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.