Friday, 31 December 2010

Happy new year 2011

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

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Cultivating a style

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

Good luck to you all in the sales!

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

Monday, 27 December 2010

Gender as a text field

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

Saturday, 25 December 2010

'Twas the night before (a British rural) Christmas

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

Thursday, 23 December 2010

The recreational motorcyclist, explained.

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

How recreational motorcyclists see themselves

How the rest of the public see us

How my motorcycling friends see me

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Go into the salon a bloke, come out a bloke

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

The evolving language used to describe us

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

RIP Kirsty MacColl, ten years ago today

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

Thursday, 16 December 2010

The wrong me

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

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Sleep, tablets and depression

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

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Dubba dubba dum dum

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

Sunday, 5 December 2010

How does a closet trans person end up married?

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

A little bit of housekeeping

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

I miss my hillside

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

Saturday, 4 December 2010

That magic pill

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 3 December 2010

Passing ships in the day

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