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An inconvenient truth

  • Posted on June 18, 2015 at 10:42 pm

Congratulations! You’re the subject of my blog this week! 12,000 page reads a month; that means you’re almost famous! But don’t worry; sorry, what’s your name? (Just so I don’t get it wrong.)

Things you wished you could have said. Or I could have just said ‘hakuna matata’. We were sitting in the interval at The Lion King in London. Yes, sharing a little affection, but not so totally engrossed, if you understand. It was a celebration day out for being together six months and for having moved in completely together at last. A kiss didn’t seem amiss in the circumstances.

‘Excuse me ladies, but can you cut it out?’ came from behind, followed by the usual ‘I’ve got nothing against it personally, I don’t have a problem with it’ (of course not), ‘but there are two nine year old girls here.’

We were both quite taken aback. I’ve had direct abuse and objection both as trans, and as a woman, and I guess I hadn’t expected, after everything I’ve been through, objection to being openly lesbian. Surely times have moved on? What annoyed me most was not being able to have the conversation – like ‘maybe your daughter or her friend will come out as lesbian when they’re older, and need to know it’s normal?’, or: ’But you do have a problem with “it”, don’t you? Why is that?’. I really don’t understand why love and affection between women is immediately perceived by some as some display of kinky sex, or perversion, especially when media, films and the Internet are sexualised in so many less tasteful ways. Who needs protecting from two women kissing, when kissing between different-sex people is everywhere and OK?

God knows what he would have said if I had replied: ‘It’s OK, I used to be a man!’

The show was absolutely brilliant. The lionesses triumphed over evil, and well, it was ‘pride on stage’, wasn’t it! But that little interjection tainted our day a bit, and made us think. We had just watched a street performer in union jack underpants give a suggestive performance constructed around his unique ability to be sandwiched between two beds of nails whilst a beefy man from his audience stood on top of him. What about the children?!

Love between people of the same sex (or gender) is probably encoded before birth, according to familial-trait research published last November, so if anything, we are an education in the way things are, and by being open, others will know that it is natural and OK to love someone of the same sex and/or gender.

This same point was made in a mainstream news article this week by a lesbian teacher – or rather a teacher who is lesbian. She learned that hiding her sexuality was not just an invitation to gossip among colleagues and students, but had led to direct discrimination resulting in loss of a job, when she refused to effectively renounce her sexuality. (She was asked directly to behave ‘less lesbian’, despite being of the very femme variety.) Her realisation, while helping to make a documentary, was to understand that being open was an education and an enabler to colleagues and students alike: it is OK to be LGBT.

Today an article circulated about a town in Baltimore, where the local residents have written to a woman who had a rainbow-coloured display in her garden (yard) saying that it was too gay: ‘this is a Christian area and there are children’. I am still unclear about the children argument: are these people worried about corruption? Or that LGBT natures are contagious? Or that we are perverted, predatory even? This latter ‘fear’ lies behind the US ‘bathroom bills’ and gender-policing of loos. The result last week was a cis woman in the US suing a company for being roughly ejected from a ladies’ loos by a security man (yes, in the ladies’ loos) because she looked too masculine or butch.

No good can come from this objection to LGBT people being open.

Why do we have ‘closets’ at all? Why do LGBT people live in them? If your minority identity is race, you can’t hide it, you have to live with it (and any prejudice) and suffer with it, forcing society ultimately to come to terms with racial diversity. Sexual diversity has found greater acceptance, but unlike race, people can still say ‘be what you like so long as you do it in private’, as if being LGBTQIA… is shameful. It is not! Consequently, trans people top the league in attempted and successful suicide rates. People dare not ‘come out’ for fear of livelihoods, loss of family, social status, even their lives.

Closer to home, I know that I may be acceptable in appearance, but that I am nonetheless noticeably different. I cannot pretend not to have trans history, and therefore there are times (such as ‘meet the parents’) where I need it to be known that I am trans and that it’s OK. Also, I have no intention of avoiding holding hands or kissing as a lesbian woman, just to save upsetting someone else who would not be upset by a hetero couple doing the same.

One morning we were saying goodbye on our ways to work, with a hug and a kiss on the street corner. A young woman came by, murmured her approval, then turned back and smiled and said how sweet we were. Now that’s nice; that’s kind; that’s real.

Getting there is half of it

  • Posted on June 7, 2015 at 11:32 pm

This weekend, amid a little chaos over furniture non-delivery – jobsworth delivery drivers who sat on a double yellow outside my flat, talking to me on the phone for ten minutes over not being allowed to unload on a double yellow – my partner moved her remaining belongings into our flat. Not a lot changed, other than a final underlining of how we live happily together. Life is very normal, and in Brighton, lesbian couples are common enough for us never to even think about it, and never to get so much as a sideways glance. Last weekend was spent travelling with a concert band, where I played three concerts and she took photos and carried kit. I think we are the first lesbian couple openly associated with the band, and we had a big double bed (comfortable and fun).

And yet, outside our world there is continued turbulence over the validity of same-sex love, and of the authenticity of my gender as a trans woman. This weekend so much has rumbled on over Caitlyn Jenner and much transphobia in the press and media. Defence, support, criticism, much-noted privilege of wealth and fame, and a deal of dismissal and even hate. Someone publicly transitioning (inevitable for any well-known or celebrity figure anyway) has stirred all the same feelings about gender dysphoria by people apparently quite ignorant of genetics, chromosomal variance, intersex and meaning of gender.

Again and again, gender dysphoria is dismissed, belittled as a preference, labelled as selfish, described as a transgression or a sinful attitude, and people like me who speak out are subversives in society. It seems I am part of a trans activist movement set to undermine society and the natural order. Not far out along the spokes of my social wheel there is discomfort and rejection, either of me as transsexual, or of my relationship as lesbian.

I played table tennis in the sun today in a public park, with my partner and a girl friend. We had a picnic and great fun relaxing the rules of table tennis. We took pictures of each other as we played, and looking back at them at home, I was filled with a sense of deep happiness. The natural girl in the picture was me; my partner was wearing one of my dresses; all three of us looked really happy. This time last year I was waiting for final surgery, and this year I am happy. Last year I was tail-ending gender dysphoria, and this year I feel complete. My sense of self is so different from my previous life that I have no doubts whatsoever about this course of transition. I feel resolved, and I feel I finally understand all my previous feelings about non-belonging in the world.

And yet public comment on the validity of trans identities remains so negative. I am a freak, I am misguided, feminists still say that because I never started a period in an awkward place, never got hassled by a man, never had my boobs gawped at or had those teenage years of sex and confusion, and never suffered reduced earnings for being a woman, that I am not a woman. Well, some of those things I have known, and quite a few women have never had periods, let alone embarrassing moments. At root are fixed thoughts and a determination not to understand, frequently with origins in religious teaching. The result is not objectivity but subjective insults and demeaning in a way reminiscent of racism. And because we seek explanations for our different sense of gender, follow the science or the sociology, we are told that we are making male and female gender essential, biological, immutable. (If we do not seek explanations, we are told it is merely personal and unfounded preference.)

I have anxieties about my widening social context, as it reaches beyond Brighton and even England, because here I do have the privilege of an accepting society, and have received very little to the contrary in the last two years. I know people discuss me as an example, and that not all want to understand, but at least it doesn’t rub off as rudeness. We still have a long way to go until people like me are considered unworthy of comment or remark, and people like me and my partner are not regarded in some way as undermining the natural order of things.

I have told the story of my own religious teenage years to my partner in recent times, and it seems a very distorted and unnatural view now. It wasn’t just prudish, it was obstructive, and led to a life of hidden self-hatred and guilt. Not just a few years, to be got over like so many teenage anxieties, but decades that affected me, my family, my marriage, and friends. I feel I could have been so much more. And why? Because of the power that religion holds in the mind and in this society. If ever anything held privilege, it is organised religion. I consider it a bogus privilege, held together by fear (what if there is a god after all who cares about my sense of self, and what might they do to me if I don’t truly believe these teachings? Best play on the safe side.)

People like me become a hate-object at worst, and an outsider at best, as a result of this thinking, even though those same religious teachings all seem also to promote love of fellow-creatures. And it is time we recognised the origins of hate of people like me. I am not to be distrusted, I am not subversive, and I am no threat to anyone. And yet there are places I could go where I most certainly would be an outcast, even in danger.

Meanwhile, I shall be happy, because I know that I am more authentic than those whose thoughts are grounded in manufactured and unexamined ideas past their sell-by date.

Being trans or having a trans partner, especially if you are the one to whom a trans partner comes out, is a huge disruption to life. It is life-changing to everyone involved, and where intimacy is affected, it can be immensely hurtful. It changes relationships because the expectations change, and whilst the trans person has come to realise there is no going back except to compromise – perhaps to hang on to a relationship – the partner really does not want to come to terms with changing the activities sustaining the relationship. Many life-changing events are more accepted and adapted to, because there is honour in braving the circumstances. There is no honour bestowed by society or friends in adapting a loving relationship to gender transition, not because the partner is mean or unloving, but because as a member of normative society, the partner is not equipped to move beyond gender perceptions.

Many transsexual people who undergo any degree of clinical intervention and are given a new lease of life in their identity freedom, go through a degree of re-examination of their sexuality. You have breasts? Who do you want to squeeze them? You have a new flat and hairy chest? Whose fingers do you want running through them? You have a vagina? How do you want to use it? We experience a certain sexuality fluidity at least for a short period of questioning. It doesn’t feel strange to do so, let alone wrong or immoral. It really is quite natural. But what it brings home to most if not all of us, is that love and trust come first. No relationship is worth anything without that. Preference finds itself. So thinking of ourselves as lesbian in place of at least a nod towards heterosexuality before, is not problematic. So sexuality per se is not ‘a thing’ to us; we just find it without fear. It is confusing, however, to realise that for ex-partners sexuality was ‘a thing’ and not open to adaptation. Love and trust did not come first, before preservation of sexuality. Is sexuality immutable? I wonder still, even though I know what my preference is. What I do know is that my gender identity is.

So whilst the media persist in connecting sex and gender, and as long as religion connects sex and sin, society will always have those who are unable to move out of the whole nexus of an established concept of normality within which people like me are making a subversive choice. Post transition people in particular will always have this unique experience of seeing both sides of sexuality and gender, from which we can derive a much more balanced attitude towards being a person.

Trust or trussed: where are you bound?

  • Posted on November 16, 2014 at 4:48 pm
life and dance

I write about relationships because I want to understand them better. I would very much like to be ‘in a relationship’, and it may happen, but meantime, I’m working on not getting it wrong, and working out my previous misconceptions. As I said last blog, I am OK living alone. Meanwhile, the encounters I have with people raise questions I’ve never addressed, or had to, before. I lived most of my life in a secure monogamous marital relationship. It was safe, because my wife had women friends, and whilst I could have, I didn’t have men friends. I had women…

Watch words: self hate, self harm, self destruct

  • Posted on September 6, 2014 at 3:32 pm

Now that the gender dysphoria bit is over, I am walking over some old ground, just picking up stones, those things that hurt the feet of people following after me. You see, I remember walking down Fulham Palace Road to the gender identity clinic the first time, knowing every step of the way had been trodden by so many like me, and quite a few with familiar names …

Well, in recent months, maybe this past year, there have been more and more sensible and informative media events about trans people. Some more competent than others, some quite personal and individual, others more documentary style and explanatory. But overall, quite a lot is being said that reveals us as pretty ordinary folk, living ordinary lives. The trans celebs who are noticed more are just saying the same as us as well, which brings us all down to a level, a commonality.

Suddenly if feels just OK to be trans, and here am I fussing over my privacy being broken at work! I transitioned before I got my current job, and it still felt like I was the peculiar one, so much so that I welcomed my work colleagues being warned in advance that a transsexual employee was on her way – so behave! And now I don’t want anyone to be told, whilst at the same time posting my photo on Twitter under #WhatTransLooksLike, which turns out to be terribly (confusingly) ordinary.

And yet.

And yet all of this ordinariness and growing acceptance (at least in general, and from a very poor start) underlines something extremely sad and tragic. And it is that for the majority of us it has been a mixture of terrifying struggle, self harm, self hatred, self doubt, despair, loss, depression and suicidal intent.

I want you to think: how much do you talk (or hear) about how society ‘tolerates’ trans people? Or about an increasing ‘acceptance’? At work, it seems people have been ‘accommodating’ of my being trans among them. Are these feelings you have, as a way of saying things are getting better? How do you think it would make you feel, if something about you meant that you as a person needed tolerance, acceptance or accommodation? Or knowing this, would you willingly place yourself in a position where this would even need to be so?


In a world that really accepted that some people are born trans, things would be completely different. Imagine, if you will, for a moment, that every child growing up was free to express their male-female-both-neither selves freely and without criticism. Imagine every adult simply knew this was the way things are. Imagine no penis-adult minded a penis-child wearing vagina-child clothes, and no vagina-adult minded a vagina-child avoiding vagina-child toys. How comfortable those children would be that the other children knew this from their parents too. Each could find their sexuality as they developed, and learn the differences between love for reproduction and love for friendship and love for life. It isn’t that families would cease to exist, or that adults settled in their gender would not pair up to have children. But just maybe, everyone would be a bit more comfortable doing what comes naturally. Fewer spouses would turn away from their beloved partners because it was all a mistake, had they known before. Maybe it would help break the sexism that pervades society, if it were not odd to find a woman with oily hands, power tools and an executive job, paired with a man in feminine clothes working as a childminder and organising dance events.

People on the trans spectrum may be one in a hundred, but that doesn’t make us rare, it just means most are invisible because they are suppressed.

I do wonder what proportion of trans people would be happy to be the woman with a penis or a man with a vagina, if nobody else minded either. Not all of us, because gender dysphoria runs much more deeply than this, and there is a level of inateness that predates any social expectation. But for some whose gender identity sits uncomfortably in the gender binary based on genital expectation, maybe, just maybe, there would be peace in growing up and living a normal life freely as they feel themselves to be.


Where are we with acceptance now? This is how it has largely been for people like me: if you feel you don’t belong with other penis-children-called-boys, you belong nowhere. You do not fit and you cannot explain it. Somehow people, especially parents and teachers, don’t want to know, because you screw up the way things are, and you make things awkward. You add something that has to be catered for and coped with. You are a nuisance to them and to yourself. If you are a vagina-child who doesn’t belong with other vagina-children-called-girls, people don’t notice quite so much at first. But underneath the tomboy is a place grown-ups don’t want to go.

Somehow there is an undercurrent to this view of you that is linked with a moral or ethical dimension. These are the rules that seem to come from nowhere, and just ‘are’ because they get repeated. What you feel is not quite right about you, in terms of likeness with others, becomes something wrong. People don’t like it because they think you are being deliberately different, that you have a choice. Some will say that it (the way you feel about yourself) isn’t natural. Others will say that their god says it’s bad, and bad that you should dare to even think it might be OK. That you must therefore change, and put all these feelings about yourself away forever. Hence the prevalent self hate, self harm and self destruct, mental and physical that trans people experience.

Worst of all, gender and sex have long been so confused a distinction that being trans has been viewed a sexual perversion, a bizarre psychological pathology. And if sex is naughty or dirty or bad (my upbringing taught me this), then being trans is doubly so.

Because the adults think this, their children, your friends and classmates think this too. You get bullied, or at best left out and seen by some as not to be included. This combines with your sense of not belonging. There is no way out, because no-one is talking about it, leastways not so as to allow that it’s natural or normal or permissible.

This, as I grew up (and is widely still the case), was an inescapable truth about myself: there was something bad and wrong about me, deep inside. Trans people simply knew there was nothing they could do to get rid of the disconnect between being a penis-child and a vagina-brain. Cis people, generally speaking, thought they could and should. And now this is changing, bit by bit.

What will it take?

If you are not sure whether this move or drift towards trans-as-normal is comfortable for you, think what it does to trans people growing up, and the legacy it has left to those of us rather older. I’m not seeking pity – far from it, only saying please understand, when you think you are being kind for letting us live and look differently, that your attitudes and reactions, if anything short of full acceptance as equal and normal, are creating inner traumas still.

I fully recognise that I did not grow up recognising diversity, that I too felt uncomfortable with everything LGBT because it is what I was taught to think and feel. What this means is that the denial I lived with, and above all the guilt, must have been there as I brought up my own children. My son thankfully was trans-aware probably before I was. And my daughter’s current inability to be associated with me in any way must in part be down to what I brought her up to think. I wonder what she will teach her children one day when they ask about their missing grandfather …

The words you choose shape the way we all think

  • Society is very tolerant these days of people with red hair.
  • I think we are becoming much more accepting of left-handed people.
  • I’m glad to say that nowadays we accommodate lesbians in the workplace a lot better.

Does anything strike you about these statements? If this is how we bring up our children, and how we speak to each other about red-haired people, left-handed people and lesbian people, they will intuitively understand that these three ‘conditions’ are suspect and not quite right, that these are people to be wary of, who are not quite what they seem (Wait until she takes her hat off! Did you see when he started writing? I went to her mum’s house once and she lives with a woman!).

This is exactly the inference we exchange amongst ourselves about transgender people. This is why it took me 55 years to realise that my self-hatred, my sense of guilt and shame, my constant self-destruction inside was completely unfounded and unnecessary.

Can you begin to understand this stone in the grass that I’ve picked up? Don’t leave it for someone else, above all someone else’s child, to cripple themselves on.

I can at last love myself, and indeed, I love my ‘new’ body for the first time. Shame about the five decades.

Never tolerate me. Never accept me. Never accommodate me.

I am. We are.

Just like you.


  • Posted on August 3, 2014 at 10:45 am
Pride flags

I have only actually fully participated in one Pride event. I never knew in advance when it was. My mother always knew: ‘Pride comes before the fall’, she used to say. Maybe that’s it. Pride was a bad thing, signifying arrogance. It meant putting yourself above others. And to be honest, being brought up like that, where even to say you loved yourself was a sin, I could hardly look at gay men in weird strappings and think I belonged in any way. That was before I knew what a lesbian was. That was before I knew why I didn’t…