Wednesday, 30 November 2011

A day in town

    Monday saw my second assessment at the GIC. The same train journey with my wife, walk across the park and through West London. Past the fancy shops, the Bristol Cars showroom, the Olympia exhibition hall. Nice day for it. I bought my wife a scarf.
    Most Londoners are aghast if you tell them you walked across their city. For a whole hour! But it provides an entertaining interlude, a chance to de-stress, and some welcome exercise.
    The GIC was much busier than last time. A healthy cross-section of our community, men and women attired from the conventional to the slightly bizarre. I was the only scruffy bloke among the MtF contingent, in fact at all, the transmen present could hardly be described as scruffy.
    My appointment was with one of the doctors with a more fearsome reputation. One who by all accounts doesn't suffer fools gladly and who sees his job as to challenge his patients. It's his technique to pull no punches, if you go forward on his say-so you have to be really committed to your path. Some people are upset by this, but I see why he does it and if you are prepared for it then it is a welcome exercise in self-challenging.
    I had a fixed objective, to receive their specialist counseling services. Their first question at these appointments is always "Why are you here?", so I gave him my objective and explained why. We then discussed my situation and history, before having an entertaining chat about what I do for a living.
    As an interesting aside, he revealed that my blood test showed I have a benign inherited liver anomaly with a very long name that I'll need to remember should I ever suffer jaundice. Nothing else was mentioned, so I'm guessing my baseline hormone levels must be exactly where they are supposed to be. Healthy is good.
    So I came away with a referral to further counseling. Exactly what I wanted. I'm pleased with this result, it shows that help is available at the GIC for those of us taking non-standard paths. I haven't needed to present as female and I haven't been given a hard time. Sometimes I feel that few people relate their good news GIC stories.
    Out of the GIC, into the Tube. Through the maze of deep tubes, onto the Victoria Line to Walthamstow. A slightly run-down high street like any other, home of Doreen Fashions. A long established ladies clothing shop that specialises in supplies for cross-dressers. Staffed by a wonderful pair of Cockney ladies who were very friendly and helpful. I was looking for an item of shapewear to help tease a feminine silhouette from my angular frame - is that what they mean by "squeezed middle"? - , and while I was there it was always worth seeing whether I could fit any of their size 14 shoes.
    Opportunities to buy ladies shoes in my size don't come my way very often. There are so few made in a UK15 or US16. So if I find a pair and they aren't wild fetishwear, then I'll buy them. Like these sandals, actually a US16 but labelled as a UK14. OK, I haven't got anywhere to wear them, they're a little dressy for my requirements and November is the wrong time to buy sandals. But I have probably just bought the only pair of ladies sandals in my size in the country, so am I bothered? Of course not!
    Surprisingly they're quite comfortable to wear, too. I haven't quite got the walking technique right though. There will be some comedy wobbling moments ahead of me wearing these shoes, but I shall persevere.
    So, Monday was a good day.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

The Wot and the 'Oo

    In a couple of places recently I've had my attention drawn to the apparent dichotomy between identifying as female and admitting that I present as a scruffy bloke in my everyday life. It seems letting slip that you have something of the bloke about you is a bit of a no-no hereabouts.
    It's a valid subject to address, and it's one that different people approach in different ways. My approach to it stems from my scientific and engineering training, I approach it from an empirical rather than an emotional standpoint. Experience and observation rather than theory or logic.

    It comes down to this: splitting the what from the who.

    Who I am is defined by what lies between my ears. I've spent the past four decades battling a brain from the girl parts bin, so yes, I identify as female.

    What I am is defined by my physical attributes. Stubble, deep voice, male parts. I was born that way, grew up that way, can't deny it. So yes, day-to-day I'm a scruffy bloke. Don't really like it much and it's looking sadly more likely I may well fix it some time, but that's the way I am for now.

    This dichotomy is central to the the life of every transsexual. Transition early, transition late or never transition at all, we wouldn't be transsexuals if we didn't have to live at least some of our lives in this way. I find it a bit odd that I even have to lay out what should be the bleedin' obvious, but there you go.

    So yes, I identify as female, though circumstances mean I have to live most of my life as a scruffy bloke. Live with it. I have to, every sodding day.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

That was the future, that was.

    They say today's children are digital natives. That is to say, they have never known a world without ubiquitous computing and to them operating a computer is as natural as a dial telephone or a record player was to someone born in the 1970s.

    I feel sorry for today's children. They are surrounded by so much computing power, yet they know so little about how to use it.

    I was part of the first generation of digital natives, for whom affordable home computing arrived just as we were old enough to get to grips with it. I saved my primary-school-age pennies and bought a Sinclair ZX81. Back then if you wanted to use your computer you had to learn to program it, there was very little commercial software and the machines were designed to be easily programmable. My generation learned BASIC, and if like me we were extra-geeky, machine code. I eventually learned enough about the internal circuitry of the Sinclair to understand its operation completely, the only computer I've had that I've understood to that level in a long career in technology.
    My generation's schools had rooms full of similar home computers. In an unusually far-sighted move the UK government funded the development of a school computer - the BBC Micro - and we kids lapped them up. It is fair to say that many people like me were given careers by that investment.

    By comparison, today's children learn basic Microsoft Office skills. They use computers as appliances, dumbed down in case they might inadvertently learn something from them.

    I spent a while a few weeks ago sorting out some of my old PCs. Dismantling and scrapping some broken or archaic ones, resurrecting a couple of slightly more capable ones to take a lightweight Linux platform for web browsing and other general purpose duties. These were hot gaming and software development platforms in 1998 and 2001 respectively, but now they don't really cut it in the modern PC market. By rights I should get rid of them, but when you work in tech it's always useful to have a spare PC or two around.
    It is sobering to realise though that I'll soon be able to buy a more capable PC the size of a credit card for the equivalent of $25. The Raspberry Pi is a single board computer designed to use a modern HDTV as a monitor and a commodity USB keyboard and mouse. It uses a processor similar to the one in your mobile phone and for storage it uses a memory card like the one in your digital camera. Best of all it runs a full-featured modern Linux operating system which gives it the ability to do most of what until very recently you needed a full-sized PC to achieve. As you might imagine, I'll be placing an order for one as soon as they are released.
    The aim of the Raspberry Pi is not to give geeks like me a new toy though. It is aimed at schools, and it is designed from the start to be easy to program. Its creators - among them some of the people whose imaginations were sparked by the 1980s computer boom - hope to recreate some of the interest in computing as more than a study of appliances that we had with the BBC Micro thirty years ago.
    Maybe today's kids aren't going to be so unlucky in their tech after all.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

A walk in the fog

    As somehow befit the moment, today was a dim and foggy one in Southern England. Last year I spent a while sitting in silent contemplation of TDOR in the parish church I was christened in, this year I passed on that one but  took the same long walk with my mother's dog.

    Happy mutt, fog must bring out the doggy aromas or something.

    So, fog inside and out. A lot to think about. I passed the tree that was in front of me when I heard that Grace had died, its leaves a pleasant coppery colour. The fog blocks the ever-present noise from the main road a couple of miles away, so the dog and I were alone in a world of muted shades, with ghostly trees looming in the distance.
    I thought of Andrea Waddell, and then of a friend of mine who has taken up sex work - I have no idea why, her day job earns her crazy amounts of money! - and ended up as I did last year, angry with the world.

    Don't like anger. It's the testosterone wot does it. Damn stuff should be banned.

    Here's a tip, next time you're likely to be down, take a walk with a happy dog. You're never alone with a dog, and she won't judge you. Plenty to interest her in the leaf litter. I was reminded of the time she put up a muntjac deer which set off at a rate of knots, the dog following on her too-short legs and being left in the dust.
    In an odd echo of last year, I bumped into our neighbour, walking her two dogs. Old friends with my mother's mutt, three dogs ecstatically happy to see each other, tearing off down the field.
    Our neighbour is a close friend of my mother's, and my mother has taken her into confidence about my gender issues. We hadn't talked about it, but after exchanging pleasantries she complemented me on my hair. It's grown out to the point at which the same wave my mother and sister have is beginning to show.
    It was a slightly odd conversation, a scruffy bloke and a middle-aged woman talking about all this while walking through a field of next year's oilseed rape in the fog. I showed her my photo from Sparkle on my phone - not the one I put on this blog but another with my sister - and saw the usual double-take. But no negativity, as she had been to my mother she was nothing but supportive.
    I'm not sure that a similar conversation could have taken place thirty years ago. On TDOR it can be easy to forget that however slowly it is happening, we are still moving forward.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Rug pulled

    A couple of weeks ago my wife dropped something of a bombshell.. She said straight out, that she thought I should move forward and transition because in our current situation neither of us are very happy.

    Ouch. Unsurprisingly that pulled the rug from under my feet.

    We've been attending counseling together for the last couple of months, with Relate. It's been a little tough at times, but our counselor is very good and it has been of benefit to us. When people think of Relate, they think of marriage break-up counseling, of couples arguing hammer and tongs over who gets which end of the family dog, that kind of thing. For us that has not been the case, our counselor has remarked that to her our relationship is very strong. Instead we're using the service as an opportunity to explore our issues as a couple surrounding my gender, and it has been of great help. A little uncomfortable, that's all.

    Did I say a little uncomfortable? I should have said a lot.

    My whole approach to all this has been based around building walls. My family would never accept it (Though bizarrely at the time I was also mistakenly convinced they already knew), I'm too large, my feet are too big, I'd never pass as female, the list went on. This might be familiar to other trans people.
    Each wall I built has been slowly eroded. My family all know now, and have been surprised, but accepting. There are natal women my size and shape. Shoes are difficult in a 15 but not insurmountable. I see something of my sister in the mirror when presenting female.

    I wouldn't make a very good builder, would I.

    And now the most insurmountable wall has crumbled too. The line-in-the-sand. My wife has turned round and said that I shouldn't do this for her.
    In a way I'm glad that this has come out through and been explored in counselling rather than between us as it inevitably would have. The space provided by Relate is there for exactly this purpose, a neutral space. Face it calmly and rationally. As the saying has it, like a man. Funny, that.
    You might think I would be going forward with a song in my heart at this news. After all I have a GIC appointment in a few weeks and all I need do is turn up with a deed poll on my hand and set the ball rolling. But no. What we have is too important to jeopardise and I can not do that. Anything that happens has to be in both of our best interests, unequivocally. She might not leave me were I to transition, but what matters is not whether we stay together but whether she's happy.
    I recognise that I'm on a downward slope and it one day may go horribly wrong. I guess the events of the last week or two might have brought that into sharper focus. But I ain't done yet, and I'm not giving up. A bizarre image floats into my head at that, of Maggie delivering her "The Lady's not for turning" speech.
    So in a couple of weeks I'll wander up to town, walk across the park again and sit down in front of a psychiatrist bloke again in an office overlooking a busy London street. He'll see a scruffy bloke, not an oversized girl. Something has changed since my last GIC visit though, I now know what I want to ask for from him. I've seen counsellors locally, but never gender specialists. I will ask for whatever specialist gender counselling they can offer me.
    I'm done with trying to figure this out for myself, I need a bit of help to get to the bottom of what ails me.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Grey day in Blighty

    The 11th of November. Armistice day. A typical November day here in southern England, subdued lighting and heavy grey skies. Very fitting.
    Though I have one discreetly in the back window of my car I wore no poppy and I missed the minute's silence, mainly because I was picking quinces and I didn't have any means to keep track of time. As it happens I was thinking about a couple of people I knew who were war veterans, both WW2. I was fortunate enough to be in the last generation whose teachers had fought in the war. If you want a very realistic take on it all, get it from someone who spent the war in the nose of a Lancaster bomber, or on a Royal Navy corvette escorting Arctic convoys.
    The war - sorry, I should have said the War - is a national obsession here in the UK. My wife once remarked to her mother that British telly was all about the war and I hotly defended it, only to find Dad's Army and no less than three war documentaries on the evening we returned home.
    It was our Finest Hour y'see, Mr. Churchill told us so. He had one hell of a job of rousing morale to do back in 1940, but over the decades since his speech was delivered the war has been woven into our national mythology to the extent that it has become in a way synonymous with our national identity as a defining moment of Britishness rather than the global catastrophe it should be remembered as.
    So back to today. If you don't observe Rememberance, you are not remembering the War, and thus you are somehow not British. Or so the logic goes. We've seen it reach an extreme in recent years with the near-fetishisation of the act of rememberance in Wootton Basset, in which the ceremonial seems to eclipse the unjustness of the death of the individual. And you get the bizarre race among politicians and celebrities sometime around the end of October, to be the First On Telly Wearing A Poppy. Coquelicots nouveaux, like the race to be the first with the new season's Beaujolais.
    In the past week we've had a fuss over the national footy team's right to wear poppies when playing Jerry the Germans, yesterday there was a fuss over a Muslim group who planned to burn some poppies, and today saw the arrest of a group of far-right-wing English Defence League supporters hoping for a bust-up with some lefty campaigners near the Cenotaph. As if the Prime Minister didn't have better things to do as Europe goes down the pan, or as if the Met wouldn't rather be policing a load of ex-servicemen and women.
    You'll notice at the start of this piece I referred to today as Armistice Day rather than Rememberance Day. Armistice, the day that war ended. Because I'd rather celebrate the peace and pause for a moment to remember the men and women whose sacrifice gave us it than use the day as an opportunity to wrap myself in the flag.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

It's as easy as a walk in the park, right?

    November in the UK is a time in which you have to take your chances. If you get a sunny day, use it, it might be January before you see another!
    Today my wife and I went on a favourite walk of ours, through the river meadows and up onto the Downs near Milton, Oxfordshire. I know the British climate has a reputation for being damp, but rainfall has been rather low this year so the going was surprisingly not muddy and in bright sunlight it made for a very pleasant day.
    Now you might ask why a favourite walk of ours passes near to the omnipresent bulk of Didcot Power Station and crosses the A34, a motorway in all but name. And you'd be right to ask, after all it's one of the more unprepossessing places in that part of the world. But hidden to a motorist's casual eye is a network of  river meadows that have never seen cultivation, fertiliser or weedkiller, separated by clear chalk-fed streams and lush beds of watercress. In short, an oasis of wildlife in a sterile arable plain, albeit to the thunderous aural accompaniment of the trucks heading down to Southampton.
    Sadly we were a bit late to take advantage of the blackberries or wild plums, the birds have had them all. So we did what 21st century foraging humans are supposed to do, we went to a very handy McDonalds by the A34.
    It's almost an H.M. Bateman cartoon, isn't it. I can see it now, "The Man Who Admitted To Liking McDonald's In Polite Company", in which a bunch of 1930s-attired people spill their Fair Trade coffees in horror at such a transgression. And it's true, I've bought my share of Fair Trade coffees over the years, shopped local and eaten organic. But then I married someone from Over There, for whom the chain represents not a faceless corporation but childhood parties and so I too was sucked into the Web of Hamburger Shame. With extra special sauce, oh yeah, that special sauce!
    You know you've hit rock bottom when you're poking discarded cardboard coffee cups with your foot to see whether the collect-six-get-a-free-coffee sticker has been removed. Only managed one today, from four cups. And a grazed hand, snapping off a dead stick to poke at cups in the leaves. Well, it provides a little bit of entertainment during the boring tarmac bit of the walk I guess.
    Our walk took us by the road up the hill towards the Downs, by which there was plenty of discarded fast-food debris. For that I don't blame the restaurant, they have gone out of their way to provide litter bins with their logo on them some distance away from their site, instead I'm unimpressed with people who can't be bothered to stuff the debris back in the paper bag it came in, screw it up and bin it later. Still, I guess I've had more than one free coffee out of them over the years, so I'm hardly one to complain. Maybe I should go litter-picking in penance.
    From the top of the Berkshire Downs you can see at least four counties on a good day. Our route didn't quite take us to the top, so make that two for us. The whole of the Vale of the White Horse spread out in front of us, quite a view. And in early November, one alight with autumn foliage, very pretty.
    As you might imagine, we didn't walk in silence. We have plenty to talk about, as do most couples. And as you also might imagine, our conversation strayed onto matters of gender. It does have that annoying habit of popping up. My wife said something that gave me pause for thought, she said I should work towards transitioning. Bit of a showstopper moment, that. Her reasoning is that I'm not the happiest of people at the moment and thus neither is she, so there is little point in maintaining a situation in which we aren't happy. And she has a point, however as always I am not sure all that would be entailed in my transitioning would be good for her. If that were our route then I would want to embark upon it only once all that underlies it had been thoroughly explored with our various counselors, as I've gone into here ad infinitum in the past she is too important to me to do something that might hurt her.
    So we arrived back to the Turbocharged Rollerskate, safely where we'd left it on a village side road, me with quite a lot to think about. It is encouraging that my wife is prepared to think in that direction because I think we're both aware that this is a downward slope. But while you might expect me to be celebrating such a revelation I'm doing the opposite, hanging back from the brink. Some clue as to why should be found in my description of a happy day walking with my wife.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Hater, or simply alienated?

    It's a hoary old trope I've seen in a thousand ranty online arguments. Usually just before someone mentions the Nazis and invokes Godwin's Law, someone says something like "If you substituted 'Jew' or 'Black person' for (insert trigger word here) and said that, you'd be locked up!".
    At that point I think the argument is lost from all sides and everybody would be better off putting the keyboard down and backing away. Sadly it doesn't seem to work that way.
    It is however all too easy to become wrapped up in the perceived truths of one's own bubble and forget that without thought being given to how they are presented they might appear alienating and offensive to outsiders. Alienated and offended people do the strangest things.
    To that end if I say something I try to imagine how it might play when read in the soft glow of someone else's computer monitor. Someone, that is, who knows nothing about me beyond what the medium in which they encounter me. They don't know I'm either a harmless but scruffy bloke or an amiable but improbable girl, they only have what I've said to go on. Sometimes I'll get it right, occasionally I won't and I'll be called out on it. Being called out is part of life, engage with civility, after all the caller-out often has a point.
    It's interesting though to think about it, those of us in smaller bubbles are quick to label those in larger ones as haters when in fact they may simply be normal people who have been alienated or offended by something we've said or done. Hell, they might even be won over if engaged with rather than met with a counter-display.
    I have to admit to falling into this trap myself at times. Maybe you have too. I'm pretty sure I've also at times been someone alienated and thus labeled a hater, simply because of who I am.
    It's something to think about, engagement rather than anger. If I try it I wonder how long I can keep it up.