telling our story


There is, as we say above, just getting on with things.

That was the whole idea behind the Being Drusilla blog, to show that the trans story doesn’t reach a happy-ever-after conclusion when the crucial waypoints have been passed; transition, surgery (it’s all about the surgery! (no it’s not!)), Gender Recognition Certificate, whatever. And every trans story is different anyway.

So successful have we been at getting on with stuff, of course, that this blog has been very quiet for a long long time. Richard‘s getting on with his novels and the National Academy of Writing, and is in fact on a shortlist for a prize with his latest and extremely good book, Acts of the Assassins. I’ve been busy painting pictures of canal life (the real version, as opposed to the Rosie and Jim one. You can’t spend all your life wearing red neckerchiefs and playing the squeezebox, after all; or if you can, I don’t want to know); and wildlife stuff; and publishing a couple of illustrated poetry anthologies (because publishing poetry is famously a shortcut to fame and fortune).

I try to be helpful on the trans side of things, but am not really very good at activism. You can do other things, though. Over on Transbristol last week, there was a request for someone to go in and talk about what it’s like to be trans in Bristol. So I volunteered, because I thought it would be a good opportunity to put a positive message across; I’m happy, Bristol’s great, I’m doing stuff, I’ve got brilliant friends and a wonderful daughter, I’m not getting any grief from anyone. The background to this was, of course, a fairly stressful transition; then two years of horrid times at P&O, and an Employment Tribunal, after which, despite my being entirely vindicated, I was, as I soon discovered, pretty much unemployable. (This probably had something to do with my age and my unusual CV as much as my being, you know, Teh Tranz. But even so, it was a bit of a bind).

The interview went moderately well, I guess; though the presenter did seem to dwell a bit on the difficulty and loneliness of my early transition. In the context of explaining the big role that social media plays in facilitating trans and other minorities’ support and information networks, it was possibly a useful intro; but it didn’t feel quite right, and the terminology used was a bit clunky: ‘born in the wrong body’ is a frequently-used description, and because it is frequently used, it’s used unthinkingly, and often  inappropriately. As is the epithet ‘brave’; I’m always being told I’m being ‘brave’ in this sort of situation. As has been pointed out elsewhere, calling trans people ‘brave’ is a bit like saying that the shit we have to go through is inevitable because of what we are. It isn’t, and it shouldn’t be.

So I didn’t get to give an upbeat message. And yesterday, when the same radio station talked with another trans woman about her experience with relationships (I’d been asked, and declined; too close, too personal, too many headaches and panic attacks), the piece was preceded by a soundbite from my interview, which sounded rather miserable and negative. Ouch.

Back in my Poly days, I joined the student drama soc; when we put on Tom Stoppard’s ‘Dirty Linen’, someone got the wrong cue and repeated themselves from a few pages earlier; and as we actors exchanged quietly horrified looks, we repeated our lines again all the way through; it seemed the only thing we could do; no-one knew how to break the cycle. It feels something like that talking with well-intentioned but uninformed people, when they set the questions. You’re repeating lines in a play written by someone else.

As Jack Monroe points out, ‘about us, without us, isn’t for us’. That’s why I took to blogging in the first place, and why Richard and I collaborated on Becoming Drusilla. It’s a message that bears repeating, because it still hasn’t got through, and the world still hasn’t changed as completely for the better as we’d hoped. How odd. World, we are disappointed.

But we keep trying. There has been increasingly active involvement of trans people in the media, with recent successes like the BBC’s Boy Meets Girl (starring a trans actor) that followed a competition for scripts with positive portrayals of trans people -and there’s been less successful things where the trans subjects are just that, subjects. (C4, I’m looking at you and your Girls To Men– wrong title, fetishisation of surgery….)

We do what we can. Becoming Drusilla is there because before that, I’d not read anything that matched my own experience. Nowadays, the Standard Trans Narrative is still around and discoverable, but mostly in dusty, ill-lit corners. There’s more information, and we’re more in control of it. So there’s not that much excuse for ignorance.

Though ignorance can happen. Some people’s own unhappiness can manifest itself as hostility; I’ve found myself objected to on on grounds both ideological (there’s no such thing as gender, therefore you are and always have been a man) and religious (God made you perfect, and it’s impious to change).

See: over on the comments section of this post about my surgery, an anonymous commentator (‘Lisa D’) who identifies as ‘a concerned behavioural therapist’ has parachuted in to tell me that

I will only say that God made you perfect the way you were, and He still sees you as perfect. Yes, people will verbally attack you. Yes, people might be angry when your true sex is revealed. Yes, people might stare. Understand it is because they feel like you are trying to mislead them. Try to accept these people and continue to show them Godly love….

Thank you, ‘Lisa’…. don’t let the door hit you on the way out….

…and Penny Greenhough, who has a far more involved tale to tell about why I am so very wrong….

I can just about grasp gender confusion, but not the importance of gender expression to that degree… i think in the uk its probably the the only classified psychological delusion (you will inevitably find this offensive, but if you don’t like it tell the shrinks and charing cross, maybe then we can get you all off disability living allowance and freedom passes and you can pay for your own surgery) commanding NHS funds for cosmetic surgery, yet all the john the Baptists and joan of arcs are locked up. no ones offering them corrective surgery to make them feel okay about their identity…

I am more sympathetic with Penny, as she explains that

im sorry if I offend.. im coming from a 30 year heterosexual relationship with a man who turned out to be a woman as well as a liar, freeloader and cheat.

…but it’s a shame that she hadn’t troubled to read my blog or, you know, the book that preceded it, as its intention was indeed to try to explain these things.

Because there really isn’t an excuse for  ignorance. Not these days. And ignorance is, as Penny shows,  damaging for everyone. I remember the awful kerfuffle when I came out; my stepmother, Dorothy Marland, blamed me for my father’s death, and I was barely tolerated at his funeral. I guess that, if you’re from a Northern family like I am, then if you do something disgraceful like become queer or a tranny or a single mother or whatever, you’re expected to disappear to That London, never to be heard of again, and certainly never to be referred to other than in deliciously horrified tones behind the net curtains.

It did spoil that particular narrative when not only did I fail to disappear, but I turned out to have my own opinions about the business. Because odd people are supposed to be the subject of other people’s gaze, not the ones doing the gazing. And finding yourself the one under scrutiny in those circumstances can be unsettling. Well, she did have her sad vengeance, when she died and I found that I’d been disinherited. Here you go; distasteful reading, and those who know me and the circumstances will know how large a pinch of salt to take with this, particularly in its description both of me and my mother.


I was fortunate at least that two of my brothers did the decent thing despite this. As for how my true parents would have responded to my change, given the chance; well, who knows; but I hope it would have been more understanding, because that is how they were. I wrote this:

I wonder how you always find your way back home.
I’m really small, in the back seat of the Zephyr that you drive,
And we’re off to Preston, to the shops. But you went alone
That trip you never came back home from. You were thirty five.

We wandered in the wreckage of our grief for you
That hurts too much to think of, even yet.
When father met and married someone new
I felt betrayed he could so easily forget.

Which was of course unkind. With craftsman’s touch,
He was forever building stuff and moving on,
And drank, as did we all, too often and too much.
And died. I wished we’d talked. That moment’s gone.

I sometimes wonder what you’d think of how things went for me
And then recall the love. That’s what matters. That is family.

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Juliet Jacques has written up her experience of Sex Reassignment Surgery at Charing Cross, in the Guardian.

Which got me remembering my own experience, which I’ve added to the resources section of this blog.

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shooting yourself in both feet

gentleman of the turf

Paddy Power, the Irish bookmakers, pride themselves on the edginess of their advertising. And they’ve struck paydirt with their latest, in which we are invited to play Spot The Tranny (or, as they put it, ‘tell the stallions from the mares’) at Cheltenham Races .

There’s nothing new about women being subjected to the male gaze, of course, though its long history hardly makes it any more acceptable; but this ad goes beyond that to say that transgender women are actually men. Or, in the case of the trans* woman coming out of the men’s toilets, ‘dogs’. And invites us to judge women and categorise them as real or fake. Gender policing, much?

Cheltenham Festival have solicited opinions on the ad here. Despite responses being overwhelmingly negative, Paddy Power continue to run the ad, including on Channel 4, who, you may recall, recently signed up to the Trans Media Watch Memorandum of Understanding. Maybe the flood of complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority will have more effect.

No sooner was the trans community outraged by this story, than we learned that the Beaumont Society had been consulted over the ad. Coming only a few days after it had been revealed that a Beaumont Society spokesperson had confirmed, to a Sun journalist, the existence of a trans father who had given birth; sparking a witch-hunt in which the Sun invited its readers to contact them with information on the identity of this person.

There is a perception that the Beaumont Society is a cosy haven for cross-dressers, rather out of touch with the greater trans* community. This is not entirely fair, but neither is it entirely wide of the mark. My own experience of the BS was recounted in Becoming Drusilla, and described here in this excerpt.

There are howls from the more-trans-than-thou people, always ready to seize upon any opportunity to distance themselves (the true transsexuals) from the Transgender Borg (sic). This brouhaha has done nobody any favours, least of all the Beaumont Society. It’s a shame that they should have behaved so ill-advisedly; putting it as politely as possible, perhaps it is time that they recognised that they should no longer presume to speak for the trans* community. Or, putting it another way,

Beaumont Soc, we thee implore
To go away and speak no more
But if that effort be too great,
To speak no more, at any rate.

(edit: hurrah, the ad’s been pulled. Paddy Power are being less than gracious, but hey, what do you expect?)

postscript: This was posted to Trans Media Watch by Janett Scott, of the Beaumont Society

This is an apology for the furore that I have caused by agreeing to the Paddy Power advert. It was I can see now, an error of judgement on my part as the ‘Beaumont Society’s’ Public Relations.

I will not get into what was said or not said, what was agreed or not agreed.

I will also contact the advertising company concerned with my apology, for the error of judgment on my behalf in not seeing the wider implications of how the proposed advert would be seen in the wider context of the Transgender community.

I humbly apologise for any distress caused to those who felt that the Paddy Power advert was in any way meant to be demeaning or disparaging or to compromise any ones safety in the Transgender community.

Janett Scott. Beaumont Society’s Publice Relations Office.

It seems that both Clearcast (the organisation charged with clearing ads for broadcast) and the Beaumont Society have got the message that the BS is not the ‘go-to’ organisation for advice on matters trans*. Thank you, Helen and all at TMW!

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This is the occasional joint blog for Dru Marland and Richard Beard. Here are links to their own blogs


Dru’s, Upside Down In Cloud (click on image)

Richard’s blog (again, click on image)

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And is it true? And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall?

Oh post-Anglican muddling, somewhere between the unpleasantly excessive certitudes of the God-botherers and the atheists. We have our quietly spiritual moments, and model them in the trappings and half-remembered rituals of the faith we were raised in; one populated by a blond, bearded Jesus and assortment of goodies and baddies, dresssed as for the Nativity play. And somewhere in the background, an urbane God, moving in a mysterious way, but almost certainly On Our Side. Even though we ruefully acknowledge, in quiet moments, that we have left undone that which we ought to have done, and done those things which we ought not to have done. Oh yes.

Reading Richard Beard’s Lazarus Is Dead was like returning to the village I was brought up in, but now being included in the grown-up conversations, and finding that there was much more going on than I’d previously noticed. Lazarus and Jesus are childhood friends; the core narrative of the book describes the last year of Jesus’ life, and the last year of Lazarus’ first life, as it were. It examines the difficulties you face when your best friend turns out to be the son of God, and therefore either less or more than human; and how disruptive it can be to your life when you’re just trying to get on with things and suddenly find yourself part of a divine plan. If that is what it is.

There are layers and layers going on here; the story is true to the biblical narrative, as far as that goes and as far as that is consistent; beyond that, there are historical records, and artistic and literary interpretations of a story that we thought we knew but (in my case at least) turn out not to know that well. And, of course, Richard’s own telling of the story. Romans and Sanhedrin work hard at <span style=”font-style: italic;”>realpolitik</span> to shape events in a manner favourably to them. Points are missed. Wrong is got, in a darkly comical way. Lazarus tries to make sense of it all. Does he succeed? Read the book, and maybe you’ll find out.

The story is vividly told; the past is brought to life. And there’s enough space in this book for any shade of belief or unbelief. I enjoyed it hugely. Go and do likewise.

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Bodies of thought

elevated thoughts

Julian Baggini‘s new book The Ego Trick arrived unexpectedly on the doorstep yesterday; thanks, Julian! He sent me a copy because I feature in it, in a small way. We met two years ago, to discuss ideas of self and identity. I described the meeting here, and Christina Alley wrote a considered response which became a post of its own here.

Reading it, I was interested in the thoughts of Jñanamitra, who also transitioned, though not before moving back to a male role for some time, as she was following the path of Dharma, and the Buddhist Order that she followed had ‘a rigid view that your gender is determined at birth and that’s it’.

This is of particular interest given the recent discussion of talking therapies as a ‘cure’ for gender dysphoria. My bold in the final sentence.

‘About three or four years after I was ordained, I began to notice more and more that I’d have a sort of gender dysphoria episode about every month. And I had to finally acknowledge that this was something I hadn’t really dealt with at all.’

It all came to head on a mindfulness retreat. Part of the practice involves observing what thoughts and feelings arise in the mind and considering what such thoughts depend on. What stimulated it? What was the trigger? ‘So there I was, mindful of this arising, that arising, and then I realised that underneath all that was an absolutely steady thing, my gender dysphoria, which wasn’t arising in dependence upon anything- it was just there. And when I spotted that, I had a most cataclysmic spiritual experience. I’ve never had anything quite like that since. The whole superstructure of my motivation for pursuing meditation just disappeared like a pack of cards thrown in the wind, and I realised that there was absolutely no point suffering and I might as well go back and see the doctor again. The whole thing that was putting the brakes on was the idea that I could transform this with insight. I did get an insight, but the insight proved that I couldn’t transform it with insight.’

Ch. 1 (Bodies of Thought) , The Ego Trick Julian Baggini

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talking about Teh Trans

the RCPsych Lesbian and Gay Special Interest Group have a natter

The idea behind a balanced discussion is that you attempt to weigh up contrasting views of a subject that are of roughly equal weight. The trouble with discussions about transgender matters is that, all too often, the discussion is disrupted by some shouty person coming in off the street insisting that you use their scales, and then dumping a great pile of rusty old iron on one side of them and a bucket of frogs on the other. Crazy thing, that bucket of frogs, let me tell you.

Thus the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ proposed conference “Transgender: time to change.” Concern was expressed by trans people over the basic premise of the conference, and the choice of speakers. Then Charing Cross GIC pulled out of the conference, saying

…it now appears that the conference comes at trans issues from a very specific agenda, namely, to explore the validity or otherwise of gender diagnoses as medical and psychiatric phenomena. So long as this is the case, we feel we can’t support it.

And in very short order, the RCPsych announced that the conference was cancelled, citing poor ticket sales as the reason.

It seems odd that the RCPsych, and more particularly their Gay and Lesbian Special Interest Group whose conference this was to be, should have intended to give a platform to people who question the reality of transsexuality and who believe in reparative therapy for transgender people, while at the same time condemning the use of reparative therapy in the ‘treatment’ of lesbian and gay people:

The Royal College of Psychiatrists believes strongly in evidence-based treatment. There is no sound scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed. Furthermore, so-called treatments of homosexuality create a setting in which prejudice and discrimination flourish.

Thus Az Hakeem, one of the invited speakers, who first came to my attention as a signatory of this letter to the Guardian in 2002, deprecating the  European Court’s judgement on the Goodwin case:

Many psychiatrists, psychoanalysts and psychotherapists find that their trans-sexual patients are individuals who, for complex reasons, need to escape from an intolerable psychological reality into a more comfortable fantasy. By attempting to live as a member of the opposite sex they try to avoid internal conflict which may otherwise prove to be too distressing.

It is a measure of their urgency and desperation that they frequently seek surgery to make their fantasy real. By carrying out a “sex change” operation on their bodies, they hope to eliminate the conflict in their mind. Unfortunately, what many patients find is that they are left with a mutilated body but the internal conflicts remain.

Through years of psycho-analytic psychotherapy, some patients begin to understand the origins of their painful feelings and can find ways of dealing with them other than by trying to alter their bodies. The recent legal victory risks reinforcing a false belief it is possible to actually change a person’s gender

I was surprised to find, on further reading, that Az Hakeem is actually a psychiatrist, working at the Portman Clinic. Though I’ve never heard from anyone presenting as transsexual  and under his care. Reading Dr Hakeem’s opinions in his essay “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, I suspect that the condition of any such person may be complicated by incidences of masochism and Stockholm Syndrome.

And then there is Julie Bindel, whose qualification for appearing at the conference is her ability to say something very simple, very loudly. That thing being her core premise that “In a world where equality between men and women was reality, transsexualism would not exist.” Fair play, I can see how this argument might be attractive to students and people who enjoy the heady intoxication of a simple Big Idea. The Big Idea  in question being that gender is a social construct. But surely the conference could have found a more intelligent speaker on the subject? Cordelia Fine, for instance, a psychologist whose Delusions of Gender covers this ground rather more honestly. I can only agree with Cordelia when she says

“There are sex differences in the brain. There are also large sex differences in who does what and who achieves what. It would make sense if these facts were connected in some way, and perhaps they are. But when we follow the trail of contemporary science we discover a surprising number of gaps, assumptions, inconsistencies, poor methodologies and leaps of faith.”

Maybe Cordelia was busy. Perhaps the RCPsych Gay and Lesbian SIG just fancied a mass chanting of “Four legs good two legs bad,” conducted by Our Julie.

Oh well. After a few weeks in which some trans people have attempted to talk with the conference organisers- Natacha Kennedy and Jane Fae, mainly, as far as I can tell- and been stonewalled for their troubles, it’s all off anyway.

So now we can expect accusations of bullying and no-platforming. Oh, look, there’s some already, in the comments section of Natacha’s CIF column in the Guardian. It seems somehow ironic; people are so used to talking about Teh Trans without bothering to talk to Teh Trans; and then get uppity when they find that Teh Trans do have a voice of their own, akshly. I still fondly recall Bea Campbell’s stern admonishment in the Guardian, that us uppity trannies should give her mate Julie Bindel a respectful hearing. Which kind of missed that Julie’s already had loads of chances to air her opinions (and to be corrected where she was in error) (as described here, here and here ) …and revealed that, rather than describing a narrative arc, her take on transsexuality appears to have come to a full stop. Delenda est. Delenda est.

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