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Why it is never over

  • Posted on July 9, 2021 at 7:22 pm

Today is one of those days, the sort you are reminded of, which you would have been reminded of, but for which there is no need. It’s a mark on the calendar. On our calendar it is one of many births, marriages and deaths. This one is a birthday: my daughter is 30 today. I haven’t seen her for ten years now, so we have never known each other as adults. In those years many people have said ‘you never know, she might one day …’. But I don’t think so. Not now.

This isn’t public grieving, or looking for sympathy, just a note of what happens and how you keep finding that something is gone. I saw my marriage going down against all hope as I moved into transition. It wasn’t my decision and perhaps I was naïve to think that love could overcome becoming real. But this I didn’t see, and never had any meaningful conversation to engage with her over what was a deeper divorce. I am not alone, however many good stories I read of families that survive and thrive one member’s transition. I often wished that could have been mine.

So that was then and nothing has changed. But it also means I can’t talk to anyone about her, or ask after her and get any meaningful answers. I hope she is happy; I think she probably is. But hers is a life where I can never be supporting, listening, caring or doing and celebrating any of the things a normal parent does. I find it easier never to mention her because I have nothing to add, and people will always ask what happened, and if that means explaining about the problem of being trans, it adds more uncertainty about how much people know, understand, accept, or are kind.

It is never over.

I still think that her explanation about her father is either that he is dead or that he walked out. I guess I did, but that was because I could not hold myself together still loving someone after 30 years, who was daily moving away out of touch. And my daughter just made sure she was never there, not asking or finding out. You can’t persuade a trans person to ‘be both’, to be a little bit, even, of what they are not. We all needed to face it as it was and failed. And that is where the grief still lies, probably on all sides. And so I am either dead or a deserter, but anyway, happy birthday.

I find it very uncomfortable still, watching films and dramas in which the plot revolves around relationships breaking up in predictable ways, not out of badness, but out of the way the characters are framed. I see it coming and I am squirming: why did the writer make this happen? Why did they have to wreck lives, break families up, destroy loving well-meaning people who were doing their best?

One we have just been watching had a character trying to define love, so they would know when they found it. ‘You make me a better person’ was one way of knowing. So long as it doesn’t lead to dependence and conditionality. It is quite close to my skeptical definition ten years ago of ‘You make me the person I want to be.’ When that happens the other can’t grow, not even into what they could be, and you feel that the other is taking something away from you, if they do grow.

I have grown into more of what I should be, into more of what I am. I don’t know much about my family as was, but I would rather I could help them be better people than have to play dead. I am happy, absolutely and, I think, a better person who they will never know.

Families with trans members need support, and that was conspicuously missing for mine. I hope that one day my daughter will understand just enough to know it didn’t have to be like this.

Ten Years After

  • Posted on April 10, 2021 at 8:21 pm

It is ten years ago this month since I plucked up the courage to seek active support. I looked up a local trans group that had a weekly drop-in afternoon, and basically had no idea what I was letting myself in for. I scarcely knew where I was in life, only that things were changing and I hadn’t a clue what next. I was unemployed and just made redundant, worried about jobs after the age of 50, a son at university and a daughter growing our of home. I was at the level of sinking feelings that I was understanding something true, but unwanted. It was a growing realisation that felt a bit like the cranking up of a rollercoaster. It felt controlled, but heading for something that felt like free-fall.

I went to the support group, and it felt weird. So I wasn’t alone, which was great, but here was a room full (yes, full) of people who were so diverse that it wasn’t exactly reassuring at first! Where did I fit? That in itself proved very important, because I wasn’t presented with the ‘right’ way of being.

What happened after that is the subject of the whole of this blog, and it took me a year in which to understand that I would be going alone, losing much of what I had held dear for 30 years. It took a further 2 years to complete the foundation of this journey, and now 7 years on from that, it’s a whole decade of my life later.

So, ten years after? What was I doing on the 2021 Trans Day of Visibility?

I wasn’t doing anything.

Well, despite Covid, I was working. And I forgot. Should I have let people know? ‘Hey, everyone! It’s been ten years!’

In some ways this has been a quiet year. The gender-critical feminists had their time over the Gender Recognition Certificate consultation, that was published, fudged by the Women and Equalities Minister, and returned to the public for further contribution. I replied (here, if you’re interested). And so it goes on.

Worldwide, the tide washes this way and that, and trans people are as vulnerable to prejudice, discrimination and loss of rights as ever. I said it took me 2 years to complete the foundation of my journey: by which I meant that from my first consultation at a gender clinic to completing surgery, it was that long. It felt like an absolute age for me. You know, when you can see the answer to a puzzle, and people are saying, nah! put it back in the box for later, when we can solve it together. For you there’s no need; right now will do fine. As it turns out I was incredibly lucky, because the system was soon after overwhelmed and under-resourced. Waiting times are currently ‘extremely long’ (NHS GIC, 2020) and first appointments are taking 3 years.

In the past 7 years I have simply resolved into being who and what I am. And it is a peaceful place, gender-wise. The only disruption is face-to-face with the gender-critical ‘feminists’ who might grudgingly allow me to be ‘a woman, sort of’. Which would be OK, if they didn’t also petition and lobby for my exclusion from normal life. The rest of the time I don’t talk about it, other than to honest friends and to those it helps. So why this page? Are you interested? You really don’t have to be, but if you are on the same kind of journey, or have doubts about being able to find your way through, I hope it helps.

Visibility? I don’t really know. If nobody else minds, I have nothing to add. Ask me honestly and I will explain. I will petition and stand up, support, comment freely, protest for trans rights, and you will not know, unless you’re on the wrong side of the argument. I am not sure I want to be more visible than that, not least because I shouldn’t have to be. I just don’t hide anything: trans, lesbian partner, I’m just there.

Ten Years After?

That reminds me. The rock group of the same name was active during my grammar school years and I do look back and reflect. My hair was longer then (even after these lockdown times), and my musical preferences haven’t changed. Working from home, I have often given myself a background of the music of the times, especially progressive rock. These are our most formative years, and I wish I had understood myself as trans at the time, instead of the confusions, complications, and disruptions of simply feeling out of kilter with myself. My life would have been completely different of course, and I would never have had what I subsequently lost. My family would never have had the distress of my change. But that’s how it is. The old music still tells me that you are what you are, and that, for all that does change, many of the essentials never do. I am different, yes, but in most things I am not.

So wherever you are in life, being trans is just a part of what you are, and you really can get through the surf, or the storms and just be yourself. People will kick up, or even kick at you, but it is quite possible to get on, be authentic, be strong. And live. It’s a crazy world, but you don’t have to be.

Orientation: Portrait

  • Posted on June 7, 2019 at 8:42 pm

I’m sitting in front of the big portrait mirror, watching the incremental improvement in my hair under the expert scissors of my lesbian hairdresser. I can talk comfortably about my partner – and hers – and indeed about being trans. I told her early on, half presuming it was already obvious from my thin hair on top, my characteristic hairline, and to signal that I was OK to be identified. I started coming here on recommendation of my partner, so ‘coming out’ as gay had already been done by proxy, though it was into my first cut that I realised…

Cereal Killer

  • Posted on June 2, 2019 at 7:38 pm

It came from the supermarket, like every other time. A box of cornflakes. It went into the cupboard to wait for the last packet to be finished. It was one hurried morning on the way to other things that it was opened, bowl and milk at the ready. The flap was opened, the inner pulled apart and wheesh! Into the bowl. My bowl. Breakfast.

Something was wrong and only I seemed to notice. Everyone too busy, but it was my bowl, my breakfast. The milk was already in, and I could hear it. Snap, crackle and pop is how it is usually described. And cornflakes don’t do that. I ate the cereal. I enjoyed it, even though this was not what we usually bought.

The next morning I asked for rice krispies.

No, you don’t like them, have your usual cornflakes. Here.

I took the box and was about to pour my new option into the bowl, when I almost said: these are rice krispies, aren’t they? But I didn’t. Everyone was as rushed as usual, nobody noticed. I enjoyed.

On Saturday I said nothing, and poured my cereal.

Why are you eating rice krispies? Where did you get those from?

Indignation! I explained that all week, I had been using the cornflakes packet and enjoying rice krispies. My mother grabbed the box off the table, scrutinised the outside, scrabbled into the inner, shook it and sniffed.

This is wrong! They’ve put the wrong thing in. It’s too late to take it back now. You should have said. Krispies are cheaper too, so I’ll have to complain next time we go shopping.

I like rice krispies … I began to explain, already halfway through the bowl, my mouth still crackling with a spoonful.

Don’t talk while you’re eating. It’s rude. And you like cornflakes; you always have.

I looked at the picture on the box, feeling chastened for bucking the trend, for departing from the norm.

Serving suggestion. I began to wonder which the variables were that made this a disclaimer from disappointment. Was it the milk? Or that you didn’t have to use a blue-striped bowl? Was the spoon optional so you could drink it up from the edge of the bowl? Or was it the cornflakes?

On Sunday I asked for rice krispies. The box was tabled assertively in front of me.

You can have cornflakes as usual, OK? These are cornflakes. And it you have to pretend, pretend, but you can see what’s on the box. Now eat your cornflakes.

I quietly enjoyed my corn krispies. That’s what I called them now, and everyone made a jolly joke of it. So I laughed with them. And the thing is, the same happened the next time we bought cornflakes. Only this time we had friends to stay for a few days, and of course we had breakfast together. There was a choice of cereal, but not rice krispies. They had to be called cornflakes (but not very good ones, so choose something different). It was too much to own that you had something mistaken. Too much that you might like something that is not what you wanted it to be.

I stuck to my imagined serving suggestion and covertly enjoyed this brief period of corn krispies. The joke lasted a childhood, but these day?

I buy rice krispies.

Being transgender isn’t a serving suggestion. It isn’t a choice or a mistake, and not a trend or a joke. It’s what is actually in the box that matters.

Biological Sex and Transgender People

  • Posted on January 12, 2019 at 5:29 pm

I’ve nothing against trans people, but they are not …

It’s fun to work out how many ways you can say a trans person is either of no gender or definitely the ‘oppposite’ of what they say they are. Isn’t it?

This is a particular form of protectionism that can be very hard to understand. A justified fear of male violence leads to assumptions that all trans people (no, let’s be honest, trans women) are a potential danger.

  • There is no evidence that this is true.
  • Trans women are much more likely to be attacked violently than non-trans women.
  • No man intending harm to women is protected by trans rights, and trans rights do not better enable him.
  • Policing people by their outward appearance harms androgynous people everywhere.
  • Presenting gender identification documentation at every venue will never be a requirement.
  • Gender documentation is no defence for criminal behaviour or intent.

Anyone with antipathy against patriarchy wants equal and fair treatment. Destroying patriarchy is not destroying men or maleness, nor is it creating a matriarchy (though I often feel that might be better and safer). By putting trans and/or intersex people into a category or categories of their own may not seem harmful, but is a distinct way of othering them, and originates primarily from a lack of understanding that intersex people and those with what has become described as gender dysphoria, are what they are as a result of their pre-natal development. Being trans is not a behaviour and is not a psychological disorder, and trans people are everywhere and always have been. This attitude of trans people as other helps no-one, solves nothing and undermines the principles of equal and fair treatment. You do not know or notice most of us, but by othering trans people as a class, you attack that anonymity – and everyone has a right to that kind of anonymity.

Trans people aren’t weird, do not behave uniquely or distinguishably, and their gender or sex has nothing to do with their equally innate sexuality. Why do trans people make you uncomfortable?

  • They dress strangely. (Well, you never notice the ones who don’t.)
  • I don’t like talking to a woman with a deep voice or a man with a high one.
  • I used to know this person as the ‘opposite’ of what they are now.
  • God doesn’t make mistakes; this is just wrong behaviour.
  • I like to know where I stand when I meet someone and people who don’t match my stereotypes mean I don’t.
  • It’s all about sex isn’t it? (You mean sexual behaviour, which surely must be odd, perverted or strange.)

Why are we happy to acknowledge intersex conditions as ‘what can happen during prenatal development’, as an effect of in utero hormones and developmental triggers, and yet not acknowledge the same for trans people? This article sets out some comparisons, if you will excuse the term ‘transsexualism’:

I am not saying that intersex conditions and transgender are the same, just pointing out both have underlying causes that may be very similar.

Sex is absolute, gender is a social construct

It depends on your language and your culture even whether sex and gender are different words. Some languages do not distinguish, and you could examine the history and past use of the two words in English, but it wouldn’t help. Words convey concepts, they have their own definitions for shared understanding, but they define nothing.

Many ancient cultures and traditions have more than two sexes and/or more than two genders. Naturally, because that’s the way we find human beings. And yet certain modern western feminist ideologies, borrowing from western religious ideologies and culture, insist there are only two ‘biological’ sexes and only offer minor and unhelpful reference to intersex people as exceptions. More people are intersex than have red hair.

As of October 2018, the Trump administration in the USA has tried to move to binary determinism: that every person is irreversibly the sex given to them at birth. And yet many cases of intersex are not identified at birth, maybe only late into puberty. And so the US HHS (Health and Human Services) has proceeded to delete all references to ‘gender’ from their website, the US Department of Justice has ruled that transgender people (presumably because they no longer are supposed to exist) can be discriminated against in any way from health to rights of property or services, or to employment, and the USA is reported to be urging the United Nations to eleiminate all reference to ‘gender’ in favour of only referring to ‘sex’. (See above about different languages and terms.)

Understanding sex is the business of scientists and clinicians, not religion or politics

There is plenty of material from a clinical point of view that explains the complexities of sex determination. Everything that follows from the argument that ‘biological sex’ is a clear and binary thing has no real foundations.

So you still think that sex or gender is a clear binary thing? What do you intend to do with every person who does not fit within a certain median percent that matches all your criteria? You don’t know who they are, and quite often they do not know themselves. Are you right in the middle, having tested your chromosomes, checked your physiology and come to a researched conclusion? Or might you be like a deeply racist person who discovers from their DNA that they are 30 per cent what they hate? What would you do if you discovered that you have mosaic chromosomes, for example (where you have both XX and XY  combinations in different cells)?

Or do you simply find it simpler to go on believing it is a clear binary? You will have to run counter to science, to medicine and to honest human endeavour in pursuit of knowledge – but then plenty of people do run counter. Welcome to conspiracy theory, flat-earth, climate change denying society, you are not alone.

I have nothing against trans people, but …

I think what you really mean is that, like any group of people by any characteristic, some people who identify as trans are really quite marginal. There are strident feminists, there are strident trans people. There are criminal red-heads, there are criminal trans people. There are lovely kind policemen, and there are those who shoot with racial bias. And some are trans. Treating individuals based on a presumption of class characteristics is almost always unfair and wrong. And dangerous to some fellow human beings.

I would urge you simply to let the flock run away a while, stop and do your own Internet research about what determines sex determination, and prevalence of intersex and trans people in the world. Maybe you will come to realise that we do not choose this, we are this. And we are not to be feared, excluded, mistrusted or discriminated against. Every day, after all, you meet, are served by and interact with both intersex and trans people without knowing it. You may not even yourself be as 100 per cent as binary in biological terms as you think.