Friday, 31 December 2010

Happy new year 2011

    Happy new year everyone, and a big thank you to all of you who have been of such help and support to me in 2010.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Cultivating a style

    Until now, clothing has not emerged as a topic on this blog. You see, because we're all serious about this business, we can't be caught talking about frivolous things like clothing. That would make us all sound like a bunch of transvestites, and we couldn't be having that, oh no.
    So apart from the occasional rant about socks, I've kept schtumm on the subject. But a few weeks ago Lucy revealed "It ain't about the clothes" to be a deplorable cliché, and that opened the floodgates, at last I can hold forth on matters of fashion.
     I suspect it must be something we who are born male bodied but aspire to be female all suffer from at some time or another, an obsession with passing. (Do FtMs share this, or do they lapse into comfortable blokedom and not have a care how they look?) Some girls never seem to lose it and no matter how far into stealth they run or how much painful and expensive FFS they endure they still see the bloke looking back at them in the mirror when nobody else can detect a trace of him. Others take a diametrically opposite tack and flaunt their impassability, shaking off adverse comments with boundless self-confidence. I admire this last group of ladies immensely, they seize life and just go with it in a way I simply would not have the courage to do.
    My obsession with passing has largely er... passed. It took the form not of an obsession with making myself passable but a crushing depression that as an oversized bloke I'd never make it or fit in as an extreme oversized woman. The experience of going out presenting as female has taught me that the whole experience has a lot more to it than simply how you look, and that a face that betrays your origins or physical size that makes you the first person people look at in a group are only components of a much wider mosaic of female presentation.
    In short, to be accepted as female you don't need to pass as such, but to mount a credible picture, to present to the world with style. And it is acquiring that style that has replaced passing for me as a consuming interest in this line, particularly at this time of year when the sales can place so much temptation before you.
    Compared to some in my position, I am fortunate in my history. I was never a closet crossdresser. As I spent my early adulthood suppressing all this, I never had a stash of clothes, I never had awkward visits to charity shops, there was no cache of lingerie for my wife to discover and I never purged. So I never evolved an inappropriate look or wardrobe and I never found myself tempted into any of the multiple "scenes" that hover round the edges of our grouping. As my friend Dawn puts it, "It all looks like a lot of fun, but you wouldn't wear it to Tesco now, would you!".
    Instead, as I began to explore cross-dressing as an adult I did so in the company of my wife. I was able to tap into her enviable sense of style as well as to expand on my own tastes and in doing so I hope I managed to avoid the more grievous faux pas that so many women, both FaB and otherwise fall in to. I might only have had the mirror and my wife as critics at the time but I avoided the "Mutton dressed as lamb", the "Mother-of-the-bride", the "Bet Lynch", and worst of all for a tall girl, the "Short fat girl on stilts"1. So at least when I stumbled from the closet, I knew I didn't have to worry whether my clothes were age or occasion appropriate, my wife's training through many hours of sitting together drinking coffee and people-watching had seen to that.
    It comes down to why you decide to crossdress. My simple desire in all this is to be accepted as female in my everyday life. For reasons I've covered in depth, that isn't about to happen, but part of keeping the girl quiet involves dressing as though that were the case. So when making my choices the consideration is: If I were full-time, would I wear that to work, or would I wear it to Tesco? Thinking about the outfits some of my female colleagues choose to wear to work, that's a rather wide target.
    One of my biggest surprises in all this is that I have become a label victim. No, I don't flash my wad by wearing designer logos in an attempt to prove to the cognoscenti that I too have no taste, instead I've found myself becoming very picky about the brands I buy. It was inevitable that I would not look at brands aimed at different groups such as teenage girls or petite women, but I've found the brands that have the style I want, and have become a devotee of their products. Hardly surprising when you think about it, it's one of those Duh! moments, I'm just doing exactly what I've observed all the women around me doing for years.
    My sister made an observation to me a few months ago, that I have never cared for my clothes as a bloke. In fact what she said as someone who was five years old when I was born, was that when I was a very young child I didn't like wearing my little boy clothes and couldn't wait to take them off. Now she knows all about Jenny she said, so many things about me made sense to her.
    So I've cultivated a style. I'm not flattering myself that it brings passing in itself, but that's not the point. My wardrobe contains outfits in which I feel confident because I feel they flatter my ungainly shape, fit in with the environments I wear them in (Or would wear them in, in some cases) and do not draw attention to me in themselves. And if there's one thing that all those years of people-watching have taught me, it is that if I've achieved those three things then I'm ahead of the game compared to a significant number of the people who pass our coffee shop window. And none of them ever think for an instant about passing.

Good luck to you all in the sales!

1A lot of female clothing in larger sizes is designed to flatter short fat women. If a girl with legs up to here wears those kind of clothes that's what she looks like.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Gender as a text field

    A delightfully geeky link for you this morning, Disalienation: Why Gender is a Text Field on Diaspora. If you are not a web developer, it's an explanation from a programmer of her decision to replace the binary "bit" field that stores gender in her application with a "text" field, thus allowing more options than "Male" and "female".
   The usual array of idiots in the comments: "People either have a penis or they don’t. Their sexual preference/life philosophy doesn’t alter their gender" Sigh. But well done Sarah Mei!

Saturday, 25 December 2010

'Twas the night before (a British rural) Christmas

    Last night, I made a useful discovery. An Android phone running a web browser displaying the Google search home page makes a handy emergency light. Useful to know, should you find yourself in a snowbound farmhouse when the power goes out.
    We started yesterday afternoon in the car en route to my parents' place. Only twenty miles, but on a snowbound Christmas Eve that distance meant little. The AA told us the trunk road and motorway were at a standstill so we were taking the minor roads all the way, twenty miles of hard packed glistening icy snow in a little hatchback with summer tyres.
    If you were in these parts yesterday afternoon I hope you managed to get outside, it was a beautiful day. Our route took us through open countryside, a large tract of wetland floodplain. If I hadn't been concentrating on the road so much I'd have considered it one of the best drives of the year, we were in a Christmas card landscape. Other motorists hadn't been as lucky as us, we passed more than one hole in the hedge and one rather new 4WD being pulled out of the ditch by a tractor, but aside from a few slightly sideways moments we made it to my parents' place without significant incident.
    My sister and my mother were fixing up Christmas decorations to the accompaniment of too-loud choral music on the radio. My dad escaped to feed the cattle, my wife holed up in our bedroom with a book, and I made myself scarce, walking my mother's dog in the snow. I don't want to give you the idea things were fraught, but my close relatives can be rather strident at times. The dog didn't agree with my choice of distance so I couldn't escape for long. I guess it was a little cold for her.
    So there I was, at dusk on Christmas Eve, trying to evade the Christmas chaos and wishing my medication didn't preclude the booze and I could quaff at a nice glass of the 2009 pressing, when the lights went out. That was when I found that my phone casts a surprising amount of light, as I groped for the stairs to find out what was up.
    My parents house has a slightly older electrical installation. It has fuses rather than the more modern circuit breakers, and it is protected by an earth leakage trip switch rather than the more modern residual current devices.  Somewhere in the house, an electrical current had leaked into the earth wire, and that current activated an electromagnet in the trip switch, disconnecting the supply.
    The task facing my dad and I was to find out where the leak lay, and to disconnect it. Have you ever had to do this? Think of it as a witchhunt. You are plagued by irrational suspicion of your appliances. You seize upon the suspect toaster or kettle, unplug it in truimph and return to the trip switch, only to see it thrown again by the fault. I once saw an exquisite practical joke played on someone unpleasant in a student union executive position, an acquaintance of mine wired a transient suppressor (Device designed to protect electronics from overvoltage, intended to be connected from live to neutral) from live to earth in one of the wall sockets in his office and sat back and watched the appliance witchhunt begin as the trip switch went out randomly several times an hour.
    In our case the Usual Suspects proved not to be at fault. So I found myself wandering round a darkened snowbound British farmhouse holding a guttering candle and looking at electrical circuits. My parents are in no way ready for Jenny mode so I'm the scruffy bloke for all this, but I was left wondering whether Goth makeup, a long black wig and a velvet gown might be more appropriate. When you are facing a Christmas without hot water, the electric blower in your bedroom or the chance to watch the Queen and a Bond movie on the telly, such things seem inordinately funny for some reason.
    Eventually we traced the fault to one of the downstairs lighting circuits. With its fuse pulled we now have reliable power back, but half the house has random lighting. A workshop inspection lamp here, a halogen floodlight there. Somewhere in my near future is an afternoon with a Megger finding out where the fault is, but for now I'm happy to live with odd lighting.
    I don't want to give you an inaccurate picture of my family, for the rest of the year they're surprisingly normal. But at Christmas time, there's always something that goes amiss. The dog starts chucking up everywhere, or the Calor gas gives out just as the turkey's about to go in the oven. Just for once I'd prefer an uneventful Christmas!
    However your Christmas went, I hope you enjoyed yourself.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

The recreational motorcyclist, explained.

    Snow everywhere, not much to do at work, far too much to do when I'm not at work. Between trying to sleep and trudging round town in my wellies I've not had much time to participate in this sphere of late.
    I'd much rather be riding my motorcycle than sitting in a near-empty office, but to do so today would be nothing short of insane. So I spent a while early this morning watching YouTube videos to exorcise my motorcycling bug.
    I appreciate not all my readers will be familiar with motorcycling, so here are three instructional videos: a quick guide to help you understand the recreational motorcyclist.


How recreational motorcyclists see themselves

How the rest of the public see us


How my motorcycling friends see me

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Go into the salon a bloke, come out a bloke

    My city is blanketed with snow today. The main roads are full of nose-to-tail stationary traffic as our transport system has ground to a halt, and the town is half-empty. Very convenient if you need to do your Christmas shopping.
    This morning I wasn't in the car, nor was I at the shops, for today was haircut day. It was going to be a special haircut day too, if the chance had arisen I was going to have the Long Chat with L, my hairdresser, with a view to planning a move from my buzz-cut towards something more dual-mode. As long as what I end up with is acceptable in male mode and I keep it well-maintained under L's expert care, my wife was happy for me to do this.
    I like having a haircut. It's a chance for a trip into a female environment, and I like L. She's about my age and though I never knew her at the time she grew up not to far from me, so we have a lot of experiences in common. Sadly in the last few months I've found myself not looking forward to the experience as much as I might, the thought of never losing the buzz-cut has started to weigh upon me.
    Unfortunately though today L was not at work. Her road is impassable due to the snow, so she was at home ringing around her appointments to reschedule them. She must have tried to ring me but by then I was walking along a snowbound road to her salon, where I found her equally charming colleague S, having been ferried in through the snow by her husband who was gloomily looking through the window at the traffic.
    Damn. I wanted to have the Long Chat with L, I wouldn't have minded S listening in but not with S's husband in attendance. It's not his fault, he's not an unpleasant bloke or anything, it's just that he's a bloke. If that doesn't sound very odd, coming from someone who looks like me. All this can get a bit mixed up at times.
    So S gave me a haircut, and she did a very good job, she is after all an expert hairdresser. And I left the salon with a fresh buzz-cut rather than the trimmed-at-the-edges former buzz-cut starting the process of growing out that I'd hoped for.
    I don't know when the opportunity will present itself for the Long Chat with L. It depends on the circumstances next time I see her, or the time after that. And it also depends on how happy my wife is at the time, I don't want to increase her stress. But at least I feel as if I've achieved something. I may still have a buzz-cut, but something has changed. I have the chance of losing it for something better at some time, and that's more than I had a few months ago. I think that's a result.

The evolving language used to describe us

    Google launched a new toy in their labs yesterday. Google Books Ngram viewer is a tool for examining the occurrence of different words and phrases over time in language corpora gleaned from their Google Books project. In short, you can see whether a word is in, out, on the up or heading for oblivion.
    It's a compelling toy, one on which I could quite happily waste an entire morning. To find that Ronald Reagan made no impact on written English as a film star and neither did Margaret Thatcher as a backbench MP, for example. Or the history of British fast food tastes.OK, maybe I'm too much of a geek for my own good.
     Of more interest is the use of language with respect to our community. "Transsexual" peaked over a decade ago, replaced by "transgender" which only took off about 1990. No real surprise there, except perhaps the lateness of the latter's rise.
    And it seems I'm a little dated in my use of "transgendered", too.
    For me that last graph captures the joy of mining large real-world data sets. No matter what your opinion may be, the data never lies, and sometimes it tells you something unexpected, or maybe something you didn't want to see. And strangely enough I find that rather beautiful.

RIP Kirsty MacColl, ten years ago today

    It's very easy to get annoyed about questionable justice systems and Mexican millionaires with wayward sppedboats. Perhaps it's better to listen to some music instead.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

The wrong me

   I've just returned from my works Christmas party. Bigger than any similar event I've ever been to, they've hired one of my town's largest public venues. There's a free bar, a dancefloor and free food, a lot to be going on with and some of them will be still partying at midnight. Yet I've come away early and walked alone through the freezing cold back to the flat.
    Been flying too close to the flame again, you see. While I find the company of my female colleagues to be delightful, several hundred of them all sporting their party finest was just too much for someone fighting their girl side's efforts to escape. I couldn't drink anything because of my medication and when the DJ cranked it up to the point at which I couldn't hear conversation I admitted defeat.
    In another world, I'd have gone along in full-on Jenny mode. At my workplace I'd get away with it too. The publishing business is not known for its backward attitudes so beyond a few raised eyebrows it would be just another part of life's rich tapestry.
    But I can't do that. It would upset my wife beyond measure, and other than making my works party evening it wouldn't achieve anything. I'd be back to ever-scruffier-feeling bloke tomorrow morning and suffering a sharper-than-usual GD pit into the bargain.
    This never gets any easier, does it.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Sleep, tablets and depression

     Back at the end of January my doctor issued me with a prescription for an antidepressant as a sleep aid. Amitryptiline in low doses stops you waking up in the middle of the night as I was, it doesn't space you out as sleeping pills do and I am assured by my doctor it's not addictive. Going from several months of unrelenting insomnia to sleeping normally within a week meant it was a complete success, and I've taken it ever since. On the few occasions I've missed a dose the insomnia has returned instantly, so I know it's still necessary and still working.
    This week I had a couple of evening events at which I was likely to drink alcohol. Alcohol intake is not advised when taking amitryptiline, so I missed my dose for a couple of days. I was rather shocked by the mood change I experienced on the second day, strong GD and hovering on the edge of agitated depression. Nothing I haven't experienced before, but I'd not had it at that intensity this year.
    So I'm taking an antidepressant and it's helping to shield me from depression. Earth shattering news flash. Part of me dislikes being committed to taking a medication that might be unnecessary , I guess this tells me that this one's doing some good.
    I also can't say I'm that pleased to be in a position where I need medication for my brain to function normally, however I have the consolation that I'm in as good a mental form as I've ever been, at work I seem to be ticking the right boxes.
    I just wish I could tick all the right boxes at home.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Dubba dubba dum dum

    If you are not British, the chances are that the title of this post will mean little to you. It's part of the catchy chorus from Jona Lewie's 1980 UK Christmas number one, Stop the cavalry. Originally an anti-war protest song, it became a seasonal success when a canny producer who noticed the line 'Wish I was at home for Christmas' arranged it with a brass band and some chimes.
    If you are British, and especially if you are British and work in the retail industry, your heart will probably sink when you hear it. Just like Slade's Merry Xmas Everybody or Wizzard's I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day it will be a ubiquitous part of the background noise in an endless loop of store music over the next few weeks. No wonder everyone's so grumpy by Boxing day.
    The BBC weather forecast for the other day  featured a continuous line of 'fog' icons. GD always takes a dip at this time of year so for me it was a slightly bad joke. Fortunately my office doesn't have music, so at least it wasn't a bad joke with a Christmas soundtrack. There are emails I've been meaning to write and posts I've meant to comment on, but haven't been able to. My apologies if you were expecting to hear from me.
    Here's one I don't expect to hear in-store any time soon.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

How does a closet trans person end up married?

    When my wife told her mother about me earlier this year her first reaction was astonishment and anger: how could I possibly marry her daughter if I knew I was like this? A perfectly natural reaction. Fortunately my mother-in-law is a very sensible lady and once my wife had explained that not only had I really figured all this out in the years since we were married, but I was also doing everything I could to hang in there for her, her mother changed her position. I don't think she's ecstatic about it, but she's still there for both of us. Not for the first time I feel lucky in those around me.
    More recently I've detected a different attitude from some sections of our own community, an idea that goes something like this: married people like me are simply closet gay men who play the field when they are younger before allowing themselves to fantasise about being a woman themselves in order to justify sleeping with men, not really caring about the heartache they cause to their spouses.
    As you might expect, I find the first upsetting and the second downright offensive.
    But it is an extremely valid thing to examine; how does someone who has had something of the girl about them for so long end up married? I can only answer from experience.
    I think the key to it all is how you interpret what you see. When I was a very young child I wanted to be a girl. Whenever I could get away with it I dressed like one and since I grew up in an isolated part of the countryside and had two sisters, my playmates were mostly girls and I played largely in a girlish frame of mind. We made houses in our hedgerows, not forts.
    But I never made the step into believing that I was a girl. I have always had a very empirical approach to life and the evidence in front of me said very clearly that I was a little boy. I never lost the desire to be female or wear female clothing as I grew up, but as time went by the real-world evidence that said "Boy" just got stronger. As a teenager I wondered whether I might be gay, a thought that was dispelled pretty quickly a few years later at university when I encountered openly gay people for the first time. Great bunch of lads, just nothing like me. Meanwhile the experience of a rather backward traditional British boys' school had forced me very deep into the closet and I'd tentatively identified myself as being a transvestite.
    So there I was aged about twenty, a spotty geeky student. Clinically depressed and convinced I was a bloke with an unusually active but heavily suppressed female side. All my contemporaries were womanising to their heart's content or at least to the best of their abilities, but I wasn't. Not from lack of trying, or from lack of female friends, just that I had no success whatsoever in that department. I still count quite a few of my female contemporaries from that period among my close friends so I must have been doing something right, but I was far more likely to be supplying chocolate and hankies when they broke up with boyfriends than I ever was to climb into bed with them. Not so bad in a way, at least I never left a trail of wreckage behind like some of my friends did.
    Thus I became an adult without figuring out any of this and certainly without any womanising whatsoever. If you'd asked me about my gender identity I'd have said "Bloke" and wild horses wouldn't have dragged from me the fact that I had a girl side or an eye for female clothing.
    I doubt you could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I cross-dressed during my twenties. But oh how I wanted to! No more luck with relationships, to put it in simple terms I didn't have a clue. I lived on a boat, rode a motorcycle, drove a dodgy old van and I worked in one of the cooler though more turbulent corners of the media business. Believe it or not, people told me they envied me. I should have told them what a panic attack was.
    I met my wife when I was nearly thirty and fell head-over-heels. Later than all my contemporaries, we were the last of my group to get married when we did so a few years later. There's no bloke myth to shatter, she was my first and only girlfriend. As far as I knew my crossdressing was something I'd conquered and dealt with, it wasn't a problem. I could move forward and marry her and live happily ever after.
    If I'd known back then the full extent to which all this would develop I don't think it would have changed my feelings towards my then-fiancée. I would most certainly have told her all about it and though I haven't asked her I suspect we might have parted company as a result. I would have been heartbroken, but at least I'd have saved her all this.
    So there you are. That's how a closet trans person ends up married. No subterfuge, no concealed gayness. Nothing to be proud of either.

A little bit of housekeeping

   The keen-eyed among you may have noticed a new template on this blog. I've updated it to the latest Blogger template, mainly to pick up a few of the new features that are worth having. I've tried to stay as close to the uncluttered style of the previous template as I can, and I've made a few CSS tweaks here and there. You'll tell me if anything breaks on your browser/OS combination, won't you.

I miss my hillside

    Since I moved jobs from a small company out in the sticks to a big one in the city I haven't looked back. Gone is the nasty commute, gone are the nice-enough-but-overly-blokeish colleagues, gone are the annoying customers and gone is the stress.
    But I do miss something about it. The office was in a small business park on the edge of the Berkshire Downs. A short lunchtime walk led me to an open hillside from which I could see several counties on a clear day, I could watch the weather coming in, see the crows and red kites squabbling over airspace and most importantly get my exercise pounding along the footpaths and bridleways.
    I could go down the hill to the floodplain and walk along by the railway counting trains, in summer I could stuff myself with hedgerow fruit. In winter I could stand on frosty days at the highest point and see the pall of steam from Didcot power station, miles away hanging motionless in the void.
    Lunchtimes are a bit different now. It's handy to be able to wander in to town and even handier to be able to nip back home. I can take a walk in the park if I need exercise and I have the ultimate luxury of a works restaurant in which I can stuff my face for hardly any outlay. But it's not the same. I've forgotten how muddy the paths got or the stench of the slurry spreading and I miss my open hillside. I really need to get out more, don't I.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

That magic pill

    I've heard this more than once over time: "If you were given a magic pill that turned you into a genetic female, would you take it no matter the consequences?". I believe it's supposed to be some kind of test of how trans-whatever you are, if you wouldn't jump at it then you can't really be very serious about all this.
    If my doctor proffered such a pill, I'd be hellishly tempted. But I wouldn't take it there and then, not without my wife being on-side. When the consequences affect someone I care that much about, I just can't. Not without one hell of a fight.

    Obvious trans-lightweight me, not serious about it at all.

    If my doctor produced a pill that did the opposite, "Take this risk-free pill and it'll give you a bloke brain, make you a bloke, and happy to be so!", I'd take it without hesitation. Make it all go away, fit snugly into the life I already have? You bet! Not because now I want to be a bloke, or am particularly happy trying to be a bloke, but because to be rendered content with the excessively bloke-suitable physical lot I've been landed with would make both my life and that of those around me so much easier.

    Unfortunately Harry Potter does not work in my doctor's dispensary. All he can give me is antidepressants, sleeping pills and something that might or might not stop my hair falling out. And very fortunately for us, all but the insane fringe of the medical profession learned years ago that trying to change GD sufferers to fit something their brains were not made for just doesn't work.

    But in a make-believe world of magic pills, I'd still go for that last one. My commenter from a few posts ago would take that as conclusive proof of her assesment of me, but I don't care. For me the most important desire in all this is to simply make it all go away.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Passing ships in the day

    A few weeks ago I attended a meeting of t-girls in a pub near Reading with a couple of my friends from the Swindon TG Group. I meant to write about it then, but circumstances conspired against me. It all went very well, my female presentation was about as good as I could make it but I'm sure I wasn't fooling many people.
    In conversation at our table one of the regulars said she could always spot a cross-dresser in male mode. I challenged her, saying that she'd never guess me if she met me in the daylight, and she was slightly disappointed to discover that my only genetic advantage in all this is almost hairless arms.
    A few days ago I attended a technical event for people associated with my line of work. A big group of geeks in a room. My attention was drawn to one of our group as we debated the merits of data manipulation strategies and I was reminded of what my friend from the pub night had said. He had beautifully shaped eyebrows, no visible beard shadow  and even less arm hair than I do. A quick double-take ensued. No tell-tale nail varnish traces on the fingers (looks guiltily at own OPI Nail Envy clear-matt coated nails) and no other signs. But there was just something about him.
    No possible way of ever knowing of course. Calie wrote something similar a while back.But I think I just encountered someone else like me. I hope if so that she's at peace with it all. Who knows, maybe I'll bump in to someone new who looks a lot like him at some trans-event some time. I wonder if we'll recognise each other?

Sunday, 28 November 2010

It was twenty years ago today

    Twenty years ago today, John Major succeeded Margaret Thatcher as UK Prime Minister. I can remember where I was when it happened, in a small office in the students union of a Northern university watching her speech from the steps of Number 10. Around me were cheers of delight, it would be an understatement to say that students were not known for their support for the Conservative party in the Thatcher years, and these were largely Northerners from mining and industrial towns hit hard by the policies of her government. To them it was a foregone conclusion that Major's government would be swept out of the way by a Labour landslide, it came as a shock two years later when Neil Kinnock threw it all away in an excited bit of election-eve crowd-pleasing in Sheffield.
    I don't think British political life has created anyone in my lifetime so divisive among opinions of their legacy as Margaret Thatcher. Conservatives love her for breaking the power of the trade unions, privatising state-owned industries and selling council housing while Labour supporters revile her for the catastrophic decline in traditional manufacturing industries under her premiership, the ever-widening social gap and of course the Poll Tax. I had to think very carefully to only pick three examples for each. In the couple of decades since her departure we've had a Labour government that doubled the successor to the Poll Tax and did nothing to help the unions or narrow the social gap, the privatised industries have not all been a success, the sale of council housing arguably sowed the seeds for our current housing crisis and despite it all we still have a manufacturing sector. Make up your own mind who is right about her legacy.
    Of slightly more interest in this sphere is her legacy for women. I've seen more than one examination recently of what a Sarah Palin White House might mean for women were she to be elected, and it's possible a parallel1 might be found in Margaret Thatcher. The BBC examined what the Thatcher government did for women back in 2005, and concluded that though by not promoting women in her Cabinet she hadn't done as much for women as she could have, by reaching the position in the first place and holding on to it for so long she made the previously unthinkable into the entirely possible. Previously women such as Maggie or Labour's Shirley Williams had to make do with token positions such as education secretary, as I write this the British Home Secretary is a woman, Teresa May.
    Twenty years ago my student friends would have all been incensed at the then recently introduced student loans. back then they were just a top-up, no tuition fees for another decade. I seem to remember there were protests, sit-ins even. Nothing changes, does it.

1Only a loose parallel mind, I'm sure even the most ardent Labour supporter might see Maggie as a Safer Pair Of Hands than Palin. Quick test: imagine the Big Shiny Red Nuclear Button under the finger of the former Member for Finchley or under that of the former Alaskan Governor. Enough said.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Nobody in their right mind...

    It's not often I'm labeled as a transvestite. Shame really, I'd rather like to be one. If I could only replace my girl's brain with a blokey one the only thing I might hang on to from all this mess would be crossdressing, and I'd probably be gleefully exploring every avenue. Be afraid.
    This morning though a commenter on my "Why I'm out" post from a few days ago did just that. Mainly because in her view I couldn't possibly be anything else, I'm doing my best to avoid having surgery and my chances of living in stealth are not high. Fair enough, I answered her as best I could. But I've obviously not managed to get across my situation in 230 posts, so perhaps another way of putting it is in order.
    It's a phrase that trips easily off the tongue, "I want to be a woman". In my case as a basic desire, it's very true. I ache to be a woman. Yet in the terms that matter, I don't want to be a woman, I'm running as hard as I can in the other direction. I want to be a woman only when all possible alternatives have been exhausted and I have no other choices except suicide or insanity. If you've read this blog you'll know why, if you haven't then do some reading.
    I may be stepping out on a limb here, but if "I want to be a woman" is a patient's sole reason for wishing to embark on a course to transition then I'd hope a competent doctor would turn them away or refer them for alternative treatment.
    You don't just want to be a woman in this game. You have to be left with no possible alternatives having gone through hell on the way. I think I qualify on the final point but I'm not quite ready to concede on the first one.
    After all, nobody in their right mind born male would want to be a woman, isn't that what they say?

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Pulling at Tesco

    A funny thing happened the other evening. I took my friend Dawn to a Tesco superstore. She's recovering from a serious illness and is unable to drive so she's not as mobile as she could be, plus she's just sorted out an anomaly with her pension so for the first time in a while she has enough income not to have to worry about what she can or can't buy to support herself. So this was a big shopping expedition, filling the trolley with all the groceries she'd run out of.
    So you have a big bloke helping an old lady with her shopping. Except we're both transgendered.
    It was weird, I don't think I've ever had quite the same attention from other female shoppers. I got smiles and conversations. I was passed grocery items across trolleys that were in the way. Not your normal dog-eat-dog supermarket sweep.
    It's one of the great myths of the dating game, that lonely singles meet each other at the supermarket. Being happily married I have no interest in such matters and it's so long ago for me I can barely remember, but I always considered that one to be highly suspect. It would seem though that by accident I have stumbled on the key to supermarket pulling success, take along an elderly friend or relative.
    Dawn was highly amused by it all.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Scruffy bloke lights candle, nobody notices.

     This afternoon I gave up on fettling the Rusty Old Wreck for a while and took a walk down to the church I was baptised in rather a long time ago. It's a typical English village church, not a very big one though and I don't think Professor Pevsner spent too long on it.
    On a grey November afternoon I had it to myself. It's a place I've taken refuge in before, being very quiet and calm, at times I've needed it as a bit of an escape. As a lapsed Harvest Festival Anglican I can't claim any profound religious experience from it but it's served its community's spiritual needs for a very long time and I guess my composing of inner turmoil comes under that heading. I may not attend the services but I've done my fair share of building maintenance and I wired in the electric organ when they got it.
    My thoughts were on today's transgender day of remembrance. Knowing that the thought of a trans-person in their church would wind up some of the more traditional among the congregation (though not the vicar, she's pretty sound) I thought in for a penny, in for a pound, and lit a candle.
    I don't know how long I sat there in the front pew. I know I ended up feeling pretty angry at the world for the way it allows so many people to be sacrificed. Angry and cold, village churches aren't heated on non-service days.
    Later on as the light started going I was walking my mother's dog. I bumped into our neighbour, a farmer's wife. She was annoyed that some of her fences had been altered by the local hunt, part of a low-level war that's been simmering in the countryside for a decade or more between the local residents and an entity that acts as a law unto itself.
    It struck me that the huntsmen saw their deeds - criminal damage in the eyes of the law - as perfectly excusable, they'd done nothing wrong. You can do anything when you don't think you've done anything wrong.
    How can it happen that so many people apparently don't see anything wrong in violence towards transgendered people?

Friday, 19 November 2010

Why I'm out

    A few months ago as I edged out of my personal closet I came to the conclusion that the best way I could deal with this was to lose the Big Secret. Be open about it all even if I'm staying a bloke on the outside. I don't have to do this and since I have the ultimate stealth option of a larger than life bloke skin some people might say I'm crazy to do it, but to them I'd say the reduction in stress that no longer living a lie had brought has been worth it. I've not come out willy-nilly to all and sundry but the ranks of the People Who Know have slowly expanded to the point at which they'd probably now fill a primary school classroom. All without any drama.
    Yesterday I had a bit of a chat with my friend C. I've known C for over twenty years, he is without a doubt my best friend. He was our best man a few years ago when my wife and I were married and earlier this year he was the first of my male friends I came out to. One or two recent posts from other bloggers have made me consider the meaning of the word "Gentleman" of late, and I think it's a tag I'd apply without reservation to C. Back when I came out to him I was a little worried as to how he'd react because he has distinctly conservative leanings. In UK newspaper terms he's a Daily Telegraph reader, which is to say as reactionary as a Daily Mail reader but possessed of more intelligence. Though it turned out to be needless I was worried when I came out to him because I once caught him spitting with fury at a newsworthy story involving a transsexual a few years ago when I was deeply closeted, to which I politely pointed out that it was not a lifestyle choice and moved the conversation on to something else before I said more than I should have.
    Yesterday's conversation was half us wittering on about cars and half in-depth support call. I am very grateful to C for both, the first because of the normality taking my brain away from all this, and the second because I was in a bit of a state due to my wife being away and the fog moving in.
    One thing C said made a real difference. He said that if he hadn't known me he would have been just like the Daily Mail readers in condemning out of hand everything to do with transgendered or transsexual matters, but having seen me being eaten up by depression for twenty years before finally coming out to him his views had very much changed. He's on our side now, he'll go into bat for us next time he hears someone ranting at the newspaper.
    And that is why I am out when I can be in stealth as effortlessly as pulling on a scruffy pair of jeans and a geeky t-shirt.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

A little bit of September in November

    The last piece of fruit-related madness on these pages for a while, in the last couple of days I've harvested the last couple of late-fruiting trees. Quinces, and a late keeping apple called French Crab. There's something just a little mad about standing on a ladder in the middle of a tree in a November fog picking fruit with frost on their skins.
    My mother planted the quince decades ago. She had never had one and was hugely disappointed with what she got. They add flavour to apple pies, but she didn't particularly like it. Meanwhile the tree kept producing huge crops which largely went to waste. I tried a bit in some cider but never again, they impart a very weird flavour once fermented. Fortunately a few years ago she discovered quinces make a rather nice marmalade so they're in demand once more. Hence my climbing the ladder and risking life and limb in the frost.
    My wife's away at her mother's place for a couple of weeks, so I'm as foggy as the November day around our quince tree. Fruit, its culture and processing, is one of my escapes, something I know intimately and am in control of. I have a few such pursuits, the Rusty Old Wreck is another of them, and at times I need to immerse myself in them to avoid going potty. I need my wife to step off the plane and find her bloke waiting for her.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Missing person

    On Saturday evening someone was absent from our meeting. Hollie is a girl who's just edging herself out of the closet. She started a blog and was slowly exploring what all this mess means. Like me she lives about an hour's drive from Swindon so she was intending to come along to the support group this month.
    But then she split up with her girlfriend and stopped posting, and now I find her blog has been deleted. It would have been great to see her on Saturday but her confidence has obviously taken such a knock as to set her back.
    I'm guessing most of the readers of this blog will know all about the closet. It's a crap place to be. I was lucky enough to have my wife to talk to as I edged out of my personal closet but not everyone is so fortunate. I feel for the Hollies among us because I was there myself for so long. I hope Hollie finds the closet door again before too long and makes her way out before it slams shut again.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

What the hell is wrong with a girl in a silly pink dress anyway?

Japanese ama-loli, courtesy of Wikipedia
    This week I have been disappointed by a minor kerfuffle in a comment stream elsewhere on the web regarding the presentation of the transsexual scrabble player Mikki Nicholson. For those unaware of Mikki, she won her title while wearing a pink wig and pink PVC dress. Not conventional clothing and perhaps not the wisest choice for someone wishing to be taken seriously, but her choice not mine and as all of us with any form of gender related issue should be able to agree, clothing alone does not define the person wearing it.
    My disappointment reading the comments linked above stemmed not only from the offence and disappointment caused by willful misgendering but from the sentiment that to be taken seriously as a woman one must dress only in the most conventional way and by inference one can also only be taken seriously as a woman if one passes. Maybe I'm a bit sensitive on that last one for reasons that should be obvious if you've read this blog for a while.
    Last night at the support group meeting I had cause to reflect on this. A couple of my friends  in Swindon do not always dress as conventionally as they were yesterday. One enjoys bridal events and the other has a neat line in French maid outfits, feather duster and all. I'm not going to tell you which is which, but one of them identifies as TV and the other is TS, in the medical system on her own path to transition. If you saw either of them presenting female on a normal day in the street though you wouldn't give her a second look and you certainly wouldn't have any doubts as to her gender, even though one of them definitely has a "him" side.
    As I thought further on unconventional dressing I was reminded of a couple of other friends of mine. Bloke friends that is, people who as yet know nothing about Jenny and to whom I'm still just a scruffy big bloke with an unhealthy interest in riding motorcycles and making cider. My goth friend who I last saw wearing a purple frock-coat. Or my middle-aged bloke friend who spends some of his weekends battling Royalists as a soldier from the English Civil War.
     So I have to admit to being a little disappointed in the reactions to Mikki based solely on her presentation from people who to my mind should know better. If my limited circle of friends contains unconventional dressers I hope I've demonstrated that unconventional dress is not as unconventional as one might at first think and that a mere combination of unconventional dress and less-than-perfect passing skills should not be justification for a suspension of common courtesy.
     The girl in the picture is part of Japan's thriving Lolita scene, a subculture of exquisite costumes that I am told are conventional weekend street wear in the Tokyo district of Harajuku. I wonder if she's any good at Scrabble?

My sister, the educator

    A few weeks ago we received a flying visit from my sister on her way to an event for her work. On a chilly Friday evening she arrived by train and caught a bus to the small town nearest the village where we grew up. Her plan was to walk the six miles to our parents place through the town and along country roads in the dark. She has always been an obstinate soul, so despite us all pleading with her to let our parents pick her up in the car she was determined due to their advancing years not to put them to any bother. In the end our dad, furious at the notion that he might somehow be past it for collecting his daughter from the bus, staked out the bus stop and drove her home anyway.
    Last night was Swindon transgender group night. We made our usual trip to the restaurant, me in my imposing girl mode, happy at last to have found a pair of trousers in a cut I like from Long Tall Sally with that rare thing in either gender, enough length for my extra-long legs.
    Our walk from car park to restaurant and back involved crossing part of the town centre in the dark and rain, through some poorly lit areas at the most boisterous time of the week. Not too dissimilar to my sister's intended path, though much shorter. But that's different for us, isn't it. Oh.
    My sister reads this blog. I think she is entitled to a laugh at my expense.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

So just what makes a transsexual anyway?

    Confused by differing views on labels I've seen over the past few days, I went and looked up "Transsexual" in the Oxford Dictionary of English. They're authoritative, in writing an entry such as this one the lexicographer will have consulted with members of the medical profession as well as examined the way the word is used within the language.
    Two senses, primary first, then secondary:
  • a person who emotionally and psychologically feels that they belong to the opposite sex
  • a person who has undergone treatment in order to acquire the physical characteristics of the opposite sex
    Personally I have always taken the word to mean the second of the two senses, therefore I don't generally describe myself as transsexual. I'm in the queue for the place where you can get the treatment so I would describe myself as transsexual if I wasn't going to ask them to help me to avoid being transsexual, but somehow it doesn't fit.
    I was rather surprised earlier this year when I finally got my diagnosis to find that the medical profession follow the primary sense. Thus my psychiatrist, a doctor of some repute with way more letters after his name than I have and who has seen many hundreds of transsexuals over the years, described me as a transsexual. In his book it's a medical condition you can be treated for but you don't lose, the only way you can become a former transsexual once diagnosed is to be laid out cold on the slab in the mortuary. For him you can become a former gender dysphoria sufferer after treatment, but not a former transsexual.
    So now outside the context of my psychiatrist, I don't describe myself as transsexual. I could come over all trans-fundamentalist and do so, but somehow I don't feel even after forty years a loner battling gender dysphoria that I've earned it. It's a personal choice, so by the same metric if someone who has earned it and has conquered their gender dysphoria describes themselves as a former transsexual then that's their personal choice too.
     A happily transitioned trans friend of mine who attends my local support group, an archetypal granny in her mid sixties, is very relaxed about her chosen label. She once looked at me with a wicked grin on her face and stage-whispered in her most masculine voice: "I'm really a bloke you know!". She also has diabetes, for which she takes pills and has injections to keep it under control. I guess they're not unlike hormone tablets or injections in appearance, though I wouldn't know. I've never heard her describe herself as a former diabetic because of them though.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Being me

    There's a turn of phrase that appears quite often in this sphere: Being me. It's normally used to refer to precious time spent by a part-time or closeted t-girl dressing female rather than being a boring everyday bloke.
    It's a phrase I have to admit to having some discomfort using in that context. One of the defining moments in making sense of all this came for me some years ago when I realised that I'm the same me whatever I'm wearing. I may be happier, more relaxed and less prone to depression with regular access to both wardrobes, but nothing else has changed. Still the same person, still me. And in a world in which people get hung up on the clothing issue the minute a transgendered angle enters the fray, that's important. If all this was simply about clothing I suspect it wouldn't be such a pain in the arse.
    I have found a use for the phrase though since I started coming out to people earlier this year. Being me means not having to put up a front of blokeishness. If the person I'm talking to already knows, I can be me without having to live up to my appearance. It's funny, I have encountered t-girls for whom the whole thing involves affecting an exaggerated pastiche of stereotypical femininity. I may even have sinned myself at times in that direction too, though not I hope too badly. Yet I find I've constructed an entire life with a defence mechanism based on acting a part of slightly exaggerated stereotypical masculinity. It's too easy, because when you look the part, it works.
    As you might imagine, after that I appreciate being me.

Scrabble champion: the BBC replies

    Yesterday a reply to my complaint about the misgendering of the Scrabble champion Mikki Nicholson arrived from the BBC. Here it is:
Thanks for contacting us about the ‘Today’ Programme broadcast on 01st November.

I was sorry to read that you were unhappy with the content of a report during this programme. I also note that you felt the presenter referred to the transsexual as being the wrong gender.

We aim for the highest standards with all our output and I can assure you that it’s never our intention to upset our listeners. I can assure you that we strive hard to be accurate, balanced and fair. I’m sorry that you felt this wasn’t the case with this report.

We’re guided by the feedback that we receive and to that end I'd like to assure you that I've registered your complaint on our audience log. This is a daily report of audience feedback that's circulated to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, programme makers, channel controllers and other senior managers.

The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content.

Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

Kind Regards

Christine Thompson
BBC Complaints
www.bbc.co.uk/complaints
    Something a little better than the form letter I was expecting, the BBC being a public corporation means they have to respond to their licence payers. I asked a couple of BBC insider friends about the audience logs, it seems they are taken some note of. Let's hope mine was not the only feedback they received on this subject.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Velma was far cooler

    Everyone must by now have seen the tale of the youngster who wanted to be Scooby Doo's Daphne for Halloween. Well done to the kid's mother for letting it happen!
    I have however to admit to being disappointed in the youth. Given a choice between Daphne and Velma, somewhat inexplicably he chose the former. I must have been alone in spending the 1970s in awe of the girl in the orange jumper.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Waiting lists

    NHS waiting lists. A perennial favourite British political football. The lot that have power are always leaving the sick and needy languishing in their suffering while greedy NHS managers waste billions on paper plates and the lot who don't have power always have the magic solution that will see everyone treated in luxury the minute their doctor requests it. Or so the story goes.
    This report from ten years ago sets 13 weeks as a target for the maximum time to see a hospital specialist. Interesting. My GIC appointment came through this week. I'll be waiting more than double that time, I suspect the cherries in the hedge near my former workplace will be ripening in the sun while I'm on the Tube to the GIC.
    Given what I'll be asking for and my likely outcome this probably won't make too much difference. It would be nice to feel as if I am on my way to achieving something whatever that may be, at least I'm in the lucky position of having help to tread water. But for some people who will be hanging on by their fingertips a wait like that could affect their very survival.
    If only some column inches could devoted to the waiting list transgendered people face for treatment instead of to demonising us. It's not as if the media is afraid of talking about NHS waiting lists, after all.
   

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Gender differences in Twitter messaging

Numbers, by gender. Women type <3 more often.
    Something came my way this morning that I'd like to share with you all. Some researchers have categorised Twitter posts by the poster's gender and put together a couple of online analysis tools to extract and view the results.
   Put in a list of words and see which are used more by male posters or female posters. Or type in a single word to the detailed query box and see what words often accompany it for each gender.
    It's a fascinating tool, I have had to be careful not to waste too much time playing with it at work.

Monday, 1 November 2010

More on girl wins scrabble contest

    As a follow-on from my email to the Today programme about their misgendering of Scrabble champion Mikki Nicholson (Here, scroll to about 1:08:50) this morning I put in a complaint through on the BBC complaints form. It's funny, I see organs such as the Mail or Express as lost causes, but somehow I expect more of the usually-painfully-politically-correct BBC.
    Here's what I wrote in the complaints form:
This morning at about ten past seven, the Radio 4 Today programme carried a news feature about a transsexual who won a Scrabble championship. 
The news script referred to her using male pronouns. Intentionally misgendering of a transsexual in this way is about as insulting and offensive as it gets to a transgendered person and I believe that in doing this the Today programme and the BBC fell short of their usually high standards in two ways. 
Firstly, it does not matter what the standard of her presentation may be, if she has assumed the female role and is presenting as female then the only appropriate way to refer to her is as female. 
Secondly, was the fact that she is transsexual relevant to the story? Perhaps "Woman" would have been as good a description. 
Such poor coverage of what is a rather vulnerable and marginalised group does not help our quest for equality and is a poor reflection on the BBC as a whole.  

Girl wins scrabble contest

    Someone described as a transsexual has won a scrabble contest. Sadly she did it wearing a pink wig and pink PVC dress, so the newspapers have picked it up and all seem to be referring to her as "he". The BBC web site gets her gender right, but sadly not their flagship radio news programme.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Jennyalto
Date: Mon, Nov 1, 2010 at 7:23 AM
Subject: Misgendering of transsexuals
To: today@bbc.co.uk


Good morning,
   I've just heard a news story being read about someone you describe
as a "transsexual" winning a scrabble contest. The story then went on
to refer to the winner as "he".

Misgendering of transsexuals is not acceptable. It does not matter
whether or not someone presenting as female was born as male, if she
is a transsexual she has transitioned to the female role and is female
so MUST be referred to as "she". Even if she is not transsexual but
transvestite, i.e. a man dressed as a woman, it is still common
courtesy to refer to her as "she".

I expect higher standards from Radio 4, but since your journalists
seem to lack experience in this matter might I suggest the following
rule of thumb? If the person identifies as female or is presenting as
female, refer to her as "She". If the person identifies as male or is
presenting as male, refer to him as "he". It is not difficult and to
do otherwise is extremely insulting and offensive.

Thanks,
Jenny



Sunday, 31 October 2010

Not well

    Laid low with the dreaded Lurgy (US: Cooties?), I've managed little this weekend. My original task: press a huge pile of apples for cider and juice, has fallen by the wayside, postponed until next weekend when with luck I won't be coughing, aching or upset of stomach.
    My parents' house seems to have feed sacks full of apples on every surface, the long-lasting Wagoner and Sturmer Pippin, the sharp Rosemary Russet and a small number from my cherished bittersweet cider apple Dabinett. The last one has a tendency towards biennialism and it seems this has been an "off" year.
    Yesterday was marked by a visit from my sister. As usual we talked about everything under the sun, she's starting I think to get used to talking as much to a sister as a brother. I'd forgotten that she reads this blog, better watch out what I say about her. :)
    The most unexpected conversation of the weekend came this morning. Having dragged myself out of bed to drive to my parents' house and put the apples under cover, I collapsed on the sofa feeling sorry for myself. The TV was on and I found myself spontaneously discussing with my mother the outfits worn by the female interviewees on BBC1. That's right, my mother initiated a conversation about fashion with her son, now she knows he has something of the daughter about him. Completely out of the blue.
    Back home this afternoon curled up in bed nursing a headache, I'm still rather shocked by that one, it was the last thing I would have expected.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Servoscribe

    Trying to describe a sparkline for my employer in a single concise sentence earlier today I was reminded of the machines that were my charges in my first ever job. Servoscribe potentiometric chart recorders, I've not thought of one of those in at least fifteen years!
    So, dear reader, if you'll permit me to indulge in a little reminiscence as a tonic for girl fog and for wearying of the faded warblings of the trannier-than-thou, I'll continue on the subject of outmoded laboratory equipment.
    A Servoscribe can best be described not as a machine or a device, but as a contraption. An unlikely Heath Robinson-esque assemblage of  machinery, electronics and electromechanical devices, they were a uniquely 1950s understanding of the problem of accurately recording a voltage that might vary over time.
    An electric clock drives a roll of graph paper at a user selectable rate past a pen. The pen has a mechanical linkage to an electric motor and a potential divider - just like the volume control on your TV - and the motor's job is to match the position of the pen and the potential divider such that the voltage from the latter matches the voltage on the input terminals. Clear as mud? The simple version is that a pen moves across a sheet of paper as the input voltage changes, leaving a line on the paper to form a graph. Connect a sensor, for example a thermocouple, and you can plot the change in temperature over an hour, a day, a week or whatever you fancy.
    All those mechanics driving the pen made a Servoscribe a pretty complex device, but they were the easy part. They were built to last, machined not from the chocolate they made cars from in those days but from good quality metal. The Servoscribe's party piece was its chief weakness, the chopper-stabilised DC motor amplifier featuring a mechanical switch in the form of a vibrating reed inside a glass tube.
    Modern electronics is easy. All the problems have been solved. If you need an accurate DC amplifier, you just order one. It's called an op-amp, and it's about the size of an earring and it'll cost you about twenty pence. But back in the 1950s they didn't have the advantage of such luxuries so they had to think laterally. They couldn't make good DC amplifiers but they could make good AC amplifiers. So what if they turned DC into AC, amplified it with an AC amplifier, then turned it back to DC? Simple, no?
     So they gave us the chopper-stabilised amplifier. A reed switch vibrating fifty times a second chops up the DC into AC for the amplifier. That's right, fifty times a second. By the time I got my hands on Servoscribes they'd been out of production for nearly twenty years, and the reed switches in most of mine had been vibrating for a lot longer than that. Those reed switches, and their care and nurturing, became the bane of my life.
    A Servoscribe was a cool piece of kit in its day. It was an interesting piece of kit as a curiosity in my day. Hell, I wouldn't mind one today for old time's sake, there must be something I can plot meaningless graphs of! But science has moved on, events can be measured in so much more detail these days with a computerised data recorder and the kind of things they used Servoscribes for in the 1950s are now so passé as to be taught to schoolchildren. Some of them have even been thoroughly debunked, replaced with far more interesting and clever science that does a better job of explaining the greater breadth of understanding that the intervening decades have given us.
    It's been an interesting trip down memory lane, thinking about the Servoscribe. But like all scientific dinosaurs that have had their day, there's no point in hanging on to one just because it once did a very good job. However much you may like the warm feeling that having one in the lab gives you.
 

Monday, 25 October 2010

Unanswerable question

      Today's missive: a big envelope from the GIC, a sort of induction pack for the new girls and boys. All the Useful Stuff you Need to Know, and a questionnaire. On it, a question that made me laugh.

Gender (Please tick the appropriate box):
Male
Female

    Y'what?

Male
Female

    Um... this is the Gender Identity clinic, right? You do know the level of debate that's going to cause?
So, do I do this?

Male
Female

This?

Male
Female

Or this?

Male
Female

Or even this?

Male
Female

    You will excuse me if I laugh at my personal version of a moment that is no doubt of extreme seriousness to some others faced with the same form. The alternative is to take it too seriously and be sent into another GD day and I'm sorry, I just can't help finding the question funny.
    In the end I ticked "Male". I wouldn't want to confuse the poor doctor when the very large scruffy bloke sits down opposite him. Or her?

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Girl of her time

    One of the more entertaining diversions among my workload has been investigating visualisation techniques for large data sets. Without going in to too much detail we have a very large and very dry heap of stuff that can be rather interesting if you pore over it for a while, and part of my brief has been to find ways to bring it alive and engage people with it.
    So I've been browsing the world of data visualisation. And wow, there are some amazingly clever designers out there coming up with extremely cool ways to present data. For the curious, try Infosthetics, ChartPorn and Information is beautiful. They won't change your world, but they might change the way you look at some of it.
    On my travels I happened on the Baby Name Wizard. 130 years of baby name statistics very neatly searchable in graph form. Want to know how old-fashioned a name is? Here's the tool to do it. Jemima? Don't even go there!
    I've read more than one account from bloggers in this sphere as to how they chose their names. This isn't mine, because I didn't really choose my name. Well, I suppose I did, but I didn't choose it, a sub-five-year-old me did. Jenny wasn't such a bad choice I guess, to my pre-school self she represented everything that at the time I wasn't. But just think, had I left it until adulthood, how much more cool a name could I have had as a girl?
    The Baby Name Wizard delivers its verdict on my choice with devastating accuracy. I wonder if you can guess which decade I was born near the beginning of?

Saturday, 23 October 2010

How long have I got?

    You won't have seen much of me in the last few days, I'm afraid I've not been having the easiest time of late. It is the gender dysphoric's lot, to sometimes have a dip, to feel that somehow you've slipped that little way further down the slope towards the cliff edge. I've not been particularly happy and it's rubbed off on my wife who in turn has found it difficult to remain upbeat herself.
    The worst thing about this week has been the terrible thought: what if I don't manage it? How long have I got, how long can I hang on? Feeling guilty for just thinking it, I couldn't easily talk to my wife about it which just made things worse because I couldn't say what the problem was.
    I saw a forum thread recently, "Glad or sad to be trans?" Amazingly a lot of the respondents voted yes. I voted "Hate it", I wouldn't wish this on anyone. Except perhaps the editor of the Daily Express.
    At least I'm sleeping. Thank you medication!

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

More pressing business

    OK, nothing new in the world of apples this weekend, except this time I had a little help shifting them from orchard to press. The sheer decadence and luxury of driving a Kawasaki Mule with a load of apples rather than pushing a wheelbarrow!
    The apples are a very nice sweet red eater caller Ingrid Marie, and what you see in the picture is about 3/4 of our tree's yield. About half of these are stored away for eating, the other half joined the rest of the weekend's haul in the press.
    Now the Mule's mobile again I get the workshop space back for the Rusty Old Wreck.

Jenny goes to school

    Recently I have been sent away somewhere. Back to school. Over twenty years ago now, silly, isn't it. I didn't really want to go but I was sent there by a few recent blog comments. If any experience in my life has marked me for decades it's attending that school, seeing as how I credit it with pushing me firmly into the closet and setting me up for my first decade in adult life as a clinical depressive. Even now as I'm in a far better condition thinking about my time there can send me perilously close to a panic attack.
    Funny how a supposedly "normal" experience can do that to you. I mean, the other kids, my classmates, they don't have panic attacks about the place. Most of them probably never even think about it now, lucky sods.
    I attended what we here in the UK call a "Public school", a confusing description for what is really a private boys school (our public schooling system is normally referred to as "State school"). I was there because I managed to pass an extra exam and earned an assisted place, part of an initiative from the Government in the 1980s to broaden the social base of such schools and encourage social mobility, as they saw it. Maggie (Thatcher, for those on Mars in the '80s) paid my school fees, my classmates were all the rich kids, and I was the outsider. It's debatable whether Maggie's scheme was money well spent overall, I guess there must have been kids who really were pulled out of the mire by it somewhere and I know I have a better education than I would have otherwise because of it, but I feel it taught me the hard way that there is a hell of a lot more to growing up than a so-called "good" education.
     My mother is a teacher. To her, success comes through academic achievement alone, and she wanted her children to have the best opportunities available. I don't blame her for that, it stood her in very good stead for her career and she similarly wanted the best for us. So she put a lot of effort and personal sacrifice into ensuring that all of her children achieved funded places at the local private schools that had the highest achievements. To this day I am approached by acquaintances who have found out where I went to school, anxious to assuage their middle-class guilt about considering sending little Tarquin or whoever to the same place, and I am afraid they are often shocked by the toned-down-for-polite-company version of my views on the subject.
    I'm acutely aware that it would be too easy to couch any description of someone's schooldays as an appallingly vomitory piece of mis-lit. After all, teenage years are difficult for everybody, not just closeted t-girls, and I'm sure you won't find many teenagers with a complete absence of  scars. So I'll resist the urge to wallow, and limit myself to observation as far as I can.
    People who didn't go to a school like mine often have certain preconceived ideas about such institutions and their pupils. Often based upon lurid tales of corporal punishment and homosexual shenanigans handed down from the sensational fiction of a different century, they have a basis in truth if you've read accounts from the 1950s such as the autobiography of the UK broadcaster John Peel, but by the 1980s such practices were long gone. What hadn't gone was the atmosphere of institutionalised bullying upon which the past excesses must have thrived. It's fair to say some of the teachers would not have found  employment in the state sector at the time and would be the target of frequent legal actions were they still teaching today. Add to that about five hundred barely controlled teenage boys for whom Daddy's chequebook meant they lived consequence-free, and an ethos that placed academic achievement far above any form of personal or emotional development and you had just about the worst environment in which to place any youngster, let alone one with gender issues.
    I was picked on when I was at school. I was different, I didn't come from the same background as them. My parents picked me up in a tatty old Allegro or a Peugeot pickup truck rather than an Audi or a BMW, I was worse than crap at sport and had no interest in their games anyway and I just didn't fit in with them. How can you fit in with nasty kids when all you want to do is dress up like your sister? Back then if asked in confidence I'd have told you I was a transvestite, with such little information available I even wondered as a teenager whether I might be gay, something I pretty soon realised I wasn't when I encountered gay people at university a few years later. In an atmosphere of constant homophobia at school the one thing I find amazing is that I can't remember ever being accused of that particular transgression.
    To deal with it all I became an aggressive little sod. Not so little as it happens, I was bigger than all the other kids so if something got physical it was unlikely the perpetrator would make the same mistake a second time. I learned the bloke act too well, so much so that it took me twenty years to lose it. I learned that kids who live consequence free will lie and cheat their way out of any situation and I also learned never to trust people in authority unless they've earned it because they will invariably take the easiest-looking option, and if someone said the big kid done it then that was always good enough for them. Most of all I learned to lock the girl away in case she ever peeked out enough to be discovered, and for that alone if not for all the rest I hate that school.
     It would be unfair to portray only the negative side of the experience though. Aside from the ineffectual intellectual ditherers and sadistic scum among our teachers there were one or two inspiring people who really did try to make a difference. In particular I feel lucky to have been one of the last generations to have been educated by people who fought in the Second World War. Having lived through that they stood apart from their colleagues in having entered the profession to make the world a better place rather than to just provide a career. If I hadn't been taught about Shakespeare and Chaucer by someone who genuinely cared about his pupils rather than just the results they would achieve, I suspect I would have left school a lot more screwed up than I did.
    So I had a "good" education, British style. My parents genuinely thought they were doing their best for me and Maggie probably got value for her money because I passed my exams. Would I have had a better time of it had I gone to the same school as all my primary school class? Difficult to say, though I suspect I would have. My exam results would probably have been different, but I think the value of attending a co-educational school alongside people whose ways I'd spent the previous six years learning would have outweighed that.
    When you are a child, you believe every path you are guided along by your parents or teachers must be the right one. It is only later that you can sit down and analyse where things went wrong. It's easy to say here "No child of mine will go through that...", but the fact is my children, should I have any, will also face the consequences of their parents' unwise choices for them. I had better ensure that none of my choices have such a lasting effect.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

"You look rather elegant"

    My mother has been about as good as I could hope for through all this. When I came out to her a few months ago she took it calmly and was immediately accepting. I appreciate not everyone is so fortunate in that situation so I appreciate my mother all the more for it.
    There has been one area in which she has been rather ill at ease and in which I have been rather reticent though. We've had one or two Long Chats since then but we've not talked about cross-dressing. It's obvious she was rather uncomfortable with the idea of me in female clothing. I have felt that I should talk to her about it for a while, but haven't had the premise under which to do it. I have no wish to upset her with Too Much Information, but I also have no wish to lie to her.
     Emboldened yesterday by reading a recent post from Stace, I decided to have that chat about cross-dressing. She knows I attend a support group, so I told her all about my dressing at the support group. It wasn't unexpected for her and she was relieved to hear that my real-world outings are very limited, so it went pretty well. She was interested to find out what size I am in ladies' clothes, and where I'd found my wig and shoes. I showed her a photo, the best of the very few that exist of me as girl. I wanted her to see me as doing my best to be a normal woman with nothing of the drag queen, pantomime dame or Bad Tranny that she might imagine, and I think I succeeded.
    Her comment bowled me over. "You look rather elegant". Wow. Acceptance does not come much sweeter.
    It'll be a while before she meets me in girl mode if indeed she ever does, but at least now she knows that her son would not embarrass her as a daughter.
    One final thing came from our conversation. She let slip that had I been female assigned at birth, she might have called me Jemima. Jemima? Surely she was joking? Trouble is, knowing my mother, perhaps she wasn't. For that lucky escape it's almost worth having been male-assigned and putting up with all the GD! (No offence meant dear reader if your name really is Jemima, but really!)

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Discovery of the day

    My surprise discovery of the day was this: If you leave a pack of tissues in a drawer alongside a box of peppermint teabags for six weeks, the tissues smell pleasingly of mint when you use them.
    I've only been in that job for a few weeks and I'm already on my second box of mint tea. There is nothing quite like walking into a meeting bearing your mug surrounded by an aroma of mintiness when everyone else is scowling into their Nescafé. My other workplace beverage weakness, miso soup, is probably best left out of meetings. Seaweed in your teeth is not exactly professional when you are explaining the mathematics behind your forecasts for Q1 2011 to your boss's boss. She's very forgiving, but I think even she might be strained by that.
    It's such a change to have had a long and busy day at work and not be stressed about it. Noisier girls are easier to deal with when you're not stressed.

Reality bites

    Every now and then one of the many cogs that drive the NHS moves a little and something happens. A letter from my psychiatrist for my files.
    In three short paragraphs, a summary of my last appointment and further details about my referral to the GIC.
    I was feeling pretty good after work yesterday. I met my wife in town, we went for a coffee. I remember thinking as I walked, that the girl had quietened down a little in the afternoon. Then the letter on the doormat on our return, and suddenly the next forty years stretches out in front of me. All that lies before me is this.
    One day at a time.
   
   

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Pressing business

    What a sane t-girl should do after driving home from her support group meeting and restaurant outing at 2 am is go straight to bed and sleep soundly into the following afternoon. What I did was get up at eight o'clock and drive to my parents' place to spend the day pressing apples for both next year's cider and this winter's apple juice. Smart-casual girl to farm labourer in eight hours.
    So how do you press apples? With a couple of pieces of machinery, a scratter and a press. The scratter is roughly equivalent to an industrial scale food mincer designed to turn whole apples into crushed pulp, and the press does just what you might imagine, it squeezes the juice out of the pulp. We've been making cider at home for years, so we've got the process pretty well worked out by now. A morning spent picking apples, stripping whichever trees are ready into cardboard boxes, then set up the machinery before lunch before an afternoon scratting and pressing. It's almost a continuous operation and we can make a lot of juice this way in a day.
    Making real full-juice cider is easy. Put the juice in a sterilised vessel with an airlock and wait. Some purists don't add anything to it but I add some sulphites to kill bacteria. I like my cider tasting of apples, not vinegar. Next January I'll rack it, removing the spent yeast from the vessel, then next May I'll bottle it. Sometime around Christmas 2011 it'll be ready to drink. Nothing happens quickly for a cider maker.
    That's the cider, what about the juice? We pasteurise our juice and freeze it in milk cartons, after adding some vitamin C to stop it going brown. I used to bottle it in beer bottles, but then one got some impurities and fermented. Exploding bottles can embed shards of glass in the woodwork, not pretty. Waiting for a big pan of juice to reach the magic 75 celsius is a bit tricky, get it too hot and it tastes like apple sauce, don't get it hot enough and it goes off.
    So there's a typical autumn Sunday for me. I know where my cider and juice comes from, it's my one tenuous connection with my agricultural roots. In another age I might have done this for a living, though while I envy those who do today I know it's not a life for me.
    Have I learned anything this Sunday? One thing, more a comment on the fashions of Middle England than anything else. A cider press needs a cloth  to be at its most successful. You wrap the apple pulp in it and it stops the stuff squirting out of the sides of the press. Best for the job is net curtain material, it's juice-permeable yet made from nylon so washable. Could I find any on Sunday, trawling round the DIY and home interior superstores of Middle England? When did suburbia stop twitching its net curtains?

Monday, 11 October 2010

A rare outing

    On Saturday I had another of my very rare excursions in the real world presenting as female. This time my wife was with me for the first time. Nothing too challenging,  just our usual post-support-group restaurant visit.
    The thing that most struck me was how natural it all felt. When I last did this back in May I had a lot of fun, but as you might expect I was rather nervous. This time it just felt right, no worries standing in a queue for a parking ticket, just enjoying the moment. Walking along the street, laughing at the incongruity of it all.
    Our party included a group of regulars and someone on her first time out. Unfortunately for her, her presentation was significantly less than ideal, she was very nervous and her presence drew some attention to our party in the restaurant. This made my wife rather nervous too, but she made it and I'm proud of her.
    I'm sure some of you who read this will have also have had encounters with similarly presenting members of our sisterhood. Hell, I'm pretty sure there are people who'd put me in that category because I'm under no illusions as to my passing ability, the best I can do is convey an impression of having made an effort. Sadly I'm afraid our companion had not achieved that.
    So I felt guilty for judging her on her appearnace. My wife was my primary concern that evening and her comfort zone was definitely being eroded. But this is a support group and we are all there to give support no matter what.
    Two regular attendees in Swindon are older trans women who adopt a "mother hen" role with people on their first time out. I have no idea if either of them read this blog so I hope they won't mind me describing them thus, but I am much indebted to them for helping me in this way back in May. They performed a similar role on Saturday with our newcomer. That's the real support in a support group, so much more than just a bunch of people sitting around drinking tea and talking shop.
    So, a Saturday evening well spent, a big step for my wife and an ample demonstration of a support group in action. I have no idea how long it'll be before I get out again but there's no hurry. Better to get it right than to have a bad experience.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Meeting the real me

    One of the joys of working for a very large organisation is this, sometimes people within the chain of management aren't based in the same country as you. Even though I work at my employer's head office, my boss's boss's boss works in our New York office. And he's in town next week and wants to meet his latest employee. Mainly I think because I'm the first person they've hired to do the job I do so there's some interest in what I'm getting up to. No problem, I can talk to anyone.

    My boss arranged the time and place, so that as she put it: "He can meet the real you".

    I looked at her for a moment, one eyebrow raised. She laughed nervously.