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