping in the water, because it is a profound sadness: that it is all because I was never loved for myself in those spaces anyway. All my memories are now tempered by that knowing.

I wonder how bound I was before, with all that accumulated clutter? How bound was I, knowing there was something essentially and innately wrong but unknown, that led me into being so afraid of what I was, and of how tenuous that love I knew, really was? I think I was enmeshed a long time ago. Better, I thought, to be loved with pectorals bound to my sides, than to be free in a vast and lonely ocean.

New owner

At the end of the dance workshop this week, I expressed that I feel for the first that I really own my body. The context? These workshops are about anatomy, about corporeal awareness, about fluidity and connectedness. And in asking where the group needed focus (for example we have worked with the fluid in joints, and with breathing), someone asked for attention to the sexual and reproductive organs. I’ve said before how my innermost awareness is of organs in my body that simply are not there. I will have my restorations in due course, but how can I fully explore this in a way that an unambiguous man or woman can? I am happy to disclose my gender issues with this group – after all, I must be obvious, even if acceptable and welcomed, which I am. If someone suggested I work with what I do have, that would be every bit as psychologically threatening as being asked to wear a tie (or explain why not) in a brass band. So what do I do? Cut the net away and work with the body I do know, imagined, felt and real in equal measure?

What I do feel right now, is that I have the opportunity of discovering and building a new life, providing I am happy that others are cutting me free, and that I am happy to celebrate in an ocean that may not be as empty as I have feared. And that means a new ownership of what is uniquely mine, not what is seen on the outside.

Poetic identity

  • Posted on September 21, 2013 at 8:47 am
ANdie Davidson with Dino and Sue Evans

You know how you walk into a party and someone asks you: ‘And what do you do?’ The frequent answers are either your job title in current employment, or perhaps ‘home-maker’ for some mums or wives, but rarely what you feel you really are. Your status in relation to others is what pays you most, not what you find most rewarding. Recently I’ve needed to supply short biographies, and it always stumps me slightly. I mean, how can I encapsulate my life in 70 words or less? Do I start with the job? Do I disclose my trans identity, because…

The ties that bind

  • Posted on August 18, 2013 at 8:39 am

These days I try to avoid any confrontation. I don’t need any special treatment, or to be made an exception, because I live and speak as a woman before I do as transsexual. ‘Woman’ is what I am, whereas ‘transsexual’ is merely a description that sometimes is useful. It is nevertheless true that you get used to having to assert your identity amongst those who simply don’t or won’t understand, and that unquestioning acceptance of other people’s attitudes wears very thin. I dig my heels in sometimes, not to be bolshie, but to insist on respect for who I am, and how I got here, and against false social expectations that we have simply gotten used to.

I sat thinking yesterday what a fair analogy might be for how I was feeling. Was it something like: ‘You wouldn’t ask someone with claustrophobia to do this in a cupboard, would you?’ And then I tried considering whether I was being over-principled, or whether it mattered this much. I came down on the latter. And in the end it was for two reasons, not one.

My journey has been more difficult than most cis people could possibly imagine. I didn’t wake up one day and say, ‘I think I’ll be a woman from now on’, and go out and buy a dress. And nor did I grow up as a little girl, as a teenager, and as a young woman, to accept my place in a male world, as an enclave. I was told my place. My place was to ‘be a boy; be a man; stand for your rights; take the lead because women expect it’.

I accept my social conditioning. So must you. And if you too have broken free, well done!

How do you, as a woman, find your place in a male world? Is it by internalising your identity? By attending sorority meetings of fellow business-women? Is it by being so stridently feminine that you cannot be ignored? Are you prepared to get people’s backs up because it is simply unacceptable for women to be always in second place? Or do you play to the gallery, accepting the ranking but playing it away with the bat of femininity? Men will melt to your wiles, that shows where the real power is! Perhaps you buy into the male game instead, accept the conditions of membership, and adopt male attributes to gain credibility. Wear the trousers, the executive suit, the uniform.

I spent the first 55 years of my life doing what was expected, completely uninformed about transsexuality. When I told the story a few weeks ago about my massage therapist seeing me always as ‘different’ (i.e. as a completely conventional business male!) it was as a reminder of how hard I tried not to stand out whilst being screamingly individual inside. I lived to expectation, and I regret it; deeply. So now, I am not going to waste my life on expectations any more. If I am expected to go against my instincts now, I am walking away. Whether at work, or socially, this is it. Here I stand. Apply a lever, and the earth will move.

Who is stubborn for the better reason? You or I?

I am not trying to be unreasonable; I am being very matter of fact. There are some things I will not do, simply because my personal integrity matters more.

The Noose

Yesterday I was handed a noose.

It was grey, and I was told that to be the same I had to place it around my neck and pull it tight. To everyone else it was just a tie, and it’s what you do.

Brass bands (less so concert bands) grew out of male preserves, domains where after a hard day’s labour, you showed your lighter side, your cultural skills and awareness – with military pride. If your pit or works could afford it, the uniform could be very military indeed, mimicking the army bands, including the marching and parading. You can be a man and play cornet, or a fife. Discipline, in gold braid. The rules were quite harsh too: play the instrument you are given, be fined if it wasn’t polished well enough, or if you turn up late.

As the heavy industrial environment declined, and as women entered the workplace more, doing ‘men’s’ jobs, so they began to be recruited, exceptionally, into the brass bands. Women didn’t wear trousers so much to begin with, but the braid, sometimes the caps, and the ties, kept the band looking acceptably disciplined. Completely on male terms. Women have always been ‘accepted into’ male domains, on male terms. ‘You can be one of us’ is the caption to every picture of female equality.

You won’t find a band (please correct me after a frantic Google search!) where women and men alike wear pink blazers, pretty blouses and silk scarves as their uniform. Men don’t, as a rule, join women and adopt their standards.

So I had two reasons to dig my heels in yesterday: firstly as the woman who had spent a lifetime wrestling with ‘being a man’ and then being told to dress like one again. Secondly, as a woman being told to obey male standards (albeit as an historical convention). Did you spot ‘an’ historical? There is a side to me that makes me successful in my work, where attention to the particular matters. Good music demands discipline. But it does not demand a noose, and if the noose matters more than my playing ability, then there is always somewhere else to play.

There is always another way to look at expectations. Change them.

What shit is

  • Posted on August 10, 2013 at 10:40 am

‘Shit’ used to be a deprecated word in English. But it’s a very old word, a purposeful word, and an honest word. It’s the stuff that’s left over when all the goodness has been extracted for the purpose of sustaining healthy life. It’s the stuff that isn’t good for you. It’s the gunk that was always bad, or useless, and it was the indigestible fibrous bulk that was necessary to get the bad stuff out efficiently.

And the thing about shit (unless it’s a medical thing, and you analyse it as information) is that we handle our own OK, but seriously dislike everyone else’s. It’s a healthy attitude really, but it’s partly a cultural thing too. We don’t talk about it, even though we encounter it every day from birth to death. We don’t talk about it like we do about food, even though it’s just the opposite end of the same argument.

I’ve taken in a lot of good stuff all my life. I’ve been lucky to have had a stable childhood, a good education, an adequate social circle, for a while a small degree of affluence (in UK, not global terms – I accept my position there is very different), a few wonderful (romantic) girlfriends, a successful and long marriage, two grown-up children, and a series of jobs that I could at least really make my own. I have skills and talents I indulge in expressing, and now … And now?

From some things, all I have left is the shit.

My soon-to-be ex hears all my sadness and grief as anger and recrimination. I hear all her coping mechanism as defensive, cold and distanced. There is no exchange of love any more. There is no meaningful relationship. This is refined shit, with all the goodness taken out. My daughter hasn’t spoken or communicated with me for over two years, and I frankly expect no change any more.

And I have no intimacy and no sex, and I can’t remember the last time or when. That’s pure shit too.

I’m worth more than this. And yet I have to ask, what am I feasting on now?

A new diet

Last week I blogged anger about Pride becoming carnival rather than protest. But as I walked up the main road to the event, surrounded by hundreds of lovely people, most of whom had been through a similar crisis of acceptability and identity as I have (and realised I was the only trans* person in sight) I saw openness, vulnerability, strength, romance, love and happiness. We joined thousands already in the park, the music was loud, the atmosphere was amazing, and I felt completely safe, completely accepted. Why should I not be happy too? In the Literature Tent, some of the anger, the protest and the meaning of Pride was voiced. Enough for me not to do the same. My angry poem stayed in the folder, my envisaged introduction unspoken. There was a consistent, articulate trans* voice in the event, and that was enough, so I added my own with a different poem.

I’d never even brushed close to Pride before, and here I was seriously enjoying myself and meeting new and lovely and welcoming people I could never have met before. If my flat purchase in Hove succeeds, it will feel very much like coming home. ‘My people’ are different people now, and it feels good. In fact, where was I, and where were they, all my life?

Today, once more, my legs are aching, but my feet less sore, from dancing barefoot all evening. This week, not Five Rhythms, but ecstatic dance. What? Who? Me? Yes me, dancing with 30 others, doing my thing, synching with people I’ve never otherwise met, flying around the floor at times like a bird set free. This is the person who was the massage client described only a few years ago as ‘very different’, not for being trans* in hiding or denial or not understanding, but for being so conventional! My previous life-diet signified one thing: either I was severely constipated, or I was shitting pure goodness without digesting it, and not growing as I should. And now I am learning where the best food is, chewing it, appreciating it, accepting the shit.

The whole point of this, is that these last two years have been a really bad time for me, to go through such heartbreak, so many destroyed ideas of what love and life are all about, feeling that I have only ever been loved as an object of significance, not as person of value. I haven’t lost everything at all. A lot, yes. Things that most people would only imagine losing through infidelity, serious misdemeanour, or death. But everything was a result only of my integrity and their choice. I have told the story to death, and the book’s binding is tearing loose, the lettering no longer gold.

With all the goodness extracted from the previous three decades and more, I have been left with the shit. And the significance of this, is that everything in the shit was inside my life before. Some of it just useful roughage, but the truths of being loved for significance rather than self were there all along. Contingent love looked different when its dependency was safe. And now all the crap is out. That means no longer in. It should instead feel like relief.

I love. I love other people. I have a few deep friendships, and a new ability and freedom to truly encounter and share with the people I meet. I know what it means that women are sisters. I know what it means for me to express my emotions and intuition openly and freely, and to find the same in others. I know that in some ways I have entered a whole new world of personhood, inhabited by people I could never truly have known before, who share my love and exploration of life and meaning, who eschew ordinariness as impoverishing. I will probably never live in a suburban semi with garden again, though somewhere I can have a cat or dog would be welcome

I have real questions about my previous concept of marriage and the merging of people into singular coupleness. I like the word ‘partner’ because it sounds more equal and less role-dependent. It seems to leave people intact and able to do their own thing and find their own way. I would love to find romance, and real commitment, but without the suspiciousness that marriage can bring. Maybe it’s my age! And I really long for kisses and intimacy … My diet may have changed, but I still need a complete diet.

It takes a while to understand shit, to accept that it is waste, and is meant to be waste, that it can contaminate and needs to be disposed of and washed away properly. But there will always be some, and it is better out than in. It is the product of imperfect goodness, and no reason not to feast. The shit is over. Long live shit.

I dreamed a dream

  • Posted on June 3, 2013 at 9:58 pm

Talking about poetry with others, and my excitement at discovering flexibility in my forms, I found myself explaining the background to Not Rising. That seems unfair on you who can only read my blog (if you’re interested, that is!) But it explains the layers in the poem, and the echoes ran through my weekend just passed, in France with a concert band, in the midst of Reims’ Joan of Arc festival. Some time in late spring last year, I went to a Suzanne Vega concert in Brighton with my PSA (previously significant other). The end was in sight for my…