Sunday, 31 October 2010

Not well

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

Wednesday, 27 October 2010


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

Monday, 25 October 2010

Unanswerable question

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

Gender (Please tick the appropriate box):



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




Or this?


Or even this?


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

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Girl of her time

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

Saturday, 23 October 2010

How long have I got?

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

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

More pressing business

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

Jenny goes to school

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

Sunday, 17 October 2010

"You look rather elegant"

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

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Discovery of the day

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

Reality bites

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

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Pressing business

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

Monday, 11 October 2010

A rare outing

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

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Meeting the real me

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

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

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

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Dah-di-dah-dit dah-dah-di-dah

    If you get a group of t-girls together, in the UK at least, you won't have to wait long before the subject of militaria crops up. It's part of the stereotype.
    Mrs. J and I spent Sunday lunchtime in a very nice pub in Wiltshire with a group of t-girls, four of us and two partners. I think I may have stumbled on another stereotypical facet of the Average British T-girl, amateur radio. Around the table we had a G7, a G1 and a G0. I have to admit to letting my licence lapse a few years ago so I was unable to contribute much.
    It's getting more and more as though I should be looking at my acquaintances and asking "Would the non-trans ones please stand up"?

Monday, 4 October 2010

Do trans men struggle to be arseholes, and other musings on gender identity

    A couple of things have set me thinking in the blogosphere of late. Melissa posted a self-described rant about her personal statement of gender identity the other day and I had a "frank exchange of views" with Anne on the same subject in a comment stream over on Halle's blog.
    I can legitimately describe myself here in the virtual world as female because my brain has an unfortunate habit of asserting a female gender identity. But looking in the mirror on an average day, I'm a bloke. Let's get that straight right at the start. Beard stubble? Check. Bits? Check. Brow ridges? Check. Not ecstatic about it and never really have been, but that's the way the cookie crumbles for the gender dysphoric.
    I could fix that if I had the right conversations with the right doctors and embarked on the rocky road of transition, then I could describe myself as a woman. But even with all the chemistry and anatomy fixed I'm going to go out on a limb here and say I'd never be quite the same as a female at birth woman. No, this isn't about chromosomes, prostates and ovaries, it's about upbringing.  The one thing that unites all of us who are or have been blokes with brains from the girl parts bin is this: no matter how long ago we transitioned if we have, how well we pass, whether we choose to sleep with blokes, women, both or nobody, we all of us never had the chance to grow up as girls or young women. We're graduates of bloke school while they have degrees from girl academy. If you've ever met a girl who's XY androgen insensitive you'll understand what I'm trying to say, she's got similar internal anatomy and girl brain, same chromosomes as an MtF TS, but because she had the girl upbringing she doesn't have any of the baggage. From the very few I've met (completely outside this sphere), the chances are she's someone I can look in the eye too. Sigh.
     Bloke school teaches you that you can be an arsehole if you want to. It's quite socially acceptable to be a violent aggressive rude philandering misogynist bastard if you want to when you're a bloke. If you do it with aplomb, you're even respected for it, admired as some kind of Jack-the-lad. I'll never know at first hand what girl academy teaches you but its bloke equivalent is the school of which I am a summa cum laude graduate. I hope I've not committed any of my list of socially acceptable bloke sins that it equipped me for, but six years at an all-boys school means I sure am going equipped. I hated that school!
    We can't lose that bloke upbringing, however hard we might like to. It shapes who we are, and it's why so many of us get it slightly wrong so easily when we first stray into attempted womanhood. And in our character we've all got that bastard training sitting there too. Some of us never use it, some of us let it slip out occasionally and others never put it away. Tell me you've never met a trans woman in the real world with just that little too much of the bloke in her character, I know I have.
     I've often wondered whether trans men have the opposite problem, whether as they assume the male role they have problems learning to be the arsehole that blokes are sometimes expected to be. Their support networks rarely seem to intersect with ours so I've met so few trans blokes face-to-face I've never had the chance to ask. I know with a brain like mine I'm hardly placed to be an arbiter of masculinity, but from where I'm sitting if they don't manage to master that facet then they'll be all the better blokes for it.
    What am I trying to say? Really assuming a gender is not as simple as proclaiming yourself as such. I sure as hell wouldn't deny anyone the right to do so but  anyone who does so has to be able to back it up with more than just the assertion, whether they've seen the doctor or not.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Not enough about them

    I read a lot of tales of partners in this game. Wives and girlfriends, for mostly these stories come from heterosexual MtF people like me.
    Something concerns me in the reactions, they are sometimes very one-sided. The trans person is a saint, the partner is a bitch. Whereas the reality is not one of saints and sinners, nor winners and losers, only losers. Nobody wins here.
    It occurs to me that our paths might be smoother in these matters were we as a community to try harder to understand the turmoil associated with being the partner.
    Because sometimes a bit of that might be all that's needed to ensure a happier ending.

    Just a thought for a Sunday morning.