Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Solderer Of Fortune

    One Year After, and it's been a long year.

    One year after what, you say? Last year I came back from the BornHack hacker camp in Denmark, to find that my family were making me homeless out of the blue. In the middle of the second wave of a global pandemic, and going into the UK's second lockdown.

    I never knew how unpleasant my family could be until last year. It's difficult to write about, because I have no frame of reference. Sure, some family members have their moments, but to have them all conspiring to be as nasty as they were through those few weeks last autumn is something else.

    So with the help of some friends I got my stuff together in a storage unit, and disappeared. Since then I've been functionally homeless, without a permanent place to live until now when I'm pleased to say I have something lined up. I slept on a friend's sofa for a few weeks while I sorted out what I was going to do, since then I've rented some spare rooms of other friends. I've now found a nice town to live in, and I'll put down some roots. I am very worried that my family will still try to come after me so I'm not going to reveal where, suffice to say that I've put a reasonable distance between myself and Oxfordshire.

    Sadly there are some effects that will not be fixable in the same way. With a diagnosis of complex PTSD and severe depression along with severe insomnia, I'm a wreck. Maintaining my work has been a struggle, and I am very lucky to have secured appropriate therapy. Getting out of this will be a long road.

    I'm left wondering what the hell happened. I realise that living as I was prepared to be around for my dad in his final years they've probably relieved me of the huge amount of stress that would have caused, but it's hardly something to take pleasure in. Even though he signed all the papers that ruined my life I don't think he was the instigator of the worst things that happened to me, and that I realise I am unlikely to see him again is hard. I'm probably disinherited and whatever other legal crap they can dream up - they had a serious case of power tripping because they could get a lawyer to write lots of letters I never bothered to read - and the thought of not seeing the rest of my family again is not a problem at all, but still, I've lost a lot more than the place I called home.

    So it's a mixed bag, really. In one sense I'm having a second childhood, no ties, no family, able to do what I want without having to take anyone else into account. I've travelled this summer to hacker community events in Denmark and Belgium, staying with some of my friends in the Netherlands on the way, I've gone wild swimming, danced under the moon in a forest bathed in laser light through the mist, cycled halfway across the country, and hung out in a load of interesting hackerspaces along the way.

    But behind all that I'm a mental health wreck, relying on medication to sleep properly and perpetually stressed at trying to keep up with my life. I've lost everything and survive as a solderer of fortune on the London Underground, and sadly there's no A team to swoop in to help. I am lucky enough to be able to support myself, but I can see climbing out of this is going to be difficult.

    There's nothing like a crisis to move you on from transition woes and get you working on life, is there.

Sunday, 14 June 2020

The Nasty Party earns its nickname

    If you've followed British current affairs of late you'll probably be aware that our Government is probably not experiencing its finest hour. The British Conservative Party have in their time produced some of our finest statesmen and women, yet it's safe to say that Boris Johnson and his team are not among them. Aside from a likely calamitous cliff-edge Brexit and a shambolic response to the coronavirus pandemic which has left us with one of the highest per-capita death rates in the world, their latest gambit is to mull over not only abandoning the Gender Recognition Act reforms, but to introduce so-called "women-only spaces". In other words, a bathroom bill. It's a disaster for British trans women (trans men aren't mentioned, presumably they haven't thought about beardy muscly trans guys having to go to the ladies'), and social media is full of us eyeing up other countries as escape routes.
     It's not a foregone conclusion, but given their record it seems depressingly likely. However there's still time for Brits to write to their MPs, so that's what I've done. Below you'll find my letter to Victoria Prentis, MP for Banbury. If you write a letter don't copy it word for word, but feel free to take inspiration from it. MPs work on postbag size, so every letter helps.

Dear Victoria,
     I’m writing to you today in response to reports in today's Sunday papers of the Government's intentions with respect to women's safe spaces, and particularly with respect to transgender people. I am concerned that they have not thought about the likely consequences, and that as a result they might be about to make normal everyday activities a lot more hazardous for every woman in the UK, including you.
    What the underlying thought behind the proposals seems to be is that trans women present a danger that must be restricted from access, along with an obsession with genitalia that quite frankly borders on the distasteful. How any bathroom law might be policed is unclear, but will it involve inspections before entry is deemed appropriate? What criteria will be used, and how intimate will the inspection be?
    The likely result of this will be that all women will be subject to undue intrusion, and probably violence too, as any perceived deviation from the norm is jumped upon. Butch women, tall women like me or my mother, women with short hair like my sister, in fact *any* woman could be singled out. If you imagine that somehow you can "always tell", then I am afraid you may be in for a shock. Trans women are just like any other women, they come in all shapes and sizes, and some of them even look like you.
    The reality is that trans women are no threat when they use the ladies' loo, either before or after surgery. In fact they number among some of society's most vulnerable women, and should enjoy the protection of the Government rather than its disregard. When bathroom exclusion bills have been tried elsewhere in the world they have descended into chaos and achieved absolutely nothing, because a sex pest man isn't going to pretend he's a trans woman to go into the ladies' loo if he wants, he's just going to go in regardless.
    There was a time when the Conservative Party had earned the nickname of the "Nasty party", one that the former Prime Minister famously disabused in a conference speech a few years ago. Proposals such as this one feel like a return to those times, and just like the infamous Section 28 of that era they will be brought back to haunt you again and again in future decades. I urge you very strongly to do whatever you can to avoid this particular gaping trap, and firmly oppose any measures which may come of them.

Monday, 1 June 2020

Well. Here we are.

    It's a thing, in our community of transitioners, that people fade away. The challenges of getting through all this are overcome, they have whatever they consider makes them a Real Woman, and they're gone. We've all lost friends that way, the old internalised transphobia making them drop their trans community like a hot potato, in case they are reminded that they too are one of us.

    It's now about 18 months and a bit since I had my surgery, God knows how many years down the line along a very difficult path. That's not the end of my transition, because in reality transition never ends. You're always learning new stuff, and things come along that remind you of the time before. Regognising that is the key to coming to terms with it all, not running away.

Staying on-brand for the pandemic.
    For someone not running away though, I've been a bit absent. Truth be told I've had a difficult time, probably some of the worst mental health problems of this whole sorry episode. Trauma accumulates, and after so long fighting it all came out. Stuff from the last decade, stuff from school, stuff from the frankly shitty so-called medical care I've had from parts of the gender medical service, and stuff from crappy employers. My counsellor has helped, now over the phone rather than face to face.

    It's been a bit of a struggle, but I have a feeling of coming out of it. Writing is coming more easily, the muse that had completely departed me at times is back. Oddly the COVID-19 lockdown is helping, while no social interaction is hard, the removal of some stresses has helped. But a whole load of new challenges emerge, and despite people talking about the end of lockdown I don't see it going away. Take care of yourselves, folks.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Getting one's life back

    Well, (counts...) nearly 5 months between posts is a record, even for me. But as one might imagine, I've had other things on my mind. Surgical recovery hasn't been too difficult for me and I appreciate I've been pretty lucky, but it all takes it out of you. And taking back on the full-throttle mantle of  technical journalist and editor only 5 weeks after leaving Parkside Hospital  has left me with precious little time for anything else. It's as though you have only so many words to write within a given day, and the mojo departs so easily.

Once a blacksmith's daughter, always a blacksmith's daughter.
    So 5 months down the line, what of it? All there, seems to not be broken. As I said in my previous post, no transcendental rebirth moment. Still me, still getting on with it. But I do have a new confidence that wasn't there before, something I completely didn't expect. Enjoying wearing clothing without having to worry whether something shows is only part of it. I've been off to a nice hacker camp in a Netherlands hotel (at which I operated a blacksmith's forge wearing inappropriate clothing), and run a conference in Cambridge for Hackaday.

    Mental health wise though, things aren't quite as rosy. This last half-decade has been pretty crap, all things considered, I've had a lot of people who should know better try to derail me and everything I have I've had to fight for tooth and nail. That's taken a toll, and GRS didn't fix it overnight. More counselling, something I wonder if I'll ever be free of.

    I started this by falling out of the closet as a married late-30s web developer working in the publishing business. I'm now a single late-40s technical journalist, and I'd prefer not to be the former. That's a whole new chapter, isn't it.

Saturday, 27 October 2018

They can't take it away from me

    So then. Here I am, in a  nightie and dressing gown, on my friend's sofa with my feet propped up. Safe and warm, about 10 days after having my GRS. Almost no pain due to damn good anaesthesia, some discomfort but not much, no serious complications either during or afterwards, happy with the result. The bastards can't take it off me any more like they did before. That's all you're getting about my surgery.

    Surgery then. The big end point, the goal, the Nirvana. It's mythologised in certain trans circles, and the faster you can get it the sooner you become a Real Woman. You'll have seen it here countless times if you follow blogs like this one, the people who have everything privately funded and roar through the process like an express train before ripping everything up and running away once they've got the prize, abandoning any friends they've made along the way as inferiors, mere trannies in contrast to their self-evident grasp of femininity.

    Bitter? Yes, bitter as fsck. It's happened to me a few times, to the extend that for the last few years I've insulated myself from it, not got too close if someone shows all the signs. It's called internalised transphobia, and it's nasty.

   So then. Surgery. How was it for me? What did I get from it. And no, by that I don't mean what did I get physically from it, I meant what did it do for me.

   The answer? Surprisingly little, in a sense.

    It's neither a quasi-religious nor a transcendental experience, an angel doesn't descend from on high and bestow a Scroll Of Womanhood upon you, and you definitely don't start pooping glittery butterflies and rainbows out of the thing. It's not a rebirthday, in fact I'm exactly the same person as I was at the start of last week, except it hurts if I move the wrong way and I have to dilate three times a day. I had a procedure, not an experience, and afterwards I had a comfortable hospital stay under the incomparable care of an extremely high quality team of nurses and other staff.

   What I did get was a release from the fear that they could take it away from me. When I woke up from the anaesthetic I was immediately lucid and awake, and the first thing I did was ask if it had been done, before taking a look under the covers and bursting into tears sobbing that I've been in the system very nearly nine years and that they couldn't take it away from me.

    That's it, they can't take it away from me. They have, in the past, multiple times. A referral refused, hormones messed up, discharged from a GIC. But now, no matter what any dinosaur gender clinic medic thinks, they can't take it away from me. It took a while to dissipate, the fear hung around thrashing about like a pressure hose let go by a fireman. I had a full-blown panic attack in my first night, having dreamed that one of the rarest surgical complications had occurred and they'd given me only the cosmetic procedure. It was only with the pack coming out and my first dilation that particular tiny fear was laid to rest.

    So now I have a vagina, or to be more accurate, a neovagina. It's taken me nearly nine years in the medical system, a lot of fighting and a lot of heartache to get it. It's physically part of me, but it's slowly becoming mentally part of me over the weeks. As it heals and the swelling recedes, it becomes less a wound and more a body part. Already I like the way I look in the mirror, and there is way more to go on this journey. I can take a confidence I didn't have before, and that feels good.

    But coming back to what I said earlier, if it didn't make me a woman, what did? The answer there is immediate, getting out there and socialising as a woman, being a woman. From my first hesitant outings at the start of this decade and through a while living half-and-half to a whole bunch of years living full-time, that's what made me a woman. Workplace discrimination, speaking at hacker camps, travelling to find stuff to write about, being part of the turning of the years in a small rural community, being one of the Ladies Who Clean a parish church. And much more, being female is something in which there is always more to learn. This is the thing that so many of those speed transitioners I mentioned earlier so often get wrong, they spend their 18 months collecting medical procedures like gold stars on a coffee shop reward card and then emerge at the other end without socialisation, it hasn't magically made them a woman in anything but if they are lucky, looks. They either fall flat on their faces and begin the socialisation process a bit wiser, or they retreat into that internalised transphobia and become embittered and afraid of their own shadows in case anyone inevitably figures out their pasts. It's no way to live.

    While the past nine years have been hellishly awful at times I'm glad I have all that socialisation time. My demons on this front were laid to rest quite a while ago, and I sense some that lingered will evaporate over the next few months. It doesn't fix everything like a magic trick, but maybe it will deal with those parts of it.

    It'll be good to get back to talking about cider again. I pressed this year's batch, three days before going into hospital. It'll be fermenting now, ready for racking after Christmas when I'm back home.

    I'm looking forward to that.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Here we go then...

Wow, even by my recent standards, May to September is something of a gap between posts. Truth is, this summer's been a bit hard work. I mentioned in my last post being burned out, and that's just about what happened. Against a backdrop of having to fight for my surgical referral, some really annoying family stuff, and my dad's health being an on-the-horizon worry.

Unexpectedly though, some things did turn out well. There was some slightly dodgy stuff behind the scenes with referrals to my chosen surgeon, I began to shine a bit of a spotlight upon it with a few well-chosen press contacts. Then unexpectedly my chosen surgeon received his own NHS contract, and for the first time in eight and a half years I found myself at the front of the queue. I could have had my date back in the summer, but put it off until October because of the Electromagnetic Field hacker camp. Some things are important enough not to miss.

But it's all been a bit of a mess. Not sleeping very well, breaking down at conferences (My first remotely viral Tweet), and generally not being able to function. A chat with my editor helped, some of the pressure is off my shoulders until some time after my recovery. Now getting together all the bits and pieces I'll need to function and care for myself after surgery.

So. There's the annoying stuff. Now the good stuff. Electromagnetic Field. I think I've written about previous hacker camps, and how because of my slightly larger than life appearance and the work I do for Hackaday I have become somewhat well-known. It's still a bit weird. I was never the popular kid, ever. And yet these people, people I regard as cool, want to hang out with me, seek me out. That's unexpected. Hacker camps are a blast, I'm still writing this one up a couple of weeks later, and it'll take me a while to come down. For the first time I made an outfit, there was a cyberpunk-themed area very well done with shipping containers and lights, and I made a black dress with glow-in-dark Hackaday logos. And then tried to do my best post-apocalyptic tech journo look for the camera, ending up like a bad '80s album cover shot. Can't wait for the next one.

It's good to be back writing here without having to think about the subject. I feel bad I've been away for a few months. In a few weeks I'll be having my GRS, but fear not, this won't become one of those breathless every five minutes update GRS blogs. It just is what it is, I'm not looking forward to it or the aftercare, but I'll get through with it. And get back to writing about cider and tech.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Waiting game

    It's tempting to sit and whine incessantly about one's situation, but after eight years of it and with little changing, there's not much point really, is there. So it seems like an age since I last posted here, in fact it's about two months. I didn't say so back then, but at that point I'd had another surgical referral sent off, and this is where it gets rather complex. 

    The surgeon I want is the most experienced of the UK surgeons who would have been my choice all the way through as he used to be the NHS's main surgeon. He now operates privately, but can see NHS patients through a contract with another NHS trust as he doesn't have his own NHS contract. And the NHS trust have started being awkward about it and want their own surgeons to do the work, so people aren't being referred to him. My referral is unusual, coming via a gender identity clinic that they don't see often and with very insistent wording, so things seem to have gone slightly awry. People whose referrals went in at the same time as me are now getting their dates for surgery with the trust's surgeons, while I've not heard anything. 
    That's a dense paragraph, but the result is that I think I may be about to have another setback if I don't do something about it. I've been here before, they stick you on the pile and forget about you for six months, then tell you they can't do it. Not this time, is all I can say.

    So what's to be done? Kick up the mother of all fusses, of course! I feel that over eight years of this have given me the justification to be very prickly indeed, so it's off on the round of ringing up and kicking butt. Gently, but insistently where necessary. And I'm quite happy to turn on the muckspreader if I get bumped out of the system again. I shouldn't have to do this stuff, but nobody else is going to fight my corner for me. Pain in the arse, isn't it.

Getting out there at Maker Faire UK in Newcastle.
   Meanwhile, life goes on. April was spent on the road for Hackaday, a fantastic conference in Dublin followed by a round of smaller events and finally working a show up in Newcastle. There was a time when the gender psychs asked for evidence of your being out in the world, well I think standing up in front of several hundred people and talking about microphones probably qualifies. Flying overseas was a first since transition for me too, 

    All of that plus the referral stuff has left its mark though, I've been increasingly burned-out since the beginning of the year. So I'm on a couple of weeks holiday, not writing and trying to get my sleep patterns back. I started this blog years ago when I was sitting unable to sleep in the small hours, it seems as though I've come full circle.

    The summer looks promising, a couple of hacker camps to go to, plus all the usual highjinks. If all goes well I plan to have the surgery in October, but who knows whether that'll turn out. One thing's definite though, this won't become one of those minute-by-minute surgery blogs that you get from enthusiastic speed transitioners who don't appreciate the meaning of the word "triggery".

    Blogging was a thing, back when I stumbled fro the closet. It may not be so much of one now, but I still like writing as a format. 

Wednesday, 7 March 2018


    Here we are in March then, after a weekend during which we had unseasonal snowfall over the British Isles, today had a real air of spring. I even saw some bees having a go at our winter blossom bush.

    I last wrote here in December, and that's an unusually long gap for me. It's not been an easy two months, and I've been firefighting to keep my work going. The last eight years have taken a significant psychological toll on me, and facing up to some past traumas from school and other moments in earlier life has come together with the huge stress of a complete loss of trust in the ever changing field of what is possible in my medical pathway to leave me in a bit of a state.

    I have a couple of things today I didn't have a couple of weeks ago though, first I have a proper undisputed referral for surgery, and second I've started therapy for all that trauma and psychological toll I was talking about. I'll believe the surgery is real when I wake up from the anaesthesia and they finally can't take it away from me, but the therapy has been a very tangible thing that has already had an effect.

    EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing, is a technique for locking away trauma that works under the assumption that the things coming back to bother you haven't been processed by the brain in the way most memories are. As I understand it REM sleep allows us to put away the happenings of the day, into long-term storage if you will, and sometimes that process is not effective and these memories hang around to plague us. EMDR tries to replicate this eye movement while guiding you through some of the trauma, the idea being that it does the same filing task.

   Does it work? Far too early to tell. It's quite intense, and upsetting. I went to a school which I would not send my children too, but that some parents would sell Granny to get little Tarquin into. I didn't choose it, my mother pushed all of us into scholarships at academic hothouse schools, and I was the outsider at every point. Nobody gives a crap about the psychological scars of a shit time at one of the so-called best schools unless someone pulled their knob out at you, so the huge number of people like me with problems in later life that didn't involve anything like that are left hanging. There are support groups for people who went to boarding schools, but in my case I fall through the cracks as a day school pupil. As you can imagine, bringing all that kind of stuff up is ... difficult.

    You are warned that it'll affect you for a few days afterwards, and it's true. I've not been in a good place at all over the last few months, but the last few days since the therapy have been a bit grim. I know it would be a hell of a lot worse with testosterone, I have always said I hated the aggression that came with being a bloke.

    So there we are. Slow, tired, beset by trauma. It will get better, this is part of the therapy. As to the surgery, when that comes is anyone's guess. I've given up. Within the year seem likely though, and that can only be a good thing.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

The Camera Never Lies

I bought a new phone a few weeks ago, for my business. Its main purpose will be to provide a work email terminal and a wireless hotspot, fitted as it is with a SIM carrying a generous data allowance.
It's a Chinese phone, not simply made there but from one of the well-known Chinese domestic brands, and it's a high quality piece of kit.

As you'd expect these days it's a reasonably vanilla Android, without the cumbersome overlays that dogged phones a few years ago. It has a decent enough camera, and it is this that has provided a surprise. It has a "Beauty" mode. For selfies, and it makes a few tweaks in its software. Evening out skin tones and blemishes, enlarging the eyes very slightly, placing a highlight in the hair, and reducing the chin a bit. It lies, in other words.

So I've been playing with it, and even though I know it's lying, it's a rather useful aid to someone with a nagging feeling that they still look, you know, a little bit blokey. It takes a decade or more from my age, and manages to make me look acceptably enough feminine in my presentation to warm the old cockles of the heart, or something. I know HRT has filled out my face and given me lips because I can see it when comparing with past photos, but as we all know, only we know what the bloke looked like in the mirror and we can all see him sometimes looking back at us.

We trans people have a complex relationship with our own image, and a lot of us never manage to quite come to terms with it. I've had friends who've opted for FFS when they looked fine and returned looking frightful, just to lose his shadow, but my reaction has never been that extreme. It is however nice to see something of the girl in the mirror without the aid of the phone, and then to barely see him at all in the beauty-mode-enhanced version. I am no looker and I am not fishing for compliments, this is merely to express my pleasure at reaching a milestone of the mind. If the camera is supposed to lie, then I'm happy to have found one that does.

Friday, 17 November 2017

It's a long old tunnel

    There comes a point in many blogs in this sphere when they slow down and eventually peter out. Sometimes they end abruptly when a writer decides themselves to have completed their transition, other times people just slowly move on.

    So, if you are one of the regular readers here, you'll probably have wondered about my uncharacteristic silence. I'm not the most prolific of writers here these days because I spend all my time writing for a living somewhere else, but I normally manage one or two posts a month.

    Why the gap then? I'm not leaving, no worries there. No, I had something of a shock a little while back, that has led to a surprising turn of events, and it's given me a lot of ups and downs with a bit heavier on the downs, and taken me a while to get over.

    If we rewind a couple of months or so, I wrote an official complaint about my endocrinology treatment. I've had several years of very poor service, outright neglect from my endocrinologists, and very low levels as a result. The complaint isn't the main story here, but it's relevant.

    Then, in October, I had a bombshell. My surgical referral had been declined, due to an administrative technicality over my referral not coming from a gender clinic. Worse still, they'd sat on it for five months, wasting a significant amount of time.

    I suffer from something rather annoying, atypical facial pain, or AFP. It's a chronic pain condition of the facial nerves, in my case on the left side of the face. It's an extremely intense pain, about as strong as pain gets. I'm lucky, mine responds to treatment, and it's episodic. It comes in attacks, usually triggered by a stress event, and this news triggered one of the worst attacks I've ever had. Three weeks of popping powerful nerve suppressants and painkillers like candy, before it faded away as though it had never been. I suspect if I can time an AFP attack before my GRS I won't care about any pain down there. I'm told some doctors refer to AFP as "The suicide pain" because it can be so bad it drives patients to suicide, and I can believe that. As I said, lucky mine responds to medication.

    As luck would have it I had an appointment with my counsellor about ten days after the news, at which I poured out my tale of woe. I gave her all the paperwork I had, my referrals, the refusal letter, and my written endocrinology complaint. And went into detail about the joys of AFP, which I didn't need to embellish as when an attack's underway it's pretty obvious.

    Four days later, a letter. In it were three pieces of paper. My next counsellor appointment, and two appointments with the senior gender specialist psychs. On the same day, consecutively, in December, at the time about six weeks away.

    That sounds like a reasonable result, you might say. But to anyone who knows the gender identity clinic system, it's remarkable. Such things Just Don't Happen.  Really. I had resigned myself to three six-month waits, and a huge delay. Now I have a likely referral around Christmas, and then whatever wait is needed for my surgeon. Which is another story, but one thing at a time.

    So then, what caused this? I have no idea. My nearly-8-year path through it all perhaps? The AFP? Being able to put "Journalist" under "occupation"? Or my endocrinology complaint? To be honest I have no idea, but something must have pushed the relevant button. I am aware that I am being done a significant favour even if I don't quite know why, and after four years of being messed around by other doctors I'm very grateful to this set for doing it.

    The last few weeks have not been the best, I have to say. Pain and depression are not fun. I dropped out of sight in quite a few other places too, not just here. But maybe there's a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, even if it's been rather a long one.

Footnote: I wrote a piece for nGendr about HRT and self-medication, if you are interested.