Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Welsh Experience

Let me try and explain my role to you. I am an expert in patient care and support. I am personally responsible for the co-ordination of a number of other health care professionals and supervising a care regime. I frequently have to copy letters and forward them to others, organize test results and send or take them in to clinics who otherwise wouldn't get them. I telephone a number of different hospitals to obtain updates and relay the information back to another. I supply information on one clinic's prescribing regime to the endocrinology department in another. I deal with three, sometimes four different hospitals. The bizarre twist is that I am not a Health Care Co-ordinator or professional, I am a patient, living in Wales, UK, who also happens to be a Trans woman in transition.

As I write, I am still waiting to hear about the next slow moving stage in my experience as a Welsh GID patient. I am not indigenously Welsh even though I have spent the majority of my life here. Born elsewhere but with Welsh grandparents, I came here just to study. I had no intentions to stay particularly, I'm a big city girl and rural life in Wales is not quite me but then I married, had children and many many years later, I'm still here. As luck would have it, I seem to landed myself in one of the worst places to have GID. Don't get me wrong. Wales is a truly lovely place. I live in a coastal resort surrounded by breathtaking scenery. In summer the roads are choked with tourists. There is so much here to see; Ancient history, stone circles, ruined romantic castles, lakes and mountains. There is however a distinct lack of support if you are trans.

Over seven years ago when I began my journey, I was in touch with a number of other trans women in a similar position to myself. They have all long since completed their transitions and in one case are happily married. In my own case it was scarcely over 6 months ago that I was put on a realistic hormone regime. I am currently trying to get through on the phone to The Charing Cross surgical team who I hope will be able to tell me whether they have approached WHSSC. WHSSC is often pronounced 'whisk' here though there is nothing fast or whisk like about how they operate. WHSSC is the Welsh Health Special Services Committee, responsible for commissioning 'specialist' health services within Wales. It replaced the rather ineffective and somewhat discredited Health Commission Wales. Even though Charing Cross hospital in England are happy to offer me treatment, they need the money from WHSSC to pay for it otherwise nothing will happen. This process has sometimes been classified as either a 'formality' or a 'headache' depending on who you speak to.

Would it be too much to ask to be offered a fully co-ordinated, world class service system of care for Trans men and women in Wales? Many of the practitioners exist but this is not their primary role. One day maybe someone will think of asking them to work together, until then, seems like it's all down to the patients!

P.S. still waiting to hear about funding from WHSSC!

Robyn-Jane xx

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Fabulous Fifties?

I was born in the 50's. It seems a long time ago now, particularly when you encounter a wave of Fifties nostalgia now and then that seems to lump that glamorous decade in with the wartime 30's and 40's. I encountered it at the weekend while up in Scotland.

I love to go and see the National Museum of Costume not far from Dumfries. I have had an interest in fashion since a child, stitched my own clothes for many years and like many women, can't seem to stop myself buying fashion items. The Costume museum has a special exhibition each year. This year it focusses on the fabrics and dresses made by Horrockses in the 40's and 50's. Horrockses Fashions turned out the most lovely off the peg fashions for women during that period. They were pretty, using easy to care for fabrics like cotton and tended to copy the sort of styles of the Dior New Look era; trim waisted with fuller skirts, often held out by paper nylon petticoats. The Fabrics were fantastic feminine florals or stylized leaf patterns.

Old cine reels of me as a young child show my mother wearing dresses like that and children's early memories tend to linger. Is that why I am so fond of Vivien of Holloway Dresses? Possibly, both myself and my best friend Julie at the time must have tried on at least a few, as well as shuffling about in our mother's high heeled shoes. It's a nice innocent memory and one I treasure. I do remember having been scolded for doing it though. Was it because we might ruin the clothes and shoes or was it because I was a boy? I'm not sure. I was probably too young to remember.

Going to school at the beginning of the 60's, boys were very clearly boys or made to look like one as I was. Boys wore short trousers right up to leaving for High School. They often got away with being grubby. I wore grey shorts and grey socks even in Winter as well as a grey vee necked sweater. I hated it. A belted navy blue gabardine raincoat didn't keep me that warm either though Wellington boots must have kept my feet dry walking to school. Julie on the other hand had to look neat and tidy, pretty in a dress with white socks and a bow in her hair, the contrast couldn't have been more marked! It was difficult for a transgendered child to deal with. The outward differences between boys and girls and the parental expectations of them were so different. Maybe it's still the case even though it doesn't seem so to me.

By the 70's I had persuaded my mother to teach me how to knit and I secretly taught myself how to sew. That was the beginning of buying fabrics or altering clothes to make them fit me. I became furtive and adept at retrieving Mum's cast off, often well worn garments like dresses and skirts and altering them. I never wore that outside the house, only secretly, indoors when I could be sure nobody else was around. It was nice to make myself how I wanted to be but it was awfully sad because I couldn't be like that naturally or publicly. As a transgendered teen I was intensely focussed on looks and appearances. Feeling like a girl inside I wanted to dress like one. What made me so sad was that I wanted to be acknowledged as female too, that however would have meant behaving like like a girl and living as one. Much as though that would have been a dream come true for me, there was no way my parents would let me do that. The sadness came because it was just a game of dress up, no more. It wasn't doing anything for me.

Thankfully these days I am a woman. I'm free of that awful 'man in a dress' thing. Nobody questions me about my gender anymore and I can simply get on with my life. That also means going out shopping and buying my own clothes. I'm in the public eye at work, I'm expected to wear smart casual; I can't turn up to work in jeans, a tee and sneakers. Going out to buy nice things to wear is a life necessity, not a forbidden activity. This is a long way from how my life used to be. Fashions have changed. That's fashion after all, constant change. The clothes I normally wear to work everyday, though feminine are a far cry from the fashions of the 50's when dresses were an everyday necessity and ladies wore white gloves when going out visiting! Dresses still feature highly in my wardrobe though. They are so practical and feminine, no stress with matching up tops and bottoms, all you have to worry about is accessories, well that's my take on it anyway. I've spent half a lifetime in trousers, nobody is going to make me wear them now!

I have to admit it though, I still love 50's style dresses. The current retro revival means that they're readily available (try I love to wear them for parties, going out and even every now and then for work. Yes, for work. Honestly, life is too short NOT to look stylish and nice, my dresses cost too much to keep just for 'that special occasion', people compliment you and notice you, it's fun and at the end of the day it just makes me feel good and glamorous :)

Robyn-Jane xx