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Acceptably different

  • Posted on August 4, 2012 at 7:28 pm

It’s a conversation that will never end: if society has one standard and we don’t fit, and the standard doesn’t look like changing any time soon, what should we do? The choice is varied and individual, but the opinions collide when they are too strong. Those of us with a conviction that something was horribly wrong with our bodies almost from birth, have no need of a description other than of their innately-felt gender. Only one thing matters: correction. Being trans* is transitory. It ends. At the other end of the spectrum, those who appreciate and enjoy fluidity love to occupy and even celebrate being of mixed or ambiguous gender (or none).

And everything in between. For many the saying applies that transition never ends. It does mean that our relationships with cisgender or gender-binary social attitudes can be very different. Yet the one thing that probably occupies all of us along this spectrum, is the need to live within society with freedom of expression and acceptance as we are.

Ay, there’s the rub (as Hamlet said, thinking about uncertain dreams).

When celebrants of overt diversity are taken as icons of transness, those who wish to disappear into their singular (binary) gender identity (called going stealth) can find it hard. Whilst one will dance in a club and shout ‘I’m a tranny!’, reclaiming abuse as empowerment, the other lives in fear of some slight giveaway in their otherwise complete physical transition ‘outing’ them. I am more on the border, lucky enough to blend like camouflage except under closer inspection, happy enough to explain my position, and just seeking acceptance as always a bit different.

For me, cisgenderism (ie, insistence on the binary) is simply not good enough. The sheer numbers of us who do not fit, whatever our response, are overwhelming. A proportion of us are transsexual, meaning we have a sense of the binary and a definite preference that we feel we must attain, but that doesn’t mean we don’t recognise others are most definitely non-binary. I have no idea how many trans* people of all kinds I am nominally connected to thanks to the Internet, but it must run into many thousands around the world, even if we only count friends of friends, and there is a huge diversity.

Male and Female are as meaningless as the bodily humours in mediaeval medicine. They once sort of helped describe most animals at a very broad level, but I suppose it was also long before gender-changing creatures were discovered to be so. Nonetheless, cultures developed around the world that understood and held in esteem, those who were neither male nor female in some sense. And I cannot say this loud enough, in our culture that has forgotten this: the gender binary concept is false.

For me, though, it is still firmly in place. I have to accept that for the majority of people I am different. Two things have been on my mind in the past days and weeks: who notices and who cares? Whenever we see something that stands out a bit, we want to know why, so we can get it back into order in our minds. Today I was walking in busy streets and just felt noticed a bit more than usual. I don’t think the lack of mascara was the only reason, and maybe it really was only me, but when a couple walking by simultaneously look at you and hold their gaze a tad too long, you sort of know they spotted something not quite right. Does it bother me? No, not a lot, I just wish it never happened.

The other situation was potentially a lot more tricky. A new job. Suddenly I am under close scrutiny by the same people from 9 to 5 every day. And no, the voice does not hold up too well. I don’t think husky meant sexy! As it happens I have been incredibly well received. I know they know, of course. They know I know that too, etc. And I feel … well, normal. I am just me, and all my old skills, experience and knowledge are being used again, and I am just working. I know that some questions have been asked, and they have been formally answered, and I have had no sideways glances in my presence. It is lovely just to get on and do what I do, officially female, discernibly transsexual, but at work and earning my keep, hoping I don’t get asked about family things like marital status.

I got called ‘he’ twice this week. And I haven’t even worn trousers once. I put it down to fitting in with the blokes because my experience lies in understanding technology like they do, thinking about it like they do, explaining it as they do. Who else would discuss these things that way? ‘He’ does. Maybe she is not a proper woman after all. But accepted nonetheless.

As time goes on, I will recognise that they know I know they know about me, and I will freely correct them without feeling I am outing myself and needing to explain in more detail. But I shouldn’t have to. Being trans should already be so normal, because the gender binary is so patently incorrect, that it is OK to be unequivocally trans with whatever identity I choose to live with.

And so I accept my being different, I call it normal, and I recognise that some people do not get it. And this is why I feel so let down by the UK’s wonderful NHS. By the time I am prescribed hormones I shall be well on the way to being able to apply for my gender recognition certificate (GRC) simply by virtue of having got on and lived as a woman for long enough. Thank goodness for the Internet! These protracted periods of being unsupported, delayed, forced to live with a physiology that feels all wrong, may be called ‘real life experience’ by clinicians, but believe me, once you have committed yourself in society as ‘acceptably different’ you will know if there are any doubts, and every day you are forced not to progress is not ‘real’ at all, it is damaging. If you can’t get the hormones, if you can’t afford laser or electrolysis treatment, you can be unacceptably different for much too long.

It isn’t all grouse though. I want to thank the lovely people at work who have included me, by complimenting me on my dress, or my necklace, or my nails, and by sending me emails on doing my nails a different way, or where they get their favourite cosmetics. That all means I can live with this painfully slow journey into being as little different as possible.

(Just don’t call me ‘he’!)

Keeping up appearances

  • Posted on March 15, 2012 at 4:26 pm

Today I bought a Daily Mail for the first time in ages. It was because there was a story of how Jane Fae and her daughter Tash came to terms with Dad being transgender. I wish the trauma in our house had been so easily resolved – but envy will get me nowhere.

On the way, I called in at a print shop where I’d been and got a good deal the day before. And the bank to drop some cheques in. Well that was easy: at the bank was the branch manager with whom I’d arranged a business account a couple of months earlier, so she knew the woman presenting the cheques, recognised me, and remembered probably her first openly transgendered client. Yesterday might have been different.

I slid along to the print shop next door, and my first explanation was ‘Sorry: I was dressed as a man yesterday: I know, it can be confusing’, but she was so totally OK about it, I didn’t need to say. Maybe I was hoping she wouldn’t recognise me! But then I wanted her to remember the deal we’d made. We had a lovely chat instead.

That was all after yet another visit from a heating engineer to fix our central heating. Very prompt service, but he met the woman of the house this morning, because yesterday I was expecting to have to crawl around the loft and a sludgy header tank, so I dressed (or didn’t) to do that. The pink blouse and denim skirt didn’t faze him one bit. ’Nah, don’t worry about that, doesn’t bother me!’ He sees all sorts probably, and I didn’t look like I was going to proposition him! We talked about the technical details of heating systems, tuning old cars etc. instead. He was so pleased to talk to someone who actually understood!

What he found today was that the last man in had wrongly diagnosed a faulty pump and replaced it – upside down. I had before and after photos and an invitation form for CheckaTrade. In a couple of hours, the first man was back, humbly giving the pink lady a cheque for £190 reimbursement!

I brought the Daily Mail back home to ‘leave around’, in case it helps break the deadlock. Jane Fae had an interesting blog this morning too, comparing those young trans people we know and love who are sooo young and girly, we just feel a poor second; middle-aged women who, because they look like middle-aged women, look a bit more like middle-aged men than girly-girls. Actually I think Jane looks very creditable. But the comments about her under the Daily Mail online were as awful as ever. People who, in the anonymity of the Internet, find it necessary to be very personal, very derogatory and rude, and feed off each other in showing how utterly ‘normal’ they are. (They don’t do this anywhere else. You won’t catch any of them walking up to a less-than-attractive woman in the high street, just to tell them they look ugly, or to someone with a disfigurement to tell them their plastic surgery has been a waste of NHS money that should have been spent on them instead.)

Well, today I felt more normal than that. I am, after all, just being myself, and keeping up appearances.

It’s just that I have a beautiful grown-up very girly-girl daughter who can’t see me. Here’s another poem from the forthcoming Realisations volume:


Grrl Alex

  • Posted on January 25, 2012 at 2:04 pm

I consider Brighton a kind place. I go anywhere I like and have had very few negative experiences as a transgender woman. I don’t pride myself in ‘passing’, but I do try without going over the top. I don’t call it a disguise, though I appreciate to some that it is hiding male traits. I call it revealing what I should be: it’s just how I feel about myself from the inside. If someone looks twice at mean and thinks: ‘OK, I think there’s a man under there’ I don’t really care. That’s just how they have learned to think, and it really isn’t as simple as that.

A few months back I met Alex Drummond, a unique trans writer among other things (I really admire her joinery skills). He was over from Wales for a conference, and I wanted to talk about publishing, so we met up at the lunch break and migrated to a café. Sometime into our lunch and conversation, one of the waiters calls over, across the floor: ‘Love the hair!’ I’m not used to flattery, so I turned round. ‘Thanks!’ replies Alex. Huh! Either I was passing very well, or really not at all. Alex, resplendent in black jumper, cross-checked skirt, black tights and rather nice boots, bedecked with beads (hmmm: we actually have the same bead bracelet …) is certainly distinguished by the long brunette hair.

And beard.

So what can it mean to be transgender? I thought I didn’t know, then I thought I did, then I met Alex. Stylish, individual, assertively ‘out’, he just doesn’t need to try in order to be himself. Even if I do hesitate every time I use a pronoun. But what I really respect about Alex is that he is authentic, if different, and unafraid to be an example – and has really done the homework including an transgender-themed MSc. I found that really useful, because alongside her autobiographical account of self-discovery (which I found both funny and very close to home), it helped me understand what my ‘normal’ could be.

Grrl Alex book coverI was really pleased finally to be able to publish the revised edition of Grrl Alex: A journey to a transgender identity in January 2012, including a Kindle edition – not least because I think the unconventional message has a lot to say to all of us transgender people, and to those we know and love.