Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Jenny's first Christmas

    It is a side-effect of becoming more open about who - what - I am, that those around me make assumptions about my path. My mother, my sister, doctors, they all take it for granted that I am on my way, I will inevitably start living full-time female before too long, say good-bye to the bloke. In my current state in which I sometimes feel as though I am hanging on by only my fingertips this can become a little difficult.

    I may lead a charmed life in which all about me are accepting, but sometimes you can have a bit too much.

    Last Sunday, Christmas day, I spent the day as the oversized girl rather than the scruffy bloke. At my parents place, parents and sister in attendance. Red cowl-neck jumper and long black skirt, very festive. My mother's reaction when I broached the subject a while back was "We're going to have to get used to it eventually so we might as well do it now".
    As it turned out, everything went well. My dad was a little embarrassed at first, but that soon passed. Normal Christmas day for us. Except I was a lot happier, not stressed or depressed. And they now know what to expect from me in girl mode.

    My sister bought me some very high quality cosmetics for Christmas. Wow. :)

    As always it's a little difficult to return to the bloke after an event like that. But I now know I can be girl at my parents place should I need to. It's not going to happen often, but I look forward to enjoying some of the sweltering rural summer unencumbered by boy clothes, for instance.
   I have wanted to do this for nearly four decades. I remember as a child wishing desperately that I could be like my sisters, or the girls at my primary school. And now I've done it, as an oversized ersatz woman approaching middle age.
    I never expected it would be this easy. I should have done it many years ago, perhaps I'd have saved a lot of grief.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

When you can't do something, it's all you want to do

    The weirdest of things can make you want what you can't have. A few streets away from where I sit as I write this there is a most unglamourous car parked up amid the Euroboxes, and it's exerting a pull on me that only the similarly afflicted will understand.
    You see, as regular readers of this blog will have gathered, I have a liking for dodgy old cars. A twisty British B road on a summer morning is my Nürburgring, and an underpowered and basic family saloon from decades past is my Formula One car.
    Unfortunately in a British December the opportunities are limited for doing silly things in cars, the roads are covered in corrosive salt and basic motoring loses its appeal when the air temperature slips towards zero. So I sit cooped up in town, my desire for driving on the edge whetted by my near-neighbour's choice of wheels.
    I should give C a ring, plan some crazy road trip in the Wreck for summer.
    The unglamourous car? An AvtoVAZ 2107, otherwise known as a Lada Riva. That's right, a Russian made derivative of a 50-year-old FIAT. Basic as it gets, rear wheel drive, and incredible fun to drive on damp roads if fitted with hard-as-glass Eastern European (Chinese I guess nowadays) tyres.
    Truly I am smitten.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Letting her down gently

    A little while ago, I found myself in a tricky situation. I came out to someone in my social circle, and after the usual chat about what it all means, she revealed that her boyfriend used to crossdress. "But he's given it all up now we're together, I'd have left him otherwise".
    Difficult. I know they're soon going to be sharing a flat. And probably like many readers of this blog I know that crossdressing isn't something you can just give up like that. It never goes away. Trying to make it go away nearly killed me and no doubt it has had a similar effect on thousands of others.
    So he's either still doing it in secret, or he's quietly going mad. If he's been secretly dressing he'll probably have a final purge before they move in together, try to give it up for good.
    It ain't going to work, we all know that. He'll try, but it'll go horribly wrong somehow. It doesn't matter how he self-identifies, whether he sees himself as TS, TV, CD, TG or whatever from the alphabet soup of options,   this doesn't go away. At some point in the future he's either going to take it up again, or implode.
    So what could I do? I'd just come out to a friend, and suddenly here I was, the embodiment of everything she fears. Yet I couldn't mislead her, that's not what you do to friends.
    Say "It won't work, you know"? "He's going to assemble a stash of clothing somewhere and keep doing it"? Obviously not. I have to warn her gently that it might happen, that we come in many different varieties, it's not about sexuality and it's not a blame game, but the full-on approach isn't going to help.
    Instead of talking about her and her boyfriend I talked about the relationship my wife and I have. How she's tolerant rather than accepting, and how just like her boyfriend I told my wife about it as far as I understood it early on and tried to keep it under control for so long. I talked about the difference between gender and sexuality, how the community as I have encountered it has had almost nothing to do with admirers or sex in general. I told her about the support we've received, and told her that there is support from within the community for spouses or partners of trans-whatever people too.
    And I offered an ear, either mine or my wife's, should she ever need it.
    I have no idea what will happen. Whether he'll be able to hold it off, whether they'll stay together. But at least she now knows she's not alone, and it's not as far-fetched as she might think.
    Which I hope will be of some help to her, after all, what else are friends for?

Sunday, 11 December 2011

What does a support group mean for you?

    My local trans support group is an organisation to which I am much indebted. Through it my journey from closet to the real world has been made much smoother, I have made some good friends and I have gained invaluable support as to the many possible paths through which this mess can be navigated.
    Yesterday evening saw their Christmas meeting. As always in a community hall in a suburb of Swindon though instead of sitting around drinking coffee we were eating buffet food. The impossibly glamorous trans lifestyle, eh! Our usual post-meeting trip to a very good Italian restaurant in the town centre will have to wait until next month. Some of our number put the boat out a little with the party dresses, I was little more conservative in a black top and maxi skirt.
    This group follows the model of traditional trans support groups. It's a lot more open than some, but the format is pretty simple. An exclusively MtF crowd of everyone from deeply closeted transvestites of all persuasions through to long-ago transitioned transwomen meeting once a month to talk shop, drink coffee and eat biscuits. The group would love to see some FtM attendees, but unsurprisingly they see nothing in common with the MtF TV members.
    Support groups like this one are like Marmite. You either love 'em or you hate 'em. A lot of people may attend one during their first steps from the closet before moving on as quickly as they can. They see it as merely another closet, and they've left that behind. Of course they're right, it can be a closet, if you let it. There are attendees for whom it's the only place they ever dress as female, for whom discovery in their home towns would mean violence and intimidation. But as I found out on my first outing, you leave the closet pretty quickly when you venture out into Swindon town centre on a Saturday night.
     What I get from my attendance has slowly changed. From closet through support to social gathering, to even giving support sometimes. For me it's not a place just to present as female, after all I'm quite likely to be seen there as a scruffy bloke. I know the format has its faults, but it does fill a niche, and it's a hell of a lot better than the closet.
    It has been interesting to watch from afar the support groups in other cities. Pub meets, restaurant groups, or ones like Swindon. Sometimes without an open door policy, with meetings exclusive to people identifying a particular way, or entire groups for specific subsections of our community only. I have a friend - long ago transitioned and married to a normal heterosexual bloke - who was turned away from one group because they thought her husband was an admirer. He's not, he's just a bloke. A nice bloke at that, she's a lucky girl. Or how about the group run as a private club by a well-off TV who has used it as an opportunity to create her own TV social life without leaving home. I call it the gilded closet, a place where you can go out to your heart's content in a schoolgirl outfit or whatever takes your fancy, yet never really go out. Fine if that's your thing, but when I hear of people's referrals being refused because the psych quite rightly points out they've not experienced the real world, that's not good.
    If I were to find the perfect support group, it would have these things at its core: diversity and tolerance. People from all corners of our world, seeing past the sometimes challenging exteriors both MtF and FtM, presenting as whichever gender they feel comfortable in and expressing themselves however they see fit. I value the diversity of people I have encountered along the way, and I have found very few from whom I have not learned something, even those I haven't liked.
    I am not belittling the organisers of the Swindon group when I say they haven't quite made it. Theirs is a extremely tolerant group with an open door policy, however its membership tends more to be late transitioners and remains stubbornly MtF. In providing a safe space I can see why  those who don't fit those groups might be repelled by the thought of that safe space, after all coming out is intimidating enough without being in the company of people with whom you might feel you have little in common.
    It's a shame, because it is from the things you do have in common with people with whom you otherwise share little that you can learn the most.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Real

    Pink fog. It's a worry that persists as you navigate the shifting sands of gender ambiguity, that you might be caught in it. Wanting to spend more time as girl, wanting more, is it real or is it the pink fog talking?
    We have all no doubt heard cautionary tales of those whose pink fog took them a little further than it should have, so the idea it might happen to me has been of some concern. Time to test myself for pink fog with several days as normal girl, doing normal girl stuff as far as possible and sticking to the kind of wardrobe choices any woman my age might make doing the same things. If the novelty fades and it isn't fun any more, then that's the pink fog talking.
    So, a few days after coming back to being a scruffy bloke again I have a moment to reflect on the experience. I spent about three days in the real world as female. I'm used to driving, shopping, eating out and a host of other normal things as female, but until now they have all been individual events snatched as evenings out or similar, or else in the company of others. I've always had either my companions or the scruffy bloke to fall back on, so part of my aim was to leave those props completely behind and face the world in its entirety as female. I am much indebted in this endeavour to Dru for my couple of days in Bristol and Nikki for my day in Wiltshire.
    It would be tempting to write a diary piece, but the minutiae of such outings soon becomes irksome. Suffice to say I entered a whole lot of new territories and came through unscathed.The rite of passage afforded by a first solo trip to a shopping mall for instance seems something of a cliché, but it is no less daunting a challenge for that.
    Highlights of it all were my parents seeing me as girl for the first time because I changed at their house (My mother said I looked very nice, probably being diplomatic), being shown the graffiti artwork of Stokes Croft by Dru and an early morning trip out on Bristol Downs without makeup to hide behind.
    Driving home I was struck by not having been troubled by gender issues during the time. It worried me for a moment, then I realised that this had simply been me feeling unencumbered by them. In the real world. Pink fog not an issue. Real.
    I'm not used to that. Definitely entering new territory here.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Letter to a friend who went deep stealth

Dear A,
    Earlier this year, you had your GRS and promptly disappeared. You dropped all your friends and moved house. I wrote a blog post about it at the time, about my sense of hurt and loss.
    I'm told that the other day you unexpectedly visited a mutual friend. You now live only a few miles away, you've changed your name again and nobody in your new life knows your past. Our mutual friend tells me you'd like to meet in town sometime, maybe have a coffee or something.
    Y'know what? I'd love to renew our friendship, I really would. But before that happens I need to know which A I'm getting to know again. You see, I'm in a somewhat fragile state, just as I was in April. I'm on hefty anti-depressants, I need medication to sleep, and the slightest upset affects me deeply, makes me cry and ruins my confidence for days. You may remember this, it's a side-effect of living with a condition called gender dysphoria. I've been fighting it for a very long time and though I'm not giving up it's a battle I may lose.
    So if I'm going to meet an A who feels quite happy knowing a scruffy bloke but would drop me like a hot potato if I turned into an oversized woman, then no. You've hurt me once by doing that, and I'm not going to willingly set myself up for another shot. Run away and have a nice life in your closet.
    But if the A I'm getting to know again is here for keeps, then I'd love to welcome back the attractive and funny girl I last saw in April. If you're going to be there for me no matter what, then so am I for you. When the inevitable happens and someone figures out your past, you've got a local friend to hold your hand if you need it, I'm not going anywhere else in a hurry.
     So which is it to be? If the latter, then mine's an Americano, black.
Jenny
 

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

A day in town

    Monday saw my second assessment at the GIC. The same train journey with my wife, walk across the park and through West London. Past the fancy shops, the Bristol Cars showroom, the Olympia exhibition hall. Nice day for it. I bought my wife a scarf.
    Most Londoners are aghast if you tell them you walked across their city. For a whole hour! But it provides an entertaining interlude, a chance to de-stress, and some welcome exercise.
    The GIC was much busier than last time. A healthy cross-section of our community, men and women attired from the conventional to the slightly bizarre. I was the only scruffy bloke among the MtF contingent, in fact at all, the transmen present could hardly be described as scruffy.
    My appointment was with one of the doctors with a more fearsome reputation. One who by all accounts doesn't suffer fools gladly and who sees his job as to challenge his patients. It's his technique to pull no punches, if you go forward on his say-so you have to be really committed to your path. Some people are upset by this, but I see why he does it and if you are prepared for it then it is a welcome exercise in self-challenging.
    I had a fixed objective, to receive their specialist counseling services. Their first question at these appointments is always "Why are you here?", so I gave him my objective and explained why. We then discussed my situation and history, before having an entertaining chat about what I do for a living.
    As an interesting aside, he revealed that my blood test showed I have a benign inherited liver anomaly with a very long name that I'll need to remember should I ever suffer jaundice. Nothing else was mentioned, so I'm guessing my baseline hormone levels must be exactly where they are supposed to be. Healthy is good.
    So I came away with a referral to further counseling. Exactly what I wanted. I'm pleased with this result, it shows that help is available at the GIC for those of us taking non-standard paths. I haven't needed to present as female and I haven't been given a hard time. Sometimes I feel that few people relate their good news GIC stories.
    Out of the GIC, into the Tube. Through the maze of deep tubes, onto the Victoria Line to Walthamstow. A slightly run-down high street like any other, home of Doreen Fashions. A long established ladies clothing shop that specialises in supplies for cross-dressers. Staffed by a wonderful pair of Cockney ladies who were very friendly and helpful. I was looking for an item of shapewear to help tease a feminine silhouette from my angular frame - is that what they mean by "squeezed middle"? - , and while I was there it was always worth seeing whether I could fit any of their size 14 shoes.
    Opportunities to buy ladies shoes in my size don't come my way very often. There are so few made in a UK15 or US16. So if I find a pair and they aren't wild fetishwear, then I'll buy them. Like these sandals, actually a US16 but labelled as a UK14. OK, I haven't got anywhere to wear them, they're a little dressy for my requirements and November is the wrong time to buy sandals. But I have probably just bought the only pair of ladies sandals in my size in the country, so am I bothered? Of course not!
    Surprisingly they're quite comfortable to wear, too. I haven't quite got the walking technique right though. There will be some comedy wobbling moments ahead of me wearing these shoes, but I shall persevere.
    So, Monday was a good day.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

The Wot and the 'Oo

    In a couple of places recently I've had my attention drawn to the apparent dichotomy between identifying as female and admitting that I present as a scruffy bloke in my everyday life. It seems letting slip that you have something of the bloke about you is a bit of a no-no hereabouts.
    It's a valid subject to address, and it's one that different people approach in different ways. My approach to it stems from my scientific and engineering training, I approach it from an empirical rather than an emotional standpoint. Experience and observation rather than theory or logic.

    It comes down to this: splitting the what from the who.

    Who I am is defined by what lies between my ears. I've spent the past four decades battling a brain from the girl parts bin, so yes, I identify as female.

    What I am is defined by my physical attributes. Stubble, deep voice, male parts. I was born that way, grew up that way, can't deny it. So yes, day-to-day I'm a scruffy bloke. Don't really like it much and it's looking sadly more likely I may well fix it some time, but that's the way I am for now.

    This dichotomy is central to the the life of every transsexual. Transition early, transition late or never transition at all, we wouldn't be transsexuals if we didn't have to live at least some of our lives in this way. I find it a bit odd that I even have to lay out what should be the bleedin' obvious, but there you go.

    So yes, I identify as female, though circumstances mean I have to live most of my life as a scruffy bloke. Live with it. I have to, every sodding day.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

That was the future, that was.

    They say today's children are digital natives. That is to say, they have never known a world without ubiquitous computing and to them operating a computer is as natural as a dial telephone or a record player was to someone born in the 1970s.

    I feel sorry for today's children. They are surrounded by so much computing power, yet they know so little about how to use it.

    I was part of the first generation of digital natives, for whom affordable home computing arrived just as we were old enough to get to grips with it. I saved my primary-school-age pennies and bought a Sinclair ZX81. Back then if you wanted to use your computer you had to learn to program it, there was very little commercial software and the machines were designed to be easily programmable. My generation learned BASIC, and if like me we were extra-geeky, machine code. I eventually learned enough about the internal circuitry of the Sinclair to understand its operation completely, the only computer I've had that I've understood to that level in a long career in technology.
    My generation's schools had rooms full of similar home computers. In an unusually far-sighted move the UK government funded the development of a school computer - the BBC Micro - and we kids lapped them up. It is fair to say that many people like me were given careers by that investment.

    By comparison, today's children learn basic Microsoft Office skills. They use computers as appliances, dumbed down in case they might inadvertently learn something from them.

    I spent a while a few weeks ago sorting out some of my old PCs. Dismantling and scrapping some broken or archaic ones, resurrecting a couple of slightly more capable ones to take a lightweight Linux platform for web browsing and other general purpose duties. These were hot gaming and software development platforms in 1998 and 2001 respectively, but now they don't really cut it in the modern PC market. By rights I should get rid of them, but when you work in tech it's always useful to have a spare PC or two around.
    It is sobering to realise though that I'll soon be able to buy a more capable PC the size of a credit card for the equivalent of $25. The Raspberry Pi is a single board computer designed to use a modern HDTV as a monitor and a commodity USB keyboard and mouse. It uses a processor similar to the one in your mobile phone and for storage it uses a memory card like the one in your digital camera. Best of all it runs a full-featured modern Linux operating system which gives it the ability to do most of what until very recently you needed a full-sized PC to achieve. As you might imagine, I'll be placing an order for one as soon as they are released.
    The aim of the Raspberry Pi is not to give geeks like me a new toy though. It is aimed at schools, and it is designed from the start to be easy to program. Its creators - among them some of the people whose imaginations were sparked by the 1980s computer boom - hope to recreate some of the interest in computing as more than a study of appliances that we had with the BBC Micro thirty years ago.
    Maybe today's kids aren't going to be so unlucky in their tech after all.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

A walk in the fog

    As somehow befit the moment, today was a dim and foggy one in Southern England. Last year I spent a while sitting in silent contemplation of TDOR in the parish church I was christened in, this year I passed on that one but  took the same long walk with my mother's dog.

    Happy mutt, fog must bring out the doggy aromas or something.

    So, fog inside and out. A lot to think about. I passed the tree that was in front of me when I heard that Grace had died, its leaves a pleasant coppery colour. The fog blocks the ever-present noise from the main road a couple of miles away, so the dog and I were alone in a world of muted shades, with ghostly trees looming in the distance.
    I thought of Andrea Waddell, and then of a friend of mine who has taken up sex work - I have no idea why, her day job earns her crazy amounts of money! - and ended up as I did last year, angry with the world.

    Don't like anger. It's the testosterone wot does it. Damn stuff should be banned.

    Here's a tip, next time you're likely to be down, take a walk with a happy dog. You're never alone with a dog, and she won't judge you. Plenty to interest her in the leaf litter. I was reminded of the time she put up a muntjac deer which set off at a rate of knots, the dog following on her too-short legs and being left in the dust.
    In an odd echo of last year, I bumped into our neighbour, walking her two dogs. Old friends with my mother's mutt, three dogs ecstatically happy to see each other, tearing off down the field.
    Our neighbour is a close friend of my mother's, and my mother has taken her into confidence about my gender issues. We hadn't talked about it, but after exchanging pleasantries she complemented me on my hair. It's grown out to the point at which the same wave my mother and sister have is beginning to show.
    It was a slightly odd conversation, a scruffy bloke and a middle-aged woman talking about all this while walking through a field of next year's oilseed rape in the fog. I showed her my photo from Sparkle on my phone - not the one I put on this blog but another with my sister - and saw the usual double-take. But no negativity, as she had been to my mother she was nothing but supportive.
    I'm not sure that a similar conversation could have taken place thirty years ago. On TDOR it can be easy to forget that however slowly it is happening, we are still moving forward.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Rug pulled

    A couple of weeks ago my wife dropped something of a bombshell.. She said straight out, that she thought I should move forward and transition because in our current situation neither of us are very happy.

    Ouch. Unsurprisingly that pulled the rug from under my feet.

    We've been attending counseling together for the last couple of months, with Relate. It's been a little tough at times, but our counselor is very good and it has been of benefit to us. When people think of Relate, they think of marriage break-up counseling, of couples arguing hammer and tongs over who gets which end of the family dog, that kind of thing. For us that has not been the case, our counselor has remarked that to her our relationship is very strong. Instead we're using the service as an opportunity to explore our issues as a couple surrounding my gender, and it has been of great help. A little uncomfortable, that's all.

    Did I say a little uncomfortable? I should have said a lot.

    My whole approach to all this has been based around building walls. My family would never accept it (Though bizarrely at the time I was also mistakenly convinced they already knew), I'm too large, my feet are too big, I'd never pass as female, the list went on. This might be familiar to other trans people.
    Each wall I built has been slowly eroded. My family all know now, and have been surprised, but accepting. There are natal women my size and shape. Shoes are difficult in a 15 but not insurmountable. I see something of my sister in the mirror when presenting female.

    I wouldn't make a very good builder, would I.

    And now the most insurmountable wall has crumbled too. The line-in-the-sand. My wife has turned round and said that I shouldn't do this for her.
    In a way I'm glad that this has come out through and been explored in counselling rather than between us as it inevitably would have. The space provided by Relate is there for exactly this purpose, a neutral space. Face it calmly and rationally. As the saying has it, like a man. Funny, that.
    You might think I would be going forward with a song in my heart at this news. After all I have a GIC appointment in a few weeks and all I need do is turn up with a deed poll on my hand and set the ball rolling. But no. What we have is too important to jeopardise and I can not do that. Anything that happens has to be in both of our best interests, unequivocally. She might not leave me were I to transition, but what matters is not whether we stay together but whether she's happy.
    I recognise that I'm on a downward slope and it one day may go horribly wrong. I guess the events of the last week or two might have brought that into sharper focus. But I ain't done yet, and I'm not giving up. A bizarre image floats into my head at that, of Maggie delivering her "The Lady's not for turning" speech.
    So in a couple of weeks I'll wander up to town, walk across the park again and sit down in front of a psychiatrist bloke again in an office overlooking a busy London street. He'll see a scruffy bloke, not an oversized girl. Something has changed since my last GIC visit though, I now know what I want to ask for from him. I've seen counsellors locally, but never gender specialists. I will ask for whatever specialist gender counselling they can offer me.
    I'm done with trying to figure this out for myself, I need a bit of help to get to the bottom of what ails me.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Grey day in Blighty

    The 11th of November. Armistice day. A typical November day here in southern England, subdued lighting and heavy grey skies. Very fitting.
    Though I have one discreetly in the back window of my car I wore no poppy and I missed the minute's silence, mainly because I was picking quinces and I didn't have any means to keep track of time. As it happens I was thinking about a couple of people I knew who were war veterans, both WW2. I was fortunate enough to be in the last generation whose teachers had fought in the war. If you want a very realistic take on it all, get it from someone who spent the war in the nose of a Lancaster bomber, or on a Royal Navy corvette escorting Arctic convoys.
    The war - sorry, I should have said the War - is a national obsession here in the UK. My wife once remarked to her mother that British telly was all about the war and I hotly defended it, only to find Dad's Army and no less than three war documentaries on the evening we returned home.
    It was our Finest Hour y'see, Mr. Churchill told us so. He had one hell of a job of rousing morale to do back in 1940, but over the decades since his speech was delivered the war has been woven into our national mythology to the extent that it has become in a way synonymous with our national identity as a defining moment of Britishness rather than the global catastrophe it should be remembered as.
    So back to today. If you don't observe Rememberance, you are not remembering the War, and thus you are somehow not British. Or so the logic goes. We've seen it reach an extreme in recent years with the near-fetishisation of the act of rememberance in Wootton Basset, in which the ceremonial seems to eclipse the unjustness of the death of the individual. And you get the bizarre race among politicians and celebrities sometime around the end of October, to be the First On Telly Wearing A Poppy. Coquelicots nouveaux, like the race to be the first with the new season's Beaujolais.
    In the past week we've had a fuss over the national footy team's right to wear poppies when playing Jerry the Germans, yesterday there was a fuss over a Muslim group who planned to burn some poppies, and today saw the arrest of a group of far-right-wing English Defence League supporters hoping for a bust-up with some lefty campaigners near the Cenotaph. As if the Prime Minister didn't have better things to do as Europe goes down the pan, or as if the Met wouldn't rather be policing a load of ex-servicemen and women.
    You'll notice at the start of this piece I referred to today as Armistice Day rather than Rememberance Day. Armistice, the day that war ended. Because I'd rather celebrate the peace and pause for a moment to remember the men and women whose sacrifice gave us it than use the day as an opportunity to wrap myself in the flag.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

It's as easy as a walk in the park, right?

    November in the UK is a time in which you have to take your chances. If you get a sunny day, use it, it might be January before you see another!
    Today my wife and I went on a favourite walk of ours, through the river meadows and up onto the Downs near Milton, Oxfordshire. I know the British climate has a reputation for being damp, but rainfall has been rather low this year so the going was surprisingly not muddy and in bright sunlight it made for a very pleasant day.
    Now you might ask why a favourite walk of ours passes near to the omnipresent bulk of Didcot Power Station and crosses the A34, a motorway in all but name. And you'd be right to ask, after all it's one of the more unprepossessing places in that part of the world. But hidden to a motorist's casual eye is a network of  river meadows that have never seen cultivation, fertiliser or weedkiller, separated by clear chalk-fed streams and lush beds of watercress. In short, an oasis of wildlife in a sterile arable plain, albeit to the thunderous aural accompaniment of the trucks heading down to Southampton.
    Sadly we were a bit late to take advantage of the blackberries or wild plums, the birds have had them all. So we did what 21st century foraging humans are supposed to do, we went to a very handy McDonalds by the A34.
    It's almost an H.M. Bateman cartoon, isn't it. I can see it now, "The Man Who Admitted To Liking McDonald's In Polite Company", in which a bunch of 1930s-attired people spill their Fair Trade coffees in horror at such a transgression. And it's true, I've bought my share of Fair Trade coffees over the years, shopped local and eaten organic. But then I married someone from Over There, for whom the chain represents not a faceless corporation but childhood parties and so I too was sucked into the Web of Hamburger Shame. With extra special sauce, oh yeah, that special sauce!
    You know you've hit rock bottom when you're poking discarded cardboard coffee cups with your foot to see whether the collect-six-get-a-free-coffee sticker has been removed. Only managed one today, from four cups. And a grazed hand, snapping off a dead stick to poke at cups in the leaves. Well, it provides a little bit of entertainment during the boring tarmac bit of the walk I guess.
    Our walk took us by the road up the hill towards the Downs, by which there was plenty of discarded fast-food debris. For that I don't blame the restaurant, they have gone out of their way to provide litter bins with their logo on them some distance away from their site, instead I'm unimpressed with people who can't be bothered to stuff the debris back in the paper bag it came in, screw it up and bin it later. Still, I guess I've had more than one free coffee out of them over the years, so I'm hardly one to complain. Maybe I should go litter-picking in penance.
    From the top of the Berkshire Downs you can see at least four counties on a good day. Our route didn't quite take us to the top, so make that two for us. The whole of the Vale of the White Horse spread out in front of us, quite a view. And in early November, one alight with autumn foliage, very pretty.
    As you might imagine, we didn't walk in silence. We have plenty to talk about, as do most couples. And as you also might imagine, our conversation strayed onto matters of gender. It does have that annoying habit of popping up. My wife said something that gave me pause for thought, she said I should work towards transitioning. Bit of a showstopper moment, that. Her reasoning is that I'm not the happiest of people at the moment and thus neither is she, so there is little point in maintaining a situation in which we aren't happy. And she has a point, however as always I am not sure all that would be entailed in my transitioning would be good for her. If that were our route then I would want to embark upon it only once all that underlies it had been thoroughly explored with our various counselors, as I've gone into here ad infinitum in the past she is too important to me to do something that might hurt her.
    So we arrived back to the Turbocharged Rollerskate, safely where we'd left it on a village side road, me with quite a lot to think about. It is encouraging that my wife is prepared to think in that direction because I think we're both aware that this is a downward slope. But while you might expect me to be celebrating such a revelation I'm doing the opposite, hanging back from the brink. Some clue as to why should be found in my description of a happy day walking with my wife.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Hater, or simply alienated?

    It's a hoary old trope I've seen in a thousand ranty online arguments. Usually just before someone mentions the Nazis and invokes Godwin's Law, someone says something like "If you substituted 'Jew' or 'Black person' for (insert trigger word here) and said that, you'd be locked up!".
    At that point I think the argument is lost from all sides and everybody would be better off putting the keyboard down and backing away. Sadly it doesn't seem to work that way.
    It is however all too easy to become wrapped up in the perceived truths of one's own bubble and forget that without thought being given to how they are presented they might appear alienating and offensive to outsiders. Alienated and offended people do the strangest things.
    To that end if I say something I try to imagine how it might play when read in the soft glow of someone else's computer monitor. Someone, that is, who knows nothing about me beyond what the medium in which they encounter me. They don't know I'm either a harmless but scruffy bloke or an amiable but improbable girl, they only have what I've said to go on. Sometimes I'll get it right, occasionally I won't and I'll be called out on it. Being called out is part of life, engage with civility, after all the caller-out often has a point.
    It's interesting though to think about it, those of us in smaller bubbles are quick to label those in larger ones as haters when in fact they may simply be normal people who have been alienated or offended by something we've said or done. Hell, they might even be won over if engaged with rather than met with a counter-display.
    I have to admit to falling into this trap myself at times. Maybe you have too. I'm pretty sure I've also at times been someone alienated and thus labeled a hater, simply because of who I am.
    It's something to think about, engagement rather than anger. If I try it I wonder how long I can keep it up.

Monday, 31 October 2011

...I've said too much.

    So you're in a conversation with a natal female friend, and she mentions something in passing that relates to fashion, or clothing. You know, girl stuff. And you forget for a moment that to her you're just another scruffy bloke, and venture an opinion that owes something to experience rather than to guesswork.
    Or as happened to me this lunchtime, you're sitting in the main public thoroughfare at work with your colleagues, and a colleague who has made a spectacular sartorial faux pas walks by out of earshot, and without thinking you say "Oh dear, wrong skirt!". You've said too much.
    It's funny, because most of my female colleagues know all about me. My male colleagues though don't, and must be in danger of having me pegged as something of a meterosexual by now. Scruffy, into cars and bikes, married to a gorgeous wife, yet long haired and notices women by their clothing rather than their other attributes.
    I have to watch that people watching thing, it'll be my undoing. Mind you, it's not as if that matters, in my industry nobody will care too much. I do have to consider how far I want it to go though.
    I don't care, I'd happily be girl all the time by now, but I have to think of my wife. To her it matters, she's been great all along but I could so easily puncture her buffer zone.
    Today being Halloween, I'm sure some of my American friends will have taken the opportunity to unleash their female alter egos on the world. We don't do that, so no funny costumes today in the office. But something struck me about it earlier that made me laugh. If we did the Halloween thing here, I wouldn't be taking part, it's too close to home. Silly, ain't it.

Friday, 28 October 2011

OM

    In amateur radio parlance, an 'old-timer' is someone who's been involved in the hobby for a quarter century. Back when I still had a current licence, the old-timers were the WW2 generation, they'd sit on 80 metres and talk about their allotments or the war. They were, to my young eyes, impossibly old.
    So it is with some distress that I note my near quarter century since passing my licence examination.
    Better an OM if not a YL than an SK I guess.

    QSB? K

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Privileged

    It was encouraging the other day to read something from a natal female feminist outraged that her feminist group was debating whether to allow trans people to attend. Lots of talk about male privilege it seems, usual thinly disguised man-hater stuff. The group had settled on inaction, they'd cross that bridge when a trans woman came along. Presumably meaning at that point they'd decide to boot out a trans woman.  One wonders what they think a trans person looks like, and whether they understand that they could have trans women among them without their realising it. They Walk Among Us y'know!
    This touches on a difference I've observed between male culture and female culture. Women's groups are often exclusive, groups patronised by men aren't. Feminists and other womens groups exclude men without question, in four decades as a bloke I've never seen the reverse outside dinosaurs such as men-only golf clubs that I have nothing to do with anyway. In the real world the only bloke-only space I've patronised has been the men's loo. Even QwesT FtM, a support group for trans men and a very sound organisation, have FtM-only meetings. I've *never* encountered an MtF support space that has MtF-only events and would not be extremely pleased to see any FtMs who might attend so I was rather shocked to see that. Then again if exclusivity is a female thing perhaps we could learn from them...
    (Edit) Nutty radical feminists are all too ready to bang on about male privilege. My wicked sense of humour finds it funny that they do so in the same breath as voicing the self-evident right-on opinion that nobody should be targeted for abuse over anything they are born with and can't help. It is interesting though to think what it means from a detached on-the-fence insider's perspective. I can only see it from my own position after all.
    As someone who's spent decades as a scruffy bloke, I have had male privilege in bucket loads. It's true, especially as a large scruffy bloke I can swagger if I choose to. The world is my oyster. But do the man-haters honestly believe that people like me don't understand that? And that someone able to reap the apparent benefits of all that might willingly give it up? Does that not make them stop and think for a minute?
    Of course not. At the root of the man-haters hate is envy, for something they could never have.

    Shame, I'd give 'em the whole bloody lot if I could. It really ain't all it's cracked up to be.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Perspective

    I spent Saturday morning diving through some bins in one of my town's less salubrious suburbs. Yeah, I sure know how to have a good time. Not my usual weekend entertainment as I'm certain you'll understand, I was retrieving some property belonging to a friend.
    R is a friend of mine. Not trans or anything, just someone I know through having been a friend-of-a-friend. She's a couple of years older than me, and she has battled mental illness on and off for most of her life. In the last few weeks she's had a particularly hard time due to an anniversary of a family death, so she missed some of her medication and found herself tipped over the edge. She somehow came to the conclusion that having anything old or green in her flat would cause her to be sectioned (detained in a mental hospital) so she proceded to throw out anything that might possibly fit those descriptions.
     Personal documents, clothes, heirlooms, valuables, the lot.
    She's safe now, with other friends who are getting her back on the road. But a group of us knew that she'd chucked out half her life and would be heartbroken at the losses when she returned to her senses, so our mission was to rescue her property.
    Fortunately she'd been methodical in her turn-out, so things were neatly packaged and bagged. My small hatchback with its rear seats down was filled to bursting-point though, and we had something of a headache sorting it all out and storing it.
    It is worth learning the lesson of perspective at moments like this. It would be easy to sink into the mire, but an annoying dose of GD is not as bad as some of the things people can suffer from. Important not to forget that.

Friday, 14 October 2011

White picket fence

    It's very easy when writing for a blog like this one, to slip into a constant cycle of melancholia. I'm depressed, I'm not sleeping, I had a noisy girl day, my female colleagues sometimes get me down by being so damn female, most of you will know the day-to-day angst of the semi-closeted trans person.
    In fact, that's maybe why I've written a bit less over the past few months than I might otherwise have done. I'm anxious to avoid such repetitive moaning. This blog should be full of tales of fun stuff, and geeky yet fascinating (To me anyway!) pieces on language and other issues of the day.
    But life goes on, and I have to admit that all is not always well in Paradise. Our white picket fence does at times appear to be in need of a coat of whitewash.
    In particular I find myself pulled down by the intractable situation my wife and I find ourselves in. It sometimes seems as though none of our possible routes lead to happiness for both of us. If we continue to live as non-transitioning husband and wife then we're both unhappy, she so because I'm in a state, but if we were to give up and go our separate ways or if I were to transition then neither of us would be happy either.
    Neither of us wants to give up. But it isn't going to get any better. This is a downhill slope, you can't put it away and despite what the nutty people who believe we can be cured by religious means think, there is no cure. Even transition is not a cure, if you doubt that try coming off your hormones for a while and tell me you are not merely managing the condition.
    So my wife and I are attending counseling together, as a couple. The purpose is slightly different to that of psychological counseling, in the simplest terms my wife needs a forum in which she can work out how she can deal with this, both in terms of coping strategies and in terms of how much of this she can take.
    As with so many counseling experiences for a trans person, there has been an element of breaking in the counselor. But this isn't about the trans-ness itself but our relationship, so that matters less than it would if this was medical counseling. Our counselor is a very calm and experienced middle-aged lady who has guided us very well in exploring our relationship and the factors affecting it.
    The most important thing to have come out of it is to have it spelled out that we have a very good relationship. Our counselor is used to dealing with couples who are at the stage of arguing over who gets which half of the family dog, so she's in a good position to pass comment on this matter. Also while matters of gender do at times appear to have taken over it is important to remember that our relationship is subject to all the same pressures as any other, we are no different in that respect to anyone else. Such positive realisations are vital, for they remind us that things are not as bad as they could be.
    I have begun to realise over the last six months that resisting this condition is likely to be a futile exercise. But I can not stop trying, for the same reason as always: my wife is worth it.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Slow pressing

    A happy day spent wielding apples yesterday, as our two friends from the antipodes came up from London to join the fun of pressing cider.
    In fact we spent rather less time pressing cider than we might have, after a morning picking apples we cooked a rather huge veggie shepherd's pie and apple crumble which along with a bottle of the 2010 pressing left us all a little relaxed for the afternoon. Still, we managed enough juice for both cider and pasteurising, and I had the chance to blend a high-tannin wild apple with dessert apples to make what I hope will be an interesting cider.
    So I think we showed Nix & DB one of the better slices of the British rural autumn. We even had near-perfect weather, dry and temperate, neither too hot nor too cold.
    A couple of pressings down, maybe a couple more to go, I think.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Diary of a fruit picker

    It's that time of year again. Trees laden with apples, hedges laden with blackberries. My clothing is streaked with moss and my arms are peppered with bramble scratches. My freezer though is stuffed with bags of fruit and I have a plastic drum full of what will become the first batch of next year's new cider gently fermenting.
    The late summer here saw my first apple pressing in 30 degree heat, a first. A colleague remarked that we saw three seasons last week, I expressed the hope that last Saturday would then see cherry blossom, sadly a forlorn hope.
    Autumn always leaves me slightly sad, feeling that I've somehow missed the summer. Silly really, autumn is the most impressive season in itself, the countryside both laden with produce and beautiful in decay. I took a walk across the fields with my parents neighbour on Sunday, watching deer through the woodland and a poor buzzard being mobbed by some crows.
    The picture shows some very late blackberries. Losing flavour a little by now, but still worth freezing. Those will find their way into a pie sometime in January.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Canola, it's like rape.

    My eye was caught earlier this week by a piece at the UK feminist blog, The F-word: 'Things that are not like rape'. It examines the use of the word 'rape', and how it is experiencing something of a linguistic shift in some quarters, being used to express mild annoyance. I agree with the author of the piece: such use devalues the word and desensitises us as to its meaning. Given the serious nature of the word, that is not acceptable.
    The examples given make the point admirably. No, you are not being raped if you attend a photoshoot, or if your online video service increases its prices.
    Of course, the problem is that to the people using the word it is just that, a word. They have never been raped, known a rape victim or even been a rapist. It's not as if I fit in any of those groups either, but one might hope that anyone with half a brain would be able to appreciate the serious nature of rape and STFU before using the word in that way.
    So how does one communicate the level of transgression inherent in the misuse of the word 'rape'? Time to examine in detail its use in the language.
    Regular readers of this blog might remember a piece I wrote a couple of months ago examining the use of 'tranny' when compared to the N-word. In it I used corpus analysis, the science of examining huge bodies of text to find answers to linguistic questions, to examine the collocates of each word: those words which most often appear alongside it.
    This word cloud shows the top 50 collocates for 'rape'. I have removed a few stop words and one word relating to a secondary sense of the word, but otherwise they are exactly as they rolled out of the computer.
    'Murder', 'assault', 'kill', 'torture', 'abuse', 'violence', 'beat'. It tells the story pretty clearly, doesn't it. And it identifies the victims too: 'woman', 'girl', 'child', 'daughter'.
    I don't see anything about photo shoots there, Mr. Depp.
 

    The title of this piece refers to one of the very few acceptable uses of 'rape' in another sense. In the UK, the agricultural crop the Americans call 'Canola' is referred to as 'Oilseed rape'. Its bright yellow flowers are a familiar sight in the fields near where I grew up. The word I mentioned removing from the word cloud above was thus 'oilseed'. 

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

FFS? FFS!

    Every time a friend or acquaintance of mine goes in for facial feminisation surgery I worry for her far more than I would if she had gone in for GRS or any other procedure. Because not only is it a painful and risky experience, I'm worried that she'll come out of the hospital and the swelling will slowly go away to reveal her new look as at best an obvious recipient of plastic surgery or at worst a hideous freak. Sometimes as with a friend of mine who went to the USA for hers earlier this year she'll return looking as I might imagine her natal sister to look and I'll breathe a huge sigh of relief, but all too often you're in that awkward situation in which the world and dog can see something went disastrously wrong but you have to tell her how wonderful she looks because to tell the truth would be to crush her forever.
    I sometimes wonder whether there should be a no-holds-barred gallery of real FFS recipients. Because it seems from where I'm sitting that the only pictures that get passed around are those of the lucky girls, the ones who look radiant and pretty. Come to me, the surgeon says, and you'll look like her.
   What people considering FFS should be seeing are the not-so-lucky girls. The ones with the face-stretched-tight look perhaps, the Cruella De Vil grimace smiles, or the Michael Jackson noses. The implants that have gone south. One cheek higher than the other, nice. Or how about that cookie-cutter far-too-small-and-pointy out-of-proportion chin that just screams "I used to be a bloke, you know"?
    So why am I holding forth on such a sensitive issue? I know that there are going to be people who read this who will be upset by it, so what gives?
   On Friday, I saw some pictures of a friend of mine taken about four years ago. Back then she'd been full-time for about a year. In the intervening time she's had extensive FFS and while it wasn't a disaster, it shows pretty clearly.
    In those pictures from four years ago, my friend looks gorgeous. I still have testosterone in my system, and I am a gynephile. I am programmed to notice pretty women. She looked good, and then some. I'd always assumed she must have needed the surgery, maybe she had a chin like David Coulthard or something, but no. She did it, I'm told, because she still imagined the bloke in the mirror.
    Now believe me, I know all about seeing the bloke in the mirror. I see him every morning, stubble and all. I don't avoid mirrors, but let's just say when I'm at my scruffiest they aren't my favourite. I know I will still see his ghost looking back at me if I ever become the full-time girl. But I also learned something very important from my art teacher mother. I learned to analyse faces as an artist might, to strip away the window dressing and look at the proportions, the underlying components.
    And guess what? As I sit and people-watch, I see natal female faces of all conceivable proportions. I see heavy eyebrows and I see square chins. And I don't see men in those faces.
    If you were to plot the facial femininty of the male population on a frequency graph, you would end up with a bell curve. On the left, a few with very feminine features, in the middle the majority on the male side of androgyny and on the right a few like David Coulthard with very obviously male facial structures.
    So the majority of us have pretty androgynous features, once you remove the gender cues such as facial hair and bushy eyebrows. It was something of a shock to me to see an echo of my sister in the mirror when I first donned a wig, so I rate myself in this group. Given a course of estrogen to round off the corners, my face won't be my undoing.
    Something I have to remember, every time I see something of the bloke in the mirror.
    I'm sure I'll bite my tongue next time a friend flies to Thailand or Belgium for FFS. I'll avoid asking her whether waiting for the estrogen to do its job wouldn't help, or finishing the hair removal. And if she comes back looking a little false, well I'll concentrate on the good bits. But inside I'll be wanting to scream at her that she's the only one who still sees the bloke.
    Nobody wants to rain on a parade, least of all me. But I can't help a feeling of guilt for it.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Indian summer

    Here in Southern England, it's apple harvest time. And it's a good one too, the cold winter followed by a late spring gave the trees a decent dormancy so the yield this year is huge.
    So as we get a final burst of warm weather - the Indian summer of this post's title - I'll be spending a while in the next few days picking apples and pressing juice.
    There s a comfort in the stability of the rural calendar. Whatever happens elsewhere, you know what to expect at home. On Sunday I was passing the spot where I was standing back in March when Dawn told me her friend Grace had died. That tree is in full leaf now, just starting to turn. Life goes on.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Tell someone

    By now if you knew her, you will probably have heard that Melissa, of 'Melissa's meanderings' fame, has passed away following a fight against cancer. I'm not very good at writing tributes because I always have the feeling that anything I write sounds trite and hollow, but others have penned eulogies for her that both celebrate her life in this sphere and express the sentiment of our community. Rest in piece, Melissa.
    As is so often the case in our world, Melissa kept her female life and her online life separate from her family life. As I understand it her sister was quite accepting of her but her mother, while aware, was not. Thus when the end came none of her online friends were aware she had passed away, and now the news has reached us there is no way for any of our tributes to reach her family, or for her family to be aware of how she was respected in our community and perhaps gain some comfort from it.
    Following a conversation on this theme with the other bloggers behind T-Central, later today I'm going to have a word with both my wife and my sister. I'm going to give them instructions that in the event of my untimely demise, they are to both announce it here and introduce both this blog and my wider involvement in this community to those among my scruffy bloke friends and wider family who are unaware of them. In that way while my oversized girl might come as an unwelcome surprise to some of them, my writings and  the friends I have made here might also bring them some comfort.
    Of course, it's easy for me. I'm quietly open about all this. Anyone close to me already knows about Jenny. I appreciate that those of you who are deeper in the closet might not have the luxury of a handy person to have that conversation with but I urge you to think about it, would it be worth telling someone and leaving instructions for the handling of your dual lives after you have gone? Because once the unthinkable has happened, it will be surely too late.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

A short and informative post about oil and gunk

    A few weeks ago I was in despair. Black grot everywhere, a very sickly sounding Wreck indeed, and an alarming consumption of oil had left me convinced that the older of my two cars had a broken piston ring, something that is rather annoying to fix.
    So I borrowed C's compression tester, a pressure gauge on a bit of pipe you screw into the hole where the spark plug goes, and measured the compression on all four cylinders. Perfect, all nearly the same, and all exactly where I expected them to be. This is an old engine, and it was designed with a low compression to run on the nastier grade of 1950s British petrol.
    So the car hadn't destroyed a piston ring. Great. So what's up?
    Back in the summer I overheated the car as its aged 1950s thermostat failed. Fortunately it's a tough engine so it can take it, but unfortunately it boiled its oil and a lot of it escaped in an impressive cloud of smoke. I had to buy a can of oil from a garage, and they didn't have the old-style 20w50 grade that used to be the mainstay lubricant for cars like the Wreck. I bought modern 10w40, a much thinner and more high-performance oil that wouldn't do the Wreck's engine any significant damage but definitely isn't the one recommended for it.
    I think I've found out why 10w40 is not recommended for Wrecks. The thinner oil seeps past the aged rubber oil seals with ridiculous ease, which meant the cylinders were filling with oil from above rather than below as it flowed past the valve stem seals.
    An engine flush that brought out an impressive amount of thick black gunk with the used oil, followed by new 20w50, a new filter and a can of oil seal rejuvenation additive, and I once again have a car that shows some semblance of reliability.
    Why on earth do I run a car that does things like that to me? If you have to ask, you just don't understand. :)

Sheer bloody-mindedness.

    If you have never cooked hotdogs with a Trangia storm cooker on a cliff top overlooking the North Sea, you haven't lived. If you have ever walked over a moorland summit with breathtaking views only to find yourself in a local dogging hotspot judging by the litter, you have my commiseration. My wife and I are back from a week's holiday doing all the above and more; wandering the Yorkshire uplands by day and sampling the Local Delicacies in the evening. Fish and chips, for example, taste best when bought from a chippy over the road from the quay on which the fish was landed earlier in the day.
    That has been the good part of the last week. The annoying part has been that we're both suffering from interrupted sleep. Sometimes my medication doesn't help much, and my wife has also started having problems remaining asleep.A less-than-comfortable British seaside guesthouse bed didn't help either. Fawlty Towers? In part a comedy, the rest a documentary.
    So I'm back in front of a real computer again, a week's blog posts to catch up with. A week without letting the girl out of the bag has weighed heavily upon me, yet again I'm left with the feeling that I'm not winning this. More than one person has talked to me of the moment at which they realised they had to transition, I have to admit to having reached the point at which I can empathise with that position. I don't want to get up in the morning and be the bloke for the day any more. I should have that particular chat with the psych next time I'm up at the GIC, but I won't. Instead I'll stick to my line, hang in there for my wife. The really sad part? I think she's reached the conclusion that I'm not going to win as well, and since I'm bringing her down simultaneous with doing all this for her that's rather upsetting. Sheer bloody-mindedness, or just stupidity in the face of the inevitable?
    Good holiday though.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Without enhancement

    This week has featured a couple of significant landmarks for me as I navigate the choppy waters of alternate gender presentation. One was expected, the other wasn't, but they were both very welcome.
    Last week I wrote about my hair having finally reached a length at which it can be presented in a female style. As I wrote then, last night I went out for the first time wigless presenting as female, to this month's Swindon TG Group meeting.
    Fantastic, not having to worry about a wig.
    I flatter myself that I don't look too bad in my wig, but I have never felt secure in it. Aside from a comedy moment in which it became hooked in a climbing rose at a friend's barbecue it has never parted company with my head, but it is the feeling that it could do so which has has haunted me. Maybe my head isn't a good shape or something, but I have always felt that the wig is trying to work its way upwards. A keen observer would probably notice my hairline oscillating over the course of an evening, hardly a good look.
    So I was very happy indeed to spend the evening at the support group and join the usual meal at an Italian restaurant, all without a thought to the security of my coiffure. Nobody noticed me in the car park as we mixed with the Swindon late-night revellers, and my confidence knew no bounds.
    That was the expected landmark, what about the unexpected one? An aspect of my medication that has rather crept up on me in the last month or two is that I seem to have experienced one of the side-effects of Finasteride. The thought of gynaecomastia triggers the imagination towards hoping for the kind of breast growth that might come to someone given a hormone prescription, so since I have resolutely failed to sport a chest that might make Dolly Parton proud I had always concluded that I had missed out on that one. But over the past month or so I've begun to realise that I've very slowly gained a little more there than I had before. Nothing you'd notice in my scruffy male guise, but let's say my man-boobs are a lot more wobbly than they used to be. In fact, if they are marshaled into place, they even start to resemble something that might have a cleavage, and without involving the yards of surgical tape employed to that effect by some people of my acquaintance. Could a bust, however small, have crept up on me? Time to find out.
    Small bras in larger band sizes can be hard to come by. I'm fortunate in that my 38 inch band size places me within the normal female range, but it seems few women with my ribcage size are under-endowed. Fortunately the British standby on matters of female underwear, Marks and Spencer, do cover 38A in their range, so this afternoon when my wife and I found ourselves in time we paid M&S a visit.
    I settled on their "2 sizes bigger" push-up bra. I've heard others praising this product so it was time to see whether it could work its magic on me. Sadly I didn't have the chutzpah to have a bra fitting in a crowded store while presenting as my scruffy bloke persona, so I had to make my purchase and try it on at home.
   The result is rather pleasing. This bra is one of the more padded bras on the market, it seems to be more padding than bra. However when my meagre endowment is scooped up behind the padding it does give a pleasing curve above the cup and a definite, though small, cleavage. And it's comfortable to wear, something you can't always say for breastforms.
   I have replaced breastforms with a bra that all but contains breastforms, but the key result here is like that of going wigless. Just as having my own hair puts me on the same footing as any other woman, so too does presenting a credible female bustline to the world using only enhancements made for natal women.
    And those two coming together in the same weekend is nothing short of priceless.

Friday, 9 September 2011

The perfect crime

    When something dodgy happens once, it's unfortunate. When it happens twice, it's a coincidence. When it happens three or more times however, nobody could be excused for smelling a rat.
    T is a homeless bloke, a friend of a friend. An honest bloke who takes pains to keep out of trouble with the law, he lives on a piece of wasteland somewhere in my town and sells the Big Issue to support himself. My friend trusts him, and so do I.
    For a while, he used to have a flat. A tiny cubicle in a large house subdivided by a dodgy landlord into as many units as possible to milk the benefits system, but it was somewhere to call home after years on the street. His housing benefit was paid directly to the landlord, he never saw any money directly but since the flat was of more value to him than the money that suited him fine.
    After a few months in his new flat, he was evicted. Why? None of his benefits had been paid to the landlord, leaving him in arrears. The system had failed him. To add insult to injury, the benefits people claimed he owed them money because they'd overpaid him. Money he'd certainly never seen, as neither had his landlord, that is.
    He's a lot more positive than I think I'd be in his position.
    You might say T's case in unfortunate. But as the aftermath of recession tightens its grip, it's a story I'm finding rather familiar. Take my friend R, for instance. She's living at the moment in her caravan, parked next to my parents' cow shed. A year ago she lived in a small house with her two children and had a decent job, then she was made redundant. Yet again, she claimed housing benefit to be paid directly to her landlord and her landlord never saw a penny of it.
    She was evicted early this summer.
    Touch wood, she'll find herself back under a roof fairly soon now. Unlike T, she has the children to take care of, so her case will have higher priority. It's been no less stressful or disruptive to her life for that though.
    T's case followed by R's case, you might say they are just a coincidence. But I could relate several more very similar tales from my pool of friends and acquaintances, all of whom have claimed housing benefit which has been processed by the system but has never reached its destination. And I am just an ordinary person with a pretty normal life and social group, I don't move in any circles that make me more likely to meet benefit claimants, these are just normal people like me who have fallen upon hard times. It is not a huge stretch of the imagination to interpolate the experiences of my acquaintances across the entire benefit dependent population and reach the conclusion that this must be happening to a huge number of people.
   When something dodgy happens three or more times, I smell a rat. This is public money, taxpayer's money - My money - being spent on the safety net that protects us all, and it's being processed by the system but not reaching its destination.
  I sense a scam, money doesn't just disappear. I think our housing benefit system would benefit from a significant audit, because somewhere along the way a lot of money is being diverted from its intended recipients. It could be that the system is so incredibly incompetent that  mere non-payment is the norm, but since we are not hearing politicians crowing about unexpected surpluses in our benefit budget it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that significant fraud is involved. Whether this is the work of many small-scale fraudsters within the system or fewer fraudsters working on a larger scale doesn't matter, both as taxpayers and as potential benefit recipients we're being ripped off, and that is not acceptable.
  It's the perfect crime, if you think about it.The benefits people are uncaring and inefficient so hardly bother what happens, and the victims are largely people at the very bottom of the pile to whom nobody will listen to. The amounts of money involved in each case are fairly small, perhaps a few thousand pounds, so there is never enough money disappearing at once to raise an alarm. And even if an alarm was raised, our tabloid press have made such a good job of demonising benefit claimants based on the outrageous few rather than the deserving many, that there is no political capital in it being pursued. Diabolical in its cleverness, you might say.
    There was a time, many years ago, when I might have looked upon this issue with a "So what?" attitude based on youth and inexperience. Sadly in my town at least, compassion fatigue is the norm as the public view of the homeless is one of aggressive beggars, alcoholics and drug-addled criminals. But that is a dangerously naive view, as a long career in the tech business featuring several lengthy spells on the dole has taught me. It's getting crowded on the outer edges of society, and the crowds are formed not of a demonised feral underclass but of normal people like you and me who have fallen on hard times. As well as short changing the taxpayer, this disappearing money hits those who can least take it, and in most cases they were also taxpayers once.
    I'm afraid I don't expect to hear any time soon that they've fixed it though. 

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Dual-purpose

    It is now nearly nine months since I last had my hair cut in a male buzz-cut and just over seven months since I had the Long Chat with my hairdresser and started having my hair cut with a view to growing it out into a style suitable for both male and female presentation. In that time I've had it thinned and trimmed on alternate visits to my hairdresser, and though it has only gained a few inches in overall length I now have enough hair to cover my ears and reach down my neck, and I have the beginnings of the same wave that both my sister and mother have in their hair. Over a year on Finasteride has also in a small way reversed some of my hair loss, so fortunately I have little to worry about in the hairline department.

    In short, I think after today's very light trim I'm almost at the point of having a dual-purpose haircut.

    Being a bloke is an easy look to cultivate. You don't bother to dry your hair properly, you tuck it behind your ears and use a little bit of styling wax on top to give it a bit of body if it looks too slicked down. You're expected to look a bit scruffy, so as long as you do just that nobody bothers to look at how your hair is cut behind the facade.
    If I brush it out from behind my ears from this blokish start I can see where I'm going with it but something isn't right. Too flat, I just look like a bloke with a really bad haircut.
    So what's to be done? Wait for more length? Not a bit of it! I am now at the point at which if I blow-dry my hair, instead of looking uncontrolled as it would have in months past it settles in that pleasingly fluffy texture and stays where I put it. Five minutes with the hairdryer and when I look in the mirror I suddenly have a female hairstyle. The sides cover my ears and curl in towards my eyes, while behind my ears and on my neck the wave gives it an outwards curl. And the body given by the blow-drying gives it substance, bounce even.

    Pleased? I should say so!

    My most important critic, my wife, also rates it as a success. And she would not deliver such a verdict lightly. It's a short female haircut and there is room for improvement (the word she used for it was "retro"), but she voted it acceptable to wear to my support group meeting later in the month.
    I am like a teenage girl who has just discovered a grown-up look.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Leaking here and there

   They say some people become like their animals, and I certainly know enough middle-aged British women who resemble their horses to give some credibility to that.
    I by comparison have started to resemble my car. Just as I have picked up a miserable cold and am leaking into a constant stream of tissues, so the Wreck has done something unfortunate to its internals and has started leaking oily soot from its exhaust pipe on startup. That coupled with an alarming consumption of oil tells me that a piston ring may have given up the fight against age, allowing oil to find its way into an upper cylinder.
    All I have to do is wait and the cold will go away. Sadly the Wreck will need considerably more attention, I may try to nurse it over to C's house for a diagnostic session, and then some intensive and fiddly rebuilding effort may be called for. Remind me again why I have this machine? Oh yes, it's fun to work on. Damn. Serious car nut, me.
    It's difficult to feel like anything but a very scruffy bloke when you are under the weather with a nasty cold. Particularly as there is an interaction between my sleep and cold medications that means I can either sleep, breathe easily, or do both and risk liver damage. I chose breathing easily last night, tonight I think I need to sleep.
    Current woes are masking a more long-term and annoying realisation, that I am not winning here. I am not happy in my daily life and have not been so for months, and it is that unhappiness rather than the fact of my being trans that my wife finds upsetting, it preys on her and makes her unhappy too.
    As always, no surrender.
    I was disappointed yesterday to read in a blog comment the suggestion that we who resist transition perhaps don't actually need to change sex. I guess you gotta love the girl you married enough to live the dream, to understand.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Dressing up

    We're all so damned serious about all this, aren't we. Sometimes I think so to the extent that we lose some of the fun along the way. Take dressing in silly clothes, for example. I have an acquaintance who wears daft outfits and posts photographs of herself doing so. I mean really daft like her latest, the full-on showgirl lingerie look with beehive hair, while doing mundane household chores. Every time she posts one of her pictures I hear mutterings of disapproval, as though she's gone too far this time, she's not taking this seriously. 'Cos Real Transsexuals, it seems, never dress up in silly clothes.
    It's true, there is no sight quite like a middle aged bloke dressed up in the showgirl lingerie look. Probably about as bizarre as a giant-sized bloke like me in a summer dress at Sparkle, I'm guessing. But that's the point, that's her way of dealing with this mess, of letting it out so she can hang in there for her wife. Others go for maid outfits or bridal gowns, name your poison. A lot less self-destructive than my attempt to bottle it all up, by my estimation.
    I was set thinking along these lines by a post somewhere else asking "When did you first know?". Because from that question I started thinking about what happened after my childhood crossdressing. What did I wish I was doing, as a deeply closeted teenager?
    I remember being heavily influenced by costumes on the telly and in films. A teenage me swooned over the nurses outfits the likes of Barbara Windsor and Hattie Jacques were shoehorned into for the Carry On films (Google it!) and would have given anything to swan around in the lavish ballgowns so beloved of period costume drama producers.
    So have I just shot myself in the foot, destroyed my credibility to Serious Transsexual eyes as surely as if I had changed my avatar to a picture featuring myself in a rubber French Maid outfit? I don't think so, because I'm sure I'm not the only confused and closeted trans teenager to have had such thoughts. A mind under the malign influence of huge amounts of testosterone can do funny things. I know I'm not the only person to have watched Titanic for the female costumes, hell I'm pretty sure I can name natal women acquaintances to whom that applies.
    Given that I now have the money and the acceptance to indulge myself in the wardrobe department I suppose I could go nuts on silly clothes. And believe me, someone my height could make a very imposing Victorian lady. But I haven't, even though I might enjoy it. I guess that once I'd got over the Wow! factor, I'd just feel rather embarrassed. You wouldn't after all wear such an outfit to Tesco.
    Equally though I can't find fault with my showgirl acquaintance. Her path is a little more flamboyant than mine, but no less valid. And since I've just revealed my past costume propensities I guess let she who is without crossdressing sartorial sin cast the first stone!

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

This is what a real hate word looks like

    A few weeks ago I wrote a piece on the theme of the word "tranny", with particular reference to its comparison with the N-word as a hate word. As I said then, I believe that there is no parallel between the two experiences and to make such a comparison between the two words is not only rather offensive, it will not help our cause.
    As so often happens when a subject excites my interest, I've since found a couple of other places in which the comparison is being made. I was alerted to one by a reader of this blog and the other I encountered in another forum. I didn't have to look for either so I have to conclude that it is a widespread thing.
    I think that this is unfortunate if true, so I would like to examine some of the language involved in more detail. Corpus analysis refers to the science of examining huge bodies of text to find answers to linguistic questions. In short it treats language not as something to read but as a series of statistical relationships that can be extracted using a computer. Best of all, there are public corpora available for free, so anyone with a computer can gaze into the intricacies of language for themselves. (I should warn the reader at this point that I am about to examine some offensive language, if you are easily offended then look away now)
    The collocates of a word are the words that most often appear alongside it. Here is a word cloud for the collocates of the N-word.
   Take a look at the words. 'Lousy','Uppity', 'Dirty', 'Dopey', 'Lazy','Stupid'. This is the language of overt racism writ large in American English, words written purely as insults and with no other possible explanation as to their use. I had expected to see some evidence of the reappropriation of the N-word in for example rap culture, but those use cases are so far outshadowed by the offensive collocates as to render them invisible. The fact is, almost nobody uses the N-word except as a hate word, so it comes as no surprise that its collocates are all also from the lexicon of hate. This is what a real hate word looks like.
    So we've seen the context the N-word is used in and it isn't very pretty. How about the T-word by comparison? Here is the corresponding collocate cloud for 'tranny'.
    Straight away you can see that this is a very different set of words from those in the other cloud. There are three main sets of words appearing here: those associated with sex work and pornography such as 'webcam''she-male','hardcore', or 'whore', those from within our community such as 'MTF', 'post-op', and 'chaser', and finally those from another sense entirely referring to automotive transmissions. 'Auto', 'manual', 'shack' (edit, struck out 'shack'. though it turns up in the auto sphere it might equally be for a popular drag club!) and 'gauge' are not relevant to us.
    So we're left with words relating to porn and sex work, and non-offensive words we use within our community.
    At this point it is very important to recognise that there is a huge difference between a word that is universally offensive and a word that can be found offensive within our community but has yet to reach levels of universal opprobrium.The collocates in the N-word cloud are mostly the former, they are offensive by nature. The T-word cloud by comparison contains some words which we may find offensive if applied to us but which are not in themselves offensive in the context in which they are used. I would be offended were I to be associated with porn for example, but those words are legitimate when used in the context of a porn star. I may not like what she does for a living but if I have the right to earn a living as a programmer with my own associated collocate cloud of tech words then so does the trans porn actress with her associated porn words. By contrast I can not think of a legitimate non-offensive use of the collocates in the N-word word cloud.
    To attempt to co-opt some of the sympathy contained within all the history that the N-word represents is downright offensive in itself. If we as a community attempt to do that it will not be long before we are quite rightly called out on such folly. Not a course that this tranny thinks will do us any favours.


(I've turned on comment moderation for this post. If you comment, please keep your use of language as I have.)

Friday, 19 August 2011

The Wreck on parade

   Time for an outing into petrolhead country. I took a look back to the post I wrote a year ago about the regular trip to a car show C and I make at  this time of year. I was struggling with a noisy girl and worrying about keeping its effects from my wife.Nothing much changes, does it. This week has been especially annoying as we've had a major product launch at work, with all its associated stresses.
    Anyway, never mind all that! It's time for that car show again, and this time we're not going in C's transporter, C and I are going in our respective automotive follies. His is both newer and faster than the Wreck, but then he's got further to drive in the day and since he gets frustrated by being stuck behind slow vehicles I don't envy him his sports car. The Wreck does the same speed as the trucks, which makes for restful long-distance motoring.
    I can't say I'm looking forward to a weekend of hiding the girl. It's not about presenting as female, but having to keep the bloke facade up. At work for instance I'm my everyday big scruffy bloke, but because most of my female colleagues know all about me I no longer have to pretend. Unfortunately this weekend I won't have that luxury and I must be careful not to let it get to me. Much weak Continental beer will no doubt be drunk and much rubbish will be spouted on the subject of automotive tat, so with luck I'll manage to keep my brain occupied. Interestingly I've seen some amateurish crossdressing at previous events, I wonder whether they've heard the adage about people who seem to do it a little too often.
    So my peers get to see the Wreck in all its faded glory. It's an unusual model of a well-known British car so it should attract some attention from the cognoscenti. It'll be rather good for once to have my own car with me, it seems like a very long time that it's been "It'll be ready next year".
    On Sunday morning I'll emerge from my tent, looking a mess. One thing's new, previously I haven't had long hair. Better pack the shampoo.

Friday, 12 August 2011

The bottle and me

    A few days ago we had the perfect summer evening here in my part of the UK. Warm air, just a bit of cloud and a spectacular sunset. I spent it in the garden of a local pub, looking out over a river and a patchwork of flood meadows.
    My tipple of choice? Weston's Country Perry, a dangerously quaffable still perry (For the uninitiated, perry refers to cider made with pears instead of apples). At the end of the evening I had a clear head, but the perry had definitely gone to my legs and I was ready for bed.
    I don't think I'm alone in finding a drink helpful in dealing with the aftermath of a bad day. It's a worry that I could make a habit of  cracking open a beer or cider when I come home form work. Just the one would turn into a couple, and before I'd know it I'd be getting through a crate of bottles in a week. It's not a coincidence that I know more than one person in this sphere with a drink problem. One or two of my acquaintance have in my view allowed it to wreck their lives.
    My medication bears the warning that alcohol is best avoided while taking it. Since I prefer to sleep I think that's the factor that has saved me from getting into the drinking habit. But like so many demons that lurk below the surface of the gender dysphoric, I know that one could make itself felt.
    It might seem odd therefore, that I make cider in near-industrial quantities. But I have made cider for many years without over-imbibing and the cider-making rather than the cider itself  is an escape from some of my troubles. Or an argument could be made that my cider is so dangerously unpalatable that one could never drink enough at a sitting to risk one's health, I dunno.
    But it's a serious issue. I suspect I have this in common with many other gender dysphoric people, a lifetime of this has left the GD as just one of several problems. I know more than one post-transition girl who's realised that all they've been through hasn't cured their depression, and if that happens to me I don't want to find myself using the bottle as a crutch. Because at the end of an annoying week in which the noisy girl and a lot of high-powered work meetings have left me worn out I know that the world as seen through the green glass of a cider bottle could look mighty attractive.
     And I don't need to be told that tomorrow morning or indeed any morning thereafter, that wouldn't solve anything.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Wave goodbye to my wavemeter

    I'll be saying goodbye to a little piece of my past on Saturday. My friend Paula who I know through the Swindon TG Group and who performed her mother-hen dutes on my first ever public outing is a radio amateur with a special interest in microwaves. I'll be taking my microwave wavemeter down to Swindon to give to her, as she has far more use for it than I do.
    For an electronic engineer, pieces of test equipment like the wavemeter form part of the tools of the trade. They are to us what hammers and tongs are to a blacksmith or brushes are to an artist. You build up your collection of instruments over your career and they are what gives you a window into whatever device you are working on. Without them you are relegated to simply being an end user, the electronic device is simply a black box with wires that either works or doesn't work.
    So it feels a bit of a wrench to find myself giving away what was at one time a highly prized and rather useful piece of kit. It's almost as though a piece of my identity has been removed. But I last held a radio licence over a decade ago, haven't touched a transmitter in years and certainly have no use for a wavemeter calibrated to 10 GHz. Paula by comparison has regular need for such a device and I hope will find this one - a former US Navy unit and a very high quality piece of kit - to be very useful indeed.
    It will no doubt be a rather amusing sight. Me turned out in full-on seven foot girl mode, manhandling a huge grey flight case from one car to the other. Where's a bloke when you need one eh!