Saturday, 3 December 2016

Farewell old friend

    It's been a year of putting this moment off, ignoring it, and wishing I didn't have to do it, but it's come to that time. I've called a local recycling company, and they'll pick up the Rollerskate some time next week. It's over a year since it broke and was too expensive to fix.
    In my life I've scrapped a lot of cars. It's a pretty easy process, and I've done it without a thought. But not this time, this car is different. Not because it's special, after all a diesel VW Polo isn't fast or anything.
    Instead, this car is special because it's our car. My wife and I bought it new 15 years ago, and went to so many places together in it. Losing it is losing another part of our relationship, another piece of security gone.
    It will live on, in that its parts will be salvaged and sold to other owners. And I won't have the sadness of finding it in my usual scrapyard. And there will be other cars, like the tatty old estate car I'm driving at the moment. But there will never be another car that means this much, or that has this much effect on me when I part with it.

    I don't think I'll let that happen again.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Your point of view is always invalid

   Back home after a weekend being seditious. My experiences as a transgender person in employment have led me to over the last few years spend a while of my time doing my best to advance the awareness of workplace rights for transgender people under the auspices of my trade union. So it was off to a seaside resort on a chilly November day for a weekend annual conference. Taking stock of the previous year, learning new things, and looking forward to the next.
    Interestingly it was not just LGBT people present. People involved through other minorities, as well as a good number of workplace reps keen to understand more about workplace rights for people like us. And also a group of retired trade unionists. Useful people to know, this last group, for with their lengthy experience there is little they do not know about the intricacies of a harmonious workplace.
    As you might expect from such a gathering, there was a significant array of political activists. My interest in trade union membership is as a means to advance workplace rights for people like me, I'm a member of no party. Others however come to it through left-wing politics.
    We've seen what feels like a decade of political news in the last couple of years, and particularly with respect to the recent American election it seems as though we've lost the ability to find our common ground. I was pleased to see a spirit of  broader political consensus and engagement from a section of my trade union friends, but it saddened me that among another section there was only room for their narrow brand. The damage wrought by this kind of blinkered view is only too obvious every time we turn on our TV sets, and to see it on the increase here doesn't bode well.
    The retired members didn't have much time for it I was pleased to see. I watched three of them take down a hardcore socialist - all questions about Karl Marx and calling people "Comrade" - with a loud discussion of the praiseworthy works of Tony Blair - centre-left former Labour Prime Minister, reviled by those on the far left. When our zealous comrade had stalked off in a huff it was very amusing indeed to see three old guys who are probably as true to their political principles now as they were in the 1960s break down in helpless laughter. As I said to them, I need to watch and learn.
    I will engage with anyone who will listen on the subject of trans rights in the workplace. Whoever they are, and whatever their politics. Good people can be found in nearly all parts of the political spectrum, just as can arseholes.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Pay to play again

    It's evidently a way to become alarmingly sought-after, to write a blog as a transgender person. People always seem to want my views on things with a transgender slant. Back in February of this year I wrote about the usual approach of someone wanting me to talk about a book, but sometimes it's a newspaper article or a film, and now it's someone seeking my views on a medical product. Wow, I never knew being transgender could make you so popular!
    Of course, there's a catch. These people all want my views on their stuff for free, which would be fine if they were coming from a non-profit-making industry, but of course they aren't. They're seeking free publicity and valuable search engine rankings for the products of industries that involve huge amounts of money, and quite naturally they want to keep all that money for themselves.
    I wrote in February about how the PR side of the publishing industry works, how there is a cosy relationship between the industry and a set of journalists, each of whom scratch each other's backs with a bit of wine lubricating the process. It's the same in other industries, almost anything you see in the papers or on TV will have got there as a result of some behind-the-scenes PR work if it's a straightforward feature on a commercial product. It's understood, and all parties have their own revenue streams that ensure the wheels keep turning.
    Evidently the problem is that among all those journalists with whom the cosy relationships are formed there are no transgender people. Often this is because the few that have transitioned tend to have been forced out by dodgy media companies.
    So faced with this problem of a transgender storyline to push but nobody within the community to take it from them, they go hunting for some trans people of their own. And because they think trans people don't know how all this works, they think they can get away with all that hard work for free if they only butter them up a little. Hence a regular set of emails I and no doubt others like me receive from hopeful PR people looking for a freebie.
    I explained in February the level of work that goes into writing a review. It's an in-depth task that takes a significant amount of time, you can't just bang them out. You need to understand the subject and possess authority on it, then you must spin a tale that draws the reader in. Much of my days are spent doing just this in another place, so you might say I have some authority on this subject. There is a reason that journalists draw a salary cheque, and it ain't because we look pretty sitting at a typewriter.
    So I'll repeat what I said earlier in the year:  I ain't doing that kind of work for free, and neither should you. If the person who asked you to write earns money from it, then you should be paid.
    If they keep pestering you when you don't respond, ask them what they'll do for free for you. Damn, I should have thought of that with the latest one who prompted this post!

Monday, 31 October 2016

Nun better

    Ooh look, it's the last day of the month, and Jenny's feeling guilty again that she's not written anything! Truth is, writing for a living consumes all of my muse, and several times I've sat down only to have my inspiration evaporate. As though I have a certain number of words within me on a given day, and once I've used them all then that's it.
    We're not supposed to enjoy wearing the clothes, are we. It's the discipline imposed upon us by the medics, scared of regretters they insist that those of us who transition must not be cross-dressers, and certainly must not be doing it because they like the clothing. It's a completely crazy distinction, because the nature of our condition means that identities are fluid. Anyway, there's nothing wrong with enjoying wearing something, as many natal women will tell you.
    So I found myself last week in the odd position of breaking that particular Golden Rule. It was a Halloween party organised by a community organisation of which I'm a member, and I'd made my own costume. As realistic as I could make it, a mediaeval nun. I had an old Army tent that had gone into holes, made from dark brown canvas, the perfect fabric. A lot of research, and raiding my mother's worn-out-sheet box for some distressed white linen, and I had made a startlingly good costume. Tunic, scapular, St. Birgita's cap, wimple, veil, outer veil, and belt and crucifix. Sorry, no pictures, but it was definitely not the fake nun costume they were expecting.
    Unsurprisingly I have never worn a wimple before. It's a tapered fabric tube that ends in a face-sized hole. You cover your hair with the St. Birgita's cap - a fabric cap that starts on your forehead and ties at the back of your head - and put your head through the wimple so the wide end of the tube covers your shoulders - mediaeval nuns didn't have the big white collars, they came later - and adjust the narrow end so it goes under your chin and pulls tight somewhere on the top of your head. There are a couple of tapes you tie behind your head to pull it taught, and there you are, forehead covered by the white fabric of the cap and cheeks and chin by the wimple. The veils then fit over the top of your head and are then either pinned in place or in my case tied by another set of tapes behind the head. This would have been standard wear for any mature woman until about the 14th or 15th centuries, though it is a garment that has only lingered on in holy orders since then.
    The surprise for me was that not only was it a very comfortable garb to wear, it also felt secure. Your hair is out of the way, your forehead's covered, no worries about gaping necklines. It's almost like the security of retreating under the bedclothes as a child, you are no longer exposed having retreated inside the veil, and your view of the world is framed by it. Quite a powerful effect, and unexpected.
    The costume is now folded up in a drawer, and will no doubt be forgotten until some random time in the future at which it will be discovered and exclaimed over. As my friend Dawn used to put it usually when referring to outlandish frilly creations sported by our more adventurous friends, you wouldn't wear it to Tesco. But I'm not ashamed to say it was something the wearing of which I found surprisingly pleasant, even if it does stray close to that Golden Rule.
    The really amusing part is that also present was another friend who I also know through my church. an LGBT outreach that crosses denominations. Now all of them will know of my moonlighting in a habit, and I'll have to patiently explain that low-church rural Anglicans don't do that kind of thing.
    At least, not on Sundays.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Lost in the system

It's now three years since I transitioned, give or take a week or two. 18 months since starting HRT. But surprisingly I have yet to have an anti-androgen.

Why is this the case, you ask? After all, I've been to the endocrinologist quite a few times. I have come to the conclusion that I've become lost in the system.

Here's what happened. In January I went to see the endo. They weigh you, you have a chat with him, they take blood, you go away. You expect a letter from your doctor shortly afterwards saying that you have a new prescription, which you go in to collect, have the injection, whatever.

What I got was a letter from the endo a few weeks later saying they were going to discuss my case and come back to me. Then, nothing. I got a contract, and spending the summer running around I didn't have time to chase it.

A few months later, contract ended, and to say I'm a bit miffed is an understatement. So I'll be going to see my doctor and metaphorically banging on the table, asking him to find out what's happened. I do not expect to have to wait for another endo appointment, I've had enough delay.

I'm beginning to understand why people self-medicate.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

3 Days Of Peace And Bloody Fast Internet

    It's a rite of passage that has returned to prominence in recent years, the Youth Of Today like their hippy grandparents attend outdoor music festivals. They go and camp for three days in a quagmire, acquire assorted ailments and parasites, have half their stuff nicked, suffer appalling toilets, and get horribly sunburned while listening to poorly mixed and distorted music.

    At least, this is what we are led to believe when listening to the survivor tales.

    As a member of the generation for whom festivals were not a mainstream activity I have to admit I didn't know what to expect when I attended my first similar event last week. It's important to note though that this was not a music festival but a hacker camp. Several thousand assorted makers, hackers, and other technically inclined people camping in a field in Surrey for four nights, surrounded by a dizzying array of talks and presentations, and all bringing along their own creations to show off to the rest of the community. Every structure on site from the largest marquee to the smallest one-person tent had mains power and super-fast internet, and every hackspace, user group, or other organisation had its own section of the campsite. The toilets are best forgotten but the showers were rather good, the catering was passable, and there was plenty of beer and cider on tap. I made a good call by bringing along decent bogroll and a Dettol spray.
    To find yourself among many thousands of your own community is liberating. You can drop seamlessly into conversations about things that elicit blank stares from the average Joe: how to optimise the efficiency of a coupled-inductor flyback converter for example, or whether an electric monowheel could be practical transport.
    I was pleased to bump into more than one person from this community on the site as well. As I write technical articles in the maker sphere my name is not unknown, but though I'm in no closet I suspect most readers have no idea I'm trans. Attending this event had something of an outing about it, as there was no place to hide. So a group of us ended whiling away some time around a smoking BBQ, talking about anything but being trans. Which was in itself quite refreshing.
    It's something I now understand, why old hippies still go on about the Isle of Wight festival or Woodstock. I've got a major case of festival withdrawal, and so have all my hackspace friends. It's another two years until the next one, that's going to be a long time.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Mid life crisis

    Seasoned readers may have noticed a slowdown hereabouts in the last couple of months. This isn't the usual progression of bloggers in this sphere going hell-for-leather at a transition goal and then dropping everything like a hot potato when they consider themselves "done", instead it's a mark of how much I have going on at the moment. I'm holding down three jobs at once, a full-time electronic design contract, writing technical articles, and servicing my own electronic business. The good news is that this means I have some money coming in and I should achieve my immediate aim of having a year's reserve in hand should everything dry up, but the bad news is that it's left precious little time for anything else. This isn't the only thing that's suffered, there are several other projects that have gone on hiatus as a result. No doubt when the contract is over things will return to normal.
    In a few months I'll have another birthday. Not a particularly special one, but a point at which the feeling of an inexorable slope towards 50 becomes palpable. This isn't something that I find welcome, I have no need to hang onto some wild and crazy youth but I can't escape a disappointment that there is so much I have not managed to do. I've written of my need for a family in the past, now that is hanging over me in an ever more pressing way. Ten years ago when I was married to someone who turned out in the end never to have wanted a family in the first place there was always a sense that it might have happened tomorrow, now I can't escape the feeling that tomorrow is here and nothing has been done. Where the last twenty years have gone and what I have to show for them is a mystery.

    Staying alive I guess, an achievement in itself.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

... Shake it all about

    It's been a tiring month hereabouts. Yesterday was Independence Day if you believe a few right-wing politicians, the day we finally threw off the shackles of the European Union or condemned our country to a relentless slide down the plughole of history depending on who you believe.
    What is certain is that we've had two months of a barrage of lies. Economic doom from both sides, all of which was based on very tenuous mathematics. And Project Fear backfired hugely, as the real issue turned out to be the marginalisation of an underclass for whom the EU had only delivered lower wages, uncertain job prospects and non-existent housing. Remain took working-class Labour voters for granted as they always do in the corridors of power, and those voters had the temerity to do so The Wrong Way.
    I voted Leave, though I see it as nothing to crow about. My position didn't change over the campaign, I was concerned about the disconnect and alienation from the Grand Project, and how it was benefiting the elite and leaving everyone else in the dust. And I am glad to see that my fellow swing Leave voters turned out to be neither bovver-booted fascists nor wealthy pensioners, but ordinary voters at the bottom of the pile. The EU failed them miserably, and "More Europe" wasn't the answer.
    So now we're in the period of hysterical political bloodletting that always follows a shock result. Things will settle down, and eventually we'll all realise it's business as usual. They will still be desperate to buy wings and engines for Airbuses, and sell us BMWs and Renaults. And the fevered dreams of the far right won't become a reality as all our Polish, Czech, and Romanian friends won't be frogmarched off to Dover and dumped on a boat for France.
    Instead I think that the EU will inevitably contract. It has manifestly failed to benefit so many of the people it is supposed to serve at the grass-roots level, and we will be just the first of many countries who retreat from it. I don't think the result will be a break-up of a cultural Europe and I think something closer to the Europe we used to have pre the Maastricht treaty will emerge from its shadow.
    There is a tendency to portray the EU as the be-all and end-all of the continent. It's not, it's simply an attempt at political union that hasn't worked very well. We've not left Europe, we've simply pulled out of one of its greater follies. This is not the end, it's simply a new beginning.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

The Land of the Free (to be an idiot if you want to be)

    It's that time of year again, when I have to spanner the Wreck through another MOT test. This time it's new shock absorbers - relatively easy - and a rust hole under the accelerator pedal - relatively hard. It's a car worth the effort, I keep telling myself.
    So we're sitting agog on this side of the Atlantic, watching the nutcases on the right wing of American politics in a race to the bottom over who can make the most idiotic pronouncements over who can use which restroom. It's a fit of pique after losing their fight against same-sex unions, they somehow imagine hordes of randy teenage boys are queueing up to don skirts and invade the ladies' loo and they alone can assume their shining armour and ride in to protect the Women of America.
    Except it's all rubbish. They've never been in a ladies loo themselves so they obviously aren't aware that it's just a loo. No beskirted teenage boys queueing outside, no boudoir of earthly delights, just a loo. And a sink, and a working hand dryer if you are really lucky. They probably know more about the intricacies of cricket scoring than they do about the ladies loo or transgender people, for if they did they wouldn't be clamouring for laws that would force buff and hirsute transmen back in the their precious ladies'. Perhaps like Queen Victoria who was supposed not to have believed lesbians existed, they think transmen are an urban legend. Fortunately our trans brothers have risen to the attack with a fantastic series of protest pictures of themselves accompanying their female friends into the Holy of Holies.
    We've had stories of women who don't quite meet onlookers ideas of gender norms being harassed on their way to the loo, as well as transgender people being barred. Given the calibre of the ban's proponents it's probably only a matter of time before one of them reaches for his constitutionally authroised firearm and  starts popping off rounds at all and sundry.

    America, land of the free to be an idiot if you want to be.

    I grew up near a USAF base, so I grew up around Americans. I know them - at least those who joined the USAF - to be the salt of the earth, exactly the kind of people you want as neighbours. I have many American friends, who I know to be as sane and reasonable as anyone else in the world. Particularly over the last decade and a half as America's wars have not exactly endeared them to the rest of the world I have defended Americans and the United States of America in many a heated argument, often to an unbelieving audience.
    The trouble is, the more of this kind of story comes over the Atlantic, the less easy it becomes to defend the place. It's become a trope, that non-Americans say "Only in America" and mean a completely different thing from what Americans mean when they say it, well this is one of those moments. We know that these kind of stories are deeply embarrassing to the many millions of Americans who do not share those politics or live in those particular states, but from a distance the actions of those who do hold those views serve to tar the collective with the same brush. I've seen this in action, in the surprise of an American lesbian from California attending a British LGBT event and being treated as though she had narrowly escaped the clutches of a repressive regime.
    It's probable that the right-wing nutcases don't care how those on other continents view them. After all, we're foreigners, and their news outlets have gone to extravagant lengths to ensure they only ever see foreigners as Bad People. This is a pity, for we're also the foreigners who help their economy every time we use an American product, even when it was made in China and had its tax paid in the Virgin Islands by an American corporation. If you look upon every silly season story from the lunatic fringe of American politics as representing another sale for a Chinese brand you wouldn't have heard of a decade ago, it becomes something they should care about a lot.
    Meanwhile our American transgender friends are having to face the daily fear of something as simple as going to the loo. And all the European outrage from people like me at their predicament isn't going to help them. For that they'll need the rest of America who aren't on the far right to come to their aid. Are they up to it, or will they just walk by on the other side?

Thursday, 26 May 2016

In, out, in, out...

    Summer is slowly making an appearance, as seems to be traditional I'm kept indoors with a contract through the nice weather, and the country has descended into the silly season of a referendum on Europe.
    Where do I stand? Mild Eurosceptic. I like being part of Europe, but hate being part of a centralised European superstate. I think the whole edifice is likely to crumble anyway sooner or later and any economic stability we think we have is an illusion created by our addiction to unsustainable debt, so I doubt the outcome of the referendum will make much difference in the long term. I think that outcome will be a very narrow victory for the "stay in" crowd, but I'm certain whichever way we vote everything from freak weather to the England footy team losing will be blamed upon it.
    Where I'm becoming increasingly annoyed though is as I listen to the politicians and all their mates holding forth on the subject. It doesn't matter which side they are in, all I hear are the worst kind of fear politics. Lies and made-up statistics presented as the truth, at the same time as accusing the opposite side of being the one peddling fear. All with a straight face. The "in" crowd would have us believe the four horsemen of the Apocalypse will descend on our economy if we vote "out", while the "out" crowd tell us the same will happen if we vote "in".
    I start to wonder just how different a world they live in, up there in the London Bubble, but then again I start to despair of those around me. Every morning my feeds are full of people on both sides of this debate seemingly taking it all in without question, apparently able to see the lies from the other side as what they are but taking their own side's lies as Gospel truth. Yes, it's fine to be on a particular side and it's fine to have a pop at the other side, but come on, are they all really that stupid?
    One thing is for certain whichever side you lie on. Europe is in trouble, and it's not just because of the UK referendum, the Syrian refugees, or even the Greek bailout. If Europe has gone wrong it is because of decades of disastrous mismanagement by politicians seduced by the Brussels gravy train, furthering the project to the detriment of the people in their countries at the grass roots level to the extent to which they have become alienated and dispossessed. There is no quick fix to this problem and it is not a case of everything being OK if we just keep taking the pills and move on to the next stage of integration. If it's not the UK it will be any one of the other countries, either through a far-right election win or an economic collapse. The only way that Europe will be fixed is if it reconnects with those people at the grass roots so that they agree that it is working for them rather than against them, and that can be done either from within the EU or after its collapse.
    The question is, whether any politicians have either the courage or the competence to admit it.