Category Archives: Stereotypes

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!

On Disagreeing with Julie Burchill

Having come across, via TractorGirl and a debate on Twitter, this article in the Observer by Julie Burchill, I’d like to post a reply from my perspective as a transsexual man.

As I understand it, a row erupted after Suzanne Moore, a veteran journalist whose writing I normally have lots of time for, made a passing comment in a piece about women’s anger about women being angry that they do not have the body of a “Brazilian transsexual”. Bearing in mind I agree with the rest of her argument about women still being treated as second-class, under-represented in the upper echelons of the political world, hit hardest by the recession and living in an environment where violence against women is an ‘occupational hazard’, if you will, this comment is unnecessary and ill-informed. Having been involved in a Transgender Day of Remembrance event this year, I had to put together a list of those killed in the last year as a result of transphobic violence. The vast majority were Brazilian women, and reading the brief reports of their deaths was incredibly sad. Thus, I think Moore’s throwaway comment was in very poor taste.

In response to this, Moore has apparently been hounded off Twitter by trans activists, according to her friend Burchill, whose article is a whole different kettle of fish to Moore’s silly comment. As a deliberate non-user of Twitter I haven’t seen the threads myself, but alas, I do know from experience that some in the trans community do us no favours with their responses and temper. However, it seems to me that Burchill’s article is a hate-filled rant rather than any kind of reasoned argument, despite no doubt reflecting the views of some, as the comments on CiF show.

Before going through what she has to say, a few thoughts on life as a trans man in the early stages of gender reassignment. I’ve come to the conclusion that my gender has three aspects – the ontological (the essence of who I am, which is definitely male), the biological (which is currently female) and the social, the expectations and societal norms I encounter as a result of my biology. I wish to transition as the biological (body) doesn’t match the ontological (brain), which is very painful for me, and as because people go off appearances, I’m not treated as a man by most (even those who know the score sturggle at the moment). Hopefully, as I move forward with the process and my body increasingly matches my brain (which will be a huge relief and a liberation), the social side will follow and I’ll be able to get on with my life as an ordinary bloke. Key in this is the point that what ‘lower surgery’ I have or haven’t had shouldn’t be an issue when it comes to daily interactions – we don’t insist on seeing someone’s genitals before deciding how treat them, so why is it anyone else’s business what I do or not have? The obsession with penises baffles me!

Anyway, back to Burchill. She argues that the response to Moore’s comment from some in the trans community was like “those wretched inner-city kids who shoot another inner-city kid dead in a fast-food shop for not showing them enough ‘respect'”. She describes trans people as “educated beyond all common sense and honesty” and justifies using the word ‘tranny’, which is deeply offensive and often used by those harassing us, on the basis that she doesn’t like the term ‘cis-gendered’ being used for non-trans people. There then follows a rant about coming from working-class roots and “we are damned if we are going to be accused of being privileged by a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs”. Her last two paragraphs speak for themselves:

“To have your cock cut off and then plead special privileges as women – above natural-born women, who don’t know the meaning of suffering, apparently – is a bit like the old definition of chutzpah: the boy who killed his parents and then asked the jury for clemency on the grounds he was an orphan.

“Shims, shemales, whatever you’re calling yourselves these days – don’t threaten or bully us lowly natural-born women, I warn you. We may not have as many lovely big swinging Phds as you, but we’ve experienced a lifetime of PMT and sexual harassment and many of us are now staring HRT and the menopause straight in the face – and still not flinching. Trust me, you ain’t seen nothing yet. You really won’t like us when we’re angry.”

In response, I’d like to say that:

  • Contrary to our total absence from this piece, trans men exist, too, albeit as a minority within a minority (trans folks) within the LGBT minority.
  • Having been stuck with a woman’s body for almost three decades, I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of misogyny, to feel threatened walking down the street by groups of men, to be ignored or patronised in the workplace and to suffer sexual violence, as well as putting up with PMT! Apart from the latter, many trans women experience these things too, as well as physical danger if they do not ‘pass’ as female. Sex discrimination an issue facing all women, cis- and trans-gendered.
  • Moreover, taking transphobic violence seriously is not mutually exclusive from taking violence against women seriously – the suggestion is just daft! I thought the point of feminism was that discrimination based on gender is wrong. Surely this applies as much to trans people (male and female and everything in-between!) as cis-gendered women?
  • It seems very odd to criticise people for being well-educated! Or is it only certain people that should be allowed to use academic language e.g. radical feminists?
  • Being from a working-class background doesn’t stop one being privileged. I’m from a council estate in Lancashire and from a household that wouldn’t have survived if it wasn’t for income support. My education (one of those pesky PhDs I’m afraid, Julie!), at which I worked bloody hard, and the opportunities I’ve had as a result does give me advantages over someone denied those chances; as proud as I am of my roots, it’s something I can’t deny. Similarly, being cis-gendered is a privileged position compared to being trans – people expect one to be so, most people are, and there are challenges one will never have to face as a result. It’s the same as heteronormativity in its context…
  • I thought we were trying to move away from a world in which a person is defined by their body, and in particular a woman is defined (and limited) by having the capacity to give birth. Are women only really women now when they’ve been mothers? What about those who cannot or choose not to or never get the chance to have children – are they not ‘real women’? I suspect Burchill and company may have rather more in common with the Pope than they realise! Moreover, as I argued above, we judge people on the basis of secondary sex characteristics in all but intimate sexual encounters, so why the obsession with genitals??
  • Better “a bunch of bad-wetters in bad wigs” than someone who thinks hurling insults will help their argument…

In summary, I think Julie Burchill is massively out of line here. We live in a democracy and if she sees someone like me as a woman pretending to be a man, that’s up to her. However, using a national newspaper to spout transphobia shows that she needs to do some serious growing up. Around a third of all trans people will attempt suicide at some point, as the threats, harassment and violence we face are very real, just as they are for millions of cis-gendered women throughout the world. Last year, over 250 people were killed worldwide as a result of transphobia. Yes, the community can be somewhat introverted and defensive, but it’s not without reason…

On Being Radicalised

I’ve come to the conclusion I’ve been radicalised … by the Conservative Party. Allow me to explain.

There’s an increasingly right-wing faction gaining sway within the Conservative Party that believes that the Coalition is too left-wing and soft. It wants to take Thatcherism well beyond what Maggie did, and in a book shortly to be published called Britannia Unchained, the authors claim that the only way for Britain to compete in a global marketplace is to reduce the state to the bare bones and radically reduce employment rights, including abolishing the minimum wage. This group seem to have the ear of the odious George Osborne, and this week’s Tory conference included a lot of telling rhetoric about working harder and longer.

The basic ideas seem to be the following:

  • Employees have “excessive protections”, and not being able to fire someone for not busting a gut continually is unreasonable and creating a nation of idlers.
  • The claim is made that Britons work some of the lowest hours in the world, something I’ll examine later
  • The minimum wage for under-21s (the lavish sum of between £3.68 and £4.98 per hour) should be abolished to get more young people into work
  • The state should provide little more than a basic safety net
  • ‘Raw capitalism’, unhindered by employment laws, a minimum wage and environmental responsibility is the only way forward.

Paul Mason, the BBC’s economic editor, sums up the proposals as:

‘The race to the bottom, to be like China, is on, and we’re all going to do it. So your wages will meet the Chinese somewhere, and so will your social conditions”

Given the sorts of noises coming from the Tory leadership, it seems that while the Coalition is too fragile to go anywhere near as far as Dominic Raab and others would like to go, some of this mindset is finding its way into the mainstream. I, for one, think that Cameron and company are already living in a bubble and implementing policies that will be massively detrimental to some of the most vulnerable people in society. This ‘revolution’ is plain frightening, and I can’t be the only one who sees a society with no job security, slavish hours and social breakdown as a disaster, not an aspiration.

Let’s examine both some of the proposals from the conference and the claims of Raab and co:

  • Scraping housing benefit for under 25s is one of the stupidest things I’ve heard in years. The argument made is that many people are living at home well into their 30s while they struggle to get together the deposit for their own home, so why should others be supported in being independent by the state? Well, for starters, for many young people, moving back in with mum and dad is simply not an option: no room/overcrowding, abusive families, drug and alcohol issues (on both sides), poverty, no mum and dad. Moreover, even if one could go back to a safe and happy home, not everyone lives in an area with good job prospects, particularly in areas like the North East. I’d love to get on the housing ladder, but do not believe this should be at the expense of creating misery and making it harder for young people to study (especially those going back to college), escape abuse and be safe. Shelter argue that this policy will put young people in danger or trap them. It’s ideology-driven madness.

 

  • Slashing benefits, and making them rise slower than inflation: I grew up on a deprived council estate with around 2/3 of people being without work when I was around fifteen. I did meet some who didn’t want to work and knew how to play the system. However, I also met a great deal more people who were unable to find a job despite filling out endless applications and were despairing, people trying to study or retrain but facing obstacles from the same benefit system that made it financially harmful to go into low-paid work (which means a better minimum wage, not greater poverty on benefits), and people whose life circumstances, such as disability, caring responsibilities, lack of decent childcare and so on made it impossible. To suggest that the majority of benefit claimants want to scrape by on next to nothing is absurd and simply untrue. Moreover, when there are no jobs around, what exactly are people supposed to do??? Existing on benefits should not be made even harder – for the vast majority, it’s not a choice and they are not scroungers!

 

  • Disabled people should be ‘encouraged’ back to work: Ruth Anim’s story is just one example of flawed assessments for disability benefit by private firm ATOS. Around a third of those turned down for benefits as a result of said assessments have had the decision overturned on appeal, and tragically, many have died after being declared fit to work. If someone wants to work and can do so given the conditions they live with, that should be supported and encouraged. However, forcing vulnerable people onto the Work Programme to save money is cruel. Moreover, mental health issues are often poorly understood, and along with the impact of various physical problems, ATOS assessors are not qualified to make these judgments. All the government has succeeded in doing is increasing hate crime and causing a great deal of distress. Enough is enough!

 

  • Employment rights can be traded for shares, and small firms should be subject to looser laws: In my not-so-humble opinion, trying to entice people into surrendering their rights, especially in relation to redundancy, is profoundly wrong. Increasing insecurity does not lead to greater productivity, but instead a dog-eat-dog environment in which teamwork suffers and stress-related illness increases. Ask anyone who has been in an organisation making selective compulsory redundancies. Moreover, as with exemptions to the European Working Time Directive, how long before signing away one’s rights becomes a condition of employment? Stress has already become the main reason for taking long-term sick leave. This will only cause more problems, and allow exploitive employers to demand unpaid overtime with impunity. What happened to work/life balance?

 

  • Britons work some of the shortest hours in the world. Such a view ignores some key statistics. For starters, according to the latest English Business Survey, 23% of businesses fear their employees are overstretched, compared to 9% who feel they are under-utilised. That doesn’t suggest laziness. The heart of the matter, though, is the balance of full- and part-time work. According to the Office for National Statistics, “The fall in average hours worked in the UK can in part be explained by the increase in the proportion of the UK workforce employed in part-time jobs, from 24 per cent in 1992 to around 27 per cent in 2011”, and partly because of the shift from manufacturing towards the service sector. Additionally, “Full-time workers in the UK work longer hours than the EU average”. However, my dear Tories, there’s no need to let facts get in the way of policies that benefit the wealthy, is there?

 

To finish my rant, here’s a pretty picture to illustrate the above. Note that the Greeks work the longest hours in Europe – fat lot of good that did them!

 

European working hours (Source: ONS)

Coming Out

There’s an article kicking around on the Guardian website at the moment about a book written by a palliative care nurse that lists the most common regrets people express on their death-bed. Apparently the regret people most frequently expressed to her when she counselled them in their last days was that they’d wished they’d had the courage to be true to themselves, rather than living according to the expectations of others. This is something I imagine most people have felt at some point in time – a regret that they’d tried so hard to be what they thought others expected or wanted, maybe struggling to be ‘normal’. Sometimes, however, we reach a crisis point, and putting on a façade or continuing to try to fit into others’ ‘boxes’ no longer works.

Over the past four years or so, since I had a bit of a breakdown, I’ve been doing a huge amount of coming to terms with who I really am, instead of what I thought I ought to be. This process has at times been incredibly painful, but also immensely positive. I feel I’ve gone from being unable to process or talk about difficult things in my past for fear of rejection and the consequences of opening the Pandora’s box, to being a fairly confident (which if you’d met me then is huge progress!) and basically happy person. This journey has brought me to a place where I need to acknowledge something fundamental about my identity that will mean making huge changes to my life, some of which bring sadness and uncertainty because of how they might impact people close to me, but which I hope will ultimately mean I am freer to be myself than is currently possible….

I’m transgender.

Transgender (often shortened to trans) is an umbrella term for various things, but in my case what it means is that I have always experienced a profound mismatch between my brain and my body, in that emotionally and psychologically I am very definitely male, even though my body is female. I’ve been aware of this for a long time, though it’s only recently I’ve acquired the vocabulary to be able to express my feelings, and the confidence to admit to myself, and so to others, what has been going on beneath the surface.

My earliest memory of realising I was ‘different’ dates back to when I was four and had started reception class. It was the first time I’d realised how differently boys and girls are treated. Suddenly I had to wear a skirt and was expected to be interested in ‘girl’s stuff’ and to want to spend time with the other girls, all of which felt completely wrong. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t being treated like one of the boys, which is what I felt I was, and while I don’t remember much from that time, I do clearly remember the disorientation and confusion I felt about what was happening.

That feeling didn’t go away as I got older, despite being allowed (though not without a few battles with my mother) to be a complete tomboy until I hit secondary school, when the gender distinctions if anything got even sharper, and being as boyish as I was resulted in bullying. I did have pretty short hair, and was ‘read’ as male on occasion, so it was very hard dealing with being called a boy in a skirt, as much as anything else because that’s how I actually felt and was scared others would find out.  I suppose it’s the stage of life when children start to become sexually aware, and in a hetero-normative setting, that means clear boundaries between the sexes. Anyway, as time went on, having to put on a show for the world and ‘act girly’ felt increasingly oppressive, compounded by hitting puberty and my body beginning to develop in ways that were quite contrary to what I wanted to be happening. The result of all this was deep unhappiness and discomfort, which I dealt with by attempting to ignore my feelings as much as possible and trying to fit in with what I thought I ought to be. Bear in mind that Section 28 was still law then, and I had no outlet to be able to discuss being attracted to women, let alone desperately wanting to be a man on the outside, as well as the inside.

As I said earlier, over the past few years, I’ve learnt to be honest with myself about who I really am, and a big part of that journey has been embracing my gender identity. Just being able to acknowledge the body-brain mismatch has already been a liberating and healing experience, but in order to be really happy in my own skin, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I need to embark on a process of gender reassignment; that is, I wish to ‘transition’ from being outwardly female to being outwardly male, so that body matches brain. This is not a decision I’ve come to lightly, and not without thinking long and hard about its implications and talking it through with my partner and closest friends. If there was an alternative, like therapy, that would allow me to be happy and whole, I’d jump at it, but there isn’t.

This means I’m going to undertake the NHS process to change my body; it’s a prolonged process that will last a number of years and eventually (it can be over eighteen months from seeing a GP to getting an initial appointment at a Gender Clinic) result in it being impossible to tell if you stopped me in the street for a chat that I wasn’t born with a male body. The NHS should pay for the testosterone shots I’ll need to take for life (and which, to pre-empt some comments, cost less to buy than the prescription charge, so the NHS makes a profit!) but I know I’m almost certainly going to need to pay for the surgery to remove my breasts, which could cost over £5000. Thus, it’ll be a while before there are any physical changes.

In the short term, however, I have to begin what’s called the ‘real-life experience’; that is, I have to begin living, as far as is possible, as a man. As such, my name has changed informally and soon will officially (by Deed Poll) and I’d appreciate it if people could refer to me using male pronouns (he, his, him, etc.). I know this will take time to get used to and there will be mistakes at first; I’m not going to jump down people’s throats if they accidentally slip up. However, if folks could try their best, then I’d be grateful. Doing this is a condition of further treatment, so it’s a hurdle I have to clear and not an optional thing.

Well, there you go! No doubt reading this sparks various questions, and given most people so far have asked me the same sorts of things, here’s a brief FAQ about transgender issues, followed by some useful links:

  • The best analogy I can think of for what it feels like to be trans goes something like this: imagine for the sake of argument that there’s a language called ‘male’ and another called ‘female’, within which there are different dialects and accents, but which are pretty distinct, at least to someone who struggles with languages. I’ve had to pick up the odd phrase of ‘female’ in order to be able to survive, but try as I might, I’ll never be fluent, or able to manage more than a few sentences even, whereas ‘male’ is my natural language and I can chat away in it quite happily given the chance. Anyone who’s ever found themselves in a foreign country not knowing much of the language may have experienced some of the inability to express themselves and resulting vulnerability that brings; it’s like that for me all the time. However, being stuck with a female body means I’ve never had much chance to practice my ‘male’ and so have a lot to learn about the grammar and syntax of the language, how it works, and much vocabulary to absorb. Transition is that learning process.
  • Being trans is most definitely not a choice. Various scientific studies have shown that hormone levels present during foetal development, and the foetus’ sensitivity to said hormones, can create a situation where the brain develops in one direction and the body in another, resulting in the mismatch trans folks experience on a daily basis. Moreover, as I’ve already explained, the process of correcting this is costly, painful and scary, for others as well as for me, and that’s without the stigma attached to not fitting in with social conventions surrounding gender. Yes, transition is a choice, but it’s a choice between a lifetime of being miserable or being whole. It’s as stark as that.
  • The process will not fundamentally change who I am. I will still be the same person, with the same personality, same abilities and faults, same likes and dislikes, same values, same faith. It’s a gender reassignment, not a full-blown personality transplant!
  • Some people have asked me why I want to bother, as I hardly strike them as the lager-swilling, football-mad skinhead type. Others have suggested that transition and the desire to ‘pass’ (to be perceived as male) only serve to reinforce an unhelpful gender binary. It’s true that people who do not feel they fit into either ‘box’, gender-queer people, suffer discrimination and sometimes struggle to deal with social constructs around gender. For what it’s worth, I think gender is a spectrum and can be fluid, something I occasionally experience too. However, I don’t see that the process I’m going to undertake makes this worse, as I’m not trying to conform to a particular stereotype; the point is that I’m figuring out what it means for me, a unique individual with a particular history, to be male and perceived as such. It’s about being fully myself, not conforming to someone else’s idea of what I should be.
  • For my Christian friends: I don’t know where God is in all of this, but I do know I’m loved and known completely by the same God who became human in Jesus Christ. That’s enough for now!
  • Language like ‘tranny’ or ‘gender-bender’ is really offensive. Please don’t use this about or to me.

 

Here are the links I promised:

Leaflet (which has been made into an official NHS document) on what being transgender is all about, an explanation of its probable cause and some definitions:

http://www.gires.org.uk/assets/gdev/gender-dysphoria.pdf

Guardian blog written by a trans woman (someone changing from outwardly male to female) that has many parallels with my own story and articulates the challenges of transition really well:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/series/transgender-journey

Stonewall Scotland’s very helpful leaflet about supporting trans people in the workplace:

http://www.stonewall.org.uk/documents/changing_for_the_better.pdf

Website of the Gender Identity Research and Education Service, which works closely with the NHS:

http://www.gires.org.uk/

Website of the Gender Trust, which contains useful information around terminology:

http://gendertrust.org.uk/glossary

Self-Made Man – Mind the Gap!

I’m currently reading ‘Self-Made Man’  by Norah Vincent. It’s about her experience, when using some clever make-up and body-building techniques, she figures out how to disguise herself as a man, ‘Ned’, and goes undercover in various contexts to try to understand the world from a male perspective. I’m about half-way through the book now, and it’s been a very thought-provoking read thus far, in large part because of s0me of the connections with hers and my stories.

Norah took the name for her alter ego from her childhood nickname, as she was always, from a very young age, somewhat of a tomboy. In later life, she is a lesbian and muses upon how the signs of this were there at an early stage. Her desire to write the book was not, apparently, about being a transvestite or transsexual, but follows an experience of going out in New York in drag one night with a friend for a laugh, and noticing the very different reactions she got from men when they thought she was a man.

When I was young, I was always very much a tomboy. Apparently, when my uncle tried to give me a ‘very nice’ doll to play with when I was about three, I threw it back at him in disgust. I never wanted to do the girly stuff at school, and would much rather have been playing football with the boys. I did frequently pinch my ickle brother’s toys, and would never have been into dressing up and make up and that sort of thing. In fact, as long as I’ve remember, I’ve hated ‘girly’, ‘frilly’ things and thought of myself in a very male way, if you see what I mean.

As an adult, I’ve become aware of my sexual orientation and am very comfortable with it.  It was odd yesterday, though, bumping into my old form teacher and head of year from high school, now a married couple, in the middle of M&S (only in Durham!) and thinking about my teenage self. With those kind of conversations, it’s like being in an odd time-wrap. I was aware of my orientation back then, but social conditioning and fear of being bullied and of parental disapproval meant I did my best to bury it, so successfully at times that I wondered if there was something wrong with me because I didn’t fancy boys.  It’s one of the reasons I ended up going out with a man although I never fancied him, certainly never felt the kind of ‘butterflies in the stomach’ I do when I look at TractorGirl. I did love him in a way, but I was honestly never ‘in love’.

I guess the point of all these musings is to wonder about the extent to which sexual orientation and gender are a given and how much is to do with social conditioning. I posted a little while ago about liking to wear shirts and ties. I always have been attracted to dressing in a male way and actually used to do this both as a child when it was ‘cute’ and as a teenager in secret in case anyone found out and thought I was weird. Since it’s become an everyday part of my waredrobe it no longer has an overtly sexual dimension, but it does feel very natural, expressing something of who I am. Simultaneously, aspects of my femininity, such as my hair, are also important to me, and so doing ‘feminine butch’ seems  a good way of capturing both parts. I am not a man trapped in a woman’s body, but more like a mixture of a man and a woman jostling for expression.

Reading Norah Vincent’s experiences of taking ‘Ned’ to a men-only bowling league, on dates with various women and to strip clubs has been intriguing. There is clearly a sense in which what is considered ‘appropriate’ behaviour for men (and by extension women) is socially defined and passed on from one generation to another. The father-and-son in the bowling alley show this only too well. The sense of needing to hide deep pain and make a joke of it, only being able to express feelings to a limited depth to another man, was there in Jim’s story, with his much-loved wife dying of cancer. Once he knew Ned was Norah, he felt able to open up in a way he couldn’t to a man. A fear of being thought homosexual was quite strong, and there was a sense that the sexual needs of a man can never be fully met within marriage, that ‘baser’ desires that don’t fit with the model of civilised man and therefore would be shameful to tell one’s partner about, need to be satisfied in strip clubs, with much physical but absolutely no emotional intimacy at all, as if physical satisfaction is everything.

That chapter was by far the saddest, as I realised that it is not only the women who are degraded by all this, but very much the men too. The chapter on dating pulled me up short. Ned encountered a lot of hostility from women who lumped all the faults of their exes onto him just for being a man, and the women often wanted someone both sensitive and delicate and also macho and ‘traditionally’ strong, something that seemed to require multiple personalities… It made me think about the extent to which I have been unfair to men as a result of the way my ex was, and also what my expectations are of a partner. It’s so easy to not communicate these properly, or to be unaware that our expectations maybe can’t be met by the other and that we need to deal with past pains.

I have always felt things very deeply and been an extremely emotional person, for whom that emotional depth and its expression, particularly by touch and sexuality as a way of articulating that which is too deep for words, is very important. I know I haven’t always expressed this very well to TractorGirl and sometimes it can be a lonely place to be. It’s this thing of being with a crowd of friends or even in bed with a partner you love and being so close, yet feeling totally alone. This can be hard as a woman, with expression of emotion being more ‘acceptable’; how much harder must it be for men? I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the book to see how it pans out for ‘Ned’ and those he encounters.

Confusing categories

Me in my favourite tie in a characteristic pose

Just a little moan really to distract me from preparing for my viva (on the 8th June – prayers much appreciated!) and applying for jobs.  

I like to wear ties.  

Lots of people seem to assume that doing that is about trying to make a statement about my sexual orientation or gender identity. However, for me, it’s really not about that at all. Yes, I can’t deny I enjoy messing with people’s heads a bit because gender stereotypes and what is considered ‘appropriate’ for each of the sexes seems to be so ingrained, but wearing a tie doesn’t mean I have a deep-seated longing to be  a man. I don’t – I’m perfectly comfortabke with my gender. Nor is it an expression of my sexual orientation – I started wearing ties before I got around to the ‘being honest with myself’ about all that.  

Originally, I got the idea from Kate on ‘The Apprentice’. I thought she looked good and thought I’d give it a try. I wore one to Church one Sunday, and apart fr0m one person (who has a strange gay-guys-don’t-like-lesbians thing going on), everyone complimented me on looking smart (and in one case, sexy, apparently), so I’ve stuck with it.  

I suppose how one dresses does reflect something of one’s personality (or, at points in the past, bank balance and Northern tightness!) and so I guess one could say it is an expression of my eccentricity, but really it’s just because I like them. I like the smart look and it brightens up a shirt. Ok, so with some advice from TractorGirl and others, I’ve got better at choosing ones that look more feminine and coordinate with my shirts, but I still don’t even see the problem if it looks a little masculine. To put it bluntly, I have feminine hair and, ahem, a rather large chest. I don’t think I can really be called stereotype butch. Even if I did, so does k.d. lang, and she still looks sexy.  

Rant over, now to apply for another job and get back to work… oh, and here’s a fun interview with the aforementioned k.d. lang. Enjoy!  

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nW7HLqOgM20[/youtube]