Thursday, 31 March 2011

Don't look at us, Guv!

    I've received a reply to my Peter Kay letter from the enquiries assistant at Comic Relief.
Thank you for getting in touch with us. Comic Relief believes in the power of entertainment to communicate serious messages and raise as much money as possible to help vulnerable people here in the UK and in Africa. Entertainers, comedians and professionals donate their time and talent to create a one off programme for Red Nose Day and we are extremely grateful for their support. The Night of TV is a light hearted and entertaining programme which does not aim to offend but we are sorry if you are unhappy about anything you saw.

  Comic Relief the charity does not make the Red Nose Day night of TV show so if you have any further questions or comments specifically about the broadcast the BBC is in a better position to answer them. Once again please accept our apology.
    If I may paraphrase it:
We believe anything goes, so long as it raises money for us

We have nothing to do with any of the stuff you see on TV with our logo and brand association plastered all over it. Go away and complain to someone else. Oh, and sorry.  
    I have to admit to being disappointed with this response. Since I didn't mention the BBC Comic Relief night of TV at all, instead talking about the record released by Kay and Boyle, I can only conclude she didn't bother to read my mail. Fair enough I guess, I do use long words. But I'm surprised at their lack of concern for their brand reputation. People like Kay are in effect brand licencees, they're not working for Comic Relief but they are trading on their brand. Thus the Comic Relief brand is a hostage to the licencees handling of it and it's up to them to keep an eye on that.
     I work for a global business whose branding and product is as widely known as Comic Relief's, if not more so internationally. Our product is licenced to many external companies, and I know damn well that if one of them brought our brand into disrepute my chief executive would raise one hell of a fuss, and sharpish! Hence my shock at Comic Relief's apparent lack of care for their brand.
    Still, if nothing is too offensive to make money for them and they don't care about the brand I guess they wouldn't be bothered next year if someone did a blackface show for them, after all it's all for charity! Just better not make it a stammering blackface show.
    I'm not sure whether to reply, or whether it would be a wasted effort.

Interesting news for the large of foot

    You are unlikely to find the Melonia shoe attractive enough for you to covet it, but if like me you are at the outer edge of normal footwear size ranges you should be very interested in it.
    Why? It is the first piece of footwear to be produced using 3D printing. If you are unfamiliar with 3D printing let me explain: it refers to the process in which three dimensional objects are fabricated by laying down successive layers of their component materials. Any object can be made with a 3D printer, the only limitations being the size of the device and the materials available to be used in it.
    As an engineer I have been interested in 3D printing for over a decade and I had anticipated seeing it used for footwear. I hope that within a reasonable timescale I will be able to order my very large ladies shoes online in almost any style because instead of their being volume produced and shipped from a warehouse they will be made specially for me in my size on a 3D printer. It is likely that by then the industry will have developed some better materials than the Melonia's white plastic.
    Something to look forward to, I hope you will agree

(Image from The Register. Very naughty, using one of their images in this way, go and visit them for top quality tech news!)

Timetable shock

    Earlier this week I had a reminder from my email client at work: my GIC appointment is in about a couple of months and I need to inform work I need the day off.
    A bit of a rude awakening, it's always been "Sometime in the distant future" and now suddenly it's not very far away. It's well over a year since my first chat with my doctor, I can see the wait is very frustrating for those anxious to move on but as someone whose path is less clear there has been some comfort in knowing I'm in the system but not having to think about anything.
    This appointment will be a very difficult one for me. There in front of me will be a bloke who can help make all this go away, and I'll be asking him to help me avoid having to ask for that. I have a growing realisation that I may not succeed in that aim in the long term as all this is becoming something of a PITA, but I have to try. The worst thing is the realisation that my wife might well stay with me were that to happen, even though it would be very distressing for her. High stakes to play for indeed, but not seeking any help would probably deliver a worse outcome.
    I don't like going to London at the best of times. I love the trains and the Tube, but the city is alien to me. I don't feel as if I fit in, and I feel it shows. Which is stupid, really, a crisis of confidence.
    Not for the first time saying this: get a grip, Jenny.

Monday, 28 March 2011

It's like a rite of passage or something

    Every now and then in this game you have a 'first', a new experience in the crazy world of living with a foot in both genders. I had one yesterday, and a rather silly one at that. Well, you have to laugh.
    Yesterday was a beautiful if a little hazy day in Southern England. I spent most of it outside fettling the Rusty Old Wreck. If you have ever reassembled the interior of a car you will understand just how many parts need to be fitted, and if you've ever done it to a car that's had its interior our for a few years you'll know that all the parts will have mysteriously changed size so they no longer fit, and that all the screws and fastenings will have departed.
    So now I have a Wreck that is visibly closer to the road. It needs a bit of metalwork, some brake adjustment and a small amount of cosmetic tidying and then it can be sent for an MOT test. This is exciting stuff, given that the car's sorry state has weighed heavily on me for several years now.
    The 'first' made me laugh. I broke a fingernail. And cared about it. I must be turning into a girl or something! I didn't have a handy nail file to repair it and the angle grinder looked a little harsh, but I did have a metalwork file with which to remove the annoying spiky bit at the end of the nail. Never a dull moment in stealth t-girl car nut land!

Sunday, 27 March 2011

A suitable candidate for the role

    When she was a recently qualified teacher in 1950s London, my mother saw Lawrence Olivier in the title role of Shakespeare's Othello. To play a Moorish general in the Venetian army, Olivier 'blacked up', applying dark make-up to achieve the appearance of an African.
    In those far-off times such a performance was the norm. Whatever slant a white actor might have brought to his portrayal of Othello's race as opposed to the rest of the character, the role was simply one of the standard great roles of Shakespearian theatre for any actor at the top of his profession.
    What a difference a few decades make. Because of the association between an actor blacking up and blackface parody acts, a white actor playing Othello is now an extremely rare occurrence. Patrick Stewart played the role as a white Othello among an otherwise all-black cast, but that production was sufficiently unusual to receive widespread press coverage during its run.
    This week's annoyance with Peter Kay's portrayal of a transsexual has brought the issue of the suitability of an actor to depict a group to which they do not belong to the fore. I have often heard mutterings from within our community when transsexual characters are played by non-transsexual actors or actresses: usually along the lines that there should have been some effort to find a transsexual person for the role. While I would warmly welcome the appearance of some openly transsexual performers I have to admit to finding some discomfort with the idea that transsexual roles should be reserved only for transsexual actors and actresses.
    I think it is necessary to examine for a moment what a member of the acting profession does for a living. They portray characters other than their own. A good actor can show you anyone in the world without relying on make-up or props, if a young man can show you an old woman as part of an improvisational monologue then why should he not also be able to show you a transsexual? The key is in the portrayal, if the performer has made the effort to depict the character with accuracy and respect then their performance is to be applauded rather than deplored.
    A good example of this can be found in Coronation Street's Hayley Cropper. Julie Hesmondhalgh - a natal female - plays this role admirably as just another female resident of the Street whose status as a post-op transsexual is never lampooned or otherwise taken advantage of. A perfect contrast to Kay's McQueen character or the Little Britain duo who are milking the situation for laughs no matter how they are achieved.
    I sincerely hope that one day I will see a non-transsexual comedian create a transsexual character who manages to be funny without crossing this line. I think this is possible, after all there is much to laugh about in our world without laughing at our expense even if some of us sometimes take it all a little too seriously.
    As to Othello, I doubt I'll see a white actor in the lead role within my lifetime. I consider this to be a shame not because I have an especial desire to see one, but because that we are not ready to see an actor doing his job of depicting people other than himself with dignity and respect due to discomfort about his race indicates to me that we still have a very long way to go in that particular direction.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Comic Relief: respected institution, now slightly tarnished

Dear Comic Relief team,
   I am writing to you to draw your attention to something which I
believe to be harming the reputation of Comic Relief.
   You will no doubt be familiar with the Peter Kay character
Geraldine McQueen, appearing alongside Susan Boyle in the current
Comic Relief single. What you may not realise about this character is
that she is highly offensive to the transgender and transsexual
communities as a crass and degrading stereotypical portrayal. Peter
Kay has not created a drag act portraying a natal female character,
such as Lilly Savage or Brenda and Audrey from the Bounty/Plenty
kitchen towel adverts, instead he is chasing a cheap laugh at the
expense of a vulnerable and marginalised group that does not need such
a negative mainstream portrayal of themselves forced on the public at
large. The unfortunate consequence of the Geraldine McQueen character
is likely to be that transgender and transsexual people will have to
endure a fresh catalogue of insults based on her catch phrases, and
unfortunately Comic Relief is helping achieve that.
   It might be tempting to believe that this is not something about
which you need to worry  because you see comparatively few visible
transgender or transsexual people on our streets. To that I'd respond
that the visible transgender people are only the tip of the iceberg.
If you were to look around the audience at the next Comic Relief gig
you might be surprised to find that as many as ten percent of them are
transgender even though they keep it hidden. If you passed me in the
street, for example, you wouldn't give me a second look as just
another bloke, yet I am transgender and have the medical diagnosis of
gender dysphoria to prove it. I am a member of a couple of
organisations for transgender people just within my particular segment
of the community who number their membership in the tens of thousands
including people like me plus transvestites, genderqueers and other
groups. I have even heard it said that we are more numerous than
people with red hair.  We number too many potential donors for a
charity to offend lightly.
   You have justifiably earned your position one of our most
respected charities through both the work that you sponsor and through
your founding principles such as that of the “golden pound”. You are
also inextricably linked through your founders with the alternative
comedy movement in the 1980s. It might seem a long time ago now, but I
remember alternative comedy as being characterised by not relying on
offensive stereotypes to derive its humour. I thus hope you'll
understand me when I say that to transgender people, a character like
Geraldine McQueen is about as offensive as perhaps a blackface parody
act might be to a non-white person.
   In conclusion, by allowing this character to feature so
prominently in your fundraising this year, Comic Relief have offended
a very large unseen potential donor community. It is obviously too
late to stop this association, however I would like to urge you to
avoid acts based on such offensive stereotypes in the future.
   If you would like to know more about the transgender community
then I would be happy to provide whatever information I can, or you
might find it informative to visit Trans Media Watch at
   Thank you for your time,

If you too feel that Comic Relief have used the rather crass Peter Kay character Geraldine McQueen in error, you can contact them using the details at this link.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

It's like playing Whack-a-mole

Geraldine McQueen (Peter Kay), as visualised by cows.
    Crass portrayals of trans people by unfunny comedians just keep popping up, don't they. I mean, you can't have a go at the black people any more, gays are off-limits, the South Africans aren't racist these days so who else is left for them to raise cheap laughs with but the trannies? I mean, give them a break! Otherwise they'd have to come up with some jokes and we can't expect that, after all they are only comedians.
     Just when you thought you were safe from Little Britain, along comes Peter Kay with his portrayal of a transsexual pop singer, Geraldine McQueen. I really wanted to believe that maybe, just maybe, this time it would be different, but no, it's one big tranny joke. Har bloody har. Fortunately I already have my review picture from earlier in the year.
    But of course, it's OK, after all it's all for charity, and that makes anything OK, doesn't it. Stick a red nose on something and it stops being at the expense of a vulnerable minority, right?

New vista

    I am beginning to appreciate the difference between the small companies I have worked for over most of the last two decades, and the very large one at which I have been working for the last six months.
    As a dotcom survivor I've had a chequered career. My full CV would run to several pages, such is the number of places I've earned a living. Most of them are no longer in business, one gave me the sack due to personal differences - the boss was a semi-criminal arsehole who IIRC was later barred from holding a directorship - and one had to let me go abruptly as a financial crisis threatened the very survival of the business. That last one was particularly bitter-sweet as I was and still am part-owner of the company so you might say I had in part to make myself redundant. Even the large companies I've worked for, among them one of the largest companies in the world whose products you and I all use, have not fully equipped me for life as a staffer because I was employed by them as a contractor, a specialist on a fixed-term contract.
    Regular readers of this blog will notice that my output has reduced of late. This has two causes: the girl has been  rather noisy causing me some sleep issues, and I've been throwing myself into maintaining my performance in the workplace. I'm out to some extent at work and work is trans-friendly, but I don't want the girl to hinder me there.
    I now find myself in an unusual position for someone at mid-life. Most people have at this stage set out the path of their careers. They spent their twenties learning their craft and by the time they reach my age their course is set, if a field-marshal's baton is lurking in their knapsack then it has had plenty of time to show itself. My contemporaries are mostly at this stage in life, they are mostly occupying the same offices that they did five years ago. My career though has been a little different. In tiny companies the prospects for advancement are often meagre. In an office with five people in it it is simply not possible to promote them all (One previous employer of mine seemed intent on bucking the trend with six directors, three senior managers and two employees, but they really *were* a bunch of nutters!). Thus in the world of small tech companies if you want to move up, you move on or risk being seen as a sucker willing to toil forever for a pittance to pay for the founder's second home and company Jag. No real problem with that, those are The Rules in that arena.
    But I've left that all behind by moving into a large organisation. My extensive experience of new workplaces has taught me that it takes six months to really get the measure of a place. The masks slip and you see what really lies beneath. In the case of this place what I see is rather interesting. For the first time in my career, I have Prospects. There is a career path open to me if I am prepared to jump through the hoops, and I am anxious to take it. It's a new experience, the feeling that a job might just be for life.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Will the Real Girl please stand up?

    Since I began following the world of gender variance I have found myself tuning into the language we use to describe ourselves as a community. Subtle nuances such as where the disctinction exists between a transvestite and a crossdresser, or explosive battlegrounds such as who or what is defined as trangender. My job involves the manipulation of large amounts of language so I find these matters of great interest even when I don't take sides in them.
    One in particular that has caught my eye recently is this: how, when making the distinction among ourselves, do we describe a natural-born woman as opposed to a transwoman? Someone like my wife: born female-bodied and perfectly content with her female gender identity. It all used to be so simple, I remember reading a well written article on the work of the Beaumont Society a few years ago that introduced me to the term "real girl". My wife is a real girl, I'm a fake girl. I have no problems with that, job done, you'd think
    But then it seems there are those among us who dislike the implication that their womanhood might be less than real. I can see that, for someone who has fought very hard to achieve it to have their assumed gender denied could be very galling. So out of nowhere came the two terms FaB, for "Female at birth" and "Genetic girl". No problems with those if they don't wind anyone up, you'll have found me using both of them here on this blog from time to time.
    All very well then. Harmony in the world of transgender language for once. Well, until someone realised that transmen are also FaB and genetic female, just as we're MaB and genetic male. Oops, nobody wants to inadvertently deny anyone their gender so it's back to the drawing board.
    I am concerned that something has been lost along the way here. When you are describing a group do not make up terms for them, ask them how they wish to be described. It's not rocket science, after all that's why we refer to the indigenous people of the northern polar regions as Inuit rather than Eskimo, for example.  As someone whose outings in the trans sphere have all been accompanied by my wife I am guessing I have met more spouses and partners of trans people both male and female than most people as the partners tend to gravitate towards each other. It has been my observation that to a woman they all refer to themselves in this context as real girls. Deny them their self-identity? Heavens no!

Thursday, 17 March 2011


    I'm ready.
    I could go out tomorrow as Jenny, in a town about an hour's drive away with my friend Jae, just a couple of rather tall ladies out shopping on a spring day.
    I've overcome the fear of my height ruining my chances, I've perfected as good a female presentation as I reasonably can and I've been out quite happily with my support group more times than I can individually remember. Going out holds no fear for me.
    Hell yeah, I'm ready.
    So when am I going to do it then? This week? Next week? Next month perhaps. Tell you what, I'll get back to you on that one.
    Crazy isn't it. Having put so much effort into becoming ready, I find I suddenly don't feel ready at all. Don't worry, I will in time, I'm not writing this searching for support but merely in amusement at my sudden indecision.
    My medication has got on top of me this week so I'm on an evening without it. Whether my next post arrives early next morning will tell you whether I consequently didn't sleep well, however the 2009 pressing cider I've just enjoyed as another consequence of having no medication for it to mess with was certainly worth it.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

It's 2011, right?

    Today has been a particularly nice one here in Southern England. I spent most of it out in the open, cleaning and fitting interior parts to the Rusty Old Wreck. I can almost feel it ready to go!
    At the end of the afternoon I exercised my parents' dog in a countryside basking in March sunlight. I phoned my friend Dawn, after last night's support group meeting she looked so sad when everyone went their separate ways so I wanted to see all was well with her world.
    About a week ago a friend of Dawn's died of a heart attack. Some of you might also have known her personally but I only encountered her online. She was a very spirited lady of advancing years whose very late transition gave hope to all of us younger people who have no route forward.
    When I rang, I found Dawn upset. She had been told that the family are insisting on having her friend's funeral conducted and having her buried as her former male self. She spent a lifetime escaping the bloke, and having achieved her aim her family are to go against her wishes in death.

    This is 2011, right?

    As I stood talking to Dawn this tree was in front of me, lit starkly by the sun as it fell towards the horizon. I know what it will remind me of every time I pass it from now on.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Get a grip Jenny

    Sitting on the wall by the school playing field on my walk home from work, there they were. A group of teenagers. Nothing special, nothing nasty, just kids. Probably not too different from me an age ago, just sitting on a wall and enjoying a spring evening.
    I could see them from some distance. And as I walked towards them I could feel a rising terror. What if they noticed me, what if they said something?

    Get a grip.

    My everyday persona is not as the very tall girl I'd like it to be but of her giant-sized scruffy male alter ego. In short, someone capable of giving a teenager far more to worry about than the worry a teenager is capable of giving him. It's a side-effect of being oversized that I don't really like but it's a sad truth, if you're going to be a bloke, be a very big one.
    So being scared of a fairly harmless group of teenagers is pretty damn stupid. I think it's a symptom of how far the girl has triumphed over the boy in my head, that as I sit all day in an office letting the girl have free reign between my ears I find it difficult to remember that I don't need to succumb to her worries. It's been an annoying few weeks.
    So I'll say it again.

    Get a grip, Jenny.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

It's International Women's Day today!

    Yesterday was International Women's day. Cue all the part time feminists of the chattering classes to come out of the woodwork for a bit of man-bashing over imagined injustice to themselves, and all the lad-mag readers to act in stereotypically low-foreheaded style in response. Sigh. "Why isn't there an International Man's Day?" they ask, as if to produce an example of injustice. Since a very quick Google search tells anyone with a bit of curiosity that there is such a day, draw your own conclusions as to their intelligence.
    Personally I find the whole thing annoying. Ooh look, the girls have their own day on which women's collectives can stage ethnic dance festivals in the street and everyone can witter aimlessly about how disadvantaged women are in the Third World!
    It would all mean something, except today, the day after, it's back to business as usual.
    I saw a statistic yesterday, that only 7% of reported rape cases involving women victims in the UK result in a conviction. Not encouraging, is it.
    For statistics like that to change we don't need yesterday to be International Women's Day. We need every day to be an International Women's Day.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Petrol, or cider?

    Here in southern England there is an expectant feeling in the air. Spring is about to happen in a big way and it's as though the whole world knows it but everybody's waiting for someone else to start the process. The days are bright and the sunshine feels warm, but the air is still a bit chilly and buds are firmly closed.
    I normally have a couple of tasks at this time of year, bringing my motorcycles and the Rusty Old Wreck out of hibernation and racking the previous year's cider. One leaves me smelling of petrol, the other of yeast. I'm pleased to report that the bikes both still work and the cider, while a bit rough with youth, shows promise and hasn't turned into vinegar.
    The Rusty Old Wreck, however, is still off the road. My mission has become to get it through an MOT (British mandatory roadworthiness test) before the end of the month. To that end I need to get it a new set of tyres, refit its interior and adjust its brakes. Surely that is achievable!
    So I've got some work ahead of me. Spring means another milestone for me, it usually marks the end of my winter low. I hope I'll be sleeping better over the next few weeks, and getting less stress.
    The picture was taken on Sunday afternoon. The orchard is still dormant, despite the carpet of spring flowers.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Boy in Kodachrome

    My mother has really taken to one of my Christmas presents for her, a USB transparency scanner. She's been working her way through sixty years of Kodachrome, Agfachrome and negatives, documenting her adult life and the whole lives of her children. Her on holiday in the Alps in the 1950s, then visiting my aunt in Australia for several months in 1960. My dad, much younger and wearing a suit. A succession of projects involved with building a small farm business. Cats. Dogs. Cows. Hens. Our old tractor, sadly now long departed to the Great Cornfield in the Sky. And all our childhood holidays, from the 1960s with only my sisters as babies and toddlers through to the 1980s with me as a fractious pre-teen. I'm afraid I found them rather sad, as though they were from an age of innocence before everything went wrong. Which is all rather stupid and sentimental.
    On the screen in front of us, there I was. About five or six years old, standing on the beach in a rocky Devon cove. I have very fractured memories of that particular holiday but seeing a buzzard for the first time and riding in the bucket of a farm dumper are among them. My mother sighed. "You were such a boy" she said.
     I mentioned when I came out to her back in May last year that she had never suspected a thing. I was convinced she Knew Everything, it seems the real answer was in her response to the photo.
    Nobody is more in the closet than a child crossdresser. Discovery, or even the slightest suspicion by my peers, would have been social suicide at that age. Thus were the seeds of my larger-than-life bloke act to conceal the girl sown.And it seems that despite a significant underage cross-dressing habit I fooled my mother completely. I guess it's not surprising, after all I was a little boy and it is easiest to go with what you see. I wanted to be one of the girls but the evidence in front of me told me I wasn't one of them, so it fooled me too.
    Back to the pictures, I'm amazed at the rich colours preserved in the transparencies. Compared to the negatives which have experienced significant colour shift, the slides are vibrant and sharp, their subjects leaping across the decades. My mother is no documentary photographer but she took snapshots of her surroundings. 1950s England looks like an alternative reality, oddly familiar yet completely foreign.
    I'm starting to regret not using Kodachrome while I had the chance.