Monday, August 29, 2011

That All Important Date

So this is it, that really important date, the one I've been looking forward to my whole life and, OMG, it's in 4 days time.  There are so many things going through my head, it's unbelievable.  So what's he like?  Is he cute?  Where are you meeting him? How do you think it will go?  What are you going to wear? At the moment I'm finding it difficult to think straight.

You see, I really want this guy to take me seriously, to value me as a woman and possibly respect me as a mother.  I know very little about him apart from him being well educated.  Okay, I have to admit this IS a blind date, set up by a friend of mine, I'm accepting his judgment and I hope I'm right.

I'm looking for someone who can offer commitment, reassurance and support. I'm hoping for someone with an open attitude who won't judge me, who'll believe what I say and not constantly question and mistrust me.  What is he looking for? I'm not sure, someone who is feminine, womanly and self assured perhaps?  I suspect that he's also looking for a woman who can support herself and can prove that she's got an independent life of her own. If I dare admit it, I'm so scared that I'm going to be dumped after a first date for not being an adequate enough woman.

So no pressure then! I have a hotel room booked, I've got a full complement of makeup in my luggage and even more in my purse for touch ups, I've got my straighteners and brushes, I've got a nice pair of shoes, spare pairs of pantie hose, my cell, perfume (but not too much),  money for taxi fares, every last thing but my confidence!  I so desperately need my confidence for this date.   I know that I'm going to need it.  This guy has a reputation for only accepting women who are really sure about themselves and confident about their identity.  I've dated other professional guys, I know the type.  What I SAY on this date is going to be REALLY important, it won't be good enough simply to look attractive.  I better not lie either otherwise he'll see right through me.  Is this beginning to sound more like 'Mission Impossible' than a date?  Your mission if you choose to accept it Miss Ward...

Listen, I STILL don't know what I'm going to wear.  What sort of look I should go for, what clothes, what shoes, what makeup? Well what do you normally wear on a date?  Should I go for sexy (complete 'No, no), sophisticated power girl, cute girl next door, designer chick or even just as myself?  So who am I? I'm a Teacher's Assistant and a musician, am I really up to this?
How do I look?
I better 'come clean' with you.  This isn't actually a proper date, it's my first appointment at a new GID Clinic with a new psychiatrist who I don't know, though I do know that he's a man.  It's the culmination of six long years of waiting, therapy, hormone treatment, facial electrolysis, letter writing, complaining, crying, frustration and yes, just getting on with my everyday working life as a woman and a Mom.  It's not a date, but for all the anxiety and heartache I'm putting myself through, it might just as well be.

I keep telling myself that I'm worrying unnecessarily, I so hope that I am. I'm psyching myself up to just go as myself and relax.  If all my working colleagues, students, friends and neighbors  have long since accepted me as female why should a psychiatrist question that and why should he question why I dislike having to put up with my male anatomy?  What woman would genuinely want to go through life with a penis, except on her favorite guy?

Here's hoping that I don't have to! :)


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Becoming my Father's Daughter

I guess it is never as simple as just transitioning from male to female (perhaps simple isn't exactly the right word! :)) because transition doesn't happen in isolation and it deeply affects the people around us including those we love the most and also the people closely related to us.  I make the distinction because those people are not always one and the same.  We don't choose our families.  They may or may not have an easy relationship with us or be close.  Sometimes we never know how close they feel or don't feel. My father is a case in point.

I've blogged about my Mom, that was easy.  Me and Mom had a lovely close relationship and a commonality of interests that made loving easy and fights sometimes inevitable.  Mom was understanding, empathic, and intuitive.  I'm pretty sure that she knew much more about me than she thought wise to discuss or ask about.  She was simply very loving, openly emotional and a truly inspiring person, someone for me to look up to and model myself on.

My Father is a much more unemotional and reserved man.  He has never discussed deep emotions, religion, belief, love or attachment with me.  Professionally he was an Engineer and his mind appears to work with precision in the logical analytical problem solving way that you might expect. It's very alien to me, though I admire his abilities.  I suspect that he has so much more to reveal but although I longingly yearned for hugs and emotional responses as a child, I seldom if ever got them from him.  I wonder if part of that came from me being a boy, at least on the outside.  What I wanted was someone to tell me I looked nice when I was going out to a school dance, a reassurance that I could attract someone and be beautiful.  What I got instead was advice about girls or enough money to make sure I got home safely. Being who I was, I could never expect to be Daddy's Princess could I?
My Father on his Wedding Day

When I announced my transition, there was no shock, but at first a refusal to believe what I was saying and to cast around for reasons why I might be mistaken.  It took many tearful conversations with him, of trying to convey how a lifetime of being unhappy had lead me to take the decision to come out before he understood.  I wonder if in some ways he felt that he had failed as a father, done something wrong or not brought me up to be enough of a boy.  As a child and teenager, my Dad tried very hard to get me interested in cars, mechanics, tools and the mysteries of the workshop.  I tried to please and do have him to thank that I at least know how to change a wheel and see to other automotive emergencies.  But I was a reluctant student and I'm sure it didn't go unnoticed. It would have been different no doubt had I been a transgendered girl.

In a way, all that has left me feeling that it is me also that has done 'the letting down', that I haven't been a 'good or adequate son'.  It seemed a shame that we had both been left with the feeling that the other had failed.

Consequently, in the last 7 years since I began my transition I have done my best to get closer to him and have set myself the task of doing my best to learn how to be a good daughter.  It's a challenge that has sometimes made me laugh and sometimes made me cry.  The handbook for transgendered boys about how to be a good daughter doesn't exist. Goodness knows what sexist nonsense it might contain if it did.  Latterly, my father has become less mobile and increasingly ill, that has made me cry because I can do so little to make him better.  What has made me laugh is the way that he reacts to having me around the house, cooking, cleaning and looking after him.  He reacts in much the same way that he did towards my Mom.  I find myself laughing at the idea that  I might be turning into her.  He complains about me organizing his untidiness in much the way he did with her.

My Dad never showed public affection for my Mom though I know he loved her deeply.  I know it hurt her that he would never kiss her in public, place his arm around her or look at her lovingly in the way she wanted in front of others.  He is so shy, I know that he would never be demonstrably affectionate towards me either even though he now accepts me as his daughter.  I am touched however that these days he does at least sometimes comment that my hair looks 'feminine' or seeing me in a dress reminds him of something my Mom used to wear.  I thought that was as good as it would get. I was wrong.

The Christmas before last, he gave me a watch, it was tiny, beautiful and  unexpected.  Of course, he claimed to have chosen it because it never needs winding, or a battery....always the engineer, but then he would wouldn't he?  But I now have something for keeps, something that makes me feel like a princess whenever I wear it even if it's not in his vocabulary to say it.  It's nice to be thought beautiful enough to wear something so dainty.  Since I have been able to hug him, and kiss his cheek once or twice, I so wanted to do that when I was younger but I'm glad that I was able to do it now before it's too late.

Unexpectedly, I've found that transitioning involves far more than I imagined and challenges that even in a lifetime of contemplation came as a surprise.  The biggest one has been becoming my father's daughter.  I'm now making even more of an effort to get to know my father and to get him to talk more about himself and how he relates to me.  It may be a bit late but it's all I've got and I need to make the most of it.  I have to muddle through somehow. It's far from easy. I've been trying desperately to avoid the pitfalls of becoming a stereotypical 'good daughter' because I'm aware now that every father daughter relationship is a unique one especially when is forged from a 'failed' father son relationship.

Seven years after beginning my transition and long after my friends and those around me have come to accept me as a woman, I realize that transition is a continuing journey and there are other challenges yet to come.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Bruges, Flâner, Brel & Le Plat Pays

How on earth do I sum up Bruges in a blog?  I can't, but I can tell you how it affects me and how I experience it.  To be honest you would be best coming to see it for yourself, please do.  You have only to watch the people threading the streets of this European City to see from their eyes how moved and enthralled they are.  Once you leave and the medieval spires towers and turrets disappear and melt with the vast Flanders sky, you immediately find yourself planning to be back again.

The Belfort seen from the Burg
I first saw Bruges when I was seven years old, taken there by my parents, wide eyed and truly amazed at seeing a city whose streets seemed to have come straight out of a book of fairy tales.  Bruges felt more decayed then, less untouched, rather forgotten and dilapidated in a beautiful sort of way.   I have felt compelled to return ever since, at intervals throughout my life; at 16 studying French and realising that Bruges was in Belgium not France, as a romantic young married person, then twice as a mother with a daughter who fell in love with place as much as I had.

Don't visit Bruges with a guidebook in your hand unless you like that sort of thing.  You need to stroll, wander, saunter, walk randomly and experience the city.  That's 'flâner', just one word to sum it all up in French.  J'aime flâner, not as Yves Montand put it, 'sur les grands boulevards' but round the narrow cobbled streets of this Belgian City with the sound of horses hooves clip clopping everywhere across the cobblestones, the slopping water of the quiet canals and the Minnewater, the chiming of the carillon from the Belfort on the market square.

Bruges is more fashionable, tidy, less decayed and far more expensive now with its many restaurants and chocolate shops.  It's the only place I know of with two shops selling Christmas things the whole year round.  Still, the charm and that other worldly atmosphere is there.  If you only see one city in Europe, see Bruges.

Bruges is visible for miles and miles across the extremely flat Flanders countryside surrounding it.  'Le Plat Pays' was how the Belgian Chanson Singer Jacques Brel described it.  A French teacher introduced me to the song at 15 and it made a deep impression on me as a young teenager.  Brel talks about the towers of the cites as the only mountains in this flat land.  It may be flat, but not monotonous.  It is best explored on a bicycle, something I last did back in my teens with a french pen friend for my companion, stopping in bar-tabacs in villages here and there for cigarettes or a beer.  Don't take any main roads. There are plenty of byways.  You are always coming across long straight canals lined with trees, little pan tiled villages and way side shrines with small bunches of flowers.

I'm back now in Wales, a very wet and mountainous contrast to the flat landscape of Flanders.  I came back with a substance abuse problem, large brown slabs which break easily and keep you perpetually wanting more, fresh hot waffles covered with chocolate from street cafes .  I've tried buying Belgian chocolate and waffles here but sadly it doesn't taste the same as when you're wandering the cobbled streets, I can feel myself mentally planning my next visit...
The Markt

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Fantasies, Dreams and Dandelion Wishes

Do you remember, in summer,  picking dandelion seed heads and blowing at them whilst making fantasy wishes?  One day they would come true if only you wished hard and often enough.  As a Kindergarten teacher I never got tired of listening to the fantastic dreams and wishes of many of the young children in my care.  It was so refreshing to hear the amazing aspirations and fantasies of kids who had not yet realized that maybe they would not all be football players, dancers, singers or ballerinas.  It was nice to work amongst those who believed in magic, fairies and unicorns and ... dandelion wishes.

In elementary school I was always being scolded for gazing out the window and not paying attention in class.  My school reports all told the same story that maybe I might do better at my studies if I were not to have my head in the clouds all day long.  The truth was that I was indeed somewhere else, usually miles away from the classroom, at least in my head.  If you hated the social aspects of school like I did, this might all sound familiar.  Being inside my head meant that I could escape a reality which I found very difficult to cope with.  My pre-school friend (a girl from across the way) no longer wanted to play with me.  She preferred playing double dutch with her new girl friends and I was excluded.  I was too 'sissy' to be allowed to join in some of the boy's games and had to tag along on the edges, being only partly accepted. I became pretty much a loner on the school yard, play times could be pretty miserable and I was one of those unfortunate kids who wound up most days holding hands with the teacher on duty along with a few other waifs and strays.  The highlight of my day was being allowed to carry my teacher's empty mug back to the classroom after she had drunk her tea.

Living inside my head allowed me to be someone else entirely, generally a girl called 'Janet' or 'Alison' and who was best friends with someone very similar to the friend I had lost.  Through long days dreaming I ended up constructing a whole new life, one in which I was clever and popular, had lots of friends, could do perfect handstands and cartwheels and more important than anything, was female.  Increasingly more elaborate as I graduated to Middle School, my fantasies widened to include new parents, new town, new house, new bedroom, new toys (including the doll I wanted but never got), everything that I thought would make me happier. It was also a dandelion wish.  By then I new perfectly well that none of this could ever come true, boys do not suddenly become girls, that was absurd.

By the time I was eleven I had learned enough to enable me to try and fit in on the fringes with other boys and at least pretend to like the same things that they did.  On way walk home from school down the back way there were dandelions in the hedgerows but I no longer had the heart to pick them and make a wish, that sort of stuff was for babies.

Struggling through my teens, my fantasies were all over the place.  Trying to imagine romantic kissing with boys, being folded in his arms and falling in love whilst having a body that was rapidly taking me into manhood was confusing and upsetting.  I was being dragged kicking and screaming down a route I didn't want to take When I  took refuge in my fantasies of staring into the eyes of some dreamy eyed boy who bore more than a passing resemblance to David Cassidy, it could end up in yucky experiences for me as the sexual feelings in my body took over.

I was confused, was I the sort of 'homo' that boys talked about?  But did 'homos' want to be girls?  My parents had 3 gay men in their circle of acquaintance and at times I tried desperately in my fantasies to identify with them.  My Mom even had the intuition to ask me age 15 if I thought that I was homosexual.  I didn't want to talk about it, it was too difficult.  From age nine I had been 'borrowing' Mom's things and secretly wearing them, how could I  discuss that?  By age 16 I had therefore rapidly acquired a girlfriend and no more questions were asked.

Having a girlfriend lead to a whole host of other weird displaced fantasies including continuing my girl fantasies but imagining a girl-girl relationship with my new girlfriend.  Adding a lesbian fantasy life inside my existing fantasies however left me feeling more confused than ever and totally disorientated. In addition, having a girlfriend was no way the same as I had imagined it would be.  I couldn't discuss crushes, shopping, gossip or talk about fashion, I had to BE the boy, more confusion.

It took me many years to sort all this out.  Should I have had the courage to talk to someone?  By the time I knew that I needed to I was already in a marriage and had a family to care for.  I often wonder whether my fantasies shaped and directed my sexual feelings or whether they would simply have been there anyway.  It was a great relief to finally start to talk about it seven years ago and receive a diagnosis of GID.  It felt so liberating to finally start living 24/7 as a woman and not have to do it all in my head.

Nowadays, thank goodness, I don't have to imagine I'm a woman any more so there's room for other dreams and wishes.  My fantasies are all about cute older guys and these days they feel way more close and real than ever before because they're possible.  Flirting is fine but some time soon I want to start dating again.  I know that he's out there somewhere and I'm wishing all over again.

Maybe I should look around for a dandelion...

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Tell Me the Story Again Momma!

One of the pleasures of childhood is having your hair brushed (unless you had knots (my hair was upsettingly (for me) short - see photo!!), another was being read to.  Having your Mom read a story was beaten by only one thing, having Momma TELL you a story.  That's when stories came alive.  I could look into my Momma's eyes, see her smile, hear sense and feel what she had to tell with an intimacy which no story read off a page could ever give.  Being an only child, all this was just for me.  What a gift.  Momma wrote stories too though they were too grown up for a child to read.  I came to read those later in life but it's the storytelling I remember best.

Tea with Teddy & Momma (I cried over that haircut!)

It's hardly surprising then that when I became a kindergarten teacher one of the loveliest times of the day for me was the end of the afternoon, just sitting with the children around me on the rug in the quiet corner, reading or preferably re-telling a story.  Re-telling was good.  Even if the story was Goldilocks or some other well known tale, re-telling it in your own words made it come alive.  It didn't matter how many times you told the story, the retelling was slightly different.  The details were the same but the focus and interpretation altered depending on your mood.  It brought the story alive in fresh and surprising ways, even for me as the storyteller.

But times have changed.  I have a whole new slant on storytelling now.  The audience is a tad older and  professionally qualified.  There's generally only one person in the audience.  The trouble is, having told the story once or twice, (and this time it makes me cry) I get passed on to yet another audience and asked to tell my story again...and again....and again.  The audience makes occasional notes, reflects my tale back to me, asks me questions, challenges, probes and summarizes. 

For once I'm getting a little tired of storytelling for this is MY story and retelling it involves reliving all the painful horrible bits of growing up as a boy who felt like a girl and was inside herself.  So far I've had to retell the story 8 times to a variety of therapists, psychiatrists and others who needed to know.  They're all gatekeepers in some way for the various services or help I've had to access over nearly seven years of transitioning.

At the beginning of July this year I talked with my current therapist about my forthcoming assessment at Charing Cross Hospital here in the UK.  I need this in order to access GRS.  Yes, after 6+ years of living and working as a woman, the Health Commissioning Authority here in Wales has agreed to fund my surgery.  Meanwhile in the process of getting on with my life as a woman, socialising, working, flirting, mothering, buying shoes....I could almost have forgotten ever having been thought to be male, except for that tiny little problem when I undress..... :-S

What I mainly discussed with my therapist was the sad fact that in a month or so's time I would have to yet again re-tell my story.  It's likely that after 8 attempts, even if I was deluding myself about the need to transition, I would probably have my story 'pat' by now.  That leads me to wonder what sort of gatekeeping this is and what value the process has if any? I will re-tell my story of course, and this time maybe I will be able to add fresh insights.  I still can't help wishing though that it had been different.