Friday, October 27, 2017

Why Do We Mistrust Black Cats And Trans Women So Much?

Binx - Image Credit: Martin Williams
Eight months ago, my cat Star died unexpectedly.  The unexpected grief I felt was devastating.  His death came as everything else in my life began to come right. He had arrived 11 years earlier when it was all going wrong. A beautiful cat, he came to live with me and my daughter at really difficult time for us both.  I was a single Mum, she was a teen in turmoil.  I'm Trans and my daughter lesbian. When Star arrived, I was facing discrimination at work and she at school.  The gift of a new kitten brought us focus, joy and light during distinctly dark times.  Whereas others can cast you as less than human, a kitten accepts you without question, depending on you totally. 

Fifteen weeks ago, two lesbian friends gave me a black kitten to adopt. His name is Binx. I welcomed him with open arms, yet black cats have a hard time being accepted in mainstream culture.  Cat Shelters report they are much harder to re-home with up to 70% of their cats being black or black and white. People are unhappy to have one cross their path. They’ll switch to the opposite side of the street to avoid one. Black cats are mistrusted.  It is much the same if you’re Trans. Early in my transition, few wanted to be my friend outside the LGBT community.  Even within the Gay community there was mistrust, especially from radical feminist lesbians.  A girly girl, I rapidly learned to be cautious of femininity lest I get put down for it. These were people I had looked up to and I felt hurt to be accused of perpetuating and reinforcing gender stereotypes. So much of that mistrust comes from misunderstandings about the nature of being Trans.  Folklore abounds: I was variously told that I was a Gay man who couldn't hack being male, a pervert, a threat to women, delusional, fetishistic and a freak of nature.

I'm a woman with a black cat. I've studied and trained as a therapeutic counsellor. I think independently and write publicly about alternative issues and lifestyles. I am not someone's stereotype of a submissive female with no mind of my own. I am proud of who I am, fiercely defensive of my femininity and I just happen to love felines. Many years ago, lone, learned women skilled in healing and marginalised from society kept cats as companion animals. If you were single and female, just possessing a black cat would raise suspicions you were a witch.  Those black cats were thought to be a witches' familiars, their magical servants or personal demons. Just like being Trans, nobody saw these women for what they really were; herbalists, healers, sympathetic with the natural world and too learned for the likes of male dominated society. These women were often convicted at trials on the hearsay of others or simply being acknowledged to be a witch.  It seems bizarre today.  These poor women were put to death with no justice at all simply on the say so of others.

But maybe it isn't so bizarre.  Communities in fear always look to outsiders to blame.  In times past, if a child died unexpectedly, witches were suspected of cursing them. Anything unnatural was thought the devil's work.  Witch hunts ensued as people struggled to deal with things they couldn't understand. Few people truly understand what it means to be Trans. The term witch hunt passed into modern parlance and the practice still persists.  Are Trans females seen as the new witches? When I listen to the arguments around banning Trans women from using female toilets I fear they are. Trans women are suspected of being men in disguise, deliberately invading female only spaces to violate women. I have lost count of anecdotes and hearsay about men in dresses who insisted they were women but clearly behaved in an overtly male and threatening way.  The inference is that these individuals are not to be trusted, they are rapists at heart and should be stopped.  In reality, we go to the loo to pee, wash our hands and do our make-up. Seeing us as a threat is about as logical as a black cat bringing misfortune.

I hate to disappoint people, but we need to ascribe bad luck and threats to women to some other cause: Black cats are just cats and Trans females? They're simply women.

Huggs, 
Jane xx


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

It’s Time to Reject Objectification And Harassment for All Women NotJust a Selection.

Image credit: Martin Williams
There is often debate about whether Trans Women like myself are real women. It focuses partly on our supposed lack of shared experiences. Together with other women, I’ve been aware the past few weeks have been very much about powerful men and sex, objectification and sexual harassment. Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine died at the end of September. In the last few days Harvey Weinstein, co-founder of The Weinstein Company has been constantly in the news. The public outcry over Weinstein’s alleged sexual harassment of women has featured on just about every media channel.  Objectification and sexual harassment are closely linked.  The first dehumanises us by focusing solely on our body parts, the second takes that focus and assumes an entitlement to sexual gratification from us. I’m not here to comment on Hefner or Weinstein; others have done so ad infinitum in recent days. Celebrities have been very vocal in making accusations and giving opinions but what about ordinary women or Trans women for that matter?

Most women I suspect have endured their share of objectification; ass grouping; skirt lifting; breast touching and being felt up. In spite of those who mistakenly argue we enjoy male privilege; objectification, harassment and abuse are a regular occurrence for Trans women too. Most of us suffer in silence. I grew up gender non-conforming in a world where these things were everyday. It scared me a good deal then, and even more now. An ambivalent, sensitive child I attracted the wrong type of attention. I didn’t exactly come out but I was hardly in either. I borrowed my Mum’s clothes, generally with her knowledge.  I dressed attractively and was brave enough to be myself; a teen girl who happened to have a boy’s birth certificate.  I was all too aware of things adult men shouldn’t do to girls but when a Gay friend of my parent’s groped me I said nothing. I felt like a freak and as such I didn’t expect to be protected. It happened frequently and often.  I came to dread meeting him and I grew to hate men. By the time I was 13 it had become sexual abuse. That abuse was dehumanising. It left me with a depressing feeling that my sex parts were all that mattered to others, even if they were the wrong ones. I couldn’t begin to discuss my gender identity with adults let alone my abuse. When I grew up I promised myself that things would change.

When I came out again and began transitioning I thought the world had indeed altered.  It was a new millennium after all. The Gay community had secured a greater acceptance. I took a low paid job, a flat in a seaside town and got on with the job of raising my 11 year old daughter and being myself. I was grateful to get a replacement birth certificate showing the right gender this time but now objectification took on a new guise. The first time someone quizzes you about your body parts you respond politely.  The request is usually prefaced with ‘I hope you don’t think I’m being intrusive but…’ At work, complaints were made about which toilets I used and the changing facilities. The focus was always on my genitals. It was as though being Trans, this was the only important thing about me. I lost count of the number of times I was touched down there or asked if my breasts or hair were real. It was the men who touched me.  It was the women who asked me. Was it to find out what sex I was or to have the novelty of touching a Transsexual woman? The male response was at least familiar, that from other women floored me and sent me home in tears. I had expected support from most but I got it from only a small group of my female colleagues. I desperately needed a job to pay my rent and bring up my daughter. I didn’t dare complain. Not for the first time I was given the impression that as a Trans female I had brought all this on myself.

Belatedly now I’m speaking out, fortunately from a better place in life.  I’m married to a really understanding guy. I run my own business and I’m positive about my gender identity and sexual expression. When I was a girl I had no inspirational stories to read that helped me understand who I was. I had a choice; either become stealth and keep quiet or write and inspire others.   As an adult therefore, I chose being out and writing about my experiences. Fortunately I now have supportive friends who don’t ask about my genitalia and who accept that I’m just another woman. They do this by, surprise surprise, treating me like everyone else. My breasts, my hair, my figure, my bum and my vagina are all my own but more importantly they are just one aspect of a person with a life, feelings and a mind of her own. I freely admit that I’m an erotic model but that’s just a job.  It doesn’t give strangers the entitlement to sexually touch or harass me. I still get groped and touched in clubs these days but I don’t remain silent anymore. Women have the right to reject objectification and abuse.  It is time to reinforce that right applies to ALL women including those of us who happen to be Trans or who work in the Sex Industry.

Huggs, Jane xx

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

As a Trans Woman, Being Investigated For My Second Job As an Erotic Model Has Felt Like a 17th Century Witch Trial


Image Credit: Jane Williams

On Tuesday September 12th this year, my life turned upside down.  A Fitness to Practice Hearing took place in Ewloe, Flintshire, to determine if my work as an erotic model was unprofessional. It was held by Wales' Education Watchdog. I had previously worked as a Teaching Assistant in a College there. After countless job applications, it had been the only work I could get as a Trans Woman with a Teaching Certificate and a PhD. 

Inevitably, the hearing was attended by journalists from the tabloids. When the story aired the following day, the words 'witch hunt' crop up repeatedly in people’s online comments. Flintshire's last witch hunt took place exactly 360 years ago to the month in 1657.

Some women like myself pose professionally for erotic photographs; this isn't an illegal activity. Some men spend their time looking at them; this isn't illegal either. It was a male colleague who outed me to my employers after finding my photos of me online.  I lost my career and resigned because of my second job.  He appears to have kept his from what I understand.

I didn't attend the hearing. I'm an event caterer, not a teaching assistant. I have a thriving business running a pop-up Barista service at events and festivals; in full swing at this time of year. I had bookings to honour and customers to serve. Nobody would have compensated me for losses had I cancelled them. Despite repeated requests for a delay the professional body failed to acquiesce or to send documents in a format my computer could process. I didn't even have a date or time. My absence of response should have indicated I wouldn't be there.  Nonetheless the hearing went ahead.

Research into the cost of hearings held by this professional body’s predecessor reveals that eight years ago,  an average of £17,400 was spent on each one day hearing.  Mine was a two day hearing. It isn't clear how much it cost but £17,400 is not far off twice what I earned as a Teaching Assistant.

Speaking to me after the event last week, a freelance journalist working for one of the tabloids remarked; 

"It was like a North Korean show trial. They kept us waiting for six hours while they made their decision. The wouldn't even tell us how to spell your name properly." 

It was also clear talking to other journalists that they themselves felt badly treated. They remarked on the 'one sided' nature of the hearing and of me 'being treated unfairly’.

I have made no secret that transphobic treatment at work meant I would never return to the field of education.  Education, particularly in Wales, can be extremely narrow minded.  You can withstand these things for so long.  I endured it for 10 years as a single Mum bringing up a family.  I hate taking handouts and I needed a job; it provided a means to survive, no more. When I quit in Spring 2016, I moved back to Northern England for good. It makes me wonder why, 18 months later, an organisation from a neighbouring country still seeks to ban me from a job I don’t want and in such a costly manner.  It seems bizarre, pointless, and an shameful waste of public resources.

Being Trans is tough enough.  You learn to cope and adjust to the public intolerance but when you do something others disapprove of, the term 'transgender' is pinned to you like a pink triangle.  I was described variously in the national press as a 'Transgender Porn Star' and 'Transgender Teaching Assistant'. Quite how the prefix 'transgender' is supposed to help the public understanding, I'm not quite sure. I'm a heterosexual woman, I did straight porn that appears, shrink wrapped on the top shelf of almost every corner newsagent in the UK. Surely my being Trans was irrelevant. Maybe the addition of ‘transgender’ is intended to make the story seem smuttier and more salacious.

I accepted by resigning that my two jobs were considered to be incompatible.  I did not behave unprofessionally. I never mixed my two roles or discussed one while doing the other.  Yet in the end it was clearly best for me to leave: My employer no longer wanted me, I hated my job and I hated transphobia ridden education.  I moved away gladly from a community which had often shown intolerance. It is my body; my choice; my life. I chose a new life where I could be myself.

My resignation should have been an end to things. Instead, the investigation was raised and been relentlessly pursued ever since.

The press report that the hearing was adjourned indefinitely. You can read about it if you wish in the online editions of the tabloids.  See what you think. My heart sank as I read them.  It is 2017 not 1657. Yet 360 years on, Wales seems to have taken a complete circle back to it's witch hunting past.


Huggs, Jane xx

Friday, August 11, 2017

It Is Time To Treat Erotic Models As People

I am trans, I'm also an ambitious and well educated woman with a higher degree. However, like many trans women post transition, I've found that barriers to working as a professional abound.  My mother, a feminist, politician and writer taught me to aspire to be the best I could possibly be.  Consequently I trained as an educator, working in universities, colleges and schools. Well qualified, I found it easy to get jobs. After coming out however, few would employ me. I spent ten years working as a low paid teaching assistant on little more than minimum wage.  With a child to care for and rent to pay, I had little option but to take what was given. Having to prostitute myself by debasing the skills I had worked so hard to learn was saddening and depressing in the extreme.  Like so many, I began to ask myself why I had worked so hard at education only to be paid less than a man with the same skills. In consequence, I chose to live as economically as possible, saving hard to become independent and self-employed. I spent each day looking forward to the time I could work for myself and do so with dignity. 

I'm a feminist like my mum, but deeply shocking to some, I am also an erotic model. I have been for some time. The money I earn has been a lifeline on an otherwise low income. It wasn't the reason I chose to do it however. Coming out as trans, there are always those who question your right to be called a woman. I chose porn modelling because it was validating.  I'm a woman attracted to men.  I'm unashamedly pleased and flattered when a man finds me sexually attractive. I don't need it to feel good but it is gratifying. It doesn't mean that he gets to have sex with me, that is my choice.  I choose my partners and I seek out sexual experiences I enjoy and which fulfil me. I know good sex and won't accept anything less. Porn modelling can be an extension of that - work I like doing and which is empowering to me as a woman. It is an expression of my female sexuality and a positive statement. One which emphasises that women enjoy sex too. It does not have to be objectifying. When I remove my clothes and pose in front of the camera it is my choice and I do not demean myself in the process. On shoots, I am always treated courteously and respectfully.  Unlike my later work in education it does not feel like prostitution. I have talent and genetic advantages. Pro rata I get paid well. I love my work.


If you work in the legal sex industry, privacy will always be a problem.  My work has appeared in numerous adult magazines, yet fans tend to take it onto social media. Like it or not, when you sell photographs of yourself, you do make those images public. Among men who enjoy seeking out images of you, there will always be some, who through guilt or self righteousness, want to out and despise you. To me, it says much about their sense of shame around sex and their patriarchal view of a woman's role in it. To these men, women should be chaste and pure, at least their wives and girlfriends. Sex is something a man enjoys and a woman provides. Consequently, the idea of a body positive woman showing she enjoys sex, is wrong.

Some time ago, I had to leave my previous job when a man outed me as a porn model to my employer. I had never connected my two separate roles.  I worked with adults and not children. I had little choice, either I faced disciplinary action or left. Even the union that claimed to protect my rights refused to help me.  It was an object lesson in how some in society still view women and sex. I am not complaining. I chose to leave and move on. There was little point in fighting for a job in which I felt prostituted and undervalued. Taking the plunge, I decided the time was right to start living my dream. I now run my own event catering business with my husband. It is good to be the boss, living confidently and feeling proud. The day I decided to employ myself was a positive step forward toward doing a job I love. My mother, who taught me to bake and have high standards in the kitchen, would have been proud.

I also still model and I'm not ashamed to do so. The workforce body I was compelled to join, weeks before leaving, want to censor me still.  I am faced with being denied entry to a role I no longer want, in a country where I no longer live. It seems a waste of energy to carry out what is essentially a slut shaming process. One which maintains a stereotype of women who do porn as victims. Women who do porn are people.  They do it for many reasons, not all good. It is however, a job some of us are proud of, one that can be validating and sex positive.  Men have long since had the freedom to do what they want with their own bodies. As a feminist I believe women should be free to do the same. We chose this work because we wanted to. It is time to start treating us as human beings like everyone else.

Huggs,

Jane xox

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