Tuesday, 31 December 2013


    It's not often that you have the feeling of having been present at a watershed moment. Of course, such moments are usually something you only realise were watershed moments after the event.
    But looking back from the end of a rather busy year I think I was privileged to witness such a moment, though it certainly didn't seem like it at the time. On a rather dull day at the end of March I was among several hundred people who stood on a West London pavement for a couple of hours outside the offices of the Daily Mail. We had gathered to hold a vigil for a woman called Lucy Meadows who had committed suicide shortly after the Mail had published an extremely vicious piece by columnist Richard Littlejohn questioning her suitability as a trans woman to work as a teacher.
    We stood there in the gloom, held a silence, listened to a few speeches and were glowered at by a few Mail hacks leaving the building Then we dispersed - I went to the pub with an ex-boss who I was pleased to find was also there, I'd always harboured suspicions that she might be like me but was never able to ask.
    At the time, it seemed a futile gesture. Leveson had delivered his report a few months before and precious little had happened, then Julie Burchill had penned a disgraceful piece about us for the Observer which despite a storm of protest from our community seemed to result in very little censure.
    And indeed, it seemed to have little effect on the Mail. Same editor, same star columnist. Same bile, currently directed at immigrants from Romania. Why did we bother!
    We were never going to change the Mail through standing on a pavement. But it's only in the last few months that I've come to the conclusion that the Lucy Meadows vigil was a watershed moment. In itself it was a minor step, however while before that moment it was considered acceptable to publish pieces like Littlejohn's or Burchill's, afterwards it most definitely was not. I sense the atmosphere changed after that chilly evening on a West London pavement, the momentum changed ever so slightly in our favour. It would be foolish to say that there will be no more Lucy Meadows moments or unfortunate advertising campaigns, but there is the sense that henceforth they will be fewer and we will no longer have to work to persuade people that they're in bad taste.
    Maybe this has been our year, the year everything changed. It would be nice to think so, however I guess we'll only truly know in a decade's time.

Thursday, 26 December 2013


    There is a collective apathy that descends at this time of year, surrounded as we are by winter at its most depressing, coupled with far too much heavy Christmas food. This year for us it's had the added burden of my mother's passing, not immediate but still close enough for the emotional toll to be a factor.
    Fortunately it hasn't been too much of a burdensome Christmas. My dad hasn't wanted decorations or a tree, so we've had the food but few other trappings. I'm glad it worked this way. I didn't want him stressed by too many preparations, yet I didn't want him to be missing mince pies either. So I've managed all the cake, mincemeat, puddings and turkey.
    Apathy is a strange thing, I know I have a lot of things I need to get on with personally too, yet I can't summon the energy to think about them. Name changes, for instance. I should be busy writing to all sorts of financial companies about pensions, or the DVLA about my driving licence. But somehow I can't summon the energy. 
    Fortunately none of them are in over Christmas anyway, so I guess it doesn't really matter. I know I'll be asked about this in February when I visit the clinic, guess the death in the family card will have to suffice. 
    My sister has sent her eldest son over for the season. I think there have been some sibling tensions and she's anxious to defuse them. I wasn't completely impressed as I thought it might be a bit much for my dad, however fortunately he's turned out not to be a handful at all. Prone as 15 year olds are to spending all day in bed or in front of the TV, however I suspect some of the latter is due to being let off the rather tight parental leash. I've been introducing him to my DVD collection as he turns out to be something of a film buff.
    My sister seems to have some problems with my transition, particularly with my name change. She has all sorts of weird theories of her own about it, however as I've had to acidly remind her; it ain't about her.
    So here I am, not feeling very enthused, not in the highest point of transition either. Looking forward to a new pair of Le Dame shoes in the post, and annoyed as hell with Marks and Spencer for discontinuing their tall workwear range. I'm enjoying the freedom of being able to openly shop for clothing though, that one will take a long time to go away. 
    Yep, clothes an' shoes, all it takes to fill a girl's head. Along with deploying a work app for Android, iOS and Windows Phone, a suspected head warp on the Wreck, and getting to grips with how to say one should do something in Welsh, that is. Ddylwn ei wneud rhywbeth arall, na ddylai fi.

Hope you lot had a good Christmas, wherever you are.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

You're Never More than a Minute from the Nazis

    My wife once described British TV to her mother as having an obsession with the war. Sitting in their smart North American kitchen I leapt to the defence of our broadcasters.
    On our return to these shores our first evening had (in those days of 5 channel TV) two different war documentaries and an episode of Dad's Army on the telly. Well that told me then, didn't it. She was right.
    I find it to be rather unhealthy. It is not necessary to recycle in tiniest detail the events of nearly 70 years ago when the rest of the world has moved on. Of course it's important to preserve the memory of the war's victims, but the incessant rehashing risks devaluing everything.
    There's one aspect I find particularly disturbing though, casting German actions in terms of theatrical evil while lionising exactly the same things done by the Allies.
    It's very easy to do.  The Nazis were evil, right? The Holocaust. Received Opinion at its most fundamental. But what about the Germans who were just ordinary people fighting a war in the same fashion as their opponents? Just like the Brits, Canadians, Aussies, Americans, Russians and countless more. Your dad, your granddad, your uncle. Germans doing the same things as them, because they were German and their country was at war. No war crimes, just the horror of conflict. Still evil? No more than your granddad.
    Unfortunately not in the eyes of documentary makers. A couple of ones I've seen recently spring to mind: one about air defences in which Dad's Army style Home Guard anti-aircraft gunners were described in those terms, and one about the German plans to bomb America. That last one had plenty of justifiably nasty stuff to talk about in the underground slave labour factory making rockets, but then they started talking in the same terms about Luftwaffe pilots planning near-suicidal missions using long range seaplanes as bombers, or even the team of spies sent to plant bombs in New York. At the same time as we were pulverising their cities with thousand bomber raids and sending teams of SOE spies - or in modern parlance, terrorists - in to plant bombs in German targets. Still theatrical evil? Time to look in the mirror. And then perhaps time to read for a moment about the bombing of Dresden.
    I believe it is the power of television that has done most to keep us largely at peace over the last 60 years or so. The horror of what is being and has been done on their name can no longer be completely concealed from the populace when high definition colour video lands on their screens the next day. The Americans learned this in Vietnam, a war lost as much in the living rooms of Middle America as in the jungles of Indo-China.
    I feel something's been lost though in the way British television deals with the Second World War. We're presented a nauseous pantomime of recycled horror that is as formulaic as a real pantomime, something that significantly cheapens the very important message. It's important to never forget, but we have to move on from this.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

The Vault

    A couple of years ago, shortly after my mum's friend M died, the gravediggers were at work in our village churchyard. Unexpectedly, they hit concrete a few inches underground. Moving over a burial plot, yet more concrete. Three more plots across before they found earth again.
    They were mystified. This was the first burial in the churchyard for a couple of decades and the first in a new plot for much longer, it's not a village with a high death rate. The vicar had no idea, she's only been in the job for a few years. It seems the records were a little badly kept.
    My dad knew what it was straight away when they asked him, they'd found the Vault. A bit of a local legend, that one.
    I can remember people talking about it when I was very young, it was the kind of local gossip that hung around. Some time in the decade before I was born an elderly female relative of a local man died. She was quite wealthy, so the story went, and the man - let's say he had a reputation for being a little sharp - made it his business to work his way into her affections while she was in her dotage. With some success, as he secured the inheritance of her money.
    The old lady had nominated a close friend as her executor. She saw through the man pretty quickly, though she couldn't prevent her friend changing her will in his favour. So when the old lady died she could only watch as the heir awaited probate so he could collect his cheque.
    The executor had a job to do though, she had to arrange  the old lady's funeral and burial. For which the estate of the deceased would of course pay. She proceeded to perform that task for her friend by arranging the most lavish funeral and burial that money could buy in the 1960s, which is why hidden under the turf of a quiet country churchyard there lies - so I'm told, I've never seen it - a full-sized millionaire-spec walk-in vault containing a single extremely expensive coffin. The story repeated when I was young with many a smirk at the expense of the heir was that there wasn't even any money left over for grass seed when the vault was covered over, still less for an inheritance.
    I've often wondered what an archaeologist will make of it in a few hundred years time.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

One more step along the road

    The things you'll do for your friends. Standing in an unheated Norfolk church in something a little too insubstantial for the end of November, then braving an icy breeze outside for some photographs.
    So C and J are married. And despite the predictable run of minor disasters, it all came together in the end. I saw some friends for the first time since transition, learned news of people I've not seen in a decade.
    On the mat when I returned home: a letter from the GIC. My referral to the fertility clinic, the voice therapist, and the endocrinologist. The latter unusually without a second consultation since going full-time, in part due to all the counselling I'd previously had and in part because I'm exercising Patient Choice to use my local clinic rather than the GIC for HRT.
    It's odd, really. When you are suffering in the closet you imagine HRT is Where It's At. At least I did, for some others it appears to be The Surgery wot does it. But from where I am now I realise that living full-time is Where It's At, after all if this isn't about living in your preferred role what is it?
    So the prospect of HRT surprisingly is rather alarming. How will it affect my wife if it changes me, for example.
    I don't expect to receive it until well into the New Year. Which is not really a problem as it's better to move slowly and get it right than quickly and regret afterwards.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Winter wedding

    My long-term friend C is getting married next Saturday and he's asked me to be his best woman. He was our best man. His fiancée is a very lovely lady and we're extremely happy for them both.
    It's something of a challenge though for a fairly recently transitioned transwoman, to perform such a public role. It's the bride's day and she does not deserve to be overshadowed by anything. So "Are you sure about this?" was my first question.
    The marriage will take place in the parish church opposite C's parents house in a Norfolk village. A very small Norfolk village with a huge medieval flint church built for its population pre-Enclosure. The church bears the visible scars of centuries of vandalism in the name of faith, a sharp contrast to the ornate medieval wool churches of my own county. Norfolk it seems was very puritan, back in the day.
    One unexpected feature of the church is a lack of electricity. It has gas lights fed from a huge propane cylinder, but no heating. During the rehearsal it was beautiful as the late afternoon sunlight streamed in - very little stained glass, damned Puritans! - but freezing cold even to us wrapped up for a late November day. C and I have the task of sourcing a propane space heater before us to save the congregation from getting too fidgety in the cold. Let's hope the vicar doesn't see it as an opportunity for preaching!
    What to wear is something of a challenge. The bride and her party will be in big dresses, but I have to fit in with the suits of C's party. I've decided to go with what I'd wear at work if one of our million-dollar customers was in the office, a smart workwear dress and jacket.
    So it'll be something of a break from the norm, but I think it'll be a good day. I simply have to deposit C sober in the front pew, and make sure the rings land on the vicar's Bible when he holds it out. Oh, and make a speech at the reception in a nearby country pub. Thank the bridesmaids, say how gorgeous the bride looks, wish them luck, tell a mildly racy story about C's past to scandalise the older generation, that kind of thing.
    If I wasn't all done up for a wedding I'd be itching to climb the church tower :)

Monday, 11 November 2013

Well, that's it then.

     A friend or mine once said to me that you only really grow up when you lose a parent. I guess that makes me a grown-up then, because my mother died just over a week ago.
    It's interesting, seeing the social conventions of reaction to a death. My mother's passing was very peaceful,instead of succumbing to the leukaemia she caught an infection which weakened her heart. She faded away over a couple of days, ready for her end and not in pain. Her fears of lingering on or losing her mind were not realised.
    I almost feel guilty for not being consumed by grief, because that's how everyone seems to expect me to be. I'm not that way because of the manner of her passing, prepared for it and at the end of a long and happy life. I grieved while my mother was still alive, as I came to terms with news of her illness.
    So life goes on. Every now and then - as when I discovered "custard" and "crust" have the same etymology - I think of something I should tell her because it would interest her, then realise I can't. Which is sad, but not unbearably so.
    My sisters - one too similar to our mum not to chafe with her and the other coming back from a long feud - have had very different reactions from mine. Had they made their peace with her perhaps things might have been different, but as it is I think it'll be a while before they put their feelings to bed. It's my dad I'm worried about, he's of the generation that was taught to bottle everything up. Fortunately I'm the one who lives locally so I'll be spending a lot more time at home from now on. As Christmas approaches I've been making some of the seasonal goodies. I don't want my dad to be reminded of my mum through missing her mince pies.
    My mother's illness has taken up all my time since going full-time. I've not changed my name on a load of things I should have, but it hasn't really mattered. I've been fortunate in that my day-to-day existence hasn't held any transition-related problems..
    On Saturday I went to the pub with a group who knew me as the scruffy bloke for over a decade. Much rubbish was talked about motorcycles, and we encountered a genuine Rock Superstar in person - it's his local.
    The motorcyclists were as they always are. A couple of raised eyebrows from the two I hadn't been able to tell, but otherwise an unremarkable gathering. One or two locals  giving me an extra glance, but not unexpected and also not beyond the mildly curious.
    So yes, a new kind of normality for me. Getting on with it, and without my mum with whom to talk about it. Grown up.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

On identity

    As the days get shorter and we have a sudden reminder of impending winter, it comes almost as a shock to see nearly two months have passed since I went full-time. Of course, so much has been going on I haven't had time to think.
    I think I'm not alone among transgender people at this stage of transition in experiencing a mild crisis of identity. You don't magically change on transition, you're the same person you always were. So you've had four decades of socialisation as a bloke, and that doesn't magically go away. I don't mean by this how you behave or how you look, but how your life experiences affect you. So you still feel like the person you were six months ago, and back then of course you were supposed to be very different.
    I'm sure it'll pass. Better to think about it now than like some people mask it with an obsessive pursuit of transition milestones and have it stay with you for a lifetime in a ghastly closet of assumed stealth.
    Meanwhile, inner residual bloke or not I have plenty to do. Pressing cider as usual at this time of year, a bumper crop this season. Getting on with shoemaking, casting a pair of foot moulds in plaster that seem to be taking an age for the residual moisture to come out. And things to do with my mother's illness. My annoying sisters are in the air, never conducive to low stress
     Life goes on, eh!

Monday, 7 October 2013

A tale of three phone companies

    I have a tale to tell about the mechanics of changing the name on accounts with UK utilities following a legal change of name. It's not in itself unpleasant, but it demonstrates perfectly the kind of petty jobsworth application of invented non-existent laws that blights the process for those of us who are going through it.
    One of the first things I did on transition was to change my name with the first of my three phone companies, the UK's national near-monopoly, BT. Like most Brits I use them for my fixed line phone, and in my case they also provide my broadband. To change my name with them I simply logged in to my online account with them and updated my details. No need to provide any documents as there is no such thing as a legal name in UK law, they know exactly who I am through my address and bank account. Job done, not bad for a usually slow-moving former nationalised near-monopoly.
    My second phone company was the next on my list for a name change update. EE are one of the UK's larger mobile phone networks, having been formed from the merger of T-Mobile and Orange. I've been with them for more years than I'd care to remember, and have always been pretty satisfied with them.
    So I logged into the EE web site and worked through the section for updating my details. That's strange, no place to update your account name. I must have missed something. So I asked them where to look, via my social network of choice.
    Their reply was this link. A page telling me I needed "A covering letter with a copy of the change of name deed poll document and also the documented proof of gender change." Oops, I don't have a deed poll, I have a statutory declaration. And also what exactly is "documented proof of gender change"? A picture of me dressed as a drag queen? A letter from my doctor? My BT phone bill?
    I pointed out to them that (a)not everyone has a deed poll, and (b)was the requirement for documentation really necessary considering it is not a legal requirement and BT can happily do the change without it. The reply: "Just send us the documents we ask for". More than their jobsworth.
    I am physically unable to send them a deed poll, I don't have one. A statutory declaration is functionally the same thing, I advised them to talk to their legal department. I am not spending money with a lawyer to get my "documented proof", just for a poxy phone company who are demanding something they have no legal requirement for. I refer them to the case of Arkell vs. Pressdram.
    Which brings me neatly to the third phone company I mentioned. I don't know who they are yet, but I know they'll have no problem with my name change. You see, the UK mobile phone market is one of cut-throat competition. There are the network owners, EE, Vodafone, O2 and Three, and a host of secondary service providers such as Tesco Mobile, Talk Talk, Virgin Mobile, and GiffGaff who lease capacity from the network owners. Moving providers is a very simple process.
    So I don't have to put up with EE's frankly ludicrous requirement. I'll simply wait for the end of my contract - not too long now - and move mobile provider to my as-yet-undecided third phone company. Start with them in my new name, and the transphobic EE jobsworths can go to hell.
    Everything Everywhere - except in my pocket, that is.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The bog

    My week really hasn't been the best one I've ever had. My mother's in hospital so I've been running backwards and forwards to see her, and my sisters seem to have lost all pretence of sanity in a storm of extreme unpleasantness. With the things they're coming out with in respect to me I'm wondering whether they're making some kind of play for my parents wills or in fact they just are batshit crazy. I know my mother is strictly egalitarian on that matter, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
    That's not really the point of this piece though. The icing on the cake - no, the cherry on top of the icing on the cake - came on Monday morning in the form of an email from a friend of mine. I thought I'd escaped The Toilet Issue because I am lucky enough to work for an extremely enlightened employer and my colleagues have some of the cleverest and most interesting people I have ever worked with  among them but no, it seems some of them are concerned about the Man in the Ladies Menace.
A typical scene in the ladies' loo, yesterday.
    My friend works for a sister institution to ours. She has quite a few distant colleagues of mine among her other friends, and she was sending me a heads-up about some of the things they were saying about me. The usual stuff - that my anatomy means I am a threat, that my interest in using that facility is unhealthy, and that I should be using the men's room instead. My friend characterised them as saying "I've nothing against transgender people but...", that cliché phrase of casual hate language.
    I have to say, I'm disappointed in whoever they are. I'm assuming they're a minority as my direct colleagues have all been extremely supportive. However I'm guessing they are also ignorant. Uncharacteristically so it seems for an institution famous worldwide for numbering some of the most well-educated people on the planet among its staff, but if the dunce's cap fits then I guess they'd better wear it.
    So for the benefit of my less enlightened colleagues I'm going to open the lid on that holy of holies unknown to half the world: the ladies' loo. I think those who haven't been in a ladies loo imagine it to be like the scene depicted in Boticelli's Venus, but the reality is far more mundane. It's just a room with a load of sinks on one side and a row of toilet stalls on the other. Cleaner than the men's room, more mirrors, and of course no urinals. When I use it there seems hardly ever to be anyone in there, I go to a stall, do my business in private, come out and wash my hands, then go on my way. If a colleague is there I don't stop or even make eye contact, I just do what I'm in there for.
    That's it. Mundane, isn't it. Nothing to see here, move on.
    I had a chat with my HR representative about this yesterday morning. UK law is unambiguous on the right of transgender people to use the loo appropriate to their presentation and she admitted she has received some approaches on the subject and had firmly appraised them of the law and sent them on their way. In fact the law does apply to toilets, but not on a gender basis. Under indecency law if anyone does anything inappropriate in either loo they're committing an offence. This protects all: men, women, cis, and trans alike from sexual predators and other miscreants, while allowing all to use the loo for its intended purpose.
    I didn't expect to have to write this piece, I thought my colleagues weren't going to be like this. As I've said above, most of them aren't. I'm going to send this link around work and I hope some of the people I'm writing about read it and realise that as well as letting down my more enlightened colleagues they've turned a mundane part of everybody's day into a very anxious experience for me.

Final note: I'm on a short fuse at the moment and I'm going to moderate the living crap out of any unpleasant comments on this post. Not my normal policy but this time I have little tolerance for idiots.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

No Woman would do that!

    "No Woman would do that!"

    They mean well, they really do.
    Natal women, that is. Or more accurately,  some natal women, when faced with a trans woman friend, family member or acquaintance.
    They think they're helping you escape some unimaginable faux pas of either clothing or appearance. Sometimes they're right in that a little of the bloke has shone through, mostly though it's simply a shorthand for "I wouldn't do that!".
    'Cos here's the thing: women are not an army of clones, they dress and behave in a huge diversity of ways. So the chances are that whatever the behaviour or look, many women do it.
    It's indicative of an acceptance crisis in the mind of the originator, by saying that no woman would do what you are doing they are in effect saying that you are not a woman. Fair enough, it they've known the scruffy bloke for a decade that's a tough ask for some people. Give it time. And I don't need to be told I'll never be a natal woman, I have the lived experience to prove it. But the upsetting thing isn't that. Instead it's the suspension of the normal rules of commenting on female appearance.
    Consider this, your friend asks whether her bum looks big in that skirt. Do you say "It's nice, but maybe the other one has the edge", or do you tell the truth and say "Your bum looks like a continental shelf and your legs look like tree trunks, make it go away!". Of course you say the former. Gently passing comment on appearance disasters is something all women have hard-coded, the latter is definitely something no woman would say to another.
    Perhaps "No Woman would say that!" is an appropriate response.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Very abruptly growing up

    My mother is not well. After a few weeks of feeling weak and having muscle pain she went to the doctor, only to be told that she has something serious. Terminal, in fact. They can do things to make her life a lot easier and put off the inevitable, but at some time in the next year or two it will claim her. It could be sooner rather than later, we just don't know.
    She's in our local teaching hospital for a few nights at the moment for some tests, fortunately in good spirits due to feeling better after treatment. With luck we'll bring her home this evening, at which point she'll email my sisters. The last thing she or my dad wanted this week was them descending on the house as self-appointed angels of mercy to organise things that didn't need it.
    It's important to put this into perspective. My mother is in her late 80s. At that age though you hope there could be many years to go the fact is that the probability of something serious cropping up gets higher with every year. And having seen my grandmother slip into dementia in her 90s several decades ago I'm acutely aware there are far worse ways to go. At least this way she retains her faculties and receives proper care right up to the end. It's a sad indictment of our society that the quality of your end-of-life care depends on the trigger words in your medical file.
    My dad is his usual self, not really opening up. As luck would have it I've been at home this week, I can see I must make the effort to spend more time there from now on. Maybe a few nights every week.
    It's something of an abrupt exercise in growing up.

Sunday, 8 September 2013


    So, it's been a week now. Since going full-time female, that is.

    How's it gone? Very well. Beautifully normal.

    If you're full-time, you have no alternative but to just seize the role and go with it. All those worries and uncertainties have to be faced up to and overcome, for the alternative is that the boundaries of your world shrink to almost nothing and you can't get anything done. Hardly the point of Real Life Experience, is it.
    So that's what I did. Just got on with it. Four days in the office, one in London going to the GIC, and two days back at my parents place doing farm stuff.
    I like my office. My colleagues wear everything from the catwalk look to the dishevelled academic look so as long as what I wear is appropriate for someone of my age and height I can wear the widest variety of outfits without looking out of place. I wore the dress in the picture on Monday because I could for the first time in my working life, but I could get away with everything from comfy jeans to million-dollar-meeting power dressing. Somehow I suspect the former will become my norm though.
    London was fun. A lot of firsts: trains, the Tube, London shopping, walking through Hyde Park. Which all seemed as natural as anything  as of course it should, as all those things were hardly new to the old me. It was too hot though. I didn't get my outfit half as wrong as the other GIC patient in her black suit and heavy makeup, but despite my summery top I wished I'd worn some lightweight trousers instead of jeans. Still, at least half of London's natal women were in the same position.
    To be honest, the surprise was my invisibility. I can't believe nobody saw me or that nobody clocked me, but despite my lingering worries nobody took any notice of me. Except for one group, the few women of similar height to me I passed in the street. Without exception they noticed me, checked me out and made eye contact.
    Women do not make eye contact with unknown men in the street, so this was entirely new to me. I have it seems effortlessly joined the Very Tall Women's Club.
    The GIC appointment was routine. See the doc, hand over the paperwork, ask for a voice and fertility clinic referral, get appointment for February.
    So that's me set then. I never thought this would happen.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Bunch of bankers

    "I suggest you talk to your diversity department before you say something you may later regret."
    I was standing in my bank on a hot August lunchtime, a young couple with a very cute but very bored little girl seated in the waiting area to my right and a couple of bank employees in front of me. The obviously rather inexperienced woman on desk duty and a young man with spiky hair and an earpiece, dressed in a shiny suit.
    I'd gone in to process my name change. On paper an easy process, British law being what it is and names having no legal status here. Just tell them what your new name is and that's it!
    Of course, it's not that easy. Aparatchiks like paper, so I'd come armed with my stat dec. "No problem", said inexperienced woman, "I'll get right to it". On to the second screen in the bank name-change system: "Have you got any ID?" I proffered my employer's photo ID with my bloke picture, like a Gold Card in this town. She had the decency to look embarrassed. "I mean, have you got any ID with your new name?"
    I pointed out that since I had just changed my name I was hardly likely to have any such ID, and suggested she look again at the very obvious likeness on the photo ID I'd just shown her. She looked confused, and scuttled off.
    The cute little girl had started playing a game, improbably with a five pound note from her mother's handbag. How the other half live, I thought.
    Inexperienced woman reappeared, with spiky haired man in tow. He peered suspiciously at my stat dec. "Have you changed your name by deed poll?" he asked. I pointed at the stat dec and as politely as I could informed him that a stat dec is functionally equivalent to a deed poll. He looked perplexed and started to say that a deed poll was necessary. At this point I sensed this needed a little focus, and made the suggestion at the start of this piece. At which point I was told to wait while they returned to their lair with an admonition from me that they couldn't take the original stat dec as it had cost me a fiver, a copy would have to do.
    Ten minutes later, inexperienced woman returned. We filled in a form, and I'll have to go back next week to order my cheque book and card. The Action Bank, cajoled into action.
    I don't expect a small branch of a big bank to know everything about gender changes. They probably see us pretty rarely after all. But I did get the sense that they started from a position of "You can't do this!" when they should have been thinking "How can we do this?".
    In a couple of weeks, new regulations will make changing your bank in the UK as easy as changing your cellphone provider or your washing powder brand. Depending on how this lot perform over the next week, I may just take up that offer.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

'er in waiting

    It's something of a limbo, the period immediately before going full-time. A lot of doubt alternating with desperate need to move forward. One minute I'm making a big mistake, ruining everything et cetera, et cetera, the next I'm ready to go. I have seen many others run headlong into this without any such concerns. The pink fog is strong in some people, but such as it was it left me a very long time ago.
    Such doubts are inevitable. Healthy even. But far more stress than I need at the moment.
    Last night I left the scruffy bloke behind and went out with my wife. She's not entirely at ease walking with me as the oversized girl, for which I don't blame her. However as the evening progressed and I attracted no adverse attention I sensed she relaxed. We go out together surprisingly rarely as our different jobs restrict our time together, so fortunately she has plenty of time during which she will not have any such worries.
    I was pleased, looking at myself in the mirror. A very narcissistic thing to say, but also a moment of necessary appraisal. My hair has settled nicely into an unambiguously female cut which frames my face well and helps lose its male shape, and I was dressed as any other 40-something woman might be. In short, I was not someone who would attract attention other than through my height, which I can't do anything about.
    I spent decades thinking I would never be able to look like that.
    At work, another meeting with HR. All the policies, steps and hoops to jump through. Very positive, nothing unexpected or unpleasant. Then the point later in the day when I fill in a stat. dec. form with my new name, and there it is in black and white. All the doubts return, and I don't take it to the solicitor's office.
    In an odd juxtaposition, I've been shopping. On one hand a few female clothing essentials, on the other a box of parts for the Wreck. This weekend I'll be getting my eyebrows done before going to my parents place and tackling a rusted-in stud. I won't be doing anything to my nails until after that's finished, you can be sure of that.
    In a few months time, this'll be ancient history. I'll have settled into the regime of my life as a woman, and I'll know the answer to all my worries about my wife. I'm sure it'll have been easier than I expect, but meanwhile I wish my current angst would go away.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Transition is an exercise in selfishness.

    Today I had a meeting at work. My boss and I took a walk through the labyrinth of offices and staircases to the HR department, and sat down with our department's HR representative. I announced my intention to transition full-time to the female role, and set in motion the necessary steps for that to happen smoothly at work.

    Truth be told, this is the last thing I want to happen.

    You aren't supposed to say something like that just before transition, are you. It's a trope, that you should only transition if you have no alternative, you are supposed to want it more than anything in the world. God knows, I've had that one quoted at me enough times over the past few years. Usually from trans women desperate to assert themselves as more trans than me. They just went for it and I struggled against it, therefore I can't really be trans. Cheers ladies. A friend of mine puts it very well: transition is an exercise in selfishness.

    No, I don't want it. What I really want is for it all to go away. A magic bloke pill. I can do bloke very well. Ain't gonna happen, sadly.

    I'm transitioning because I have run out of alternatives. Having just said I don't want it, of course I want to live as a woman in the desperate way only one stuck in the existence of a bloke can. But I'd have to be crazy to also want its effects. Effects on those around me, effects on me.
    I can't speak for my wife, but I sense she is relieved. The past few years have not been easy for her, and we had settled into a stable but stressful existence from which the only exit could have been our relationship slowly withering on the vine. Living with a bloke with clinical depression can not be easy, she has always said it is my depression she has had the problem with more than my being trans.
    So we'd be still here in a tiny flat in ten years time, neither happy, no children, no future. If I transition our relationship may or may not survive but at least it won't wither and my wife has the potential to be happier through living with someone who is not depressed. Only time will tell if it works for us.

    My friend got it right: Transition is an exercise in selfishness.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Boycott this

    There has been talk of boycotts in the air this week. The Russian government's actions against LGBT people have prompted a call for a boycott of Russian vodka.
    I can't say I drink much vodka, and if I did I don't think I'd shell out for the Russian stuff, it's expensive here in the UK. But if I did then yes, I'd probably order something else.

    There, that'll show them.

    You see, there's the problem with consumer boycotts in a nutshell. They feel good, but do they make any difference? We've stopped buying vodka, there, that'll show Putin and his cronies! While meanwhile the police in Greece are rounding up LGBT people by the trainload, yet I haven't heard so much of a whisper about boycotting feta or Kalamata olives.

    Fortunate that, I like feta and Kalamata olives, it'd be a shame to have to give them up.

    Pretty pointless, huh. Like the boycott of Outspan oranges and Cape pears from South Africa in the 1980s while anything with gold or diamonds in it probably came direct from a South African mine.
    The trouble is, I want to believe. I should stop buying Greek and Russian products just like I stopped buying Israeli products a few years ago following one of their more outrageous military actions in the Occupied Territories. Hell, I should stop buying Chinese products over their human rights record, or American products because of Guantanamo Bay. And don't mention the Chagos Islanders too close to any Buy British campaigns.
    But it's no good really. Even full-on UN sanctions haven't dislodged the governments in Iran and North Korea, so why should a few privileged Westerners with a consumer boycott do anything to unsettle Putin, or Golden Dawn? Russian gas keeps the rest of Europe warm in winter, are German gay people going to freeze for their principles? Didn't think so.

    So there you go. A defeatist post, there's nothing you can do, go home.

    There is one thing a consumer boycott does do very well, it keeps the issue alive. "Oh, that vodka's Russian, I'm not buying that!" - "Oh, why's that?". If people are talking about an issue that is inconvenient for the government in question, it makes it less easy for that government to put a positive spin on it or push it under the carpet. And it's embarrassing to find your government's actions have caused you to be unwelcome on your travels.

    So by all means boycott vodka. Boycott olives or cheese. It's not entirely pointless.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

That informal chat

    All change at work. My boss, a 30 year veteran, is retiring at the end of August. I will miss her insights and experience, she's taught me a lot. 
    So meet the new boss. Almost the same as the old boss, in fact I'm being moved slightly sideways. My new boss isn't such a veteran, in fact she's slightly younger than me. And one other thing, she doesn't yet know about me. Rather unusual, for someone who's cultivated a life of being quietly out to head off anything malicious I've missed this particular person.
    So time for a quiet morning coffee. To her credit, she didn't bat an eyelid. More than she bargained for I think, the prospect that her new report might transition. Interesting times.
    I have on the whole reached a good position with respect to being out as transgender. Anyone who matters knows, and that's fine by me. It reduces my stress and it would make it very difficult for anyone to gossip about me, both of which were my aims in doing it. 
    Not for the first time, I feel rather lucky.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Village poos, more than slight return

    For somewhere that is neither very hot nor very cold, we Brits don't 'arf moan about our weather. A cold snap that's pretty minor if you are Canadian, floods a Bangladeshi would consider a mild inconvenience, now a heatwave a Gulf coast Texan would consider rather cool.
    Yes, we've been baking for a week or more now in the high twenties Celcius. My parents have their portable air conditioner on in the older part of their house with its thick walls, and I spend my days in the cool of an air conditioned office. My wife is not so lucky at her work, and nights are uncomfortable and sticky. I must remember this next February when a wind comes in from the Urals via the North Sea.
    Tensions are running a little high in the village. A year ago I described the latest chapter in our poo saga - an overloaded sewage outfall and poorly maintained septic tanks up the village resulting in a raw sewage problem nobody wants to take ownership of. In that year precious little has happened, and now in the summer heat the problem is making itself rather obvious. A lot of argument later, and accord has been reached. They're all going to fit modern digesters like the rest of us in the village have before the end of summer.
    Unfortunately, a month or more has passed since that accord, and no sign of any work. The owner of the house closest to the smell is incandescent, and one of the neighbours further up the hill has declared that they're not going to do anything because everyone else has been so beastly about it. Or words to that effect. I'm unaware of any legal threats yet, but I'm sure they'll come in time.
    Meanwhile you can almost hear the rumble of approaching Environment Agency JCBs.
    The problem is, we have morphed during my lifetime from a village of simple country folk to one of Successful People who have moved out of London to the peak of their personal housing aspiration. They tend to be people who consider themselves to be rather important, typically directors of mid-sized companies for example.
    We're a settlement in which everyone considers themselves to be the Lord of the Manor, and considers everyone else to be the peasants. Sadly I am not able to bang their heads together with a handy farm implement so all I and the rest of us can do is throw up our hands in despair.
    And the sun keeps beating down.
    I wonder if there are any tomato plants growing along that ditch, they'd be well fertilised! :)

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Another day in the park

IMG_20130713_185529_728    Last Saturday my friend Rebecca and I went up to Manchester to launch the Dawn Skinner Fund at the Sparkle transgender celebration.
    We had a successful though tiring day, receiving many generous donations and meeting a healthy cross-section of the community. Some very good contacts were made, and our message was well received.
    Some feedback was rather unexpected. More than one person expressed a desire for end-of-life care centres specifically for transgender people, for example. Surprisingly these views were not restricted to any particular section of our community. Our line was simple, our aim is to make all end-of-life care as transgender-friendly as it can be which we feel would be a far better solution than end-of-life transgender ghettos.
    Other feedback was solid gold, we were pleased to meet more than one end-of-life care professional among our community, with whom we had some very interesting conversations.
    Sparkle is a topic that seems to raise divisions in the UK transgender community. It's attended by all sections of our diverse community so it is somewhere at which our more flamboyant and extreme subcultures are visible alongside a large number of unremarkable trans people. As a result it's not uncommon to find full-time transwomen who won't have anything to do with it because of a guilt by association with flamboyant part-timers. I understand this, but I think it's a shame as to not care too much about such things is to be truly at ease with your identity. The DQs, LGs, maids, fetishists, furries, nuns and the downright badly dressed may be on different paths from me but that is no concern of mine. Sparkle is our biggest nationally organised event so it made absolute sense for us to launch our fund there.
    It was a little different to see the event as an exhibitor. Certainly welcome to sit in the shade on a breathless hot day. With a background of doing exhibitions in the tech industry it was always my ambition to do an exhibition stand with minimum hassle and easy transport, on Saturday I achieved that aim. The whole thing packed onto one sack truck, reducing the effort enormously.
    So that's it. We're under way, now we have to get out there and do some work.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Announcing the Dawn Skinner Fund

    It may not have escaped the attention of some readers that my time has been taken elsewhere of late. After a lot of work behind the scenes it's time to reveal the project I have been involved in.

    The trustees are delighted to announce the launch of a new charitable fund "The Dawn Skinner Fund"

    The Dawn Skinner Fund is focused around the needs of transgender people who find themselves in an end of life care setting. Its inspiration came from a conversation my fellow trustee Rebecca & I had whilst we were visiting our friend Dawn last October as she lay dying of cancer in our local hospice. The care she received was on the whole outstanding, however there were a few occasions when staff didn't treat her with the dignity she deserved. In particular there was some casual (and from some staff members, persistent) misgendering.
    Rebecca & I felt that there was a need for a charity to focus on the specific needs of transgender people in an end of life care setting. This started a further series of conversations which led to the creation of The Dawn Skinner Fund.
    We are currently a membership organisation with charitable aim because the complexities of setting up a full blown charity on no budget are challenging. As a small organisation we will first seek charitable status from the Inland Revenue, followed by full registered charity status when our turnover passes the threshold set by the Charities Commission.
    We are also pleased to announce the national launch of The Dawn Skinner Fund at Sparkle 2013. We will have a stall in the park during the celebrations and we would love to see you and to chat with you about The Dawn Skinner Fund. We are also hoping that some of you will also join us as members.
    We need your help to be able to achieve some our aims, such as being able to prepare materials that we would need to facilitate professional learning for healthcare staff who may encounter transgender people during the course of their work. The Dawn Skinner Fund is not expecting to provide standard "diversity training" but to work with these specialised professionals to help them consider the needs of transgender people with a life limiting condition.
    We think this work is extremely important, after all one of life's few certainties for all of us is its end.

We look forward to meeting some of you in the park.

More information about The Dawn Skinner Fund can be found at http://www.dawnskinnerfund.org.uk, or via Twitter: @DawnFund.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

The Arse and his date

    We're not long back from a holiday in Devon. A week of hiking, sightseeing and enjoying fine south-western food. And cider of course.
    Our hotel was a little basic. Not for us the Grand Hotel on the seafront, instead we stayed in an anonymous chain motel next to a trunk road because if you book such rooms far enough ahead they can be yours for a surprisingly small amount of money.
    You know exactly what you are getting at these places. The rooms are the same all over the country, basic but clean and unexpectedly spacious. Perfect for a budget getaway.
    Sadly we had the worst room in the hotel, on the ground floor by the entrance. Woken up at all hours by noisy mobile phone conversations and construction workers enjoying a quick fag before turning in.
    One such moment troubled me. About 1am, and a bloke has returned to the hotel with a woman he's picked up at the pub he's been to. As he catches a pre-coital fag we're treated to their conversation and it becomes rapidly clear that he's a scumbag of the first order. It's not exactly my area of expertise, but perhaps informing your date that she's a slapper who'll open her legs for anyone is not the done thing. Even if there is a ring of truth to it.
    You wish you could freeze time, run out and tell her he's an arse and to walk away. But you can't. After a few minutes of conversation and an unwelcome tobacco smell reaching our room they went inside and we were able to go back to sleep.
    I hope she found what she wanted, but something tells me she didn't find what she needed.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

fixin' an 'ole

    It must be nice, to be one of the Little People. What, you say, have I given myself Airs and Graces, fancy myself a Cut Above?
    Fortunately not. It must be nice, being someone with average sized feet. You can go into any old store and buy yourself a pair of shoes, and you don't have to spend much cash to do so.
    For once I'm not talking about unobtainable female shoes, either. The joy of buying any pair of shoes at retail has eluded me for decades, I mail order them and they cost me a fortune.
    My normal footwear are those trainers that think they're walking boots. Or is it the other way round? Anyway, they're comfortable and will grip on almost any terrain, yet go very well with my normal scruffy work uniform of jeans, t-shirt and sweater. They even work as girl shoes with jeans, something I realised when I saw my sister wearing a very similar pair to mine.
    They're tough, those shoes. They have to be, to withstand the British countryside in all its forms. Sadly though they do eventually wear out. Usually one side comes away from its sole somewhere in the instep and that's it, time to buy some more. I've hung on to the intact ones though and sometimes I can scrounge a few more months with a pair of New Balances or Columbias that only I know aren't the pair that came in the box together.
    This week though I had a problem. Two decent black New Balance right foot shoes in the box, my current dark brown pair of Columbias with departing soles at the front and a light brown pair of Columbias with a split on the left shoe. Not even I can make a pair from those that would stand up to scrutiny. And cash flow crises being what they are, I can't buy a new pair until next month.
    Fortunately my ongoing experiments with making footwear mean I have a big tin of impact adhesive to hand. The stuff where you're supposed to coat both sides with a thin layer and wait fifteen minutes before sticking them together.
    Some chance of that happening with a shoe that's still held together enough to make getting the glue in the gap a bit hit-and-miss. So I try levering the soles apart on the dark brown Columbias , cleaning the inside with a file, and covering as much exposed area with glue as I can. Leave it for a quarter hour and hope for the best.
    The light brown pair present a fresh challenge. A split doesn't have handy surfaces to glue together. I do my best, but it plainly isn't going to  hold for long.
    Salvation came from a woven plastic sack, one I think originally had seed potatoes in it. Impregnated with as much glue as I could and left for that annoying 15 minutes, a piece of sack fitted nicely over my dodgy glueing and should I hope hold it together.
    An afternoon with both pairs of shoes held in arrangements of clamps and bits of wood, and I hope I have a choice of decent shoes again. Albeit ones with the odd visible bit of glue or small area of reinforcement.
    If all this seems like a lot of effort, then yes, I guess it is. But I hate throwing out a good shoe when its pair is a bit knackered, and I have just put off having to buy a new pair that would cost about three times what a small pair might cost on the high street.
    Of course, I have the date on my side. It's June, and a dry June at that. It's no hardship, putting up with mildly holey shoes when there are no puddles about.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

They'll let anyone in these days

   My wife and I are sitting in a waiting room at a Government office in a suburb of Birmingham. There is quite an air of camaraderie among the people waiting with us, an American businessman and an Indian couple about our age. This is a regional UK Border Agency office, and we are all here for the same reason: to apply for or renew a UK visa.
    It amuses me sometimes that people forget my wife, who hails from the other side of the Atlantic, is an immigrant. "But she's..." They pause, looking embarrassed. I want to complete their sentence for them: "White?", but don't.
    There's a lot of nonsense talked about immigration. From all sides, those on the left like to see talking nonsense on immigration as purely a right-wing issue but the fact is they're as guilty as anyone. With varying degrees of accuracy depending on whom you are talking to those pesky foreigners bring jobs, take jobs, take homes, cause chaos in hospitals, run hospitals, take all the benefits, pay half the taxes, do no work and do all the work. Politicians like to sound tough on immigration but hate to get involved with it while the immigrants themselves just want to get on with their lives.
    All of which brings me to us, sitting in that waiting room near Birmingham. Over the past decade and a half we've had to deal with the visa system several times. Each time it's happened a cheque has changed hands, but one thing's certain. I know every time we'll be paying twice as much as we did the last time for the same service.
    The politicians have hit on the perfect formula, you see. They stand up at a party conference and say they'll get tough on immigration. Rousing speech, standing ovation. The tabloid readers see that and go away happy, at last, they think, Something will be Done about illegal immigrants!
    Meanwhile those of us who have to deal with the system release a groan. We know what they'll really do, which is double the price for the legal immigrants. After all, going after illegal immigrants requires a bit of effort, and that's not what governments do!
    We wait long enough for the chairs to become uncomfortable, then my wife is summoned away to the two desks for document checks and biometrics. We go away for lunch, and on our return she's told her application is successful.
    I wish those from all sides who go on so much about immigration could spend a morning in that waiting room.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

sick wreck

    It had to happen eventually. And I had a while to think about it, leaning as I was against the front wing of the Wreck on a perfect May evening on a country road.
    A trickle of coolant was inching its way down the road and a nasty smell of hot oil hung in the air. The Wreck was very sick indeed.
    OK, so what's up? Oil control ring on number three cylinder, a knackered head gasket, and now I have an unreasonable suspicion of the water pump.
    No worries, I've been here before. Engine out, fortunately easy on a Wreck, then have it to bits and do what's needed. Last time I did this I had the option of another engine, but the supply of Wrecks has dried up in the two decades since. A call to the World Authority on Wrecks is in order.
    Why do this? If you have to ask, you won't understand.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Dog's life

IMG_20130519_161705_688    It's really nasty, getting a cold at this time of year. Well, colds are nasty at the best of times, but as spring slowly morphs into summer the traditional winter response to a cold of holing up for the duration seems inappropriate. And this one's particularly annoying and long-lived.
    So here I am, between bouts of sneezing. Yesterday was a perfect May Sunday here in my part of the world, so as well as getting a load of essential tasks done I took my parents dog for an extended version of our normal walk.
    The picture is of one of our local ponds, sporting an early season algal pattern. Hidden away from view and in the shade, I spent quite a while sitting on the bank, the dog happily stretched out in a patch of sun.
    My friend R remarked not so long ago that in my scruffy guise I am now visibly leaking girl. I guess I ain't the bloke I used to be, what with the beard removal, long hair, and given a few years of anti-androgens, a few extra curves here and there.
    Looking in the mirror and seeing the girl looking back at me does help. But it doesn't fix anything, really. I know sometime soon it all ain't going to work no more.
    By coincidence several friends have had GRS in the last few weeks or are likely to do so before too long. It's funny, I find myself slightly envious of them, not for the procedure itself but for the moving on. Time will tell if for them it marks the end of their quests or if they become members of that group who protest just a little too much, but wherever they end up I can't help feeling a little more isolated.
    I tell you who I really envy though, that dog. She's a rescue dog, formerly feral in one of England's larger cities, so living in a small village with plenty of food and lots of exciting places to explore is an existence in which she is very happy indeed. In her patch of sunlight she lay with her belly lapping up the rays, not a care in the world.
    Wish I could do that.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Teenage minefield

    Some people should engage brain before talking. This morning the news comes that a prominent lawyer has suggested that the legal age of consent for sex should be lowered from 16 to 13. OK, you might think, perhaps there's some clever legal argument or something, so you read on. Unfortunately then the wheels come off her argument, her reasoning is that it would end the current spate of prosecutions of aged celebrities for their youthful sex crimes. As if we lived in a world in which unwarranted sexual attentions were merely comedy in the style of the Benny Hill Show and it was somehow excusable for a dirty old man to molest a schoolgirl or schoolboy.
    The trouble is, we do need to have a national conversation about teenage sexuality. At the moment we infantilise our young adults until their sixteenth birthday, at which point they are somehow magically ready for relationship with whoever they choose. Yet we tacitly acknowledge that a percentage of under age teens are sexually active. We are quite rightly concerned about inappropriate attention to the extent of imagining paedophiles lurking behind every lamp post, yet our culture will quite happily ogle teenage celebrities without the tiniest shred of guilt.
    It seems insane to me that a consenting teenage relationship strays from a grey area of semi-official disregard into outright illegality when one partner turns sixteen, while a 40-something could legally have a sexual relationship with a teenager one day after their sixteenth birthday. The former criminalises the innocent while the latter legalises the questionable at best.
    It's an area in which angels fear to tread, but in not doing so we do our teenagers a disservice. We need to recognise that as young adults they are between childhood and adulthood, and capable of making some of their own decisions while still needing some protection under the law.
    Our lawyer in the link at the top of the page seems to be more interested in excusing the criminal actions of dirty old men than protecting the interests of young adults. One does not however join her in the rape apology camp  by saying a consenting teenage couple whose ages span a sixteenth birthday should not be criminalised.
    Sadly though this debate is forever doomed to descend into a mire of "think of the children" politics. And as always those who gain least are the young adults themselves, because one thing you can guarantee is this: nobody will have asked them.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Cycle path

    As a winter reluctant to leave us has turned into spring, I've been getting to know my new bike. I can now do the twenty miles or so from our flat to my parents place in an hour and 45 minutes, which I consider to be a reasonable performance.
    It's been interesting, returning to cycling after a few years away. I used to ride to work, back when I worked at the opposite corner of my town.
    There are more cycle lanes, for one thing. Some of them are rather good, others are the usual array of pointless road markings whose only purpose is to help the council reach their sustainability target. I find I can use the good ones and minor roads to the extent that the whole twenty mile ride has only a few hundred yards shared with heavy traffic.
    I can't say I'm impressed with my fellow riders though. I guess I've ridden a couple of hundred miles or so over the last few weeks, and I've quickly learned that the greatest hazard comes no longer from the motorists but from other cyclists. I guess as a motorcyclist I take care with observation as I ride, as far as I can see many others exist in a little bubble of their own and express shock and surprise when the lane they decide to veer across has someone on a Brompton bearing down on them.
    As a commuter I never encountered another class of cyclist, the Cycling Enthusiast. But as a weekend long distance rider I meet them on every ride. They enjoy being contemptuous as they pass, after all I am on a folding bike and I'm not wearing funny coloured Lycra. And it seems neither do I insist on being a roadblock in heavy traffic alongside one of the best cycle paths in the county, all wide and straight and flat. Do these people ever wonder why some motorists dislike them?
    My ride takes me alongside a trunk road on a cycle path, then through minor roads and a neighbouring town. I'm used to the minor roads where I grew up, away from traffic and population, so I've been surprised just how much waste lines these roads. An afternoon's litter picking could probably yield a decent non-ferrous scrap haul, such are the numbers of drinks cans on the verges. And old tyres, there's the effect of a bit of misguided environmental legislation. In the UK it costs a few quid to dispose of a tyre, it's a so-called "green" tax. The result is that minor roads around centres of population seem almost to be lined with them, nestling in the leaves at the bottom of the ditches, dumped by people for whom a few quid seems like too much. In some places the council has put up signs warning of CCTV surveliance, wasted money as far as I can see.
    I'm happy to see that the tyres and litter haven't bothered the wildlife though. A very surprised fox didn't see me coming, he was probably waiting for some of the pheasants or rabbits that are everywhere at the moment. Otherwise there are spring flowers aplenty, I pass blackthorn blossom, cowslips and violets, and those are just the ones I've noticed from a ten mile per hour viewpoint.
    So I've fit back into being a cyclist quite easily. My legs feel stronger and I hope the exercise is helping with my weight. I can't say it's an efficient way to travel twenty miles, but I guess that's not really the point, is it.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Not my trans-inclusive space

    I had an interesting conversation with a friend earlier. I needed to talk about some things and I am extremely grateful to her for listening and offering her advice. The thing that made me think enough to write here though was incidental to our conversation.
    She invited me to a local womens group meeting. Which sounded rather interesting. However she cautioned me that as a trans person pre transition I'd be thrown out if I turned up without presenting female. Fair enough I thought, it's not as if presenting female isn't something I want to do.
    On my walk back home though I was thinking about the exchange. I have to admit I found myself not entirely comfortable with it. Both the exclusionary nature of the space, and the implied threat of what might happen were I not to meet some imaginary standard of femininity. It was not the intention of my friend who is a very nice person indeed to present the meeting in a bad light, but thinking about it I decided on my walk that perhaps it wasn't for me. There is something ever-so-slightly ridiculous about the idea that to a trans-inclusive gathering I am acceptable wearing a bit of lipstick, some not very large breastforms and a pair of slightly better-cut jeans while I'm not acceptable without the makeup or forms, and wearing some baggier jeans. Because after years of mild anti-androgens, beard lasering and hairstyling that's really the sum of the differences left between the two versions of me. I'm afraid even at my scruffiest I'm not what you'd call a blokey bloke any more.
    I appreciate that writing about this conclusion in a public space might not win me any friends. I hope it doesn't lose me my friend mentioned above, should she happen to read it. And I'll probably get a few angry comments from people who will maybe bring their preconceptions to the table without necessarily reading what I've written. It's not as though they shouldn't have a women-only space and it's certainly not as though I'd dream of trying to crash any meeting that wouldn't have me in a particular form. But I feel a space that wishes to be trans-inclusive should spend a while thinking what "trans-inclusive" really means, rather than saying "We'll include you if we think you look like we want you to".
    Maybe it's just me but I think only accepting people who look a certain way has been used to justify too many bad things over the years, so count me out.

Monday, 22 April 2013


    My employer's parent organisation has a loosely organised LGBT employees group. We have periodic social meetups, drink coffee and try to discover new restaurants.
    I should really say it's an LG group by default. More lesbians than gay people at most get-togethers, I've not encountered any other trans people or indeed bi people.
    So it's rather interesting from the perspective of someone who can still sit in the scruffy heterosexual bloke camp, to encounter L&G culture on a personal level for the first time since my student days.
    My lesbian colleagues seem to tend towards the slightly more activist end of the spectrum. They would probably define their feminism with a capital F, and I was surprised to find them proudly describing themselves as radical feminists. But not transphobic radical feminists, they assured me.
    I suggested that to many trans people that has a similar ring to Paolo Di Canio claiming to be a fascist but not a racist. And there started an interesting conversation about identity, transphobia and the delicate balance of definition between victim and perpetrator. I think it was a profitable exercise for both sides.
    This last week has seen a further explosion in the nutty end of  radical feminism. Their RadFem2013 conference has lost its venue, just as the one last year did. In addition we have watched them split into factions and savagely turn on each other. If I was a partner in an American banking law firm and posting under my own name, I'd be a bit more careful about my output than one of them seems to be, I can't imagine that customers of expensive lawyers don't know how to use Google.
    Last year I was very pleased when Conway Hall cancelled the RadFem2012 booking. They did so for the best of reasons, because the trans-exclusive nature of the event was not in keeping with their ethos.
    This year however, though I have little sympathy for the radfems I can't say I am comfortable with the way I am told the result was achieved. I can see no profit in enlisting the aid of the male equivalent of the radfems. Your enemy's enemy is not necessarily your friend.
    A friend of mine caught some flak recently for a truly radical suggestion: engagement. Some people on the radfem spectrum are beyond help, so consumed by their hatred that they can never be reached. We gain nothing by reacting on their terms, or simply poking them with sticks for the fun of it. Others I agree with my friend though are misguided; they simply hate the unknown based on their assumptions and can be reached. Like my colleagues their assumptions can be changed through polite engagement, and if they can't, well that's their loss not ours.
    The alternative seems to be to seeing our community embark on a course every bit as damaging to us as the radfem hate is to their community. I for one don't think that would be profitable.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013


    So Maggie's dead. Margaret Thatcher, UK prime minister through the 1980s, first (and so far only) female UK PM, and one of the most divisive politicians of my lifetime, at least in terms of how her legacy is viewed. Right-wing Brits are alternately   penning extravagant hagiographies or fuming at left-wingers for not praising her, while left-wing Brits are queueing up to dance on her grave both metaphorically or in some cases physically.
    I was an unquestioning supporter of Maggie, as a spotty teenager. Not difficult at the time, with the fresh memory of industries like my town's major industrial employer spending more time closed due to strikes than working, its increasingly shoddy products becoming something of a national bad joke.
    She paid my school fees. I passed an exam and won a government assisted place, went to a private school my parents chose for me that they would never otherwise have afforded. Being at a private school in the 1980s it was easy to join the personality cult of Thatcherism.
    A quarter century later, I'm a floating voter sitting on the fence. I still harbour an admiration for Maggie as a person, but having as an adult seen both the disastrous effects of those of her policies that failed as well as the shadiness of her party at a local level I don't think I have much in common with the naive youth I once was.
    It's something I've always found a little odd about the Thatcher legacy, the obsession people have with her. Conservatives still speak of her in hushed tones, those on the Left still speak her name with vitriol. Am I an outsider if I admit that I hadn't thought much about Maggie for years? I don't think so, and I don't think I'm alone in wishing those on all sides of political activism would stop harping on about her. We've heard it all before, please move on.
    Which makes today's spectacle a rather sorry one. An endless stream of the political class of yesteryear still being wheeled onto the TV to sing her praises a day or two after her passing. People who in most cases would have been wielding the knife at her back in the day.
    The Korean peninsula hovers on the brink of war, Syria is crumbling and there is a looming famine in the Central African Republic. And I haven't even mentioned the financial crises closer to home. I think due respect has been shown to the recently departed and it's time to get back to more important business.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Battling the bulge

    OK, time to admit it, I have a problem. Food. I 'm a gourmand. And I have the appetite of someone who has grown up as a very large bloke, so when I say I can eat a lot, I mean I can eat a hell of a lot.
    Fortunately I'm very active, I walk places rather than taking the bus and sitting down isn't really my thing. Thus my eating habits haven't affected my outward appearance too much, when you're my size you can hide a lot of padding without it showing.
    But here's the problem. I used to have a half hour brisk walk to work, then I worked somewhere up a hill where I could go for long walks at lunchtime. For the last couple of years though I've worked about five minutes walk from home and I simply haven't had the exercise I once did. So despite efforts to eat less - and move more - I've been slowly putting on weight. Not excessively, but my BMI is now above the range in which it should sit. I have to do something quickly, for were I to go on HRT my new endocrine balance would only make the problem worse.
    So what's to be done? I've bought a new bike. Work has an interest free cycle loan scheme to help me afford it, so I've selected with care: my new bike is a Brompton folding bike customised to my size.
    It might seem odd to buy a folding bike, but I see it as enabling. When folded it it about the size of a medium sized suitcase, so not only can I store it indoors where it won't deteriorate, I can also throw it in the back of the car, take it on a train, or put it in a hotel room. Suddenly the range of places a bike can go with me has increased exponentially.
    Of course, merely having a bike is no use unless you ride it. So I've decided that I must do at least one long distance ride a week, and the easiest way to do that is to ride the twenty miles each way to my parents place and back  Fortunately for me I don't live in a hilly part of the country.
    So a few weeks of Brompton ownership, and so far I've managed it. Twenty miles in two hours and ten minutes. The Brompton is no toy so it's not a challenge to ride, I simply don't yet have the legs to do it any faster.
    Sadly my weight remains unchanged. These things take time.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Vigil part two

Lucy Meadows vigil
    Last night I joined the vigil for Lucy Meadows outside the offices of the Daily Mail in Kensington. There were several hundred of us from the non-trans and the trans communities, and both MtF and FtM among the latter. There were addresses, a two-minute silence, and a moment of chanting from some idiots who hadn't got the message that this was a vigil not a demo.
    Some Socialist Workers were trying to hand out placards, they'll try to hijack any cause. I remarked that I'd rather be seen with a copy of the Mail than something with their logo on it, if their recent rape scandal wasn't enough I remember their tactics from my student days. No thanks.
    A couple of amiable police officers were on hand to keep order, not that we caused them much trouble save for their needing to remind us not to stand in the road. Various sour-faced Mail hacks gave us a glance as they left the building.
    As a dignified show of solidarity I think we made our point. A couple of MPs were in attendance, as were quite a few journalists and a cameraman. We won't feature prominently in today's paper, but that wasn't the point of the exercise.
    When papers like the Mail and their political allies rail against people they don't like, they are very fond of saying that along with rights come responsibilities. A defence of their conduct I've heard over the last week has been one of freedom of speech, somehow a free press means that columns like the Littlejohn one on Lucy Meadows must be acceptable.
    To which defence I'd repeat their line: along with the right of free speech comes the responsibility for its judicious use. I hope in a small way last night we helped remind them of that.

Sunday, 24 March 2013


   By now most of you should have read about Lucy Meadows. A teacher early in her transition, outed by a local newspaper and subjected to a viciously transphobic Daily Mail piece, now dead presumably by her own hand. And even in death it didn't stop, she was misgendered continuously in the reporting of the aftermath.
    I sincerely hope the Mail is brought to account for what they did. There are petitions circling calling for the removal of the worst offender, but I feel that even in the unlikely event that they claim their scalp they will not cause a change of culture. I  am pinning more hope on a campaign called "Don't buy transphobia", targeting the Mail's larger advertisers. It won't change their bottom lines much but it stands a chance of achieving its aim because it holds the promise of bad publicity that I can say from first hand experience is something that brand owners hold in chronic fear.
    There is a vigil for Lucy Meadows outside the Mail offices in Kensington, tomorrow evening at 6:30. I'll be there as will many others like me, standing up and being counted. Thinking of Lucy, of those who went before her, and those who will come after her if this is allowed to continue unchallenged.
    A chilly West London pavement might seem an inauspicious place from which to challenge the culture of an entire industry. But with a strong wind of change blowing through what used to be known collectively as Fleet Street, perhaps it's time for our community to catch a little bit of it in our sails. God knows, we've waited long enough!

Thursday, 21 March 2013

They look after their own

    What a lovely morning, I wake up to an email from the press complaints commission with their judgement on that Julie Burchill Observer piece.
    Tl;dr: the PCC feels none of their rules were broken. Unsurprising really, on several levels. As an organisation they are famous for their uselessness, and this is simply a last gasp of incompetence from an organisation in its final hours.
    There's also a nasty whiff about it. It's a tired refrain and often the last resort of scoundrels: "If you said that about (insert politically correct minority here) you'd be locked up, why do you think you can say it about me?", but it contains some truth. Had Burchill penned a piece targeting some groups other than transgender people, would she have had such an easy ride?
    Above all though there is a sense of the Press establishment looking after one of their own. The reason Burchill's piece was published in the first place is that she had reached the point of being beyond reproach, as one of the grandees of journalism the editors did not apparently subject her work to the same scrutiny they would have given to a less prominent writer. I can't quite shake the feeling that the PCC have something of the same about them, and that conclusion does not reflect well on them.
    Before we get too upset about the PCC it is however very important to understand that their decision is irrelevant. The fuss that surrounded the publication of the piece was a watershed moment. Pre-Burchill the Guardian/Observer group and other so-called quality newspapers would happily publish hate speech from radical feminists like her because they followed the logic that "she's a Feminist, she must be OK", now those days are firmly over. They have lost an unquestioning mouthpiece for their more toxic views, and the world is a better place for it.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The young cat doesn't play rugby

    It's been over three months now since I started a language course, learning spoken Welsh. Driven by an interest in the language and the country rather than ancestry, my genes contain more German than anything from the other side of Offa's Dyke.
    So how's it going? Well, I have to say. That's not to say that I'm a competent speaker yet, after all there is only so much you can learn in three months. But there's a real feeling of progress, I can have and have had simple Welsh conversations that go beyond the stilted. Which is a testament to the effectiveness of the conversational focus of the course I'm using. Had I used some written courses I'd still be rote-learning verb tables without a clue how to pronounce them.
    It's a frustrating situation, being at this stage in a course. I have a lot of Welsh linguistic scaffolding, but still frustratingly little vocabulary to pad it out. Only time will help me there, no point trying to rush.
    Meanwhile it's re-awoken something that withered when I was at school, a joy in learning a language. Mental stimulation doesn't get much better.
    As with all such courses, when you have limited vocabulary you find yourself making unlikely sentences. I'm not entirely convinced how useful this is going to be, but it's undeniably true: Mae'r gath ifanc ddim yn warae rygbi.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Castles made of sand

    It's happening again. People around me are talking about buying houses. I thought it went away back in 2007 when the Smug Homeowners suddenly found out that instead of Earning Money for Them their prized dwellings had turned into worrying liabilities. Instead of banging on incessantly about their precious house prices or property investments they fell strangely silent, the formerly property-laden Christmas round-robins preferring instead to obsess about the school choices for their super-intelligent offspring.
    Sorry. I guess I can't help turning the knife. I had to suffer a decade of it and I became more than a little annoyed.
    You see, in the decade before the banking crash in 2007 the British housing market grew in a frightening bubble beyond the reach of first-time buyers like me, sustained on a wave of investment buyers capable of paying any prices with their easy credit. The financial industry pulled the ultimate confidence trick of persuading the public that debt was equivalent to wealth, and they just lapped it up.
    The housing boom passed me by for two reasons, I'm very debt-averse so I didn't jump in when I had very little money, and just as I reached the point at which I might have afforded a house along came the dotcom crash which pulverised my industry and gave me some serious career turmoil. Back then I was rather depressed about it, but later in the decade I realised that I was the fortunate one for being debt-free. If I lose my job or the economy goes crazy there'll be nobody chasing me for a quarter million quid I don't have.
    So I'm rather surprised to see people talking about buying houses again. Younger colleagues, to be precise. Not old enough to remember the last time the economy went titsup back at the end of the '80s, none of them had friends who spent the '90s sleeping on their parents sofas paying for homes they no longer owned.
    It all has that bubble feeling about it again. There's an air of "get in while you still can" about it which I find particularly frightening. I even had one of them repeat the hoary old chestnut "Oh, but you mustn't think of it as debt!" to me, to which I just laughed. In my book if the bank can take it back when you owe a single penny on it, you don't own it, the bank does. As I mentioned above, I had friends who learned that one the hard way.
    I think they were a little surprised when I pointed out that I can buy a house if I so choose. I have both the savings for a deposit and the income to keep up the payments, and I'm confident enough in the security of that income to be less debt-averse than I was. But what I couldn't make them understand was why I am not taking that path,why instead my wife and I live in a comfortable but very small rental flat.
    You see, there are three things that keep my cash firmly in my pocket:
    The first is a simple aversion to the asking price. I don't think a house that is priced out of the reach of a first-time-buyer represents good value, if I have to borrow more than I earn in a decade to buy it then I think the bubble is well past its sell-by date. Let some other idiot take the hit.
    The second is demographic. Most British houses are still owned by the so-called "baby-boomers", the generation born just after the war. They're the huge bulge in our population age graph. They bought the houses cheaply in the '60s and '70s and they've hung on to them. Now that generations's just retiring, and in the next decade they'll start to move into old people's homes. So given my first reason, why would I wish to buy something that's overpriced to start with, and is going to have a huge flood of similar properties coming onto the market as the boomers move out, before I'm half way through paying for it?
    And my final reason relates to the economics of the moment. Interest rates are at a historic low, they simply can't go any lower in a meaningful way. There is even talk of negative rates as some kind of stimulus measure. Now you'd think low rates would be good, the best time to borrow, right? Can't say I agree. The problem is, as a first time buyer I'd be expected to go for my maximum possible repayment just to tread water with a mortgage, such is the amount I'd be expected to borrow. And there's the problem with low interest rates, when things go wrong and they're that low there's only one direction they can go, and that's up. As my friends twenty years ago found out, that means monthly payments into the stratosphere, and inevitable repossession. Not a risk I'd like to take right now, what with the economy looking so dodgy and all.
    So my homespun housing economics 101 didn't make an impact on my colleagues. I understand their needs and frustrations only too well, I guess I would have been like them once. But I can't help some shock seeing them blithely signing their young families up for maxed-out interest-only mortgages in the midst of a global economic crisis.
     An Englishman's home may indeed be his castle, but what use is a castle made of sand?

Sunday, 3 March 2013

I'm hopeless at misgendering

    I mentioned in my last post that I'd been to a panel discussion on transgender politics and being a better ally. There's one thing brought up during the evening that has been dwelling on me for a few days so I think deserves a moment's contemplation.
    The subject in hand was misgendering, and the audience discussion turned to one of calling it out. Unsurprising given that many of them were politically motivated students, they live to a large extent in a culture in which calling out provides a means of garnering kudos. Different causes from those of my student days, but plus ça change!
    I felt that something had been missed, namely that not all misgendering is malicious. People slip up, it's only natural. I'd be the first to hold my hands up here, I dread  the moments in which my brain tells me something automatically and I say the wrong thing. For me the danger comes when meeting transmen at the start of their transition before their T kicks in, my damn brain has so often had a "she" hovering about to be said without thinking.
    So if someone misgenders a trans person by all means tell them so, but hold on a minute before breaking out the big guns. There are two things to ask here: Did they do it deliberately, and how did they react afterwards? If they purposefully emphasised an inappropriate *HE* or *SHE* and responded with anger when politely corrected, then let them have it! But if they went red-faced and said something like "Oh shit, I got that wrong, didn't I, sorry", then smile and move on, next time they'll remember and get it right. It's never appropriate to make a scene unnecessarily, it doesn't make us any friends.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Anger and stress

   There's too much to be angry about. Idiot politicians, stupid churchmen, the more sinister of my former schoolteachers, even the silly young feminist I encountered last night who could rationalise trans people - MtF and FtM - as OK because they were "victims of the Patriarchy". Oh yes, the Patriarchy, that handy common enemy that removes the need to think.
    It's not easy sitting at work, a scruffy bloke with stress issues. Blimey yes, the scruffy bloke. Whatever happened to him. I think he started to fade about this time last year.
   There are times when this becomes rather onerous.
   Still, silly feminist students aside last night was interesting. A panel discussion of trans politics with a well-known activist, an NUS trans person and a trans comedian. And a first for me, going out in my home town without any pretence of being incognito. I've been so careful for my wife's sake all this time, but she's no longer worried in the way she once was. So off I went. And got bloody cold standing outside with my friend R afterwards while she had a fag, but that's the way it goes. Girly jeans are thinner and tighter than boy ones, you have to suffer for your art.
    So another month passes, only six months to go 'till my GIC appointment. It's looking better than it was a week or two ago, but I can't help wishing I had a crystal ball.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Scratching the tranny itch

    "Q: Why do transvestites move to the Manchester area? A: All they want is a Wigan address! ". They don't make jokes like they used to, do they.
    As a deeply closeted youngster my tastes in female clothing sometimes ran into the world of costume fantasy. I had no wardrobe of my own, but that didn't stop me lusting after the clothing I saw on TV in films and costume dramas. I guess like teenagers everywhere the things I wanted had to have the maximum of bells and whistles. 
    Perhaps fortunately, rural England in the 1980s was rather short on flamboyant historical costume. I'm guessing many closeted trans youngsters experience something similar, and probably like me such thoughts recede for them as they grow up. I mean, I'm sure it'd be fun to swish around in a Victorian ballgown once in a while, but you wouldn't wear it to Tesco, would you.
    But it's important not to be ashamed of such thoughts if you've had them. Guilt and shame are the things that imprison us in the closet, and just as it's important to cast them off it's important to realise that natal women feel no shame in their costume fantasies. A while back I visited the historical costume museum in Bath with a friend. I found myself feeling the familiar slight shame as I viewed the lavish gowns on display, before realising that I was sharing the gallery with about thirty natal women who were having exactly the same thoughts as me. There's no shame in that.
    Recently I had the opportunity to exorcise a clothing desire from my adult closeted years. One you might wear to Tesco, but not one that suits someone my shape so I'll draw a veil over the specifics. The sartorially sensitive might be reading, after all.
    So there I was in the mirror, a facsimile of the smart and professional woman I'd wished I could have been years before.  No shame or guilt, very comfortable except for the shoes, but that's always the way. But nothing special, just me looking back at myself. An old itch scratched, and finding it ceased to be an itch long ago. Which is the point really, one of becoming comfortable with myself and no longer needing the desperate crutches of clothing obsession I once had.