Category: June 2012


I am super excited this week, as Will and I are off on a holiday together. An actual leaving-home-behind-and-staying-in-a-hotel-and-doing-relaxing-things-together sort of holiday. We worked out that this will be the first time in 5 years we’ve managed to scrape together the money to go away. We didn’t even have a honeymoon. So this trip is VERY exciting indeed.

A lot of my holiday days last year were used up when I had my chest surgery. At the time I was on probation, and therefore not entitled to sick pay, so I carefully amassed holiday in the knowledge that I’d need it sometime, and made sure that I didn’t fritter away days that I might need if something went wrong and I needed more time off. I used a few to go to London to see various doctors too, though my boss was incredibly good to me, helping me work around time off to make sure I wasn’t worn out by the end of the year. As you can imagine, going away for a holiday just wasn’t on the cards in 2011.

I find these last minute package holidays quite appealing – you pay not a lot of money, pack your bag, and get whisked off to who-knows-where. Those probably aren’t the best choice for vegans, though, unless you really want to live on salad, chips and beer for a week. Plus neither of us are really sun worshippers, though I could go a week of sizzling on a beach if it was offered. I would like to go abroad for a break at some stage, and hopefully I can convince Will that sizzling can be combined with doing lots of interesting stuff. Until I get a valid passport again, though, it’s the UK for us.

Those of you who know me won’t be terribly surprised to learn we are going on holiday by train, and I shall do my best not to regale Will with comparisons of the different Train Operating Companies we are travelling with, or by pointing out the differences between 315s and 379s. Apparently Will has no interest in the relative seating capacity and luggage storage potential of each. So instead I will have to concentrate on looking at the passing countryside, and looking forward to a week of good food, local beer, lethal cider and all the delights that only a Travelodge room can bring…

A few days ago, my Lady Love and I were wandering through the centre of the City, when a middle-aged man on a bike slowed to a halt in front of us and said “Lesbiaaaans!” in a loud voice. Then rode off. Well, he was 50% right, but I’m still not quite sure what his motivation was. My immediate reaction, weirdly enough, was not to chase after him and tip him off his bike, but a sense of upset that I couldn’t put him right on a few things. After all, chasing after him shouting “Excuse me, sir, I just want to talk to you about my gender identity!!” would be a bit strange.

Now we all know that you can’t tell someone’s sexuality from the way they look, but people do have very stereotyped expectations of “what a lesbian looks like”, and I suppose the Mrs and I both conform to some of those stereotypes. Except that one of us IS a lesbian, and one is a man, who therefore handed in his Lesbian Club membership card some time ago. I identified as a lesbian very proudly for nearly a decade, and I don’t find being called one an insult – why would it be? – except that that is definitely not how I wish to be identified now. For more on this, please see my earlier post So, does that make you both straight now?

My partner and I actually don’t do each other any favours. She identifies very strongly as a lesbian, and does not wish to lose this identity. Sure, she’s married to a transguy, but that doesn’t change her central identity, nor her sexuality. The trouble is, the more like a man I look, the more often she is read by people who don’t know her as straight. Sadly, even some of the people who DO know her have assumed that me transitioning has miraculously changed her sexuality.

The thing is, if people read her as a lesbian, then look at me for confirmation, they are far more likely to assume we are a lesbian couple (me being the REALLY butch one!) and until I grow an enormous beard, that will probably continue to be the case.

So, if I am read correctly, it is to the detriment of Will’s identity, and if she is read correctly, it is to the detriment of mine. And short of getting forehead tattoos proclaiming our preferred identity (which I don’t think would go down very well at work) I guess we both have to ‘suck it up’. Alternatively, we can hope that as society starts to get a clue, people will make fewer assumptions based on appearance and who we are standing next to. I shan’t hold my breath.

My Transsexual Weekend

This week’s contribution to the World of Literary Magnificence is going to be short, I’m afraid. I’ve spent the week trying to get the new FTM Norfolk group off the ground, and have been attending the TG2012 Conference all weekend. My brain is running out of va-va-voom, so I am limiting myself to giving you the highlights, and not so highlights of the weekend.

Not so highlights:

  • Low numbers at the conference.¬† Granted, I’ve not been before, but I was surprised at how few delegates there were. Asking around, a lot of people just can’t afford the conference fees, and there is talk of trying to find a sponsor to enable more people to attend.
  • A rather bleak feeling after some of the talks. Not all of them, by any means, but learning about the struggles we face, and will be facing, to ensure equality of care for trans people in the country was sobering. I also found some of the surgical lectures a bit of a downer, in that there seems to be very little prospect of improved techniques any time soon in FTM-specific surgeries.

Highlights:

  • A film made by trans youth group Evolve showing their experience of living as trans. Yes, I shed a tear or two. In a gruff masculine way, of course…
  • Meeting other trans people, both men and women. Not that we had an awful lot in common, but it feels good to feel less isolated, even just for a couple of days.
  • A talk by Alice Purnell, who was awarded an OBE recently, looking at the history of the trans experience over the last century or so. Amazing woman.
  • One of the few specifically FTM talks on the programme, by Krys Vere-Bujnowski of Qwest FTM UK. He looked at the area of gender dysphoria and whether the seeds sown early on in life can ever fully disappear.
  • Katy Went’s talk on ‘Depathologising Trans’, which was an intelligent and thoughtful look at the controversial argument over how gender dysphoria is classified and how this impacts on transphobia, medical provision, and funding of services. Done with a light touch for a sticky subject.
  • Amazing food – on the first day I didn’t have a ‘special’ vegan meal, as one of the main options was vegan anyway. What a nice change from the salad I have been served at most other conferences I’ve been to. Today’s ‘special’ meal was just as good. I do like my food.

All in all, TG2012 was very good to attend, and I’ll certainly aim to go to future conferences. I think my next outing of this sort will be to the Qwest FTM Conference next year. Until then, I need some sleep….

Transitioning can be brutal. And no, I’m not referring to surgery, or the impact of hormones. I’m talking about the reaction of our families and friends to the changes we are making to our lives. There’s no hard and fast rules to how people will react. Sometimes the people you are most scared of telling turn out to be the ones who have your back, through thick and thin. Sometimes the ones you love and trust the most are unable to see past the transition and realise that you are still you, and need their continuing love and trust.

Some friends and family become the loudest, proudest trans-allies, whilst others are happy just to carry on loving their loved-ones the same way they always have, just with a different name and pronouns.

I have been very fortunate – whilst my family are unlikely to ever march in a Pride celebration, sporting brightly coloured transactivist T-shirts, most of the people in my immediate and extended family are supportive and loving, and appreciate why I am doing what I’m doing, even if they’d probably rather I wasn’t. Similarly, most of my friends seem happy to take me as I am, and really, I can’t ask for more than that.

But I have lost people I love – some forever, and some I hope in my heart will come back to me one day. Anybody who has ever suggested that being transgender is a lifestyle choice should consider how much some of us have lost simply by being honest about who we are.

Trans people lose members of their families – parents, partners, children, siblings. Sometimes literally – they are told to move out and never come back. Equally, while some people stay in our daily lives, they are lost simply because they refuse to acknowledge or support us at our most vulnerable. Which is where I come to DIY family. We need to make our own families, and open ours up to others.

Whilst we can’t choose our blood family, or force them to react to our situation in a way that will make us happy, we can find other people who WILL support us. I don’t mean that you should abandon those members of your blood family or friendship group who ARE loving, supportive and kind – anything but – but rather than bang your head against the brick wall of a relative or friend who will not and cannot budge, look elsewhere for the understanding you need.

I am a bit reluctant to use the phrase ‘trans community’, because that implies that all trans people are similar in their outlook, aims and willingness to be a part of ‘a group’. However, within smaller groups of trans people, be they social groups, support groups, etc. there is a huge resource in people who have at least a partial understanding of what others in that group are going through. I’m not trying to encourage dependence, as the last thing anyone needs when they’re feeling vulnerable themselves is someone else relying on them for support. Support and care go both ways.

Sharing a cuppa and providing a listening ear for a while can make you an important person in someone’s life, if nobody at home will listen. Getting together to take part in gender-appropriate activities with someone whose gender identity is being denied by other people in their life will help them. Whilst the idea of being a role-model can be scary, maybe that’ll make you feel good too.

When building up a DIY family, you can mix and match blood family, old friends, new friends, different ages and different backgrounds. Sew all of these into a patchwork blanket that will provide you with the love and support you need, but try to leave room for the ones you’ve lost to return: we’re not the only ones changing.

I know this is a generalisation, but I think it’s probably fair to say that a lot of trans people have body issues before they transition. I certainly did. I’ve compared my ‘old’ body to a lump of clay: awkward, heavy and lumpen. My relationship with my physical self was rocky, to say the least, and I did not recognise that my corporeal packaging was part of me, other than that I was stuck with it.

Hormones have changed my body, slimming my hips, shrinking my bum, broadening my shoulders, squaring my jaw, pumping up my muscles. Just as potently, my confidence has grown, my ease with my physical self is growing and, like a Venn Diagram slowly closing in on itself, my body is gradually becoming part of me.

Along with the positive changes come an inevitable flipside: I have gruesome acne on my back, my stomach area is fatter (thanks to all the fat that has moved from my hips/bum/etc) and I have hair in some very funny places indeed. But all in all, these are things I can deal with.

I do worry a lot about putting on weight. I’ve been heavier than I am at the moment, by a couple of stone (that’s 28 pounds to some…) and I fear putting that weight back on. I joke that I don’t want to go through all this to end up with a figure like Homer Simpson, but behind that joke is a real concern. I actually weigh exactly the same now as I did before I started T, so I know I’ve probably not got too much to worry about, but fear isn’t always rational. It’s not helped by the various doctors in my life regularly greeting me with “Have you put on weight?” Thanks. And that brings me to the Trans Body Police.

As we transition, I have experienced a general assumption that one’s body and behaviour becomes public property. Intrusive questions about one’s lower anatomy aside, many people do feel free to ‘advise’ or ‘correct’ us, in the misguided hope that we’ll be grateful that we can ‘fit in’ better with some sort of gendered norm. Remarks about the way you walk, dress, carry yourself are seen as being ok. Weight becomes part of conversation. Perhaps I should say to someone “You know, the way you sat down in that chair made you look really mannish, and did you realise that that extra weight you’ve put on recently makes that skirt pretty unflattering”. Hmm – just as well I’m a nice person.

Chatting to transwomen, I’ve heard stories that make my toes curl where people have told them they need to look ‘a certain way’ to be a ‘Real Woman’. “You need bigger tits and should wear skirts more often”, for instance. But it’s not just looks, it’s behaviour. When did it become acceptable to tell someone their behaviour is ‘too masculine’ or ‘not masculine enough’, like there is some sort of gendered behaviour Plimsoll Line?

The trouble is, this isn’t just me ranting about ‘Other People’ not understanding the trans experience. The Trans Body Police come just as often from within the trans community. There are strong expectations for both transmen and transwomen to look and act a certain way, and when insults are wrapped up as advice, particularly from someone perceived as more experienced as yourself, it is easy to see where damage can be done.

Most of us have had to battle years of body dysphoria, years of not fitting in with our gender presentation, or social gendered expectations. Living in a body that feels alien for a long time causes problems that take time and love to unknot. We have made the decision to become ourselves and reunite the physical with the rest of us. A little genuine advice goes a long way, but misplaced comments wound those who definitely do not need to be wounded any more.