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.