Real life test?
The moment you dare say to yourself, I am in the wrong body is the moment when you self-identify; the true moment of transition, of actualisation.
Let’s just scrutinize that moment in some detail.
The crushing feelings of saying something you have known all along, kept hidden for years and never wanted to reveal terrified that the sky would fall in, that your world would collapse, your physicality left with nowhere concrete left to go would disintegrate.
I imagined me disappearing like a dying star sucked in by it’s own lack of energy.
But despite this terror the words form, somehow they emerge, impossible to keep hidden, demanding truth and revelation. The courage and strength that it takes to utter often just five or six words,
“I’m in the wrong body,” closely followed by, “help.”
And what follows, often in a matter of seconds, is relief, joy and a feeling that suddenly however terrifying you are visible, slightly visible. Looking the same but inextricably different, forever changed.
After I said the words I lay and cried with joy and relief for hours.
What leads up to it is often years of excruciating gender dysphoria, the feeling that the outside has no bearing on the internal feelings, that the shell which grows as our sentience expands grows in the anti, works against us, causing us undue pain.
Sometimes, as in my case, years of drug abuse and personal risk are employed to destroy the outer shell. I knew for many years that I would rather people see me as, ‘other’, as a wasted drug user rather than a man.
I never felt anything other than female which I could not bear at this stage to admit let alone reveal.
So I disappeared further into dysphoria by becoming an outsider, essentially a drug user.
This led to my becoming HIV positive which further escalated the feelings of non-identity, I was now an HIV positive drug user.
I am making no critic here of the drug user within western society but society itself does, being an HIV positive drug user is a loaded term which has enough purchase in people’s consciousness that it forms a generic personality that breathes, barely breathes.
Ironically it was therapy for both of the above which led me to a realisation that my true self had been placed in the wrong shell.
The journey to transition starts as soon as we take our first steps, form our first words and make our first simple decisions.
I wanted to sit with my mum, I wanted to learn to sew, I wanted to dance, I wanted to wear a dress, I wanted to become a mum; like my mum. I wanted my dad to offer protection and to be funny. Now I know that this all sounds stereotypical and distinctly gender fixed but it was the late sixties and seventies and I suppose even from an early age I identified in binary terms and was eager to consume societies ‘plan for women’. I followed my mother and elder sister.
Somehow these very early natural steps and utterances became dysphoria and led to years of self harming drug abuse and anorexia which then led to the moment of actualisation.
So what comes after the moment of actualisation?
As I said before I cried for hours, a mixture of joy and utter relief. I remember vividly lying on my bed in Brixton and gently rolling said to side, somehow I had revealed myself to the world but I no longer knew how to move within it, rolling side to side kept my blood moving, my organs functioning, my brain ticking over.
I said it, I said it, I said it, I repeated in my head.
And then when finally I could move I looked up and the sky was still blue and the breeze was truly gentle. The television was on in the background, twenty-four hour news still played out. The news allowed me to move, allowed me to start the process of considering how my body could be more closely matched to my true being.
This is the point at which, mistakenly in my eyes, people (medical, structural, legal) define as the ‘start of transition’; crudely called the ‘Real life test’.
But this has nothing to add to the strength that is gathered to utter those few words, what the medical and social process does is to attack the purity of the moment of personal transition.
Pass, wait, stop, do better, look prettier, look more handsome, be feminine, be macho, funding, no funding, poor surgeons, expensive surgery, and the list goes on.
Bingo you’re really a woman, bingo you’re really a man.
Why do I have a problem with the social and medical processes of transition being seen as the ‘real life test’?
Firstly the real test is to survive the years of painful attempt to actualise, to find form, to find a place within the family, home and community.
Secondly the strength and utter resourcefulness that trans people store, build and nurture to survive pre-utterance is an astonishing feat which should be used as a model of good practice across society to show what truly we as a species are capable of.
Trans people really are superhuman.
Thirdly the only ‘Real life test’ should be the seconds, minutes and hours following the beautiful moment when a trans person forms the words that announce his, her or their arrival in this rather wonderful world.
Dear TV Programmers
I have just endured a nights television which I can only surmise was designed to enrage an already media enraged population.
Both programs were poorly staged and terribly hosted; Nick and Anne were truly terrible. Like sixth formers hosting their first debate. They fanned the flames and threw in the odd truly suspect question to get ‘mad girl Katie’ lurching from her lead.
It is a truly sad that television bosses feel that this is what we need to see, we don’t.
Well I for one don’t.
Fraud, Islamic terrorists used to try and prop up debate about benefits and immigration – horrible, shocking and truly dumb television, Fox television is here and it’s unwatchable.
Please stop it now else people like me will get very angry about the disparaging way you present immigrants and benefit claimants.
Their us, we’re them.
Stop Katie Hopkins now.
An angry woman
Dear English Summer
In am writing to you in anticipation of your uncertain arrival. I am never quite sure when, if and how to get myself prepared for you.
You see now I am gardening proper so I really need you to be a little more reliable and solid for me.
God how petulant!
Summer, spring, winter and autumn, I need seasons. Gardens, flowers, shrubs, trees need seasons. I need to be able to visit my bank and reorganize my mortgage and to do this I must make financial predictions, a financial-forecast you could say.
I’ve already made some investments; business cards – check, new wellies (Hunters) – check, some clothes (Gap) – check.
Okay some of the above were replacements and I could have waited but you know new season, new gardens, new look, new me.
So I need to offset my purchases with income. To date it has rained solidly thus limiting my income drastically; I was almost tempted to teach again!
But no, oh no.
So dear seasons I need you to get back in line, form an orderly queue before marching slowly and surely crocodile-file through the year.
I can then tell the impossibly-young (I know I’ve already met him, shocking) mortgage advisor in my local bank that despite my somewhat flimsy record of financial management that now I truly have a solid yearly plan based in no small part on your reliability to rain, shine, blow and heat up according to expectations and not according to your own whims.
I don’t know if the floods, rain, storms and droughts etc are caused by us; people that is, not gardeners per say, creating a hopeless atmospheric mess with our greed and inability to look after the planet or if you truly do have cycles of misbehavior and misdemeanor. I don’t know.
I do know that I do my bit to steady the rot; I following all of the pruning, planting and cutting back rules using only organic produce; seeds, manure, compost. I avoid peat at all costs and have reintroduced many traditional English wildflowers – some it has to be said are not that spectacular and the bees head straight for the intensively grown lavender.
I think I’m trying to say I garden with integrity and a conscience and now you must do your bit and become boring, staid and predicable. I need to base my financial forecast on your actual forecast. See people change their relationship with their outside spaces when the weather continually confuses them, they like a definite weekend, a definite summer. So gardens are becoming slightly less loved and more of a space to keep neat – not exactly a creative challenge. Oh the bags of shingle and the odd structural plant.
So when I visit my ever-so youthful mortgage advisor who already looks at me as though I am the poster women for the financial mess to avoid; don’t ask me ask ma! I need to be certain about my lucrative months – March through to October and I need to be able to show him future hours worked a day, weekly totals, income, expenditure (have you seen the Hunters show?), projected spend and projected save. I need to be able to say that I am someone my bank can rely on, that I am staid, boring, predictable and ever-so capable of managing my finances.
In short we need each other, I’ll do my bit (no peat) and you’ll rain and shine in equal measures at the appropriate times. Please.
Yours in slight desperation
Woman looking at tangerine Hunters.
Dear Middle aged incline
I am writing this letter to you as I know you are eagerly waiting to greet me with open arms and empty promises of long languishing days ahead in which we will read books, lazily roll over in the French sun whilst eating goats cheese on great bread and then swim in the deep crystal blue Aegean Sea.
I am writing this letter as I know you have surprises waiting for me, so close I can almost feel, touch and smell them. I do worry though about your skills as an organiser of my future diary-experiences; my red-letter days, my extended bucket list, my world adventures.
I do worry that you have slightly over-egged the potential of my future and what makes me worry most is that when I wake up in the morning and dread another day of different struggles I have become more and more reliant on the idea that my future dalliances will save me from this. In other words I am no longer living in the present but rather in the fantasies of my future. How much I rely on you now.
You can imagine that leaves me open to make fairly silly mistakes in the present. Work-wise I have unfortunately left myself open to the uncertainties of the current job market and my CV no longer stands me in great stead.
‘Trans, nearly fifty, needs some time off this year for surgery and lacks confidence.’
So that’s why I have set up a gardening business. Maybe that’s a wise ‘in the present’ decision but since making it the rain hasn’t stopped and on the one day I did get out in a garden my back went. It’s better now but it was a reminder that I am not twenty or thirty or even forty.
So I am starting to eat into my savings and like a bird with a bad wing I am beginning to panic about leaving the ground. Certainly if my future days are to be supported by either my teachers pension (almost nothing), savings (dwindling) or the sale of my house in London (think its falling down) then dear friend they are looking fairly threadbare.
But I refuse to slouch in negativity and I know it’s possibly because I once consumed far too many drugs but I still believe I will make it, I still believe I will achieve real happiness. But I am aware I need to get the balance right between being realistic now and optimistic for the future.
I am not good at balance and on this the day that Shirley Temple has died I know that really nothing we do matters unless we make a difference to the lives of others. So speaking realistically now; I miss teaching. I miss making a difference and seeing children and young people achieve their potential. But I am aware that the older people whose gardens I tend and make beautiful look forward to seeing me and enjoy being in their spaces and looking at their spaces. In some small way it compensates.
So being realistic and not relying on you, my dear future organiser, I can see that my present is less stable – economically, but it still offers the chance to make a difference to others. In some small way.
But I have to reflect on the plans that you have for my future and maybe re-jig my thoughts. I am not sure I will have the money to lazily roll eating French cheese by blue water unless of course I am at Tooting Lido.
Yours in anticipation
A woman in her prime.
Like James Franco
I love the word
gosh that’s pricey
gosh I’m tired
gosh I am nearly fifty
gosh I want to marry
James Franco that is.
Dear BUPA (et ilk)
I think, no I know that in 2014 things are different than they used to be. For example my phone can now do all of the following; make calls, send texts & emails, take photographs & films in HD, show films, play songs, audiobooks, podcasts (scratch podcasts, I never do), make me dates, in fact there is not much my phone cannot do.
If I go back to say the year 2000 I think my phone could make calls and send texts. Text speak wasn’t really even invented then. Text pictures were all the rage.
Things change, things improve and alongside improvements our understanding about things, like climate change, diets and disease changes. We find out new things, new information, some facts and some things we speculate about, and we use these things to change the way we live and the way we treat the planet and the people on it. We hopefully become nicer, better.
I recycle now, nearly everything. I refuse excess packaging in shops where I can and use the same canvas bag to carry home shopping. I didn’t use to do this. I would go shopping, say in 1988, and use as many plastic bags as I needed and sometimes use one for the freezer stuff and one for the fresh stuff, maybe a bag an item.
Maybe even take some to use as rubbish bags at home.
But over the years more information about our reckless destruction of the planet has informed my decisions about waste and my attitude and behavior has changed. I’m not perfect, I could do much more but I have allowed the information available to influence the decisions I make. I feel now in 2014 I make better decisions than I did in say 1992 or 2004.
Let me bring this back to medical matters as that is the central subject of this letter that concerns us all.
I remember trying to get a dentist the year after I was diagnosed as being HIV positive in the early 90’s.
I was at university and still unfortunately a heroin and crack addict. Somehow I manage to juggle philosophy, art and a raging drug habit.
At the end of my second year I found out I was HIV positive. Back then it was a much darker diagnosis, I was offered counseling and handed a form that said I had approximately six months to live. A form called a DS1500. I’m not sure if they exist anymore, actually I am sure this current government would have done away with them as they offer some slight financial help to those due to die and allow them to access social care support.
I decided that I wasn’t going to die as I wanted to finish my course, I’d made it to university, the only one in my family, I wasn’t going to let something like HIV stop that. So I carried on like a working class super trooper.
Back to the dentist.
I felt that I should always be open about my status so when I approached different dentists for treatment I was turned down by nearly all of them when I revealed I was HIV positive.
Only one took me on as a patient as long as I would have the last appointment of the day.
Often no dental nurse would be present and the room was virtually covered in cling film. My dental notes, a brown slim envelope, had a big red cross on the front with the word infectious beneath. Hideous feelings of shame.
I’m surprised I have any teeth left.
Actually now dentists have improved, their understanding of the HIV virus has allowed them and us to see its inability to be infectious without an awful lot of effort; injections, sex. We realise now that it is easy to kill the virus and that it’s life outside of the body is incredibly short. We, the dentists and me have become much more enlightened.
Do I instantly reveal my status to a new dentist? No, their practices should be there to protect everyone and I present no more of a risk unless I intend to have sex in the dental chair. We now make informed decisions about the virus and no longer act hysterically.
I am never made to feel like a pariah at the dentist.
So a few months ago (it’s taken some time to process) I decided that I really wanted bigger boobs. I’m trans and on hormones, I think they have done all they are going to do to enhance my cleavage after three years. Essentially I am an A/B cup and could do with being a C. I had some money saved so decided after a fairly stressful 2013 that I would treat myself to great boobs and start 2014 off with a positive treat. So I researched several of the top private surgeons and private healthcare companies and decided that I would contact each one and do some go-sees and then decide.
I rang each one to make appointments.
During the first or second call I was asked some basic medical questions about current medications etc.
I answered honestly, I had nothing to hide in these enlightened, different times.
When it was established that I was on HIV medications I was turned down flat by all but one, the last one emailing me later to say could I postpone until after I had finished all my transition. All cited company policy which they could not discuss.
I was told by one that it was company policy to not operate on anyone who is HIV as they present a greater risk should anything go wrong.
“We do not have emergency medical facilities, should they be needed.”
For what I said, I am the healthiest person I know. I am. They couldn’t reply.
I felt silly, slightly grubby and remembered how I felt back when dentists turned me away. I felt like I was still tainted by drugs (clean twenty years), I felt like by saying I was trans and HIV somehow it placed me beyond the moral pale. I didn’t understand why my hard earned savings were not good enough, for fuck sake it was £2,700 a breast!
Things change, things improve, we learn more and change the way we make decisions and the way we treat people. At least some of us do.
An A/B cup
Yesterday I wrote a very short letter to no one in particular in which I almost berated the number of trans women writing angry tweets and blogs about your treatment of Janet Mock. I couldn’t see any benefit in shouting at you loudly and being, frankly rude. I didn’t think you were the kind of man who would respond well to a barrage of attacks; you didn’t.
You see I thought you were much more likely to respond well to a calm reasoned debate or discussion, you are after all known for your chat show demeanor.
So when I saw you were going to have Janet back on to discuss the previous interview with all of its media practiced blunders I was happy. See, I said to myself, he is the kind of man who will listen and move on enlightened.
Well Piers you let me down, in fact you let down lots of people for whom you could have represented.
Let me put me into a context.
Unlike the beautiful, courageous and talented Janet Mock, or Paris Lees on this side of the pond, I did not transition (silly term) whilst young and therefore I did, as you steadfastly held on to, live my earlier life as a boy and and then as a very unsuccessful man. I am talking shell here, inside I was never anything other than female. But it was a different time, the 70’s, the 80’s and even the 90’s. In the 80’s I became HIV positive which meant when I did approach our wonderful NHS with the fledgling news that I felt I might be in the wrong shell I was turned away as a health risk. That’s what it was like being HIV in the 80’s. Well actually and the 90’s. Actually now.
Only a couple of weeks ago I rang up to a few private healthcare chains to enquire about breast augmentation, 4 out of 5 didn’t want my money because I was HIV, apparently, despite my being incredibly healthy, all sorts of additional medical equipment would be required and nurses, thousands of nurses, in case a single drop of my blood was spilt.
But I digress.
The long and short of this is that I didn’t transition until my late thirties and now at forty nine I am still waiting for the surgery. The big one, the reassignment as you rightfully put it.
I have spent the last nineteen years trying, hoping, praying and working hard to ‘pass’, to blend, to not be a target. To be able to work.
I am a teacher, at one point a very good one, I know Ofsted told me so!
On many days I didn’t pass I know that, many days I felt vulnerable and didn’t leave the house.
But slowly my confidence grew and I got a job, I did the ‘real life test’ (see under Victorian practices) whilst working as a teacher and then tried to set up a trans teachers network with my union.
I wanted to give something back.
I was horrified by how many trans teachers had left the profession, either out of fear or being pushed out. One was allowed to carry on as long as she didn’t have contact with students! Such danger. Others openly vilified in the press.
Now, apparently, I pass for a biological women. No one would ever know, well meaning friends and family constantly tell me as if I have achieved a prize.
And it matters, to my safety, economically and maybe personally, just maybe someone will want to hug me, love me. Maybe a man.
But I know that I don’t pass like Janet or Paris or many of the beautiful trans women who currently grace our media screens.
Please don’t think in anyway I am knocking them because I am not, both Janet and Paris campaign tirelessly for our communities and do so not because of the way they look but because of their natural ability to be ‘out front’. I am proud to be represented by them but, and this brings me to the point of this letter, if they can be (I have seen it happen to Paris here) misgendered, misrepresented and wrongly packaged what hope is there for me?
And if there is no hope for me what about the trans women who may never ‘pass’. What hope for them? And what hope for the thirteen year old watching your second installment to just see a man who will not listen to the woman who is talking. Janet told you very clearly and you just needed to listen. If you truly support us, and we are different from the LGB community, then just listen, actually her words were fairly stellar and historical. You were in the right interview but with the wrong intent.
Many trans women struggle to pass, currently the media is open to images of trans women and some, very few, trans men who fit a social norm i.e. beautiful, feminine, masculine, but Piers I was born in an inappropriate shell, it didn’t fit and I have spent years trying to fit. So please understand that when Janet tells you she was never a boy it’s because she was never a boy. Simple. However I look I was never a boy and your insistence with that point was very disappointing.
I will end Piers with a tale from my life.
Family and friends have been very supportive of me throughout my journey, but sometimes they confused support with advice or guidance (note Piers), so often they would, without any prompting, tell me how I could become more feminine, how I could look more like a natural women. This ranged from mascara – too much, too little, to full on face restructuring – lose the jaw, chin, nose oh and the eye bags. If I wore jeans and converse I would be told that’s not very feminine, hair tied back – not very feminine, wellies for gardening – not very feminine. You get the idea.
One day a well meaning friend called me after lunch with a small group of friends which I had left early. She said to me,
“We all thought how good you looked and how much you looked like a real woman (I am) but, (always a but) but if you really want to be seen as one of us you might want to eat smaller mouthfuls and slower, we just wanted to let you know that women eat differently to men”.
See Piers if you misgender Janet you misgender us all and some, if not lots of us live with that every day.
Letter from an unknown woman.