Thursday, February 16, 2017

Parallel Transitions and Intersectionality

This picture was taken in the summer. I'm walking by a quiet canal through Piccadilly Village. Yet looks are deceptive.  The location is close the very heart of Britain's 3rd largest city. The rumble of traffic is close. In summer the rumblings of present political change were there but little heeded.

Fast forward to now and the news is not good. As I write, President Donald Trump is executing his first order to curtail the rights of Transgender citizens.  My friends have all taken to social media to protest it.  One Trans ally commented that years of improvement were being wound backwards. She is right but these assaults on #girlslikeus have never gone away. Through the noughties there was a new atmosphere of tolerance. Tolerance however is like whitewash or veneer. It looks fine to the eye but it hides so much. Scrape a little and it falls away to show something very different.  Tolerance can hide so much covert transphobia. It masquerades as acceptance but is nothing of the kind.  Acceptance on the other hand is solid. Scrape a little and underneath is love.

I spent a lifetime looking for love. I found it in my husband Mart. On October 28 2015, he made me his wife. Mart was the first man to love and accept me simply for being a woman. I found my Trans Lottery win. I'm happy now. Previously I had dated men who liked me as a novelty; exotic and different; something new to try. I was little more than a sexual fetish. Trans women can lie on the fringe of acceptable society for many people. They see an association with sex, porn videos, prostitution, deviance and perversion. As Europe moved forward into an age of better Trans rights those views went underground. Even a few months of dating men showed me that they never disappeared. Now I see a new confidence in their expression as Britain prepares to leave Europe and Donald Trump begins his presidential term.

I was raised in the city.  I have lived most of my adult life so far in the country. My ex, now my sister, led me to relocate there.  The transition from city to village was deeply traumatic.  Used to trams, busy traffic, theatres and masses of people, I had revelled in anonymity. Anonymity gives you freedom to become yourself, as alternative as you wish to be. For a transgender girl that is important. Most people live too fast and furiously to heed you, a few like minded individuals embrace you. Life can be challenging but also progressive and radical.

The North Wales Coast I am about to leave is very different.  Puritanical, regressive and reactionary, provincial coastal towns like Llandudno can be stiflingly restrictive.  It is symptomatic that Llandudno hosts no Gay or Trans Pride like its distant cousin, Brighton: The town has a Victorian Festival instead. It is peopled with wooden statues from Lewis Carroll's classic stories. Alice Liddell who inspired those tales spent her summers there. I transitioned there: Transition in a town that likes Alice. On April 10 2013 I finally matched the gender on my new birth certificate. So many around me here in North Wales made it clear they didn't like it. Now it's time to transition in a different way.

On 26th February, in just a few more days, I get to shake the sand of Llandudno from my shoes and change it for city pavement grit.  It is the end of an era.  It closes off my first 13 years as a woman. Moving from flat to canal barge is going to mean downsizing.  I'm aware that my new home, Empress has all I need. I've lived there almost seven months now and missed  nothing from the pile of material possessions left back in North Wales.  I'm glad. They seem like the remnants of a past life.  Some of my things will go to friends and family, others to charity shops. In a week's time there will be empty walls and a potential home for a new family. I will be back in Manchester for good, revelling in acceptance. Is that the end of hate? I thought it was.

The flats that have been my home often house women on the fringe.  There are Mums fleeing domestic violence, those with disabilities, addictions, single parents and much more. They too live on the fringe.  Some are already suffering cuts to their income, their health benefits and their living standards. They also endure intolerance and prejudice plus it is getting worse. Their stories are not so different to mine. I got out, they remain. It has left me wondering. Across the Atlantic there is a chill associated with a new President and we shiver in Europe. The pussyhat I knitted recently has led to requests from diverse women friends to have one too. We live in an interconnected society and Intersectional Feminism teaches us that our struggles are linked.  Lack of acceptance affects everyone on the fringes, not just #girlslikeus. I may be heading back to the city and but unless we protest current events it may not be a safe haven for long.


Jane xxx

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Empress - a Boat and a Tarot card.

Life in February can be dull; incredibly dull.  Manchester has been foggy and damp.  This is the city that founded itself on damp, and cotton. I grew up the other side of the Pennines in Yorkshire's Heavy Woollen District amongst mills and coal mines.  My mother's family were spinners and weavers of wool. They told me that unlike wool, cotton spinning requires a humid atmosphere and mills needed coal.  Manchester has, or rather had, both. The coal is now gone, the cotton too. What remains are the towering brick mills with their tall chimneys. At their feet, reflecting the high brick walls, run the canals that fed them with fuel and raw materials. My home floats on one of these, at New Islington Wharf on the Rochdale Canal. The site of the basin where my home lies was a coal pit. Now, in post-industrial Manchester, it has become Cotton Field; a haven for geese, swans, woodland birds, grass, trees and gently lapping water.

The tall brick mills have now become incredibly desirable apartment blocks.  Adjacent to New Islington is Ancoats. Once a poor industrial neighbourhood,  in 2017 it has become one of the most desirable hipster locations in the UK: What was once a hub of productivity and commerce is now a cradle of creativity and alternative culture. William Morris had his factory here in Manchester. The Pre-Raphaelite movement kicked back against commercialism and mass production.  Plus ca change.

Mired in a job I hated last year, surrounded by negativity and hate, I longed to move back here.  I first went to College here, full of hope.  Then I left. Last Spring I longed to be back, home where I felt I belonged.

I said 'full of hope'.  The creatively pregnant script I began to write at 18 looked promising like February carries the promise of Spring. But back then hope went unrealised. A shy young student, I lacked the courage to become the person I needed to be. I wrote out a back up plan that saw me conforming to what my family expected.  It was a compromise. Compromises can be rather grey and dull, a little like February. Yet unlike February they are also comfortable in their mediocrity. 'Mediocre' supplanted 'creatively pregnant' and I left Manchester behind.

Sometimes change comes from the most unexpected sources.  A keen small boat sailor and lover of water, I had followed a blog called 'Narrowboat Swallow' for some time. It's author, Beth Maiden had captivated me with the story of her boat based home, it's creation and her life.  When she found a partner and sold Swallow, life continued aboard a new boat, Empress.  One fine day I opened her blog to find that boat for sale. The opportunity was pitched into my life like a beautiful pebble into a still deep pool.

I spoke of opportunities in my previous blog. This one was scary.  Taking on Empress would mean parting with savings, relinquishing my flat, my previous life, the known, the predictable and the comfortable. Moving home would mean downsizing and a very different way of life.  You can plan all you want but an opportunity like that needs something else; courage, a willingness to abandon predictable thinking, to nourish an idea and let it take on a life of its own. This was no time to be scared.  At the same time another dear Manchester Gay friend spoke of his own decision to move jobs.  'Sometimes you have to jump out of the window to land on your feet'. I jumped.

Now, 6 months later I look back at that jump, the height to be cleared and I wonder that I ever had the courage to do it.  I hand back my keys to my old flat at the end of this month.  At that point Empress will formally become my permanent home. In reality the flat has seen little of me since last July. Getting rid of unwanted possessions has become a practical task and not the wrench I imagined it might be. What fills Empress is enough. It occurs to me that this is the second time I've pressed the 'freeze' and 'fast rewind' buttons on my life. The first time I transitioned back to the girl I had always been inside, not the boy others wanted me to be.  This time I seemed to have backtracked to the point when I left Manchester years ago. Creatively pregnant again, I realise that like bearing your partner's child you have no real idea how this will turn out. You have to trust and let growth happen. Now Winter is about to unfold into Spring and new life begin.

Tarot has always fascinated me.  As a young folk singer, one mentor and fellow singer had a partner who gave readings.  I always wanted one but never had the courage to ask. I think that I was too afraid of discovering myself.  Those around me had already convinced me the real me didn't exist.  Unconvincing me and uncovering myself was a process I have so many real friends to thank for. I knew somewhere far back that The Empress is a tarot card. Like losing touch with who you are, I had somehow forgotten that fact. In consequence I hadn't connected it with my new home. On the day Beth and Emma handed over the keys of Empress, the vital link was made.  Beth appeared clutching a handful of fresh green mugwort and explained the connection. She headed off to a new life on the Isle of Skye and I immediately felt at home on board Empress but was left to ponder why it felt that way.

Beth writes eloquently about tarot and my fascination has been renewed.  Here is what she says about the card that gives my home her name. You can read this yourself on her site here:

"...essentially this card represents creativity. It’s an active card. I thought about creative and spiritual fertility – what that means.

It starts with an open-mindedness, an ability to see different possibilities, different sides of something, to see opportunities, to see the details and nuances. And then it’s not so much about actively pushing an idea, so much as providing the conditions for it to grow and develop, as a good parent does.

Actually, I think the parenting thing is a good metaphor for understanding the meaning of this card. It’s about nurturing that idea, and nurturing yourself, and going easy on yourself and letting things come. It’s about acting with love, it’s about being in touch with yourself. It’s about learning from your creations and letting them be what they need to be, about letting them guide you as much as you guide them. Not that I’m an artist, but I imagine that when a creative idea grabs you, the better response is not to grab it and try to mould it and make it into whatever you want, but to follow it, understand it, feed it and let it take you where it will. Acting with your instincts, with respect and love, and seeing what comes out. That sounds like nurturing to me."

Beth Maiden

It gave a clarity to a feeling I had sensed but struggled to grasp. So much that was opaque previously now makes sense.  I've renewed my acquaintance with creativity and I'm glad.  

So that's mostly it for this post.  I need a beautifully created fresh coffee and chicory now and a moment to enjoy it.  A drink that brings me to another friend, Giovanna; van, fellow assistant barista and Italian girl with attitude.  Look out for her in my next blog.



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.


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.


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 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