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Midas disenchanted

  • Posted on December 20, 2014 at 11:40 am

‘I am not a lesbian …’, she said, as she lay in my arms, aglow.

‘No’, I replied, ‘I don’t make you anything. You are a lover.’

Midas sulked. We had found gold, because we had touched each other without enchantments, neither to gain nor to grasp, not to enrich ourselves nor possess, but to share what we had to give. We did not turn each other into anything; only lovers.

From the beginning of this blog, I have known that for very many people, simply to know me is almost too much. I evoke a response by being present. I disturb expectations with my confidence, with my presumption that I belong wherever I go. I confuse by not enacting that I am different. I am who I am, not changed, but released; but I am also an influence, a provoker of response, simply by being there.

Just over three years ago I would walk on the side of the street in the same direction as traffic, so that no-one driving would have time to look at me and decide I was not a woman after all. Once, when I didn’t, I was shouted at from a car. The story is Hey, Mr Transvestite, where I learned that people’s responses said more about them than about me. Always. Even my then wife, who would no longer undress fully in front of me, because of the implication of having a woman in her bedroom, even if I did not look like one, at the end of each day.

And so I learned to think of Midas, of the awful truth, that anyone who touched me would be changed, would be afraid to touch.

Over the years I have missed touch more than anything else, but yes, I have changed people. Those who have said that at first it was hard to be with me, but who came to see that I was real and honest. Those who decided that I am unacceptable, and in whom something of themselves has fossilised. And those I have met for the first time with my subsequent complete confidence in being alive, who may have been surprised that I dare be ‘normal’. Or who did not, or do not, know my past, and then come to find out, with a realisation that I am authentic, not acting, trustworthy.

Yes, I change people, but none of this is about me.

This last week, I and a woman I really like and trust, fell in love. Without expectation or condition, we could never have matched up in online dating, only in meeting minds and finding that unspoken connection. Guided? I feel so. But the most wonderful part of it all has been having no need to explain in order to be touched and experienced. We left the labels on the floor by the door. She is. I am. We are. And together we experience togetherness in a way I feel I have never known. Maybe because I have never been so honest and uncomplicated. Maybe because I ask nothing but honesty in return. Mostly, because there is no strength in anything without honesty and complete vulnerability, and I would rather give of myself out of this, than make deals on anything less.

The advantage? Well, maybe hundreds of pages of this blog, in which I have bared my soul, and at times my body, almost. I can have no pretence, and I no longer can bear to. So I have few secrets from my lover, who has read so much.

And yet we still face the shadow of Midas, sulking, disenchanted. Am I a woman? Or am I just forever trans, suspect, ambiguous? Which, if either, of us is lesbian to other people? What does this mean to friends and family? The chain reaction goes on, because to us we are simply what we are together, and only when we part and move with others does any of this matter. Midas’s shadow is out there, with all the wrong values, whilst we have found something far beyond gold.

Dieses Blog ist für dich, mein Herz … Midas ist tod.

Birth certificate; without the patina

  • Posted on October 25, 2014 at 3:56 pm

Suddenly I’m looking at a piece of very eco recycled letter paper, from a very eco recycled-paper envelope. It’s been addressed by hand, for my personal attention. Inside, it’s headed Passport Office. I’m puzzled. I changed my passport two and a half years ago. I’m almost ready to take offence at further hoops. I thought they were over. The compliments slip is signed ‘Kind regards, Leila’. I hadn’t realised that the General Register Office is part of passports now. I flick the soft pages through. Like an offer with a prize, there is a draft certificate, ‘made out to you,…

A glamorous meeting

  • Posted on July 25, 2014 at 7:34 pm

This one may surprise you. It did me. It was a chance encounter in the least likely place under the least likely circumstances. But first, let’s go back to the late 70’s. Let’s go back to a frightened adolescent boy …

Way back in time

The boy is sitting in his bedroom. He has a girlfriend. They share real and deep feelings; they are in love. Both are evangelically religious, so in almost every way they are ‘keeping themselves’ for marriage. He does not know what she looks like naked. In fact he has no real idea of the detail at all. In those days detail in magazines was illegal. His school mates (not close) used to have mags like that, they said. Some of them were well acquainted with sex, or so they said. Or their brothers.

He is looking at a mag. He has a few, not illegal, not remotely so, and he found once, given the courage to enter the right shop in great trepidation, that he doesn’t want pictures of sex, pictures with men in them, pictures of women being subject. The store holder was bemused, and he left ashamed and empty-handed. And so here he is now, bedroom door closed, simply looking. What he sees is beauty. It used to be called glamour, until glamour became sex like the rest. There was enticement, let’s not claim feminism is in this picture! But he is seeing a kind of honesty, not naughtiness.

What are women really like? How are they different? Why is it a secret? Why is it bad to know? Does this make him bad?

He always looks at the photographers’ names. They have signature styles with clothing (yes!), sets and lighting, and the way the models look and are made up. Again and again, one name is against some he particularly likes. It is a woman’s name. A woman, doing this (naughty, bad, shameful) thing that he has to hide? More confusion: what are women really like? He imagines the women together, making beautiful images in a studio. He remembers her name.

History peeks its nose

A woman in her 50s is clearing the loft. The house must be sold because she’s getting divorced. There are a number of boxes that have travelled house to house, loft to loft for half a lifetime. Dry brown tape peels dustily away from cardboard flaps covered in roof-dust that escaped her damp cloth. School physics lab books, her own, full of mysteries in fountain pen ink. A box of letters. Love letters. And underneath, some quaintly old glamour magazines, unseen for many years. She leafs them open. There is such strange familiarity in the innocent pages. She glances at the photographer names. One catches her eye; the name of a woman, who must be older than she is, somewhere now perhaps as unbelonging as this.

It’s a grand clearing out. ‘Everything must go!’ Closing down. Half her life seems boxed ready for disposal. The few mags go into the recycling, covered over by much more recent daily detritus, despite surviving over 30 years. Boys these days; they see it all and to extremes on the Internet. She wonders if they ever think of a woman beautifully capturing another on real film.

No. She doesn’t wonder. She knows, because she also has a son, and intercepted some of his teenage downloads. She knows that unleashed testosterone doesn’t care about the people, only the stimulus, the craving for more. She knows that this chemical drive in any male life, overcomes all restraint, even as it uncovers every imaginable, or unimagined, detail. She really knows. The lid clatters down on the recycling bin, on a history, on a memory of more innocent enquiry, and what it turned into.

Strange encounter

The terrace is beautiful, overlooking the Downs, rolling down to the sea, bathed in July sunshine. I am sitting alone at one of a number of empty tables, toying with a newspaper, enjoying the whole environment. Classic FM is playing softly in the café area behind me; the hospital foyer. I am serene, my stay almost over, and feeling amazingly good. I’ve already thought of witty captions for the sculptures in the grounds and posted them on Facebook. The day is Good. A woman looking not much older than I approaches, asks if I mind?

Not at all. We talk easily, about life, about loss and grief, about being on our own. About coping. We share, as women do. We are both creative types, wondering how we might expand our new single lives, becoming more our unrestrained selves. Her line? Oh, photography. She is interested in using imagery afresh to show beauty in the inner selves of those who perhaps feel they have lost theirs. Her sister is visiting outpatients to see a radiographer. She comes by, smiles, and we exchange first names and pleasantries before she goes to wait inside.

I ask about her photography. She used to do different stuff, with her husband, some time ago, and by standing in for him almost by accident, discovered a signature of her own with sets, models, make-up, that magazines liked. He didn’t understand her poses. In the end he destroyed all her original film, replacing it with scanned facsimiles ‘like a print of a Picasso and throwing the canvas away’.

A friend of mine arrives, a lovely surprise. She goes to get a coffee so we can finish talking.

‘You must give me your details’, she says, and I pull out my poet’s notepad to scribble ‘www.andiesplace.co.uk’. ‘You’ll find it a bit unusual, I say, passing her the pad to swap, and smiling. ‘So’s mine’, she says, writing it down, passing it back.

‘I know this name!’ I exclaim.
‘Oh? Where?’
‘It used to be down the side of photos I used to really like, a long time ago …’

Can you imagine a trans partner?

  • Posted on March 1, 2014 at 8:46 am
  • If you’re gender queer and move in circles where others like you find relationships natural, go celebrate!
  • If you’re a bit older, trans* and don’t have others to find intimate relationships with, you go celibate.

I feel a need to discuss why this is, without a long diatribe, and without tying myself in knots (which is easy). Is it simple after all? If you are cis-gay or cis-lesbian (OK, so you just hate labels!, I simply mean not trans*) – then you can seek out places where lesbian and gay people find each other for relationships. But that’s where the T in LGBT parts company. As a result of being trans*, maybe you are lesbian or gay in your found gender. But unlike cis-lesbian and cis-gay people, you don’t need other trans* people to express your sexuality. Trans* is not a sexuality, but rather can give rise to fluidity and change.

And that, as far as I see it, is where the problems start. Not that you aren’t lesbian or gay or bi or even hetero, but that society in general doesn’t actually really believe your gender. Therefore your sexuality, not being based on cis-binary definition, is also in doubt. You may have everything going for you as a genuine, nice, kind, loving person, but What are you, really?

Your decision on what I am really, has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with you.

What do I mean by this? If you can accept me as a woman, and only as that, then it is easier to accept that I am hetero, lesbian or bi. Not a bed of roses, maybe, but at least we know where we stand. A lesbian woman will feel safe, as would a hetero man. A hetero woman or a gay man will say no, on the basis that they can’t imagine contravening their sexuality. Or perhaps it is just that attraction could never happen.

If you knew or remember me presenting as a man, it seems we are all at sea. Somewhere in your mind I am not really a woman, though certainly not really a man either, just something indeterminate with infectious potential to make you lose your bearings. That means I cannot be lesbian, I cannot be gay, I cannot be hetero, and therefore you cannot imagine what a relationship might mean. To preserve your doubt about what I am really, I have to be none of the above. It’s almost like Schrödinger’s cat; I am OK so long as you don’t try to really find out! Losing your doubt about my gender can hit your sense of sexual identity hard, if it isn’ what you originally thought. And then you might think of me as the only woman you could physically love, but a friend might as a consequence think you are lesbian, or suddenly not (perhaps even betraying the cause), just because you have gotten close to me and they doubt my gender!

So what do you do with a trans person, who might possibly seem attractive enough to get close to, or intimate with?

First off, you must accept that another’s gender is not your decision, or up to your definition.

Second, you must decide whether your capacity for love of another human being is defined by your idea of what sexuality is.

Third, decide whether a person’s social gender history actually changes you, or whether it only changes your preconceptions.

Fourth, decide whether you know yourself well enough to stand up to what other people think and say.

Only then are you on firm enough ground to entrust yourself and gain a trans partner’s trust, because the voice in you and the voices of others will otherwise go on asking: what are they, really; what are you, really? Most of us never have to be bothered enough to even think of these questions, so being faced with a trans* potential partner is a demand you may prefer to sidestep.

What you think I am affects your definition of yourself.

If you think I make you a lesbian, or gay, and that matters to you, please understand that it is the result of your beliefs about cis-binary sexuality, not because I might harm or damage your reputation or self-esteem. I probably only want to love you …

Summary

It is confusing. What I am getting at is that loving relationships for trans* people are hard to find because people have a fear that some kind of indeterminacy about our gender affects their sense of their own sexuality. It is an extra demand. Only people who can get over that, and find a security about themselves, will realise that loving us is no different from loving anyone they might get to like.

Meantime I feel in utter limbo, because in my generation, finding a new love seems impossible; the doubt: ‘what do I think you really are’ is always present. Just another aspect of what it feels like to be transsexual. I hope it helps.

Why words let us down and become oppressive

  • Posted on February 9, 2014 at 10:30 am

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. Maybe it’s because I have worked writing, editing and proofing technical documents and research reports all my career. What is in our head finds words so that we can share our thoughts. The trouble is, the words are also in our heads, and got there first, and carried meanings that may be precise, but equally may have been misunderstood already when we learned them. Or they may be imprecise words, from a time when understanding in society was not as rich as it is now. There are many reasons why my meaning for a word may not quite be another’s. Then there are specialist meanings: when a word in a legal context, for example, means something more particular than in regular use.

Who owns a word and it’s meaning? I wrote a blog back in July 2012 (Semantic Hegemony, if you know what I mean) that still reads quite well, if you have time. We all think we mean what we say, but often offend when it leads to unintended misunderstanding.

Conversations of this ilk have, this week, included the legal definition of ‘bedroom’ in the context of the ‘bedroom tax’ (for non-UK readers, this relates to housing benefit to cover rent on a property deemed to have surplus space, assessed as the property having a non-essential bedroom). There is no legal definition. In an empty property, the room may be regarded as a bedroom. With a bed in it, it certainly is; but put a dining table in it and it isn’t. However, sleep on your sofa, and your lounge is a bedroom.

The words that tax us most in trans* land are still ‘sex’ and ‘gender’, not least because in a simple, neat world there are only male and female, and each only feels sexually attracted to the opposite. This underlies almost all social and cultural thinking, globally. Anything else is an interesting (or repulsive) deviation. It also underlies the idea that a trans* person changes their sex or gender. We do need to speak of change, because it is an enormous change to present for part of your life one way, and for the rest as something different. But the change is a perceptual one; we do not change sex and we do not change gender. The only problem is a social one, that led us in the first place into having to live a particular way until we were able to assert our authentic selves. That derived from identification-by-genitalia, itself fraught at the fringes.

And all in a way that repeats once more the limitations of language. Our words ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ are not fit for purpose. By using these words in the ways we think we know what they mean, we cause discrimination. By discrimination, I mean we distinguish one from another, make something different by exception: this is that, and this is other, so that it can be treated differently, less privileged and unequal.

I have been struck this week by minority assertion. The obvious examples have been in Russia, where activists have been arrested and beaten for singing their national anthem under a rainbow flag. There, under recent law, being anything other than heteronormative is lumped together as predatory, along with paedophilia. It is absurd, as well as cruel and barbaric. Activists are people who assert that non-heteronormative, non-binary states of birth are part of the normal and expected diversity of all human life.

I was struck also by a speech by an Irish drag queen (self-defined as a gay male, rather than transsexual) about institutional homophobia. In the link above, do watch and listen, do also watch senator David Norris at the end of the article. The core message is that every time one of us born not fitting the simplistic, religion-enforced, model expressed by the words sex and gender, is set aside in any way, we are being oppressed. Because one person is one colour does not entitle them to diminish someone of another colour. Because one person has four working limbs does not entitle them to diminish another with anything less. Because one person is a man attracted exclusively to women does not entitle him to diminish another who corrected their social situation for anything different. Because one person is a government minister, or priest, or lawyer, or religious leader, does not entitle them to diminish another who has a different take on life.

Inherent sex, sexuality and gender, by any definition, are not the domain of an elite to define a meaning that separates out anyone whose genitals or gender identity don’t fit their personal or cultural view. Anything else is oppressive.

This week also saw a spat on CNN between Piers Morgan and Janet Mock (if you’re unclear about either, get Googling). Both are public figures, one a journalist full of ego and self-justification, the other a very successful advocate for young trans* people who is working against social exclusion, othering and bullying. Why should a young person come to prefer suicide to life in the face of social attitudes perpetuated by ignorance and intolerance? If those doing the bullying had not been brought up with the cultural expectations of sex and gender being so unrepresentative of reality, they would not be bullies. Bigotry is very simple: the need for certainty combined with an inability to learn and understand. Janet Mock knows this place well, and was interviewed about the launch of her book Redefining Realness. What she didn’t know at the time was that the broadcast would be captioned ‘was a boy until age 18’, and that Morgan would treat her throughout as a man-become-woman with complex (implied, deceptive) sexual relationships. The result was acrimony and insults from Morgan on Twitter, and a panel on Morgan’s subsequent show to discuss whether Morgan was a victim of cisphobia.

In all three cases, Sochi, Ireland and CNN, the whole point is that those in a dominant role can sit around and discuss any other group, and make decisions about them, without listening or learning. This is abuse. White people may not sit around deciding the identities of those of any other colour. Roman Catholics may not sit around deciding the fate of abusers or the abused, without listening and learning and acting with justice. Men may not sit around discussing by themselves the rights and equalities of women; this is oppression too. Heteronormative senators or ministers may not sit around deciding the fate and rights of gay or lesbian people and their relationships. Journalists, panelists and experts may not sit around deciding the fate and rights of non-binary conforming or trans* people, without listening and learning that this is not a behaviour.

One other statistic I came across very recently: 61% of transgender people refused medical intervention attempt or commit suicide. That’s higher that the 46% of trans* people in general.

I don’t want to appear ‘one of the oppressed’ because I don’t personally feel that, and this may seem a bit of a rant. Nevertheless, anything that makes me feel that I have to assert the validity of being trans* in society is oppressive. When I came to consider suicide, it was out of the realisation that to be authentic, to be a woman with a trans background, in all likelihood would mean the end of any committed intimate relationship for the rest of my life. My feeling and horror in those dark hours was that as far as the rest of the world was concerned, I was neither a man nor a woman, and was therefore excluded from the privileges of either. And the reason? ‘Sex’ and ‘gender’ have simple meanings, don’t they? And therefore I am not really what I say. That upsets everyone stuck with hetero and binary. I have become likeable, even lovable, but untouchable.

If I don’t have to tolerate someone for being cis, why do I need tolerance for being trans? If I don’t need to be accepting of someone cis, why do I need acceptance for being trans? Am I waiting for a gift? I do feel accepted, which is a whole lot better than being tolerated, but often it is on the terms of the other. Is this a form of oppression?

I shall leave that with you, without judgement, because we still all need to think about this one a whole lot more.