tilting at windmills

Dr Nodfem

My previous post was inspired by concern over a proposed amendment to the Bristol Labour Party’s Motion on Women’s Representation, to remove self-definition and self-declaration from the qualifying conditions for being a woman in the eyes of the Party. As it turned out, the amendment was rejected by something like two to one; but that is still a worryingly high figure for supporters of it.

I can understand that women should be concerned about self-identification, because I’ve looked at some of the web pages devoted to scaremongering about it. If they were true, they would indeed give you something truly to worry about. They are quite well put together so that they look all official and authoritative, though of course in reality, and demonstrably,  any potty little bunch of bigots can put together a website like that. They’re also mischievous in their use of suffragette iconography to add an air of legitimacy to what they’re alleging; in reality, they’re about as feminist as the National Socialists were socialist. Not ruddy much. Think, more, handmaids of the alt-right.

And of course the right-wing national papers have been running trans-hostile pieces fairly consistently; it seems like every day there’s another.

I wrote about self-identification, and what it actually means, and how it applies to me, and indeed any woman, here. And here’s a very good piece by Rosie Swayne, a cis lesbian, on the present mess.

I know we can all get a bit tribal, and tend to look for confirmation of our beliefs among people who think just like we do… hence the very small uptake on my previous post, no doubt. But if you’re concerned about trans women (its always trans women – nobody ever seems to mention the trans men) invading and colonising women’s spaces, surely it would be helpful actually to study what trans people are, rather than applying a rather simple ideological model of gender to the case and assume that we’re massively deluded or predatory males? -it is a bit insulting, tbh, and doesn’t show you up in a good light either. There is information available! Check the ‘further reading’ section here, or just ask!

Still, looking on the bright side, as the anti-trans campaign gets more coverage it exposes itself to closer scrutiny. The last couple of weeks have seen ‘Man Friday’ stunts, where cis women have entered male spaces claiming that they self-identify as male; last Friday’s actions resulted in photos being put up online of people in changing rooms, just to show that it can be done. This follows similar activity in the USA, of course… where inappropriate behaviour doesn’t exist, just go and and do it yourself in hopes of discrediting your enemies…

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trans people: what do you really want to know about them?

I’ve been talking with a Bristol friend lately about the current onslaught (or ‘debate’ if you prefer) on trans people in the media; indeed, it seems to be happening all over the place, including among Labour Party members, some of whom seem virulently anti-trans, and some who are trying to understand but are only hearing one side of it, perhaps because they really believe that any attempt to question what is going on will result in being shouted down with cries of ‘transphobia!”; perhaps because they don’t know who to ask.
I’m sure that we’re agreed that discussing a group of people without including that group in the discussion is potentially or actually very dodgy indeed; ‘nothing about us without us’, as it were. So, if you want to ask the sort of questions you’d feel embarrassed about asking face to face, go ahead. Post in the comments, and I shall do my best to answer your question. I’ll then paste up the Q and A’s to the main body of this post, below this.

Over to you.

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some new books

drawn chorus cover

First off, Drawn Chorus, an alphabet of birds in poems and pictures. It’s the first book that’s all my own work. And it’s about birds. And people, I suppose. Maybe writing about birds can tell you something about people too, perhaps more than the birds they’re supposedly writing about. You can see some more info here on my bookshop website, Gert Macky. I’ll be doing some readings at the Bristol Poetry Festival at the beginning of October. Which is a bit scary TBH.

a new man
And now a friend’s book. I’ve known Charlie Kiss for ages; our transitioning journeys happened at around the same time, though we were sort of travelling in opposite directions, as it were. We got to know each other through one of those internet forums that were and perhaps still are such a lifeline for people like me. Charlie’s book A New Man covers his transition and surgery but, interesting though that is, the other elements of his story are terrifically interesting too; his engagement with feminism, lesbian separatism, the Greenham Common peace camp, and political activism (he stood for the Green Party at the general election before last)… I was an occasional visitor to Greenham Common, back in the day; on the Embrace The Base day I brought some women friends up from Portsmouth in my van, and later dropped by a couple of times with supplies as I was passing. Obviously it was not possible for me to be more active with them, as I was gendered male at that time. Funny to think we were probably both there at the same time… though my activism was and is pretty lukewarm in comparison with Charlie’s.

 

greenham

Anyway, the book’s a jolly good read. I reviewed it over on Goodreads. If you want a copy, may I suggest that you buy it from the publisher, here at Troubador? -that way, he gets far more of the money that he would using Amazon.

 

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continuously cruising

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Richard was commissioned by International Literature Showcase to write on the subject of ‘crossing borders’. And here is his article, about life on the Kennet and Avon canal.

 

 

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hot off the press

Missing-cover

Richard’s new book, The Day That Went Missing, was finally published last month. It is a good and intense read:

0n a family summer holiday in Cornwall in 1978, Nicholas and his brother Richard are jumping in the waves. Suddenly, Nicholas is out of his depth. He isn’t, and then he is. He drowns.

Richard and his other brothers don’t attend the funeral, and incredibly the family return immediately to the same cottage – to complete the holiday, to carry on. They soon stop speaking of the catastrophe. Their epic act of collective denial writes Nicky out of the family memory.

Nearly forty years later, Richard Beard is haunted by the missing grief of his childhood, and sets out on a pain-staking investigation to rebuild Nicky’s life, and ultimately to recreate the precise events on the day of the accident. Who was Nicky? Why did the family react as they did? And what actually happened?

But rather than my clumsy review of it, you can see some good ones over on his site, here  

…to coincide with its publication, Becoming Drusilla has been reissued. Which is of course a Good Thing. I think the publishers might have thought it was a bit before its time, and that its time is now. We shall see.

I’ve been adding my secret online diary entries to the page you can find in the menu bar up at the top of this page, under ‘The Seafaring Diaries’. Yesterday I added the ones for 2005 and for 2006, a year which had my Employment Tribunal and some surgery, and a lot of things turned out to be more complicated and stressful than I might have hoped. It was a bit of a jolt re-reading those entries; it was a different world, even 12 years ago, and a very lonely one. After an equalities do at Bristol Council House, I wrote:

As transsexual, I still feel invisible and unrepresented. I can’t believe there aren’t plenty of people in a similar situation in Bristol; there’s just no organisation for them. Do they -do I -want one, though? The whole point of successful transition is to live in the desired gender role, not to become, as it were, a Professional Tranny…

 

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getting known for what we do rather than what we are

im-with-stupid

The morning after Trump became president of the USA, I did this little picture as a response (Britain already being a more openly racist place since the Brexit referendum).

It went viral somewhat. Look, t shirts even!

A friend commented “I knew you before you were famous for the third time!”

Stretching the meaning of ‘famous’ ever so slightly, of course. But still…

…the first time when I fought P&O and won.

The second when Richard did that there book.

This time is just about a picture I did, and being Teh Tranz had nothing to do with it.

Which is good, and though a small thing, one worth blowing one of those party streamer kazoo things for, at least once. *THHHRRRRRPPP*

Sorry about the humblebrag. At least I hope it was humble.

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telling our story

1949_Irene_Dunne_Cavalcade_of_America_NBC_Microphone_Press_Photo

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.

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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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