Last Saturday I attended the Hand-fasting of two lovely friends, Paula and Maria. It was an unconventional and beautiful Celtic ceremony. It took place within a magic circle of strewn flowers. Once there, the couple pledged their love as soul friends, for all eternity, not simply 'until death us do part'. Deeply romantic and touching, it was a privilege to witness and to celebrate. I have only ever known Paula as herself. The couple had been already married for fifteen years and have a wonderful family who were also closely involved in the ceremony. This was however, Paula's first ceremony of commitment to Maria who likewise vowed hers too. The couple both wore Mediaval dresses. The piece de resistance was the gorgeous yet unusual black cake pictured above.
My first marriage was to another woman. It was annulled. In the UK, before same sex marriage became law, you could not be married to someone of the same sex. In 2013, I married again, yet essentially for the first time in view of the annulment. This time I married someone of the opposite sex. It was a conventional white wedding with my groom and his groomsmen in suits and myself in a beautiful white gown attended by bridesmaids in navy blue dresses. We had a white cake with pretty, navy blue ribbons.
It set me thinking about convention and the unconventional as well as its relevance to being Trans. How different is a 'Trans marriage' to any other? Why does convention rule our lives so much? Does any of this matter?
I grew up desperate to fit in and be conventional. This wasn't a whim or a wish, it was a desperate necessity. When you get bullied incessantly at school for being small, having a hiigh pitched voice and behaving like a girl, you tend to get your head kicked in....often. I had my face scarred over my left eye and two of my front teeth smashed in and broken. Today, there's an uneven line to my left eyebrow and some of my teeth are bridged and capped (I sort out my eyebrow now by careful plucking and having a fringe). You imagine that if you could be like everyone else they would allow you a normal life. It isn't any surprise then that I just wanted to be accepted as a girl like all my friends, meet a man I liked, fall in love, get married and live a conventional life in the suburbs with two kids, and a dog. I would have been so happy with obscurity. Conventional seemed liked such a lovely idea.
After growing up, I'm still unconventional whether I like it or not. Conventionally married I may be, yet I live on a 45' houseboat in a city centre marina. I run a quirky little coffee business from an Italian Coffee cart. I'm a glamour model, sex-positive feminist and also a naturist. As a result, I still get pigeonholed as variously 'hipster', 'trendy lefty', 'pervert', 'freak', 'weird' or worse. Like so many of my community, I'm still coping with stigma and pressure to 'fit in'.
This is the way that convention can be used to shame us. Even worse, it can also be utilised to coerce and 'cure' us. Dr Joseph Berger, a Gender expert and one time affiliate of the National Association for Research and Therapy for Homosexuality, advocates exactly this approach with transgender children:
"I suggest, indeed, letting children who wish go to school in clothes of the opposite sex - but not counselling other children to not tease them or hurt their feelings.
"On the contrary, don't interfere, and let the other children ridicule the child who has lost that clear boundary between play-acting at home and the reality needs of the outside world.
"Maybe, in this way, the child will re-establish that necessary boundary."
For some reason, being beaten up at school didn't cure me, instead it made me clinically depressed, anxious, suicidal and crushed.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not shaming conventionality. Convention can be beautiful. My lovely wedding would please most people, especially my finally 'settling down' with a husband. I enjoyed it too. I happened to find that particular convention useful. I wanted to sincerely demonstrate my commitment to my husband and my love for him. It so happened that my very public marriage ceremony allowed me to do that. My Trans status and my glamour modelling has however been used to shame me. It isn't conventional (and some would argue 'not right') that someone designated a boy at birth should strive to be an educator and a woman. It is held (by some) to be unacceptable for an educator also to have a separate job as a model and to be a naturist. On so many occasions I have been ordered or instructed to follow convention like 'everyone else' or be excluded. This is actually no better than the bullies who scarred me and broke my teeth. Those who do it align themselves unwittingly with the likes of Dr. Berger above.
I look around at the customers who patronise my coffee cart and not one of them is conventional. One of the pleasures of being an Indie pop-up coffee business is getting to know your repeat customers. Superficially conventional, they all have interesting aspects to their lives, some tragic, some amazing. Conventionality is a myth. These people are wonderful in their quirks, idiosyncrasies, flaws, talents, imperfections and feelings. They are human and beautiful. Being Trans is just one more quirk in that wonderful world of difference. Taking your clothes off in front of the camera is another.
My 'Trans' marriage is based on love. Two people eternally committed to each other, living, working and sleeping together, having sex and having fun. It is no different from anyone else's marriage. Neither is Paula and Maria's. There is a huge danger in expecting people to conform to labels or categories. They focus on hairline cracks in the grand scheme of things which disappear if you focus on the commonalities. What we all share and have in common is way more important than distinguishing marks. Unique features help us greet people appropriately but they aren't a sort code.
More than anything, conventionality is not an excuse for you to feel better about yourself, to put others down or to make you feel smug and self-satisfied. It certainly isn't a justification to exclude, bully or shame anyone. It is no reason to be jealous either. If you secretly envy others who are different or adventurous, you can always branch out and live a little. You have one life, live it! Preferably as you always wanted to. Be prepared however to let others do exactly the same. This is not a license to do whatever you damn well want, simply an OK to be wholly yourself.
Huggs, Jane xx