Sunday, 28 November 2010

It was twenty years ago today

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

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

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Nobody in their right mind...

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

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Pulling at Tesco

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

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Scruffy bloke lights candle, nobody notices.

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

Friday, 19 November 2010

Why I'm out

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

Thursday, 18 November 2010

A little bit of September in November

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

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Missing person

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

Sunday, 14 November 2010

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

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

My sister, the educator

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

Thursday, 11 November 2010

So just what makes a transsexual anyway?

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

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Being me

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

Scrabble champion: the BBC replies

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

Kind Regards

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

Monday, 8 November 2010

Velma was far cooler

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

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Waiting lists

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

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Gender differences in Twitter messaging

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

Monday, 1 November 2010

More on girl wins scrabble contest

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

Girl wins scrabble contest

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

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Jennyalto
Date: Mon, Nov 1, 2010 at 7:23 AM
Subject: Misgendering of transsexuals

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

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

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