Category: July 2012


I went to my first Pride ten years ago in Brighton. I had just come out as a lesbian, and I came away from the whole loud, colourful and slightly sweaty experience with a strong sense that I had met ‘my people’. The feeling of being able to march with thousands of people with whom you share common ground is fantastic.

I go to Pride to celebrate the LGBT community, to make sure that we are recognised in the constant, wearing fighting against prejudice, and to support my partner in her sexual identity.

So why did I nearly not go to my local Pride march yesterday? Partly because of the politics – every Pride has problems with infighting, squabbles and Facebook flaming, it would seem, and I understand that this is pretty much a part of organising a large event. Particularly one that tries to draw together and cater for a very disparate audience. But for an event that is supposed to be about inclusivity and celebration, this conflict can easily alienate the very people the event is supposed to be for.

Partly because I don’t feel I really belong. I know transmen who stop going to Pride events because they feel they are no longer relevant to them, and whilst I don’t fully agree with that sentiment, I can see where it comes from. Larger events may be different, by my experience is that Pride focuses heavily on the L and G, the B gets very little coverage, and the T…yes, I know we’re a relatively small group, but I sometimes get the impression that organisers don’t know quite what to do with us. Or for us. Saying this, at Pride yesterday there was a screening of a fantastic short film by a local trans youth group, which was a glimmer of light in what, for me, was a day of dysphoria and isolation.

Before the march, I went round the various stalls and stands, asking some if they would mind having some of my flyers for the new FTM Norfolk group on their table. They were happy to do this, but one person representing a local trans support group did ask me what the FTM stood for. This example of glaring ignorance aside, there is SO little awareness of and support for FTM-identified people generally, and at Pride specifically, that I’m not surprised a lot of people just stay away.

So what would make Pride better, and more inclusive for transmen? A few years ago I was in the City at around about the time local elections were on, and a member of the Green Party grabbed me and asked if I’d be voting Green. I said I’d love to, but there was no Green candidate in my area, so he said “Well, why don’t YOU do it?” Well, because I’m not a politician. Similarly, I suppose rather than bemoaning the lack of support and visibility, I should get up and do something myself. But you know, it would just be nice if the only way of changing things wasn’t to have to Do It Yourself. I’m not the only ‘out’ transguy in Norfolk, though I suppose I do stick my head above the parapet a little higher than most. Even if I did have the emotional energy to take on the mammoth task of trying to right the balance in provision for transguys at things like Pride, I can’t do it on my own.

So where are the transmen? The problem here, of course, is that a lot of transguys are stealth (not ‘out’), and yesterday I could have walked past hoards of transmen, and never known. We are not a very visible group, which is great in many ways, but it can mean that as a group we are not catered for at LGBT events, and even if someone wants to cater for us, we’re often not around to be consulted.

From my point of view, setting up FTM Norfolk, I KNOW that there are more FTM-identified people out there than the ones I know personally, and the 5 of us that I knew about at Pride yesterday. Short of approaching anyone who looked like they *might* be a transguy and getting my nose broken (don’t worry – I’m not that stupid…) there’s not a lot I can do. That makes me feel very lonely at an event like Pride – far from the Proud T in LGBT, and closer to feeling like an oddball at someone else’s party.

“Fear names. Names have power in identity. Others can use names as weapons. Names are a hook that can be used to track you… Remain nameless, and you shall be safe.” (Planescape: Torment)

Of course, very few of us remain nameless – our administrative systems and social expectation are geared to everyone having a name. When Prince adopted a symbol to stand as his name, the most common reaction was ‘how do you pronounce that?’ and ‘what do I actually call you, though?’ [not exact quotes, but gleaned from an interview I watched] The world seemed desperate to re-name him after his voluntary dropping of a recognisable name, and he soon became ‘The artist formerly known as Prince’. See – we cannot exist for long in the world without folk either seeking what they consider our ‘real’ name, or making one up for us.

I’m not really talking here about the common problem faced by many trans people – when those we know use our birth name rather than the name we have chosen for ourselves (Tip: Don’t.) I’m more interested in the power that our birth name can have over us, and how hard it can be to escape from that.

In many examples of mythology, literature, lore and belief systems there is a common notion that knowledge of someone’s name gives power. We’ve all come across Rumpelstiltskin, described as an ‘imp’, who held all the power until his name was discovered. At which point his plans fell apart, and depending on the version, suffered a horrible demise. Some believe that power can be gained in the knowledge of a name, and this can certainly be the case in the trans experience. Knowledge of a name can make all the difference socially, in a relationship, at work, turning a safe situation to an unsafe one in the blink of an eye. Horrible demises come in more than one form.

My birth name is not a secret. Plenty of people know it, including quite a few who visit this blog. But if you don’t know it already, you won’t find it out from me. I am asked (pretty infrequently, fortunately) what my ‘real’ name is, or what I used to be called, and my answer is always ‘that isn’t important now’. Which, of course, is true, but there is also an element of protecting my powerbase by not allowing people access to information that reveals more of me than I want revealed. Logically or not, I feel that restricting knowledge of my birth name stops me from becoming vulnerable to others. There is also a feeling of strength that comes from drawing a line between the life I had living as a woman with that old name, and my current life. More importantly, having control over that line.

Having to disclose my birth name on the few occasions this has been necessary (eg: security checks for my job) has made me feel very wobbly. The only way I can think to try to describe it is that my life, and the way I present myself to the world, are very carefully constructed. I have delved deep into myself to work out who I actually am, and how I want to be, and this ‘me’ is Mark. The real me. If someone calls me by my birth name, or I have to go through the rigmarole of producing deed-polls etc. which ‘out’ the process through which I have gone to get this far, I feel that somehow I may be seen as that ‘old me’, and people will think that I am just pretending. My constructed self will be seen as less of a magnum opus and more of a charade.

I trust those who know my birth name not to bandy it about, and I do not tell it to new people. I’ve noticed that when trans people get together, we often end up talking about transition at some point (not all the time, though, please note…we’re not all that sad or one-dimensional). However, even when discussing the nitty gritty of our earlier lives, birth names are not named. It is an understanding that even amongst ourselves, these names remain unspoken. In Rowling’s novels, the character Voldemort should not be named, for fear he will learn of it, and track you down. With us, perhaps it is more a fear of our own pasts tracking us down and showing us up.

What do you get when a group of transguys get together? No, it’s not one of those lightbulb jokes (though I should probably try to think up a few of those). The answer, amongst other things, is facial hair. Plenty of beard action. Whilst a phallus may be the Holy Grail for some transmen, facial hair is pretty high up there for most of us.

So why the obsession? It is rather a stereotype – person transitions, gets testosterone, gets beard. I guess it’s because it’s such a visible indication that this sh*t is working that so many of us spend so long staring thoughtfully at our chins in the mirror. Whatever other changes take place, we do still seem to use facial hair as a sort of litmus test of ‘how far along’ we are.

Few people born female-bodied have significant facial hair. Some do, of course, and because it is seen so much as an indication of masculinity, problems and prejudice can arise as a result. Equally, in the case of transwomen, facial hair is identified as ‘a giveaway’ (sic) and becomes part of the ever-expanding lexicon of humour against trans people.

For transmen, though, the hair helps. Not everyone – despite what I said at the start of this post, FTM meet-ups are not gnome conventions. However, with facial hair forming one of the most readily identified signs of being male, a hirsute chin is a covetable thing. I get jealous of the guys I meet with a chin that could have come straight out of Lumberjack Magazine, less because I want the same, but because the chance of them being misgendered is so much smaller.

So what of my own luxuriant growth? I am definitely the King of Bumfluff, the Viscount of Fuzz, and the Prince of the Occasional Wiry Protuberance. No tree felling for me yet. I do shave, once a week or so-ish, but mainly to mow the fluff. After all, what grown man has a face full of soft downy stuff? I do have a few ‘proper’ hairs coming though, but until they decide to join up, or I somehow knit them into a little chin wig, I’m stuck in boydom.

Speaking of shaving, I’m a bit hit and miss with my technique. I wet shave at the moment, religiously going through the process of steaming, lathering, scraping, rinsing, patting, lotioning, and so on. But I still miss a lot of that fluff. Perhaps it’s as well the hair is so pale, or I’d look like a dog with mange.  I think I may be a little too light-of-touch when shaving. After all, my previous experience was of armpits, and you’ve got to go easy there. Also, I don’t want to cut myself and get laughed at for my poor grooming efforts. Practice, as they say, makes perfect.

I’m considering forking out for an electric shaver. It’ll have to be one of those ones with three heads, as my Dad has always had one of those, and in my mind, at least, that is therefore the sort of shavers men use. I shall start saving my pennies, and see what kind of job I do with that. By then my stubble might be actual stubble…who knows?

Am I tempted to grow a beard? Of course – if my hair shows any signs of growing evenly and regularly, I’m going to have to go for the Brian Blessed look at least once. Failing that, I do like a goatee on a man, or might go for the creative soul patch, or even the Limp Bizkit rock-chin look. Or am I a bit old for that?

Until all this comes to pass, I shall just have to be content with sitting ruffling my chin fluff with a thoughtful look on my face.

I had a lovely holiday – Will and I ate, drank, walked, drank and ate our way around those bits of the West Country we could easily get to by train. The hotel was…well, what we expected for the money, and the people were very friendly. All of the hotel staff warmed to those nice girls in room 218, and everywhere I went in Bristol and surrounds, I got used to hearing myself referred to as ‘her’. ‘she’ and one of ‘the girls’. Did I say anything? Nope. Did I want to? Of course! But to what end?

Admittedly I probably should have said something the first time the receptionist at the hotel made a friendly reference to ‘her’ when talking to Will about me. But honestly, I was on holiday, and lacked the emotional energy and political drive to go into the ‘actually, it’s him’ routine. Same at the Cider Shop, in the Co-op, and in numerous pubs and eateries. Would I  have gained anything (well, apart from being correctly gendered, obviously!) from correcting them? Maybe I’d have stopped them making assumptions about future guests/customers? Or just made things a bit awkward?

I don’t like making a fuss, but  I will move mountains to make a point if it’s needed. This week, I guess, I just decided that my masculinity wasn’t at any sort of risk by being called the wrong thing. As my lovely counsellor puts it, ‘you know who you are’, and whilst being called ‘she’ and a girl in a strange place where I may never go again sucks, it didn’t make me any less the person I am.

So how do I avoid being misgendered? Well, I dress to suit my gender, have a not-quite-buzz-cut, have no breasts, pack, and have embryonic stubble. Granted, I don’t try to adopt sterotypically ‘masculine’ traits, or gait, but I’m damned if I’ll become a caricature.

Will and I have come up with a cunning plan, though. Check out the photo below – that was me 4 years ago. Now look at the picture taken a few days ago, and tell me I look like a ‘she’? Clearly I need to get me a life-sized cardboard cutout, and carry it round so that people can compare and contrast 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh, and to the  guy begging by the docks who said ‘Thank you, Sir!’ when I slipped him some change, thank YOU. It balanced out a lot of those “she’s”.