Thursday, April 20, 2017

Jig-saw puzzles and Therapy


I've already spoken of Janet, my childhood friend from Infant School (Kindergarten).  Two rather lonely children, we used to enjoy sharing jig-saw puzzles in school.  The puzzles were old.  Some had tatty boxes, some were simply a bundle of pieces in a plastic bag. As we struggled to build a complete picture, there were many challenges.  We would share the work, each trying to build little islands of pieces which fit together, giving part of the whole.  If there was a box, we might have some idea of what the puzzle represented.  Sometimes, the pieces were in the wrong box entirely, a picture of a dog might actually turn out to be a cat. When jig-saws were dismantled rapidly they might end up getting mixed: The worst case scenario was to work with two incomplete puzzles in an anonymous bag; a ship and a castle maybe. That was a frantically frustrating experience. Much later, as an Early Years teacher myself, I would stay behind after school trying vainly to sort such messes out!

Building a jig-saw without access to the full picture depends on guesswork. Not knowing what something is supposed to be means you can't pre-judge the outcome.  Working with the wrong picture entirely means you may go frantic trying to make sense of pieces that don't fit. Assembling a mixture of pieces means that there is no satisfying outcome. The result at best is two partial pictures which defy anyone's expectations.  The result can be at times funny or saddening depending on your outlook. Funny because the juxtaposition of two mismatched images looks crazy, saddening because things aren't as you want them to be.

Before my transition, casual acquaintances thought they knew me: an Early Years Teacher, stay at home parent, trainee counsellor, educator, kind, empathic, listening, approachable and without doubt, a man. Some of these described only parts of me, the last didn't describe me at all.

To my mother, my closest friends and partner, I was an anxious, often depressive individual, possibly Gay, maybe bi-sexual, creative, unconventional and easily hurt. To my youngest daughter I was always her Mum and friend, to my eldest I was her inspiration and intellectual sparring partner.  To my father, I was assumed to be his son. There were so many expectations, so many pictures to match the pieces. I grew up with a very confused idea of who I was, torn between who I felt inside and what others expected me to be. Counsellors call those expectations 'conditions of worth': a child strives to meet them in order to receive love. It doesn't help you get to know yourself, if anything it frustrates and confounds that process.

Nobody knows everything about themselves. Counsellors use a familiar illustrative concept to help explore their client's sense of self. The 4 panes of the Johari Window explain how patchy and unreliable our self knowledge can be. For those of us in the trans community, so much can be kept hidden. To complicate matters further, what is open is not always genuine either, much like a jig-saw in the wrong box. As for our blind spots and the murky depths of our unknown, these are difficult areas for most Trans individuals. Many of us have spent years trying to conform and have almost come to believe the illusion ourselves.  I was no exception. 

For transsexual women and others with gender identity issues, the journey toward greater self awareness can be a long one. I spent four years in therapy trying to establish my gender identity. Even exploring that open area was like navigating a minefield.  I had to contend with how others thought they saw me, as male, female, gay, bisexual or non-binary. As I started on my journey, others were very keen to volunteer their opinion on who I was too.  Many were sure that I was transsexual and would soon want hormone therapy and surgery.  Others who had known me longer wanted to claim me as a TV or CD.  Gay friends tried to persuade me that I was simply a Gay guy in denial. Some unkind feminists told me I was mentally ill man who was out to mutilate and destroy myself. Only the first was accurate.

I was lucky to have an excellent help from my psychosexual therapist, Martin Riley.  It was his suggestion that I write this blog in the first place.  The first 70 blogposts encapsulated the content of our therapy sessions and the insights they unearthed. I found myself, for the first time, in a safe space where I could explore my upbringing, my conditions of worth mentioned above and the feelings I had been unwilling to deal with.  It is all there in my blog.  Exploring the past and present, therapy also gives you the tools to continue that journey toward self actualisation.  That is one reason I've kept blogging, even after my transition was complete.

When I began therapy, I was on the run from 3 failed suicide attempts and in a depressed, 'gotta get outa here' state.  Others had successfully convinced me that the only way out was GRS. I was almost obsessive and compulsive in my quest for hormone therapy and surgery. My therapist encouraged me to quietly throw all that aside. From then on, I began to calmly unpick who I really was.  He quite rightly pointed out that if I wasn't a woman now, no amount of surgery would ever make me one.  Surgery is confirming, not reassigning, 'swapping' or changing. Indeed, nobody can make a woman out of a man if she is not already intrinsically female. Surgery in such cases would be a huge mistake and mutilation indeed.

Those of you who have followed this blog from the beginning will realise that I've always been a girl whether I chose to admit it or not.  I was brought up by a loving attentive Mum who saw the girl in me but kept her own counsel. Society was unaccepting of Trans individuals and I was protected by well meaning parents from hate they thought I would experience.  I made my own way through childhood with much pain and through my teens with even more.  Small, slight, high voiced, androgynously dressed, I picked my way through life, miserably unconfident and hating the bits of me that didn't fit.  I lived in my head most the time, always a girl. An attempt to fit in with the gay community back in the day failed miserably, as did marrying another girl. Some positives emerged like motherhood and a career as a kindergarten teacher but they were all poisoned by my being perceived as a man.

I'm lucky to be a happily married woman now and mother to four kids.  It's been a long time since all those angst ridden years. I've lived almost 40% of my adult life as the woman I am now Paradoxically, I've been female my whole life.  In the process of understanding that, I've learned an important lesson. It is all too easy to think you know yourself and make to huge mistakes. It is even easier to pontificate about who you believe others are and what their destiny is.  You don't know and can't know.  It is dangerous to suggest that you do, sometimes hurtful and always misleading. People are unique, not all of a piece.  It is dangerous to apply labels like transsexual, gay, TV or CD without thought. With help from a skilled therapist, individuals do have a fighting chance of discovering who they really are.  They can't be 'told', they have to find out in a safe place where they can cope with their discoveries. I'm so lucky I got that chance.

I have said it before, but it is worth repeating.  I am not an inspiration or an icon to be admired and followed. I am simply me. If what I share seems familiar, it may be a pattern to follow.  If so, do it carefully and still take time to discover the real you.  You might be transsexual but on the other hand you might be bi-gender, non-binary, gay, a TV or CD or any combination of these things. Before ever you take hormone therapy, embark on a surgical path or anything irreversible, take counsel, get help and take good care.  

You have one life given to you, live it well.

Huggs, Jane xx

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Resurrection and Freedom, Chocolate and Inclusion

Here's hoping that you all might have some time off to enjoy a break. Happy Easter. It is also the sixth day of Passover as I write. 

Me and my husband have two blissful days off. The market we trade in generally is closed today as well as Monday. We were working till 5pm yesterday however and it was still so cold!

There's no doubt it's Spring here in Manchester though. A cormorant has taken up residence, fishing on the Marina. The geese, in pairs are so noisy right now. The swans are nesting on an island in the lake and a pair of goldfinches were seen by the nest boxes in the lane. The cowslips are out and the bats have started flying out in the evening. Love is in the air, passion, new life in the freedom of the outdoors.

Easter and Passover are religious festivals. Though there's a religious basis to the holiday, the retail focus here in the UK is largely chocolate and sweets. You can't escape it, there is never any shortage. I've too have served a good deal of delicious hot chocolate recently, sweet indulgent coffees with fragrant syrups and offered pain chocolat to my customers. 'Naughty but nice' is often used to describe them. It's also a phrase we use for taboo sexual indulgence too. Sinful or not? Some would say were conceived in sin. Does that make sex sinful? I'm a chocolate addict myself, I love good coffee, I see no harm in a little pleasurable indulgence but then I see no sin or harm in consensual, joyful sex either. I also see no harm in someone's sexual choices, their sexual expression, orientation or gender identity. Not everyone sees things this way. 

It is nearing the end of Passover and the Easter break. Unlike the Christian message of resurrection, Passover is, in essence about celebrating freedom. It is a message I'm taking to heart this year. Like others, I've watched in horror as in Chechnya Gay men have been rounded up, killed or placed in concentration camps. It made me think about freedom.

Passover recalls the flight from Egypt of the Jewish people and the regaining of freedom; freedom from slavery. The U.K. doesn't have slavery but freedom isn't exactly equal even now.  You are free to be openly Trans or Gay but don't expect to enjoy quite the same rights as others.  Some may feel compelled to complain about you, attack you, call you names or find ways of excluding you from jobs, deny your right to be male or female or bizarrely, to use toilets. In spite of inequalities however, I'm left, once again, reflecting that I'm lucky to live in here Western Europe. In many countries I would not even be recognized as a woman and my marriage to my husband Mart would be not certainly not be legal. 

Let's celebrate the freedoms we have, fight hard to maintain them but also campaign for more. Trans people will only be truly free when we have a society that includes everyone and celebrates difference. 

Much love and peace this Passover and Easter, 

HUGGS Jane xx

Sent from my iPhone

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Slut-shaming, Sex, Empowerment and Body Positivity

A number of us were approached recently to make an artistic statement.  Artist, Tim Illife has invited contributions to a large art installation touring a venues across the border in Wales. The exhibition will consist of a number of boxes representing the state or contents of contributors' minds.

Should I contribute even if anonymously? The request stirred up all sorts of thoughts, many painful. I am not Welsh though I am a Welsh speaker.  A native of Leeds, now living in Manchester, I turned my back on Wales last year and permanently relocated to Manchester. A trans-historied, sex positive woman, I left because of judgement and stigma around my gender identity as well as slut shaming because of my lifestyle. It was a wrench. My husband, who came with me, is Welsh, my children were born and still live in Wales, I lived and worked there as an educator too.

Manchester with its Gay Village, Pride, Hipster community and progressive city attitudes is a far cry from rural Wales. The acceptance I enjoy in MCR is unattainable where I once lived: Possibly a mix of misplaced religious disapprobation and small minded conservatism are to blame but I'm still not sure.  What remains is that, by some, I'm a considered either a freak or a slut where I once lived and a happily married woman and mother where I live now. This is not a Welsh problem, but a whole world one. I'm sharing my thoughts with you now, so why not in art? Here goes.

Sex positivity is not about having lots of sex, it isn't about unlimited one night stands and free love: It is about openness; female empowerment; joyful, consensual, sexual enjoyment and a woman's right to celebrate her own body. It is about portraying her body as beautiful and not shameful. Slut shaming can involve judgement about the length of a woman's skirt, her sexuality and lifestyle or her choice of a career in the sex industry. There are many more examples but the intention is always the same, to control women and to limit their sexuality though systematic, emotional abuse. So if you are into threesomes, swinging or work as a porn model or stripper, and it gets known, you can forget any chance of a 'responsible' job. You can also expect, censure and maybe even professional investigation. Beware, you will endure this in spite of breaking no law and harming nobody. Men who do these things are considered (with a wry smile) as 'a bit of a lad'. They get acknowledgement of sexual prowess in descriptions like 'stud' and 'stallion'. Women like me are simply demeaned as 'cheap sluts'. There is no equality in slut shaming.

I have suffered all of these things and made the decision to move on. Previously called 'freak', 'offence against nature' and a slut, my right to work as an educator was questioned. Latterly, as a model I have been treated with respect for being an empowered woman.  As a female entrepreneur too I have been acknowledged for being an innovator and a contributor to society. Which is right? It seems that the answer depends on geography and varying societal attitudes. While some of us revere Madonna, Amber Rose, Lady Gaga and Black Chyna for their confident sexuality, others see them as shocking examples of poor morals.

My thought box then is spilling over with all of these things. It is pictured above. Sewn with a pair of my panties, covered in insults, yet also empowering statements, it represents the turmoil of some of the recent past and my current self-affirmation.

Huggs, Jane xx

Friday, March 31, 2017

Making the Hidden Visible - Imaginary Playmates, Trans Visibility and Sex Positivism

The picture above is me: out proud, sexy, unashamed, posing on a wall looking carefree and happy. I'm Trans-historied. My gender status is legally female. The photo was taken by my husband who is legally married to me here in the UK. Gay and Trans rights are so much better now than before. Indeed some question whether we still need to campaign and fight for them. I've even wondered so myself.

I grew up as a child with a secret, imaginary group of playmates.  So many kids have imaginary friends.  They provide a platform for rehearsing and exploring experiences outside the child's own. Lonely children find a companion that comforts them whether it be a friend or an animal.  It's all in your head.  When you're a Trans child, you live in your head.  The life you lead bears no resemblance to the one you need in order to help you thrive.  Little girls crave other girls to play with, I did too. Until I went to school it was Julie, the girl across the road. When I started school, that had to change. Boys are supposed to play ball with other boys, not skipping with the girls. Julie and I didn't play together after that. I made friends with Janet, another lonely soul in the playground but then her family moved away. Then I too became a loner, living inside my head with Janet and Julie living on as my imaginary playmates. Teachers told my Mum, with concern, that I was withdrawn and unsociable. Unknown to them, my imaginary life, though invisible to others, sustained me and held me up.  Looking back, the imaginary experiences are the ones I cherish most. They helped me keep the faith in who I was and develop as I needed to be.

As I write, today marks Transgender Day of Visibility (TDOV). TDOV aims to promote acceptance of Trans people, safeguarding their rights and combatting hatred. Hatred relies on stereotyping groups of people and on self-limiting mindsets.  Too often these are fuelled by a press whose prevalent view of a Trans person is 'a man in a dress'. The woman inside is cruelly willed into forced invisibility. The man on the outside is seen as a fake to be condemned or ridiculed.

Ironically, more often than not I AM 'invisible' these days. Running a barista coffee business means that I am 'that smiley, happy girl who makes such nice coffee'. Apparently invisible in plain sight, an attractive woman working alongside her husband, I'm where I always wanted to be as a child. I'm simply a woman. 

Growing up I had, ironically, longed to be an ordinary girl like everyone else, blend in and be unexceptional. I was the boy who wanted to grow up and be a Mum and a wife, not a pilot or a policeman. I viewed the bullying and hatred I received as being my fault.  Becoming invisible seemed the way forward.

Even though I craved invisibility years ago, I can see now what a dangerous place it is.  You are benignly invisible if you stick to the rules and accept the norms that society demands. Step outside them and you are faced with a choice: Make yourself invisible again or make yourself scarce. An adult living in a conservative rural area, I rapidly discovered those norms were very restrictive indeed.  Step outside them, dare to be visible and you are a target. Those norms don't just exclude transgenders: A 'man in a dress' lies on a par with a woman who wears short skirts and low necklines; who owns her sexuality and sexual choices; who admits to enjoying sex and is willing to talk about it or who works in the porn industry.

As well as being a Trans-historied woman I am also a sex positive feminist. Sex positivism arose as a reaction against anti-pornography feminism. Slut shaming those who work in the porn industry relies on the flawed, patriarchal notion that sex is something that men enjoy and which women provide. A women however should be free to enjoy sex on her own terms in a mutual, consensual way. I believe that sexual choices should be a woman's own.  She should never be shamed, stigmatised or judged for them. She should be respected as an equal partner in a joyful act that is an inherent part of our adult lives. If she chooses to model and celebrate her bodily beauty that is her decision. If she chooses to be celibate, that too is her choice. Sex positivism is not about lots of sex but about open discourse and the removal of stigma from sexual choices. However, if you air ideas like that in a provincial, semi-rural community, you get branded a slut.

Being invisible with either gender identity or sex positivism then, involves hiding aspects of yourself.  When we hide we get smaller, shrink into ourselves and become islands in an uncaring sea.  It is a dismal place to be.  More importantly, invisibility breeds ignorance in others.  Our Trans or Positivist invisibility allows others to pretend there is bland homogeneity and that diversity in sex or gender is deviance. It also prevents others seeing they are not alone.

I am lucky. I live and work now in one of the most vibrant, sexually accepting, gay friendly cities in Europe.  Manchester is full of tolerance and acceptance. I can walk reasonably safely, hand in hand with my bi-gender partner when she presents as a woman. My city hosts the UK's national Gay radio station and one of the largest Prides. There is a safe zone in the form of the Gay Village where I can party. Our Lord Mayor is proudly and openly Gay and I live in one of the hippest, coolest parts of town. From outer space however it is a tiny rainbow on a huge grey background. As President Trump begins to erode Gay rights in the US, Putin stifle them in Russia and other countries kill and imprison Gays, you begin to see that rainbow fade. 

The woman in the picture above would need to cover up to please so many people, even though it would stop her keeping cool. She is still considered a man in many countries, her marriage to her husband is not legally recognised. Today, visibility for sexual orientation, gender and sexual freedom is more needed than ever. 

Hugs, Jane xx

Friday, March 24, 2017

First Dance


With a political mother and an engineer father, I frequently got taken to official functions with dancing.  Dancing at such formal occasions invariably meant ballroom social dances. Trans girls have a problem.  If you learn any dances, they teach you to lead. Lead tends to be associated with males. Ballroom can seem like a rather patriarchal dance style where men show off their lady, hold her and guide her. She wears a cocktail dress, he wears a suit. It's an area of life, like school uniform, where gender differences are deeply polarised. 

My mother loved to dance and as a teen I grew up wanting to dance too. I learned to social cha-cha and waltz but little more.  I seldom had a partner and when I did it felt awkward: Dancing lead came about as naturally as wearing a shirt, tie and trousers. In other words, not. For a girl who grew up making her own dresses and skirts in secret it hurt to even try to lead. I sometimes used to practise the girl's steps alone in my room. All from memory. It just felt lonely and sad. As for weddings, I had been taken to them too, watching wistfully the Bride and Groom took their first romantic dance.  The idea that that the Bride might one day be me was a total fantasy and I knew tearfully well it was never going to happen.

Trans Brides to Be can therefore be less than prepared when it comes to their own wedding. My eight month engagement was spent frantically learning to Salsa, Mambo and Merengue. Why did nobody tell me that dancing felt so good for a girl? Next to sex it is one of the most satisfying, exhilarating things you can do with your partner. 

Social salsa is traditionally danced and styled closer than ballroom.  It can be close and flirtatious if you wish but at the heart of it are those little hand, arm and wrist movements from your lead. He directs you. In hold you need to know where he wants you to go, what he wants you to do and what he has decided to do with you next.  His hand communicates that to you. He makes the rules and you follow, styling your moves to suit his wishes but also to have fun.  My mother brought me up a feminist. I have her to thank that I became a strong, confident albeit rather lonely woman. Salsa opened up a whole new world for me, learning to trust my partner, anticipate his wishes and let him make the decisions.  Anyone who has danced Salsa will tell you you're courting disaster if the girl tries to lead her guy.

So after all the beautiful banqueting, the sparkling wine, the wedding breakfast and the heartwarming speeches came the evening reception and dancing.  Traditionally, the Bride sits there looking beautiful during the Wedding Breakfast.  She says almost nothing. After being the centre of attention and having so much to say during the ceremony, it is a blessed relief! I got up briefly to speak (a little emotionally) about missing my parents but otherwise I kept to tradition and just smiled. Who could blame me if it was mainly at the amazing man who had just become my husband.

There was time to chill after the wedding breakfast, time to retreat to the Bridal suite, kiss, love and spend time with my husband...There was also time to be nervous about that first dance.  All those eyes on you, that choreography, the desire to look like the perfect couple....The first time we had danced together was late at night, on board ship somewhere between England and Belgium. The onstage band played Amy Winehouse's 'Valerie'.  We freestyled and the floor cleared so people could watch. It was the time I first realised 'Wow, this guy can DANCE!' We finished to a round of applause that stunned me.  So much in the zone with him, I hadn't been nervous.

As we practised during the months before the wedding, it became clear that he would need to get used to having me in a gown.  Traditionally, the groom doesn't see the wedding dress until the big day.  I guess I'm a traditional girl. I wanted to see the look on his face when I first entered the ceremony room. I wasn't disappointed. That left a problem though.  How do a couple who normally dance so close get used to the dress? I tried asking around friends to borrow a dress the same size but to no avail. We then tried dancing with me in a hoop petticoat.  It helped us to make some adjustments but it was clear that cross body leads would be particularly difficult.

The music we chose was 'Refugio de Amor' by Chayanne and Vanessa Williams, a beautiful love duet, all 5 minutes 28 seconds of it! The track begins so delicately with a lilting melody then picks up pace. By the time of the dance I was petrified.  This wasn't an impromptu, 'let's hit the dance floor' moment, you get announced and everyone watches.

I need not have worried. In the end the music took over and my deep affection for a man who truly loves and cares for me  I put myself quite literally in his hands. Dance is about trust, so important when you're in a floor length gown and heels.  You depend on him to lead you expertly and well.  He depends on you to hold your weight and balance.  Your first dance is a test of love, dependency and trust, it symbolises so much of what is to come and how you will cope.  This is not romantic nonsense, it is the essential for life with your partner and soulmate.  Without it you will trip and fall.....and we didn't.

He can remove his jacket to dance, but warning for her, dresses with layers of tulle underneath are hot to wear.  By the time we had danced more, I simply had to get outside to get cool. I recall negotiating the steps of the hotel entrance. We stood outside on Portland Street in the cool of an October city night.  It was so blissful. Totally wrapped up in each other we were barely aware of the traffic or the passers by. We have a selfie to remember it by.

And so to bed. Wedding dresses are like beautiful wrapping paper.  They take ages to put on. They also take ages to undo.  Mine laced at the back.  Once tied I couldn't unlace it myself. Your bridesmaids dress you but after that it's all down to your groom. It's traditional to leave the party early and lose yourself in each other. Why else are you getting married? Unwrapping a present is full of anticipation.  Everyone gets to see your dress but only he gets to see what is beneath.  A first dance is a metaphor for that first intimacy....or first intimacy now you're married.  Even if you have loved before, this moment is always so longed for.  Like Salsa, it involves trust and breathtaking exhilaration. It is also about the ultimate in closeness and loving; a moment your vows become a marriage. I felt well and truly married that day.

Huggs, Jane xx 

Friday, March 17, 2017

A Cinderella Story

Someone once told me that if you look back on a defining moment and it still brings emotion, it was, and is, the real deal.  Life is full of those moments; birth, coming of age, first love, first sex, your first child and if you're a #girlikeus, transition. Marriage is one of those too. At birth we are intensely bombarded with sensations we never remember. In giving birth we are forever changed, creating new life and accepting the responsibility it brings. Marriage creates something new too. The transition from 'before' to 'after' in all these events creates watershed divisions, changing us for ever and determining our next steps.

No wonder that as girls growing up, we dream of what marriage might bring.  As a teen, we dream of white weddings and happy ever afters. At least I did. I had been to enough weddings as a child to be captivated by the whole process; the romance and the fairytale wonder.  The stories you read growing up are interlaced and woven with this golden thread. Indeed, so many fairytales end with the girl marrying her Prince and becoming a Princess. The Big White Wedding becomes a star on the horizon, something we long for, something we get to if we're especially lucky.

As a girl, I always envied any friend who got chosen to be a flower girl, or even, a bridesmaid. A pretty dress and a supporting role in the proceedings, a posy of flowers and a photographic smile...was I just being shallow? If they mistakenly class you as a boy at birth, these things take on a different perspective.  There will never be any of those, never, not in a million years, not in a million tears. Not only will you never be a bridesmaid, you won't be a bride either.  This isn't a matter of being left on the're just the wrong gender entirely. End of dreams, end of hopes. Put those wedding dress designs in the bin girl, because you're a boy. Suck it up. Even fairytale magic can't fix that one. There was never going to be a Cinderella ending. The average Fairy Godmother would fall about laughing at the very idea. 

Two days ago, walking down Oldham Street, Manchester with my husband, I popped into Smart City Tailors.  I needed a quote to have my wedding dress cleaned. I marvel that this short paragraph still belongs to the same life, so much has changed.

I've never actually blogged about my wedding day.  Some have asked, but in the heady whirl following my marriage there wasn't much time.  Let's do it now. Was it all my childhood dreams had hoped for? I'd like to unpick that and decide.

Every girl's wedding is different, each bride has her own perspective. Mine was one of lying awake, sharing a room with Sharon, one of my bridesmaids and desperately missing the man I was about to marry. I had planned the day to come for eight months and, in a way, for a whole lifetime. Every last thing was sorted. I hadn't expected to be sleepless the night before!

I think all brides have a whirlwind morning, mine was no different: Breakfast made especially and brought to my room, Josie, my stylist rushing in late to put my hair in pretty curls.  I took ages doing my own makeup. There were visits from my bridesmaids, friends and the photographer. I remember the Best Man checking I was okay and fetching sandwiches I couldn't eat; flowers arriving and looking more beautiful than I had ever imagined; being tightly laced into my dress by two of my bridesmaids, Julie and Karen.  There were quieter times and frenetic ones, frenzied even, when the dress lacing took scarily long. The things which stand out however were the touching and the humorous: the moment my bridesmaids presented a beautiful necklace to me; the quiet time with my cousin Geoff as he took tasteful boudoir shots; practising walking in the corridor with my chief bridesmaid Gillian, trying not to trip on the hem of my dress.

All Brides have these experiences I suspect but their thoughts and emotions are unique.  I kept trying to comprehend the impossible was about to happen.  I couldn't help pondering the improbability of it all and the possibility I might never have made it.  Those of you who have read this blog will know the low moments, moments when the lights went out, the suicidal thoughts, the despair and almost giving up. I was painfully aware too of how much I missed my husband to be.  Feeling tearfully separated from your man on your wedding morning is there to ensure one thing; how desperately you love him. Having that magnetic longing to make one life of two is what your wedding symbolises. I had no idea though how intensely emotional that separation could feel.

For that reason alone, standing at the entrance of the wedding suite, linked in my cousin's arm, was a defining moment, one of acute, intense longing.  When I heard the first strain's of Craig Armstrong's Portuguese Love theme, I began to shed tears. As I walked up the aisle the music gathered momentum.  Two minutes in, the music reaches a crescendo then relaxes into quiet happiness. It was the moment we met again, met with everyone's gaze upon us. As I reached my bridegroom and looked in his eyes I saw his emotion too and incredible relief.  He was crying just like me. Defining moments came thick and fast right then. I came to realise high emotion is distilled from them.

So many words are spoken as you give yourself to the man you love.  My husband generally has problems shutting me up (usually by forcibly kissing me). This time I had to wait for my kiss. There are the legally required words first but to me those below were some of the most important I had to say:

"There was darkness for a long time and then there was light, and that light was you. Your love has given me wings, and our journey begins today. I pledge before this assembled company to be your wife from this day forward. Let us make of our lives one life. I want you for today, tomorrow and forever."

For those of you who are #girlslikeus, you will have known that darkness too and the despair that accompanies it.  If there is a lesson here, it is never to give up hope. One day, it will, get better, trust me.

Walking out of the ceremony room to Craig Armstrong's PM's Love Theme, felt the most affirming moment ever. It was WITH my new husband, as HIS wife. No Mrs Jane Williams has ever felt the carpet so cushiony soft beneath her feet.

And yes, to answer my own question, It was all my childhood dreams had wished for; that and much much more.

Like our married life, this was the beginning of a joyful journey and the start of a wonderful day.  There is more to share with you; precious moments that serve as latches for thoughts and emotions. If you wish, come back and read about them them in my next blogpost.

Huggs, Jane xx

Note: For those of you who weren't there, the music mentioned is all from the film: 'Love Actually', the dress was by D'Arcy Scott and you can see the shared photos of the wedding here at:


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Giovanna and the Magic Beans

Sounds like a fairytale doesn't it? Well sometimes, just maybe, life is a fairytale, or as miraculous as one.  Fairytales are often characterised by enormous changes of fortune, dramatic changes of destiny with the bonus (of course) of a happy ending. The Trans Community however, are not renowned for enjoying 'happy ever afters'.  Life can seem incredibly tough sometimes with no let up on public censure, judgement and public condemnation.  We've all had our share.

Observing me in my former workplace, a  friend once observed how I seemed not to hear the whispers and the talking behind my back.  'I do the same', she said. 'Sometimes you just don't want to hear.' She is a lesbian, barely out at work except to those she knows will accept and understand.  She works alongside her partner. It's a raw deal that no het couple would have to put up with.  She is such a determined and courageous lady. 

I mentioned in a previous post that condemnation at work had become too much. I needed a fairy godmother or at least a good friend.  Enter Giovanna.  The magic, so essential to fairy tales, lies in the centre of her name.  She's a van; quirky, Italian, stylish, different (3 wheels) and her direction comes from her creative left side (she's left hand drive). Giovanna is my co-worker alongside Mart, my amazing husband.  Giovanna may be petite but she has the capability of making excellent coffee.  With an espresso machine, a burr grinder, a fridge and a water tank, she has all she needs to help me serve my customers.

Myself, Giovanna and Mart run the UK's first Transgender Mobile Barista business.  As I have a background in waitressing and restaurant work she was also the magic I needed to convert a handful of brown beans into delicious lattes, flat whites, americanos, cappucinos, espressos and much much more. I have always been passionate about good coffee, chocolate and tea lattes, crazy about street food and fed up with being put down, marginalised and excluded.

When I was a girl, my mother, Rose Spencer, used to tell me the story of Michael Marks. My great grandmother was Jewish and my mother never forgot her roots.  She was brought up in Dewsbury and worked in Leeds.  I was born and brought up in Calderdale. I found Marks' story deeply inspirational. A Jewish emigre, used to exclusion, marginalisation, put downs and racism, he went it alone and began to sell goods on a market stall in Leeds to make a living. In a trend not dissimilar to modern 'pound shops', everything on his stall cost a penny.  I believe he famously exhorted his customers not to bother asking the price...'It's a Penny!'  Marks went on to open stalls at markets throughout the West Riding of Yorkshire.  He took on Tom Spencer as his business partner and the rest is history.

So, I in my turn became a market stall trader.  Setting up on the opposite side of the Pennine hills in Manchester UK, myself, Giovanna and my husband Mart, run our own business, Northern Grind.  I began by selling £1 coffees to attract customers.  My pop-up barista business is my start-up in a refusal to let others control my life in a job I detested and where I got hated. If you plan on flying into or out of Manchester airport (next door) or are shopping in Wythenshawe, please pop in and see us.  Come and meet Giovanna and sample our coffees.  If coffee isn't your thing, why not try our Airport Fog Latte made from Earl Grey, Vanilla and velvety steamed milk...we'd love to serve you.

So here's raising a Latte glass to the future, to Jewish entrepreneurs past and present and to Market Stall start-ups everywhere,

Huggs, Jane xx