Category: January


When I first started to transition, not being seen as a woman was EVERYthing. After all, before testosterone started to work its magic, and even before I was taking the stuff, it felt like the only things I had to *prove* I wasn’t a woman were clothes and attitude. Oh, and my name, of course. But even as I introduced myself, I knew that people were not thinking “Oh my goodness, he’s called MARK, what a fool I was to think he wasn’t a man!” More like “Mark? That’s weird, she’s got a man’s name. Oh well, I’ll go along with it…”

So I worked hard to try and present myself in a way that would ‘point people in the right direction’, and, let’s be honest, got a bit upset when people persisted in misgendering me. I guess part of the problem is that I knew myself that I was not a woman, and had very quickly disassociated myself from my old female name and presentation. Very early on in the process I moved headspace away from female. That’s not to say I have crossed some metaphorical canyon – I don’t believe gender works like that – but with self-acceptance, validation from the medical profession and a concrete decision to transition came a shift in something that I can’t even think of a name for. My ‘me-ness’, perhaps?

One of the upshots of this is that whilst the sensible person that I am realises that when strangers misgender me, it’s because they DON’T KNOW and CAN’T TELL, there’s another, big part of me that is genuinely surprised that they can’t tell! That sounds crazy, I know, but I now identify so strongly as not-female that it honestly seems illogical for people to call me ‘she’ or ‘the lady’. However, that’s my problem, not other people’s.

Armed with this knowledge, I have moved on from a point where I wanted to tell everyone how mistaken they were, in some bizarre antithesis of David Walliams’ ghastly “I’m a LADY” sketch. After all, there’s not a lot to be gained from embarrassing a stranger, and really, if I’m not going to see someone again, I’m unlikely, these days, to bristle too much when Will and I are referred to as “you girls”. Though actually, after nearly a year on T, I’m tempted to suggest someone referring to me as a girl needs to go to Specsavers.

Perhaps I am more mellow about other people these days because I do ‘pass’ a lot better, and fewer people use feminine pronouns or words to refer to me. It does still happen, though, and probably always will. I’m unlikely to ever look like The Rock, so a certain amount of ‘sucking it up’ will probably always be needed.

However, and this is an important however, I am talking about strangers here, not colleagues, family or friends. I think it’s reasonable to expect that the people who know, love, live or work with trans people do need to make the effort to think about the language they are using, and what it says about their attitude to the trans person in their life. Sure, mistakes happen, but as I’ve said in an earlier post, a quick ‘sorry’, correcting the mistake and moving on works wonders. Just remember how powerful a small mistake can be for the recipient.

Back to my strangers. People on the street will use gendered language without thought (and hopefully without malice), but I do have a particular bugbear with people in shops/service industries/professional customer facing environments using ‘lady’ and ‘gentleman’ to refer to people. In an ideal world, I would like it if people in shops and so on learnt not to refer to others with a gendered word. For instance, I went into a shop a while back, and had to see the manager and I was asked to wait whilst they were called. The person serving me, when the manager arrived, pointed me out and said “This lady needs your help”. Of course I sucked it up, but really, how difficult would it be to substitute the word ‘customer’ – just as polite. And I don’t just mean using more neutral language around people whose gender you are not sure of, but for everyone.

The way we refer to people doesn’t have to be gendered – have a look through some of my blogposts: whilst I don’t always manage it, it’s very rare that I refer to someone specifically by their gender. That’s not the way I think about people…but that’s a whole other blogpost!

 

I don’t make a secret of being bipolar – hell, when did I ever make a secret of anything in my life? To be honest, these days it is so much a part of me, and yet so little part of my life, that I forget about it most of the time. Until it bites me in the bum once in a while, or it is brought up as part of a medical review.

Let’s give you a bit of history. I was diagnosed 12 years ago, long before it was trendy, after years of crippling depression and occasional bouts of frankly weird behaviour. Finally, the doctors realised that anti-depressants were making very little difference (and now, with the benefit of hindsight, it has been acknowledged that they made my behaviour a lot more erratic) and I was handed a new label: “Type 2 affective bipolar disorder”. Actually, I was pleased to get a label, though I’m not keen on the practice of shoeboxing people. I figured that maybe I wasn’t crazy after all, and things could get better.

I took a medication called Sodium Valproate for a very long time – it’s not altogether bad stuff, though the list of side-effects is scary. I mean, weight gain, loss of libido AND lack of energy? Come on, Doctor! Sadly, as well as all of this, the pills weren’t really stopping me from either getting depressed, or having very unpleasant weird times. Quite a few years ago now I found myself going into hospital (voluntarily, I might add!) as my desires to remove myself from the world I found I couldn’t deal with became less of a pipe-dream, and more of a game-plan.

Being in hospital for a few weeks enabled me to start again, from the bottom up, with the aid of a new medication: Lithium. I still take the stuff every day, and whilst it also has had side-effects, it has helped me manage things very well. Unfortunately, the Lithium has caused me to have hypothyroidism, which isn’t great, but honestly, the chance to live a life where I feel in control and mostly happy is worth a few thyroxine tablets.

So how does this connect with my transition? In many ways, not at all. However, one of the biggest fears I had when approaching my doctor about being trans was that I would be turned down flat due to my medical history. After all, people with bipolar often come up with some pretty flighty and impressive schemes, and at that time, are convinced that the way they feel is right and valid. So imagine a registered female bipolar patient walking through the door and saying (in many more words, of course) “I’m a man”! I was terrified I wouldn’t be taken seriously. Thankfully, I needn’t have worried.

More than one doctor specialising in transition has reassured me that bipolar disorder and gender dysphoria are not mutually exclusive conditions, but I believe that there will always be, in the background, the thought that my bipolar has led me to somehow believe I’m transgender. And that I’m really really good at convincing doctors…

Except…except that I am so much happier, mellow and balanced these days. That I am starting to like my own body and self for the first time ever. That I haven’t had an episode of mania for around 3 years. That I haven’t had an episode of serious depression for over a year (and that was very much related to my job at the time). That I no longer classify myself as “ill” or “surviving”.

Now don’t get me wrong – I don’t think that the decision to transition, and the process of doing so, have somehow miraculously sorted out my bipolar. I’m not daft, and I’m still taking the tablets. Many trans people live with bipolar, and I would never suggest they stop their medication. Don’t.

Two of my doctors have suggested that it may be possible to consider reducing my Lithium dose, in a couple of years, as they both believe that many of the issues I have experienced in the past that have been attributed to bipolar, may actually have been connected to my gender dysphoria. It makes sense if you think about it, but is also confusing, and unsettling, as when I was told back in January 2000 “You have bipolar”, I clung onto it, and have remained clinging ever since, only ever seeking solutions within the boundaries drawn by that diagnosis.

Now I am having to find ways to continue managing the bipolar symptoms on the rare occasions they come up, whilst also appreciating that those symptoms may simply be me. At the same time acknowledging that things may still change as I pass through my second puberty and into a new adulthood. Phew.

I was once told I have a lot of baggage – which is true – and a lot of that is to do with the mental health issues I have had over the years. There are many people who still choose to judge me based on those past issues. But then, as I’ve said before, our experiences make us who we are. Mine have made me pretty unshockable, able to empathise with the problems of others, and with the firm understanding that we all tread different paths through this life, some wigglier than others. That’s my mental wealth.

Do you remember those books that were popular in the 70s and 80s – with titles like “The Vegetable and Herb Expert”? They taught us how to nurture our plants and help them grow into strong, beautiful things. I wanted to make this something similar, but thought “The Trans Expert” might be overreaching myself a little. Besides, I’m no expert.

There’s a million and one issues involved in living with another person – be they your partner, child, parent, sibling, house-mate, etc., let alone when that person identifies very differently to you. Personally, I find other people quite ‘tricky’, and frankly, it’s a miracle that my partner has put up with me as long as she has. But she has, which is all that counts.

There’s an assumption, when someone comes out as being trans, that suddenly there will be a lot of drama, upheaval and heartache. I’m going to be looking at the impact of this on personal relationships sometime around Valentines Day, so won’t go into that side of things too heavily now. However, it needn’t all be about drama. Here are a few things to help you look after the trans person in your life:

1) Don’t assume ANYthing. Sure, read about trans people, watch the documentaries, check out Chaz Bono’s book/TV programme/etc. if that does it for you, but please don’t assume that YOUR trans loved one will necessarily conform to all, or any, of the things you read/see/expect. We are all individuals, and just as (say) every person with blonde hair is different, so is every trans person. Despite the jokes made about both groups of people.

2) Don’t call us ‘brave’. I’ve talked about this before, but really, I’m just me and I can’t say I’m particularly brave. Going to the dentist last week practically made me wee myself, and I’ve never rescued a small child from a burning building, so no, no bravery here. Feel free to focus on your loved one’s specific acts of bravery (eg: coming out to a family member who has traditionally had an issue with LGBT people, for instance) but please don’t call us brave just for being who we are. And on a related note…

3) Don’t call us ‘inspiring’. I’d love to think I’m inspiring, perhaps through my writing, or my YouTube videos, or because someone I know has found me helpful at some point. But please don’t call me ‘inspiring’ just because I’m trans. Focus on someone’s actions, specifically what they have done or said that you admire, not just the fact of their existence. Trans people just exist.

4) Appreciate that if we are taking testosterone we are going through a lot of changes, but that we are still basically the same old people. Don’t let people get away with sh*t because they’re transitioning, but at the same time, be prepared to accept that life can be a bit roller-coastery for us at times. And remember that, like anyone, sometimes we need a big hug, and sometimes we need space. Talk to us if you want to know which.

5) As much as you want to be involved in helping us match up our outsides with our insides, be very wary of giving us advice on “how to be more like” the gender with which we identify. Just because I ask you whether my new shirt makes me look manly or not doesn’t mean I’m giving you free rein to say “well, whilst I’m at it, you look really girly when you stand like that”. Sometimes I do ask my partner for pointers, but this is negotiated, and you won’t make your trans loved one happy by pointing out to them on a regular basis how UNlike the gender with which they identify they currently look/act.

Most of all, though, please do what Elisha Lim and Rae Spoon sing in this video. And yes, the first few seconds are minus sound…don’t adjust your sets.

I have always loved Lego. I remember I had a big flat box full of Lego goodies when I was little, with an actual working engine that you could make stuff move with. I also had a big toffee-tin full of Lego bricks. They were great.

It’s quite easy for people to assume that as a transman, I must have been a really boyish child, refusing to wear skirts, skinning my knees all the time and playing with my cars and toy construction set. Not true. I had a few dolls, and an amazing dolls house my Dad made. It had little electric lights, carpets, and soft-furnishings made by my Mum. Very cool. I was musically minded and fond of reading, so you’d be more likely to find me practising my flute (I started young) or sitting with a book than setting up a teddy bear’s picnic or trashing a Hot Wheels car. Then, as now, I suppose, I was a little bit of everything.

It has always disturbed me that catalogues such as Argos actually had a “Girls’ Toys” and a “Boys’ Toys” section, but to be honest, it was only reflecting a similar segregation in stores such as Toys ‘R’ Us, and just about any conventional toy shop you’re ever likely to walk into. These days, Argos no longer labels its toys by gender, but by type. A small improvement, but you’ve only got to flick through the catalogue for it to be blatantly obvious which products are aimed at which kids.

Now fair enough, I know that playing with pink stuff occasionally did not turn me into a raging feminine Stepford Wife-type. Equally, insisting that my daughter had a wide variety of not-particularly-gender-specific toys when she was growing up did not stop her enjoying so-called ‘feminine’ things as she grew older. Hopefully, as parents, we can bring up our children to realise that whilst pink is a lovely colour, toys can be fun whatever the colour, style and what section of the shop/catalogue they have come from. In an ideal world. But children learn fast, and a scarily high percentage of what they learn is not from us parents…it’s from Out There. The majority of kids want to fit in. I’m sure a sociologist could explain better than me why this is, but I’m guessing it goes back to cave-dwelling days and the need to be part of the group for survival. Hence if a boy gets it drummed into his psyche by media, marketing and his peers that pink is for girls, that’s going to stick, however much he might wish to go against the flow.

Surely if companies insist on making toys that are explicitly aimed at girls pink, encouraging girls to play with them in a stereotypically ‘feminine’ way, then however we try to educate our children, they will think that girls and boys *are* those stereotypes. Children who believe that are, I believe, far more likely to find it difficult to accept people who differ from the gender binary, and will undoubtedly struggle if they find that they themselves do not feel comfortable trying to fit into the gendered roles that media and marketing are trying to slot them into.

So, back to Lego, my favourite childhood toy. One of the things that has made it so lasting, I believe, is its total flexibility. With my toffee-tin full of bricks, I could make absolutely anything I wanted, even adding, say, a working windmill with my little Lego engine, or a Lego car. Did I make stereotypically ‘girl’ or ‘boy’ things with my Lego? Who knows – my memory isn’t that long. But at least I had the choice to make ANYthing I wanted.

Lego have just brought out a new range: “Friends”. It’s aimed at girls. How can I tell? Well, apart from the general pastelly purply pinkness of the colour schemes and the Bratz-like, slightly sexual female Lego characters (yes, I did say sexual…did YOUR Lego characters have make-up on and short skirts when you were young? Oh, and ‘lipsticks’ that look suspiciously like…well, you check out the picture) the blurb that describes the toys online could never be accused of gender neutrality. You know, if I try to deconstruct this any more, I may cry, so here’s a taste for you to look at yourself:

It’s a busy day of beauty fun down at the Butterfly Beauty Shop! Emma loves this posh little salon at the center of Heartlake City! Shop for lipstick, makeup and hair accessories! Emma and all of her friends will look fabulous with bows, sunglasses, a hairbrush, mirror, lipsticks and new hair styles. Get the girls ready for any event with the salon where you can rearrange the interior! Includes Emma and Sarah mini-doll figures.

  • Includes 2 mini-doll figures: Emma and Sarah
  • Features fountain, bench and salon furniture
  • Accessories include a money brick, hair elements, lipsticks, a purse, bows, sunglasses, a hair dryer, hairbrush and a mirror
  • Give all of the LEGO® Friends makeovers
  • Gossip out on the bench by the scenic fountain!
  • Shop for makeup and hair accessories!
  • Pay with the money brick!
  • LEGO Friends pieces are fully compatible with all LEGO bricks
  • Collect all of the LEGO Friends sets for a whole world of LEGO Friends fun!
  • LEGO mini-dolls are LEGO minifigures made especially for the world of LEGO Friends with thousands of customizable hair and fashion combinations
  • Measures over 4” (12cm) tall, 6” (16cm) wide and 6” (16cm) long

I do not believe that questioning gendering of our children’s toys will turn those children into super-accepting adults, willing to embrace the sexuality and genders of themselves and others with joy, peace and understanding. I do, however, believe very strongly that whilst we continue to accept the ruthless gendering that is being forced on our children, we are potentially making it very difficult indeed for children and young people growing up and questioning their gender identities to accept themselves, and seek and receive acceptance from others.