Sunday, 30 January 2011

One more lap

    My day today was spent in the winter sun and cold fresh air of my parents orchard, pruning apple trees. Pruning being a restful occupation I had plenty of time to think. Last night my wife and I attended a restaurant outing of about forty t-girls, a friendly and boisterous gathering that left me as always a bit down this morning, having been my normal oversized scruffy bloke for the occasion.
    Give or take a couple of days, it's a year since I had the Long Chat with my doctor. I think I'm in a significantly better condition than I was then and I've come a long way, but I have also remained stuck firmly in the same place. Winter has arrived and with it has come my sleep problems, girl fog and all its accompanying joys. Medication controls it this time, but at the cost of leaving me significantly below par. Only ten posts so far this month, if that doesn't indicate a lowered brain capacity I don't know what does!
    So when I finally reach the GIC it'll be about eighteen months since that chat last year. I'm told that's about average so I've got little to complain about, but I can't shake the worry that they'll have little to offer me. When I last saw my psychiatrist I addressed that to him and he reminded me that while it may be true, at least I'll be seeing the experts, people with the most experience in the matter.
     This time next year when I've completed another lap of this circuit as the 25000 metre long distance runner I'll no doubt have watched a few more of the sprinters break the tapes and leave the stadium.
     I'll still be running.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Class, it's an arse.

    One sentence, and I was momentarily speechless. "This is [Me-as-bloke], he went to [The school I attended over twenty years ago]". Not defining me by my achievements or my relevance to the subject in hand, but by where I went to school. To be fair I think the speaker might have been using it in the context of illustrating my academic background as much as my social standing, but even then it speaks volumes that he chose to mention my schooling as opposed to my university education or nearly twenty years in industry.
    Of course, it wasn't where I went to school that was of interest. What was being said was something more fundamental about how the speaker viewed me, he was saying to the other party present was simple: "This person is one of us". "Us" being public-school-educated and therefore some kind of sound chap. If only he knew, eh!
    It's a sad fact that as a species we are obsessed with status. Why should it matter to someone where I went to school? And would his interest in me have waned had he known that his assumptions about me based on where I went to school are largely wrong? I doubt he knew I went to school on one of Margaret Thatcher's Assisted Places so I suspect if he had I might have been introduced in different terms. He probably wouldn't have said "Scholarship boy" in the same tone as someone like him might once have said "Fag", but suddenly where I was educated might have been less emphasised. If it had been my choice I wouldn't have told him about it because it isn't important, but sadly he's someone who knows through other means.
    I find it annoying that there is such an assumption of privilege that goes with an expensive education. Both from within the "club" as with the speaker above, and from outside it. I am seeing a lot of discussion on this topic at the moment in light of the composition of our present Government, and I think that such commentary gets the relationship wrong.

    Privilege does not automatically follow private education, it is private education that usually follows privilege.

    My education came my way as part of a *(Delete whichever following sentence fragment your politics deem appropriate) bold experiment in social mobility/huge diversion of taxpayer's money by a Conservative government but while I wouldn't deny it has given me opportunities that I would probably never have seen had I attended my local Comprehensive, it hasn't led me to riches. Instead I had an isolated and difficult teenage period followed by a fractured career through different parts of the wilder areas of the media industry, all of which has led me to a small rental flat rather than a palatial mansion. David Cameron, Boris Johnson and their cronies are where they are not because of the school they attended but because they are dyed-in-the-wool toffs, I wish everyone would stop lumping people like me in with them by extension.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Cosmo and the lad mag

    It must be an experience common to all of us born as blokes with the wrong brain, to seize whatever fleeting chances we can to immerse ourselves in something feminine. I was reminded of one from my past yesterday by something that popped up in my feed reader at work, when I was much younger I always used to enjoy reading my sister's copy of  Cosmopolitan. My peers laughed at me for this, but fortunately I had an "out", I was able to successfully demonstrate that Cosmo had far more top-shelf content in its pages than any of the behind-the-bike-shed publications they passed between them, the only difference being that it was written rather than pictorial. My rampantly heterosexual teenaged alpha male credentials salvaged, I continued to read about achieving the perfect female orgasm.
    Yesterday's reminder came in the form of a text analysis of a year of Cosmo covers contrasted with a year of Maxim covers. The sentence "Nearly ever cover promises a story on sexual positions" made me laugh.
    You can find the piece here: What Are the Messages of Cosmo and Maxim?.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

You can pick your friends...

    I had a row with my dad on Sunday. A good old-fashioned stand-up shouty row. Why? I had a pile of car body assemblies from a younger and much rustier cousin of the Rusty Old Wreck, and he scrapped them without telling me. They were destined for the scrap, but there were one or two parts on them that I wanted to salvage. He knew that, but chose to ignore it. Very annoying, and sadly not the first time it's happened.
    All rather unfortunate, but not the reason for this post. Afterwards as I drove back into town I was thinking about my relationship with my dad.
    I have few complaints about either of my parents. They can be a little old-fashioned at times, but in the ways that matter they have always been good to me and my sisters. Compared to the parents of some of my contemporaries they were very tolerant of our teenaged excesses too, I had none of the rafts of rules my friends had to put up with. But thinking as I trundled through the weekend rat-race I realised I've never been what I'd call close to my dad. At least not in the way other people seem to be. We do things like fettling machinery or dealing with random bits of agriculture together, but I can't think of a leisure pursuit I've followed with my dad. We don't go fishing, or watch football for instance. Hardly surprising I suppose, given the curve ball of gender variance my brain has thrown at me.
    His reason for scrapping the panels was that they've been in a pile for a couple of years and I hadn't done anything with them. Which is true, I've been alternating between not sleeping and struggling at times to retain my sanity and my marriage. Which returns to my relationship with my parents, I've talked a lot about all my gender issues with my mother but not with my dad. I'm simply too embarrassed to do so and he's going deaf so it would involve quite a lot of explaining. I've relied on my mother to tell him and perhaps that was a mistake.
    My annoyance will pass in time. Part of me is tempted to express further displeasure overtly but I think I'd regret it if I did so. Cutting off contact with my parents for a couple of months would only upset my mother and I have apple trees and the Rusty Old Wreck to see to at their place anyway. The more mischievous part of me toyed with introducing them to Jenny because I know it would embarrass the hell out of my dad, but yet again I know that wouldn't be a good idea in the long run.
    So I'll just simmer for a while. My equilibrium has been upset this week, hardly what I need in what has been a difficult and annoying month. Unfortunate, but life goes on.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Coathooks, Muffins and Bristols

You could use those as coathooks (Wikimedia)
    She was a very neatly turned-out middle-aged lady, standing with a glass in one hand and chatting to the other t-girls in a restaurant somewhere in the South of England. Fortunate in her facial proportions and not too tall, wearing a sensible tweed skirt, white sweater and cardigan I wouldn't have given her a second look had I passed her in the street.
    Unfortunately she had ruined the presentable impression by selecting a set of breastforms with erect nipples the size of acorns. Clearly visible despite her sweater, they became objects of fascination like a bald man's comb-over on a windy day, so awful you had difficulty not looking at them. You really could have used them as coathooks, they were that big.
A muffin. With a top. (NCI)
      I was reminded again of the lady with the eye-catching breastforms recently when I saw another t-girl acquaintance of advancing years wearing a skirt that was far too short for her. Showing off your legs is a good thing. Showing off your legs while wearing a nice set of stockings can also be a good thing. Doing the above in such a way that the tops of your stockings and too much of what goes on above them is sometimes visible is definitely not a good thing. You might just get away with that in public if you are a teenage Japanese girl in a Gothic Lolita outfit but even then as I've quoted my friend Dawn here before: "You wouldn't wear it to Tesco, would you!".
A nice pair of Bristols (Wikipedia)
      Fortunately for us getting it wrong is not restricted to t-girls, but the same rules apply to us as to anyone. My female-at-birth colleague from the early years of the last decade had a breast augmentation. From where I was sitting those she grew naturally seemed perfectly acceptable, but she evidently felt they weren't enough and gained a set of implants that left her impressively well endowed. All very well, but mere possession of an imposing new cleavage does not behove you to thrust them at your colleagues like a soap opera barmaid. There really is such a thing as Too Much Information!
    How do you tell someone that they've got it so wrong? You simply can't. I'm sure both the t-girls above would have been crushed by a "quiet word", and when such a thing can re-open the closet for its recipient that's no joke. Yet the effects of not doing so can be just as damaging, I recently saw a forum discussion of just this subject prompted by the unfortunate tale of someone whose transition is going badly off the rails, "why didn't anyone tell her" was the question asked. You first, dear.
     I like to think I've avoided such things through listening to the criticism offered by my wife. If others are noticing things and keeping me in the dark, it's not without a lot of effort on my part to avoid that situation. But if I did commit some awful faux pas and by some unholy miracle my wife didn't notice, how would I want to be made aware of it? I'd hope my more trusted friends would feel able to tell me, but the question is, would they appreciate it if I did the same for them?

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Having your candle burned at both ends

    Things have been a little quiet here of late, haven't they. I'd love to lay the blame on the ceaseless social whirl of a mad lifestyle that leaves me simply too busy to sit down, but unfortunately nothing so exciting is to blame.
    No, my problem is my old friend insomnia, this time with an unpleasant twist. Previously I've always had few problems getting to sleep, my issue has been with waking up in the small hours. The recent twist has been that I'm finding myself unable to get to sleep in the first place. My candle is being burned at both ends and I'm fast descending into zombiedom. In the past I've spent early waking hours writing here, this time I'm just too tired to do that. It's not that my usual supply of things I'd like to write about has dried up, it's just that when presented with a keyboard I'm gazing at it blankly with a feeling of a head full of mashed potato. My medication isn't helping me just at the moment, something that happens from time to time for a few days.
    So my lucky doctor is probably going to be seeing me again before too long. Not so bad, I was encouraged to receive an email from him last week. It would seem I am no longer the only gender variant patient at his practice, and he was asking me for details of support resources that he could pass on. I gave him the Swindon support group, plus some online resources. I hope they help his patient or any other patients the practice has in the future, and maybe I will encounter then before long. It is encouraging to find that the practice are anxious to get it right for us.
   Previously when I have had insomnia attacks this severe I have kept going through. I am not convinced I have given my best at work by doing that so this time I may take a sick day from work to catch up on sleep if it continues. It's out of character for me, I think I could count my sick days of an entire career on my fingers, but I think it makes sense. Better to be more awake when I am at work than to be half asleep.

Saturday, 15 January 2011


    It's that time of year again. Everyone else is sitting indoors grumbling about the weather or pelting along the motorway to the retail outlet centre but for a cidermaker it's time to head for the orchard, saw and shears in hand for a spot of pruning. And it's time to wassail your trees, if you are of a traditional bent.
    Wassaling is a January tradition from the southwestern counties of the UK that has been revived in recent years. A simple toast to the health of your trees in the coming year, it usually involves going to the orchard and singing wassailing songs at the trees, with assorted other traditions involving offerings of cider, hoisting a wassailing queen into the branches, and of course much drinking of cider.
    I have to admit a touch of embarrassment at the thought of singing at our trees in public. So my wassail will be a much more private affair. If trees are capable of appreciating such things, they should know I take care of them as I barrow in loads of manure to nourish them and cut out their diseased or dead wood, without my having to serenade them with my tuneless wailing. I might raise a glass of cider to them, but I'm afraid it won't be the traditional "clayen cup". Or should that be "cuppe"? I can't decide.
    There is a danger when reviving traditions to gather together every known tradition around an event and produce an entirely false super-tradition laden with traditional elements that while traditional in their own regions might be a little less traditional taken all together. You only have to look at the modern "traditions" surrounding weddings to see very good examples. I therefore can't decide whether wassailing is an over-revived tradition. People certainly seem to have a lot of fun at it though and anything that raises the profile of craft cider has to be a good thing.
    So here's a modern take on reviving other people's traditions, the cut-and-paste wassail. I won't be singing this to our trees this weekend, but it's quite likely people will be doing so elsewhere!
Here's to thee, old apple tree, That blooms well, bears well. Hats full, caps full, Three bushel bags full, An' all under one tree. Hurrah! Hurrah!

Thursday, 13 January 2011


    Mark Twain has been on my reading list this week. I'm about half way through Tom Sawyer and when I've finished it I'll be reading Huckleberry Finn. I probably last read them both when I was at primary school, but something that happened last week prompted me to download them to read again.
    If you were on Mars last week you might have missed the news that a small American publishing house is to produce an edition of Huckleberry Finn that has had all references to the N-word replaced with "slave". They were working on the advice of a Twain scholar and their intention was to create a version that would be acceptable for American schools. Instead they caused a worldwide furore, accused of having missed the whole point of the book's shocking anti-slavery message and of attempting to sanitise history by removing references to the episode not to avoid offending the descendants of the slaves but to save the descendants of their owners from embarrassment.
    It was interesting to watch the debate unfold. African Americans among those condemning such censorship throwing the word around like confetti, and the inevitable riposte from other quarters along the lines of "If they're allowed to use it why aren't we". Even I can understand the answer to that question, and I live in a country whose lexicon of common racially offensive words does not contain that particular one.
    Reappropriation is the process of a minority group adopting a formerly pejorative word as a badge of honour. If you are a follower of hip-hop you might be forgiven for thinking it seems to be well under way for the N-word, but somehow I can't imagine it losing its offensive power to the extent of being used in the same way as queer, fag, or faggot are used within the gay community. (Incidentally both fag and faggot have completely different meanings in the UK from their US-origin meanings in a gay context)
    A friend of mine who identifies herself as a full-time crossdresser will not suffer the word tranny to be uttered in her presence. To her it is about as bad an insult as could be applied, yet other people of my acquaintance are busy reappropriating it as quickly as they can. They seem never to miss an opportunity to use the T-word in reference to themselves or others in our community.
    I find myself uncomfortable with both those standpoints. Because I know there are people who find it offensive it's a word that doesn't appear in my vocabulary very often, yet I understand the others I hear using it are doing so in the best spirit of reappropriation and are not using it as an offensive term. I guess the test I am applying is not to my friends in either camp, but to the general public. My friend who hates the word does so because it has all-too-often been directed at her by unpleasant people, and while that is still the case I who she and others like her are most likely to only meet in my scruffy bloke guise am not going to make those associations by using it.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

The day I learned something about being a bloke

    It may be something on which I have commented before, and it's certainly something I find I share with some others in my position, the difference between my attitude to my appearance depending in which gender I am presenting. Simply put: as a bloke I am scruffy, as a girl I am obsessive. I hate dressing smartly as a bloke but live to dress smartly as a girl. Of course I understand that variety in a wardrobe is essential and were I to go full-time it would be difficult to imagine myself pruning apple trees in anything significantly different from the scruffy clothes I wear for that task at the moment, for example, but my point is that I never have the slightest desire to be smart as a bloke and the opposite is the case for my female presentation.
    You will never catch me wearing a suit to work. You wouldn't even catch me wearing a suit to work were I presenting female as it happens, in further reinforcement of my point above they do not work well on a girl of my size, forming a huge block of dark colouring that does little to flatter or divert the emphasis from my height. Plus Tim Gunn says they are dowdy, and who am I to argue with that, however much the 1980s might have inserted themselves into my mind as a teenaged closet t-girl!
    I had always considered my aversion to smart clothing to be simply part of being a bloke. You know, the slob stereotype. But if I don't fit in with the rest of being a bloke or the rest of that particular stereotype, why should I fit in with that facet? So a few weeks ago I decided to satisfy my curiosity, and asked a few of my male friends how much they cared about their appearances as blokes. My sample was limited as there are not many blokes who know about Jenny, but the answers I got surprised me. They are far more obsessive about their appearances than I realised. Sure, they might sometimes pay lip-service to a scruffy bloke idyl, but in reality they care about what they wear and about their personal grooming in a way that as a bloke I never have. C in particular was insistent about suit-wearing, he believes he does not give the right impression without one.  Particularly interesting though was this quote from K, who's a transman.
 I hated the girl I was seen as, so never took care in my appearance at all, was scruffy, was unkempt and didn't care what others male I am definitely somewhat different, I like to take pride in what I wear and what I'm seen as.
    And the moment I read that from K was the moment at which I realised that although I have spent many decades learning to be a bloke, there are aspects of it that I have just never "got".
    Will I make more of an effort with my appearance as a bloke? I can't say it enthuses me but I have to try. It is unfair on my wife to pair her with an oversized slob. Fortunately in exploring my female presentation over the last few years I have improved my general demeanour significantly and some of this has rubbed off on my day-to-day existence.
    But you still aren't going to see me in a suit.


    There is sure to be a joke lurking somewhere in opening a blog post entitled "Lethargy" and then staring at a blank edit screen for several minutes, unable to write anything. But that's the position I have just found myself in. Yes, the mid-winter blues have set in, I've had a week of more than unusually noisy girl and this time the physical manifestation is lethargy. Doing anything is an effort, I'd prefer to go back to bed. As an insomniac you might imagine I'd find that to be a welcome change, but I have more than a slight suspicion that I'm experiencing the adverse effects of my medication. I've thus booked a couple of appointments to try and sort it out.
    One slight surprise, my psychiatrist is retiring. I can't say I'm looking forward to his replacement, whoever they may be, because I don't know what ideas or even what baggage they will bring to the role. One would hope for someone clued-up, but from my discussions with others in similar positions to myself I'm aware that this is not always the case. I don't fancy having to battle someone's pet theories about the relationship between gender and sexuality, for example.
    I'll leave you with a quote that made me laugh from an acquaintance of mine. She's talking about the stria terminalis, the brain region identified by Zhou et al as being female-proportioned in male-at-birth transsexuals.
"I'll laugh the day it is established what that bit of brain really does. It will turn out it's where the gag reflex is located."

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

On ordure

    Yesterday was the last day of freedom before the return to the normality of the New Year, and my wife and I were determined to make the most of it. So we went for a walk in the country.
    The start of January is as good a time as any to enjoy the beauty of the British countryside. The mounds of dead vegetation from the autumn have been broken down by the winter so you see everything for what it is, stripped bare and covered with a film of moisture, black trees stark against the grey skies. Horizons melt in ranks into the distant mists, giving the feeling of a Japanese print, and the lush green of summer is supplanted by the blue-green of the foliage hardy enough to survive the winter. It may be cold and rather muddy, but it can be very atmospheric and pleasing to the eye.
    Our walk didn't exactly proceed as we'd hoped. We tried to avoid muddy paths but ended up carrying half the county on our wellies. When our route made detours to avoid further mud we ended up by the railway, then walking along a busy main road for half a mile, before passing what must have been the largest steaming manure heap in the south of England. Never let it be said that I don't know how to show my wife the best things when I take her places.
BBC Christmas comedy, as visualised by cattle.
    While I'm on the subject of monster heaps of steaming turd, let me direct you to this review of one of the less funny pieces of the BBC's Christmas output. A review that found itself displaying a surprising lack of visibility in the search engines compared to other pages on the same site a day after its publication. This would be odd under any circumstances, but this isn't the first time it's happened.
    Maybe I'm a tired old relic of my 1980s youth, but when I was younger, comedy was funny. It was called Alternative Comedy, and it was a reaction to what had gone before in that it gained its laughs without offensive racial stereotypes or grotesque parodies of other minority groups. It didn't need those devices to gain cheap laughs because its practitioners were genuinely very talented and amazingly funny. I feel privileged to have been of a generation who was still just about able to catch that crop of comics before they grew fat and went off to do pantomimes, and I feel sad that judging from current offerings we seem to have lost something in the comedy that is reaching our screens today.
    If someone who has a public profile genuinely aspires to be seen as part of the wider transgender community and to stand up and speak out for that community then it behoves them to put their money where their mouth is. Creating a taunt that hangs like a yoke round the neck of visible trans people on the streets of Britain, then inserting crass references to transsexual porn in your later work can not really be seen as making a good start in the matter.