Category Archives: Madness!

One Year Later…

On Thursday, I was preparing for my first appointment at the Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) and gathering together the papers that demonstrate that I’ve been living as a man, openly and publicly in every aspect of my life, for some time. I came across a letter I’d asked my then boss to write for me, containing the date on which I came out at work and so began my ‘official’ real-life experience. My appointment happened to be one year on exactly from that day, which is quite a coincidence. Following this, my first experience of the GIC and the suggestion of a friend on Facebook, I’ve decided to reflect a bit on what this year has brought along and where I’m at.

Prior to coming out to my colleagues, I’d told a few people but otherwise kept things secret. Knowing that transgender people have been hounded out of jobs and faced discrimination, I was very nervous about how people would react to me. On the whole, I needn’t have been. The vast, vast majority have either been overtly supportive, or just quietly got on with using the right name and correct pronouns without saying anything specific about it all. I’ve had to deal with a couple of idiots outside of my department and some guys being jerks when it comes to my using the gents’ loos, but that has been very rare, thankfully. It’s been a similar story with church and the rest of my life down here in Milton Keynes.

Being able to be completely open about who I am has been an incredibly liberating experience, which has freed me from having to pretend all the time and repress part of myself. I think I’ve grown in confidence and am much more settled as a result. I’ve now got a whole new wardrobe and very few of my ‘female clothes’ have survived the cull. When I’ve got the money, I’ll get a new suit, which is really the last big purchase; the rest of my stuff is either from the blokes’ sections of stores, or as near as damned it. This outward change, together with my new hairdo (short and spiky) has helped me to feel more settled as Karl and again boosted my confidence.

In terms of everyday life, little has changed, though there are specific issues which were previously uncomplicated but now take thought:

  • Toilets: which to use and when. When it’s safe to do so, I use male toilets, but that’s not always practical. For example, in busy public places like the shopping centre and the cinema, I worry I’m more likely to encounter a member of the public with ‘Daily Mail views’, and get a hard time. This is more of a fear in places where alcohol feeds in, and not all pubs have an easily accessible disabled toilet. Wetherspoons pubs are particularly bad for this, so I have to find strategies when I go there. Generally there is the back-up option of a disabled toilet elsewhere, but I’m always worried I’m stopping someone with a disability from using it, and so it gets complicated.
  • Changing rooms. These are even more awkward, due to the lack of privacy and need for nudity. I don’t want to use the female facilities, can’t yet use the male ones, and some disabled changing rooms are rubbish. I’m yet to find a gym where this isn’t a problem.
  • Clothes shopping: trans-friendly stores. My early experiences of trying to buy men’s clothes were complicated by not knowing my sizes, and also by not passing, which meant store staff often didn’t know how to deal with me. One shop (BHS) accused me of shoplifting because I tried on a men’s shirt. Another (H&M) wouldn’t let me use the male changing rooms or take men’s clothes into female changing rooms. I do wonder if I should’ve just changed in the middle of that store to make the point, but I didn’t dare! (Probably for the best!). Now I’ve learnt that stores like House of Fraser are very good and let me use the right changing rooms without hassle, but as I know my sizes, I can usually get away with trying things at home with the reasonable hope of them fitting.
  • Dealing with the NHS. In the absence of being able to get my paws on testosterone, I’ve been taking female contraceptives to stop my menstruation. My GP practice have been fine with this, but I am amused by always getting the lecture on safe sex, as if Tractorgirl could be the source of a sort of virgin birth part two! People just don’t get LGBT relationships sometimes… Moreover, one has to be the expert most of the time – my GP had never met a trans person till I walked in – and one of the nice things about going to the GIC was being able to be the patient for once!
  • Being allowed to leave the country. To get a new passport with the correct gender marker, I’ve needed a letter from my GP. Not a problem, but another little thing that makes transgender life more …. hard work/time-consuming/bureaucratic. There are also places such as Canada where travel can be complicated for someone like me who is yet to begin treatment, which is a bugger when planning a honeymoon!
  • Telephones. As my voice still sounds female, I sometimes have trouble getting people to believe I am who I say I am over the phone. For example, one time at work someone was convinced they’d got the wrong number, even when a colleague grabbed the phone and told them otherwise! More recently, I had a phone call from a recruitment consultant who refused to believe I was me, and asked what name to call me despite having my CV in front of him with ‘Karl’ looming up at him! Clearly his firm need better diversity training.
  • Inane questions. Most of the time, when people ask me about what being transgender/transsexual means and is like, they’re genuinely interested and do so sensitively. As I reckon it’s best they hear what it’s all about from me rather than the Daily (Hate) Mail, I’m happy to chat and share my experiences. However, questions about my genitals are not acceptable – would you quiz anyone else on what they’ve got in their trousers? No. Well, mind your own business when you’re talking to me then! It is odd how one’s body can be viewed as public property as the NHS is the gatekeeper of gender reassignment…
  • Transgender media coverage. Some of the rubbish written about trans people of all shades can be quite hard to deal with, especially when it filters through to the popular imagination (see above). For example, in the week I came out, there was a big fuss being whipped up by the Sun about a trans man giving birth, and I remember hearing some vicious negative comments at work. Hopefully having to deal with a real live trans man has helped dispel some of that nonsense and prejudice, but it made me feel scared. I imagine this is even worse for trans women, who in the early stages of their transitions are usually more visible than I’ve been – chatting to others suggests they do get more flack, not helped by the press portrayl of us.
  • Correcting people on pronouns. Trans men at this pre-hormones stage often get mistaken for women and have to spend time correcting people. 95% of stuff shouted at me in the street has been homophobic, not transphobic, and I understand this is other people’s experience too. I suppose it’s a product of the much wider range of gender expression which is usually considered acceptable for women that people look at me and assume I’m a woman, and sometimes think I must be a lesbian. However, for me, it’s a pain in the backside, and means I spend a lot of time telling people off for making assumptions. Getting my chest binder has given me more confidence to do so.
  • Waiting lists. Going forward, I need to go through a second assessment at the GIC, this time with two shrinks, before I can start hormones. At least this time I have a date for my grilling. The uncertainty of the waiting and not knowing has been tough on both of us, especially with the move to GP commissing and worries about funding. It has felt at times like living in limbo.

That’s just a few of my niggles! It’s important to stress though that this has been an incredibly positive year on the whole, despite the above. Looking to the future, I can begin to see the end point, at which I’ll be able to live as a normal bloke, post second-puberty, chest operation and hysterectomy. I do worry whether Tractorgirl will still find me attractive when all is said and done, which is miles scarier than anything a surgeon could do, but we’re taking it day by day (cliche time – sorry!) and getting there. I take comfort from the fact we wouldn’t be getting hitched if she wasn’t, like me, willing to give it a bloody good go! I think we’ve also grown closer through this and having to deal with our feelings when they’ve risen to the surface, so I’m cautiously optimistic.

So. that’s year one in the life of a transsexual man. I’ve run out of things to type now, so I’ll stop!

Afternoon Tea at Tiffeny’s, and other randomness

It’s been a busy couple of months, but as I now have the internet working at home and the rare luxury of  a free evening, I’ve decided that it’s about time my blog came back to life again, so here’s an update on life:

 

  • I think I’m over my mini crisis of faith, and have actually found a degree of settledness and peace. I guess I’ve finally grasped that it’s ok just to be me, and not to try and push myself into other people’s boxes, because it doesn’t work. I can’t pretend I’ve got my prayer life magically sorted, but I feel relaxed with God, which is a huge step forward.
  • I’m now a graduate of he University of Durham. The day was amazing, and it was great to be able to enjoy it with my partner, parents and friends. I still can’t quite believe I finally made it, and how different I was when I started the whole thing compared to where I am now. I’ve changed so much for the better…. God is very good.
  • I’m now a Methodist Local Preacher – don’t ask me how that happened! I had my first service early last the month, which went very well, and I’m off out with my mentor in Stony Stratford in a week and a half. It’s exciting and scary, but mostly it just feels very right and very ‘me’ somehow. The bit that scares me is the way the whole ordination thing seems to be inching its way back onto the agenda at unexpected moments…
  • The banking world is pretty much the same. I’m now at the stage where most of the stuff from my predecessor has been gone through, documented and tidied up, and I can begin working on my own projects, which is  a good thing.
  • I’ve almost (finally) finished two papers based on my PhD thesis, which I hope to send to my supervisor soon, and then to get published. I miss the world of maths, and want to keep the door open for getting a post-doctoral research position. It’s been nice getting back to grips with it all 🙂
  • I’ve joined a gym, and am seriously working on getting fit.
  • Most importantly of all, Tractorgirl and I have now been together for eighteen months, and I love her more than ever.

At the weekend, I went on a retreat with some friends from Bang! and had a very random dream about a friend of mine directing and presenting a daytime television show called ‘Afternoon Tea at Tiffeny’s’. I might float the idea to the BBC one day…  In the meantime, here’s a couple of graduation pictures:

Me with my parents
Tractorgirl and me chilling after the graduation dinner

Why £9000 a year is wrong

I come from a very ordinary background. I was born and raised on an impoverished council estate in Preston, Lancashire by two ordinary people. My mother is a housewife (and cleaning obsessive, but that’s another story… ) and my father trained as a painter, decorator and joiner before ending up down sewers (which oddly enough, he enjoys… ). We didn’t have much money to go around but my parents made sacrifices so that my brother and I didn’t have to go without. I was able to use the education system to escape my surroundings and have been fortunate enough to study for an MMath at Bath University and a PhD at Durham, the former with around £1000 a year tuition fees, of which we had to pay around £200 because of my family’s income. Even so, I still have around £18k worth of student debt that I will gradually pay off, with the interest rate being linked to the RPI so I pay back what I borrowed in real terms. Despite this, I am one of the lucky ones.

Last week, students marched to protest at a possible rise in tuition fees to £9000, from a coalition government containing Liberal Democrats who made a manifesto promise, which Clegg apparently now regrets, not to raise fees. If this gets through, it will be accompanied by a drop in the money available to universities from state funds for undergraduate teaching, the shortfall being met by these increased fees. Now, I’m not in favour of using violence to achieve one’s aims and so do not condone the smashing of windows at Tory HQ, but I find it hard to blame those who did it. The new structure will, especially if accompanied by a flexible system allowing different universities to charge varying fee levels, lead to a situation where the poorest young people face active financial discouragement from pursuing a university career, or applying to the best universities as opposed to the less prestigious and cheaper institutions.

This is bad for several reasons, five of which are:

1) For someone from a fee-paying school, £9k a year may seem relatively little to just pay up-front, but for someone on the average household income or less, it’s a huge amount. Students from poorer backgrounds will therefore accumulate huge debts, before we get to living costs on top of that. For a four-year degree, that could mean around £56000 worth of debts, and with the proposed interest rate of the RPI + 3%, it will grow quickly unless the person walks straight into a high-payed job, which many will not be able or choose to do – we need public servants after all! This represents a steep financial barrier, to make the understatement of the year…

2) Social mobility reduced during Labour’s time in power, despite various measures to boost it (though not always joined up with other policies, alas), such as the Sure Start schemes. There is already ample evidence that the biggest determining factor of success later in life is the financial status of one’s parents. Widening access to university is one of the key measures in seeking to open doors to able young people who come from poorer backgrounds. I was able to take advantage of this, but was part of  a year of 170 pupils with only a handful of us going onto university. Aspirations were already low, and these fees will only increase the sense that higher education is ‘not for the likes of us’. Why should children from poorer backgrounds be forced to lower their sights like this? It’s a waste of so much potential.

3) Britain’s economy is moving away (and has been for some time)  from manufacturing to a service-sector based approach with financial services and research and development being key areas of growth. If we are to continue to compete with fast-growing and fast-developing nations like India and China, we need as well-educated a workforce as possible, and, let’s face it, we only need so many plumbers, electricians and so on.  Making higher education inaccessible to a whole sector of society wastes vital skills and talent that we will need if we as a nation seek to prosper in the global economy. We cannot afford to simply push young people into trades regardless of their suitability for these (and for that matter, nor should we discourage middle-class kids from exploring these avenues rather than pushing them into university).

4) Ministers seem to forget that even if one does go into a well-paid graduate job after university (by which I mean £20k+), it takes a certain amount of time to get clear of initial debts like overdrafts accumulated during study or from relocation costs. One is not necessarily awash with money the instant one starts work! Saddling graduates with sizable loan repayments will make it more difficult to get started in life, as finances can be initially very tight, and harder to save for the deposit for a mortgage, and so on.

5) Where is the incentive to go onto further study knowing that through the three or four years it can take to do a PhD, one is accumulating even more of  a mini-mortgage without the resources to begin paying it back? This may lead to fewer UK students doing PhDs and, as already argued, we need such people if we want a thriving university sector and to continue to be a world leader in research and development. That is, unless we are happy to rely on people coming from abroad to fill these roles, but then the same right-wingers who favour these changes to HE are often not very keen on immigration…

Rant over…. this is simply a subject that makes my blood boil. Other young people should have the same opportunities I did or better, not less!

Update on life

I haven’t been able to blog since the move (no landline yet and internet at work is severely restricted) so while I’m at a friend’s house, here’s an update on life.

I successfully made the move to MK just over three weeks ago now. My house is lovely and I’m just about sorted now; just awaiting the arrival of my new sofa in a fortnight, and need to buy one or two more small bits of furniture. It’s been good on the whole to have my own place, but also quite lonely sometimes to come home after work to an empty house. I think I’m getting used to that, but do find it hard, especially as TractorGirl and I, with all that her life has involved recently, haven’t seen each other for a while. I do miss her loads.

Work has been going well. My first couple of days were a bit dull until my computer log-on got sorted out, but soon after, things got quite busy. Along with my boss, I am taking over a load of mathematical modelling work from someone who is leaving for a job with less of a daily commute, and so my first three weeks have been the handover period and trying to get to grips with where things currently stand. It’s been a little daunting to say the least, but I now have more of an idea what’s going on. It’s a nice place to work; I’ve had one or two jokes made about my ties, but all light-hearted (and it’s nice to stand out in an office dominated by men in open-neck shirts in various dull pastel shades…) and think that given time, I’ll fit in well. Quite out of the blue, the other day I was offered a job in Durham (a little too late, alas) but I’m pretty sure I’ll stay put.

Milton Keynes itself is an odd place. I live about a twenty-five minute walk from work along the redways (which are quite confusing when one is not used to them) but there are no local shops in the village, so getting food in involves wandering into town. I’ve joined an amateur drama group, an astronomy club, found a bible study and hopefully some LGBT stuff to fill my time, and am using the weekends when I don’t get to see TractorGirl to explore the region around MK. So far, this has involved trips to London (and a wonderful concert at St Martin-in-the-Fields) and Bath (for a GCN gathering), and in a month’s time I’m off to Brighton for some shopping

Finding a church has been rather harder going. I went to my local parish church and it was like Monty Python-meets-Alpha! It was without a doubt the oddest place I’ve tried in a while. The parishioners I’ve spoken to are friendly enough, but after a comedy moment (involving jumping back and shrieking) when, after a discussion over tea with Mrs Vicar, I decided I needed to be honest, with where the conversation had gone, about my sexuality (I swear some people think lesbianism is a disease they can catch!) I think it might not be the easiest place to settle. Besides, I can’t be doing with being bombarded with over-simplistic evangelical cliches and vapid songs. Christ the Cornerstone in the centre of MK seems a better bet, so I will have to get used to getting up slightly earlier on a Sunday.

Overall, my first few weeks of ‘real adulthood’ have gone well, but been hard in various ways (I haven’t mentioned the whole trouble I’ve had getting a bank account (a condition of employment) because it makes my blood boil). I miss TractorGirl, but am beginning to settle in.

One of God’s little jokes?

The benefits scenario reached its highly silly climax today. The Job Centre, having confused the information from the University, will not give me benefits because my name is not on a pass list, despite me having ceased to be a full-time student some time ago. This now leaves me in an interesting financial position…

On the good side, Tractorgirl seems finally to have grasped that I love her and that the precise language we use to make a formal commitment to each other matters far, far less than the commitment itself. This will make my life  easier! Also, my thesis has now been corrected and awaits the approval of the internal examiner, which means it should finally be finished soon, and I have an interview for a really good job down south tomorrow.

I leave you with a dose of Monty Python to keep you smiling 🙂

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5TLeyUTm8gQ[/youtube]

Honesty is always the best policy?

Life got even more ludicrous today.

I’ve been waiting for my Jobseeker’s Allowance to come through and it’s taken nearly two months to discover the problem – my theology course. I need this sorted to have the piece of paper to take to the council to claim my housing benefit, so it is very important.

When I first signed on, I made the mistake of being honest about doing my theology course. The rules say that anything involving sixteen hours or more study time per week constitutes full-time study (which seems silly to me – a bit like adult prices starting from age twelve) and thus would mean one is not entitled to benefits. Now, my course involves one (at its peak two) evening classes a week of two-and-a-half hours each. Even then with private study hours matching contact hours, I have only been doing ten hours per week study at most.

However, as I discovered recently when trying to use a computer in a postgraduate-only room in the university, they (Durham University, who validate my theology course) have registered me as an undergraduate (despite me technically still being a postgraduate, though as I have been viva-ed already, I’m not any more). What’s more, they have me down as a full-time student.

Therefore, I find myself in a fix. What counts in the eyes of the law is the title, not the reality. Thus, being registered as a full-time student, I officially do sixteen hours plus in a week, by definition, even though this does not match the reality. The implication is that the money I was hoping to get paid will not appear as the course only finished yesterday and it’s only from today that I am not a full-time student, not when I made my claim after my PhD viva.

It seems crazy to me that a desire to be honest and upfront could cause so many issues. I stand to lose about £400 in JSA and another £310 in housing benefit as a result of this. The theology course people are refusing to send a letter to the Job Centre explaining the reality of the situation, or that seemed to be the gist of the phone conversation I had this morning. I don’t know if the Job Centre will accept there was an honest misunderstanding, or whether I’ll now be accused of making a false claim.

Moreover, this was money I was planning to use for a deposit on a flat when the time comes to move to start my job, whichever one that ends up being. I’ve already taken out a loan from my bank, so I don’t think borrowing more is an option, so if I need to find a deposit and first month’s rent, plus meet the cost of moving, I could be up shit creek without a paddle unless maybe my employer can help, but of course they have no such obligation. My parents may be able to help, but that’s also a case of ‘wait and see’. I would have been much better off and had far less stress if I had lied, which surely is wrong!?!

Ever feel the walls are closing in? There’s only one thing to sing at a time like this, on the basis that anything is better than a nervous breakdown:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1loyjm4SOa0[/youtube]