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Found images

  • Posted on November 1, 2014 at 12:49 pm

The sepia girl stares expressionless,
shuffled from the pack of brown mottled paper
in crisp white lace dress and Sunday shoes.
She’s young, innocent and a long time ago –
it’s the camera that says she cannot smile.
I imagine her jumping up and running free.

Next a military man, too young to fight,
a smaller square, a formal pose –
maybe the one before leaving on campaign.
He’s innocent too, unsmiling but proud
in uniform undisturbed by war.
I imagine him standing up and marching away.

Now a grey-tone picture of an older man,
and he is grey too, gravity of age, no smile
in suit and tie, tall starched collar, cane.
Nothing in his stiff upper lip betrays his life –
his wars and wages pushed it deep inside.
I imagine him staying there when all have left.

‘That’s your great grandfather’, she called.
‘All of them. Yes, I know – the dress.
They all did. Such pretty boys that
went to war, to colonies, to banks –
trading British manliness for all their lives.
I imagine they forgot their growing days.’

‘I wouldn’t look at those’, she called.
‘Erotica is as old as the camera – or paint!’
The tiny prints scatter on the table,
ivory nudes, draped in studios –
nature for the discerning gentleman.
I notice one is different, lift it up.

There’s a coy sepia smile in this one,
unblemished by time, rarely seen by light.
In elegant gown, jewels, upright, proud –
and innocent too. On this rare occasion
inside out, this one true picture of him.
I imagine he remembered the lacy dress.


2012 © Andie Davidson

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.

Prague spring, 2011

  • Posted on May 9, 2012 at 1:35 pm

In spring 2011, a burial was unearthed, of a male interred as a female, and was promptly billed by the press as ‘WTF? First Gay Caveman!’. In all likelihood the person was transgendered, accepted, even revered as in so many ancestral cultures.

The 1968 Prague Spring was a period of rapid political liberalisation . . .

Five thousand years, layering
this on that, of change on chance
to be dug, this day, these

crouched bones face – respected
male bones placed, inflected
by pots, not knives – east

away from warrior west, in the
suburbs of Prague-to-be: a woman
who is not a man, for

five thousand years, in which
we have learned to write with
fast fingers, blog and fear.

One grave, one loved person, and
five thousand years – from clay tablet
to wired world – in a waste of words.

Not gay. No cave. No vestments.
Just acceptance lost this spring,
in Prague, pressed, and buried.

2012 © Andie Davidson

Published in Realisations.

Eostre, I am at one with you

  • Posted on April 6, 2012 at 2:00 pm
Beginning transitioning at Easter seemed symbolic. But which Easter? Lots of allusions to both Easters here, and I felt much more at home in the Easter of the originating name, where nothing of me dies, yet I come to new life. No disrespect to the religious intended, and a certain positive playfulness.

Easter, as old as the realisation of Spring –
that the sun never dies, that ground revives and

March hares box into an Osterhase that bounds
into daffodils, juggling expertly with eggs

boxed, around chocolate indulgences for sins
half-remembered by a half-forgotten Lent –

borrowed Easter symbols for a dying rising Christ
all named for the goddess of fertility and the dawn.

With a passion Eostre calls, new life in her flight
all light and love and no regrets, nothing to forgive.

I follow, as I must – this Friday, Good without dying,
branch and stock holding new blossoms, leaves

proud and high and bright as any ascension,
nothing crossed out or buried, nothing lost in celebration

of simply living, extravagantly becoming, singing
strong, vibrant – all affirmation in her passing over.

For me, this Easter, a man does not die, though
a woman lives with all the joy of Spring

and requires no forgiveness for long Winter –
only smiles of a goddess returning, bringing

colour, completeness, fullness of purpose
not rising from death, but waking, with a sun ready

to make fruit before she departs again to sleep,
and to play with hares, break eggs and share –

take, eat – she says. This is my body, and I am
indulged and free, at one with Eostre.

2012 © Andie Davidson

Equality, mistakes and diversity

  • Posted on March 11, 2012 at 3:21 pm

What an extraordinary day. Today in Roman Catholic churches all over the UK, congregations will be exhorted to stand up for tradition. Nothing new in that, since the RC church has more tradition and ritual associated with it than any other.

Today it is about the tradition of marriage. Well, actually about the western christian church’s tradition about marriage. It seems the tradition that marriage is first and foremost about procreation and raising kids (and therefore really tough luck if it turns out you cannot) and that every other reason for a committed, sealed partnership is a poor second. Including sex for bonding, comfort or just pleasure. That seems to be allowed of course, because between the fun and bonding, there is a family.

Marriage is supposed to continue for life by this argument, so that there is a stable extended family. Grandparents matter too. But marriage is not about equality.

The matter of fertility

Nowadays we can tell before marriage if we are fertile, whereas when the early church adopted various existing marriage rites and principles, people largely could not. That’s a shame, because the primacy of procreation and family would have meant infertile couples could not marry – or the purpose and benefits of marriage would have been expressed differently. If so, today’s tradition argument against same-sex marriage would not have arisen in quite the same way.

It isn’t quite so clear what individual priests in the RC church like to say about couples who marry with no intention of raising a family (or who cannot) – a very recent statement by one was clear that marriage would not be offered. So is this as sinful as having sex with someone to whom you are not married? Since one of the arguments about same-sex marriage is that the sex itself is sinful, it would appear to be on a par with deliberately persistent non-procreative hetero sex within marriage. But maybe we do know about that too, since there is clear RC policy on contraception, even though the other denominations do not.

So is fertility the real heart of the marriage tradition? How does that inform our structure of marriage today?

The Bible doesn’t have a lot to say about lesbian relationships, maybe because it assumes no real sharing of fluids, at a time when reproductive biology was pretty rudimentary? Gay sex isn’t explained, but I can only assume that the sharing of fluids that were not understood was, on the face of it, as risky a thing to do as eating parasite-infested pork and similar forbidden foods.

Divine mistakes or divine permission?

Is all this a sound basis for marriage tradition, as if traditions have never changed? Are all traditions ‘right first time’? If so, that is the best example of total quality assurance ever: give Moses an ISO 9001! As for mistakes in manufacture, isn’t that the basis for evolution and survival? Creationists aside, we don’t call the platypus one of God’s mistakes, and similarly, traditions evolve. This marriage tradition isn’t a duck just because it has a beak and lays eggs.

Gay, lesbian, queer, intersex and trans people do not choose to be how they are. Not many would strongly claim that God deliberately made them that way, and certainly the RC church (this is today’s conversation, I’m not picking on anyone) cannot say either that God did so, or that He (I insist – She) made a mistake. At best, God ‘lets LGBTQI and infertility happen’, but many in the RC church implicitly deny that anything other than a heteronormative procreative way of being can be socially valid. Tradition excludes, not God. Which is odd, since St Paul has a very strong line on ‘neither slave nor freeman, neither Greek nor Roman’ kind of equality in the eyes of God.

And our planet’s remarkable biodiversity: is it a story of divine deliberation, mistakes or laissez faire? Or is the variety of penguins authentic, whilst homosexuality among penguins (yes, and with no social pressure) is not? Look at racial diversity: Babel is a mythic attempt to explain that, and the result is seen as diversity, which increasingly the whole world respects. Now look at gender and sexuality as we understand it today, in terms of what genetic factors drive it. Why is that not set at the same level of diversity as race, the platypus and the gay penguin?

LGBTQI and marriage equality

Society for all its traditions changes, hugely. Knowledge and understanding likewise, whether of biology, sociology, health – or diversity.

So God does not make mistakes over gender and sexuality, does not do this deliberately, and the ‘woops!’ result therefore means everyone who does not actually procreate within a marriage and then stay in that marriage, is an outsider to the RC faith, and God’s world, and is forbidden the primary partnering relationship based on love?

Civil marriage has tagged for too long on the absurdity of this particular religious tradition with all its notional exceptions. A church, founded on the love of God and a message to love one another, is exceptionally discriminatory and rejecting when the one solid rite of creating stable committed partnerships of love is so selective. As such, the church has no business at all telling everyone else how they can express their love in formal social relationships. And the one thing that really sticks in my craw is that when one partner in a marriage comes to understand they are transgender, to establish their authentic gender identity, the marriage has to be dissolved and replaced with a civil partnership, which is not available to heterosexual couples! Only a fossilised church tradition could find logic in that.

I hope that individuals in RC congregations everywhere also think, and fail to see the purpose and validity of the marriage tradition as it is being expressed today. I hope they also fail to see the authority in a church with an appalling reputation throughout its history, recently with respect to abuse of children in its care, and make their own minds up about equality.

And I hope that our civil lawmakers brush today’s message aside, with those from other traditions in recent weeks, and embrace the diversity that exists, with a truly equal regard and respect.


For more about how this situation arose, Christine Burns has an excellent article at Just Plain Sense.