Sunday, 30 December 2012

Hang 'em an' flog 'em...

    I have a friend who is vehemently opposed to capital punishment. In every way, no compromise, wherever in the world and whatever the crime.
    Sadly I can't find myself fully agreeing with her, not because I don't find it unsettling and abhorrent, but because I really can't say there'd be no criminal whose end at the noose wouldn't concern me. Don't get me wrong, I'm extremely glad that we abandoned hanging many years ago because it means there can be no more shocking cases like that of Derek Bentley, it's just that I can't honestly say I'd be too upset if I heard that they were going to hang someone like Ian Brady. It would be hypocritical of me to say otherwise.
    So what's brought on this train of thought? The recent tragic and distressing case from India of the young woman who was gang-raped and who subsequently died from her injuries. There have not surprisingly been huge protests at the Indian police's lack of serious handling of the issue, as well as demands that the perpetrators be hung. Can't honestly say I'd get too upset at that prospect, as I've said above.
    It has been interesting however over the last few days to listen to the right-on chorus of Usual Suspects as they rightly go to town on the issue of rape, but fail to make their usual noise over the prospect of someone receiving the death penalty. Maybe they need to examine their stance, or admit their hypocrisy.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Not just for Christmas

    Christmas has passed, leaving a trail of silver paper and flatulence. This year's was a good one as it happens, lacking too many familial complications. Just my parents, and us two. No awkward phone calls from feuding siblings or aunts.
    As I mentioned, I was girl for the day again. I cooked the meal, for which my mother was very thankful.
    My mother surprised me, by offering me some of her surplus clothing. If you're reminded of the passage in Bridget Jones' Diary in which Bridget is dressed by her mother in a frightfully frumpy outfit at Christmas then think again, I'm blessed with a mother with taste. She gave me a very simple black dress from one of the lesser-known suppliers specialising in clothing for very tall women, and as you might expect it works very well on someone with my body shape.
    So all in all a success. And as always, not entirely easy to come back from. Like those Dogs Trust adverts: being transgender is for life, not just for Christmas. Annoying, innit.
    The countryside is very wet indeed, everywhere is either muddy or flooded. I squelched through some more pruning on Boxing Day, then exercised my mother's dog. As a rather diminutive mutt she's not overly keen on splashing through flooded footpaths, poor thing.
    So back to work today in a nearly deserted office. Extended coffee breaks with the couple of nearby colleagues, long lunchtime. Nice in a way, but kinda heightens the feeling of isolation being one of a few dozen in a place that normally houses hundreds of people. And over it all hanging the spectre of January's GIC visit. It's funny, there are people now recovering form GRS who entered that pathway after I did and I'm still the scruffy bloke to my peers. I'm not sorry to have spent that last few years the way I have though because I am certain that more people than would admit it move forward in haste down the path of gender medicine only to repent at leisure.
    I just wish I had a definite resolution from it all though.

Sunday, 23 December 2012


    Time to crack open a bottle of cider and curl up on the sofa watching the TV. A great heap of damp and grubby clothing is in the washing machine. Green tree moss, British mud and a hefty addition of wet dog smell, all being removed with the help of a plastic ball full of Persil.
    December in rural Britain is usually cold, in every form from bright and cold through to freezing cold, damp and depressing. This December, like the rest of 2012, had diverged from that rule book, being warm for the season and very wet indeed. My parents land is flooded, as is most of the surrounding farmland. In driving to their place I found myself having to brave the uncertain depths of more than one stretch of flooded back road in the Rollerskate, unfortunate memories being conjured of the time I misjudged a flood and nearly got the car stuck. The latest installment of my Welsh course was abandoned half way through, the heightened adrenaline rather claimed my attention.
    So I've been squelching around the orchard in Gore-Tex and wellies, pruning the apple trees. 2012 was a bad year for apples as for most trees the blossom came in a cold wet spring, but what they lost in fruit they made up in growth. I have a small forest of young branches to tame, something I have to do without encouraging yet further growth next year.
    It's fortunate the Rollerskate has a very good heater. I didn't have long enough to really dry out in front of my parents fire and the drive home ( Wyt ti'n mynd y gallu siarad Cymraeg? Ydw, dw i yn mynd y gallu siarad Cymraeg!) shifted some of the damp. I should really have packed a change of clothes, shouldn't I.
    Around us the country is entering the usual pre-Christmas frenzy. We did all our relevant shopping weeks ago and got in a couple of weeks groceries at the start of last week, so fortunately we're avoiding it. Not so far away from us is a retail outlet village, a place that draws a never-ending stream of label-afflicted idiots and makes the main roads in its vicinity impassable for two months over Christmas. Now you know why I was using flooded roads earlier.
    We're going to spend Christmas day at my parents place. No sister this year, just them and us two. As last year, I'm going to leave the scruffy bloke on one side for the duration. I have a red and black dress lined up that should be festive enough for Christmas Day without being too impractical for turkey-cooking duties.

    As always, it's just too damn easy.

    In about three weeks I'll be off to the GIC again, to talk about The Future. I can't honestly say I'll be the scruffy bloke this time next year, but neither can I outright give up. I'm in an odd position though for someone following my path. It seems more usual for partners of transgender people to threaten to leave if they transition. My wife made the observation that as I am not happy and thus neither is she it was more likely our marriage would end eventually if I didn't.
    Nobody said it was all going to be too damn easy, did they.

Sunday, 16 December 2012


    Engineers don't write essays at university, we do endless lab sessions instead. Not for the first time I was rather thankful for this last week when a friend of mine who is a trainee social worker was knuckling down to her end-of-term essay on social exclusion.
    The essay gave rise to a very interesting conversation. "Social exclusion" evokes images in the public mind of feral youth on sink estates. You know, poor people. That quaint phrase The lower orders. Not people like us, whoever we may be.

    Nice, innit. Real Daily Express stuff, you might say.

    Yet I guess I'd bought into it just as much as anyone else. All the media love a story about feral yobs, it's a universal chance for their readers to feel like they are someone's betters. Guardian  and Independent readers will wring their hands in mock horror that the Lower Orders are so disadvantaged while Mail and Express readers will fume and complain that the Lower Orders aren't being flogged enough. Like they were in the Good Old Days, no doubt.
    My friend's illuminating point was that social exclusion does not limit itself by class, location or income bracket. Anyone can feel passed by or left out by a society that has moved on from their viewpoint, and simply because they aren't necessarily poor, in a minority, or don't vandalise bus shelters like the feral youth does not mean that they are any less socially excluded.
    A few weeks ago I tried to put into words my frustration at the way people dismiss rather than engage with those of opposing view. The point about social exclusion from my friend made a lot of sense in that context, for it is a fine line between outrage or resentment, and social exclusion.
    Feral youth react to their social exclusion by antisocial behaviour, because they are powerless. When people with a voice become socially excluded their reaction can have far more effect on wider society because that voice does not go away, it simply becomes ever more bitter and divisive.  When such people have some influence on their respective political movements we see a negative effect for all of us. The influence of embittered radical feminists on the mainstream Left view of the rights of transgender people for example, or the influence of anti-gay Christians on the mainstream Right. Transgender people having difficulty accessing rape counselling in so-called "women only" spaces for example, and the equal marriage wrangling  in Westminster at the moment that speaks for itself. I can even see it in a cause I despise: the fox hunting lobby is a socially excluded group in a countryside that has moved on from their 19th century world.
    It may grate with some readers, the idea that followers of causes they find abhorrent might be socially excluded and should be engaged with rather than marginalised. Hey, I'm as guilty of it as the next person. But it's important to make the point nevertheless.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Where do I start?

251220092675    As I write this the countryside in my part of southern England is frost-bound, quiet and still. Yesterday morning's drive to the shops might have been through a series of Christmas cards, English villages in bright sunlight with trees picked out in grey and white.
    The normal pressures of this time of year have caught up with me. Trimming branches at my parents place, moving random pieces of machinery, starting a Welsh course and trying to avoid too many Christmas meals with disparate groups of friends and acquaintances. So not much time for blogging, sadly.
    It's almost three years since I stumbled from the closet, and just over three years since the stress of hiding it all robbed me of my ability to sleep. I must have been in the middle of all that when I took the photo on the right, a freezing cold sunset on Christmas day.
    While in a retrospective frame of mind, have I managed to keep it all under control? Probably not, there has been a feeling of managed descent about the last three years. But I know this, I have made my way as responsibly as I could have, I have guilt about not being able to keep on top of it all but no guilt about trying.
    Plenty to keep us occupied on the news. The Government's spineless fudge and the Church of England's outright homophobic stance on equal marriage, not to mention the BBC's continued exclusive use of the phrase "gay marriage". Cos it's all about the men in suits, innit. I welcome the prospect that someone in my position will no longer have to divorce should they wish to have their gender change legally recognised, however I deplore the fact that those who were forced to do so have been hung out to dry.
    But still, it's progress, of a sort. However crazy a specific legal ban on C of E churches performing same-sex marriages might be, especially following on from their debacle on female bishops. Good news though for my local United Reformed Church who host a monthly LGBT outreach gathering, the Government have just removed 90% of their competition  at a stroke and it's likely they'll be the go-to place in my town for same-sex marriages. I hope their ministry to all marginalised groups receives a boost from it, not to mention that the extra income helps pay for their roof repairs while their C of E neighbours have buckets in the aisles to collect the drips. There's power in them there pink pounds.
    Last night saw my department's Christmas meal, at a very nice local pub. A male colleague asked me about my long hair, and completely straight-faced I said "I'm going for the full-on girl". It's too easy to be naughty at times, isn't it.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Leveson delivers his report

    Yesterday's big news: the publication of the Leveson inquiry report into the culture, practice and ethics of the press. The stories in the public mind involve tapping into the phone messages of murdered children and other similarly criminal activities, but the remit of the inquiry covered all abuses committed.
    Good news for vulnerable and marginalised minorities like us in the transgender community. Trans Media Watch made a very well received submission which was mentioned by Leveson in several places through the report.
    The most significant quote is mentioned in TMW's response to the report(PDF).

it is clear that there is a marked tendency in a section of the press to fail to treat members of the transgender and intersex communities with sufficient dignity and respect... parts of the tabloid press continue to seek to 'out' transgender people notwithstanding its prohibition in the Editors' Code.

    In gathering a corpus of transgender related news stories I've seen ample evidence of this in action and I'm sure I stand with the rest of our community in particularly welcoming this mention of the problem in the Leveson report. TMW asked me for a copy of the corpus before delivering the submission, I hope it was of use to them.
    There seems to be some confusion on the part of the politicians over what sort of legislation is required to implement Leveson's recommendations. It is very clear that they must do something, let's hope it doesn't turn into a "Something must be done".

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Closing down a story

    I can't help feeling that during the last few weeks we have witnessed an expert closing down of a potentially embarrassing news story. If you aren't British or you've been on Mars for the past few months you'll have missed the exposé of the British TV personality of yore Jimmy Savile as a paedophile, and the subsequent witch hunt for other contemporary celebrities in a supposed elite paedophile ring. A few celebs from the 1960s and '70s have been interviewed by the police, and the tabloids have been full of gossip as you'd expect.
    Then came a different exposé on the BBC Newsnight programme, with abuse victims who were former inmates of a notorious childrens home dropping strong hints of a paedophile ring among senior politicians of the era. A Labour MP (who I was at university with and regard from that experience as not someone I'd trust) dropped more hints that he was about to name names, and if you were prepared to surf Twitter you could compile a list of those names very quickly.
    Unfortunately for the accusers one of the names was vehement in his declarations of innocence, and being very rich indeed he reached for his lawyers and started to sue. Story closed.
    I find myself to be rather uncomfortable with this outcome. Witch hunts are never appealing and anything which fuels the obsession that paedophiles lurk behind every lamp post can not be a good thing. However there are witnesses in this case, real abuse victims. Not irresponsible Twitter users, real orphan children who were abused regularly by rich and powerful people. And their story has been closed down. Any of their abusers who are still alive have got away with it.
    The trouble is, go down this road too far and you're straying into the world of Establishment plots and conspiracy theories, of grassy knolls and the Strategic Steam Reserve. But something within me rebels at the thought that the only two politicians who have been revealed are conveniently dead and any other names that came from the victims seem to have been forgotten.
    You can't help wondering whether the embarrassment in the corridors of power would have been too much had the story been properly investigated. But If I had those thoughts I'd be sitting with those who believe we're ruled by the lizard people, and that'd be too much to stomach, wouldn't it.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Oh, hello 4:30

    A few years ago when I started this blog, I did so because I was at one of the most difficult times of my life. After years as a closeted observer of the transgender world I had been forced out into the open by a very physical manifestation of my problem: I had lost the ability to sleep. The stress of it all had made itself felt in an extremely inconvenient manner.
    It took me several months and the help of medication to regain my equilibrium, and about a year before I could come off the medication without reverting to insomnia.
    It's given me a legacy I'd prefer not to have, every time I wake up at an unfeasibly early hour I worry that I've fallen back into that particular pit. Like today, sitting in bed wide awake since sometime after 4am. Same night time city noises as three years ago, the trains and the church clock, just a slightly older me with an Android tablet rather than a Windows laptop.
    There's something Jobesque happening here. Facial pain, now this. At least thus far there has been a complete lack of boils and pestilence.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Careful with the gym skirts...

    A few weeks ago I accompanied a friend to East London to a well-known shop serving our community. She seeded to replace her breastforms and they are one of the better places to get them in the UK, having a good range at not exorbitant prices, and crucially the opportunity to see the product at close hand.
    It's a useful shop for many different strands of our community. My friend is long-ago transitioned for example, and I have found some of the few decent ladies shoes that fit me there. However it is also known for catering for the more flamboyant end of our spectrum. I guess that's where the money is. So alongside the more normal ladies clothing you'll see PVC dresses, little girl dresses, crazy high heels and sexy schoolgirl outfits.
    A notice in front of the counter caught my eye. I guess it must be aimed at East London's more light-fingered youth rather than the clientele, but in the context of the shop in question it amused me. A lot.

    "No more than two schoolgirls are allowed in the shop at any one time."

    I felt it would have been rude to laugh out loud in the shop, so I had to contain myself.

Friday, 9 November 2012


    I'll keep this post brief, because sitting up to write it hurts. I'm unfortunate enough to suffer from periodic attacks of atypical facial pain, a bland medical description for what I'm told is among the more intense chronic pain conditions it is possible to suffer. The left side of my face is alternately in extreme pain yet strangely numb, or dulled by painkillers to an aching tiredness. There's nothing wrong with my face, teeth or mouth, instead my trigeminal nerve is betraying me by telling my brain about pain that shouldn't exist.
    I'm lucky in how this condition affects me. I get it for about a week, roughly once a year or eighteen months or so. It's usually triggered by stress situations like my currently heightened gender wrangles, and yet again I'm lucky in that painkillers have some effect on it. Some people with this condition have it all the time and painkillers don't work.
    Pain this intense is debilitating. I've had pain before, broken a toe and a rib, split fingernails, had headaches and stomach aches like everyone else. The normal bumps and scrapes of growing up. But nothing like this. Unrelenting, merciless.
    I can understand why it drives some people to suicide.
    My doctor has given me some pills, not a painkiller but an anti-epilectic. Surprisingly the recommended prescription for errant trigeminal nerves. It hasn't worked yet.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Spare a thought for the white heterosexual male

    For most of my life, I have been put-upon, marginalised, and had my rights taken away from me. As a white heterosexual male I have seen a steady erosion of my workplace rights, my freedom to live as I wish, and to practice my beliefs. Meanwhile any bunch of rabble-rousers from a so-called minority can walk in and do as they please, and I'm expected to pay for it all through my taxes.

    Enraged yet? I hope so :). The paragraph above is of course rubbish.

    There are bad things about being a white heterosexual male. The ruthless intolerance of failure, and the expectation to conform to a rather ridiculous ideal, to name two examples. But as someone who can still mount a world-class performance of a member of that group when I choose it's rather obvious that it's not hindered me in life.
    So why the inflammatory first paragraph? I was trying to represent a very common view that you'll find not far below the surface of Middle England, and no doubt middle-anywhere-else too. A resistance to change coupled with a suspicion that someone else might be getting a Better Deal forms itself into a boiling resentment. You'll find it in every field, from race relations, gender politics and policing, through to the allocation of NHS services and cycle lanes on busy roads. The comment streams of any mainstream news website provide ample demonstration, voted up on the Mail and Express sites and voted down on the Guardian site no doubt.
    It is important to realise that the people who express such views are generally not bad or evil. Some of them may vote for a different political party than you do, others may not. It's simply that they see the problems in their, the majority's lives being ignored while public money they see as rightfully theirs is lavished on those of a minority they perceive as undeserving. And it is thus also important to understand that while their reasons may not chime with everyone's politics, their resentment is no less real for it.
    It pains me then to see how such views are dealt with from the other side of the fence. Usually dismissed out of hand in a cloud of invective which only deepens the resentment and makes things worse. I'm thinking about some of the more vocal elements of the cycling lobby as I write this, there are times when I want to cry "SHUT UP! You're only MAKING MATTERS WORSE!" in that arena.
    That's the thing about majorities you can't deny: ultimately in a democracy they do control the purse strings so winding them up for the sake of it, while it might make you feel better, is unlikely to be productive.
    Far better to engage with the resentment and try to defuse it, however thankless a task it might seem at times. It's a marketing challenge not a political one, and it is not an insurmountable challenge. While there will be people who are unswayable there will be others who can be reached, and for every one of those another personal sphere of influence is tapped into.
    So to return to the rather inflammatory title of this piece: spare a thought for the white heterosexual male. Or anyone else whose disagreement with your views is based on resentment. Understand and engage with the resentment, and who knows, your efforts just might bear fruit.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Everything I've worked to avoid

    This morning's hot link in the world of trans people, in the UK at least, is this: "My Husband's Sex Change". A piece in the Guardian from the ex-wife of a now-transitioned transwoman about the process of change from the husband and father she once knew to the transitioner from whom she separated.
    Some of the language isn't what I'd prefer to see - "Sex change", how delightfully 1970s - but the Guardian lives up to its reputation for serious journalism by not sensationlising the story and using the words of the woman herself.
    It makes rather depressing reading to be honest. Of course it's only the partner's view, but she does not come across as quite so vitriolic as many I have encountered in her situation and it is possible to read between the lines.
    And I'm afraid her husband - "Tom" as he is described in the piece - comes across as a bit of a selfish arse. Read the piece and judge for yourselves, but I came away from it both angry and sad. Sad for her and her children, and angry that we have yet another depiction of us as selfish to contend with.
    Sometimes I have people within this sphere expressing bewilderment at my path. Reading the piece, maybe they'll understand. Not hiding anything and making sure my wife knows the trans community as I do means that while our relationship still has its turbulent moments we're still together and there is no deceit.
   One of the saddest parts of the trans experience is meeting people crippled by what they have lost. If that ever happens to me I never want to feel I didn't do my utmost to avoid that loss.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Fun with papier mâché

    Making a mould of your foot turns out to be a surprisingly difficult business. You scrub your toes and put socks on, so your feet are a perfectly accessible part of your body, right?
papier-mache-foot    You find out just how inflexible you have become as you grow up when you have to hold your foot up in the air and apply wallpaper paste soaked newspaper to its sole. As an experiment yesterday I had a go at using papier mâché to mould my foot for lastmaking, and I have to report mixed results. And a lot of contortion and aching leg muscles, it's surprisingly difficult to not put your right foot on the ground for a couple of hours.
    We all made papier mâché stuff at primary school. My art teacher mother reminded me that schools have the luxury of leaving stuff to dry for a week, my cast had to dry in an evening. So there I was last night with a hair dryer, trying to make my soggy paper covered foot dry enough to remove the paper in one piece.
    It worked, just. Eventually I was able to ease a soggy paper slipper from my foot and place it on a wire cooling tray to dry out. And though it will inevitably have settled a bit, with a carefully placed teaspoon or two to maintain its arch, it looks as though it'll deliver a reasonable mould of my foot.
    I'm still going to go with my original plan of using latex moulding compound for the same task. And I may also pick up some of the moulding supplies used by podiatrists, foam impression moulds and polymer moulding socks. My preoccupation is with making an accurate mould of my foot, and if it takes several attempts then I'm quite happy to go along with that.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

About two years.

    Just from curiosity I took a look back on this blog at what I was up to at this time last year. Bin-diving to save R's possessions. That was fun. Then a further hop, to this time two years ago.
    A question: "How long have I got?". Meaning of course: "How long before I can't take all this any more and can't go on any longer as a bloke?".
    You learn stuff, given enough time.
    I've learned that it's not a black and white thing. You can always hang on just that little bit longer, I've been doing it continuously for the last few years. And while I feel sadly a lot closer to the edge than I was a couple of years ago I've also had a couple of extra years practice at making it go just that little bit longer.
    All the same though, I can't help thinking that my answer back then was "About two years".
    Ah well, another year chalked up. My answer this time next year may or may not be "About three years", but I know for now I have to hang on.
    Just that little bit longer.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Sacrificed in the name of engineering

    Long-term readers of this blog will know I am blessed with feet of a size unusual in male circles and almost unknown in female ones. Thus the pursuit of female-appropriate footwear in large sizes has become something of an obsession of mine, you might say I'm a world expert in the matter.
    With a very few exceptions, larger size ladies footwear aimed at the transgender community tends towards the fetishistic. Shiny PVC, painful heels, lots of straps and buckles. No doubt very tasteful if that's your thing, but mine it ain't. So I'm left with a tiny array of simple styles, mostly in black patent. could be worse, but I could weep when I see the shoes my natal female friends can pick up so easily.

     So do I put up with it and do nothing? Hell no!

    I'm an engineer, I make stuff!  I've never made a shoe before, but the blessing of being a trained engineer is that assurance that you can make just about anything if you put your mind to it.
    So I'm going to make shoes. No, they ain't going to be pretty, not at first, anyway. I have to learn how to make shoes. But you have to start somewhere.
    So given that, where does one start? In the first case, make a mould of your foot. In cobbler's terms, a last. A foot-shaped working surface on which to assemble your shoes.
    I bought the rubber moulding compound to do this about a year ago and haven't had the courage to start. I guess it's time. In effect I'll be making a pair of custom rubber socks, into which I'll pour a moulding material such as plaster or resin to make the last itself.
    But mould aside, how do you make a shoe? They don't teach you this stuff at school. As with most engineering projects, it's best to start by looking at work someone else has done, so to that end I've got hold of some discarded ladies shoes from a friend, and I'm about to dissect them. Pull them apart, even cut a pair in half with the bandsaw.
    It's going to be messy, isn't it.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

How much do you need to know?

    There was a teacher at my secondary school who was - presumably still is - a deeply unpleasant man. His speciality was punishment, and he seemed to derive a vicious pleasure from punishing young teenage boys. We were fortunate not to have been his pupils in the era when teachers used canes. In his case the playground view was that he took just a little too much interest in this aspect of his work, and in the way of young boys of course this took on an angle involving rumours of gay sex. Did any of us have any real knowledge on the subject? I certainly didn't, he never tried anything like that on me, I was bigger than him. And I never walked in on him in the book cupboard with a third-former among the history books or anything like that. But the fact is he was abusing his position and damaging young lives, I still have nightmares about school today because of people like him, and I know I'm not alone in that.
    Could I go to the police? Of course not, much as I wish I could send him into the nastiest jail imaginable. I'm guessing that however much damage he did, he wasn't breaking any laws in what I saw him do, and I can't do so on the basis of playground rumour.
     If you're British, you'll probably have guessed why my teacher is on my mind this morning. The story of the moment is that the late 1960s and 70s TV personality and sanctified charity fundraiser Jimmy Savile has turned out to have had a penchant for sexually assaulting young teenage girls.
     The shock comes of course because it's not really a shock. I first heard rumours about Savile about twenty years ago when I was working at the wilder edge of the media industry. They sounded like idle tittle-tattle, but we're told for those close to the epicentre it was more than just common knowledge. Others have done plenty of outrage at this both faux and otherwise, where I find the worry is at a more personal level. How much do you have to know before you go to the police?
    So in an odd way I understand why Savile survived in a culture of rumours. The people with real evidence - those who walked into the dressing room and found him with a 13-year-old - are unforgivable, but for those who didn't I can see why it would have been very difficult for them to do anything about it. Like my teacher, he was in too unassailable a position.
    I wonder how guilty I'll feel though if an ex-classmate of mine ever comes forward with a more serious tale about our teacher.

Monday, 8 October 2012


    We forget, in these days of ten thousand mile service intervals, what cars used to be like. My modern, the Turbocharged Rollerskate, is now a high mileage car. Yet it is as much an appliance as it is a car, given a bit of maintenance it's functionally exactly as it was when I first drove it off a dealer forecourt eleven years ago. Advanced metallurgy, synthetic oils and modern coatings have given it a nearly wear-free engine and a complete absence of rust.
    The Wreck by comparison needs constant attention. Oil top-ups, ignition adjustments, coolant checks, and battery charging. And it's not just the Wreck, I was thinking about the Mini I drove twenty years ago, that was the same. Not a problem for a much younger and spottier instance of me, but how easily I have forgotten the joys of standing in the rain pouring oil.
    A couple of weeks ago I took the Wreck on a Grand Tour of the West. The original plan was to visit my friends Nikki and Dru on my way to Bristol, before swinging north to Herefordshire to see my cousin, and dropping on my friend Ian in Gloucestershire on my way back to the Bright Lights. Sadly though that weekend saw the heaviest rain of the autumn, so instead I abandoned my plans after Bristol and headed east through the downpour.
    All non-vintage cars have a battery. The Wreck is no exception, it powers everything electrical on the car. The starter, the ignition, the lights, the wipers. On a modern car the battery will be charged by an alternator with a modern electronic regulator, but cars the Wreck's age instead have a dynamo and an electromechanical regulator. A big black box full of electromagnets and switches.
    The trouble with dynamos is that they're not very good at what they do. A nice long drive on a sunny day and your battery arrives in tip-top condition, but run the lights and the wipers as I had to and there won't be quite enough power to charge the battery. So when you stop, you won't be able to start the car again.
    I've always resisted an upgrade to an alternator, it's a little more hassle than just plugging and playing. On that particular front though I have to admit I'm starting to weaken.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Life goes on

    In a couple of years writing here I don't think this has happened before. A hiatus this long, that is. Truth is I've had plenty to talk about - the Wreck, cider pressing, my relationship, fighting the girl and all - but not the time, or indeed the inclination, to commit it to print.
    You've probably seen me referring to my friend Dawn here. She's been a true friend to me and my wife these last few years, providing humour and support just when it has been most sorely needed.
    Now it's her hour of need, as the cancer she beat a few years ago has returned. Metastasised, not a good word at all. Her decline has been swift and alarming, as from accompanying us to Sparkle in July she moved to difficulties with mobility, then fluid retention and the indignity of incontinence. First a council home help, then regular visits from the district nurse and finally a Marie Curie nurse with her overnight before a move to our local hospice.
    The fluid retention has gone, aided by a drain and a big plastic bag that filled surprisingly quickly, the nurse taking its volume as she emptied it. Eighteen litres, try picking up that number of soft drinks bottles and imagine a sick old lady walking around with that.
    The hospice is a masterpiece of design with amazing standards of care. A very specialist hospital ward, its atmosphere is as close to that of a home as they can make it. For a week after the fluid had gone we had the old Dawn back, grumbling about the food and shocking the nurses with her make passport photo, beard and all. I bought her in a seafood pizza by request one evening and ended up sharing the half of it she didn't eat with her daughter.
    But the inevitable decline continues. Fortunately there seems to be little pain, but she's nearly always asleep, and her lucidity seems elusive when she's awake. Medical staff do not make lifespan predictions for hospice patients, but it's becoming obvious that we should not expect many more weeks. However as I said to an acquaintance who was being something of a defeatist on the matter, I'll give up on Dawn when I'm following her hearse to the crematorium.
    As the friend who lives closest, I've been to visit Dawn rather a lot over the last week or two. It's the right thing to do, her family are widely spread and she needs to know she's not alone. It's easy enough to nip up to the hospice and sit by her bed for an hour or so.
    What shocks me though is how little emotion I've felt while some others are having difficulty containing theirs. I think it's the effect of antidepressants, they suppress such things, but it's engendered almost a feeling of guilt. Should I be showing public grief? Not if it's as false as that of a crowd of North Koreans at the death of the Dear Leader.
    So yes, life goes on. Rather a lot of it, at the moment.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Never out of style

    As a very young child with a quietly desperate desire to cross-dress, I used to fixate on the fashions of the day that I found pretty. This is probably a tale that could be told by many readers of this blog who found themselves in the same situation.
    For me in the early 1970s this meant the brightly coloured prints, long sweeping skirts, floppy hats and frills that the adult women I encountered were wearing at the time. Laura Ashley's influence lay heavy upon rural England at the time.
    I still have something of a weakness for the looks from that era, watching an episode of The Sweeney from those days I find my attention divided equally between the cops, the cars, and the fashion.
    I was less of a fan of late '70s and early '80s fashion. The Shake 'n Vac lady's blouse and skirt didn't do it for me, but as a teenager later on in the '80s the fashion excesses of that decade caught my fascination once more. Those meringue-like ballgowns you'd see on television spectaculars back then were probably the pinnacle of my deeply closeted teenaged aspirations. Yes, I was a mixed-up youth who seemingly preferred quantity over quality.
    Now I am a no-longer-closeted adult with a fashion sense all of my own it is interesting to look back at the past few decades and re-evaluate those looks. My life fitting in as a scruffy bloke has left me without the fashion baggage that a natal woman might have of having to move with the times and update my own look, but it has left me with something of that cross-dressers burden, the risk of being attracted to something inappropriate simply because I like it. Browsing vintage fashion web sites it's easy to spot the bad choices, the 1970s huge collars and paisley for example, but what about the ensembles that don't quite cross the line? One of the women who made an impression on me back them was my cousin, at an inch shorter than my current height the tallest natal woman I know, and from her example I learned that tall women can carry off a large brightly coloured print with aplomb.
    Good style is good style, whatever the decade it was produced in.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

On behalf of Mr. Average...

    A week or so has passed, and Julian Assange has moved from the front pages of the world as he stood on the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy to the metaphorical chip wrappers. Good riddance I say, and I hope his welcome becomes ever more strained in the single floor of a London building that is forever a little piece of Ecuador.
    We've seen the issue of sexual consent raised to the fore again over the Assange case, and if any good can be salvaged from the affair I think that's it. It's a message that needs to be propagated to the point at which it reaches self-evidence among all sections of the population, and at least the sordid details of Assange's conduct have helped do it.
    Unfortunately though we've also seen some regrettable incidents. People who should know better, running off at the mouth about what does and does not constitute good sexual etiquette, or even defining crazy new terms such as "legitimate rape". And while those in the public eye who make such comments are likely to suffer the wrath of their electorates as a consequence, these moments are a symptom of basic misunderstandings by all sides of the debate which must be addressed if the aim of achieving proper respect of sexual consent is to be achieved.
    If there is one thing transgender people alone can supply, it is a perspective on both sides of the gender divide. Growing up trying to be successful as a man has given me an insight into how men view the issue of date rape and sexual consent, and my impression of Mr. Average is one of confusion, worry, and anger.
    You see, Mr. Average is not and will never be a rapist. Whatever the equipment he was born with gives him the potential to do, his sexual liaisons will not stray very far from the straight and narrow. He'll never cross any lines in the sand, never take advantage of something he shouldn't, and the Mrs'll make sure he never even thinks of invading her beauty sleep for a spot of uninvited rumpy-pumpy. Yes, Mr. Average doesn't get up to much beyond the confines of his Wimpey home and his Ford Mondeo.
    But even Mr. Average has an ego. Deep inside he still fancies himself as a pick-up artist, a player if you will. Even though it'll never happen he likes to think he can find himself in a situation in which he meets the girl of his dreams in a pub and nips down to the Travelodge for a night of torrid passion. And it is this side of him that has made him confused and angry. When he reads of a date rape case, it comes across to him as though such an accusation could happen to anyone, to him even.
    Nobody likes being called a criminal, and when someone sees themselves as being accused by association of a particularly vile crime they are likely to react with anger and, dare I say it, stupidity rather than reason.
    So Mr. Average needs to use the brain God gave him for once, and think before he speaks. And anyone who is addressing him on the subject should take a moment to understand where his misunderstandings are coming from and try to frame their message within the confines of his understanding rather than their own. I really wish that more anti-rape campaigners came from the advertising industry, you don't get very far trying to sell a product in the commercial space by winding up your customers.
    Ever since I first heard of date rape when I was a student back in the early 1990s I've felt the message has constantly become lost in the same shouty argument between the ignorant louts on one side and the shrill campaigners on the other. I hope one day common sense will prevail and both sides will realise it's not about them but the message. After all, it's not a difficult thing to understand, is it.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

On the edge

    There has been something missing here of late.  Regular readers might have noticed their reading material has strayed into the mundanity of rural life and random political rants. This is a transgender  person's blog, so where's the tranny content, damnit!
    The answer's a bit complex. On a simple level I do not wish to simply churn out an endless transition diary or scorecard of the glamorous and exciting transgender lifestyle, whatever that is. In my view the best offerings from this sphere are those from bloggers who happen to be transgender, rather than those from transgender bloggers which can get rather stale.
    But on a more complex level there are issues that need to be confronted, yet that it is difficult to talk about. Things that involve my wife, for example. I feel that while I can talk about myself in specific terms it is unfair on her to talk about her in the same way in a forum on which she can not speak for herself.
    So what can I talk about. Guilt, I guess. All the walls, roadblocks and barriers behind which I've spent most of my life hiding have now fallen away. My wife has made it pretty clear that we'd both be better off were I to move forward. I can do it too, I'm confident in the world presenting as female. I shock myself with how well I manage at it. I don't have to deal with wigs or trowel on the makeup, I have an employer with whom I could transition tomorrow and nobody would bat an eyelid and I live in a place that's about as good as it gets to be transgender.
    Yet I'm hanging back from the edge of the abyss, scared even to peer over it.I've really tried these last few years to hang in there, to manage this condition and find a way to be the husband she deserves, and to move forward would be a betrayal, a failure and a waste of all that emotional investment.
    Some people write endless screeds justifying why they should transition. Maybe they need to convince themselves it's the right thing for them to do. I guess I've known for years it was the right thing to do and I've done the opposite, trying to convince myself that it's the wrong thing for me to do. That was a big waste of time, wasn't it.
    In January, I'll be seeing my specialist at the GIC again. By May I'll have been with them for a couple of years and they'll discharge me if there's nothing more they can do for me. So I have a few months in which I have to make up my mind. If I want to transition under their care then January is the time at which I have to start. Not the end of the world, for theirs is not the only path through this mess, but a pretty stark choice nevertheless.
    You see, if you are going to transition it has to be for the right reasons. I've seen enough people doing it for all the wrong reasons, caught up in the pink cloud, and I have no wish to emulate them. The pink cloud has long ago departed for me, but I need to have better justification than avoidance of a delay in the medical pathway. There is more at stake than just my path here.
    So there we go. I'm standing on the edge. I don't need pushing from either direction and surprisingly thanks to the help of my counselor and others things are pretty good all round, but I can no longer dodge the decision. I'm beginning to think it'll probably be a yes, but that's by no means certain.
    Strangely enough, that admission in itself brings a feeling of relief. Unexpected, that.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

The activist's club

    It is important to us all as humans to at times identify as members of particular groups, united by common interests or objectives. Unthinkingly I'm a motorcyclist for example, identifying with the rider in my rear-view mirror when I'm driving the Rollerskate or the Wreck and moving towards the kerb to let them through.
    Some people identify themselves by their sporting loyalties, their religion, or by where they grew up. Others identify by their politics, and it is with a subset of that group that I am starting to lose patience.
    Activists. Self-described activists, that is, a group whose members seem to be very common on the internet. What seeing "activist" in someone's profile should mean is that this is someone who is committed to the fight for political or social change within the framework of their beliefs or situation, someone who achieves that aim through real-world actions. Good old-fashioned legwork, campaigning, writing letters, lobbying, public speaking, following legal avenues, that kind of thing.
    What "Activist" so often means on the internet though is something very different. When I see that word beneath someone's name in a Twitter, Tumblr or other online profile it's a fair indication that I'm in for a steady stream of faithful regurgitation of the most right-on flavour of whichever political creed they cling to. There will be reblogs of other similar posts aplenty as they vie with others to be the purest carrier of their collective torch, and rabid denunciations of those decreed to be enemies. In short, people who seem to talk among themselves a lot, but who never seem to get anything done.
    It is through a lot of hard work and unglamorous political activism that we trans people have achieved the legal protections, rights and access to treatment that we enjoy here in the UK. These things were gained by a hell of a lot of hard work by and personal toll on the people concerned, not through indignant rants or circular arguments on social media sites.
    So if you see "Activist" on someone's online profile, take a look at their audience. If they're speaking only to their peer group in the language of that peer group, they aren't activists, they're just hangers-on. Activism should be judged by deeds, not hot air.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Rape and that Australian bloke

    There's a famous video from China in which an angry motorist, delayed by a suicidal man on a bridge, scales the bridge and pushes the man off it onto an air cushion provided by waiting firemen.
    If Julian Assange is the man sitting on the bridge, then I think I've reached the point of becoming the angry passer-by itching to push him off it. Tempting though the idea of running into the Ecuadorean Embassy and hitting the fire alarm may be though I'm afraid we're condemned to see the whole ghastly drama play out at a snail's pace. If he's not going to come out I hope the world quietly forgets about him and he ends up mouldering away in the embassy, slowly eroding his welcome. He thrives on publicity and there are too many idiots on all sides who are only too willing to give it to him.
    I get it that Wikileaks took a pop at the Big Evil United States and they'll do anything to get Assange. I also get it that a rape allegation is a very serious thing indeed and he needs to be brought to account for it. I don't need people endlessly turning it into a feminist issue, a press freedom issue or any number of other damn issues. The point at which Assange was one of the Good Guys has long passed, and the British government have really screwed up on the scale at which they seem to have a particular expertise.
    Personally I think the rape allegation has something of an air of convenience about it for the governments involved and I'm sure an extradition case wouldn't proceed at such lightning speed if it wasn't of interest to a superpower. And the circumstances of the alleged crime are such that they are always going to attract controversy. But for someone who knew himself to be of interest to that superpower Assange has shown himself to be at best a complete idiot for putting himself in such a situation.
    Rape as an allegation seems to occupy a uniquely triggering and confusing position. On the feminist side it's a trigger word that trumps all others, thrown around like confetti as way of aligning disparate views and shutting down inconvenient arguments. I take the view that using it in this way cheapens the word, it's crying wolf.
    And on the male side there is a lot of genuine confusion about rape. I'm talking about date rape in the mould of the Assange allegations here, I don't think anybody would be confused about the actions of a sex attacker, instead we're in the territory of drunken liaisons and morning-after-the-night-before regrets. This leaves a lot of blokes bewildered and angry, and when blokes get angry they have a tendency to say stupid things. The news this morning contains several politicians who've waded in where angels fear to tread, for instance.
    Shame really, it's a very simple piece of self-preservation for blokes. Whether you are on the side that sees it as a wicked trap or the one for whom it's sexual predation there's a simple rule of thumb. It's not about whether either party is drunk or awake, or in the charming language of another age which base you go to. And though sometimes behaviour can go beyond the foolhardy it's not about whether someone was obviously gagging for it or otherwise. It's much simpler than that, a three letter word. Do both parties say "yes"?
    Not a difficult word to elicit, and something you'd think Assange would have had the sense to do. But sense seems to have departed that particular case long ago, doesn't it.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Decline of a friend

    How far can you intervene in the life of a friend? When you are watching someone you care about enter a terminal decline, how can you help arrest that decline without invading their privacy and trampling on their dignity?
   My friend Dawn hasn't been doing so well lately. Without going into too much detail a medical condition has left her feeling increasingly weak, and thus ever more unable to take care of herself. Add a few other factors to the mix, and she's in a bit of a pickle.
   As Dawn's friends, we were only able to look on. Because to intervene in such a situation requires the person at the centre of it to acknowledge their situation. And Dawn took some time to reach that point. As a friend you can advise and help, but as a non family member you can't intervene. As someone with five children you'd think Dawn would have few problems there, but aside from the one who lives furthest away who's been very good at keeping in touch they've barely visited her in months. I'm unimpressed.
    The crunch came unexpectedly, wearing a tight shoe damaged her big toenail which started to go septic. Not serious you might think, but she's diabetic and diabetics have to be very careful with foot injuries. Suddenly as well as being weak she was in danger of losing a limb. My friend R and I felt intervention was unavoidable and got her to the doctor for professional wound care and antibiotics. R has some professional experience in these matters and knew exactly what to ask for; before long an army of social workers and care assessors were on the case. Now she's got the district nurse coming every day to dress her foot and someone form Social Services coming in to ensure she's eating properly. R and I are cooking frozen meals for her to give her a varied diet.
    It's partly why I've been a little absent from blogland for the last week. Running around chasing all this stuff takes a surprising amount of time.
    Her family do not come out of this very well at all. They've got their own lives and she's always been deceptively bright on the phone, so they didn't suspect anything was wrong. But considering that two of them only live within twenty miles of her the fact she hasn't seen any of them for months leaves me distinctly unimpressed. They're completely at ease with her being trans so it's not that, they just can't be bothered.
    Could I read them the Riot Act? Very tempting, but I can't. I'm just  a friend. A friend who's visiting and feeding Dawn, something they should be doing. It's another case of something in which you're not supposed to intervene. Maybe I should be a little subtle, suggest that if Social Services arrange her care there won't be much left in her will for them. Hit 'em where they care.
    Life's crap, isn't it. If R and I weren't here, Dawn's immediate future would be very bleak indeed. I don't cleave to the Who lyric "Hope I die before I get old", but I do hope I have more to look forward to than that.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Dead cow

    The title says it all really, yesterday our oldest cow died. Not a sad moment, in that she was a geriatric amongst cattle, over twenty years old which is well beyond a bovine three score years and ten. In her prime she was the matriarch of our little herd, but as she became decrepit we had moved her into our back field where she pottered around unmolested by younger animals. Yesterday morning she was on her feet in the sun, by early afternoon she had died. Probably a better end that having her hip give out and being euthanised by the vet.
    There was a time when we'd have fired up the digger and buried her, just as farmers would have done for centuries. I remember doing exactly that over twenty years ago for our first matriarch, as a spotty teenager learning to use a backhoe on the clay. However since the BSE panic in the 1990s the Government have insisted on the incineration of dead cattle that don't enter the food chain, so this morning a truck will come to take her away.
   Of course, our back field is not close to the road, so my afternoon yesterday was unexpectedly spent moving her with our ever-handy digger. Quite a task, cows weigh a hell of a lot and even though the rain has now gone away the digger still managed to get stuck more than once. Unfortunately the extra load had a habit of lifting the steering wheels off the ground, making it a difficult machine to control. So a hot afternoon with chains and a Kawasaki Mule, inching the larger vehicle through the mire in a cloud of diesel exhaust.
    A somewhat undignified final journey for the cow.
    My normal walking of my parents dog was a little later than usual yesterday. Grubby and aching from my exertions, when the dog plunged into the river I succumbed to temptation and went for a paddle, something I haven't done for about thirty years. I didn't emulate the dog in going for a swim, water up to my knees was refreshing enough.
    As I return to my week in an office I'll no doubt be asked about my weekend. I'm not sure whether a dead cow counts as Polite Conversation.

Monday, 6 August 2012

"I've never been a lesbian before..."

    The best way to broach a rather awkward question is to just come out with it. As I find myself sliding ever closer to the cliff edge and as my wife is now of the view that she'd rather live with an ungainly girl than a depressed bloke, I've been thinking about it. Life, that is. After.
    In my day-to-day life as I write this I am a bloke on the outside. I have always been that bloke on the outside. Like millions of other blokes I did what I was expected to. I fancy women, so as a heterosexual bloke I just fit right in. One doesn't define oneself as heterosexual, one just gets on with it.
    But what if I am swept over that cliff edge? If my wife does not find living with the ungainly girl to be too much for her, suddenly we're a same-sex couple. From being invisible, suddenly we're defined by that word. Lesbians. Putting aside for a moment my being transgender, that is. I've come to terms with redefinition, but for my wife that's likely to be rather challenging.
    Hence my asking a friend: what's it like to be lesbian? Now that's  an odd question, and one that could have many senses. In my case I was asking what it is like to be a same-sex couple, in public in the UK of 2012. Do people give you any grief, or are you part of the scenery?
    Fortunately the nature of the relationship between us is such that I can ask such a question of my friend and she knows me well enough to understand why I am doing so. And her answer was reassuring, she and her partner just get on with their lives. She described once having a yob shout "Dyke!" at her, but otherwise had few worries to report. And I thought "Dyke" was a reappropriated word, most of the lesbians I have known have enthusiastically described themselves as such.
    But there's a problem with self-definition here. On a simple level two women in a same-sex relationship  are lesbians. But on a personal level to be a lesbian you have to see yourself as such, and that's quite a leap for two people who have never been lesbians before.

Friday, 3 August 2012

I went to private school, where's my gold medal then?

    There's something of a fuss in the news this morning. It seems that rather a lot of British Olympic medalists received their education in the private sector rather than in state schools. In a country obsessed with both education and social class envy this is a big story. And rightly so, forgetting national willy-waving over medal tables for a moment and descending to a personal level a talented athlete should have the same opportunities wherever they are born.
    Unfortunately though as is so often the case, the baying mobs have missed the target. It's a case of the statistical trope at work: correlation does not prove causation. This graph is a famous example produced in support of the Flying Spaghetti Monster religious satire, purporting to show that global warming is the result of the decline in Caribbean piracy since the early 19th century. It's absolute rubbish of course, but demonstrates the point very nicely.
    The real reason that our Olympic athletes are disproportionately likely to have attended a private school has little to do with the sporting ability of private schools and everything to do with the fact that private school pupils tend to have rich parents who can ferry them to competitions, buy them expensive kit, pay entry fees, and perform all the other expensive functions of a professional sporting team without bankrupting themselves. My cousin's son - state educated - played his sport at a national level when he was a teenager and I saw the struggles she and her husband went through in his support. Would he have become a household name had they been millionaires? Who knows, but it's certain his path would have been significantly eased if they were.
    So what of the schools themselves? It's a frequent cry, that private schools have better facilities than state schools, and it's not without truth. But it's worth examining the business model of a typical private school.
    The customers of a private school are not the pupils, but the parents. They sign the cheques, they call the shots. And they send their sons and daughters away not with a view of Olympic gold in their minds but of graduation day in Oxford or Cambridge, of My Son The Doctor or My Daughter The Lawyer. They are willing to pay for a bit of sport, perhaps rugby, cricket, or hockey (never football, far too proletarian!), but not at the expense of career ambitions for their offspring. If a child at a private school shows sporting promise their school certainly won't hinder them but support as they progress is strictly extra-curricular. Which is where the rich parents come in.
    Long-term readers of this blog will know I attended a private school. My parents don't have much money, Maggie paid my fees. And as I have expounded at length before, the experience was not a good one. But it does mean I saw the ethos of private schooling at first hand. I thus would agree with anyone decrying the dominance of rugby or cricket by the privately educated, but I can't see it in the wider sporting field. If our sporting overlords really want to increase the numbers of state educated athletes they should concentrate not on the schools but on the extra-curricular support for promising candidates without the benefit of rich parents. The schools' job is education, not elite sporting training.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The Ministry of Happiness

Olympic graffiti

I did write a long screed about the Olympics here, but it came over as rather petulant, so I deleted it. A billion quid of your hard-earned taxpayers money being piddled away every day for a couple of weeks will do that to you.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

The plate and me

    You know what one of the best things about moving from a lifetime working for tiny companies in little industrial units to working for a global brand with its own office campus is?

    On site catering.

    That's right, for the first time in my life I have ready access to high quality gourmet food you'd pay quite a lot for in some restaurants, always there, always tasty and always cheap. For the price of a sandwich from some High Street lunchtime eateries I can have a full-on plate of top-quality nosh, and let me tell you, I take full advantage of that canteen!

    I have a problem with food.

    Other people deal with life's ups and downs with alcohol or fags, but me? I comfort eat. When you're my size you can pack away an astounding amount of food, so my life is a constant battle not to pack away too much. Being overweight is surprisingly easy to hide on a tall skeleton, so while most people think I'm pretty thin in fact I'm constantly skirting the upper end of the healthy BMI range.

    I try to deal with it through exercise. If you can't eat less, you move more. But gyms are so deadly boring, and the half-hour brisk walk that used to be my morning commute has been reduced to a 5 minute stroll, so I'm left doing marathon walks at the weekend with my mother's dog. Bless her, she's only a little thing. I end up carrying her in this hot weather, she reaches a point of defiance at which she just sits down and refuses to move.

    Depression is a funny thing. Perhaps I'm medicating it with sugar through my eating, which explains why I find diets difficult. So I've become a mostly vegetarian at work in an effort to cut the fat and gratuitous calorie count as far as I can. I have something of a taste for the roasts, fried fish, home-made hamburgers and pork belly that the chef serves to so many of my colleagues.

    Fortunately I like veggie chili, stuffed aubergines and braised fennel. And our chef does a mean veggie stir fry. Eat like kings in the publishing business, we do!

    As vices go it could be worse I guess. And my BMI has hovered at the same figure for years, so I'm probably in less danger than I think. But I'm acutely aware that only the high metabolism of a testosterone-crazed body is between me and obesity if I keep it up, and an oestrogen-led endocrine system could upset the apple-cart.

    I'd probably be one of very few women who'd be glad for the fat to land on her thighs.

    The first step in any rehabilitation is to recognise that there is a problem in the first place. Maybe it's time I started eyeing up the salad bar.



Monday, 23 July 2012

Bad taste

    I found myself in an argument with some radical feminists over the weekend. It's always a little wearing to engage with radfems, but there are times when their utterances just need calling out.
    In this case the thing I was calling them out on was an attempt to hijack the recent cinema shootings in Denver for their cause. It seemed the shootings were a radfem issue because the shooter is male and men are behind all violence in the world.
    Strangely, I can't disagree with them on the male front. Testosterone's a mixed blessing, it probably is no coincidence that such public shootings seem never to be committed by women. Perhaps if they'd been unfortunate enough to experience the stuff they'd have a better insight.
    But there is a time and a place for everything. If they had been thousands of miles away in Colorado (Or closer to home in Hungerford or Dunblane, perhaps...) they might have understood something of the grief being experienced by those close to the attack. To attempt to hijack the moment in support of their rather wacky cause seemed to me to be the height of insensitivity and bad taste, something that could not go unchallenged.
    Naturally this was not met positively. I was attempting to stifle the truth, I was even by some crazed logic exploiting the grieving families myself. My reply was simply that if they were unable to see why exploiting such a disaster was offensive then I was sorry for them.
    Moral high ground is a funny thing. Both I and the radfems felt we possessed it, but who was right? One thing is certain, I know something of Westerners and they tend to be the salt of the earth but they don't suffer fools gladly. Had my radfem correspondents encountered any Coloradans they would have been given a much rougher ride than I gave them.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Three days of peace and Sparkling

    Last weekend saw the annual Sparkle transgender celebration in Manchester. I was there as I was last year and met my sister, except that this time my wife came too and we stayed for the weekend. And as last year our time wasn't just spent in the relative closet of Sackville Gardens but in the wider world of Manchester City Centre. It's a city that has changed beyond recognition in the last couple of decades, now it has the feel of an international city but when I first encountered it back in the days of the music scene of the early 1990s it was something of a dump.
The Alan Turing memorial in Sackville Gardens
    Everyone comes to Sparkle for different reasons. Clubbing on Canal Street isn't my thing at all, but for others it's their only such outing of the entire year. It's a shame, some members of our broader community are repelled by the sight of some of the more outrageous among us, but the truth is Sparkle is what you make of it. I was there as a tourist with respect to the bad trannies in their painful heels, ill-fitting miniskirts and lank wigs, or the beautifully turned out French Maids and LGs. Their path is different to mine, so I have no discomfort at a fleeting association with them by attending the same Pride celebration as them.
    In the last year, I've come a long way. Beard lasering and a female-appropriate hairstyle have given me a much more natural female appearance, and my confidence in female presentation means that the blending I never imagined possible has at last come my way. Three days as full-time girl in a big city, in the motorway services, shops and restaurants of the wider world of muggles, albeit with an interlude at a transgender Pride, and I'm left feeling rather let down on my return to a more scruffy existence.
     I bumped into my friend A a few weeks ago, she about whom I've blogged before. She's now settled down, a very attractive girl, but firmly retreated into a closet of her own making. We went for a meal together, and she felt she had to inform me that she would have to drop me like a hot potato if I transitioned. As I suspected, and a shame because she rather evidently still has massive issues that she's failing to run away from. She looks very nice, but her voice isn't quite right and she has that cookie-cutter face you only get from FFS - both together a dead giveaway if you've ever met any trans people. Yet she's scared of her own shadow, and trying to erase her past hasn't made that any better. I wish I could help, but all I can do is be there for her should she need me.
    It is because I don't want to become like A that I like going to events like Sparkle. If I can face that and laugh and enjoy it then I'll have won, if I am constantly running to escape an unshakable shadow then I'll have comprehensively lost, because I will never be happy.

Friday, 6 July 2012

The village poos

    It is interesting to observe the reactions of a group of people when it becomes clear that one of their number has done something bad, but nobody knows quite who it is. My classmates back when I was twelve years old reacting to the theft of a ten pound note, or the people in my village reacting to a mystery dog chasing sheep a few years ago, nobody owns up but everybody has their own Prime Suspect.
    I remember in the class of twelve-year-olds the culprit turned out to be the last person anyone would have suspected. The "bad kid" that became Prime Suspect turned out to be blameless and the criminal was found to be the anonymous kid at the edge of the crowd, the one who never crossed anyone's radar. I learned a lot from that episode.
    The village I grew up in is a hotbed of finger-pointing at the moment. It's the periodic sewage eruption that's done it. You see we're a tiny village in the middle of nowhere, and we're not on mains sewage. So every house has its own arrangements, in some cases a septic tank, or in about half the houses a spiffy new biodigester. The latter devices are a miracle for the rural dweller, they efficiently process all waste and emit only clean water that's safe to put in a stream, while the former are stinking piles of mess at the best of times.
    So every time we get heavy rain, the septic tanks can't cope. They have difficulty draining away, and they can't handle any extra water. So raw sewage ends up going down their outfalls.
    Raw sewage sounds bad, but surprisingly it needn't necessarily be a bad thing if there's not much of it. If left, it'll rot away pretty quickly. You wouldn't want to come into contact with it, but the countryside is a pretty big place so it's likely to remain unseen. The problem in our village is that a row of houses share the same outfall pipe, so we don't just get a small outfall from one tank, we get the combined outfalls of a great row of them. So the ditch it runs into ends up a festering mass of sewage, the water overflows onto the road, and the whole place smells of sewage for a few weeks. Not very nice, is it.
    This situation has been going on for decades, on and off. Lots of recrimination and a few waved fists, but nothing done about it. The houses have morphed from farm workers dwellings into flashy homes at the top of the property ladder for the idiots who watch those awful shows on TV about moving to the country, which simply means that recrimination is more likely to entail solicitors letters.
    Unfortunately though someone has committed the cardinal sin, and complained to the council about it. A walker, faced with an overflowing ditch with raw sewage in it on a public footpath. And their target was not the culprits who made the sewage, but the unfortunate landowner across whose land the ditch runs. Not surprisingly he's hopping mad at a problem not of his making.
    The council are Bad News in this context. The Environmental Health people have powers to Fix It, and Now! which means in practice they can issue an order to the source polluters which in effect says "Get a biodigester or we'll turn up with the JCBs and send you a very large bill".
    And here's where the finger pointing starts. In a whole row of houses, everybody's blaming everyone else. There is even a faction who are blaming the landowner on whose land the outfall is ending up, as if he's the possessor of the arsehole from whence the poo came! It all seems like so much fiddling while Rome burns, as if the Environmental Health JCBs are revving just over the horizon while they blame everyone else. I am sure the legal threats will soon be flying, and I'm very glad my parents live in a different part of the village and already have a biodigester. These people think nothing of spending many thousands on a shiny new 4x4 or a keep-up-with-the-Joneses home improvement, but they won't spend similar money on something that will have a real effect on those precious house prices they care so much about. It's all about maintaining a jetset lifestyle on credit, these days.
    So there you have it, news from the countryside. If you have romantic notions of what it's like based on those stupid TV property shows, that's the reality in the 21st century. The countryside smells of poo, and always has done, except the neighbours are now likely to dish out legal threats first and think later.
    Remind me why I keep going back there? Oh yes, I'm one of very few left born into it who didn't follow the script and move out to make way for people from the cities without a clue.

Thursday, 5 July 2012


    When you own an engine of more than a couple of decades age, you are not merely its owner but its custodian. You feel its every ache and pain, you know it intimately from crankshaft to valve spring, and its every revolution comes with a frisson of worry that something in its running might be inexorably destroying it.
    I own more than one machine with a geriatric motor. The Wreck and the motorcycle have 89 years on the road between them, one has an engine made of soft and easily worn cast iron while the other has a highly stressed engine made from Japanese alloy with a cam chain tensioner inexplicably made from metal with wear properties similar to chocolate.
    In the season when the roads are not covered with salt, my engines worry me. Because I use them, and the worry comes from the thought that each mile might be their last. The number of ways in which a geriatric engine can expire are many.
    Which brings me to the subject of this post. The Wreck's engine is weighing heavily on my mind at the moment. With its new radiator it's now happily hanging on to all its coolant, but I'm acutely aware that previously it had overheated a few times.
    You're probably familiar with the basic layout of an engine. A piston is moved up and down a cylinder by the petrol being ignited above it and the crankshaft below it. The piston is made of aluminium and in the case of the Wreck the cylinder is made of cast iron. The seal between piston and cylinder is made by hardened steel piston rings.
    Nowadays, engines are pretty reliable. Advanced metalurgy means the cylinders are much stronger, and synthetic lubricants mean that engine wear has been reduced to a shadow of its former self. But back when they made the Wreck they hadn't perfected those materials, so the Wreck's engine just has cast iron bores and good old-fashioned multigrade oil. So Wreck engines wear pretty quickly at the best of times, and overheating accelerates that wear.
    Years ago I had an Austin engine that I thought I'd done pretty well to get to a hundred thousand miles without a rebuild. When I removed the cylinder head and inspected the cylinders, their bores were so worn you could feel the point at the end of their travel with your fingernail, the pistons were slapping around in the bores held only by carbon deposits from burnt oil. Funnily enough there is an upside to an engine like that, they may be about to expire but in that state they can have a little bit extra power because the wear gives them extra capacity. Stories are legion in kit car racing circles of races won by cars sporting hundred thousand mile engines from family cars against competition with expensive hand-built race engines.
    But the Wreck has a much lower mileage engine than that. What scares me isn't simple wear like the Austin engine, but that I might have damaged a piston ring. If the wear is uniform you simply have the bore honed out to a new size and fit larger pistons, but if you've broken a ring there is always the worry that it will have scored a groove in the bore that simple honing can't remove. So your engine becomes scrap.
    As you might imagine, the supply of 50-year-old replacement Wreck engines is meagre. So I'll be nervously testing the compression on the Wreck engine, and if it becomes necessary, lifting the cylinder had to inspect its bores. Not something I fancy, the nuts and bolts holding the exhaust manifold are notorious for seizing up and I don't want to end up with a broken stud to complicate my reassembly.
     So there you go, my bores are worrying me. I never want to see another car again.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Blistering performance

   For someone as motor-afflicted as I am, I find myself in an odd position. Completely without wheels. The Rollerskate is briefly off the road as it waits for an MOT test due to the mechanic having to postpone its original appointment, the bike needs a new battery and the Wreck? Well, the Wreck, always my backup vehicle in these situations, has burst its radiator.
    To be fair, the rad was in a bit of a state. Its predecessor sprang a leak years ago when I was an impecunious youth, so instead of a new item it's a part from a later Wreck that came from a friend's stock of second-hand parts. In other words, it probably sported more than its fair share of limescale and other assorted crud accumulation which has never made it the most reliable cooling device. At various times I've used Magic Bottles of Stuff from Halfords to flush it, but the car has always been a little prone to overheating.
    So earlier in the week I was driving across town and heard that chilling steam-whistle sound of high-pressure coolant escaping. Opening the bonnet, there was a split at the side of the rad. Damn.
    The best thing to do if you want to get home in these situations is to let the pressure out of the system so your precious coolant doesn't all spray away. Now that's pretty dangerous, you can't just open the radiator cap because boiling water will spray everywhere. The technique is to use a rag, and to gently turn the cap while pressing down hard on it, letting the pressure off without the drama.
    I didn't do too badly. No drama, no spray of boiling coolant. But I didn't reckon for a jet of superheated steam when the pressure first let off. The rag is supposed to protect you by absorbing the steam, but mine didn't quite manage it and I thus now sport an impressive blister on my middle finger.

    Painful business, this old car lark.

    The World Expert on Rusty Old Wrecks was sympathetic. He has a couple of radiators appropriate for my model of Wreck in stock, each reconditioned with brand new cores. And best of all, they're affordable, cheaper than the cost of reconditioning my original Wreck rad. The world of old cars is a funny one, these rads are cheaper than you'd expect because their new cores follow a slightly more modern pattern than the originals, therefore originality enthusiasts won't use them. Me, all I care about is an efficient cooling device that won't leave me by the road.
    So thanks to an extremely obliging friend picking the part up for me, I should have the Wreck back on the road tomorrow morning. My finger however, will remind me of the event for a week or so to come.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Paved with good intentions

   By coincidence, both Coline and Nikki were in my part of the world at the weekend. We spent a day wandering round town seeing the sights, stopping along the way at my local café for lunch.
    Coline took a picture of me, scruffy bloke sitting opposite her. When she showed me the camera screen it was a shock, looking back at me was an unflattering portrait. I looked tired and haggard, and sported huge dark circles under my eyes.
    It's not surprising, really. I'm sleeping, but it's as if the benefit of that sleep is not being found. Stress is leaving me finding difficulty in my everyday functioning, and I'm suffering as a result.

    My wife has in effect called time. This is exacting a toll on her, and she pointed out that she's more likely to be unable to stay in the long term if things remain as they are than if I move forward. Everything I've worked for over the last few years, and it hasn't really worked.

    On Friday my counsellor explored the same thing with me. As a truck reversed into the busy traffic of Fulham Palace Road outside, she laid out my damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't choice. Stay as you are and lose, transition and probably still lose.
    Then she asked me if I'd consider a third way. Hormone therapy without full-time transition. Probably the first time in all this I've heard anyone there take my wife's mental state into account. My answer, faced with such a bleak future, was yes - but to then point out that such a path is outside the Standards of Care followed by that clinic. And then there would be all the effects of the hormones. Growing a bust doesn't worry me, but how would I manage to present as a bloke with a set of B-cups? It would be tempting, but I can't see that path as anything but a delayed route into transition.

    So here I am, in a bit of a state, still the day-to-day scruffy bloke but having reached the crunch time. I tried, but in doing so I've not succeeded in keeping my wife happy. I am exceedingly lucky that she's the kind of person who can talk about this. But then again if she wasn't I guess she'd have packed her bags years ago. At least I'll never be able to say I didn't try hard enough.

   What now? More of the same. See the counsellor again, talk about it. Talk everything over with my wife. I am not going to put her in a position in which she is uncomfortable with me, I can't compromise on that front. But she's not comfortable now, so I've already messed up on that one, haven't I.

    One thing's for certain, I feel a lot closer to the edge tonight than I did two weeks ago, and I can't say I like it.

Monday, 18 June 2012

DIY endocrinology, now available on the NHS

    A friend recently mentioned that she has decided to take a short-cut, to self-medicate with estrogen rather than submit to the interminable wait for hormones through official channels.
    It's her choice, and on reflection I don't think it would be mine. Though I'd be happy if I could secure a hormone prescription before going full-time I'm at peace with the notion of an RLE requirement if that's what it comes to for me because I subscribe to the view that living as a woman is more important than  accessing any particular treatment. But she's at an advanced stage of desperation and who am I to judge her decision. I've made my views clear enough in the past on the whole sorry mess of self-medding becoming the de facto route into hormone therapy.
    Something she said made me take notice though, something I'd heard the same thing from others but had never before considered the implications. Her doctor is happy to give her regular blood tests to allow her hormone levels to be monitored, but is not prepared to give her any advice or referral based on those tests.

    That's right. We do endocrinology here, but you? You're on your own!

    It's understandable I guess, they stray into a huge legal quagmire if they offer official support for strictly unofficial use of medication. Sure, they are qualified and experienced to give advice on basic endocrinology even if they aren't world-class experts -  they do it every time a natal woman comes in for HRT, to name but one of many endocrine issues they face - but they need the endocrinology in question to be under their control to be able to do it properly. In offering the blood tests they're going out on a limb somewhat, doing the best they possibly can for their patient without exposing themselves to malpractice claims. Can't blame them for that.
    This is not a good situation though, because even though it provides the requisite information it still means the patient relies on DIY endocrinology. You'll probably have heard the DIY endocrinology line somewhere in this sphere, that endocrinologists just use a trial and error process to get the levels right and it's so simple anyone could do it. How dangerous a half-truth can be.
    I can't help thinking yet again that the whole situation is an unholy mess. A lot of transgender people seen to end up self-medding through necessity and though the medical profession frown on it they provide just enough help to facilitate it. But not enough help to enable the patient to do it in complete safety.
    Yet again I wish there could be a grown-up conversation on the subject. I see other clandestine medicine being provided without question - to drug addicts, or to teenagers needing contraception - and I can't help thinking that if it's legally safe for those kind of services to be provided then there must be a way for it to be so for endocrine advice to be given to a self-medder. I wonder whether the atmosphere of reluctance to do so comes from fear within the medical profession of a perceived rather than genuine legal threat.
    After all, there are people facing real medical issues because of this, and isn't fixing that what a doctor does? Can you be nicked for simply practicing your profession in that situation?

Friday, 15 June 2012

Festering folicles Batman!

    Fortunately there is no real festering involved beyond a handy excuse for a title, but it's time for a quick run-down of laser facial hair removal progress.
    Tomorrow, I'll be off to the clinic for my fifth treatment. An hour catchin' some Joules, followed by a day or two of soreness and mild swelling. A lot of the current crop of hair will come out with the laser, thereafter over the next couple of weeks I'll have odd hairs popping out until I'm clear for the next crop to start coming through. Regrowth when I get it is now very patchy indeed, there is starting to be an end to this process in sight.
    My laser light is coming from a Lightsheer diode laser machine. My operator is very good at her job, and I'm satisfied with the result.
    I'm curious though, my experience seems to differ slightly from that of other people. Not for me the mass ejection of hairs in the weeks after, I don't get my razor choked with dead hairs. Is my hair coming out on laser day unique to me, to Lightsheer, or to the skill of my operator?
    It is extremely fortunate that I have very little body hair. Before you get too envious consider this, we all have our own package of good and bad points. You may have back hair, but I have size UK15 feet, and unlike back hair there's nothing that can be done about that.
    There is however a small amount of hair on my chest. It responds well to shaving, so I've put up with it so far. I'm wondering though whether to have something done about it. Either more laser, or much more economically, an epilator.
    I'd be curious to hear other people's experiences at this point, on both hair removal fronts.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Advice to a young person

    I'm a moderator of a mailing list for transgender people in my part of the world. Today, I had a membership request from somebody self-describing as a young person with transgender feelings.
    We all want to help someone like that. We went through that, and it was awful. But we can't, because of course such a person is a vulnerable young person who really shouldn't be talking to people they don't know on the Internet. Child protection laws aside, it would be irresponsible of us to admit someone in that position, so the group has an age policy of 18 years old and over.
    Here's the mail I sent. I hope I hit the right note.

  Thanks for joining our group. I'm Jenny, group moderator.
I'm mailing you directly because you mention you're a young person.
Having grown up having to hide gender dysphoria I guess I know
something of what you are going through and I know just how confusing
and dreadful it all is. I think we'd all be very anxious to help
anyone in your situation to ensure you don't have to go through what
we had to.
However, because you say you're a young person we have to proceed
with caution before I can approve your membership. There are all sorts
of child protection laws to stop Internet predators and all kinds of
dodgy people who might take advantage of young people, and as well as
being highly irresponsible we'd probably be breaking some of them if
you are under 18. Though we're all pretty normal people we are after
all people you've never met, and I don't think any of us have the
background checks that for example teachers have.
So I guess I have to ask some slightly difficult questions.

First of all, are you 18 years old or older? If so, welcome aboard,
how can we help you?

If you are under 18, are you out to your parent or guardian? If you
are, we'd be only too happy to provide you with whatever support we
can, but only through them. Don't worry if you aren't out to your
parents, we understand that only too well. I was in my 30s before I
came out of the closet.

If you're under 18 and still in the closet then don't worry! We can't
help you directly for the reasons I outlined above, but there is an
organisation just for you. It's called Mermaids, and you can find it

The Mermaids support page is here:

And their Yahoo group for transgender young people is here:

I hope the above is of some help to you. I feel rather crap for having
to proceed with caution in this way for someone who needs the help I
wish I'd had when I was younger, but I hope the Mermaids people can
help you.

If I can leave you with a few words for a trans person at the start of
their journey, here goes:

(1)You are not alone. You'll find men and women like you are
everywhere, getting on with their lives and doing fantastic things.
You do that too.

(2)There are as many routes through all this as there are trans
people. There is no single path you have to take if you don't want to
or aren't quite ready. Choose the way you want to go and do it in your
own time. Being young you have the luxury of time to get it right. You
don't have to transition at all, but if that's what you end up doing
it's better slow and right than fast and wrong.

Good luck :)