Friday, January 6, 2017

Water Under the Bridge



It’s early January 2017 and it’s over five months post Pride, Manchester Pride that is.  Pride here is a four day event in late summer. It may feel like Midwinter right now but I find the aftermath of Pride is a little like January too.  The highlight of the year seems like the end of one Queer Year and the beginning of another, a watershed. The firework display which marks the end of Pride is like a noisy, glittering full stop. Thereafter all seems quiet and a little restless. As Autumn and Winter set in, it’s been been a time for reflection on the past and thinking about the future

Not far from where I live in New Islington is a steep little bridge across the Rochdale Canal. It lies  at the end of Henry Street. So much water has quite literally gone under that bridge this year and, metaphorically, in my life: Over 14 months ago I finally got married.  It had been a long time coming:  Transhistoried women can normally only dream of life changing events like that, so seldom do they occur  Growing up with hatred and censure doesn’t exactly stop your dreams of a big white wedding but it does limit your chances. That I found happiness and a fairytale ending was a miracle; a win on the Transgender Lottery and a dream come true. 

I’ve blogged so little since my big day and said almost nothing about the wedding itself. That needs to be a post on its own I think. All you need to know for now is that my marriage to Mart, my husband, was here in Manchester.  It took place in the beautiful Britannia Hotel on Portland Street.  My childhood dream had been to marry a Prince in a palace. Well, hopeless Teen Dream box ticked. The Britannia Hotel is copied from a Venetian Palazzo, Il Fondaco di Turchi. 

Getting married in Manchester where I first went to College was also a promise to myself and my husband. A promise that one day I would return to live here again. Like my wedding dreams, I seemed to have no hope of realising that promise.  Working as a Teaching Assistant in North Wales, I did not earn enough to return; apartment rents can run at over £1,200 a month. City dwelling comes at a price; too high a price. I needed an opportunity.

Opportunities are a much misunderstood concept.  I barely understood them myself for so long.  I had the impression that they required planning, strict control, a clear vision and single minded dedication.  With hindsight the truth is somewhat different.  Opportunities aren’t created, neither do they respond well to control. They are fragile, ephemeral, slippery things that shape shift if you try to seize them too tightly. Opportunities can be surfed and ridden and in doing so, they lose nothing of their power. They are thermals to soar and climb with but they require courage and a leap of faith to follow.

Earlier this year I was in a crisis.  Since January it had become clear that my job was making me ill.  Mounting work, non-replacement of staff and an employer who seemed no longer to care, lead me downhill mentally and physically. I found myself having more and more time off work.  In addition, education is an intensely difficult profession for a transhistoried woman to work in.  Transphobia abounds in spite of policies and directives to the contrary.  Colleagues abound who see being Trans as a lifestyle choice capable of corrupting young people.  Some made my life intensely miserable. I was tolerated by others.Tolerance however should never be mistaken for acceptance. Acceptance embraces you, tolerance endures you under sufferance.

I chose a career in education because it seemed the only opportunity I would ever have to nurture and support children.  They were my substitute family and I poured all my caring and compassion into what I did. When, against the odds, I got a family, motherhood and later, a husband, I still persisted in that career, doggedly adhering to a script I had written out years ago.  I had promised myself that one day I would break free and work for myself. It was all about ‘UNTIL’, I would stick where I was until I had enough money, time, expertise and will to exploit a different opportunity. The only compensation was being busy. In a job I hated, it made me feel important even if  undervalued.

A friend wrote: ‘Stop the glorification of busy’. I wondered what on earth she meant.  I know now. Like so many things we value it is only when you relinquish ‘busy’ that you start living. Busy has little time for others, for compassion, art or pleasure. Fitting too much into too small a space isn't clever. Beautiful things get squashed in the process. It occurred to me that it was time to dispense with the 98% of useless, busy activity and do the good stuff well. Busy people are not good at surfing opportunities.  Belatedly, I realised that opportunities were actually all around. What I needed was a way to let go, launch myself on them and fly 

In April this year, events forced me into action.  A number of things happened in rapid succession.  A workplace that should have supported me, chose o do the opposite. Otherwise intelligent, right minded and respected individuals can have huge blindspots when it comes to gender variance.  It is made worse when they employ you.  Sometimes you stand and fight for what is right.  In the past I have done that time out of mind.  In the present case, when I looked around, it occurred to me that there was little of value left to fight for. It seemed better to walk away. In the end it was so easy to do. 

I spoke of a number of things.  Walking away from my job gave me courage to revive old ideas; launching my own business, working creatively, downsizing, living on a boat, working with my partner and returning to the city I love.  So many play with ideas like these but never put them into practice. I had followed a friend’s blog about boat living and running a business. I looked on with envy. I surmised I would never have the opportunity. Yet, I have previously run a business, I know boats well, I have lived simply, I’ve downsized once before, I’ve worked with a partner, all in a former life. The opportunities were already there.

Cue the Empress; a tarot card with deep relevance to me and Giovanna my new Italian friend. I’ll talk about both in my next Blog post!


Huggs, Jane xx

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Orlando Shootings and the Current Climate of Hate


Every day that morally minded people express their hatred of gay, lesbian, bi and trans people, the fuel for extreme acts piles up unattended.  'It's not right', 'they're peverted', 'it's an offence against God', 'we need to protect our children'....the list goes on.  Every comment adds another fluid ounce of gasoline to an ever increasing lake, evaporating it's highly volatile essence into the air. 

It's fine. We take precautions. Religious extremism might be tolerable in a free society as long as it's confined to the political arena.  Politically expressed hatred may be safe enough in a politically stable climate too.  A lone match stuck in its box won't ignite anything. Guns in locked cabinets don't kill people. But by peddling hate and indignation we create the fuel for attacks, shootings, brutal beatings and horror. 

If we continue to hate we provide the gun, the bullets and the motive to anyone who is ideoligally motivated to pull a trigger or toss a match into that gasoline. Let's end hate. It doesn't kill people but it gives oxygen and fuel to those who do.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Facing my Worst Nightmares and Living my Dreams


I have been dreaming a lot recently.  As I shift from one chapter of my life to a new one, there has been much reflection.  A good deal emerges in your sleep.  There are dreams and then there are nightmares.  There are semi lucid nightmares too where you flip back and forth between control to helplessness.

You know that dream where you a running down a long corridor searching for the way out? You see it and make for the exit, your enemies in hot pursuit.  You know you can make it. You can see the outside world.  Then suddenly you are back in the corridor again.  Panic sets in. The very walls begin to surround and trap you. 

If I'm lucky it ends quickly. I wake and realise that it's just a bad dream. I turn over, rest my head on my husband's shoulder and he cuddles and protects me.

This Friday I am quitting my job in education in order to start my own business.  The decision has been a long time coming.  I realise that I pass well and go under the radar so much of the time.  It has its advantages and disadvantages.  You get to feel like everyone else, most of the time.  Some people however never forget.  

Those childhood experiences of being forced to be someone you are not, revisit you again.  In the grown up world of work there are still those who wish to send you back where you came from; deny your right to use a bathroom or even worse your right to be. In education you are often seen as less than worthy; someone who is likely to cause harm; unduly influence others by 'promoting a lifestyle choice' or not adhering to professional standards.  These standards are likely to get adjusted to deliberately exclude you if they do not already do so. You find that although a thin tolerance is practiced, there is never genuine acceptance.

So many of us try very hard to combat this. These days we've got quite good at dealing with the easy stuff. Overt transphobia is relatively straightforward to cope with.  You have right on your side and quite often it appears to go away.  But it returns. From then on it works subtly and quietly in blocks, fault finding, rumour spreading and worse. This is much harder to deal with.  

Fighting covert transphobia is like fighting an invisible, shape changing enemy. One that switches to a different mode of attack the second it is exposed.  If you are really unfortunate, it works its way like a disease, even higher in the organisation where you work. The behaviour becomes institutionalised and enters the walls and fabric all around you.  Before long it is everywhere as those who don't have an opinion take on that of the bigots. Even when you sleep you have nightmares about it.

Sadly, this is not paranoia.  I wish it was.  You can treat that. Instead, this is the reality that so many of us deal with year in year out.  I used to think ignoring it and walking away was the answer but if you leave it unchecked it just seems to get worse. Sometimes you just have to make a stand.  That may mean outing yourself or being outed. I suspect that the more of us who do this, the less we will live in fear.

Well now I'm replacing my nightmares with my waking dreams.  This Friday At 4pm I walk away to become my own boss.  In time, as my business grows, I hope to employ others.  If and when I do, I promise to make it a workplace where no one need fear because they are different.

Huggs,

Jane xx

Friday, May 20, 2016

Counselling, Coffee and the Future Mrs W.



I write this as a come towards the end of my first year as a trainee counsellor.  

A few weeks ago, I took the bold step of quitting my job as a TA in College. I'm now planning a new business which will involve, among other things, bringing decent, uplifting coffees to customers at events and markets. I'm on the verge of something refreshing, invigorating and new. It's time to pause, breathe and take stock of things. 

As a child, my fave story was Cinderella.  It had a special significance and I hung on to reading that battered picture book way into my teens. It was a comfort blanket. Winnicott (if you're a counsellor) would call it a transition object.  

Without a doubt, Cinderella happened. Last year I married Prince Charming in a Fairytale Palace.  My beloved Manchester doesn't have one but the Britannia Hotel, Portland St. is a copy of the Fondaco dei Turchi Palazzo in Venice and will more than do. My husband, Mart Williams is TOTALLY Prince Charming.  I'm a 'transhistoried' woman and an Encore Bride, I've dated a string of total A* holes and I know a true Prince when I see one! 

There is a danger however in spending your life living in fairytales. You can miss enjoying it and worst of all, miss being the leading lady for real. The truth is, fairytales are encapsulates of all our experiences; commonalities relevant to us all.  

A few weeks since I woke up abruptly realising I'd been Sleeping Beauty.  Working as a TA for 19 years was not dissimilar to 100 years sleep.  Wide awake now I'm aware that my talent for making someone's day and giving them insight is stranded through my life like a silver thread.  It shone out occasionally in the classroom but got so muffled.  It is difficult for people to forget your trans history.  For some I would always be what they thought I once was.  I grew to understand that tolerance was about a hundred million miles away from acceptance. As I grew disillusioned, I clung on to my job with my fingernails but also became a student again. I accepted less disposable income but began a process of winding my life back to where I could relive it as I needed to.

I love my fellow students. The first year of our Counselling Diploma course has given us all superpowers whether we chose to recognise it or not; the ability to read minds and reflect the contents back to others. I could use that power for good or evil, without a doubt. Whether I spend the next few years serving lattes to my world weary customers at 6.30 am or listening to their woes as a therapist, I will at least have (belatedly) woken up to using my superpowers for good as opposed to scarcely using them at all.

Becoming a counsellor and a barista are much the same thing.  They both involve extracting the bitterness and creating something worthy and uplifting in the here and now. Here's to a new grind and changing people's lives with coffee and unconditional positive regard.

Huggs,

Jane xx


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Saying Hello to Innocence


Wow, it seems like the end of summer, a rather damp few months but fizzing with the most amazing experiences, moments like those you experienced as a child. You know, the ones you thought would go on forever.

In recent years I've revisited summers like those childhood and teenage ones; footloose free holidays, colorful festivals, dancing outdoors, raves, songwriting, guitar playing, bike riding, Daisy Duke & Bikini top wearing, beach days and living on way less money...it has been a blast and I've loved every single fun packed nano second. It's been unforgettable.

Yesterday, while an alt, metal, ska band rocked the community stage I saw a T shirt I've seen a good deal before but was drawn to reprocess: It has a silhouette of Tinkerbell and the tag line; 'Don't Grow Up, It's a Trap'. At one time I would have disagreed but I'm of the contrary opinion now. Ten years ago I got to press 'freeze' and 'rewind'. I had the privilege of starting life over & this time I got the chance to do it right. 'Growing Up' is for cynics, for the 'I thought that at your age' brigade....This time I won't bother to make the switch. It is indeed a trap; a trap that's hard to escape. If growing up means leaving love and innocence behind, saying goodbye to trusting and accepting life at face value, claiming that harsh realities put an end to dreams, count me out: I want none of it. Maturity and the caring, accepting values of childhood can coexist. I'll take that any day over conservative hatred and intolerance.

Next month I cease to be a 'Miss'. I put on a beautiful white dress, signifying my innocence, and marry the man to whom I give my heart, Mart Williams. There are some out there who say this is all wrong, that it is un-natural', an abomination against nature and that such a marriage is hateful . What gives you the right to say that?  Would you have said the same when you were a child? Somehow I doubt it. Growing up you left so much behind....mostly the good stuff.

I'm heading into work now, mud on my converse and the cleanest, workiest clothes I can find (leggings and a striped Bardot neck top). It's the easiest option without rushing home to get changed. I still have a festival cape in my shoulder bag. It's safe there just like my memories of a summer well spent. Here's raising a mug of filter coffee to the future, to marriage, to innocence and not growing up. 

Just bring it on!

Huggs, Jane xx


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Wedding Flowers and the delightful Northern Flower

Northern Flower on Tib St. 
This is a copy of a post on my blog 'Jane's Essential Addictions 'Wedding Flowers and the delightful Northern Flower'.  For those of you who want to follow my continuing story and path to bridal bliss, here is my latest offering :) xx

Choosing flowers for my big day! YAY!

It's a strange but much of the language related to weddings has the focus of 'HER' big day.  The groom doesn't get much of a look in in all of this does he? My dress, veil, tiara, shoes and jewellery come to 5 times the cost of the suit hire for him and all of his groomsmen combined! Now I have my dress, my attention has turned to what else I'll wear, what I'll be carrying with me on the day and you guessed it; the wedding flowers. Those of you who follow this blog's Pinterest feed will know I've already pinned 71 pins to my 'Wedding Flowers' board! Some pictures even made it onto a mood board (you can create yours too at http://www.hitched.co.uk )

Jane's Floral Mood Board on 'Hitched'

So white roses then? Err no! So why not? There is so much talk of themes in bridal magazines and online these days.  Everyone (female) wants to know what my theme is.  So many of my friends have had or want quite outrageous themes.  Is it acceptable to say 'I just want a beautiful classical wedding?' Is THAT a theme or, as some seem to think, just a boring choice? Well, let's call the theme of my wedding: 'Chic City Classic with a slightly Boho twist', will that do?  We chose the grand, deeply retro Britannia on Manchester's bustling Portland St. for it's grandiose proportions, vintage chandeliers and beautiful staircase.

The Crystal Suite, Britannia Hotel, Portland St. Manchester

As a girl I dreamed of marrying my Prince in a Fairytale Castle.  Well having found Prince Martin, The Britannia, Portland Street is the nearest a girl can get to a latter day city castle. It comes complete (quite literally) with turrets, immense kitchens, banqueting halls and a truly grand staircase. So where does the boho touch come in?

Here's the shock; I don't want a bouquet of white roses.  White roses have become a wedding cliche. I do like them.  My mother had red roses but I wanted something alternative with a little seasonal October flair; I wanted snowberries.

Snowberries? Snowberries are a delightful wintery, magical and incredibly pretty alternative for white winter wedding bouquets.  My wedding is on October 28th this year, not in the very heart of the season but on the threshold.  I wanted to add a unique and quirky boho touch to my bouquet for the boutonnieres and my bridesmaid's posies.  Here's the sort of things I have in mind:



Snowberries combine well with so many other white flowers; lilies, spray roses and a little greenery to give a beautiful textured wintery romance to an October wedding bouquet.  It's such a lovely idea.

So how did I go about achieving all of this.  I didn't want any ordinary florists's shop. Cue Northern Flower in Manchester's Northern Quarter. Imagine a cute, quirky little boutique florist's, a potting shed style shop on Tib Street. It stands next to Sugar Junction; one of my fave tea shops and is staffed by Rowan and Lyndzey.  Nothing was too much trouble and I got the friendliest service when I went there to discuss floral arrangements.  My previous forays into flower shops have left me underwhelmed, frustrated that we weren't on the same wavelength. My experience has been shops that are sterile, over clever and immaculately arranged, who try to impose their own preconceived ideas on you.  My experience at Northern Flower was the opposite, completely different, helpful and incredibly easy.  I left feeling happy and even closer to the wedding of my dreams.

Lyndzey and Rowan

So what next? I'm sure you can imagine; centrepieces, menus, groomsmen, favours, honeymoon arrangements, hairstyles....so much to blog about!

Hugs,

Jane (the soon to be Mrs Williams ;) xx

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Maids in Waiting


This is a defining moment for me; my 100th post. I'm now a very different person to the shy, diffident girl who penned her first blogging effort back in 2011. My eighth post was entitled 'Wedding Belle Blues'.  In that piece I mused about relationships and what the future might hold. Now I'm planning my wedding! Being Trans that is one very special journey for me but how different is it to anyone else?

Since transition I've found myself increasingly aware that most of us Brides have so much in common.  I look around me and find that suddenly, everyone seems to be newly married or a Bride to be.  From being Gender Dysphoric, I'm now Euphoric.  I love being me, I'm happy, I have friends, a job, a social life, a family, a 'husband to be' and now.....

I have bridesmaids....


Such an iconic photo! I totally love that film.  The photo: totes amazeballs,  I must get one taken of me and my maids like that.  Here, hold the camera, stand over there, hang on a minute, we won't be a sec....just a few little probs to smooth out....

Choosing an MoH and Maids is:

PROBLEM No. 1.  There are all manner of articles about this onlin, including algorithms and decision trees (for the project management minded) and good old fashioned Mumsy advice for more spontaneous Bride.

I started off with two maids.  Talking to other brides and friends at work, it seems that's how it usually begins. Having two bridesmaids keeps things nice and simple: There are only two dresses to buy, two posies to arrange for, two sets of accessories and presents. Apparently it hardly ever stays that way.

It hasn't.  First there is J a colleague at work; confidential, wonderfully supportive, recently married and full of good advice and good ideas.  She wouldn't be my MoH on the day but was happy to do everything else. This lead to me asking: G: a best friend from school, I sang with her, she's very organised, a Girl Guide leader and now my MoH.  Only one maid in a dress on the day? That won't do, which lead me to ask: K a co-worker and total girl like me.  She is LGBT savvy, very petite and a great friend.

Still, on reflection, 2 barely seemed enough which lead to me asking S. She is a fab, fun loving friend with a smile that can light up a whole room, she lives 2 hours away in the Midlands, she's always wanted to be a bridesmaid. Now I'm begining to wonder whether 3 maids on the day isn't a little lop sided...wouldn't it be better to ask another,( J, my longtime hair stylist and friend) to join us and make it an even 4? OMG what am I getting myself into!

Those of you who've been involved in weddings before will know that bridesmaids come in ALL shapes and sizes from petite and pint sized to curvy and womanly.  So...

PROBLEM No. 2 is finding a dress to suit everyone.  That's where I am now.  I had visions of everyone in floor length strapless chiffon gowns but there's no way THAT's going to happen!  My choice of navy blue has gone down very well. It's flattering for most people and not so bridesmaidy that you can't wear it again afterwards. We've settled on Tea length for now....I think (hence the picture above). There is some uneasiness amongst some about bare arms....but I'm hoping for the best.  The last thing I want is anyone feeling uncomfortable or wearing a dress they hate. So now to get the dresses bought.  That brings me to....

PROBLEM No. 3: My maids are scattered all over the UK...Yorkshire, Worcestershire, Anglesey, Denbighshire, Conwy...Convinced it would be impossible to get everyone together to go shopping ANY time soon, I've gone down the road of ordering 'prêt-à-porter' from a major supplier and having them delivered to try on.  Problems abound: We all, (myself included) consider ourselves a size smaller than we really are, especially when it comes to weddings.  Sending items back and re-odering new sizes becomes hideously complicated when one person pays but another takes delivery (wedding suppliers...GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER!) We're in the process of doing all of this now. I'll let you know when we're done!

You're okay standing there holding that camera aren't you? You might be waiting a little while!

Hugs,

Jane xx

(the soon to be Mrs Jane Williams)