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Well, really? Reality and freedom of speech

  • Posted on February 21, 2015 at 4:04 pm

OK, so last blog was a bit weird and surreal, but what I was trying to get at is that we create and impose realities that simply fix ideas, and in the course of this lose touch with the dynamism and possibilities of life. We should allow things to appear surreal in order to let the subconscious speak, and learn how to be free to change and change again.

This week has seen yet another furore about prominent feminist voices of a particular kind, and the legitimacy of being free to impose the fixities of their reality as some kind of authority, when those views directly harm others. Then, when those who have been oppressed by this view of reality shout and kick back, they are seen as being the aggressors. Plenty of other and better bloggers have taken the circumstances apart, framed as an issue of free speech and debate within university circles, where debate is an essential part of life. But I remember student protests at racist speakers when I was studying, because hate speech and reducing others on grounds of a ‘difference’ regarded as socially excluding, is not a good proposition for debate. Unfortunately, these people write in prominent places too, places regarded as authoritative and informative, where readers (even critical readers) are persuaded by the personalities or reputations.

In this case, the argument returned to whether sex and or gender (interestingly, not sexuality) are essential: i.e., whether they are mutable or fixed, psychological or unchangeably biological according to visual interpretation. In a society where the gender and sex binaries rule, this does matter. She is a real woman, he is a real man. She is a real woman because she has the right bits and experiences in life. She is not. She is a man with a vagina and breasts because you can’t change from one into another. She is a woman born without a uterus, he is a man with a micro-penis, she is a man because she does not have clear XX chromosomes, he is a woman because he does. She is a traitor to women everywhere because she is living as if she was a man, he is a rapist because he thinks he is a woman and goes to the women’s toilets to invade their space. They are all pretending, because instead of looking in their knickers and being honest they are talking about ‘identity’ as if it were distinct.

And worst of all, it isn’t for them to say. The debaters, thriving on controversy and profile as popular voices, are who decide what anyone’s legitimate identity is. Because reality is … what?

It all sounds rather mediaeval that a fixed world view by some can oppress anyone defined by them as different. And yet it is very strongly there. My gender is not a subject up for third party debate, especially in universities where real research is done that is revealing the fragility of established ideas.

It is mid-February and 11 trans* women have been murdered this year for being trans. The suicides are not counted, we just strongly hear of those leaving explanatory suicide notes online. The statistics don’t change much year by year. That means societal pressures are leading almost half of all trans people to at least attempt suicide. Maybe three-quarters seriously consider it. And all because what? Because we stand aside when those with strong views and opinions about the illegitimacy of gender broadcast them. Essentially, when someone with a powerful or popular voice, affirms or asserts that the identity of another person is not real, they are being violent. Violence is not a reasonable defence for freedom of speech.

I will never forget the night it hit me, in my marital bedroom, that I faced the rest of my life never being real. Not-a-man-not-a-woman, ever, when there were no socially legitimate normal alternatives. I was being cast into outer darkness because my naked body was showing one thing, my being was shouting another, and I was no longer wanted, let alone loved, for either. For anything. Not for being myself, and not for being honest. Whatever nice words were being offered, this was the base truth. I was no longer real, and would never be real again.

Nor will I ever forget the darkness and desperate emptiness that this realisation presented me with. I’m over it now, but it was a place no-one should ever find themselves.

Self-understanding among trans* people is diverse. Some like to be affirmatively trans* all their lives, many disappear from their trans* groupings and social circles, knowing others, being friends, but making nothing of their transition pasts. Even after full surgical transition, some will honestly say that they are not completely the gender they live in. They create a clear presentation in a binary sense, as a convenience to avoid questions and hassle – which is not the assertion other trans* people will make, that they are definitely ‘in the binary’.

So it seems some of us live in a binary gender identity simply to adopt a reality that is fixed by society, by all those around us. Let’s face it, in most cultures, your are pretty much obliged to cast your identity in a binary way. Your only way to avoid being the conversation, is to live someone else’s reality, not your own. I guess in some ways I do. I always said that I know much more definitely what I am not, than what I am. I think this is because saying what you are presupposes that you know what someone else feels like, to be that thing. Maybe nobody can explain why they ‘know’ they are a woman, though they have plenty of explanations for why they are not a man. We can list attributes and comparative traits (not all of which every other woman will share), but these are just clues and indicators. Surely everyone just says ‘I am me’, and everything else is a comparison for the sake of others. ‘I am me’ is the most real it gets.

And then Nature journal published a paper this week published Sex redefined. Claire Ainsworth explains the current research which shows that there are too many competing definitions of sex and gender, in physiological terms. Our bodies are frequently contradictory in the common signs of gender or sex (the word sex remained binary until now, whilst the word gender has split into a spectrum). Sex has been presumed to be the means by which one person can categorise another, whilst gender has come to mean self-identity, because it has relied on the four physical attributes of anatomy, cells, chromosomes or hormones. The big trouble, the reality, is that of those four, they just don’t all point simultaneously in the same direction. Each tells its own story, and they simply don’t always agree, to the point that the author states that intersex conditions are not the usual statistic of 1 in 2,000, but more like 1 in 100. Most of us will never know, because we feel OK with the outer physical presentation compared with our inner feelings. But one per cent means an awful lot of people must be squeezing themselves into a social reality that limits them, or makes them dissatisfied or uncomfortable with their appearance or feelings compared with the standardised attributes of ‘man’ or ‘woman’.

And this is the emerging truth about human sex and gender, that the binary clarity is actually and scientifically speaking, wrong. Now if light dawned, and the binary suddenly lost its significance, it wouldn’t mean people stopped falling in love, or that those born with a fertile uterus would stop having babies, or that we would be thrown into confusion (oh, my goodness, I suddenly don’t know who is what!). Maybe we would understand the pointlessness of ‘Title’ on all the forms we fill in, and maybe we would lose the presumed superiority of the ‘male gender’ and find a more natural equality. And maybe people who speak in university venues would understand that transsexuality just happens, and is real. After all it is the university research (and not just the sociologists) that says so.

As my last blog, isn’t it time to understand that what we take to be real could change into a new reality? Maybe then we would talk about kindness rather than fighting over freedom of speech.

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 ‘’. ‘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 …


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.