I have had problems on the domestic front with a new bathroom being installed at the instigation of the landlord. The appropriately named Cox, the builder, has removed the bath and replaced it with a shower which doesn’t work properly. He thinks that doing this will solve some imaginary problem with the central heating downstairs. This is because he is a cretin. I try to explain why he is wrong, and he goes a funny colour, puffs up his cheeks, and drills a hole in something. This is a ritual gesture, designed to demonstrate that
He is a man, and therefore knows what he is doing, and I am either
A woman, and therefore incapable of holding a worthwhile opinion, or
A lunatic, which amounts to pretty much the same thing.
I am talking through this with my landlord, the grandly-titled Mr Brandt-Bull, Lord Itton (he bought the title…). And at the end of the chat, as a postscript, I touch on the subject of his persisting in referring to me as “Andrew” and “dear boy.” (He is rather old, be it understood).
“…You know that I am changing,” I say.
“Oh, yes; it’s wonderful what you can do…” he replies. “Will there be any physical changes?”
I look down at my chest. I gesture at my tits. “These are real, you know.”
He gets all excited and makes little pawing gestures in the air. “Oh, I think that’s marvellous…”
…the next day, I am up a ladder in his front room, fixing a curtain rail for him. He brings me a glass of whisky.
“…It’s really rather marvellous, isn’t it,” he says again, waving in the general direction of my chest. “What is it the Indians say? –Ivory minarets, cunningly wrought.”
..and so another voyage ends, and I start to ease back into this other version of reality. Hello again.
This last trip began in Falmouth, where the ship was undergoing its annual refit. I’d been a bit worried about my personal safety, as there was still the obnoxious storeman’s threat of violence hanging over me, and the dockyard can be a dangerous place at the best of times, in the dark, with bloody deep dry docks around the place. Fortunately, he’d had a car accident, and was at home securely strapped into a brace. Naturally, I wished him well… not….
So it was a bit of a doddle in some ways, although there were accidents… Joe, the Glaswegian motorman, was rolling back to the ship after a night on the town, and tripped over a rail and cracked his face something chronic –had to have a steel plate put in… as one of the engineers said, “It was the first time the Flying Scotsman had been seen on the GWR…”
I was rather grateful that I’d recently got up to date with all my jabs; I had to dismantle and overhaul the dirty end of the Vacuum Toilet System. “Crikey; this clears out the sinuses,” I remarked to my workmate as we were hit by a waft of what I presume was uric acid… later, as I was showering up, I noticed that my silver necklace had turned blue…
Had a night on the town with my friends from the ship’s shop. XXX the manager is gay, although not desperately obviously so during working hours. Off duty, however, he lets his hair down and adopts his alter ego of Mrs Campfire. “Camp as a sack of fannies,” as he would say himself. He returned at one point from the loos, and smugly announced that he’d just managed some successful cottaging… the talk got on to Portsmouth, which was generally agreed to be a stupendously ugly and rough place. XXX stood up for it, on the grounds that he liked the men there.
“I like my men macho,” he told me. “Do you?”
“I don’t actually ‘do’ men,” I replied.
His face was a picture. He was mortified, and deeply apologetic. It’s funny, the assumptions people make, with the best will in the world. The crucial thing is that he was honest and open to hearing the facts. Unlike that silly woman who wrote that Guardian piece… Academics? –ha. Minds as open as a trap… (sorry, diatribe coming on. Quick; back to What I Did On My Hols…)
…and so it went on. Sometimes I feel quite privileged to have the job I do have. Still, one day it will be nice to give it up and work with people who never knew the old me, and then I won’t be so busy asserting my identity that it’s always an issue. Maybe. Perhaps.
Dream on, girl.
Bloody heck, I could sleep for a week. Set a course for bed, Number One. Goodnight, moon….
Somewhere off St Aldhelm’s Head…Normal service will be resumed, etc. In the meantime, a transcript of something I wrote on a personally significant date.
I’m just coming to the end of my second week on board. The run to Spain
which we’ve just completed was eventful for several reasons; there was some considerable rowdiness and violence, which I was slightly mixed up in….
More personally, I was flashed at. Goes like this; there’s me doing my
safety rounds at 0300ish, and I encounter this bloke standing there in boxer shorts of a rather unhygienic shade of grey. He puts his hands behind his head and makes gross pelvic thrusts in my direction, saying, “I’ve got something in me boxers fer you, doll.” There’s this THING flopping around down there. Quite sick-making. But I am equally struck by the look of contempt and hatred in his face. It’s one thing to know about misogyny, and another to be on the receiving end of such an extreme example of it. Not that I think ALL men are bastards, you know….
And the next night, I get my tits groped. By a woman who wants to know if
they’re real. Well, really.
All of this takes place just before my second birthday, as it were. It
was two years ago today that I started on the girly pills. Well, I guess
that marks progress. Of a sort.
I bundled the usual gear for lightweight camping into the car. I added a small girl and myself, and headed for Portsmouth. I picked up my crew concessionary ticket, and off we went to Spain. Leaving behind, as it happens
- road maps
any sense of organisation.
Katie charmed the sea boot socks off the crew, and we even got to see dolphins, when we popped onto the bridge to see Clive, the Wildlife Officer, and, after a quiet day for the cetaceans, a whole bunch of them arrived at once… just to say hello, like…
It was a bit optimistic to hope to wander among the high meadows of the Pyrenees admiring the gentians; there was still plenty of snow up there. We tried to drive up through the tops of the clouds, but ran out of road; the pass was still closed. So we came down again, looking at the terrific drops at the side of the unfenced and hairpin-rich road, and blanching ever so slightly.
Picnicking on a high mountain spur and watching vultures sail by, and wheel up above the crags.
Camping in the pouring rain on the river bank below a mediaeval village, and having our pain au chocolat and chocolate drinks in a cafe frequented by red-nosed agricultural types knocking back something rather alcoholic-looking for nine in the morning.
And, after an epic drive through the night… beachcombing in Britanny. God, it was cold.
And so for home. We called into Carrefour in Cherbourg to get some snacks for the final leg, and there were louts shouting obscenities across the alcohol aisles. English blokes, of course. I exchanged a disgusted look with the woman on the till, and felt very un-english and very anti-blokeish.
Two days later I was at sea again, back at work.
Much excitement. There’s a… what to call her? “Girl like me?” -anyhow, she got her transitioning out of the way a long time ago. I was rather concerned about introducing myself to her, as, as has been emphatically pointed out by some folk in the past, it takes more than a shared medical condition to make a sisterhood, blah blah, but anyway, we hit it off fairly well, and it is nice to have someone else on board with a commonality of experience.
Of course, ships being what they are, she was number one topic of conversation for a while. It was instructive to have my colleagues refer to her variously, and often in the same sentence, as “he,” “she” and “it”. (But then the Engine Room Trolls often use “it” as a pronoun for women, especially any woman daft enough to sleep with one of them…) …I wondered what sort of things they say about me when I’m out of hearing… When the subject of K*** came up, I said, “It’s a new company directive. Every department must have at least one tranny.”
“We had ours first,” said Dave, in a slightly pleased and proprietorial way…
Small vignette; Southampton on a Friday night. We’ve put in for an emergency docking, as we had blown up a generator. While the rest of the crew head for the fleshpots, K*** and I go to the Seaman’s Mission, as she wants to use the Internet. We ring the bell. The barman looks mistrustfully at us. “We’re off the Bilbao,” I explain. And so we get in, and join a couple of our ABs who got there before us. Sign of the times; the place is emty except for we four… and except for the Fo’c’sle Folk Club, who are singing along to some bloke murdering a concertina in the hall at the back. The women’s loos are sited in this hall, so I have to squeeze past the perfomers to get there. Strange looking lot, folkies…
One thing that K*** said which I though interesting was that, when she arrived, people seemed quite blase; she wondered then if there was someone else on board. It got me thinking back to how it was when I first arrived in female clothes, and the ratings were pointing at me and dashing off to guffaw together in their cabins. Yes, things are changing round there; I am generally accepted, exctept for a few diehard Trolls…
Which made it such a massive blow when I was talking with the Chief Engineer, just before getting off. He’s been trying to get me to take the storekeeper’s job, because he wants someone with a greater intellectual capacity than a clockwork mouse, which is generally what they’ve had ito put up with in the job until now. I’ve fought shy of the notion, as it means being back in the engine room, having been pretty well assimilated into the repair team… but it means promotion, and that means more money and that trip to Thailand all the sooner… anyway, I need a forklift driving certificate, so he calls the personnel department in Portsmouth to organise it. Throughout the conversation on the telephone, he refers to me as “he”. I leave you to imagine how I felt. When he put the phone down, I said, “When I call her, I’m going to have to try to undo the damage you’ve just done.”
“I didn’t want to confuse them,” he said.
This is very very annoying….)
Until now, I’ve just tried to make things up as I go along and hope for the best. The time has come to write the Chief a nice letter, and add the Gender Trust Guide For Employers.
Some more vignettes.
Me buying some Urban Decay eyeshadow at Debenhams. The chap who serves me is flagrantly gay, and an unwholesome shade of orange with fake tan. We concieve an instant and mutual dislike. The transaction is conducted with the minimum of words consonant with goood manners. Is this a gay sort of thing, a dislike of TSs?
Me, people watching, waiting at the barrier at Bristol Temple Meads station to pick somebody up. A large and unkempt bloke goes by and through the barrier. He turns and spits in my directioon. He walks on and turns again, gestures rudely and spits again. I smile warmly at him and mouth “teapot off”. But then I think; why me? I console myself with the thought that he’s a nutter. Certainly looked like one. But it really isn’t nice to spit at people. Perhaps his mummy should have told him…
So after a while I sort of woke up and realised I’d been staring at the same spot on the ceiling for several months, and thought, “what’s going on round here?” And what had been going on was that I was losing my sense of direction, and my sense of being in control of my life. You can only treat transitioning as a holiday with pay for so long, and then it’s time to wake up and take things seriously.
I realised that there was no way that I was going to afford the trip to Thailand; not without saddling myself with debt for years to come. I had heard that the local PCT was back in the black again (they’ve been in financial straits for years, since a couple of surgeons at the Childrens’ Hospital, er, caused the deaths of lots of babies. Big scandal…big compensation payouts…). So I discussed it with my GP, who is a really good and on-side man. He wrote to the PCT. They wrote back saying that they were reviewing funding.
Time passed. I wrote to the PCT. I got a reply on Saturday. It took a while to realise that it’s really a very good letter. It is proposed that I go back to CX, entering the stream at the referral for surgery stage. Which is where I would have been if I had started at CX, rather than having gone private. Which I was told I must do by the PCT in the first place…
So here’s hoping. Meanwhile, something which has for so long been ardently desired, suddenly becomes a real and present possibility. And I am breathless and euphoric and on the verge of tears. I guess this is not an unfamiliar sensation to some of you…
I have usually subscribed to the notion that I should just get on with things and give people time to adjust to me, thinking that once they get used to me the shock of the new will wear off and we can just get on with the job.
It was nothing like as easy as that. Obviously. I have experienced (still do, for that matter) sustained hostility from some people. Not many, but it’s there. And there has been harassment in various forms (see the calendar incident earlier in the diary, for example). The Chief Engineer has been theoretically supportive, but he is really out of his depth. I tried to propose to him that I bring in some literature on the subject.
“O no, I don’t think that’s necessary,” he said, horrified lest there be graphic pictures of willies being chopped off…
He thinks that I have been accepted by the engine room crew. What he means is that I am tolerated. The use of pronouns is a major niggle. They can be used in quite an aggressive way, if the user wants them to be… I mentioned the Chief Officer on a P&O ferry at Dover who transitioned. Things were done properly there; everyone was briefed, and instructed that inappropriate behaviour and language would be deemed as harassment, and dealt with accordingly.
“But they’re an officer,” he said.
There you have it in a nutshell.
But I don’t think that it would necessarily have helped if guidelines had been set out. The people who dislike me would dislike me even more for being constrained to action they do not feel right. It’s perhaps easier to have your enemies out in the open, and then you can bite back if they say the wrong thing. I do contempt rather well…
But it’s hard, sometimes.
Outside the Trollishness of the engine room, though, things are going really well, and I have been generally and thoroughly accepted; even defended. Example: I go to the galley to fix the platewash machine. It is operated by the Two Gerrits. There’s Smelly Gerrit, the albino nazi Afrikaaner (no, he really is a nazi…) and Nice Gerrit, the quiet Zimbabwean. Smelly Gerrit calls across to Nice Gerrit.
“Eh; da repperMIN as com to do the washer”, he calls.
“RepperWUMMIN!” calls back nice Gerrit…
I feel rather privileged to work among such a nice bunch of people.
…and today P&O will be announcing huge cuts….
“No tool bag this morning?” says the woman.
“Plenty of shopping, though,” I reply.
“It’s nice to see a woman doing your job,” she says.
I agree. It is.