Thursday, July 20, 2017

Let's Develop a Thinking Attitude Towards Gender Identity


Image Credit: Martin Williams

The UK Advertising Standards Agency announced recently that it would be taking a tougher line on gender stereotyping. I applaud that. It has been a long time coming. For the Trans community however gender stereotyping is something else.  We grow up battling one set of stereotypes but are often accused of over-conforming to another.

Those of us born before the millenial watershed can have very fixed ideas about gender.  Some of us were born into an era where boys were boys and girls were a good deal less equal. It was all too easy to grow up imagining that you'd settle down (as I did) with a nice guy, have two children, a dog and a beautiful but somewhat chaotic house. I imagined the house would be in a leafy Victorian suburb. I would willingly give up an academic career (as I did) to have the children I wanted. Meanwhile he would provide for a growing family with a well paid job. He would be ambitious and I would support him. I would write maybe while the kids were at school and teach part time. It was a very sexist, somewhat materialistic yet very compelling dream. Why did I buy into it? It didn't come from my mother surely. She was a feisty feminist, a local politician and writer. She believed quite rightly that women were equal to men. She chose to have only one child and a career. She also encouraged her daughter to believe she could achieve anything if she tried hard enough.

Though advertising was partly to blame, I suppose I absorbed some of my aspirations from my friends and social circle. They were mainly other girls. In addition I rebelled against overmuch encouragement to be equal to boys.  After all, as far as others were concerned, I was supposed to be one. I hated the expectations of macho manhood, male responsibility, over assertiveness and dominance. No wonder I chose the opposite, wanting to create and nurture life, not to direct and command it. Rejecting masculinity as I child I hit the feminine side of life so hard that I became girly to the n'th degree, at least for a while. When someone denies your right to be the gender you are, you can go to extremes. As as teen I rejected one stereotype yet almost fell into another.

So, what if there had been no gender expectations? Would I still have identified strongly as a girl? As it was, I defied traditional gender roles, learning to sew and stitch my own clothes, dressing and presenting androgynously. A transgender parent, Kori Doty, recently had their baby Searyl categorised as neither male nor female. Their child will hopefully grow up with no parental expectations and I'm sure they will endeavour to shield them from sexist notions and stereotypes that might influence a young mind. So does it really matter what gender you claim? Do you even need to have one? In an era when FtM fathers give birth and MtF mothers breastfeed their babies, traditional gender reference points are being challenged. Non-binary people exist without traditional gender markers and my bi-gender partner is sometimes my wife as well as my husband. I often ask people, 'So how do you know that you're male or female? Could you prove it without resorting to a birth certificate or focussing solely on what's between your legs? Arguments inevitably arise around genitalia, bearing children or having experienced life from a disadvantaged perspective. I have used some of these arguments myself. Yet genitalia are markers of sex not gender. Shared female experiences like my own try to define women in terms of negative treatment. I have held on to them because it helps support my feminist ideology. None of this helps however. Your gender is who you are and a person is so much more than just a body part. Fond as I was of gender markers as an anchor point, I suspect they are a substitute for getting to know a person fully. We don't have to think about a person's uniqueness if we can apply a label to them. We can assume they conform to a set of collective attributes. If we accept that everyone is unique, why categorise? It is a marker of a respectful thinking society that we allow someone to define themselves as a person without thinking we know better.

None of this is a threat to who we are or the way we want to do things. I am respectful of gender non-conformity in spite of having done the big white wedding and being a Bride in a beautiful dress. I loved having my future husband propose on one knee. I asked my cousin to 'give me away'. I felt accomplished being a stay at home Mum and nurturing a family.  These are traditions and personal decisions. They are not rules or a code to classify someone by. Neither are they reasons to accuse someone of being stereotypically female. Indeed, they can be flouted or embraced. We can choose some and leave others. Perfectly content wielding a socket set or pumping out the bilge on my houseboat home, I am also equally happy at the helm of a 35 foot cruising yacht. If we use pre-millennial reference points to position ourselves we mustn't insist everyone does the same. Dearly as I once held  the concepts of male and female, if their meanings are used to insult and tyrannise, they have outlived their usefulness.


Huggs, Jane xx

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Challenge of Living with a Bi-Gender Partner


Let me preface this post by asserting my own gender identity as a transsexual woman.  I unashamedly celebrate my femininity and my womanhood.  I wouldn't care to be acknowledged as anything other than female.  I was the preteen trans child who sewed her own clothes, mooned over dreamy boys, borrowed garments from her Mum with full parental consent and rejected her own body parts. Nowadays, I'm an unapologetic girly girl and I rock at it.  I enjoy having doors opened for me by men (shock horror).   I don't feel at all patronised when I'm treated as a lady. I know what I want in sex but I'm quite prepared to use my feminine wiles to get it.  I routinely wear skinny jeans and tops but I also have a small collection of dresses. I occasionally wear party heels (then regret it later). The nearest I get to cross dressing is slipping on my husband's shirt when I get up or gratefully accepting the loan of his jacket if it turns chilly. I wear them because they're his. They're clearly too big.  They smell of him and are so easy to put on. I love his reaction too. However I don't pretend to be any sort of ideal woman, this is just me.

If I have to look in my husband's wardrobe for his shirt (rarely - why do men chuck their clothes on the furniture or the floor?), I find another woman's clothes there.  There's no huge cause for alarm, they belong to his other half, the third 'half' that isn't me. My partner is bi-gender; she is occasionally my wife, mainly my husband.

Pause for thought, I'm Transsexual so this should be no biggie, right?  I found it didn't quite work that way. When we met, I fell in love with the cross dressing element of my boyfriend's life.  It was fun going shopping together; such a giggle and so light hearted.  I felt assured of his predominantly male personality even so. As I got to know him that began to change.  Others suggested that he might soon want to transition. It made me worry and upset myself for fear of losing the man I loved. Worry turned to annoyance as some asked what dress my partner would wear on our wedding day.  My reactions to all of this took me by surprise and concerned me and I began to feel guilty at feeling that way at all. When I transitioned, I hated the way others rejected me yet here I was effectively doing the same. What was going on? I could have run, I'm so glad I didn't. I would have been running from something I didn't understand.  Lack of understanding is never an excuse for walking away.

Since, I have come to realise that my partner does not choose to be male or female at any particular time.  This is not a choice but an involuntary feeling which lasts for hours then switches to the opposite gender again.  My partner can be naked and feel either male or female.  Clothes and makeup are only necessary to signal the switch to the outside world, they have no effect on the feelings inside. There are inconvenient times when friends expect to see my wife only to be confronted with my husband. External expectations do not bear on a bi-gender person's identity. This should have been all too familiar to me.  I have never ever felt male, even when I was younger.  The protestations of others, including my parents only made me feel miserable.

I came to realise in time that I love them both, but not in the same way.  They are one person but there are two distinct personas. This is the only way I can describe it.  She drives the car differently to him, is less confident and less assertive.  When she writes and expresses herself it comes from the heart, he is more guarded and defensively upbeat, so economical with his words.  When you marry you commence a journey toward ever deepening understanding: For me that has involved getting to know two sides of one person.  I am only attracted to men.  Transitioning, I realised with a shock that I was straight and heterosexual. I have lots of girl mates but they are just that; 'my girls' who I love girly nights out with. My partner is lesbian when she is female and heterosexual when he is male. She is sexually attracted to me but it's not reciprocal.  He only turns me on as my husband. If I'm out with her, he sends me fond messages saying he misses me, it helps me to know he's still there.

I'm still learning, still adjusting and marvelling at the amazingly complex spectrum the bi-gender community presents.  When I transitioned, others said 'Isn't it wonderful to be able to see both sides, male and female?' I don't see it. I've never experienced life from a male perspective.  I did my best to conform to expectations and made a complete hash of it.  I felt like a reluctant cross-dresser until I transitioned.  My partner really DOES see both sides; a two spirit individual.  I would love to be like that but I can't.

I've concluded that you can try TOO hard to understand.  I still don't fully get it but I no longer feel tempted to walk away.  Some things are tiny miracles, being bi-gender is one of them.

HUGGS, Jane xx


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Devaluing the Pink Pound



Living on a canal barge I'm aware that 'pound' has two meanings, currency for sure but also a stretch of canal between two locks. A Trans woman, my home isn't on dry land, it floats.  Its location, New Islington Marina is close to Manchester's bustling city centre. It is home not only to my blogging self and husband, but also for thirty seven other families. It lies in the pound between lock 82 on Great Ancoats Street and Butler Lane Locks.  In a way it is a Pink Pound: The marina community is home to every letter in the LGBT alphabet. There is an important reason for this.

The Millenium Community of New Islington grew up around what is now the Marina. It lies between two historic canals; the Ashton and the Rochdale.  Historically a heavily industrial area, New Islington later became the site of the Cardroom Estate, a social housing community completed in the 1970's.  By the 90's the estate had become impoverished reputedly one of the worst in the UK.  The canals had become little more than an aqueous rubbish dump. Fresh moves were then made to regenerate the area.  An ambitious project to create over a thousand new homes was put forward, displacing residents and proposing an array of properties from new builds to residential conversions of old mill buildings. By the time the recession hit, less than 200 homes had been built and the project went into stagnation. In an attempt to regain control of developments, Manchester City Council clawed back control after the area had initially been leased to developers for 250 years.

As so often happens with regenerated waterside locations, gentrification began.  Creative young professionals moved in and among them many families from Manchester's LGBT community.  In neighbouring Ancoats, the quaintly named General Store carries Attitude Magazine, Diva and Gay Times as well as an amazing selection of designer teas.  It is easy to stereotype our community, but such a product range signals a fairly affluent new community with money to spend. This includes that all important pink pound.

Paul Allen, a Gay friend recalled to me a trip made to Boston in 2009.  He found himself sitting next to a man from Philadelphia returning to the U.S. He relates "

The passenger and I started a conversation, during which he told me about his business trip to Manchester. He was from a State planning committee on an investigation to see how Manchester City Council had used the Pink Pound/LGBT communities to regenerate the city centre.  He was so impressed with how successful this had been he was going to encourage the same process for American cities".

It was an inspired move.  The LGBT community are a demographic increasingly used by developers and advertisers It taps into the sizeable income some LGBT families seem to enjoy. However the stereotype of the affluent Gay couple with a cute dog and lots of money are a gloss.  In reality the LGBT community is diverse, some sections of it being very poor indeed.  We do not all work in design consultancies or bespoke interior design studios. Trans individuals like myself can suffer an huge drop in income when they come out.  A qualified and talented Early Years teacher I found it impossible to get paid work after beginning transition. I was instead forced to work as a teaching assistant on a minimal wage.  My bi-gender partner has fared little better. I lived in a narrow minded and puritanical North Wales town, suffering transphobia, workplace discrimination and harassment. Moving to Manchester became a flight to a place of refuge, not a stepping stone to assured affluence.

I have never owned my own flat and never had a place that felt like home.  To me, home means a place to feel safe, a haven of acceptance and belonging; omewhere you can sleep at night without worrying about passing, being outed or hated. New Islington Marina, a harbour for up to 40 inland craft became that haven when I moved here in July 2015.  Both myself and my husband found an incredibly accepting, close knit community: One we could finally call home.  Moving from rented accommodation to a canal barge, we bought our first home from a lesbian couple who were moving to Skye. I've spoken about it in earlier blogs.  It also provided the starting point for a new business, Northern Grind.  Aware of Manchester's reputation as a street food capital we set up a mobile barista service, trading in local markets and Manchester's many LGBT events.  It was a decision we haven't regretted.  The response has been amazing and our business is beginning to flourish. For me, the Pink Pound is both my home and my livelihood. I am part of Manchester's Hospitality Industry and contribute to local wealth generation.  This is something I want to hang on to dearly.

As we made friends, we began to realise how many fellow LGBT community members live here, each with their own reasons for choosing the Marina as home. I interviewed two of them for this blog and include their stories here.


GRACE
If you're lesbian and single, your lot isn't necessarily a luxury apartment in a converted mill. Grace came to live here two years ago.  A chef at Manchester's Cottonopolis, she told me how she had always loved boats and desperately wanted to live on one.  Like ourselves Grace is no stranger to homophobia, something that is particularly worriesome if you're a single girl living alone on a boat.  Like myself, she isn't rolling on a bed of pink pound coins: the catering industry doesn't pay megabucks. When she saw her current boat and fell in love with it she was concerned about how she might afford the £10k price tag. Negotiating with the then owner, she came to a part ownership arrangement, paying for her home in small instalments so that she could own it outright. 

Grace lives with her endearingly amiable dog Rolo. A Staffy/Sharpei cross, he is Grace's constant companion and ready friend to any resident who might have a little food. Originally, moored to the canal towpath above Droylesden, she never felt safe. She was on the waiting list for a marina berth for six long months and was granted a permanent mooring 2 years ago. I asked if it was a relief and she replied "100%". Now, even though she lives alone, Grace values the strong sense of community, mutual help, neighbourliness and friendship, something she observes has vanished from modern life. Her boat Luna has mains electricity provided on the pontoon and a fresh water tap to fill the on board tank.  These are luxuries unknown to boaters forced to live 'on the cut'. There you might have to travel some distance to a water point and rely on batteries and engine for electricity. As well as safety, Grace also values the peace and tranquility of Cottonfield Park. The Marina lies at its centre.  She talks about the almost rural calm you get in the city centre only a short distance from Manchester's main streets.


BECKY
Becky, a single lesbian woman, lives aboard her 'banana boat'. The pale yellow superstructure of her home describes a gentle upward curve toward the prow.  Like most of the water craft here it is distinctive and different, I pass it everyday as I walk along the pontoon from my own boat. A half open window on one side allows her cat to get in and out.  "I have to have the usual cat", she quips. "I decided to name her Token". Token is adventurous but shy.  Late last night, on a hot summer night I had the bedroom windows open.  Token peeped in with a tentative miaow, looked around and then went on her way.

Like Grace, Becky talks of her need for a safe accepting place and her relief at finding a home here 3 years ago.  Like Grace and myself, Becky works in Manchester's busy hospitality industry. She is a host for Premier Inn.  When Manchester bomber, Salman Abedi targeted Ariana Grande's concert the hotel where she works offered shelter to those displaced by the blast and its resulting chaos. She works long unsocial hours and night shifts. Being on a Marina in the city centre, Becky values being able to cycle back within minutes, something essential when you're doing it at 2am!  She is able to let herself in to the locked compound with her boater's key, a thing all of us have and value.  Security and peace of mind mean much in a city centre location, especially if you're a single woman. 

"My boat is called 'Life of Riley'", she explains. "It was up in Hyde and where it was it did not feel like a safe place to be out. It was unsecured and down a dark and muddy pathway."

Becky reports that she is saving hard to renovate and improve her boat.  When she took it on, it did not have a working engine. Even the smaller narrow boats can weigh between 10 and 12 tons.  To get her boat to its chosen home in New Islington wasn't easy. "I got a tow about half way and then pulled it the rest of the way, took a day, with help to get here and it was the best thing I've ever done!!!!"

Becky, Grace and myself represent only two of the LGBT letters here in New Islington Marina.  We are however representative of a community that doesn't find acceptance elsewhere.  Like other marginalised individuals we don't get an easy ride if we live out in unaccepting rural or suburban areas. Combine that with living a lonely life out on the cut you become doubly sensitive to hatred, homophobia or transpohobia.  Finding a home within an accepting community like New Islington Marina is much more than a idyllic waterborne lifestyle.  It represents a safe space with others on hand to help if necessary.  The life is far from idyllic in Winter.  Becky is looking for a refurbished log burner to keep her and Token cosy during the freezing winter months. The neighbourliness and friendship however is always warm.

EPILOGUE
Successful as the Pink Pound has been in regenerating Manchester's rust belt, there are alarming signs of corrosion. This month saw an unexpected turn of events for all 38 of New Islington Marina's residents. We all received letters from Manchester City Council informing us that repairs to the Marina would mean eviction at the end of August. It was made clear that there would be no guaranteed return even after a 12 to 18 month closure period.  A once safe, secure and supportive community is now facing displacement and disintegration.  It seems like the Pink Pound, invaluable in pioneering the area's renaissance, is now no longer good currency with the City Council.  Intent on handing the Marina over to a faceless, commercial management company the authority now risk the jobs, homes and security of a whole community.

For me as a Trans woman, I face the very real possibility of a forced return to Stealth.  I risk losing my newly founded Transgender catering business and my home in the city that sustains it. Nights are sleepless sometimes. I've been through some tough periods but this time I'm really scared. Scared but still proud.

The Marina residents are pledged to fight this decision which imperils their very livelihood and safety.  Our Residents Association: NIMRA is working hard to change it so that the community can remain. Their slogan 'Divided we Sink, United we Float' sums up how strong the feeling is and how devastating the loss of their homes would be. We have to float.

You can find out more about the campaign and how to help here:

https://m.facebook.com/nimra.mcr/
http://instagram.com/nimra.mcr

Please sign the petition to save the Marina community here:

Donate to fund our campaign to save the Marina community here:

HUGGS, Jane xx


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Bicycles, Baring all and Trans Body Positivity


Gender Dysphoria hits you right where it is most painful.  What the world sees is an outer body not the brain and mind within.  Like it or not, we get used to distinguishing female and male. We begin with infants.  Male and female babies can look remarkably similar. With little else to go on we fall back on examining genitalia. The midwife took one look at me and pronounced me a boy. She was wrong. I might have been, but I wasn't. Cover your baby up with clothes to keep her warm and people struggle when they're not blue or pink. With my second baby, I didn't want to know the gender even after the scan. I bought neutral clothes. Dressing her in yellow I got used to the inevitable question: 'Is it a boy or a girl?'.

It matters greatly how others categorise you, though I dearly wish it didn't.  We have an innate urge to classify and compartmentalise, even as young children.  I self identified as a girl.  I was assured by grown-ups that I was mistaken.  Children can pretend to be anything they want. I PRETENDED to be a Princess but I KNEW I was a girl.  There is a world of difference between pretending and knowing.  Even a child knows this. Years spent caring for little ones as an Early Years teacher have taught me that truth too.  We still however hold on to thinking children are too young to determine their own gender.

You know by now, that miscast as a boy, I was bought a boy's bicycle and tough boy clothes to wear.  I suspect the assumption was I would ride my bike 'like a boy' too, tearing around at great speed, ripping my clothes, scratching paint and knees in the process. I wasn't like that, but at least I was protected if I fell off. It was an earlier time.  Boys wore jeans and girls wore skirts. Being too big and having a crossbar, my bike was rather painful if I fell off.  I looked rather wistfully at my fellow girls who could ride their bicycles in a skirt.

Nudity was common when I was little, especially for little ones.  Back in the day, nobody worried too much about pre-schoolers romping naked on a beach or in a garden paddling pool. Maybe it made distinguishing boys and girls easier. Little boys knew perfectly well what little girls looked like and vice versa. In these days of child protection, little children are covered up. I was fortunate to have parents unashamed of their naked bodies who weren't embarassed to be seen naked.  I'm lucky that at least potentially, I grew up with a healthy, accepting attitude towards nudity.  Sadly, nakedness only exacerbated my dysphoria, hating my boy bits and longing to be like every other girl. As I grew, I showered in my swimming things.  I hated seeing what I couldn't cope with.

The cisgender among us learn to love and accept ourselves because others love us.  This is a given in human behaviour.  If we grow up unloved and inferior we learn to hate ourselves. Grow up being called 'Daddy's little Princess' and you feel pretty. If you're a trans child, it doesn't quite work like that, at least not for me. What confused me was being loved as a boy.  I'd told them I was a girl. I couldn't love the child others thought I was. I hated myself. I hated my body. Feeling it had let me down I used to hurt myself on purpose. I couldn't accept it as my own. Self harming became a coping strategy, half punishment, half subjugation of what I hated.  That's tough when it's yourself.

Against the odds, I've grown into a woman now. Adult bodies come in all shapes and sizes just like children.  As a woman you can have voluptuous curves or be tight, toned, and skinny.  Whatever your size, your body still dips and curves in a way very different to males.  Not all of us are totally happy with our body shapes however. We inherit them from our mothers. I'm slim. I have a cute little bum and small breasts. What I wanted was an ultra curvy shape but I wasn't going to get it.  I clearly take after Mum when she was younger. In time, I've grown to enjoy and appreciate being that way, mainly because my man likes me like that. Seeing his obvious sexual attraction to me naked is really infectious, it signals how desirable I am.  I've had to learn that cute, lithe and slim is a real attraction to guys. Seeing and feeling my husband enjoy me in loving intimacy makes me feel so good. Once again, love and attraction from the opposite sex has helped me love myself.  It's not essential but it sure as anything helps.

Realising that you accept yourself is very freeing.  Clothes and makeup, finding your own personal style and presentation is good but it only takes you so far. Sooner or later you are going to, quite literally, wake up with a partner without all that.  You may or may not be naked but your hair will be dishevelled, your make-up non existent and you'll be you and nobody else. For a Trans woman that is a scary place to be.  It's one you worry about when dating, especially after that important third date. If he wants to make love to you the morning after, he's a keeper. If he disappears you feel you've failed as a girl.  It can be a huge affirmation or a total let down. I got lucky. From that moment I accepted myself as whole, at least within a relationship.

The next step is a little harder.  Whether you're stealth, semi-stealth (is that even possible?) or just open, you're desperate to be accepted by the wider community.  That acceptance means no mis-gendering, no being mistaken for the opposite sex, no put downs and no disapprobation.  That is one heck of a wish list.  I took the brave step of finding out just how accepted I really am and if I truly felt confident in public. It was scary the first time.

Every summer, on one June evening, Manchester takes part in WNBR.  WNBR is the World Naked Bike Ride.  Held across many countries and in many cities it is a bid to promote cycling visibility, alternative transport and a naturist lifestyle. The invitation is to cycle 'as bare as you dare'.  Some participants are clothed, others wear underwear, some are naked apart from shoes and cycle hats, some are even completely nude.  WNBR in Manchester attracts in excess of 200 cyclists, some of them Trans.  This year marked my fourth WNBR and my third in Manchester. The ride starts at All Saints; a park just off Oxford Road near Manchester's City Centre.  Oxford Road is in the Student Quarter.  It is an area full of memories. This is where I went to college. I used to cycle up and down Oxford Road back then.  Living in Fallowfield, I rode my Raleigh Palm Beach bike to attend my classes.  If you read my last blog but one, you'll know that this was the 'boy's bike' I chose as a compromise - Boy's frame - Girly Paintwork. I certainly wouldn't have ridden it naked back then.

My replacement ride is a beautiful, bright yellow Dutch style girl's bicycle.  This year, I took it on the World Naked Bike Ride.  This time around, it was an important statement for me to cycle naked.  There are so many reasons. WNBR this year traversed the whole city centre from Northern Quarter to Gay Village.  It encompassed all of Manchester's main shopping streets and was witnessed by so many sightseers. Though an incredibly public event, in body positive terms, my nakedness was also for me. I did it to affirm a pride and acceptance of my body and to celebrate freedom from years of dysphoria and shame. It is a mark of my distance travelled that I don't mind others seeing who I am. This was much more then than being relaxed with my nakedness: It was an acceptance of being whole: body and mind as one, not in conflict.

I mentioned earlier that acceptance means freedom from disapprobation.  Sadly, where nakedness is concerned there'll always be disapprobation.  There will forever be those who equate nakedness with sex. This seems bizarre.  Me wearing erotic lingerie, is a total turn on for my husband, pure natural nakedness however is beautiful but not overtly sexual. I associate nakedness with deliciously cool skinny dipping, Croatian beach holidays and freedom.  I wouldn't wear saucy lingerie on the beach. While being naked makes sex easier and gives visual, tactile turn ons,  so does semi clothed quickie sex. You can enjoy cycling OR sex with or without clothes; essential for both is a respect and acceptance of your body and appearance. How you get to that point raises interesting questions.  For me it was Gender Confirmation Surgery. Disapprobation also abounds for those who have had it.

Reaching a place where you can respect and accept who you are is the key to happiness.  If you need surgery for that to happen, so be it.  This is not a search for perfection and surgery is not cosmetic enhancement. For me, Gender Confirmation Surgery was simply my turning point. It didn't make me into an 'ideal woman', it gave me the genitalia I should have been born with and confirmed my female identity. Estrogen did the rest. Others have a different route to body positivity. In the picture above, captured from footage, me and my husband are cycling naked past a Northern Quarter restaurant, Turtle Bay.  We are in the company of other naked cyclists.  In the video, they carry on passing for a long time. I was not the only Trans woman. There were pre-op and no-op girls too; all at one with their bodies. 

Wherever you are on your journey, good luck getting to that happy place too. If you're an ally, support us as much as you can. If you're a bystander, don't tear us down. If you see us ride naked down the street, give us a cheer. Believe me, we rode a long long way to get here!

HUGGS, Jane xx








Thursday, June 8, 2017

Maternal Instincts


According to my friends, there are some great aspects to being a TS woman.  No painful periods for one thing, no stressful pre-menstrual symptoms, fear of getting pregnant, uncomfortable PAP tests, moodiness, tampons, sanitary pads and so much more.  I've never been wholly convinced and now, four years post-op I'm even less sure.

Growing up as a teen I had the usual dysphoria so many of us experience.  I hated those pubescent changes, that feeling I was being taken over by an alien force, testosterone, and forced against my will to be something I was not. I was lucky in some respects. I never grew much facial or body hair, I remained small, slim and slight.  I didn't develop muscles in spite of regular exercise.  With smaller feet I could borrow Mum's shoes and my tiny waist and chest size meant that I looked better in girls clothes rather than the boy's stuff I was 'supposed to wear'. Teenagers are moody and I was no exception.  More exceptional perhaps was that I wanted to have kids and be a Mum. I loved babysitting (hard to believe I know) and helping neighbours with their toddlers. I loved to help them play and read to them , I was also a Sunday school helper.  All this seems bizarre looking back.  These days, in an era of concern about child safety, a 14 year old boy childminding might raise eyebrows.  I'm grateful it was accepted that I was 'good with children'.  One more reason I suppose why I trained as an Early Years teacher in College when I grew up.

Those maternal urges didn't go away.  By the time I'd reached my 20's I desperately wanted a family even though my partner was a little ambivalent.  As Trans women go, I've been really lucky to become a mother.  I spent 10 blissful years of adult life as a proud single Mum, raising a daughter until she was grown and independent.  Being a mother suited me.  I enjoyed balancing work and parenthood, loved homemaking and slowly tried to better myself by training as a counsellor. Of all the things I've done, bringing up a child and making a home have been some of the most satisfying. I've experienced. I can see my feminist mother shaking her head right now:  It makes me smile so much, mostly because she was such a loving caring mother herself.

I'm married now but I also have an empty nest.  Nobody really prepared me for how tough that was going to be. There is that lovely whirlwind phase in romance, that first summer with your guy, the Autumn that turns relationship to a deep attachment, the first Christmas with your boyfriend, the one year anniversary that prompts you to think he might stay, having him propose, learning to be a fiancée....and at first you think only of each other, totally bound up in celebrating love.  Sex is incredible, intense and just about the two of you, learning your partner's needs and having him satisfy yours. During that time I remember fleeting glimpses of a teenage yearning for permanence and commitment; a man in my life and security. It all came very rapidly for me. I'm a lucky girl.  As heterosexual TS women go I've been fortunate to find a lasting partnership and enter marriage, as a wife. What took me by surprise was the companion to that emotional security; wave after wave of renewed and uncontrollable maternal feelings. Deeply in love with a man who truly cares, I found myself desperately wanting a second family and strangely weepy about my inability to conceive.

Being TS, I'm infertile.  Infertility can be one of the nasties of being Trans, it never goes away.  While every other newly married woman seems either to have a baby or be expecting, I most certainly am not.  I've wept so often for my unborn children; rivers of tears stretching back to childhood.

My hubby is all too aware of my ups and downs, especially my mood swings.  I had thought it was just a side effect of being TS.  There were patterns though.  My husband talks teasingly about the effects of the moon.  In the end, I chose to investigate further.  There are many period tracking apps out there, I happened to try Clue.  At first I mainly recorded irritability, stress and mood.  What surprised me was how it confined itself to two or three days per month; days when everybody annoys me; I feel like venting off or gloom overcomes me.  Shortly after, happiness returns but also a grumbly tummy, alternate diarrhoea and constipation and strangely a renewed interest in sex.  Beginning to track all else sexual I began to find that my sex drive soars mid month only to tail off again toward the end. Why is this?  Though I have a vagina, I don't have ovaries or a uterus as far as I know. I no longer need sanitary pads, a three month long post-op 'period' was my only experience of blood stained undies and bedsheets.

Are my symptoms somatic, caused by hormones or even wishful thinking? I'm really not sure.  Mentioning it to my consultant and my doctor, they shrugged their shoulders and were non-commital. My endocrinologist explained that we know too little about how hormones affect our behaviour, in particular for those with re-assigned genders. Medical knowledge concentrates on how they affect sex organs, during pregnancy, lactation and in pubescent changes.  We are much more vague when it comes to the mind.  I do know however that my cyclical mood changes have been there since adolescence and were no more welcome then than they are now.

Now I have an app that warns me when PMS is about to happen.  Before, it was my husband who sensed my mood but didn't comment for fear of 'getting his head bitten off'.  Now I'm more relaxed about it and philosophical.  I deal with it better, knowing that it's just a couple of days. I'm aware that keeping active and even sex will help relieve tension and that relief will come. Sadly I also get warned that my fertile window is coming up.  I wish.  I get aroused much more easily, initiate sex more often and come better but I do know that I won't conceive. My broodiness remains; a real instinctive desire to start a new family and to create new life. The urge to make a baby with a man I know would make a good father. It seems cruel.  The only other women who understand it are other tearfully infertile females too.

So no, not being 'on' every 29 days isn't so much a blessing as some might think.  I'd give anything for the assurance that my body was still able to conceive, even though I haven't this time.  In any case, I get the pains and the PMS without the bleeding, not much of an advantage.  I experience the ups and downs without the compensating option of a successful and wanted pregnancy.  Like most infertile women, I would embrace morning sickness, discomfort and tiredness to have a family and to give my husband a son or daughter. Maternal instincts are always there and I can't control them. I didn't ask for this yet I know I have to live with it and get on with my life.

Fortunately I'm not a radical feminist otherwise I'd probably hate myself and have never completed transition.  A sex positive feminist, I believe very firmly in a woman's right to assert her sexuality. I believe she should do it in whatever way she wishes, be it celibacy or polyamory.  I accept that TS women are women, period, if you pardon the pun - If like me, you grew up a girl, it is difficult to imagine yourself otherwise.  My husband still marvels that I knew so little about men and had to learn how to arouse him. My sister said recently, 'How can anyone see you as anything but a woman, that's how you've always been.'

I'll end there.  I hope that I've conveyed how tough this is.  I'm not asking for sympathy but insights from others might be helpful. I have no idea how many other TS women experience infertility or period like symptoms this way.  It can be quite a lonely place to be.  Please let me know if you feel th same.

HUGGS, Jane xx

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Pedalling, Ponytails and Un-ticked Boxes


Growing up is made of dreams and wishes.  When you are young, envy of others, jealousy and just plain longing all feature highly in your journey to grown-up freedom. As a little girl I coveted baby dolls, toy prams, Barbie dolls, bath sets, party dresses and anything else my Mum wouldn't let me have.  My wish list included a proper girl's bicycle and growing my hair long enough to have a ponytail. My Mum had a pixie cut and mine had to be the same.  It lead to tears and frustrations, particularly my hair.  Every time I had my locks cut it lead to tantrums: years went by before I was allowed to grow it out. As for bicycles, I had to content myself with a boy's version.  I chose a red and orange one in defiance, riding it to school regularly. My choice was accompanied by derision from my friends. Being ridiculed hurt me but was also validating: At least I had the satisfaction of failing to comply with expectations. Later, when I had my hair styled like Joan Jett's I was beaten up and my teeth broken.  I told my parents I had fallen off my bike. Hair and bicycles is an interesting jumping off point then, pardon the pun.

Growing up, trans children often have a clear idea of how they want to be perceived and what their definition of gender means for them.  My wish list was influenced by the other girls I played with or sat alongside in class. There was a strong urge NOT to stand out and just be like everyone else.  The trouble arises when 'like everyone else' refers to the gender you weren't assigned to; female. My friend Janet had a ponytail, I needed one too. It was a box I desperately wanted to tick. 

Notwithstanding, I had a clear idea of what I wanted in a bicycle and my hair.  My hair was much darker then. Riding a bike with a long mane of brown hair streaming behind me seemed like a nice idea. My Mum said it would get tangled; better to keep it short and practical. Later when my hair did grow, I found that my mother was right. My hair grew long enough for a stumpy ponytail or bunches but getting a brush through it was a nightmare. Naturally frizzy, wavy and full of volume, my hair was impossible to comb and I used to borrow her bristle hairbrush to tame it. It wasn't until my body experienced oestrogen that my hair became straighter and glossier. As a teen my rather shallow dreams of a swishy ponytail went unrealised.

Children can be shallow, mean and very exclusionary.  Having the wrong sort of bicycle meant you weren't allowed to play with either the girls OR the boys! My dream bicycle was to have a girl's frame, nice bright paint, red or yellow, and certainly a basket on the handlebars. I didn't want a metal basket, it had to be a proper one.  I wanted white tyres too, handlebar grips and a white saddle. With a practical Engineer father choosing my bike, none of this was ever going to happen.  The bright red and orange paint meant raised parental eyebrows and scepticism yet in the end it was allowed. My Raleigh Palm Beach bike was the nearest I got to my dreams, the tyres were white too as well as the saddle and other bits.  My Dad balked at the idea of a girl's frame though, 'not strong enough' was his reply, (even though it came in a girl's version) Just what sort of use did he imagine a child like me would put it to? Are girl's gentle with their bikes and boys rough? In the end, my bicycle, a hybrid of boy's frame and girly paint, did not exactly pass with my playmates or Dad, a bit like me really.

Fast forward to my wedding.  I wanted beautiful dark curls framing my face. My stylist advised me to grow it longer as curling shortens the length.  I did.  My hair looked truly beautiful for my Hen Night and again on my special day.  I was made up.  Afterwards I continued to grow it out and to my surprise it straightened and became glossier. For a while I wore it up in a bun. I'm a professional barista and long hair is a no no. You can't have hair in your face when making coffees. Sadly I also have early mornings and a bun can be fiddly to do. A little while ago I tried a ponytail again. It seems so shallow and frivolous but I found that I loved the swishiness and the freedom of it after having it tightly pinned up. Does this really look okay' I asked my husband. He obligingly photographed me from behind on his phone and, wow, it looked lovely, boxed ticked!

Last week I saw the bicycle of my dreams in a shop window.  Yellow, girly, and with the obligatory basket on the front, it was love at first sight. It was also at a price I could just about afford. There followed more than a week of soul searching. Money is scarce and tight, could I justify ticking this particular box from childhood? I do need exercise. I live in a traffic congested city where a bike is an asset. Manchester is flat and easy to cycle in.  These were all well argued technical reasons.  I tend to buy with my heart however.  What girl ever needs an excuse to indulge and treat herself? Last Sunday I bought my new bicycle and had the time of my life riding it up the canal towpath. It was sunny and it was bliss.  Straight out of the shop, nicely set up, it rides like a dream but that wasn't the main thing.  Best of all it is a girl's bike, basket, yellow paint and all.  No little girl on Christmas Day could ever be as joyfully happy.  At long last I have what I wanted, not at Christmas when I would have to go riding in the snow, but at the beginning of summer, with days in the park, family picnics and days out all to enjoy. I'm ecstatic.

HUGGS, Jane xx


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Manchester my Home - a Plea for Acceptance


By now you'll be aware of the attack on my home city.  The area I love so passionately is all over the news today, not only here in the UK but worldwide.  I'm sitting in a bar drinking coffee. This is where I type the blog you read every week.  The wall mounted TV screens cover the news.  As a rule it can seem generalised and remote: when Manchester's Albert Square and City Hall appear on screen it is usually a new business initiative or political coverage. Today there are images of flowers and interviews with those coming to terms with tragedy.

My home is New Islington Marina, part of Manchester's M4 district. I live, quite literally, within earshot  of Manchester Arena. Half a mile away, it lies just outside Victoria railway station. When the blast went off, those 40 or so families who live here on the boats, heard it. As a student at the University of Manchester, I caught the train to visit my parents from that station. It was a place I associated with joy and pleasure.  I've enjoyed so many gigs in the arena from Taylor Swift to Miley Cyrus.  I love Ariana Grande too but I couldn't afford tickets.  Being poor was a blessing this time around. The feeling now is one of joy turned to intense sadness.

At first we hoped for the best.  There were rumours of an exploding speaker at Ariana Grande's concert, isolated reports of a girl injured and people running scared through the streets.  As the news unfolded it became clear that this was no accident but a likely act of terrorism.  On social media one or two friends began to lash out at the those who had carried out the attack.  Inevitable allusions to Muslims and Islam were included.  In fear and horror people can be very callous as well as afraid.

As morning broke the full scale of the atrocity emerged; 59 injured and 22 people dead, many of them children. Canal Street mourns too. One of the missing was Martyn Hett a member of Manchester's LGBT community.  Known to many of our friends, he has since been listed among the dead.  A 29 year old journalist and LGBT advocate he is a sad loss especially among those in the Gay Village. Given Ariana's fanbase, young girls and women were also counted among the victims.  In Manchester life went on but the conversation was universally about one thing.

I run a pop-up coffee business.  I trade in the suburb of Wythenshawe.  I work in the main shopping precinct enjoying the wonderful camarardarie of other street traders.  Among them are a Muslim couple who have their own fashion stall.  Inevitably we talked about what had happened, my customers too.  Most people were condemnatory of the bombing. My Muslim stall holder neighbours condemned the violence too.  Even so, many passing their stall looked daggers at them as if they were to blame.  I overheard another man outside a cafe decrying all Muslims as hateful and expressing a wish that 'they be sent home'.

After work, like many other Mancunians, myself and my husband made our way to Albert Square. It was a beautiful sunny evening but there were police everywhere.  As we passed through Piccadilly Gardens I saw two police officers with sub-automatic weapons. When we got to the square we found it packed with people.  Politicians of all shades denounced the attack as we stood together to remember those killed in the blast. There was a spirit of unity and a refusal to be intimidated. On one of the monuments however some of the English Defence League shouted xenophobic hate and echoed the sentiments I heard earlier.  Earlier, a rally of EDL supporters had done the same on Market Street. 

My mother's family were Jewish settlers, My father comes from a Christian background. I was brought up a Quaker girl, raised in a tradition of peace, pacifism and respect for all people.  I'm proud to call myself a Mancunian. I'm also a transsexual woman and no stranger to hate.  I'm aware of being barely tolerated by some in the college where I previously worked.  By some convoluted argument, I was made to understand that as a Trans person, I was responsible for undermining family values. Individuals like me were to blame for the disintegration of society, yet I'm simply a woman. It is a hateful argument, one with no evidence and but strangely pervasive among those willing to hate. I see much the same argument against those who want Muslisms 'sent home'.  It ignores that so many of Manchester's Muslim community were born and raised here. They are Mancunians too.

Please don't let us turn the Manchester bombing into a hate campaign against Muslims or anybody else.  This was an extremist attack not an act of war by one faith group on another. It has given us an opportunity to show we stand together; a whole community, united in diversity not divided in difference.

Huggs and Peace,

Jane   





Thursday, May 11, 2017

Intimacy, Initiation, Inventiveness and Independence


Do you enjoy Charades? Could you communicate 'Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason' to your onlookers?  It is over four years since I completed my transition and ventured out again into the world.  Up to that point I had been strangely dependent on a charade or so it felt seemed. If you're TS, that interregnum between coming out and experiencing surgery can feel a little fraudulent.  For me it lasted 7 years.  During that time I raised my daughter as a single Mum, held down a Teaching Assistant Job and started training as a counsellor.  Though I had felt female my whole life, the process of convincing everyone else was so hard: People who knew you previously seek to invalidate you.  Thrill seekers want to date you for 'dickgirl' sex. Officialdom resists changing your identity and 'normal' life seems to elude you.  You end up with the impression that your existence rests on sufferance and grudging tolerance.  If you are clever at charades then others might understand you as 'you' and not someone else.  Misunderstandings abound. Controlling the messages you give off in speech, appearance and demeanour are important. Choose your friends well and they will sensitively mirror what others see. On the scene, we call it 'learning to pass'. It can feel a little like 'the edge of reason' itself.

Post-op I was launched into the world afresh, dating again, building new confidence, I finally found a new independence.  I re-invented my appearance. I tried to create a sexier, more attractive 'me' and I pushed myself to have courage and confidence.  By that point, I was confident at passing.  Shopping for a new work outfit I was wolf whistled by a couple of builders and realised how genuine it was, not mocking my trans-ness. I found that guys like confident and playful women. Suddenly I was 'out there'. I learned to flirt. I had always smiled a lot. I learned to pick up when guys are hitting on you.  Life began to feel like fun again. Sex however made me a little nervous.  I was still a virgin and in spite of the regular experience of dilating my vagina with perspex, I felt quite scared. Adult females who are still virgins are fairly rare.  I wondered if any guy would ever find sex with me pleasurable. One of my dates, a really nice guy, bailed at the thought of taking my virginity.  It didn't help my confidence.

When I finally got a regular boyfriend, things began to change.  When a guy lends you his coat because you're cold, buys you new dresses and puts your photos in his phone, you start to relax.  I lost my virginity in woodland, caressed by his touch and softly descending rain.  It was deeply romantic and gentle, quite unlike my first time.  My initiation wasn't full on passionate intimacy:  I wouldn't advise that only 3 months post-op. It was, however, a start: Building sexual confidence starts with little steps it seems. I'm a married woman now.  Sex is decidedly full on and passionate; hot unbridled enjoyment whenever I want and a delicious intimate bond with my husband. It may sound strange but I finally learned that sex was so much more than intercourse.

When you grow up with the wrong body parts sex can be confusing and intercourse downright intimidating. I never understood how close a woman can feel to her man when he's inside her and making her climax.  Learning how to enjoy that moment fully meant ceding control to somebody else and letting him lift me as high as he wants.  It involved the realisation that seeing you ecstatic and breathless makes him want you more. Moreover, I began to value his masculinity as a complement to my femininity.  To a girl who was raised as a feminist in waiting, all this was a revelation and a puzzle.  Was I selling out to a patriarchal view of sex? Should I be ashamed of myself? Thankfully I came to the realisation that I wasn't. Enjoying foreplay and penetrative sex with a man who loves and respects you is freeing. Experiencing sex as a joyful, mutual act for you both is a sex positive act.  For me, it helped define me as a woman.  It also helped me to celebrate that womanhood and enjoy it.  Having a vagina and clitoris starts to feel like part of you and not just the product of surgery. Best of all, it willingly bonds two people and creates something new. Your marriage begins to take on a meaning that pleases you both.  You feel protected and supported. This isn't new.  It is as old as time.  I can't speak on behalf of my Gay and Lesbian friends but I'm sure that their experiences are equal, especially when there is love and respect for each other.

I'm aware that things could have been different and I am grateful that they weren't. I could have ended up in a controlling relationship.  I'm drawn to alpha males and adventurous men. I'm dizzy, impulsive and controlled by my heart.  I could have wound up unhappy or with no boyfriend at all. I am either very lucky or very brave. I'm never quite sure which. I look around at other friends and wish for good things for them too.  Most of all, for the type of relationship that suits them:  I'm aware that heterosexual monogamy isn't for everyone.

Four years on in a relationship, I've come to realise that the magic remains if you are inventive and willing to play.  I've found to my surprise that you carry on dating your husband, dressing sexily, sharing naughty fantasies and being adventurous.  Inventiveness is something that comes with the territory. Finding new ways to surprise and excite each other is an journey that never ceases to delight. It works both ways. Some things took me by surprise however.  They're not confined to post-op TS relationships but they are significant.  They've left me wondering.  Wondering why I ended up a married woman the hard way, or even just a woman.

The surprises were infertility and a monthly cycle. Infertility is a shock, even though you know it is an inevitable consequence of transition.  I have two children from a previous marriage.  He has two from his.  We already therefore have a family of four between us.  Nothing prepared me for the yearning to carry his baby inside me and have a child of our own.  I had imagined that box to have been ticked but it wasn't.  That longing to carry his child began once I felt protected and nurtured, once we had built a home of our own and planned a future.  I couldn't help it.  It came of its own, unbidden and took root in my heart and mind.  Not being able to get pregnant and create a new family together is tough.  It is one of the saddest parts of being born Trans. You learn to live with it but it's always there. I'm broody whenever I see other Mums with babies, I still get sad and cry sometimes.

Something else deepened that loss and bewildered me too.  Aware that I have recurrent moods I find, I began to track them.  Those moments of tension, conflict, moodiness and headaches tend to fall towards the end of the month for me.  They last a couple of days, no more.  Straight after, my sex drive increases but I also have an upset tummy. Mid month, I feel great and am mad about being bedded and pleasured.  None of this makes any sense.  I wasn't born with ovaries as far as I know, or a uterus.  Apart from 3 months of sanitary towels post-op, I don't have periods. Even so, I seem to have PMT. Things are easier now I know it's coming.  My husband is finding his way around my predictable moodiness too. Are my cycles wishful thinking? Somatic feelings caused by transition? I don't know. I'd love to know if others experience these monthly changes or not.  When I mentioned my experiences to my doctor he just shrugged his shoulders.  Anything might be possible, he ventured, we know too little about post-op men and women.  There is so little follow-up.

I have been candid and forthright in my blog post. I hope that sharing these things might help others make sense of their feelings too or inspire them to write about you their experiences of sex. TS men and women are men and women but they don't share the usual starting points.  There is much written about cisgender sexuality but so little about ours.  How TS men and women experience sex may be conditioned by our experiences of heterosexual, gay, lesbian or bi sex or it may not.  I really don't know.  What I do know is that my journey to self awareness as a woman is a continuing and exciting one, full of surprises.  I hope that yours is too.

Huggs, Jane xx

GCS: Welcome to the Rest of your Life - 1

I often get asked by the inquisitive about Gender Confirmation Surgery.  How was it for you? What does it feel like? What emotions did you go through? 

My surgery was several years ago now in Charing Cross Hospital.  The experiences I describe below are just one of many accounts. Look around and you will find so many takes on this experience.

GCS is a bridge; a final stage in some people's transition that joins the 'before' and 'after'.  It is often mistaken for transition itself though it is nothing of the sort.  Surgery is the path some of us take to a final completion point. It affirms a lifelong belief in our gender identity as we experience and live it. For some MtF's we need it to correct birth anomalies: No woman should have to endure her life with male genitalia. I couldn't.

For me GCS was a life saving operation, one which brought to an end years of depression and suicidal feelings. Over the next few months I will try to chronicle this point in my life with a narrative account.

Here is the first instalment.



It's cold for April. Cold and damp in Paddington. Shivering, I glance down at my overnight bag.  Why on earth did I pack such flimsy, summery, city clothes?  I'm waiting with Rachel for a taxi that should have been here at 5.30 am. It's now 6.15.  They want us there for 7.30 sharp or it's simply not happening. I'm panicking, Rachel isn't.  'We'll give them 15 minutes 'till half past, then phone someone.' I want to scream.  Yesterday evening in East Acton, eating out in the Lebanese, we had discussed shared experiences and sipped fresh mint tea. It had all looked so simple, like this is the last lap and time for a celebration. Now I'm not sure this is actually going to happen, after eight years waiting? Oh Fuck!

Rachel is chatting to someone on the phone.  'They're not sure where the taxi's got to, isn't that typical?' She says, covering her phone's mic with her hand. 'They say we should get our own.'

'How are we supposed to do that?'

Rachel is so good in an emergency.  I'm not.  Within minutes she has an app up open , she's arranged a cab and we're waiting on the side of the road outside St. Mary's Hospital.  Five minutes later we're driving past the BBC and heading full speed for Hammersmith Broadway.  Soon we're on Fulham Palace Road and turning in through the entrance of Charing Cross Hospital.  I end up paying the cab fare, Rachel doesn't have the cash.  We grab our bags from the boot of the car and race in though the entrance of Marjorie Warren Ward. Walking briskly down what seems to be the longest corridor in the world, my breathing has quickened to a shallow nervous pant and I have a fluttering heart beat to match. A nurse checks us both in at the desk and we're on the ward, shown to beds and being told to change into gowns. A long curtain is swished around the bed and suddenly I'm all alone.  

I'm trying hard to desperately control my erratic breathing as I take off my skirt and top. I'm a neat freak but I'm stuffing my pretty yellow cotton top into my bag as though I'll never wear it again.  What if I never DO wear it again because I don't make it through surgery? I have visions of my teen daughter, tears rolling down her cheeks because she she said goodbye to her Mum and won't ever see her again.  The last time I saw her she was trying hard not to cry as she stepped into my sister's car to drive off to hers. I try to imagine the tide of anxiety she's experiencing as she copes with her GCSE's and her worries about me. Her FaceTime with me last night was so supportive and smiley but I know she was hiding so much.  Today she's at school. I forcibly dismiss my own anxious thoughts and struggle to tie the strings of my gown behind my back.  I'm going to have to ask for help with this.  I feel like an invalid. It reminds me of trying to zip up my dresses before going out.   Not for the first time do I lament the lack of a husband, fiancé or even boyfriend in my life. He would be there to comfort my daughter and support me.  Being a single Mum sucks.

'Are you ready?' Rachel's disembodied voice comes from beyond the curtain.

'Yes, as ready as I'll ever be', I quip and a nurse tugs the curtain back.

'They're asking who wants to go first,' Rachel asks, 'Will you, please?' I want to say no, to postpone this life changing moment for a few more hours and to put my thoughts in order.

'Yes, I'll go first', I hear myself saying. 'I want to get this over and done with.' Even if this means I'm left disabled, in chronic pain or even dead? I dismiss the thought from my mind. In the corner of my eye I'm aware of a smiling guy in cycling gear approaching my bedside.  This is James Bellringer my surgeon.  He has an easy bedside manner, a gentle, reassuring attitude to it all and smells comfortingly as all hot perspiring males do after hard exercise. I find myself missing my father and I'm reminded again of the acute lack of a partner in my life.  I'm pretty sure that there'll never be one.

'If we can just have a little look at you down there and check everything's okay before we prep you.'

He looks, I don't.  

I never want to look or touch.  I hate that part of me. I last saw it when I had to shave yesterday before surgery. I hate the feelings associated with 'down there'. When I was born, the doctor took one look at me and pronounced me a boy. I've never felt like one. I'm the kid who used to sit in the bath with swimming trunks on, who played with other girls, who asked Santa for a doll and a pram, who insisted she would grow up to be a woman just like her Mum. I'm relieved when my gown is closed again.

'The anaesthetist will see you in a minute and explain what will happen.  Then you'll have your enema. When you see me next, I'm going to look a bit different', he jokes before leaving.

I have my blood pressure taken and I'm weighed before I have my enema. It's horrible feeling it stinging and irritating inside me.  I feel intensely uncomfortable lying in bed on my side trying to hold it in.  The urge to go to the loo is so strong.  My tummy has been churning all morning with concern and worry anyway and now this.  Why did I need an enema? Luckily when I do go rushing headlong for the loo, there are two cubicles.  That's fortunate as Rachel's already occupying the other one.

The anaesthetist is waiting from me when I emerge from the toilet. She sits down on the edge of my bed smiling and reassuring. and is almost apologetic at all the details she has to go through. 'I'll be giving you a general anaesthetic and an epidural.  Once we're in theatre I'll have to go through information and disclaimer forms with you.  I have to do that to double check that you are aware of the risks involved and the possible complications.' OMG this is so designed to scare me and raise my blood pressure, do I really want GCS? So what will I do? Run away screaming down the corridor in my gown? Jane, get a grip Honey.' 

I flip back mentally to childhood, daydreaming of being all grown up and wearing a white gown of a prettier sort. Aged nine, this SO wasn't how I imagined becoming a woman was going to be. At nine years old I used to sneak into Mum's room and sit before her dressing table with all its makeup, perfume and hairbrushes. It was nice to just be there dreaming, wondering what life might be like when I grew up to be a woman, and hopefully, a Mum. Yes, I used to borrow her lippy, eyeliner and mascara.  They too were promises of a grown up life like the nice clothes which, although too big for me, I used to try on. I never imagined I would have to go through this and feel so scared. Still smiling and re-assuring, my anaesthetist says that she'll be seeing me very shortly, "I'll be wearing scrubs", she says. 'Shortly' is ringing around in my head like an alarm bell but the return of the nurse who gave my me my enema gives me no too to dwell on it. "Are you ready to go on up to theatre?"

I've been expecting to be wheeled up to theatre on a hospital trolley.  The last time I was in hospital, aged seven, with acute peritonitis, I think that is what happened.  That was an emergency, this is elective but the thought of not being able have it has lead me to the brink of suicide four times. Germaine Greer, an idol of my teenage years, considers it 'mutilation'. If I get through this, the woman my Mum taught me to revere will still not consider me to be a woman. 

My nurse starts to chat to me as we walk up the long corridor from the Riverside Annex. We haven't gone far before she notices that I haven't removed everything as ordered.  In my haste to get ready (I've been in the hospital less than two hours) I've forgotten to take off my heart necklace.  This was a treasured present from my daughter Beth on Mother's Day. I go running back to the Ward and put it safely in my locker, somehow being parted from it makes me tearful, a slender silver thread tethering me to Beth.  In a bizarre turnaround of rites of passage, I now seem like the one growing up into a woman, not her. I hurry back to the waiting nurse who walks me on, smiling and chatting through the labyrinth of corridors.  We reach a large lift and wait while a patient is wheeled out on a trolley, connected to a drip, seeming semi-conscious. Will that be me in so many hours time? Getting out at the ninth floor of the tower block, we reach the doors of the operating theatre and go in.  All seems so businesslike.  Gone are James Bellringer's cycle shorts and sweaty lycra top. He's all in pale blue now.  I can't believe that I'm being invited to sit and then lie down on the operating table myself? This all seems too matter of fact and routine, not the life threatening experience I was imagining!

"I'm just going to run through the risks associated with surgery and ask you to sign," says the anaesthetist. Percentage wise, the risks are small but as she reads through the list, the number of things that can go wrong seems enormous, haemorrhaging, pulmonary embolism, vaginal fistula (a hole developing between the vagina and rectum, vaginal prolapse, loss of vaginal depth, incontinence, loss of clitoral sensation, unexplained and debilitating nerve pain, urine infections...the list seems endless.  I sign a waiver form saying that I know and understand the risks and that they have been read out to me.  A signature scarcely seems enough.  I feel like writing ' This list REALLY frightens me, I'm feeling so scared right now, my life is in your hands.

'We work really well as a team' says James Bellringer, who, looking at me seems to be reading my mind, we have to read all these things through to you but the risks are quite small." I'm aware that this is the point I could say no.  I could simply get up off the operating table and walk away.  I don't have to do this, or do I? Then the thought of returning to the heartache and my suicidal past takes over.  I'm not brave but there really isn't any option if I want to survive. I have to do this. I sign and lay back down.

'There is one final thing' explains the anaesthetist. You have the option to donate testicular material to HIV research. If you are happy for that to happen, can you sign again here?' I'm reminded of my Psychotherapist's quip when I told him my daughter just wants me back in one piece...'Well not quite,' was his rejoinder.  I sign again, happy to oblige. I'm so glad that there are pieces of me that won't accompany me to the grave. They join my appendix (removed when I was seven) and the teeth the bullies broke when they beat me up at school. They beat me up for being a sissy, a total girl and a pussy, ironic really.

Now I'm trying to concentrate on what my anaesthetist is saying right now.  I'm being asked to count to ten.  I begin. One, two, three and then a split second of awareness of sensory fading. After that there's nothing.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Like Mother like Daughter


When I was in kindergarten, our mothers took it in turn to walk us home from school.  It wasn't far.  Our route lead us across a green park and into a housing estate.  You got to know the other kid's Mums and how they were different to yours. My Mum was feisty, short haired and outgoing. One of my friend's Mums less confident.  I think her name was Audrey.  She was kind, tender and gentle. I suppose that she was the epitome of a caring mother of that time. She took her turn with everyone else on the school walk home. One cold Winter's day, I ended up with dog mess on my shoes. Audrey kindly cleaned the mess off with a tissue. She was so kind to me; no blaming me for not watching where I was going like some of the other Mums did. It was however the last time I ever saw her.  Not long afterwards, she contracted pneumonia and died. She left two young children.  It was an awful shock.  Aged six, I couldn't imagine life without a mother.  How could any child manage? It was so tough on my friend with whom I used to play, even worse for the father.

My mother died a good many years ago now.  She too died from pneumonia.  She didn't live to see me marry Martin, nor to see her daughter blossom into the confident woman she is today. I really miss her. I've often wished I could chat to her and hear her voice. In our memories we tend to idealise our loved ones I think. My Mum is no exception. I knew her as a mother, someone who cared for me and about me.  I have come to realise though that motherhood is only a role: Behind it is a whole person.  We don't always see that individual for the complex adult that they are, especially when we are children.

More recently, clearing my father's house, I came across Mum's diaries.  They span the period between 1980 and the mid 90's before she became ill. They lay in a box for some years; I didn't feel emotionally strong enough to open them. More recently, I got them out again. I've begun to read them and to reconnect with her through her deeply private thoughts. It has been wonderful, like getting to know her again, but this time as an adult and a friend. So much of my mothers writing in 1980 was about the approach of a big birthday. She was more or less the age I am now. No longer a young Mum she had begun to take stock of her life so far, her sexuality and where her life was going. As I read her thoughts about that year I became aware of my Mum as a grown up person, one with deep feelings and aspirations, unmet needs, yearnings and a great capacity to love.  An author, and local politician she was clearly caught up in her writing but struggling to balance it with her married relationship and her immense capacity for love and intimacy.

Reading through the months and events of 1980, I realised that both my Mum and my Dad were balancing their sexual needs against their wish for companionship and support. They both loved each other deeply, that is clear. They stayed married throughout their lives.  They lived however in an adventurous era of wife swapping, free contraception and sexual experimentation. They weren't prudish. They were open with me about sexual relations, weren't ashamed about their nakedness and had a bookshelf full of books about sex. It wasn't foisted on me, but the books were there to be consulted if I wished and as a teenager I was told where to find the condoms if I ever needed them. I know that my father had a collection of girly magazines like many men, though they weren't on display.  They were behind the books and found by my curious teenage self accidentally one day. It was good to grow up with parents I could actually imagine being intimate enough to conceive me. I was lucky. Most of my friends couldn't. 

As I read my Mum's diaries I began to get to know her as a woman who enjoyed sexual release and fulfilment. She was also one who wasn't ashamed to get it outside her marriage.  I read about her recurring and purely sexual extra-marital relationship. One in which it's clear, my mother called the shots and he obliged her.  Looking back with new eyes at my parent's relationships, I realise that my father almost certainly had sex outside their marriage too. Wife swapping was certainly part of it and I realise now that, aged 14, I was used to babysit the other couple's children, while they had nights out. That makes me smile now.  I enjoyed babysitting and was good at it. You learn good mothering skills yourself that way. I had no idea at the time however what was really happening. My parents were certainly discrete.

I feel closer to my Mum now than I ever did as a child.  Reading her diaries has elicited a great respect for my feminist mother who was quite clearly very sex-positive in attitude. I feel a new affinity to a woman whose nurturing and caring took a while to have their effect. Being sexually adventurous doesn't stop you being a good mother. I realise now that Mum knew perfectly well about my gender confusion. As a teen I borrowed her clingy sweaters and her coats with her blessing. The same dress size, we shared jeans and a certain orange kaftan! Earlier, as a preteen child, I naively hid a pile of modified clothes underneath old toys at the back of my wardrobe.  These were jeans I had turned into skirts, cute little cut offs, shirts modified into side tie blouses, hair ribbons, kirbigrips, barrettes and some of my mother's old sandals. My Mum must have been aware of them. She also assured me that sewing wasn't sissy; lots of men were tailors and sailors in the navy had to mend their own clothes....  Now I wonder whether this was to save my embarrassment when I asked to learn. Did my illicit summer trips into the city wearing those clothes really go unnoticed when I was in my teens? While she almost certainly knew, she probably wanted to spare me censure and stigmatisation. Tentatively asking me if I was Gay was the nearest we got to discussing my gender dysphoria.

People comment now on the marked resemblance between me and my mother.  They recognise the same facial features and something of her attitudes and life philosophies.  I'm flattered. For a child who was pronounced her baby boy at birth, it is lovely to hear and validating to acknowledge the truth of their comparisons. Even so, I'm not wholly like her. I have a deeply satisfying sexual relationship and don't feel the need to find it outside my marriage. What I owe to my Mum is my unwillingness to stigmatise those who do. Some of my friends are poly-amorous, they have more than one love and for all I know, my mother was the same. I realise now that my work as an adult glamour model wouldn't shock my mother either, neither would the lives of any other friends who work elsewhere in the sex industry. 

Later in my teens, I shocked teachers and my school debate team mates by giving an address on legalising pornography. My Mum helped me prepare my well researched case with evidence and facts.  She herself had argued for the legalisation of prostitution to protect the girls who's work it is. It was a lesson well learned. My mother never publicly avowed me as her daughter though she raised me as one. She did so because she acknowledged, loved and respected the girl within me.  She also gave me the sexual confidence to hold my own in a relationship and to thrive as a woman. That was so important in what is still a patriarchal society. I am so indebted to her. 

There is much talk and silliness about whether Trans women are actually women. Of course they are. If my mother could accept me as the girl I am, so can my sisters. To deny a girl her upbringing and shared experiences is to divide and exclude. Exclusion isn't part of the feminism I embrace, nor should it be part of anyone else's.

HUGGS, Jane xx