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.