Saturday, 13 December 2014


    It's a cold day here in southern England. Of course, that's a relative term. A Canadian would laugh at our -2 Celcius, while a Jamaican might see it as a *very* cold day. Not the best time to be fixing a boat engine, but at least it isn't raining.
    I feel at the crest of a huge wave that's about to break. Not one of crystal-clear blue water but of murky brown sludge, all my travails of the last year and a bit. Losing a parent, being comprehensively sidelined at work, losing my wife, and doing my RLE for an extended period without HRT due to fertility treatment. I don't think anyone could come through all that without effect, and though I've probably managed better than some people would I'm starting to feel the strain. This week I had to make an urgent trip to the doctor for a carbamazapine prescription, my atypical facial pain flared up. Peculiarly intense, that.
    So more hearings, phone calls with union lawyers, and honestly rather depressing stuff. I have to make as much fuss as possible though, for the sake of those who come after me. Even if it does little to make me Employee of the Month, and especially even if it means I'm out of work at the end of it. As a debt-free dotcommer with no dependants that holds no fear for me, my only question would be which startup idea to pursue first.
    One way to close the door on the past is to move out of my flat. Probably go back to my dad's place, a 40-something living with her parent. But the flat while great for two is a bit much for one, I'm much better off out of it.
    Which kinda brings me to my boat engine and its leaky fuel pipe. I lived on this boat, once. I wouldn't go back to those days, not least because I'm not in a residential mooring, but it is something I will now have more time and money to devote to. This river has been the backdrop to a lot of my life since I was a teenager, and in a time of trouble it's a fitting place to return.
    Next month the river will be in spate, a boiling mass of angry brown water with the boat lashed to its mooring to avoid it being washed away. By May though all that will be a distant memory; the water lillies will be coming through and the fish will be hanging lazily in the oxygenated stream from the weir.
    I'll still be here.

Friday, 21 November 2014

TDOR in numbers

    It's Transgender Day Of Rememberance time again. Our service was last Sunday, a group of us in a darkened church holding candles. My job this year was to Blu-tac the list of the last year's victims to the wall, the line of A4 sheets went up and down each wall twice.

    There were a lot of names this year. 221 people. People like me, all murder victims.

    One country seems to appear more than others: Brazil. 112 victims. In fact the Americas don't look like a very safe place at all for transgender people. Brazil, Mexico, USA, Venezuela... The only non American country in the top ten was India, in at number 10 with 4 victims.
    But hang on, Surely Brazil and India have huge populations, shouldn't that make a difference? A few minutes with a spreadsheet and some population data from Wikipedia yielded a list of victims per 1000 head of population. Yet again it's not looking good for the Americas, the first non-American country is Hungary in at number 13.
    I am however ready to take these figures with a slight pinch of salt. In at the top is Belize, with 1 victim for 349728 people. But is one victim statistically significant, or is it simply noise within the error bars? I have to take the latter course, this tells me much less about the real threat to Belizian transgender people than the 112 deaths in Brazil tells me about that country even though on paper Belize is more dangerous.
    The figures do tell one clear story though. Some parts of the world are not safe for transgender people, and the Americas do not come out of it smelling of roses. Come on, you can make your countries safer than this!
    You wanted the data? Here you go:
Country Number of deaths
Victims per 1000 head of population
Belize 1 349,728 0.002859365
Guyana 2 784,894 0.0025481148
Honduras 8 8,725,111 0.0009168938
Brazil 112 203,466,000 0.0005504605
El Salvador 3 6,401,240 0.0004686592
Ecuador 5 15,871,500 0.0003150301
Venezuela 9 30,206,307 0.000297951
Uruguay 1 3,404,189 0.0002937557
Mexico 31 119,713,203 0.0002589522
Peru 6 30,814,175 0.0001947156
Argentina 6 42,669,500 0.0001406157
Colombia 5 47,871,500 0.0001044463
Hungary 1 9,879,000 0.0001012248
Dominican Republic 1 10,378,267 9.63552007285995E-005
Netherlands 1 16,877,400 5.92508324741963E-005
Chile 1 17,819,054 5.6119701977445E-005
Malaysia 1 30,405,400 3.28888947358035E-005
USA 10 319,117,000 3.13364690693382E-005
Thailand 2 64,871,000 3.0830417289698E-005
Philippines 3 100,573,700 2.98288717626974E-005
Canada 1 35,540,419 0.000028137
Uganda 1 36,600,000 2.73224043715847E-005
Turkey 2 76,667,864 2.60865491178938E-005
Spain 1 46,507,760 2.15017880886975E-005
UK 1 64,105,654 1.55992480788044E-005
Bangladesh 1 157,345,000 6.35546092980393E-006
Pakistan 1 188,181,000 0.000005314
India 4 1,262,720,000 3.16776482513938E-006

This data came from these places:

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Vanity sizing

    This week I've been working on a piece of clothing, a 1950s reissue from about 4 years ago, Simplicity 3673.

    It came together really well, and I had a perfect dress. Except I had one a size too small. Zip won't do up.

    Why? Vanity sizing. A 12, 14, or 16 in the 1950s now equates to a 10, 12, or 14 in 2014. You sell more clothes if people trying them on think they're a size smaller, so manufacturers have shifted the sizes upwards over the decades. And I didn't check the feet-and-inches(Dressmaking's not like engineering folks!) before cutting, so ended up with a 1950s sized garment. Modern Simplicity clothing fits me at the right size, this one didn't.

    We can all cock up our measurements whether we're making spacecraft or clothing. But at least a millimeter from the '50s is the still a thousandth of a metre in 2014.

    (This post was first made a couple of days ago to my local hackspace list. I'm not the only one hereabouts afflicted with the delusion that they can make clothing.)

In case you were wondering...

So, the post count has slowed to a trickle, surely she's moving on from blogging. Maybe she's become a Real Woman with no time for such things, or perhaps hlogging's just far too last decade.

Never fear, this ain't going to go away. Let's just say there is a lot I'd like to write about at the moment but can't really do so.

Monday, 29 September 2014

We plough the fields and scatter

    One of the great rituals of rural life in England this past weekend, the Harvest Festival. A church service to give thanks for the year's produce, a display of prize marrows, grapes, and a sheath of corn in the church, and donations to the food bank. And old familiar hymns, like the title of this piece: "We plough the fields and scatter".
    It was a gorgeous warm day, and I'd been outside for most of it picking blackberries. Sunlight streamed in through the church windows and the door was open. Afterwards we stood around and had tea and cake while the children explored the gallery. Yes, our church has a gallery. I remember doing the same thing about four decades ago when I was a youngster with a group of kids who are spread out to all corners of the world now.
    It's kinda odd to be somewhere so familiar, yet with a crowd of relative strangers. I know most of the people there but not very well as most are fairly recent arrivals and move in different circles form me. Other than the under-12s I was the only one present born into the village. Welcome to a step on the Londonshire property ladder.
    I'm going to move back home sometime in the next month or two. Live at my parents place, the house I grew up in, for the first time since my mid 20s. It makes sense on two levels, both financially and to be there for my dad, but it's not where I expected to be. People in their early 40s don't tend to live with their parents, even in these straitened times.
    There is however and advantage to it all. If there's a place I'm in tune with, it's the countryside I grew up in. I know its every nuance, its noises, smells and sights. Even in the darkest days of a damp December I am at home in a way I have never been in the city. And as that rare thing in an English village these days, an adult born into the community, I know the history of everyone and everything. If we had a pub, I'd probably have my own chair by the fire.
    I don't know what the next year will bring. Whether I'll still be working for my current employer this time next year or whether I'll be pursuing the startup idea I first developed about five years ago. Either way I need a bit of stability, and despite a bit of commuting for my current job a move back home will give me that.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Just another day

    Tuesday came and went. Anther day, just like any other. 365 of them since going full-time.
    To be honest, it's not been the best of years. We lost my mother, work turned very sour, and my wife and I have gone our separate ways. But in one respect it's gone exactly to plan. No more of that sorrow at not being right.
    And that at least is worth having.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

What is victim blaming

   The news here in the UK is full of a child abuse scandal, this time in Rotherham. A nasty case involving the grooming of a staggering number of young people that was ignored by police and social services for a variety of reasons. Heads have rolled in high places, and I hope that dusty case files will be pulled out of storage and abusers will go down for a very long time. If they can chase up 1960s celebrities in their dotage they can chase up a gang of Asians in a Northern town.
    This morning on the BBC's flagship radio news programme they interviewed one of the victims. Now in her mid twenties, she gave an eloquent and forthright description of the abuse and of the complete lack of action from the authorities when they were alerted.
    The interviewer asked her if there was anything she could have done to prevent the abuse. This prompted a storm of criticism on social media accusing him of victim blaming.

    I have to say, in this case I didn't agree with them.

    There will be enough victim blamers out there, that is certain. She was a whore, she allowed it to happen, she dressed provocatively, she allowed herself to be plied with alcohol, we've heard it all before and it's particularly reprehensible.
    Victim blamer arguments need addressing, and closing down. And the best way to do that is to ask the question of someone capable of answering it. What I heard was a robust interviewee being given exactly that opportunity, and a veteran journalist doing his job of dealing with the issue head on. The result was a particularly moving and effective piece of radio that should leave listeners in no doubt as to the magnitude of the crime or the seriousness of the lack of official response.

    It is important to tackle victim blaming wherever it appears. It does no victim any favours though to cry wolf when somebody else is very effectively dealing with the issue by giving a victim the opportunity to speak for themself.

Friday, 22 August 2014


    I want to go back to bed. A general statement, as I'm typing this sitting in bed having had a lazy breakfast. But it's true, right now I'd prefer to spend my day in bed rather than go into work and do stuff with bits of software.
    Truth is, I've lost my mojo over the last year. The combination of a series of stressful events and the side-effects of hefty antidepressants. I have the feeling of needing a month off, something that is sadly not practical.
    You might think transition would have caused this, but surprisingly that's the part that's worked. Despite everything I have none of the crushing regret I had as the scruffy bloke, of not being female. Yes. Transition works, at least in that sense.
    As has been the case in the past, my mind seeks a release in engineering. Making stuff. I wrote a post about dressmaking a while back but that's just one of the avenues at my disposal. Which is in itself dangerous, as a former dotcommer I know the perils of startup business so idly working out how I'd conquer the Internet of Things or spot financial trends through news corpus analysis rather than pursuing an unexciting career in publishing is folly.
    So despite all that I'm not going to stay in bed. Get up, face the day. It's a Bank Holiday weekend coming up here in the UK, so maybe three days away will help.

Monday, 4 August 2014

I'm sure that everybody knows...

I'm sure that everybody knows how much my body hates me
It lets me down most every time and makes me rash and hasty

    When I was an earnest young sound and light engineer, that Billy Bragg song was a standard of the student cover bands. Probably because Billy does not have the voice of an angel so is easy to copy, and his politics fitted very well in the left-wing ideology of an early '90s student union. You may recognise the red-haired backing singer.
    For some reason the song was my earworm the other day, driving up to a east Midlands town to see some friends. Not just any friends, the lesbian couple I am helping to start a family. Too Much Information, or what!
    Plotting a traffic free route round the hell of Northampton, going up the A5. An 18th century superhighway laid out for the fastest stagecoaches of the day by Thomas Telford, and now almost empty since the motorway has taken all its traffic. Oddly parched July vegetation against a summer rainstorm. A favourite road of mine, all fast sweeping bends.
    It's odd, seemingly being a free agent. Three months since my wife and I moved apart. Still good relations between us and I wish she'd come back, but it isn't going to happen.
    A lot of regrets, but what can you do in a no-win situation? I am very glad we tried, I think it has had the odd effect of making our current relationship much stronger than it might be.
    So, off on holiday with my friend R. We're going to sit on a beach facing the North Sea for a week and do nothing. Nada. Sod all. Which is a lot nicer than you might imagine, we've picked a very nice North Sea beach. We've both had a very hard time of late, her with family and me with work, this is essential recuperation.
    Where now then? When we return from Norfolk life will go on. Same stresses at work, still on my own. Part of me would jack it all in and move on. Move out of the flat, move in with my dad and settle into the life of a rural freelance geek. As any former dotcommer does I have a pile of startup ideas in my slightly specialist line, I certainly wouldn't be idle.
    But that would be failure. One doesn't deal with a hard time by running away, one deals with it by engagement. So on to the next step in the ghastly charade, until we reach the level at which it all has to be taken seriously. It comes back to being a dotcommer, forged in the hard world of collapsing startups I'm uniquely unafraid of adversity. Whatever is thrown at me, I've seen worse.
    Which isn't the best note for a blog post, but there you go. Back to Billy Bragg again for a final word:

But it all amounts to nothing if together we don't stand

Monday, 28 July 2014

A tale of two celebrations

    A long hot day in the park on Saturday, this time promoting the Dawn Skinner Fund at Brighton Trans Pride. A small park right on the beach, and perfect weather for it. Met a lot of people, was very pleased to bump into Lucy, got our message in front of a lot of eyeballs. A successful day for the Dawn Fund.
    This was our second outing in as many weeks, having previously been up to Manchester for Sparkle and its mirror FtM event, Buff. There's an interesting comparison to be made between the two, one that tells you something about the differences in LGBT culture across the UK and the uneasy relationship our community has with its own diversity.
    Manchester is a much more in-your-face city than Brighton, and this is reflected in its gay quarter. Wandering along the main drag - is that an appropriate word in this context? - in Kemptown I had the feeling of a slightly bohemian British small town, while a walk along Canal Street in Manchester feels more in common with Las Vegas. So the cities' respective trans pride celebrations reflect these differences, Sparkle is big, brash, and colourful while Brighton Trans Pride was much more serious, political, and dare I say it, conventional. There were none of the drag queens, LGs or French Maids in Brighton that you might see at Sparkle, instead the field was full of earnest young queer activists. In that I think Brighton did much better on the diversity front, it was very encouraging to see a healthy mix of people with MtF, FtM, genderqueer and other identities together in a community that is normally so segmented.
    It's interesting to watch the reactions among the more conventional parts of the trans community when you mention you are going to Sparkle. You'll see plenty of uneasiness, and in some cases outright internalised transphobia as they struggle with the idea of proximity to the outrageously dressed wing. In some people I sense there are some uncomfortable reminders of earlier points in their gestation as a trans person, in others I'm afraid I start to see just a little bit of intolerance.
    It's a shame, I see the more out-there parts of Sparkle as a pageant, an exercise in street theatre. Sit down on the bench next to the Alan Turing statue, and enjoy the show! If you do that, you'll notice something; unseen among the actors half the crowd are very conventional. Sackville Park has become an extended closet for the day, and holds no danger of outing for anyone.
    There is plenty of room for events to cater for the different ends of our community and I'm very glad to see Brighton Pride survive to a second year. I hope the Dawn Fund will be back next year.
    I still worry slightly though that our community's Pride celebrations are at the polar opposites in style.  We may not all follow identical paths, but we travel the same road.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The things you do in a good cause

    Last year my friend R and I went off to Sackville Gardens in Manchester for the Sparkle trans pride celebration, to promote the Dawn Skinner Fund. We had a gazebo, chairs and table, and a load of leaflets and banners.

    Though a lot of people stopped by and we gained a lot of support, we didn't get much publicity.

    Sparkle you see is a bit "out there". The whole spectrum of our community is out in the sun, and some of them wear costumes that put a couple of jeans-wearing charity trustees firmly in the shade. Nobody's going to take a picture of  us when there are more interesting sights aplenty.

    Clearly a publicity stunt was called for.

    The trouble is, what? Some kind of costume, but nothing too out there. No bum cheeks on display, nothing borderline-inappropriate. Historical perhaps, Dawn was a fan of historical recreation, she used to be in the Sealed Knot. As an end-of-life organisation we briefly considered old-fashioned nurses uniforms, but given that the NHS would be there that was probably inappropriate.

    So in the end I broke out the sewing machine and put together the barmiest outfit I've ever worn, an 1860s style crinoline day dress, pagoda sleeves and all.

    It's a surprisingly easy task, making a crinoline dress. I had a bit of help from Hathaways of Haworth, but didn't follow their design exactly. Once you've found a hooped underskirt of the type sold for brides, the skirt is a simple cylinder of fabric to the outer hoop circumference, then gathered at the top round a waist band. In my case I made an 18 foot long sash, and once the skirt was attached to its centre the two trailing ends made a large bow to fasten it. The bodice was adapted from my basic shell dress pattern with a neckline copied from a contemporary photograph, and with lacing replacing the zip I'd use on a modern garment.
    The sleeves were a little more challenging. Pagoda sleeves in the 1860s style are quite short, but very wide indeed. The pattern looks something like a crescent moon with a third removed from each end, and was something I produced by careful calculation of the two radiuses followed by plotting on tracing paper.
    To be authentic I should wear it with a fully laced corset underneath. Victorian corsets were very tight indeed, I'd have no chance at all of fitting into one without the lifetime of waist training they had. I considered a modern corset but in the end decided a Manchester park in July would be too hot. Since I didn't follow Hathaways suggestion of using a corset as the base for my bodice the only shaping would come from the bodice lacing. So authenticity was sacrificed in the name of comfort. Fortunately I'm not too lardy and it didn't look too wrong.

    The handy thing about a dress with such a barmy amount of fabric is you can change into it in a Manchester park as an event sets up around you. It makes its own tent. So off on a day perambulating with a Dawn Fund placard.

    Surprisingly it was very comfortable to wear. I guess it is made exactly to my measurements, so it should. And under such a voluminous skirt there is plenty of ventilation, so it wasn't hot either. Easy to walk in, and you always have a two foot gap around you in a crowd.

    Most importantly though it did the job it was made for. Very noticeable, plenty of exposure for the Dawn Fund brand. Which while I'm on the subject is the only way you'll get to see it. Go to our Twitter feed for a few pictures, and while you're there give us a follow if you're a Twitter user.

    So now I have a crinoline in my wardrobe. As Dawn would have said: You wouldn't wear it to Tesco. What on earth am I to do with it!

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Riding the little trains

    Transition is a funny business. You get on with your life, but at risk of stating the bleedin' obvious it's not the same as it was before. Sure, you go to work, do your shopping and everything, but your boundaries are a lot closer. It's a whole new set of social conventions to learn, so you watch your back, there are fresh dangers you didn't have to worry about before.
    Take my weekend for instance. A yearly outing for the Ixion motorcycling mailing list, for reasons too complex to explain we hire a train on the Tal-y-llyn railway in Wales and have a barbecue. A chance to catch up with a group of friends I've known for a very long time, and in a beautiful location. I even had a chance to use a bit of my rather halting Welsh, though I couldn't find anyone who'd sell me a bara brith (best described as the Welsh take on fruit cake) to take back for my colleagues.
    On the whole, not a lot to worry about. Among friends, and rural Wales is hardly threatening. But it was a first for me since transition, staying on a busy campsite full of families on holiday. Using communal washing facilities, being rather visible among a field of tents. What if somebody takes exception to me? One's imagination runs away with the thought of angry campers.
    In practice of course I was fine. I have no illusions about stealth but I don't present or behave in an unusual manner, and wrapped in a big stripey sundress on one of the hottest days of the year I found myself fitting right in. Chatting about the campsite badger - has a habit of raiding people's food - and even subject to a rather amusing conversation about the obsessions of menfolk for machinery. To my great surprise, I fitted in among complete strangers on holiday.
    OK, so my worries were groundless. But that doesn't make them any less valid, we all know there are people who get into trouble not of their own making. But as I drove home through the beautiful mountains of mid Wales I did come away feeling I'd extended my boundaries slightly. Which is yet another small step along the path of transition.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Give an engineer a machine tool

    I never expected to find myself in a difficult position post - transition at this particular employer. I'd better not name them, but I work for a large publishing company whose atmosphere and ethos as I experienced it over the three years before I transitioned gave me confidence that I could so it without worry. As I wrote a few months ago though it hasn't turned out like that.
    It's called constructive dismissal. Force a person to leave by undermining and marginalising them. And in my case it started a few weeks after transition and it's following the textbook. Even to the point that today I will have a new colleague who I find has been hired to do about half of the job I thought I had before I was marginalised out of it.
    It ain't going to work. With twenty years in tech startups behind me I've seen far worse and I've stopped running. Without going into too much detail, I will not go down without a fight. If the legal bill I can cost then weren't enough my job involves the mechanics of internet publicity, and I honestly can not tell the world that they are a good place for an LGBT employee to work.
    It's the stress and demotivation though that's the killer. Which brings me to the title of this piece. The machine tool in question isn't a lathe or a milling machine, it's my sewing machine. In engineering terms as a computer controlled device whose needle can move side to side as well as moving the fabric, it's a 2-axis CNC machine tool.
    So I've gone back to making stuff as a cathartic. In this case I'm doing it from first principles, making my own patterns to my own designs. In the past few months I've made several pieces and I have no shortage of future ideas. I'm still not good at doing zips though.
    Making things has always been my release. Software, electronics, furniture, you name it. And that I'm doing it so much now is a symptom of my work problems, until last autumn my needs were fulfilled by creating products. If you looked up my employer in the app store you'd find their most downloaded product is one they simply wouldn't have had I not come up with the idea, created a prototype, and bought it to market.
     I guess their loss is my wardrobe's gain.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The morning after the Thursday before

    It's been a busy few weeks for politicians, here in the UK. A local election, a Euro election, and a by-election. Normally both the cause for a collective show of apathy as the Opposition creams the Government in the local councils, a stodgy show of Party allegiance in the Euro poll, and a dramatic reduction in the share of the vote gained by the party of government in the by-election. And a tiny turnout, with most voters not caring in the slightest.
    Ah, those were the days! Long gone now, for this time the People Spoke, and they didn't speak the script provided for them. They elected UKIP in the Euro election, and this is vexing to a lot of people. The UK Independence Party that is, a party somewhere beyond the right wing of David Cameron's Conservative Party and famously described by him as "fruitcakes, loonies, and closet racists". I'll leave you to make up your own mind as to the accuracy of that assessment but speaking for myself I can't disagree with it. They are however trying to become the UK's 4th major mainstream party, and as such they have to be taken seriously whether you like them or not.
    So why did it happen? What changed UKIP from a one-issue pressure group minor party to a party capable of winning an election? Partly they are the beneficiary of lucky timing. The Euro crisis, the banking collapse, and the MP's expenses scandal for instance have all eroded trust in the established parties. But the biggest reason for UKIP's success as I see it lies with the open goal left for them by the mainstream parties on their core issues. Decades of not addressing the issues of immigration and EU integration caught up with them as UKIP became the only voice in town.
    In the aftermath we heard a chorus of shrill denunciations and excuses from those who couldn't quite believe how badly their chosen parties fared. Sadly they all seem to be under a delusion that there is no trouble in their own houses. It has become a concoction of ludicrous conspiracy theories or downright offensive views of the voting public. The BBC are somehow conspiring to give UKIP more promotion then their rivals, for example, or the electorate are all simply xenophobic racists who don't know what's good for them.
    A couple of decades ago when I was a spotty young student oik I spent a lot of time as part of a student radio station. In the years since I've pursued an obscure career in software, but among my friends from that period I have quite a few who became professional broadcasters and journalists. Knowing what motivates them in their jobs I think they would be highly offended at the suggestion that they favoured or promoted UKIP. Instead they've been doing their job covering the elections, and whether we like it or not UKIP are as substantial a part of that as the other large parties. In fact the coverage of UKIP in UK media has been anything but positive, with some newspapers going to extravagant lengths to find negative stories about them.
    If supporters of mainstream parties want to defeat UKIP, they simply need to effectively engage with them on the issues. Not by lurching to the far right, but by challenging the assumptions in question and owning up to past mistakes. UKIP don't see themselves as such but they are a protest party. People have voted for them because they are concerned about the direction Europe has taken, not because they are necessarily xenophobes.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Only me

     Well here it is, the post I didn't want to write. One of the reasons I've been a little out of sight for the last few weeks or months, along with work.
    My wife and I are now living apart. In a very amicable manner and without friction, but that's it. In the end it was a stress thing, she found the idea of my going out in the world and the worry of how people might react to me to be too much. We both tried so hard over the years.
    No house, no kids, not even a dog to argue over who gets which end. (She suggested she'd have had the rear, poop is easy to clean up while dog food costs money)
    There are so many things I haven't done over the last few weeks. Guess I need to ease myself back into life.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Passing it on

    There is an air of desperation hereabouts as I head towards my date with an estradiol patch. I've reached my early forties, been married for nearly a decade, and yet there is no pitter-patter of tiny feet. It's not for lack of wanting, just that the time has never been right for my wife. I say this without malice, I think deep down she's never really wanted a child. There has always been some excuse or other - work, salaries, family difficulties or a small flat - and now the trans one which let's face it is the mother of all excuses. It doesn't change my attachment to her but I am consumed with sadness at the thought of growing old alone.
    I'm in the queue for fertility treatment. Storing a sperm sample in a vat of liquid nitrogen, which I should be able to do within a month or two. It's why I've gone much longer than many on my RLE and have yet to have any hormones. It's odd, having dropped my Finasteride to make sure there's no chance of any effect on my fertility I find I have rather too much of the boy back. I'd grown accustomed to having that part of my body under my own control, to feeling less aggressive somehow, and yet here it is back again. I hated being a teenager.
    But storing sperm isn't the solution. You need a partner who also wants a family. And since I'm not about to dump my wife I face an uphill struggle convincing her.
    There are alternatives of course. Anonymous donation through the NHS is out, you have to be under 40. Or there are services that bring LGBT people together for sperm donation, which is a bit more interesting. You can do it anonymously, as a 'named parent' where the kid knows who you are but you play no part in their life, or as a shared parent which is I guess a bit like an amicable divorced couple.
    Still, it's a big unknown. Are they reputable? And do I fancy entering a meat market? "Above average height transgender engineer who works in the publishing industry, likes old cars and makes cider. Warning, your child may dismantle stuff for fun". Oh yeah, that'll pull 'em in.
    And then there's the embarrassment. Doing your thing into a cup and handing it over. It's bad enough having to do the one thing that's still a bloke about you without someone else having to be in the next room.
    I used to have a colleague who managed to spawn children like I amassed Wrecks at the time. It seemed he could barely keep his trousers on and unseemly fertile women would throw themselves at him in nightclubs. I tried to settle down and get it right, and this happens.
    Life ain't fair, is it.

Monday, 31 March 2014

The best and worst car in the world

    There is something very satisfying about spending one of the first warm weekends of spring outdoors. Warm enough not to feel chilly, though not yet with that feeling of being in a warm bath from the air temperature one gets in the summer. Green buds showing on all the trees, the crows mobbing the buzzard when it came too close to their nest site, and a bumble bee meandering through the emerging greenery.
    I was outdoors because I was reassembling the Wreck's engine. Nothing too challenging, just a long sequence of parts to put together.
    Well, I say nothing too challenging. But I was struck as I have been before: with my engineer's eye I look at some of the assemblies and wonder why on earth they designed them as they did. The nut at the rear of the carburettor that requires either a 1/2" spanner with a 45 degree bend, or else a 2" long shaft. Or the exhaust manifold, the centre two fixing nuts of which can only be done up slowly by hand with a ring spanner.
    I once saw a documentary about the Wreck and its derivative cars. It had a section on the factory which was newly built for the Wreck's model line. I am guessing my car would have been built in its first few months. The documentary went on at length about how advanced the production line was, and how it was one of the first major factories to use CCTV for inspection. Very impressive, but I can only now think of those manifold nuts. If it's such an efficient factory it's churning out Wrecks at an impressive rate, right up until the point at which they attach the exhaust manifold. At which point there's a bloke with a ring spanner laboriously tightening up those two middle nuts by hand. No super-quick air tools will fit on them. It took me a couple of minutes to do each one, I'm guessing someone practiced could shave 30 seconds from the time. Or more likely not tighten them up properly, which I suspect is why the original manifold gasket had burned away around the two central exhaust ports.
    When Austin unveiled the Mini in 1959, the engineers at Ford famously bought one and dismantled it completely to cost its production. Their concerns that it would affect their Anglia model were muted when they concluded that it cost more to build than its list price. Looking at the Wreck's design, sometimes ingenious yet more often downright baffling, I can only conclude that the disease of poor manufacturing design was not limited to Austin's engineers.
    There are many theories about the decline of the indigenous British motor industry. In the 1950s and 1960s cars like the Wreck, the Mini or the Anglia were ubiquitous here and in many other countries, by the 1980s and 1990s their successors were something of a national embarrassment.  The misty-eyed will cite trade unions, dodgy Russian steel, bad management and disloyal consumers, but they rarely look at the cars and admit that some of them just weren't very well designed. Comparing the 1980s Austin Metro I had in the mid '90s with the 1980s Volkswagen Golf  I had at the end of the '90s was a revelation for me. Instead of a machine that required all sorts of know-how for fixing hard-to-reach parts which kept failing I had a car that just worked. And kept on working, even though it had had a hard life before I owned it and drank cheap oil as a down-and-out drinks Special Brew.
    I love the Wreck, with all its quirks. It's a slow car with major handling flaws and woeful brakes, but it's fun to drive and I like its period styling. But that won't blinker me as to why its successors are no longer in production and the site of the factory where it was built is now a housing estate.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Getting on with it.

    It's a lovely spring day in Southern England, and I'm off to a friend's wedding in a couple of hours. The magnolia is coming out, and fat green leaf buds are showing on the trees.
    Not being one for treating transition as a tick-box list of achievements, it was a while before it struck me I've been full-time for six months. Life's just gone on. In years of following blogs in this sphere I've read many breathless descriptions of milestones - I've probably written a few myself! - but this one if indeed it is a milestone has passed almost unnoticed. Which is the way it should be.
    Short post? Isn't much more to write on this subject, is there.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Another day, another language ban

    News from the world of language this week: a campaign  from one of the Facebook bosses to ban the word "bossy" as applied to women. It's received the support of  celebrities and a lot of news coverage.
    It's true, "bossy" is used disproportionately with respect to women, and particularly with respect to women who have achieved success. And in that use it is a mild pejorative, a piece of annoying mild sexism rather than a hate word. One that is probably better not used.
    I have to admit I have a problem with the campaign to ban it. Not because of its aim, but because of its futility. However laudable your aim, language does not change just because you say it should. Language use is in the hands of its speakers, not in those of a few people. Like the campaign to suppress a sense of "gay" I wrote about a couple of months ago this campaign risks the opposite effect to its intent, turning "bossy" from a mild annoyance to a word with barbs. MtF transgender people have the unique perspective of having seen male locker room culture at work, and based on that experience I predict the "bossy" campaign will result in more use of the word, not less.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Another trip to the doctor

    It was my periodic trip to West London yesterday, to the gender identity clinic. Nice day for it, a hint of spring at the end of February.
    My usual pleasure of a walk across the park from Paddington, then a short Tube journey for lunch with a friend from way back in a quiet London boozer. Being used to London pubs being full of noisy people in suits drinking eye-wateringly expensive concoctions and yakking away at each other about business it was refreshing to find a quiet local among the bustle. For once London Pride was the local ale.
    The clinic was busier than usual. A mix of people waiting, bound into a camaraderie of suppressed laughter by the arrival of a patient who complained continually of the heat but wouldn't remove her heavy coat, then sat and belched periodically. We're a troubled community at times.
    So, to business. My secondary clinician this time.
    These appointments are an exercise in the clinic ensuring that things are going well. A check-in if you will. Their aim is not simply to ensure that we transition, but to ensure that as we transition we do so without taking any paths of no return before we are certain they are the right path for us. Thus these appointments are for monitoring our progress.
    The clinic are motivated by a fear of "regretters". People who've had The Surgery and then decide they were blokes all along. Or vice versa for transmen. It's a justified fear, and one I think we as a community should maybe take more seriously than we do. The regretters are always "someone else" for us, we should recognise that we all have the potential within us for it to go wrong.
    Do the clinic get it right? Probably, for most people. But they only see us for half an hour every six months. It's too easy for the Narrative to creep in, I wonder whether some people I've met have managed to pull the wool over the clinic's eyes and move forward a little too fast for their own well-being. The GICs are too thinly spread for this, but I sometimes wish a less medical and more community-oriented approach could be taken to this keeping in touch.
    So, the usual conversation. Talking about work, my wife, my decision to go to a local endocrinologist rather than their one. That last seemed to be accepted grudgingly, however as I said I wouldn't be doing it if I wasn't lucky enough to have a genuine world expert running my local endocrinology clinic.
    That's it then. So long, see you in the autumn. Then the tube back to Paddington and a train journey home through a still partially flooded Thames valley.
    Another square passed on the game board, haven't landed on a snake.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Expected to achieve

    I went to school with a few people who've done rather well for themselves. One or two household names, one of whom's known the world over. And a fair crop of the 1%, bond traders and people involved in other dubious financial endeavours. It was that kind of school.
    I also went to school with a fair number of people who've never really made much of themselves, that dread phrase "Never achieved their potential". I guess that group contains me. And one or two who just dropped off the edge, like the person who secured a place at an elite institution but who I last saw sometime in the early '90s as a very ill looking down-and-out begging at Oxford railway station.
    As I've mentioned before in these pages, my school was one of the more rarefied examples of what we Brits confusingly call a "public school" which to the rest of the world is a private school. In my case I went there because I passed an extra exam as an 11 year old blacksmith's kid from a small village primary school, and Margaret Thatcher picked up the tab as part of a bold experiment in social mobility called the Assisted Places Scheme.
    Public schools are an odd mirror of the Real World. One in which most of the people are not exceptionally talented, but are fortunate enough to have rich parents who pay for the privilege of having their offspring constantly told that they are. And in which the expectation is that all pupils are destined for great things by right not by achievement, because to people with such talent achievement is a right. Contempt for people of lesser talent - otherwise known as those in the state education sector - is an unwritten part of the curriculum based mostly on complete ignorance.
    The customer for public schools is the parent not the child, and the product is exam grades rather than well rounded young people.
    It's an odd thing, experiencing all that at school. Firstly because you pretty soon realise the world isn't like that if you go out into it without the cushion of an excessive parental fortune. Success in any field has infinitely more to do with luck than talent, whether that luck lies in being in the right place at the right time or in having the right doors opened for you by who you or your parents are.
    But secondly there's another much more insidious effect of that kind of education. Someone has been bred to achieve by right, yet by the time they've been out in the world for a while it just hasn't happened. They aren't rich, they don't manage an empire, and nobody knows their name. Even though their achievements are by any rational measure not half bad they feel as though they have failed. In our connected age this effect is amplified by the never ending barrage of friends and acquaintances puffing their smallest successes and glossing over their failures.
    This last is something I think ironically I was sheltered from by the great failure of my life. The dotcom crash ruined the careers of huge numbers of people just like it did mine, but such was the culture of tech startups that there was always the illusion of success in the next one to keep you going.
    It might seem odd to be spending a Saturday morning in such navel-gazing, but it's been on my mind this week because of yet another acquaintance catching the School Bug. No, not the runny nose all the people with kids get a week after the start of term, but the pushy parent bug of wanting to ensure that little Nathaniel and Penelope have what their parents consider to be the best possible education. And as is so often the case when the pushy parent moment arrives, they single out the One They Know who Went To Public School to help them justify their educational prejudices.
    What I try to tell them of course is that there is more to little P & N's futures than exam results and they might end up with children better able to cope with 21st century life if they sent them to the comprehensive instead. Which isn't what they want me to say, I'm supposed to reassure them that public school is the only choice for youngsters so obviously gifted, they'd only learn how to deal drugs if they went to school with the feral youth from the estates.
    I really hate the British obsession with education for all the wrong reasons.
    I should be painting a picture of Nathaniel & Penelope in a couple of decades time, living in shared houses and working in peanuts jobs for "good" employers while slowly realising that the success that should have been theirs by right isn't going to come, and that somebody else will always be there to rise on the back of their achievements. And unlike previous generations they probably won't be able to claim the person getting the breaks had more privilege than them.
    At the moment the prospect of having a family of my own is something I'm having to fight to maintain a hold on. I know I won't catch the Pushy Parent bug in quite the same way.
    I hope I'll manage to instill in my children the idea that they can succeed if they try and have a bit of luck, but also that lack of success and failure are not necessarily the same thing.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Is it happening to me?

   I've not been around here much these last couple of weeks. Sorry friends, I've not been around your blogs either. I've not had the best of times, I'm suffering from acid reflux and my insomnia has returned with a vengeance. Crossed fingers that my atypical facial pain doesn't get triggered, that's nasty.
    Unfortunately the cause of all this lies at work. About the same time as I changed my gender my manager retired, and the new one's style of personal management has fallen significantly short of what I had come to expect from the organisation. It's not appropriate to go into detail, suffice to say it has been the cause of some serious stress and I have been in conversation with the HR department about it.
   But this post isn't about what is or isn't happening between me and my manager, instead it's about the elephant in the room. The inevitable question I have to ask but I simultaneously hate asking. "Is it because I'm trans?"
   I have no desire to become a Professional Transgender Person to whom everything that happens to them is because of their trans status. We've all encountered members of minority groups who do that, and they do no favours to the rest of their groups. And nobody's said anything at work, made any references to my trans status, disparaging or otherwise.After all, nobody is ever transphobic, are they!
   The problem is, the timing is a bit suspect. As the scruffy bloke I worked for three years and got very good ratings all through, as the girl suddenly it seems I can do no right despite having a couple of very conspicuous successes on my plate.
   That elephant in the room suddenly seems very real indeed.
   What I have done is fire a shot across their bows. In conversation with HR I have made it very clear indeed that I do not wish to have any turmoil, and in that aim they should be in complete agreement with me. Employee turmoil is very costly for an employer, not to mention embarrassing. I made it very clear that in our community a lot of people face employment problems after transitioning so it is something of which I am very aware. I then asked them to nip it in the bud before  anything they'd later regret happens, because all I want is a quiet life.
   Did I get it right? I hope so but only time will tell. I had to do something, after all I have nearly 20 years experience in dotcom-land behind me and one thing that experience has left me with is this: I sure as hell am no doormat.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Gayly encouraging kids to use naughty words

    When I was at primary school in an English village sometime at the end of the 1970s, there was a term during which the entire pupil body discovered a new universal insult.


    Not very nice, is it. Rather shaming, three decades later.
    I seem to remember it had an air of contagion about it in a way that only made sense to nine-year-olds: someone denounced as such could somehow pass it on to others by touching them. The horror at such a moment, the chorus of the uninfected as they scrambled to avoid contact, and the slightly bizarre imaginary disinfection ritual performed by the victim's friends for an imaginary contagion. Being nine years old was weird.
    Of course, our antics were a rather disturbing reflection of the Thalidomide scandal over a decade earlier, before we were born. We didn't know that, we didn't even know where the word came to our school from. One minute nobody had heard of it the next everyone was using it. It had no real meaning to us, an ephemeral throwaway word which would probably have dropped out of fashion as soon as one of the cooler kids decided that its use denoted that the speaker was somehow childish. A significant insult among children who all want to pretend that they er... aren't children.
    Fortunately for us our headmaster decided Something Must Be Done. At a school assembly he laid out in no uncertain terms the history of the word, and banned its use. Serious Trouble would rain down on the head of anyone caught saying it.
    Its public use stopped immediately. There were some denunciations of suspected flid-sayers, but that was it. We'd learned about the use of ableist slurs, and why they were a Bad Thing, m'kay.
    What followed was interesting. Though "flid" was no longer a part of public vocabulary its power in private vocabulary was increased exponentially. The whole school now knew this was a Bad Word with power to hurt, and the adults really disapproved of it.
    Nothing could have been more calculated to encourage its use among the immature and give it a new and much more exciting life. It did die away eventually, I guess as we all got just a little bit older. Perhaps a summer holiday rendered it outdated, last year's word.
    The summer of "flid" has been on my mind of late, as a parallel to something that has been in the news. The gay organisation Sonewall (I can't bring myself to include a T in the name of a trans-exclusive organisation named for a seminal event in transgender history) have been campaigning for an end to the use of the word "gay" in the sense the lexicographers record as "foolish, stupid, or unimpressive". It's a sense that's been in the news from time to time, for instance when a student got into hot water for calling a police horse gay, or when a Radio 1 DJ used it to describe a ringtone.
    It's a funny word, "gay". The older generation found it offensive forty or more years ago when its meaning shifted to the homosexual sense from one meaning "happy or carefree", now those who identify by the homosexual sense are finding it offensive that the word is moving away from them.
    As word senses go though this one ain't big and it ain't clever. Gay youngsters have a hard enough time without the extra burden of the identity they have to come to terms with being synonymous with everything negative in name. I wouldn't be happy to hear my kids using it, if I had any.
    I have to admit though I have some disquiet about the tone of the campaign surrounding the sense, particularly the way in which it has been labeled as universally homophobic. The rating of hate language by vocabulary alone is an extremely blunt instrument, instead it needs to be understood that the classification of hate language is as much in the context in which it is used as in the vocabulary itself. Is describing a police horse as "gay" to mean foolish or stupid really a homophobic act when the speaker is simply repeating a widely used sense and is not connecting it with the homosexual sense in the way they are using it?
    My concern is that with such a clumsy campaign the effect will be similar to that on "flid" in our little school all those years ago. A piece of throwaway language  that has well and truly escaped into the wild will gain a new level of power as its capacity to cause offence is amplified by the actions of well-meaning but boneheaded teachers. And the losers will be the gay teens who will inevitably suffer this freshly sharpened barb. At least there were no Thalidomide children to be offended in our village in the 1970s.
    So how else might you deal with it? The truth is, nobody owns language but the great body of its speakers, and those who try to impose their own rules on it are rarely successful. Better than imposing blanket bans and threats of punishment would be to encourage the users to come to their own conclusions about this sense of the word.
   Education, after all isn't that supposed to be the real job of teachers?