In the South Island of New Zealand, in the far southerly region known as Southland, is a place called Clifden. Clifden is famous for two things. First, it was the site of the first bridge to span the then infamously dangerous Waiau River. Even today this suspension bridge, completed in 1899, remains the longest in New Zealand. Here's a picture of it when new:
When I saw it in March 2007 it had for a long time been replaced by a modern bridge downstream, but you could still walk across it. Mind you, it didn't seem to be in a very good state:
It's presently closed after a recent local earthquake, for health and safety reasons. Apparently the NZ Government doesn't want backpackers getting caught on the bridge when the rusty iron chains finally go twang. Spoilsports.
To continue my tale. Just off the far end, that is, on the west bank of the river, was a limestone cliff, wooded at its base. The trees, with their gnarled roots, were very photogenic, and begged to be seen close up. They partially screened a curiously-shaped cave:
Well, I don't know what you think, but to me this is one of the best natural representations of the Female Parts that I've ever seen. And yet there was not a mention of this cave on the otherwise very complete tourist information board by the bridge, even though the second reason why Clifden is famous is - you've guessed it - because of its network of limestone caves!
I should have thought that this cave was renowned in the local Ngati Mamoe Maori folklore. It might well have been the scene of coming-of-age retreats and suchlike, for both girls and boys, especially girls I'd say. Maybe it was known as Te-tomo-tapu-o-puhi ('the Sacred Cave of the Virgins') or O-Papatuanuki ('the place of Mother Earth'). (My knowledge of Maori is shaky, so apologies to native speakers for these invented placenames, but I hope you respect the attempt) My point is, this cave must have played a big part in the ritual life of the Maori in this region of Southland, and yet I have not been able to find any reference to it on the Internet, nor in any of my NZ guidebooks. NZ nowadays respects its Maori heritage, and such a cave would surely be worth a mention in the guide books. So what's going on?
I can think of two reasons offhand why this cave isn't flagged up as a must-see place, like the Moeraki Boulders are, say. (Another South Island tourist sight, on the south-east coast near Oamaru) First, the local Maori might not want the cave desecrated by an army of giggling camera-toting tourists bent on getting a joky, semi-pornographic picture. (It's really not uncommon for venerated or sacred Maori land to be officially off limits to tourists) Second, and I think this is probably the main reason, the NZ Government is awkward about anything that might be considered immodest or embarrassing, and it's therefore coy and shy and bashful about this cave. So it just says nothing about it. And the guide books and souvenir picture books suffer from a similar avert-your-eyes primness.
Well, here we are, at the start of the twenty-first century, but there are areas of the world where Victorian Respectability and Victorian Moral Values still hold sway! And not just in New Zealand. This morning I caught an item on Radio 4 about some towns in Italy making it a punishable offence to appear in public in 'provocative clothing'. No miniskirts allowed, for instance. Dear me!
It's all right, officer, I've got knickers on today.
Which brings me to a more general point about being shocked, about sharp intakes of breath, and about narrow-minded prudery. In the run-up to my genital surgery I'm going to be speaking at length on about penises and vaginas and clitorises and other terms of that nature, just as we all have to if we want to explain how things are proceeding to those interested. This is a blog written with transsexual people in mind. OK, anyone else can read it too. And why not? It's also the edited highlights of my ordinary passing life, a kind of online day-to-day diary. But there is a definite and deliberate bias towards what transitioning people might find interesting. And just as I found other blogs helpful in the past, a resource of many individual experiences, I hope my own unravelling story will join that useful collection of facts and impressions. And to ensure that it can be true and frank, I can't avoid discussion on topics that might make some folk blush. Being squeamish about the physical details would be like saying my body is not fit to be talked about, that it's dirty and unclean. It would be pandering to dishonesty if I shut up simply to spare some people's feelings, or to sidestep old-fashioned notions of what is appropriate and decorous.
But no doubt somebody somewhere will burn me at their stake for wanton indecency!