Saturday, 29 August 2009

Behaviour and characteristics

I'm a bit suspicious about so-called character tests, you know, the sort where you are asked a variety of questions that assess whether you are a born leader or a considerate lover or a compulsive obsessive.

Towards the end of my now defunct career in a Certain Government Department I was second-in-command in one of the Department's local offices, and was sent off to attend a number of managerial courses to bring me up to speed in that area. On the whole these were fun, but never very useful in real life. For instance, the course on Decision Taking, where our task was Buying A Car. As if you needed a rigorous method for that. If strapped for cash, surely you just go for the best used car you can afford. A quick skim through What Car? magazine, a check of the bank balance, a glance at the local dealers' forecourts or the ads in the paper, and Bob's your uncle. I suppose that if you have loadsamoney then the choice is more interesting and potentially more complex, although really there are only a few doors you'd knock on if that well heeled and reasonably sensible - Mercedes, Volvo, BMW, Lexus. Not much else. I'll probably have another Honda next time, the current version of the one I've got now. A car is a car. Four wheels, seats, space for your bags and shopping, nice colour if possible. It isn't rocket science.

Or did I miss some wider lesson there? Probably yes - I'm good at missing the point. Good at missing the obvious, come to that. I usually missed the train on the way to work. (But I'm much better, now that I'm retired. I never miss any early morning trains at all. Clearly I've made a huge advance)

I've digressed. Yes, management courses. Well, the ones that were most fun were those that involved some Personality Test. I always had a gratifying result, whatever outrageous nonsense I said about myself. I didn't tell lies, but I exaggerated the truth. Whatever the question asked, I'd give an extreme answer. The tests always seemed to reward off-the-scale answers most, so that when the points were added up, or your position plotted on some pyramid, your character came out as amazingly positive and powerful, despite a few strange contradictions. Classmates and tutors would then look at you with speculative eyes. It was strange that this easy-going, inoffensive nice guy was actually like Attilla the Hun. But there you are, the Test said it was so. It had been dreamed up by Top Psychologists in America. And they knew their stuff.

All right, I am being a little light-hearted about these questionnaires and the seriousness with which they could be taken. I think my underlying point is that they proved very little. It all depended on what was asked, the choice of answers allowed, and the interpretation placed on the answers. Usually you ended up with a score, and were then fitted into some range described as 'Proactive Personality - You Make Things Happen' or somesuch. Even if you only just made it into that range. Still, I suppose it was better than being labelled as a supine wimp. Oddly none of this ever revealed that I might have a gender problem. How strange! The tests would have picked it up, surely? Unless they contained some flaw, or were so narrow in their application that they missed some rather important things about people. Who's to say.

I'm wondering how I would do in a test called 'Are You Female?'. Probably not well. I wouldn't fit the stereotype. But then, nor would you.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The Real Life Experience

I'm a bit puzzled as to what the term 'Real Life Experience' can mean for a person who isn't in work, is frankly never going to work again, but is quietly getting on with a female life on a full-time basis, making friends, doing normal social things, about to put her trans name on her electoral register form, and will as soon as possible legally change her name by Deed Poll.

I can't seem to find any express guidance to cover non-employees on the Internet. Can any trans lawyer out there assist? Or failing that, what are ordinary people's opinions on this?

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Deed Poll - when?

What if I were to 'officially' change my name to Lucy Melford by Christmas?

It would actually be a big convenience. The name on my passport, driving licence, bank accounts, credit card and so on would then fit my general appearance. And I really need to get a fresh driving licence soon, not only because of the change of address to Mum and Dad's, but also because the 2005 photo on the licence doesn't look at all like me now, and ought to be replaced. Same with the passport. And if I'm going to change those things, I might as well go the whole hog and do the name as well.

I already present myself to the world as Lucy 24/7, except in situations where I still need to use my original name, such as when dealing with Dad's estate, or in connection with my personal healthcare. But these needs will disappear.

I haven't got the voice sorted out yet, but in practice nobody seems to care too much about that.

More importantly, I haven't yet sounded out everyone I care about on how they might feel if I abandon the name I was born with, the one my parents chose, the name that links me to other members of the family, the name by which I've been known for 57 years. My niece and nephew seem cool about it, and my niece actually texts 'Lucy' not 'J---'. Not everyone will accept it so easily though. I've been taking the line that nobody has to use my 'official' name if they don't want to, and will be able to call me what they wish, at least in private. Should I insist on 'Lucy', though? It is after all my chosen identity.

Could it all create a mess, with 'Mr Lucy Melford' appearing on my credit card, because some bizarre rule says that unless I 'officially' change gender as well, I can't be called 'Ms' or 'Miss'? Nightmare. I hope not.

And yet a name change by Deed Poll or other legal means would indisputably mark the beginning of my 'Real Life Experience'. I need to do that unambiguously. I need to generate household bills and suchlike, with dates on them, addressed to 'Lucy Melford'. But more is needed. I must create evidence that Lucy is out there, mixing it with real people, and not just a name on a blog. I don't work, so I can't get an employer to testify that I function as Lucy in worktime, interacting with customers and colleagues. So I need to register my right to vote as Lucy. I need to join organisations and clubs and classes as Lucy. And anything else I can think of, like getting a bus pass asap in Lucy's name.

A rather big step. Inclined to go for it, though.

A visit to the Nuffield Hospital at Brighton

Amazing how opportunities arise. I didn't even know exactly where the Nuffield Hospital was. This is the place wherein the renowned surgeon Phil Thomas doth dwell. If matters go so far as the Op, then this is the man who will be on my personal shortlist. I didn't expect to encounter him on any casual visit, but I was mightily interested to see the hospital itself.

So how did this come about? Well, I was attending my usual Tuesday afternoon social at the Clare Project drop-in at Brighton, which I never miss if I can get there. If you are trans, and in Brighton, do look in. It's at the Methodist Church in Dorset Gardens, and all details are on the web. You get a warm welcome, tea, coffee, biscuits, friendly company, as much chat as you wish, information on what's going on, nice modern loos to use or change in, and of course peace and quiet if you need it. A safe haven.

Last Tuesday we had two visitors, P--- from Stoke-on-Trent, staying in Brighton on holiday; and L--- from Kilmarnock, with a appointment two hours ahead with Phil Thomas at the Nuffield. We (that is, myself and some friends) immediately proposed an early evening Italian meal with our guests, which we duly had, and then I drove L--- to the hospital, discovering that it was at Woodingdean. And what a nice modern place it was. The reception staff seemed very pleasant. Free parking. And only a few miles away from home. Hmmm!

Afterwards I went back into into town, parked again on the seafront, and trotted over to the Marine Tavern, which has lately become a favourite Tuesday night venue, partly because of of the Quiz that begins at 9pm. There, you have a snapshot of one day in my week.

P--- and L--- were very nice people. Unfortunately we didn't swap contact details, so I suppose we'll never be able to meet up again unless they happen to drop in at the Clare Project, or see this blog and send an email to me. If ever I go up to Glasgow (and L--- recommended it) I'd rather like to call by. (P--- and L---, please take note if you're reading!)

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Oh dear, not big enough yet

Today was the occasion of a landmark event, well a minor one anyway. I went for a bra fitting, my very first.

This was at the Brighton branch of M&S. I just went up to one of the staff in the lingerie department, who took me over to the ladies at the fitting rooms, and one of them looked after me. I thought it would involve tape measures, but the method she used was to try me in something likely first, see how it fitted, and then fine-tune. Three bras later it was clear that I might be a 40A, but despite appearances still too small to fill even an A cup adequately. It was no good wearing something just for the sake of it. The lady suggested that I come back later in the year.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. I'd pushed myself a bit into asking about a fitting, and it was disappointing not to come away fixed up. A waste of adrenalin. And I still can't wear see-through tops.

On the other hand, once in a bra, and used to it, I'd feel unable to walk around without one on, and where would that leave me for the November cruise, when I'm supposed to be in 'male' garb as originally promised to Dad? I can just imagine the awkwardness of arriving at the pre-embarkation lounge at Southampton as Mr J--- D--- (I'm booked in under my old name) but jutting out somewhat in the chest department. Whereas my uncontained bumps might get by. Not that I care greatly nowadays about looking odd. But M--- is coming with me instead of Dad, and I don't want to embarrass her unnecessarily.

Ah well, nature will have to take her course.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

The Ugly Duckling


The camera does not lie. This picture of myself, taken very recently indeed, should console anyone who frets over their less-than-perfect looks and feels they will never be beautiful. There is one who looks even worse. Dig that nose, those piggy eyes, that double chin. Sigh.

My Favourite Meals - TV dinners


Another potential series?

I love food, and nearly always take photos of any meal eaten at a pub or restaurant, because I want to capture the attractiveness of this course or that. I take a real sensual delight in well-presented, delicious food. What a greedy piggy, you might well say! Well, I don't do sex, or drugs, I'm a light drinker, I don't smoke, don't gamble, and I'm not hooked on adrenalin rushes, and so WHY NOT go for FOOD as my vice of choice? It's not just about filling my face. I appreciate nice places with character, and enjoyable service that makes me feel special. Meals are events.

But this picture is not of some amazing thing I swooned over at a posh nosh parlour. It's a bog-standard stir-fry I threw together the other night at home. So it's on my knees, on a tray, and that's my lounge, and that's Phil and Kirsty on the box. A TV dinner!

My Favourite Places - Bosham in Sussex




This may prove to be the beginning of a regular series! I do have a very long list of nice places I've been to which I'd like to share. Some of them are well-known, some not.

Bosham is well-known in Sussex, and is only an hour's run from where I live. It lies in Chichester Harbour, an extensive expanse of tidal water with many creeks and inlets. Like Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk, it looks very different at low tide compared to high. It's famous for 'drowning' cars left parked on the shoreline at low tide, when the sea is out of sight. When the sea is in, the sheltered nature of the Harbour often creates a 'mirror' effect, and the ideal photo is one taken close to sunset, with the church and other old buildings reflected in the calm and stealthy water.

I couldn't resist a photo of my car with Bosham as a backdrop. It's a 1999 Honda CR-V.

Monday, 10 August 2009

What's happening to Lucy?


The above naturally caught my eye when I was at Lyme Regis recently. It's about an offshore limestone ledge, not me. Makes an arresting shot though, if your name is Lucy.

So what IS happening to Lucy, the actual person? What indeed. I find it very hard to discern big changes to my appearance, outlook, habits and attitudes, but changes there certainly have been if you take, say, a six-month timescale. I was intrigued by what happened at the dentist this morning. My dentist has seen me very regularly for the past ten years. She is an attractive and highly competent lady. We have always found time for a least a little chat. The point is, she knows what I look like and can remember me well. She didn't recognise me this morning, though. She opened her surgery door, looked at me, looked at a man sitting nearby, and then looked doubtfully at me again. I immediately gave her a grin and a 'Hello, Nina' and we took it from there.

I have to say she continued with the utmost professionalism, as did her assistant. Not one question on my appearance. All the attention on my potted resume of family events and how that had affected my recent life. Then the check-up. (The teeth passed pretty well: only one old, cracked filling to be renewed) I did appreciate all this matter-of-factness. Even from the receptionist. I get it at the doctor's surgery too. And come to that, from nearly everywhere I go, my garage included. And you know what the motor trade is supposed to be like.

You know, I do worry a bit about transphobia. I can't help thinking that so far I've just been remarkably lucky to escape being mocked, bad-mouthed, sneered at, or threatened. And that this can't possibly last. And that I'm bound to have an awful experience sometime. And yet, the nightmare has not happened. Is this something that could only be so in England? More especially, in Sussex? Or does it apply the world over? I'd really like to think that I won't be dragged off the Saga tour bus in Morocco this November, and hacked to death.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Little Leica proves itself







Well, as the above shots suggest, the little Leica D-Lux 4 I took away with me on holiday can certainly produce some decent shots that often lend themselves to adventurous processing. Made me think that instead of taking the Nikon D700 on November's cruise, I'll rely on the Leica instead, and this time I'll tote the laptop so that I can edit, backup and file my output as I go along.

Of course this is of NO INTEREST to those of you who aren't photo enthusiasts! Sorry.

Buying some art






As part of my slow but steady plan to redecorate my parents' house to reflect my own tastes, I bought three pieces of artwork while on holiday. They are shown above.

Top is a painting called 'A Field of Dreams' by Jo Pryor, an artist who works in Great Torrington in North Devon. She has her own website (http://www.jopryor.net/). She is well-known for her depictions of strangely-proportioned ladies in flowing garments. I saw this painting at an exhibition at the Burton Art Gallery in Bideford, and had no hestitation in buying it before anyone else did. Everything about it appeals: the colour, the overlapping shapes, the grouping of the ladies' heads, the almost hypnotic intricacy of the patterns on their gowns and in the background. I'll have to get a couple more of hers to keep this one company.

Next is a glass disc entitled 'Catching Bubbles' by Loraine Smith, which I bought at 14 The Gallery, an artists' co-operative in the Great Torrington Pannier Market. It reminds me not so much of bubbles but pools in the sand, left after the tide has receded.

Last is a hefty 'Pebble' vase from the Dartington Crystal glassworks at Great Torrington. Is this art? I would say so. It's certainly a beautiful piece, with severe simplicity of form.

These pieces together hint at the kind of surroundings I eventually intend to establish at home. But it will take a long while!

Thursday, 6 August 2009

My Mum's birthday tomorrow




Or it would have been. She'd have reached the age of 88. The pictures above show her as I like to remember her: a vigorous, lively, loyal woman who was fiercely proud and protective of her two sons, and her husband most of all.

But she couldn't cope with the real nature of her elder son. She died before we had a dialogue about my gender problems. Perhaps we would never have had one. Dad thought she would never have accepted me as a daughter instead of a son. He was actually rather glad I didn't get the opportunity to speak to Mum properly about it. Whatever the rights and wrongs here, I feel huge sadness that this and other things were never discussed between us. But that doesn't affect my affection for Mum, nor my memory of many nice things.

I wrote much about her death back in February (see the blog postings then). There's nothing I need to add now.

Her ashes are mingled with Dad's in the rockery at the bottom of the garden. I shall sit there tomorrow and remember her.

Ashley Lynch's cat has died


Ashley has been having a very rough time emotionally, and now her cat has died, and as soon as I read that I couldn't stop the tears. My own Macavity died back in 2005, of old age like Ashley's cat. That's Macavity's picture above. The bereavement was so very hard to bear.

Do visit Ashley's blog - she's listed in the 'My blog list' section. I think she does herself no favours sticking with WordPress as the blog host. It may allow fancy graphics, but I don't find it very friendly for visitors. Oh well.

Earlier this year I finally managed to write a poem about Macavity's death. It's not very good. But it was written from the heart, and because I cried over it, I can't bring myself to edit away its defects now. Here it is:

DEATH OF A CAT

In the abyss of your eyes
I read no pain,
Only the knowledge of a deep sleep to come,
A secret cave of dreams.

My head next to yours,
My fingertip in your paw,
The claws gentle,
The pressure speaking of a kind of love,
A meeting of souls,
A farewell,
But not of fear.

Oh Macavity, so thin now,
Too weak to stand,
But still resplendent in your soft striped fur.
A gaunt giant of a cat,
My cat, my own.

I named you, I loved you,
Did you know that?
And now I grieve for you,
My lovely, lovely cat.
I love you now,
I don't want you to die.

Still we hold each other's eyes.
What are you thinking?
Do you remember when you were a kitten,
Arriving in a box,
A tiny bundle in a corner.
And we lifted you out,
And you filled a shirt pocket.
You were so small.
And later you looked for me
As I lay sorrowing on my bed,
Pondering my broken marriage.
You comforted me,
And we made a pact,
And I let you be the warm hat on my head.

And now you lie here dying.
Still the bond is strong,
We cannot break it.
If my voice, my tears,
And the touch of my hand
Mean anything
Then you will know that I love you,
And that my life is changed.

[Macavity talking now]

Oh, don't worry about me,
I've got nine lives, you know.
I'm glad you took care of me,
And fed me,
And let me roam.
Thank you for a long life,
And for giving me a home.
I hope you enjoyed the mice and birds I caught:
I gave you the best,
And you can't blame me if I ate the rest.
I hunted to my heart's content
In the long tall grass;
And when the sun was hot
I was glad you were no gardener,
You left bushes and brambles,
And I had many a favourite spot.
I know you cared when you took me to the vet.
I hated it, but I went for you, because you cared.
And I know you are caring now.

I saw sixteen summers
And never a moment of fear or pain.
I will be lucky in my next life
To have it all over again.

And now I must dream.

Lucy Melford
2009 0127

I don't care that it's a bad poem. It says what I want about a wonderful cat.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Bishops, bars and Bude - part 2



(Continued from part 1 below)

In any case, I'd discovered that it took one and a half hours to get from North Devon to Plymouth in daylight on a dry road. I needed to head back, especially as it was now early evening and had started to rain. A pity, though: it was the landlord's birthday, there was music to listen to and nibbles to eat, and the place was starting to fill up. It took a little willpower to leave.

But the best moment of my holiday was the evening in Bude next day. It was gloriously sunny. I had dinner at The Castle Restaurant. This was at the rear of the castellated (crenellated?) Council HQ, formerly the eccentric home of an inventor. It faced a green, and all the rear part had a wonderful view out to sea, taking in the entrance of the Bude Canal, the river mouth, the sands of Bude Haven, and the slowly setting sun. They gave me a window table. I had a four-course meal with wine. It wasn't cheap (£40, with the tip) but it was yummy and well within my definition of 'fine dining'. The young waitress was chatty, attentive and efficient. When eating alone, the whole experience matters. I savoured it all. And afterwards a walk seawards by the Canal, past the lock gates, up onto the cliff, and out to the little pepperbox tower at Compass Point. What a view. Sun, sand, surf, seagulls. Exhilaration! I have to say, Bude may be a rather remote resort, but it speaks to me. I may go to live there one day.

Bishops, bars and Bude - part 1



It's the last night of my holiday, and I'm sitting in the caravan out in the country with only sheep and birds for company. It's been raining, and although it's stopped for now, the sunset is feeble and watery. Potentially a melancholy situation; but I've eaten something warm and hearty that I cooked up on the gas stove (oh yes, I can cook!), and I feel cheered by Debbie's especially comforting comment on my last posting - not that Chrissie's earlier comment had lacked warmth - and I'm feeling quite upbeat.

Still, I'm mindful of the remarks made by a bishop today about online networking, and the decline in socialising skills it may be causing. I do see how anyone who totally relies on an online 'social life' might suddenly find themselves devastated if all their virtual contacts suddenly disappeared. There must be a lot of people around like that, who give so much time to their electronic life that real social contacts fall away or never develop. I dare say that some such people would be reclusive loners anyway. For the rest, the Internet is a Godsend if for some reason you can't get out, or there's nowhere to go to. So I think that the bish needs to qualify his remarks: for a sizable minority, life would be insupportable without the means to blog or chat or tweet.

However, the 'socialising skills' issue is still a worry. It definitely affects my situation. It has struck me all through this holiday that despite pleasant exchanges with staff and strangers in shops, pubs and restaurants, I am really on my own without anyone to talk to. I don't feel loneliness as such; but I do miss good company; and at the back of my mind I worry about a future in which I hear only my own breathing. This needs addressing: a plan, a positive strategy, must be formulated.

I have till now been telling myself that while transitioning I can't - musn't - join clubs and classes: it would disturb the other people there. I should wait until the process is complete, when there is stability, when I can pass so much better, when nobody will be asking awkward questions, or getting angry or embarrassed.

But this won't do. I can't cut myself off from normal life for so long. Even if I end up having to 'explain' myself every day, I need to be out in the world and not hiding away.

After all, nothing unpleasant or discouraging has happened while on holiday. I know that I have attracted some glances, because my photographs record people looking in my direction. But that might simply be because they saw the camera pointed at them. Face-to-face close encounters in towns have been entirely uneventful. People see a female-looking figure with hair, clothes, bags, jewellery and movements to match, and examine me no further as a rule. Even when getting something to eat, the deep voice doesn't seem to throw anyone. Is this good old British behaviour? There's something strange here, but let's keep a straight face and pretend that nothing's wrong? Yes, certainly, in some situations. You'd expect smooth imperturbility from trained shop staff, for instance. But people in general? And why should a middle-aged woman in a fashion shop assist me with buying a raincoat and remark how the length of the thing suited 'a lady like yourself' (meaning someone taller than the female average). Unnecessarily gratuitous? Or did she just take me for what I seemed to be? And if so, why shouldn't most other people?

I did go to Plymouth. I wandered around the Hoe, the city centre, and the Barbican, for several hours. No problems. I went into the House of Fraser departmental store to buy a small purse and spent 15 minutes chatting to a young girl student about what I wanted before buying. She was really sweet, really young, and didn't turn a hair. (Perhaps Plymouth has a massive tranny scene, but I didn't see anyone else like me while there) The girl who sold me coffee and a sandwich at the Theatre Royal was likewise very pleasant. (NB: the loos at the Theatre Royal are swanky and ultra-clean. They get my rosette) I walked around looking for the supposedly trans-friendly bars I'd researched, finding The Swallow (looked OK but empty at 4pm, and I didn't go in), and Hawkins' Meeting Place, which I did visit: I was by then glad to rest my feet. I spent over an hour at Hawkins. It was clearly a gay venue above all else, but I was welcome, and I had a chinwag with a nice guy called Joe who thought I had 'a lot of bottle' to walk around Plymouth dressed as I was. He thought Plymouth folk tended to be a bit narrow-minded. Well, not my experience! I then drove across the city centre to The Clarence in the Stonehouse area. This was billed as the place where 'trans people are always in evidence' but I didn't see a single one. Once again it was pretty friendly. Another guy, an engineer who worked on the nuclear submarines at Devonport, chatted to me for the space of a drink or two. Quite amusing really: he was bound by the Official Secrets Acts from saying much about his job, and although I had retired, I was similarly bound. We had to be quite inventive to make our work sound interesting. Fortunately photography was his hobby too: plenty to discuss there. We didn't talk about whatever a man and a woman might speak about when meeting casually in a bar. He didn't seem that kind of man, and I certainly wasn't that kind of girl.

(Continued in part 2 of this posting)