Friday, 29 April 2011

In which I lose a friend

    A month or so ago I lost a friend at the hands of a surgeon, on the operating table at the Nuffield Hospital in Brighton.
    I first encountered her last year, at which point she had been full-time female for less than a year. An attractive girl a few years older than me, her strident views and combative nature didn't do her any favours among the orthodoxy of the community of trans people through which we knew each other but we both got on pretty well and I came to regard her as a friend. She was fortunate in her build and in having visited a good facial surgeon so she had confidence in her appearance and I never saw her have any issues with being spotted.
    Unusually she claimed never to have suffered from gender dysphoria, presumably meaning that she didn't suffer from the crushing depression and hopelessness in being male that a lot of readers will find familiar. Her path took her through the private healthcare system rather than the NHS, so as far as I am aware she began hormones before going full-time and the diagnosis criteria were different from those we might find at an NHS GIC.
    She took going off hormones pre-GRS harder than most. For the first time, she said, she understood gender dysphoria. Better late than never I suppose, but it must have been a shock to her. Because almost immediately on her return from the Nuffield following her GRS she announced that she was now going stealth, and that she no longer wished to associate with her trans friends.

    And that's how I lost my friend.

    Good luck to her I suppose. If she can do it. She wouldn't be the first trans woman to go stealth, though she's the first I've heard of doing it before her surgery has healed.
    But I can't help feeling sad at the abrupt loss of a friend, concerned for her wellbeing and above all shocked at her path through the medical system,
    Sad at the loss of a friend, because it's as if it were a bereavement. When she made her announcement it hit me hard. I retreated into my shell. It always hurts a little when a friend makes a great stride in transition that you can't, but for her to make such a stride and then dump everyone really hurt. I can tell she meant it when she said she never really experienced gender dysphoria, because had she done so she wouldn't have treated in that way those among her friends who do experience it. Hell, it wasn't as though she had to face the embarrassment of being associated with a Widow Twankey Tranny, she only once ever saw me as anything but the scruffy bloke.
     Concerned for her wellbeing because I don't think she's dealt with her issues. I think she is only now discovering that there is more to this than acquiring a pretty face and other female enhancements from a surgeon. If she locks herself into the closet that going stealth can become then she will find it very difficult to find help, and as someone who still considers herself a friend I wish I could avoid that happening.
     And shocked at her path through the medical system because I do not believe her doctors to have been acting in her best interests. As far as I am aware she went through the entire process in the absolute minimum time possible under the Standards of Care, and given both her obvious issues now and that she claimed all along never to have suffered from gender dysphoria I find wanting the medics who authorised her treatment without significant examination of why she took that position.
    I hope her going stealth was simply due to her being in a hormonal mix-up following her surgery and I hope she'll pop up again as if nothing has happened. With luck she'll be wiser for the experience. But if she does I hope she also realises that her path was not as smooth as it might have appeared to her when taking it, and takes the time to face up to the consequences of that.

   Because you know what? I'd hate to lose her once again, this time permanently.

(Edit, Dec 2011: she has surfaced, but I have mixed feelings about it which I've detailed here)

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Roadworthy old wreck

    This morning a bloke in a tin shed on the edge of an English village spent half an hour poring over the Rusty Old Wreck before pronouncing it roadworthy and issuing it with an MOT test certificate. It is now legal to drive on the Queen's highway for the next year, given a quick trip with the certificate and its insurance details to the village post office for a tax disc which was free on account of the Wreck's historic vehicle status.
    Such are the minor annoyances of British automotive bureaucracy.
    It would have been the perfect start to the day, except that the Wreck's clutch is slipping. Fifty year old springs are not doing a very good job of keeping the plate pressed against the flywheel and it is very difficult to make the car go any faster than thirty miles per hour without a sudden burst of revs as it loses adhesion.
     How unfortunate. Luckily I know another bloke in a tin shed who can help, sometime soon I'll be off to the lair of someone who is a World Expert on Wrecks and who I am sure will be able to sort me out with the parts I need.
    Every branch of motor enthusiasm has a bloke in a tin shed somewhere catering for its adherents. Everyone I know with a Wreck has the World Expert on speed-dial, and similarly my motorcycles and the Turbocharged Rollerskate are tended by equivalent experts in their own fields working out of anonymous industrial units.
    There is a cosy certainty to a conversation within the fold of similarly afflicted petrolheads. In the world of the true enthusiast there is no room for hierarchy or snobbery, from the rustiest Wreck to the shiniest concours d'elegance winner they are all machines and thus fascinating to the born fettler. I can no more explain the attractions of a detailed conversation about the different clutch parts fitted to pre- and post-1963 cars as I can the attraction of a Little Black Dress to someone who looks like me, but strangely they both fulfill the same function: that of keeping the brain occupied. Which is important when you are trying to stop yourself going potty.
     It's been too long since I last drove the Wreck. I was worried I'd not rediscover the spark, but today has been a good one and the girl has not intruded too much. Something which given the experience of my last few weeks can only be a positive thing.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

A year in her shoes

    Just from curiosity, I took a look back at what I was writing here a year ago. Nothing much changes, I was fettling the Wreck, I'd just been out with some local t-girls and I was periodically plagued by the noisy girl. Amusingly I thought I might have the Wreck on the road within a month, only a year later am I about to send it for an MOT test.
    One personal anniversary is in the offing though. A year ago, give or take a few days, I finally took delivery of my wig. It had taken a while because I'd taken pains to get the right wig - I've paid less for Wrecks in the past - and I'd had to have it altered for my oversize head.
    But for the first time I could stand in front of a mirror and see something more of the girl than the scruffy bloke wearing her clothes. Straight away I gave myself a shock when I saw something of my sister looking back at me.
    I've come a long way in the last twelve months. I've come to terms with some of my demons, not least  my height. Going out as girl has become less scary and a little more routine, though I've not pushed my wife's comfort zone by doing it too close to home. I'm in the queue for the GIC for whatever help they can offer someone in my position, I'm in a much better job and some of last year's worries for the future have receded. Looking forward I'm slowly growing my hair out and in due course I'll no doubt be savouring the joys of having my facial hair lasered.
    So I have a lot to be thankful for. Unfortunately though I'm still as far away as ever from being at peace with all this. I can't quite escape the nagging fear that eventually it'll all go pear-shaped anyway and I'm just stringing my wife along. She says not to worry as we'll deal with everything as it arrives, but I can't help it. I am incredibly lucky to have married someone who has been able to come to terms with having a gender dysphoric husband to the extent she has, but I have no wish to push her beyond her limit.
     I can't put this back in the box. I tried that for years, and it nearly killed me. If I am to successfully pursue my aim of hanging in there for my wife I must face up to the crushing gloom of a lifetime of this stretching away before me. However at this point I feel I can take hope from something a friend pointed out to me: that dealing with this is not a process that starts at the point of going full-time female, at GRS or any other milestone, instead it starts at the point at which you come to terms with your female gender identity and thereafter all steps you take represent progress along a path that is never fully completed. Within that scope I feel I have more room for manoeuvre, and that at least is something to be happy about.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Long weekends

    I did have a long post half-written about how the girl is becoming a PITA again. But I scrubbed it because I didn't like its tone. Too whiny. Writing is cathartic, publishing said writing is not necessary for that effect to be achieved.
    Here in the UK we are embarking on one of our periodic rashes of bank holidays. A late Easter, a Royal Wedding and May Day mean that we have four of them in eleven days. We're surrounded by a rash of monarchism and apathy as the explosion of national joy at William and Kate's impending nuptials turns out to be rather muted compared to that surrounding his parents' wedding back in 1981. Back then we had a village party with a huge spread of food and several families clustered round a slightly blue-tinged colour telly. I seem to remember some of the women sporting highly improbable outfits featuring more than a little red, white and blue, though that could be a confusion with memories of the Silver Jubilee in 1977. This time I guess my mother will have it on in the background in digital widescreen HD but I doubt she'll watch the whole ceremony. I saw a piece yesterday making the point that the royal engagement ring alone is worth £32m, £4m more than the UK Government's total 4-year spend on services for abused women. Sigh.
    Unfortunately my wife will be at work for some of the holidays. So I'll be at a loose end. Not that I'll be short of things to do. After nearly nine years languishing, the Rusty Old Wreck is finally booked in for an MOT test on Wednesday, and I have to ensure that it's as ready as it can be. Old cars can always surprise you with the diversity of ways they can let you down , and I'm anxious that the Wreck doesn't do that to me on its Big Day. I've had enough drama so far with its brakes. Who knew that finding a drum brake adjustment tool would be so difficult in 2011!
    In a way having the Wreck roadworthy will be an anticlimax. Sure it's fun bimbling through the countryside in a fifty year old car, but I've found that the fettling of an old piece of machinery is what has kept me coming back to it of late. Something real I can involve myself in to help myself ignore everything else. You'd never have caught a twenty-something me drooling over supercars at the Motor Show but it will be interesting to see whether I rediscover some of the fun I had in owning an older car back in the '90s. I guess if I'm short of old machines to fix I've always got a geriatric motorcycle begging for my attention.
    With so many days free I'll probably attach the mutt to her bit of string and set off across the fields a bit further than my usual circuit. My part of the world is looking pretty good at the moment as you can see from the picture attached to this post. So by next Tuesday I'll no doubt have caught the sun, have sore feet and insect bites. But I hope at least I'll be happy having shed the girl as best I can.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Feminist blogs: like a work-safe erotic computer game

    Back in the 1990s I worked in the computer game business. I shared an office with a bunch of games testers, young late-teenaged blokes whose job was to play computer games all day. It was a colourful atmosphere with more than a whiff of unregulated testosterone and other substances about it, and though I am very glad to have moved on those days still conjure a slight sense of nostalgia.
     A few days ago I was unexpectedly reminded of the testers by an unlikely stimulus, I followed a link from another blogger and found myself dipping once more into the world of feminist blogs. Though I've made no secret of my irritation with the hate-preaching sector of feminism I found the blogs I was looking at had some sense about them and I found myself agreeing with their writers.
    In the normal course of events I might have done what I would in our little corner of the blogosphere: stopped for a while and left a few comments. But  I found the usual page on a feminist blog: 'Advice before you comment'. Full of -isms and privileges both real and imagined, and boasts of debating gambits they found unacceptable and trolls they had seen off. I ended up thinking "This isn't worth it!" and moving on. Shame, I always like getting to know people who write well.
    So how did the testers come in to this? Simple, I was reminded of the way they used to play erotic computer games. I appreciate that this comparison might be anathema to a feminist blogger, so let me explain. Back in the '90s there was a genre of computer games that involved enticing virtual women into sex. From the merely risqué such as the Leisure Suit Larry series to the overtly erotic such as Virtual Valerie, their premise was simple: do the 'right' things and you will achieve your aim, do the 'wrong' things and the virtual object of your lust will slam the door on you. Never my thing really, but to the testers who had something of the adolescent about them they were fascinating.
    What was interesting was how they evolved the playing of these games. Once the initial 'Phwoarrr' factor had worn off and they'd realised that there was only a certain level of eroticism that could be conveyed in pixel form by a mid-90s PC, their focus changed from the eroticism to the chase. Not having their virtual quarry reject them became a daring game of suspense, and triggering the boot became a thrill rather than a failure. This was no solitary pursuit, instead they played as a group, clustered round the monitor offering advice and encouragement.
    I was reminded of the testers on the feminist  blogs because I saw the same forces at play. The feminist blogger is the unreachable prey and the bloke trolls are the hunters. They get the same satisfaction from worming their way under the radar and springing the trap that closes the door on them as the testers did from being rejected by their virtual women, the object has become to deliver the barb and the door being slammed is simply the expected consequence.
    Except that unlike a dodgy '90s computer game, there is a person involved. Do these bloggers gain as much satisfaction from seeing off trolls that the trolls do from winding them up? Or do they crouch beleaguered in their eyries, convinced they are under constant threat and having their prejudices reinforced by people who are simply poking them for sport?

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Marketing toys to boys and to girls

    Here's a link that came my way today at work. Crystal Smith is the writer of The Achilles Effect, a book examining the messages of gender and masculinity in popular culture, particularly as they relate to young boys.
    As part of her research, she's examined the language used to promote toys to both boys and to girls, and produced a pair of eye-catching word clouds showing how such promotion reinforces gender stereotypes. I can never resist a pretty infographic so I'd like to direct my readers to her blog, which given its subject matter I am sure many will find interesting.

Thursday, 14 April 2011


    Blokes aren't supposed to talk about flowers. I think they're all scared people might think they're gay or something. Which is a shame because particularly at this time of year there is a lot to talk about if you appreciate flowers, every tree is covered in them.
    The picture shows one of our orchard trees, a williams pear. Fruit growers are one of the few groups of blokes you'll find talking about blossom, though they'll be careful not to sound as though they are enjoying its beauty too much. Unless they *are* gay, presumably. Instead they obsess about whether it'll be frosted, how much of it there is, and whether enough of the right insects are finding it.
    I tried to catch one of the mason bees on the blossom in my picture, but it was camera shy.
    I've been a little up-and-down of late. My wife was away at her mother's place until the weekend, and that's always a bit difficult for me. Wandering through the orchard at blossom time is not a cure-all for depression, but it certainly makes you feel a little better.

Edit: Apple blossom picture added for comparison (See comments).

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Trans-cending gender norms, UWE Bristol

    Yesterday was spent in a lecture theatre at the University of the West of England, attending the 'Trans-cending gender norms' pre-conference event. It was the first such conference I had attended and I found it to be an extremely worthwhile experience, both for the subjects under discussion and for the networking opportunities.
   Attending were a mixed crowd of academics and trans people, including a couple of blokes from Qwest FTM UK, a pair of ladies from the Gender Trust, me (sadly in bloke mode) and my friend Alison wearing our Swindon TG Group hats, and unexpectedly my local friend Rebecca in her professional capacity as an interested academic.
    I didn't expect to find myself talking to linguists about the use of language in relation to transgender, something that I have a keen interest in and is not unconnected with what I do for a living, given that analysing huge tracts of text forms part of my job.
    So my thanks to Silvia, the event organiser, and to the other attendees for a very interesting day.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen

    It seems slightly old-fashioned these days, but there's something I still aspire to in my scruffy day-to-day persona: to be a gentleman. My ever-handy dictionary describes a gentleman as "a chivalrous, courteous, or honourable man", and I'd render it into a more down-to-earth "do the right thing mate, don't be an arsehole".
    It goes without saying that this is not an aspiration confined to blokes. The dictionary definition for lady made me laugh: "a courteous, decorous, or genteel woman", I never knew it would be OK to be decorous but I wouldn't need to be honorable when in Jenny mode. But it still works in the vernacular: "do the right thing love, don't be an arsehole".
    This week I have been disappointed in some of what I have read on our little corner of the blogosphere. Views that contradict mine I have no problem with, I welcome the cut-and-thrust of debate. Rants are fine too, even unfocused ones. Hell, they can even be entertaining. Where I felt a line had been crossed was the point at which I started reading personal attacks based on people's appearance. Just as we can't help whatever weird and wonderful brain structures have been bestowed upon us, we can't help our genetics and the ravaging effects of years of the wrong hormonal mix on our bone structures. I won't post links, but some of you will know where I've been reading.
    Medical science has been wonderful for those of us suffering from GD. It can never erase a male history but it can now deliver as good a facsimile of womanhood as we could possibly hope for. However I've learned this week that there is one thing it can not do. It does not matter where on his scale Dr. Benjamin would have put you, how many surgeries you have had or how many years practice you have under your belt: the doctors can make you into a woman but they can't make you into a lady.

Saturday, 9 April 2011


    So last night Caroline and Lisa spent the evening with Jenny, face-to-face, no scruffy blokes involved. A massive thank-you to Caroline's sister and her husband for both feeding us and putting up with us, and I hope any cider-fueled headaches will have subsided by now.
    As always when I shed the scruffy bloke impersonation I find myself acutely aware of his echoes in my behaviour. Testosterone and a lifetime's conditioning have made it rather difficult to leave all the male traits behind, and I'm constantly thinking "That was such a bloke thing you did there!" at work for example. It's stupid really, it's mostly imaginary and half of what I think is obvious never gets noticed by anyone else, but we all have these things that grip us irrationally from time to time.
    Every time I go somewhere in Jenny mode now it feels less like something I have to get ready for and more spontaneous. As real as the scruffy me with Rusty Old Wreck-stained t-shirt sitting typing this. Separating the two could become a problem, one I don't want to have to face. I must remind myself, a woman with a Rusty Old Wreck would be just as grubby after wire-brushing its underside.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Which way?

    On Sunday I found myself somewhere unexpected: my local United Reformed Church LGBT service.
    Unexpected because being at a loose end with my wife being at her mother's place I'd seen myself spending an evening in front of the telly watching CSI, but I ended up giving a disabled friend a lift into town.
    There is something deliciously naughty about parking on a double yellow line, even if you have a blue disabled badge in the window. I could imagine the judge looking skeptical when told that I was running a disabled pensioner friend into her church service, but that was the truth and anyway no traffic warden wrote me a ticket.
    As I've probably mentioned before, I was raised as an Anglican in a rural community. Growing up an Anglican is easy, there's God and Jesus, then the Queen, and the vicar comes round to primary school in his Morris Minor to tell you all the bible stories and everything's so frightfully nice about it all. You sing rousing hymns about saints and seasons to the soft refrain of a church organ, you pick blackberries in the churchyard and there is always honey still for tea.
    If Jesus' message was of a higher authority than the Emperor of His day then British rural Anglicanism is there to remind you of the contrary: a cosy certainty that His message on Earth is safely coincident with being British, and that the Queen is a much more benevolent figure than Herod or the Pharaoh. Belief is optional, it's all about taking part. If you've never read the Terry Pratchett novel Small Gods, I suggest you do so, I see in it a biting satire of British Anglicanism.
    Blimey, being a five-year-old was so easy!
    Of course, when you grow up and become a rebellious depressive teenager you realise that the church is a creaky old building with holes in its roof, and that the Church it represents is run by stupid old men whose minds are in another era.
    With respect to Church attendance, I'm definitely a Harvest Festival Anglican. But I know all the moves and more importantly for last Sunday I know all the back story as told to me by our vicar back in the sunny 1970s.
    So there I was, sitting in my first Bible discussion for thirty years, and finding it interesting to look upon it with the eyes of an adult. And unexpectedly not finding it embarrassing, thank you Vicar, I know this stuff!
    Sadly for my more faith-led readers though, this was no Damascene moment. I still count myself the same small-c christian I did before and there was no blinding moment of renewed faith. I envy those with Belief, but I'm still not one of them.
    The service performs a vital role for its regulars, ministering to Christians who may have been excluded from their own congregations. The minister, a very down-to-earth American lady, was very welcoming to the extent that I almost felt guilty, as though there on false pretences. The other people present came from a variety of backgrounds within the LGBT alphabet soup, among them several transgender people, but there was one in particular who stuck in my mind. Though she was presenting female she like me spends most of her time as a bloke, but there our similarities end. She had only come out of her closet in the last few months, and just at that most vulnerable point her (AFAICT some kind of Baptist) church had ousted her and persuaded her wife to leave her. She wasn't even certain that transitioning was for her, but unlike me she'd been denied the chance to even try to hang in there for her wife.
    I'm sure her church could go on for hours and hours about the sanctity of marriage. Her minister probably has a great sermon on the subject, about sin and fornication and all sorts of other temptingly forbidden stuff. But just at the point when one of their own really needs their help and support, all that sanctity of marriage stuff goes out of the window and it's all get lost and don't come back. [Village in Austria] [village in Worcestershire]s!
    My apologies. Living in a largely secular bubble, you forget that this kind of stuff can happen here, too.
    On a lighter note, afterwards we found ourselves in one of my town's gay pubs. As a new attendee I was naturally asked a few questions. I don't think they expected a giant sized scruffy bloke to be transgender, I was asked something that made me laugh. "Which way?". I suppose I should take heart, if my questioner believed from looking at me that I might once have been female then all is not lost for me on the passing front!

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Guest post 4: More than a label

    I know I’m obviously biased here, but I do look at the female world and wonder what the point is of all those articles on ‘how to please your man’ when the most obvious response would be just to say what’s on your bloody mind, not to hide behind layers of connivance and manipulation and making him guess.  

    I get annoyed at the way women represent themselves. I get annoyed at the way men do, too, but certainly not to the same extent. I hate the clichés, the comments like “ooh, haven’t you got him well trained!” and “Typical man, always doing …” and the batting of eyelashes to jump the queue and the utter refusal to be practical about checking tyre pressures or the gas meter. I hate the snide remarks and the seeming impossibility of being able to ask for what you’d like, simply and without artifice or connivance. I especially don’t like the concept that when you ‘bag your man’ you have to go hell for leather to change him. Then the insult upon insult: when the poor chap does his damnedest to leap through the hoops you hold always just a fraction too far away, you walk on because ‘he’s changed’. The complicity of handing down obeisance to sexualised behaviour from mother to daughter, aunt to niece.

    I do have a big issue with society’s expectations of what men and women are supposed to do, like, think, want, achieve. Jobs, clothes, families, music, haircuts, ambitions, vehicles... a hundred and one ways we’re expected to conform. I hesitate to call myself a feminist, though, because I don’t want to be seen as pro-female at the expense of males, which some feminism appears to be. Far more to my preference is an equality of both genders, and with that an equality of access to any life or needs which a person should have for their wellbeing.

    On the flip side, I do see the grass as being considerably greener on the male side of the fence. I don’t know if this is a reaction against the boundaries society tries to contain me (and women in general) within; or if deep down I feel that it’s a territory that should have been mine by birth. I don’t know whether liking ‘blokey’ things is a way of getting back at the follies of the female lot (as I see them), or at society, or at men in general for being able to claim these things as theirs without question.  

    Take motorbikes, for instance. I despise the assumption that women can’t ride (or can only go on the back). This is perpetuated by women themselves as much as by men. I get annoyed at the expectation that women don’t like getting dirty and covered in oil, or are too weak to wield spanners with impunity. Some men have criticised women for not being able to pick up a bike when it falls. I know a lot of other men who have problems picking up bikes on their own – they’re heavy bits of kit. I can check my oil and lube the chain, but I don’t know how to change them; that’s because I’ve never been shown, not because my gender renders me incompetent. I would like to be as self-sufficient in these things as possible, not to prove to men that I can, or to women that they’re weak for not even bothering, but simply so that I can be self-reliant.  

    What a mess! I know not all women are like that. I know not all men are like that. There are some absolute gems in the world – Jenny’s one, for starters! To conclude and bid you all a fond farewell, thanks all for letting me witter on.  


Sunday, 3 April 2011

Guest post 3: Yesterday, today

    Quite by coincidence, yesterday I mentioned to some female friends of mine in the pub that the previous occupant of the loo had left the seat up. You can accept that at home if you share with a bloke, but in a place where only women go? I was quite taken aback by the response: someone immediately started looking round the pub to identify the “ladyman” and jokes flew all night about the unfortunate thus identified. Someone asked which loo you’d use if you were “having a sex change” which caused great debate. What surprised me the most was the contributions from a young woman who earlier was explaining hegemonic masculinity and femininity and how important it is not to pander to stereotypes.

    In my previous post, I mentioned about how I feel out-of-sorts with the usual crowds. This was an example of it. It made me uncomfortable and nervous and I didn’t know how to go about bringing a halt to the ribaldry in a gracious way. I think I’m a little bit more aware than most about conversations like this because, being on the periphery of that wonderfully useless word ‘normality’, a) I perceive how easily the joking could be about me; and b) I’ve met quite a few people who define themselves in all kinds of different ways and have (I hope) much more of an open mind about such things.  

    I first met a ‘proper TG’ woman in 1989; the lead singer of a local band, she was a source of puzzlement and curiosity by many. By this point I’d already decided to be as open-minded as I could possibly be, so I just took it in my stride. I know I’ve met many more over the years, but in 2007, in my brother’s last days, his close friend Sharon introduced me to her partner, Jackie. It was only about a week later, when we were chatting about hospitals in general, that Sharon referred to Jackie’s ‘surgery’. I was so confused I actually had to ask her what she meant! My first reaction when the penny dropped was to be jealous.  

    Why? She had made the choice, and acted on it. She knew what she was, and sorted the problem. Yes, I know, I  know, that’s woefully naïve and almost certainly rather insulting. But I’m trying to be honest here about the thoughts which ran – run – through my head. Bear in mind I was 23 before I realised that the choice of having children or not was mine to make, not society’s… that always flummoxes people who know me very well as I’m such an outspoken person on people’s rights to live the way they want to. So, thinking within that framework, I’d already grown a pair of tits and hips so huge I have to do a three point turn to get out of the bath and assumed that being female was something I was going to have to get used to. So by the time I realised that I didn’t have to have accepted this body, I then assumed it was too late.

    I nominally call myself bi, but I haven’t had a girlfriend in years. I gave up when I realised that lesbians don’t tend to want a man, not even a female-shaped one. I found it tough to come to terms with the fact that I go in. I like my body, sometimes, and do actually have female bits of me that I’m quite proud of, but I do feel like I should go out instead. When I was three, I clearly remember telling my brother: “On my fourth birthday, I’m going to be a boy.” I have no idea how my parents reacted to this, but I do know that my mother was so fed up of people commenting about her ‘sons’ that she had my ears pierced when I was five.

    So who am I? A boy, a girl, or a Gray?

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Guest post 2: Somewhere in the middle

Last time, I introduced myself as Gray. This is actually short for a female name, which I don’t like because it’s just a bit too feminine for me. Plenty of others have the name too and they all seem to be PR princesses and journalists who write for Marie-Claire. However, I was struck by the words of a counsellor I once had, who observed that I’d chosen a ‘deliberately ambiguous’ name. When you see it written down, you don’t really know who I am… I like that. People often jump to the nearest female name they recognise when I introduce myself, which sometimes annoys me. But I’m still amused by their confusion.

I’m not a girly-girl. I don’t do pink or frills or cushions. I like motorbikes, loud music, computers,graphic novels, the workings of the London Underground. You’re more likely to find me engrossed in a programme on refitting a narrowboat or a documentary about black holes than ‘How to look good naked’. I browse through sale racks of industrial metal CDs, not handbags or heels. Actually, I don’t think I even own any heels. I know I don’t own any skirts.I have to use something as a title, so I’m a Ms. For years I had very short hair, until last year when I decided to grow it to cover my new hearing aids. I never wear make-up, either– although I can, and do, such as at weddings. I then have to bite my lip when people make crass comments about me scrubbing up well – as if, in my normal scruffy state I’m incapable of   anything else.

It’s hard to pinpoint why I’m such a tomboy. I always saw my brother as having much more fun and freedom. I can safely say I knew this from as young as three years old. My first two best friends were both boys (both, oddly, were also called Jonathan, and both shared the same birthday). I liked the idea that girls who are tomboys stand out and get attention. I liked being ready for action at any time. I liked the additional pull for potential boyfriends of being a bit more forthright and down-to-earth than a lot of girls I knew. I’m certainly much happier hanging out with men than women, especially at loud gigs when you’d always find me down the front ‘slamming’ (moshing) and talking technical details of valve clearances at a bike meet.

This has had its disadvantages, of course. It’s left me feeling very isolated sometimes. It’s all very well having male friends, but not so good when you need to talk about your Girl Bits or if you’re upset and just need a hug. Societal expectations seem to have no age limit; I know 15-year-olds and 75-year-olds equally who have problems with me. I can’t believe people's nerve and rudeness, sometimes, but hey... It hurts, when you try to be as open-minded and as accepting of other people as you can, when people are blatantly blinkered. It also makes finding close friends pretty hard; I don’t trust people so much nowadays so I may even be closing the door on people now before I’ve even given them a try. What a round-and-round!

I do laugh, though, when my good friends say “She’s not a girl, she’s a Gray.”

So today, as I sign off, I’m wondering how much closer I actually am to answering my question before: Who am I?

Friday, 1 April 2011

Guest post 1: Who am I?

    A week or so ago I approached G, a friend of mine, to ask her for a guest post for this blog. I suggested something like "Why it's OK for girls to be into bloke stuff" because I have at times witnessed entertaining discussions within this sphere on that subject and G is well placed to comment on it. I received more than I expected, not one but four posts, for which she has my sincerest thanks. So here's the first post, the other three will be published over the next few days.

    I thought I’d start by introducing myself in much the same way Jenny did. But then I realised that I could be dissected in a hundred different ways, and each would show someone completely different. Slice me one way, and you’d see the only daughter of a family three- quartered: my mother, my father, me, minus my older brother who died three years ago. Cut me another way, and you’d see the live-in partner of a man whose intelligence is seemingly limitless, but who nevertheless found something in me to raise me in his eyes above the herd. To friends, to co-workers, to managers, to strangers… again and again different versions of me.

    It’s quite hard, therefore, to think about defining myself outside the views of others. Quite simply, beyond the actual sperm-meets-egg moment of my creation, my whole life has been subjectively fashioned. This makes it tough for me to pull down a list of characteristics that I can simply point to and identify with. I suspect that most people don’t think that hard about themselves: they just are. Lucky them to be free of such existential gnawings! But my point is, which me would you, the reader, actually like to find out about?

    Anyway! I’m called Gray and I live and work in Kent, the south-eastern-most county of England. I’m an IT trainer for a mental health charity, and a Skills for Life tutor (basic English and maths for adults) in a prison; so you could surmise (correctly) that I’m quite an altruistic person. I’m loyal, kind, generous, fun; temperamental, obnoxious, garrulous. Most people don’t ‘get’ me; I do feel very square-peggish. My one biggest chip on my shoulder is when people call me ‘weird’. It’s never used in a positive way and I’m far too sensitive to let ungracious comments, be they inadvertent or deliberate, slide over me and away. Barbs dig; they dig deep and stay in. So, yes, I’ve learnt to be pretty private about myself to people who I call ‘the peripherals,’ ones who won’t ever be more in my life than co-worker or pub acquaintance.

    Jenny asked me privately not to reveal her female world to our mutual friends; in respect of this, and to prevent people stumbling across this blog through searching for me and identifying Jenny, I’ve given myself a new name. But the rest of it will be as true as I can make it, bearing in mind what I said above about subjectivity. If you have any questions, do ask. I might even answer! :)