Saturday, 31 December 2011

New Year's Eve

In December 1980, when living in London, I had a girlfriend who was a sweet little thing, but apt to get carried away by male attention. She was just coming out of her teens and exploring her womanhood. I was half a dozen years older, and because the age gap meant a lot when so young, I tended to watch it all happen from a mental and emotional distance: sometimes it felt like half a generation.

I wasn't sure how to react. Convention told me to do things that would reassert my Number One position in her world. But although I was very fond of her - we had become engaged (with parental approval on both sides) in May 1980 - my heart wasn't doing what convention demanded. She was like a bird ready for flight, and I didn't want to cage her. She needed to be free.

Matters came to head in Trafalgar Square on New Year's Eve. I believe the crowds of revellers are nowadays tightly controlled, but in 1980 it was still possible to roam about, mildly misbehave, be in any state of merriment, perch atop marble lions, splash around in fountains, and generally let off steam, responding to emotional impulses to your heart's content. The police, a lot of them, were of course on hand; but Rent-a-mob was not there, and the atmosphere was thoroughly good natured. They had nothing to do but stand around, simply a moderating influence. And they were smiling all the time. It became something of a sport for young girls to go up to the male officers and give them a big kiss.

My girlfriend, when she realised this was allowed, plunged in and spread her kisses around. It was actually quite decorously done, as if the sergeants back at the station had given strict instructions to the men about the correct way to receive kisses from hormone-driven young girls. So there was no improper hanky-panky; just grins on the mens' faces, and hoards of blushing young ladies in their prim hats and coats and scarves and gloves dashing around to see who could kiss the most men. For some it must have been a Rite of Passage into the next stage of their sexual development. It was curiously engaging to watch. The policewomen present turned the other way, with strange expressions on their faces: rueful smiles that might have been interpreted as good-luck-to-you tolerance, or might not. Nobody was kissing them of course. And it really didn't matter that the male officers' minds were diverted from their essential job: there was no trouble.

It felt odd to see all this and not respond in a conventional way. I badly wanted to talk about this strange inertia, with a policewoman I suppose. What was my role here? What was the right thing to do? Why didn't I do it? Why didn't I mind that my girlfriend was enjoying herself in this way? I told myself that it was harmless, that she was simply being high-spirited, and that she was having fun. I felt a pang of abandonment, but that seemed to be all. For not the first time, I questioned my 'male' role - or was it a parental role? Why I wasn't being seriously annoyed by her behaviour, and why I was temporarily forgotten? The questions hung in the air, then thinned out and disappeared. Until the next time. I had no appetite or urgent wish to analyse my own responses. They could be ignored. And the kissing had stopped; here she was back at my side. I could put on a rueful smile and carry on.

Fast forward to 2011, and behold Lucy Melford, the nearly-60 Lucy Melford. But a woman now confronting her childhood. She realises that her emotional development stopped in puberty. She is determined to unblock her teenage hangups and move forward.

How do you 'unblock' anything? And how vulnerable will you be until the job is done, and you feel adequately sorted?

Let's put this into a specific situation. It's New year's Eve. You're in a pub with convivial friends, and you're relaxed and looking good. Everyone else there is getting mildly tipsy, or at least excited. Everybody has shining eyes and is talking loudly, and laughing, and making extravagant gestures of goodwill. Then some of the men start kissing every female they see. Do you dash for the loo, or make up your mind to respond? What will I do?

Put it another way, do I take the initiative?

And what if a man makes an approach, isn't somehow put off, starts a conversation, gets interested or at least intrigued?

I'll let you know. If it happens. Next year.

Friday, 30 December 2011

Scanning old prints - confronting the old life

Since the end of September I've been engaged in a photo project that involves scanning a large number of old prints, burning them onto a series of CDs, and mailing them to my former partner M---.

I could take them personally over to her house, because she lives in the same village - that's only 2 minutes drive, or 12 minutes if walking. But she can't cope with seeing me, and would feel embarrassed if I came to her her door uninvited. And to be honest, I couldn't cope too well if, knowing that she still felt like this, she came to my door uninvited. So we keep off each other's turf, and communicate by means other than face to face. At least we do communicate, and must, so long as this current photo project goes on.

Although our old relationship has come to a painful end, and although M--- feels very resentful about my 'opting out' of a settled life, and taking away our future together - just as if I committed some terrible act of betrayal - she still wants to have those old pre-digital photos that show us as a couple, or show members of her family, or either of us with former friends. This means going through all my prints for the years 1992 to 2000 and selectively scanning them. It's a slow business. Even without any normal editing, the scanning and captioning process can only be done at the rate of 20 shots per hour. So the 388 shots sent to her so far have taken me, on and off, over 19 hours. And I expect to eventually send her over 500 scans. Maybe as many as 1,000.

Why do I do it? We owe each other nothing. All ties have been broken. The last tie, the biggest of all, the debt owing on the Cottage, went last August. We need not now be in touch at all. She already has my digital shots from 2000 to 2010. I certainly feel under no great obligation to supply all these older photographs from the 1990s.

But there are two things. First, I want to do it. I feel that she ought to have these pictures, both to fill gaps in her family history, and to remember occasions that she may have forgotten. And second, I want to remember them too, and place them in my archive. Then I can revisit them very easily.

I feel perfectly cool about seeing the old me. I can recognise the continuity between that person and the present self. Indeed, I'm glad that I took so many photos: I have a marvellous record of how life used to be. Is that an odd thing to say? But not if you are serious about recalling the exact detail of how things really were, insofar as photographs can reveal that. I want a balanced view, not a skewed recollection. I want to appreciate that I was part of some fun events; that we did have jolly and loving moments; but also that there were occasions when the mood was less than perfect, when we put on a front. And times when odd little things were said or done that could not be forgotten. Some of them were said or done by me, and for no reason that was clear at the time. Fits of temper or irritation that came out of the blue. Strange reluctances to do quite ordinary things. I want pictures to prompt remembrance, whatever my present emotional response. I want to recover as much of the truth as possible, in a form that nobody can argue with. Photos are far better than written diaries for this, because they can't be selective. They include everything that was visible. And that has to be an honest thing, a good basis for facing up to how things were, good or bad. Much better than a personal impression backed up by nothing. And it's no good having these visual facts hidden away in dozens of print boxes, gathering dust in one's attic. They need to be highly accessible, just a few clicks away on the PC.

So this project, ostensibly at M---'s request, is partly for me too.

But M--- must feel pain whenever she sees these pictures. I wonder that she can stand it. I have no idea why she wants me to continue.

And when all the scans have been done, and there is nothing else to send, what then? Just silence?

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Well, that went quite well

I recently watched the 2000 Pixar film Toy Story 2 again.

In one scene, the toys, intent on rescuing Woody the cowboy from the clutches of a greedy toy store owner and collector (who wants Woody to complete a set of toys to sell to a Japanese toy museum for megabucks), have to cross a very busy road, practically a racetrack full of cars and trucks, all trying to beat the traffic lights. Of course, the best way to do it is protected by a red road works cone! So each toy gets underneath one, and they move out into the road in a formation.

It's a very wide six-lane urban highway really, a long way for little toys to go, and they have to cross it in stages. But they can't see, and have to guess when it's best to move forwards and when it's best to plonk down in a line and wait for the next red traffic light, which will stop the traffic and give them a chance to press forward without getting hit. Except that they somewhat misjudge the lulls in the traffic, and end up moving across the path of all these terrifyingly huge vehicles. And all the time they can't see what's bearing down on them.

It's amazing to see the chaos they cause, because all the cars and trucks do their utmost to swerve and avoid these cones, and although the toys come within a whisker of being squashed by tyres, somehow they survive. It all ends up in a horrible mess, traffic facing in all directions and completely blocking the road. But nobody is actually hurt. And the toys themselves have seen nothing of the near-disaster they have unwittingly caused.

As they gain the other side of the road, and still 'wearing' their cones - a kind of blindfold when you think about it - one of the toys says 'Well, that went quite well!'. You just have to laugh, because you've probably (like me) curled yourself up into a tense knot in your armchair, hardly daring to look, and you need to relax!

It all now strikes me as a metaphor for many a real-life situation where one plunges in with an urgent thing to get done, no matter what it takes, but you can't foresee the consequences for everything and everybody around you. We're not so different from those toys. The last three years have been just like a long blind walk across a busy road full of traffic. I thought I was doing it underneath a protective cone of laid-down official procedure and standard medication and a network of support groups. But in reality I was exposed to haphazard and unpredictable danger which could have been the death of me. And look at the chaos in my wake!

But I survived, and so have others. On the whole, despite everything, it has all gone quite well!

There was another moment in Toy Story 2 that got to me well and truly. This was when the cowgirl Jessie, one of that set of toys coveted by the greedy collector, tells Woody how she used to be the favourite playtime companion of a little girl called Emily.


They were inseparable. Jessie felt loved and wanted and was so happy. But Emily grew up, became interested in make-up and boyfriends, and one day Jessie fell under the bed and was forgotten. Then a long time later, Emily discovered her again, and picked her up. Jessie's heart leapt with joy with the hope of being loved and played with once more. But it was a hope that was dashed. She was popped into a box, and left at a roadside charity box pickup point. And eventually she came into the hands of the greedy collector, who kept her languishing in a dark storeroom for years and years until Woody came along, when there was at last a hope of being loved as a toy again, even if it had to be behind glass in a Tokyo museum.

This has resonanances from many a real-life relationship, I'd say!

But the moment that made me cry my heart out was the point at which Emily (who was just being a girl growing up, and not really cruel and heartless) let Jessie drop under the bed and into the dust, a toy discarded. I couldn't bear it. I had to hug Ted for a long time until the grief passed away from me, and I could face the rest of the film.

Funny how some of the things you can watch reach into you and rip you apart.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Oooh - beware of tight jeggings!

I'm currently a bit uncomfortable downstairs. I'm not in pain, and there's no damage to see, and dilation is fine; but it feels as if something has been punishing my external parts. They seem a bit swollen, as if reacting to some physical ill-treatment.

The only culprit I can think of is my latest pair of tight-fitting jeggings. Unlike ordinary leggings, they stretch less, and have a substantial and non-stretch central seam. I reckon they have squashed and pinched (and maybe bruised) my clitoris and the labia majora. I have of course given them a rest for a few days, and gone back to ordinary leggings. And if the problem persists, I will wear nothing but skirts and dresses for a while.

I'm not a fan of ordinary jeans, which I've never found comfortable to wear, and for a long time I was suspicious of jeggings as well. Then, a month ago, I discovered that Sainsbury's at Hove were selling them under their TU label for £12.50 a pair. They were well-made and nicely shaped, and I do have a bottom worthy of proper coverage! It seemed too good to miss. I tried a pair on in the store - size 14 was a very good fit - and bought two. I was lucky to get them. Two days later they had sold out. Those two pairs proved to be a success, though, and usefully extended my legwear options, especially if I wanted to wear boots. I quite liked wearing them, and thought I had conquered a personal prejudice.

But of course after a few wearings they began to stretch a little too much for a perfectly skinny look. My hair stylist M--- wondered whether I should have bought a size 12 instead, in order to preserve that creaseless 'painted on' appearance for longer. I thought about it. And then a few days later, I saw that Sainsbury's had some more jeggings in, so I tried on a size 12. But it was no good - they were too skinny to get on! But I bought two more size 14s, and after trying them on quickly at home, popped them in the washing machine to shrink them a bit. Two days ago I wore a pair of them all day.

They certainly looked fine, but definitely felt on the snug side. I now think they were rather too snug! I think this latest batch of size 14s is closer-fitting than the previous batch. Hmmm - I should have expected inconsistency between batches. Anyway, my bits have suffered, and I'll just have to wait for the damage to fade.

Let this be a warning then. Tight clothing can look great, but beware!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Explaining myself

An old friend of my Mum's, who I don't remember seeing since leaving Barry in South Wales in 1963 at the age of eleven, has sent a Christmas card addressed to Dad, myself (as Julian, the old me) and family. She did the same thing last year, and I meant to write. I now have. A difficult letter to a widowed lady of nearly 90. How do I break the news that Dad died in 2009? And how do I explain my own situation?

This (with some things blanked out, to conceal personal details, and omitting the first and last paragraphs) is what I said in my letter:

I’m afraid I have bad news. Both Mum and Dad died in the first half of 2009. Both were in their late 80s. I think you must know about Mum’s death from cancer on 3 February 2009. Dad followed her on 25 May 2009.

He was missing Mum, and I might almost say pining away for her (because they had been very close), but he didn’t actually die of grief. It was a sudden and unexpected cardiac arrest. It was late in the evening, and he had had a good meal, his usual hot shower, his usual whisky and tonic, and he was reading a cowboy novel before going off to bed.

All this was obvious when I saw the scene (minus Dad, of course) next morning. I knew his routines. I was living elsewhere, but I visited him two or three times a week, and we went out together for pub lunches, and then back to play cards, which he greatly enjoyed. We had a good rapport. On the fateful night, I think he had got to his feet to go to bed, but the effort placed a strain on his heart, and he slumped to the floor. He had time to press the button on the device around his neck, which summoned the emergency people, but when they arrived he was already dead. It must have been a very quick end for him. Later that night, I had two glum policemen knocking on the door of my house at one o’clock in the morning, and, with a heavy heart, I took it from there.

I inherited the house at [my address in the village], where I still live. Mum and Dad’s ashes were scattered at the bottom of the garden. After Dad’s funeral, I was urged to stay on and not sell the house, and I have listened. I dare say that sometime in the next ten years, if I can afford to, I will make one last move to somewhere in the West Country, maybe Devon. But meanwhile I have all I need here at [the village], including fantastic friends and neighbours.

There is one other piece of news - about myself - that may surprise you.

I was diagnosed with gender dysphoria in 2008, meaning that all along I had been looking like a man and living the life of one - quite successfully too - but in fact had always been female. So at the age of 56 my life turned upside-down. In several ways it could not have happened at a worse time, although thankfully I had already retired, so the complications of presenting a new face at work did not arise. Three years on, I’ve settled very nicely into my new role, or rather the role I should always have had. And looking and sounding pretty good, I assure you. To save my parents embarrassment in the early days, I completely changed my name. So it’s now Miss Lucy Melford, and not Mr [my old name] - that’s official, on my passport and driving licence, and everything.

I hope this isn’t too much of a shock. It was a huge shock for a whole lot of people at the beginning, and they distanced themselves from me very quickly, and most have stayed away. I suppose they didn’t know what to say or do. But three years after the initial announcement, one or two are beginning to make contact again, which shows that you must give these things time. But of course the old Julian has disappeared. It would be a brave person who knew the old me and attempted to form a fresh friendship with Lucy - although new friends, who never knew Julian, find me rather good company! It all depends on your point of view.


I didn't want to sentimentalise the sad news about Dad, nor launch into a complicated discussion of what being transsexual has meant. I remembered Mum's old friend as a pleasant, youngish woman in 1963 (Mum was only 42 then) and it was very hard to visualise what she could be like now, or what her views might be. But I wasn't going to shirk telling her.

I wonder how she will react?

Monday, 19 December 2011

How do you sleep?

No, not a reference to John Lennon's rather critical song about Paul McCartney. This post is about a subject that I've not seen anyone blog about.

I'm talking about bedtime. It's the time of day that you can go to your very own imaginary world. If you can do no more, at least you can drift off to sleep thinking of how things would be in a different world, whatever the daytime reality. But first you have to get into bed and switch out the light. This is how I get to that point.

First the basics. I live alone, but I sleep in a good-sized bedroom on a big roomy king-size heavy pine bed that gives me all the space I want. And I don't keep to just one side of the bed. I sleep in the dead centre, with two really nice pillows to rest my head on. I have a firm mattress slung over pine slats, so that there is some 'give' and it's not like sleeping on a stone slab. I can feel comfortable whether I lie on my back or on my side. I stretch out luxuriously on a white fitted brushed cotton sheet; over me there is currently a 10.5 tog duvet inside a plain cream cotton cover; and my head is on matching cream cotton pillow cases.

I live in a quiet area, away from the village centre and any traffic noise, and I have nothing much to worry about, so I fall asleep easily and sleep well. I have a tendency to wake automatically after three hours, so I go to the loo, have a sip of water, and then go back off to sleep for another three or four hours. This routine, which must be habitual, hardly ever varies. Oddly enough it's just the same even when I'm away in the caravan and lying on a narrower bed. I still have those nice pillows and cream cotton bedding. And usually it's even more peaceful, although you do hear the weather much more. But somehow, when you're snug, and ready for sleep, the pitter-patter of rain on the caravan roof is good to hear and quickly brings slumber.

But sleeping in a strange bed unsettles the routine, and so, because a good night's rest is so important to me, I try to avoid sleeping out of my own bed. I'm most definitely not the person to accept offers of couches or spare beds when visiting a friend, and I will face a two-hour drive at midnight or later in order to get home and sleep in my own house. And to tell the truth, it's usually a lot more convenient to wake up in the right place. There's always a surprising amount to do, and I want to get on with it. I never lie in. It helps that I'm retired: I don't have to drag myself out of bed at the crack of dawn, with the house unheated and cold, simply to catch a train. The central heating fires up just after seven, and the gentle ticking of the radiator in my bedroom is my 'alarm clock'. I'm nearly always up and having breakfast by seven-thirty.

To get myself in the mood for bed, I tend to stay up late, generally beyond eleven-thirty, and my going-to-bed ritual consists of a glass of cold milk and a small bowl of cereal (I know, not good for my waistline, but you can't sleep well if you're hungry, can you? And I've been doing this for decades). Then I undress, visit the toilet and bathroom, and get into bed. I may read, but most often I play three straight games of solitaire, and then lights out. No T'ai Chi. No hanky-panky with vibrators. I just want to get to sleep.

And to wear? Well, always some panties. For modesty if nothing else. I mean, what if I had to get out of the house fast? I don't mind the neighbours seeing my boobs, but I'd be embarrassed if they saw my more intimate bits. Of course, if I were sharing my bed with a guest, no doubt I'd dispense with the panties in order to be friendly; but that has not occurred so far, and I don't expect it to occur. I'm a realist: no man or woman is likely to fancy me enough to ask me for sex; and if they did, I'd be so terrified about the possibilities that they'd never even get a glimpse of the house, let alone the bedroom. Besides, I don't want to wake up with some other face next to mine, no matter how good-looking or caring or sweet they might be. I want a simple, uncluttered, no-problem start to my day. I want my pure space, not a sagging bed littered with bodies that smell of the night before. I have friends who long for that. Maybe the whole human race does. But not me.

And when I mentioned 'panties' I meant plain black Marks and Spencer cotton panties, and not silky white or scarlet directoire knickers with lace and ribbons. I don't do fancy dress in bed. But if you do, then that's fine!

What are they all for, anyway, alluring garments like see-through negligees? They seem to be props in a ritual. Surely the most seductive, most exciting underwear is none at all. I mean, if you wanted to grip a man's interest, make his imagination work overtime, ensure that he throws all caution and reticence to the winds, and get him into bed with you, wouldn't it be a great idea if, sometime during the evening, you dropped a hint that you had nothing on beneath your outer clothing? Just a thought.

Friday, 16 December 2011

One less record, a few minutes more time gained

This morning I discovered that the vast 2011 Transition Costs spreadsheet on my PDA had become corrupted. This was a Windows Mobile document, and I was a little surprised because WM has, on the whole, proved very stable. But it seemed no problem to deal with, because I had a very recent backup. Unfortunately that too was corrupted. And would you believe it, until only yesterday I had regular half-weekly backups going back over the entire past month - any one of which might have been uncorrupted and usable - but a routine diary prompt had made me delete all save that last one! Damn.

The only other backup left was the general half-yearly one I made of everything on my PDA, PC and laptop on 30 September. So I got that out, and copied the 2011 costs spreadsheet onto my PC. But the last entry on it was dated 26 September.

So, would I now recreate everything from 1 October to the present? Or just let the 2011 spreadsheet finish at the end of September?

All my record-keeping instincts said 'Recreate! You can do it easily!'. But actually I decided to simply file the thing away and just keep it for occasional reference only. After all, the genital op - the essential culmination of all my transition costs - was as long ago as last March, and despite what I said in Costs, costs, costs on 25 November, perhaps the time really had come to shed this particular financial analysis and move on without it. One less thing to maintain.

The way I saw it, something had intervened. Presumably a gremlin, but it might have been a divine hand for all I knew, and it was telling me to use my time more profitably. So be it.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Food glorious food

What a very good climax to weeks of viewing. The Masterchef final was tonight, and now it's over. There's a winner. This is the annual BBC2 competition to discover a supremely good new chef of potential Michelin two-star standard. Forget Wembley and Wimbledon and the Olympic Games. This is the kind of contest I like to watch. Unusually there were three finalists - Ash Mair (age 34), Steve Barringer (25) and Claire Hutchings (22) - all of them so outstanding that they all went through. They were astonishingly accomplished. And all three were hungry (if not ravenous) for the title. But I was pleased to see how pleasant they were to each other. Nothing bitter about the keen rivalry, at least not on-screen.

I was intrigued how each put their personalities into a series of very daring, complex and clever dishes. How I wish that I too could be there with judges Michel Roux Junior and Gregg Wallace, sampling these delightful offerings. Alas, television can't give you flavours and aromas and textures!

You'd think, wouldn't you, that if I get this much of a kick out of food, that I must be a really good cook myself. I'm afraid not. OK, I can turn out a properly-prepared lunch or evening meal for just myself. And on occasions, I've cooked something tasty for two. But I baulk at cooking for six. I've never thrown a dinner-party for ordinary mortals, let alone anybody discerning. And yet I'd really like to cook as well as these three finalists; and it's a skill that I could develop in the years ahead, although I'm not at the age to embark on any kind of professional cooking. To achieve excellence in that you clearly need to be young. And driven.

It was hard not to identify with Ash, Steve and Claire. If not with their actual personalities, then with their approach. Although I was not surprised that Ash won, I was totally astonished with the innovation, flair and skills shown by the other two, and amazed that such finished dishes - delivered under pressure, remember - could be created by such young chefs. Even though they didn't win, surely Steve and Claire will now be launched on brilliant careers. I just hope that I can, very occasionally, treat myself to the kind of meals that they can create.

In case you thought I was putting myself down, here's a photographic selection of lunches and evening meals that I have prepared for myself during 2011. I'm not completely lazy when it comes to cooking. I like to avoid 'meals out of a packet' and I nearly always use fresh raw ingredients cooked from scratch. But I'm happy to open a tin of baked beans for just a midday snack. I like strong colour, and strong flavours. So if I add a blob of bright red tomato ketchup, or bright yellow mustard, it's mostly to add something colourful to the presentation - although why I bother is a mystery, because there's only me to care! I could so easily just dump the cooked food in one big pile onto the plate, with no attempt at arrangement. But I always make at least a minimum effort for my own satisfaction. Most of my evening meals take no more than 35 minutes to prepare, which is fast enough.













Breakfasts are lean and frugal. And I don't usually have a proper dessert - just an apple. Even so, you can see why I've put on weight over the months.

Fences down

I'd rather hoped that once the Cottage was sold last August the financial pressure would be off; but there's been one unexpected expense after another since then, and my remaining pot of money has continued to shrink. I hope things are different in 2012!

The latest unplanned mishap that will cost a lot of dosh to fix was waiting for me yesterday morning. We'd had exceptionally strong winds overnight and they blew down a section of my fencing. Here's the damage:












Some of the fence panels and posts (those adjacent to the greenhouse) had been damaged beyond redemption and would certainly have to be replaced. Closer to the house, the fences and posts were still standing but had clearly been shaken about, and would probably go down if we had another wild night this winter. If I decided to have a proper job done, with concrete posts and upgraded panels, I would be looking to replace 18 metres (say 60 feet) of fencing. You can imagine the cost of that. Ouch.

However, first the wooden debris had to be broken up and mostly burned. With the help of my next door neighbour, who had a chain saw, this was accomplished by midday today. Then I set to, clearing the garden edge next to what was left of the fence panels still standing. I put in two hours steady work unaided, and managed to clear several metres:













Although the gardeners among you will pooh-pooh this as a feeble start, believe me, I was impressed with myself. No gardening whatever had been possible for three months after my op in March, as I felt so weak, and I only gradually regained some physical strength and the ability to bend. I'm afraid the garden edges, somewhat neglected since 2009, got overgrown and unruly. In a way, this fence damage has done me a favour: I will at last have to see to all the accumulated lopping and pruning and digging that I've been putting off. And not just on this side of the garden - the other sides as well. And repair the greenhouse. And scrape the moss off my patio. And it must all be finished before the snow arrives.

But all this effort is going to make me fit and burn off some calories! Now that's better news.

And I'm very glad to say that two hours of unaccustomed excercise this afternoon did not leave me with an aching back. It was a surprise, but I survived and I feel greatly encouraged to carry on.

Here I am, late in the afternoon, feeling rather cheerful about how well my lopping and pruning and shovelling were going:


If I lived in a flat (or a houseboat) I wouldn't have a garden and wouldn't have to maintain it. But I think I'd be missing a lot. I aim to get it back to its former glory, which is perfectly possible.

But until the job is fully done, the little squirrel who likes to visit my garden is going to be upset, and I expect to be scolded for messing about in his territory!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Heels and flip-flops

Thank God it's winter, because I can wear boots of one sort or another most of the time. And that means much, much less pressure on my ordinary shoes. I'm now down to only three pairs of flats that I can wear out of the house. One of the black ones is for really dressy occasions. The other black pair is for smart casual, and has become my default pair of evening shoes. And the third pair, champagne-coloured, is OK for daytime shopping, but is getting somewhat tatty, and by next summer will be fit only for the beach.

I don't normally wear heels. I assure you it's true. I actually have no high heels whatever, and only three pairs of medium-heeled shoes, which I hardly ever put on. Whatever the gain in better leg and bottom shape, they make me look taller, something to avoid at all costs. But the main reason for my not wearing heels is that they put undue weight on the ball of each foot, and make my toes feel crowded and uncomfortable. There is no way that I will sacrifice comfort for fashion, or do it for the sake of a girlier appearance. If it is really girly, that is: I don't see very many natal girls or women sporting heels away from situations where they are more-or-less obligatory - as part of a job dress code perhaps, or to look conventionally alluring when tottering from nightclub to nightclub. They must be hell to wear all day.

So no heels in my life! Strike one against my being a girly role model then.

It must already be apparent that I haven't got a vast collection of shoes, and you'd be quite right. And yet I am perfectly aware of the massive impression a really big shoe collection can make. I recall one girl at the office some years back who confessed to having nearly two hundred pairs of shoes. That may not be so terribly unusual - many of the women that I've discussed this topic with over the years wished they could afford just as many. It's not merely to have something suitable for absolutely any outfit or any occasion. It's just as much to possess enviable objects of beauty and style, as many as possible, each pair a reassurance that the owner is worth it. Shoes represent happiness. The more shoes, the more happiness. They also represent female power. Each fresh addition, needed or not, adds to the prestige and self-confidence of the woman who has made the purchase. Expensive shoes with high heels are even better than super-posh bags: bags do not go click-click-click as you walk along, and do not turn heads in anything like the same way, to announce your arrival. Even the storage problem at home is a positive thing, that says 'this lady puts shoes before most other things in her home'; and a spare room entirely devoted to shoe racks is a status symbol that will crush and silence most other women. As Imelda Marcos knew.

Well, I'm no Imelda Marcos. Strike two against me.

What about the other end of the feminine footwear spectrum? Where's my crocs and my flip-flops? Oh dear, none in the cupboard. I have worn thin-soled ballet pumps, but again my head tells me that these are not good for my feet, and they are impossible to wear on pebble beaches and rocky pathways and any kind of hard ground. I didn't get them out last summer, and they may never get worn again.

Strike three; and I'm out, my feminine credentials in tatters, with very little to throw in that might redeem me. Because I have no illusions about the Dubarry boots: they're nice, and they look quality, but let's face it, most women either haven't heard of them, or associate them with a huntin', shootin' and fishin' country lifestyle as far removed from suburban life as it's possible to get. The epitome of 'county'. Footwear for snobs. And not footwear for glamorous girly girls. I also have pale blue wellies with hens on them, which are cute, but like the Dooberries they have no heel, and no pizzazz, and Jessica Rabbit wouldn't be seen dead in them.

Where does this leave me? Lacking in femininity? Less of a woman? It depends on what you think maketh one. I'm not going to worry.

Boots on: let's get some fresh air.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Amazing links

Well, this is very pleasant. Only two months ago I met a new friend - a trans woman from the north west of England, quite casually, when she was visiting another local friend at the Nuffield Hospital in Brighton. I got on very well with this new friend, and found we had a mutual interest in photography. Definitely another person then to add to my network of people that I know.

But there has been a remarkable development in the last few days. This new northern friend (J---) went out for an evening meal with Shirley Anne (whose blog is Minkyweasel World - see my Blog List to the right) and the subject of hormones came up (that's an unusual topic, to be sure!). Shirley Anne suggested that J--- read my last post, and then they realised that they were talking about someone they both already knew - me. Isn't that amazing, because if I hadn't become a blogger I wouldn't have known Shirley Anne, and if I hadn't got to know the friend who was in hospital, I wouldn't have encountered J---! Tenuous connections indeed.

Or is it really so amazing?

I now have distinct sets of friends scattered across the country, all of whom I've got to know since I began my transition. None date from before the winter of 2008/2009. Not many are bloggers, although I can claim that I've personally met no less than nine other bloggers, which seems to me impressive. But making friends at places like the Clare Project in Brighton, or through encounters at voice therapy sessions with Christella Antoni, or by going to the opera, or simply through existing friends, has let me expand my social base more than I would have ever thought possible in the bleak days of autumn 2008, when I felt very alone and very subdued by anti-transition pressure. Now I feel part of a wide network of people who are all in the same basic position. We are not all close friends of course, and the chemistry between people is not always strong, but the link is there. And I'd bet that if all these people were asked who else do they know, we'd all find that there are even more links than we thought. The network of links might easily be dense, like neural connections in the brain. Even now, if I attempted to draw a diagram to show who knows who, it would quickly look like a confusing mess of connecting lines. So it's not altogether surprising that J-- and Shirley Anne might know me - or that someone else they know, whom I don't yet know, quite independently knows me!

But sadly it doesn't follow that every trans person automatically gets linked to a network. It depends on making contact. Putting yourself out there, and getting to know some people. And that can be very hard.

It's difficult enough to overcome fear and embarrassment and potential ridicule and a host of other practical problems when you are confident and in a good place to do something about your life. Those living in parts of the country where there is no local culture tolerant of boundary-pushing, or who cannot get the understanding and support of their family, face a solitary and dispiriting existence. I can perfectly see that unless somehow told that distance-bridging contacts can be made on the internet, these poor souls can remain alone and friendless, unable to find companionship, and excluded from any network.

And this is one justification for blogging. It's naturally pleasant to find that people respect and like what you write about, and that you have a personal following; but the real value of blogging is to become a trusted internet resource for those who need to read what others like them think about their condition, and what they do with their lives. So it really helps if one's Blog List (of the people you follow) is long and comprehensive and balanced. One should be a safe stepping stone for those crossing the raging torrent.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Three years of transition - only subtle facial changes

Three years ago - on 9 December 2008 - Lucy Melford made her first public appearance. An awful lot has happened to me since then, nearly all of it irreversable. So when contemplating a post to mark this three-year stage in my personal development, I expected to find plenty of photos in the archives that would show how much I've changed. I'm talking about face shots of course, the bit of me that would most clearly show the before-and-after effect of feminisation.

But in fact I didn't find many shots suitable for comparison. For one thing, until well into 2008, close up shots of my head were few. Besides that, the expressions on my face then were mostly unlike the expressions you'll see now. However, here are four quite well-matched pictures from October 2008 and December 2011, with a fifth from September 2005:






















By October 2008 I'd been on a serious diet for four months, and my face was much thinner than it had been during most of the 2000s. The shot from 2005 is more typical of how I looked before transition began.

In the 2011 shots I'm wearing no makeup except mascara and lipstick. The lighting is natural daylight in all five pictures, although the 2005 and 2008 shots were not by a garden window but out on sea shores. Obviously you have to ignore the different hair and different clothes.

You know, I don't see any startling changes! There's been a general softening of the skin, the eyes are open wider, and the mouth has slightly changed shape (it's all that speaking and smiling practice!). The cheeks and neck have altered in a feminine direction, the beard shadow has gone, and the eyebrows have been thinned out to the point of non-existence. Generally the face has become more rounded compared to 2008, but is much the same as it was in 2005.

And that's about it.

I think that you'd definitely say that my feminisation has come a long way in the past three years, and that the male look is much subdued, but surely I must still be highly recognisable to anyone who knew me before transition began. It's a salutory illustration that you mustn't expect a quick and fundamental transformation when going onto hormone treatment!

Of course, the years ahead will see an ongoing development in skin texture, and more shifting of flesh about the face. But the smoothing-out and reshaping process will have to contend with the drooping and sagging effects of gravity on aging tissue. Oh well. At least that will look natural.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Houseboats

Yesterday afternoon I went down to Shoreham Beach for a walk, and found a row of houseboats. There was only one that looked anything like a seagoing proposition:


This was a redundant German minesweeper, and it looked as if it was ready go out on patrol on the very next high tide. But as a home? I accept that it might have some tiny cabins inside to sleep in, and a little galley to cook in, and a cramped mess to eat in, and a basic toilet. But where were the big windows to let in the sunshine and the view? Not exactly wunderbar, and, if ever I were thinking of giving up my comfortable bungalow with its charming garden for something with more 'character', not on my list of possible buys.

But some of the other houseboats had more obvious appeal as homes - although they had been extensively altered and added to in order to achieve that, and would never sail the seven seas again. For instance:


Hmmm...was that a real coach incorporated into the superstructure? And were the bombs and torpedoes resting in the mud defused and safe? I could see that those zany south-facing windows might let in a lot of light, but they were a bit too way out for my taste, and besides, they clearly weren't double-glazed! And possibly not even leakproof, if it rained, as it does sometimes even in sunny Sussex. But there were remedies for that - some of the other houseboats had clever canvas coverings to keep out the elements:


Problem sorted. And if looking for a real bargain, one could seek out boats with a permanent list to starboard:


If you're thinking that I'm being a bit sniffy about living offshore, then you're right. I have seen some very attractive floating homes here and there, but none have shivered my timbers. I do see that a houseboat is different and not boring, and could be cool and trendy. I do see that houseboats lend themselves to a certain free style of living. And I do see that if not tied up in a marina, or a proper harbour, or on the Thames, or in the centre of London, the mooring fees might be affordable. And I also appreciate that one need not fall overboard and drown, if tipsy one dark night. And surely it wouldn't matter that one's wooden home was an uninsurable firetrap, awkward, gloomy, leaky, damp, cold in winter, stifling in summer, and surrounded by acres of smelly mud?

Let's talk money. A quick glance on the internet suggests that purchasing a houseboat wouldn't cost the earth. I see that instead of buying Fiona, I could easily - with the same amount of cash - have bought some hulk instead. A missed opportunity indeed. Why waste it on a luxury car, when I could have had a weatherbeaten old tub? You know, even as things now stand, I could sell my nice warm cosy well-appointed bungalow, buy a houseboat, and pop the difference in the bank.

Why on earth don't I do it?

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Strange opportunities

After writing my last post, one thing that struck me was just how early in my transition the 'evening meal' dream had popped into my imagination.

At the end of 2008 most people in my life still did not know that I considered myself female. My parents and my partner knew, and that was about it. I was still hoping that, despite very negative first reactions, the full horror of losing everyone from my life could be averted. That somehow my parents and M--- would embrace this new version of me, and find the rediscovery rewarding. If asked then what I most wanted, I would have said, 'To keep the people I love'.

I shouldn't have been imagining anything different, certainly not a future without them, a future in which I was a fully-formed woman with friends who had accepted me. And yet my subconscious mind had ignored my conscious desires, and had forged ahead; it had set up this mature and highly realistic vision of a new life in a new setting, in which I knew people of substance, and was apparently unassailable.

Looking back, I think the 'evening meal' dream had a hugely supportive effect. I must have hugged it to me. It got me through a bleak winter in which I had to stand alone, whirled naked by events, beseiged by questions and all the guilt and pressure that was being loaded onto me. It offered a warm, candlelit future in which I was not only materially secure - certainly independent enough to gently push away an even more affluent life with the Derek in the dream - but emotionally secure, and obviously in good health, with at least one close and trusted friend. It may be a dream about keeping my independence intact, but I also think it's about being wanted and sought after, and not rejected.

There were other elements of this dream, or perhaps they were separate dreams about the same future.

In one, I am walking through the churchyard in my imaginary village, and encounter a teenage girl silently crying. Without a second's thought, I stop, sit beside her, and ask what is wrong - something I could not possibly do in real life at that time, because she'd have seen me as a slightly odd middle-aged bloke. But in the dream it's woman to woman. It all comes out. I succeed in comforting her, and I walk her home past my house, and I tell her that she can drop in for a chat any time. And she does; and we become firm friends; I get to know her parents and family; and it turns out that she had been unhappy for years past, and that I have turned her life round. And this wins me the respect of the other young people in the village, who feel they have found an understanding ally. And not just the young people: everyone gets to know about my good deed, and sees me as a person they can confide in.

What's all this about? I'd guess that it's a reaction to being distrusted and put at arm's length. Perhaps I wanted to comfort M--- in much the same way, and mend our fracturing relationship. Perhaps I wanted to be well-regarded, and not someone from whom people had withdrawn in confusion, bewilderment or disgust.

The third dream is about my 'daytime job'. It seems that somehow I have become attached to the main newspaper in Barnstaple. (I haven't a clue how that would happen, or how one would really work for a newspaper) I cover community events for all of north Cornwall and north Devon, including civic and military occasions. And occasionally other types of story, where especial tact and diplomacy are needed. I drive around in a distinctive car (this dream was pre-Fiona, but Fiona is the car in recent versions!), and I'm well-known. The dream has had me charming the whiskers off angry farmers, and scaring myself to death taking part in helicopter rides offshore, but usually it's about a big summer event in sunny Bude, where a festival is being held. In the dream, I'm not only reporting it; I'm involved in the running of this festival, which includes live performances in a packed seafront arena (I hasten to say that this arena doesn't exist in real life!); and I have to be centre-stage from time to time to make announcements, and introduce the next big act. And at the climax of the dream, I am persuaded by an anxious management to stand in for a famous singer who can't come. And of course I sing my heart out, staggering everyone with the power of my voice.

This seems easier to analyse. Like any teenager, I fancied myself as a performing megastar, and this is the eventual and long-delayed chance for fame and success. Sheer showing-off.

But I also think there are deeper things here. I really do have an ambition to sing well, in operatic roles, and to do it in a strong and authentic female voice. That is not an absurd impossibility. I'm sure that with training I could be a credible contralto, even if I am far too old to embark on any kind of career. This is on the back-burner in real life. As for the acclaim, well, I'm not at all hungry for it, even if being well-known for some definite talent might be very pleasant in some respects. A moment of delighted applause for a one-off, unrehearsed performance is one thing; commitment to the rigours of an ongoing career is quite another. So how come I have a dream devoted to finding unexpected singing success?

In her comment, Shirley Anne speculated about whether the 'evening meal' dream might be an indicator of my current approach to relationships. I don't think so, because it pre-dated eveything; although it's still a relevant dream that may yet become true. It involves a potentially awkward situation, a challenge, that has to be faced up to. So does the 'singing star' dream. Except that instead of refusing to stand in, I have leapt onto the stage and delivered the performance of a lifetime.

I think this is all a metaphor for my future life. I think I should be getting ready for some big moment of opportunity. Clearly my subconscious is already prepared and waiting.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Dreams that might come true

Right at the beginning of my transition, I began to have a dream. It was about a future existence, in which I had fully completed my transtition. It seemed very real, very clear, and it became even more full of convincing detail with each repetition.

I am not an habitual dreamer, meaning of course (because we all dream every night) that I don't usually remember my dreams, or even that I have been dreaming. But I had this particular dream as often as every week back in late 2008 and early 2009. And it still occasionally recurs.

It's a pleasant enough dream. It's always set in a village that I have moved to. The village is like Marhamchurch, near Bude in north Cornwall, with elements of some other villages too, such as Week St Mary not far away, and Bradworthy over in the next county, Devon. It could certainly be the actual Marhamchurch; and my home in the dream is one of the bungalows near the top of Pinch Hill in the real village. Rather like my present home, but more stylish inside. The dream-Marhamchurch has a pub that forms the hub of village life, but with a different interior from the real one, that lends itself to dining in semi-privacy.

My dream involves enjoying an evening meal in the pub, as part of a foursome. I am fully-developed as Lucy, as feminised as I am ever going to get. I am not perfect. I still have, for instance, my big nose. In the dream I'm fully conscious that really close scrutiny might give me away. But I pass extremely well, and look pretty damn good for my age, and my voice and manner are even better than now. And that's the trouble, as you will see.

It's always an evening meal, always with the same three companions. One is a pretty, dark-haired natal woman who is my best friend in the village. Her name is Sue, and she's about fourty-five, slightly buxom, and a lively and vivacious person in every way, with a zest for life. She has a merry sense of humour, but also a serious, confidential side; and she knows that I am trans. I told her. It's our secret. Nobody else knows.

Sitting opposite us in the cosy village pub are two men named Ralph and Derek. I am quite certain of their names. They are not men of high culture, but both are well-off: businessmen with many interests, and considerable local clout. Ralph inherited his father's agricultural machinery and feed business, but has diversified into sports and adventure holidays. He owns a boat and a plane. Derek is basically a builder, but has property and leisure ventures all over the south-west. Both have done well, staying ahead of the game and making no mistakes. Both have money and some leisure. They not only play golf; to some extent they enjoy all the traditional pursuits of the well-heeled country gentleman. Money can buy almost anything.

Ralph is in his late forties, separated, nearly divorced, and I first met him through his twenty-something daughter, who lives with him. Her car broke down in a lonely country lane, and then I came along. I drove her home so that Ralph could take charge of the problem. Ralph insisted on my staying for a rather liquid lunch. It was indeed a very good lunch, but I felt his amiable curiosity rather too much, and I half-feel that Ralph has guessed, though I don't know for sure. He hasn't chased me: he has other fish to fry in that regard, Sue among them.

Derek is a bit older, and is long divorced with no family. I fancy he finds it hard to make full use of his time, now that his businesses run themselves. He has a thing about me, not quite a blind passion, but it has something of that flavour. At any rate, he's in hot pursuit. There's nothing actually wrong with Derek, but I really don't fancy him, and I feel I need to keep one step ahead of him - because if I don't, he will corner me with some invitation that I will find extremely difficult to refuse. Or bury me in presents that I don't want. Derek is persistent and clever and absolutely charming; and impossible to snub - doubly so if politeness is built into your soul, as it is with me. He knows that. He senses that he's got me on the run. My task in the dream is to put him off, and get him under control, with of course Sue's connivance.

The meal is a very good one, absolutely delicious. Ralph is in fine form, telling story after story, all of them with a light touch. He is remarkably urbane. Sue is in fits of laughter. Derek's forte is conversation, slower stuff, but the kind of talk that spins out the evening so that drink follows drink, and resistance becomes weaker.

Sue and I take time out.

'Derek's got an eye for you tonight, Lucy! I think he's going to put a proposition to you. Such as marriage.'

'Over my dead body! We must put him off somehow. Sue, I'm going to tell him the truth about me.'

'Do you think he'll care? I think he knows already. We need a better plan than that.'

'Let's pretend I'm a raving lesbian then.'

'Right. Back to the table!'

And so we go back, but despite a graphic description of my supposed lesbian misbehaviour with half the village, including Sue herself, Derek says it's all right by him, and produces a ring. Oh my God. And there the dream ends, and I have no idea what I say next. It's so frustrating.

The curious thing is that the dream has so far been so lifelike that I sort of believe it could come true. So that one day, when seeking a pub meal in a north Cornwall village, I will actually encounter a real-life Sue and Ralph and Derek, and somehow get drawn into sharing a table with them. With a result that will follow my dream word for word and act for act. A classic piece of deja-vu: I have been here before.

But surely there will be differences? For instance, the real-life Derek can't form an intention to pop the question on only a couple of hours acquaintance. There has to be a different outcome. The question is, what? And will it be pleasant? Or something dreadful?

What about the others? Are there in fact three other people who have quite separately been having a dream just like mine, and like me, are also wondering whether it could happen in real life? If so, will we all be watching in fearful fascination as the evening unfolds, unable to speak about what is happening, unable to get up and go, unable to escape whatever real ending the dream has?

When much, much younger I saw a film called Dead of Night, in which an architect arrives at a house that he has dreamed about, and encounters a set of people staying there for the weekend, all of whom appear in his dream. At first they pooh-pooh his fantasies, until he begins to correctly predict things that they do, and what happens next. Things that inexorably lead him into a horrible nightmare.

Maybe I should avoid Cornwall!

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

MTS: lasting impressions

Well, the show's over. What will the public take away from part four of My Transsexual Summer? I'm sure the question is worth asking.

It was in many ways a watershed programme: the first major TV excursion into trans territory for half a decade, at least in the UK; the first to show so much upbeat celebration of transness; the first to show a proper selection of trans people of both types (MTF and FTM), and yet suggest that trans people are not all alike, but have different personal takes on their condition; the first to throw away the silly stereotypes of 'ex-men' who can't leave train-spotting and car mechanics alone, or flamboyant pageant queens.

We were treated to a big slice of inspirational bonding, as if the main message was that all trans people are caring and nice and unselfish, and get on well together, and are terrific company for each other. And that - in most cases - their families are loving and reasonable and supportive, and will go that extra mile. We were not presented with terminally screwed-up pathetic saddos from dysfunctional home backgrounds. We saw high-energy people with ambitions and plenty to say about themselves, and each in their own way worthy of respect. It was very theatrical, but all very positive.

And the darker aspects of trans existence were not quite edited out. There were little glimpses of bleak despair; personal losses that could not be put right as if by magic. Karen did not rediscover her daughter. Drew and Sarah both found that prejudice and misunderstanding and myth can deny you a job, or a place to stay.

On the whole, MTS successfully repackaged British trans people and made them seem extraordinary for some good reasons. If that impression lingers, then the programme makers and Channel 4 will have done the community a service. I don't personally mind if one or two of the participants find a way of exploiting their celebrity. Nor do I mind if they seek peace and quiet and an ordinary life, and never become trans activists or advocates.

There's just one thing...none of the participants resembled me. And some of the friends I know in Brighton are saying the same. If the British public now think this is how 'trannies' typically look and speak and behave, then that's certainly an improvement in general perception, but it won't quite be the truth. There is a danger that the public will not see our problems, and that the issues that beset us will never be fixed.

Perhaps we - my friends and I - may now cease to be recognised as 'trannies' at all, simply because we don't fit the new TV image. Is that a good thing? Will we mind being treated as just slightly eccentric women? And not the 'real thing'?

Rejected

Just over a week ago I saw an old friend while driving through the little town he lives in. This friend had withdrawn with sadness when I came out to him early in 2009, and we had not seen each other since. The encounter was sudden and unexpected, and it upset me. I couldn't stop. But I wrote to him next day, proposing an experimental meeting, simply doing the ordinary things we'd always done on our former monthly meetups. I knew that he looked at my blog at least occasionally, so he'd know what I looked like, and something about my current thinking and attitudes.

Actually, I didn't think I had changed all that much. I had some hopes that he would have reappraised me, found merit, and now felt ready for some kind of reunion.

I had a letter from him ths morning: it was brief and disappointing. He used kind words, but he did not want to make the experiment. He wished to retain his fond memories of me as I used to be, as he knew me for twenty-four years until I changed.

It was gently expressed. But not seeing me to protect a fond memory was really no different from not seeing me for any other reason, including the one that I had become persona non grata. I'm sure it wasn't the intention of my friend, but I felt rejected, and it hurt enough to bring me close to tears. He wanted to avoid me, to not see me, and to keep me away.

I won't harbour resentment. I'm not made that way. But it seems to me that if this is how my friend still feels after almost three years to ponder on my situation, then there will never be any change, and I must accustom myself to that. In my past life I did not have many personal friends, and my impulse to show friendship had been very much concentrated into this particular friend of very long standing. His loss in 2009 was therefore severe. And this fresh reaffirmation of that loss is equally hard to take.

I am lucky, of course. Some of us have multiple losses like this, so many that the accumulating rejection affects basic self-confidence, even health. It is very, very damaging. But all you can do is be strong, forget the hurt, and carry on. There is no other way.

Monday, 28 November 2011

My silver necklace and its meaning

You'll have noticed that I don't wear gold, and never vary my jewellery much, the standard items being a plain silver ring on my left little finger, a curly-looking silver ring on my right ring finger, a stainless-steel Tag Heuer lady's watch on my left wrist, a chunky silver bangle on my right wrist, and discreet titanium studs in my ears. The only thing that ever gets changed is the neckware, and even here it's almost always just one of three items nowadays: my pearls, a Labradorite pendant with a silver chain, and a thick silver necklace that looks a bit like a slow-worm. This post is about the last item.

You'll have often seen my slow-worm in pictures of myself. Here it is in close-up with the Labradorite pendant:


And here it is around my neck in a Winchester pub yesterday evening:


Yesterday was an anniversary. Exactly three years ago, on 27 November 2008, M--- bought that slow-worm for me as a gift when we were in Bournemouth for the day. It came from a shop just off the town centre called Enigma. My coming-out to her was still recent; she was still struggling to cope; we'd had a blazing row that afternoon; but, meeting up later, the anger and frustration felt by both sides had died down, and we earnestly wanted to be good to each other. I'd seen this necklace in Enigma. I'd wanted one like it for years past. I'd bought M--- a slightly more slender version twelve years previously. Now I wanted to have one myself, to match hers. In a way, a strong gesture of togetherness when so much was starting to fall apart. I had hesitated over the cost. She didn't hesitate. The purchase was made. Once mine, I wore it proudly, straight away. Of course it was a very girly possession: my first openly-wearable major item of proper ladies jewellery. But it was still androgynous enough for her to feel comfortable with it.

It was the last present from her that was given in anything like the circumstances, with anything like the feeling, of all the other gifts we'd given each other through the years.

We didn't stop buying more things for each other in the months ahead. For instance, when I finally had to move out, I bought her a laptop and other stuff to go with it, so that - with my PC gone - she could still process her own photos and be on the Internet. She bought me things like a Chinese tea set, exquisite and attractive and loaded with significance. But all these following things were given with sadness and regret for what was passing, and were inevitably either practical gifts, or tinged with symbolism for what had been, and was now tragically fading, and might in time be forgotten.

But the slow-worm was different. I loved it, and it gave me pleasure and hope, if not for us, then for a meaningful future I couldn't yet see, but felt sure would come. And it has, but M--- is not in it, and it isn't the future she wanted but the future she feared. And that is a sad thing that is sometimes very hard to bear; but at least I have this reminder that, despite everything, I was once loved with an all-consuming fire, and without despair.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Costs, costs, costs

2011 is drawing to a close, and about this time each year I consider setting up speadsheets and databases for the following year. I have quite a number of financial ones going, some documenting my plans and the outcomes, some merely recording expenditure under various heads as it accumulates.

One set of spreadsheets records my transition costs as they occur. I've maintained them - using a consistent format - for each of the years 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. Some months ago (see Counting the transition costs on 17 June 2011) I disclosed what I'd spent on my transition up to that point. It was probably typical for a transitioner with a bit of cash, and the will to record everything relevant. I thought then that the spending would tail off, and it has. And until very recently I wasn't going to bother with a spreadsheet for 2012. But I've changed my mind.

There's more than one motive. First, I actually like recording things. Somehow all the records, all the photos, all the letters written and copies kept, fix me in time and space and show that I have a history, and that real development is going on. It's not just an impression, or in my imagination. This is psychologically reassuring.

Second, I like to fulfill plans, record progress, reach targets, finish the job properly and measurably. That's the kind of person I am.

Third, I want to prove to myself, and if necessary to others, that although mistakes were made aplenty, I did not indulge in heedless and gratuitous waste. Money is a finite resource, like a tank of fuel; you have to eke it out, and use it well. Just how you do that is your own business, but once it's gone, it's gone, and the show stops until you can refill that tank.

All along I've been acutely conscious of dwindling resources. Transition is an expensive business, and I've done it all out of my own pocket. I'm not claiming kudos for that, at least not within the trans community: I simply have a personal principle that if you can pay, you should, so that money is freed up for those who can't afford the expense themselves. It does place me on high ground, with those inclined to take a certain holier-than-thou moral attitude. If I'm ever challenged by an indignant non-trans person who feels strongly about 'wasting NHS resources', or taxpayers' money generally, and accuses me of being a leech on society, then I will absolutely flame them. Because by their standards, I'll have a clean pair of financial hands - and I'll insist that they acknowledge that. But otherwise my sheer ability to pay should not get me through the Pearly Gates. It's the least I could have done.

And, let it be said, I got what I paid for. I got hair removal, voice tuition, genital surgery. I got clothes, shoes, bags, accessories and everything required to boost my confidence and self-worth when these things were vital to have. I avoided hassle. And I shortened 'the process' into a timescale that made sense for a late transitioner with no time to waste.

And bear in mind that once I've got my Gender Recognition Certificate, I'll eventually recover some of those costs, by having my State Pension paid a little bit earlier. I have no shame about that. And once the pension is being paid - it'll start three years from now - I can save up for anything else that I may need to complete the process: a nose or boob job, say. Unless I decide that at 62 it no longer matters.

There is also another, fourth motive: I really don't think that my transition is over. I still need to record at least its fourth year. It'll be a year that will contrast strangely with the three that came before. A year in which my spending changes character, becomes more like that of any woman, and drops to a level that I can sustain without raiding my savings account. A year in which I stabilise; a year of carefully managed thrift. I want to see my savings account balance actually start rising again, as much as I want my waist measurement to shrink.

Well, there's two New Year resolutions!

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Newspapers

The current enquiry into UK press practice is taking evidence that reveals disgusting and callous approaches to news-gathering and publishing. All to boost circulation. It's a scandalous, salacious news story in itself.

I have always since my teens been quite certain that newspapers exist solely to make money or political influence for their owners. And not at all to be a reliably impartial source of truth and knowledge. They have other functions too: as a mirror of contemporary society, as a marker of social status, and as a vehicle for mass advertising.

I don't know if the question is still asked, but back in 1970, at my two first and only job interviews, a key question was 'Which newspaper do you read?' and much depended on the answer. Back then 'The Times' or 'The Daily Telegraph' were safe replies. 'The Guardian' would suggest intelligence but also a degree of political awareness inappropriate to a minion in the vast and conservative Civil Service, and it was therefore a risky answer. There was of course no way of sitting on the fence by saying 'The Independent', which didn't then exist. These were all broadsheet newspapers. Tabloid-sized papers were all of much lower status, and not deemed to be the reading matter of potential high-fliers. You were career-dead if you claimed to read any of those. They were thought trivial and working-class. They defined your level in a world still ruled by a snobbish elite, and even if you landed a job, you would be regarded henceforth and forever as a mere worker ant. Such was the position of newspapers in British culture at the time.

Forty years on, and the crown has slipped. Is there a paper - or any well-known publication of national circulation - that still has an untarnished reputation? Any at all that you'd happily admit to reading regularly? They all seem like vassal states in a cruel and despotic empire, tainted not simply by who owns them, or who sets the tone, but by the sleazy basic practices of the news industry. What now distinguishes a news reporter or news photographer working for the popular press from a private detective?

But face another fact. If these papers could not be sold, if nobody bought them, the industry would not be as it is now. The paper-buying public fed the machine that hounded Princess Diana and so many others to destruction. You cannot point a finger at (for instance) the Murdoch family without admitting that people bought their products daily by the million, and that if their standards are wrong, then so are the standards of most of us. And that goes for the news-makers too: the reporters and writers of all kinds who gave the public what they wanted to read about. It may have been a cynical exercise in spoon-feeding, but the salacious diet was eagerly swallowed.

Apart from buying and reading 'The Listener' before its demise, I have not bought a daily or weekly newspaper for nearly thirty years. I wouldn't waste my money, and I certainly don't want to encourage the press as it has now become.

The three traditional uses for yesterday's newspaper were to wrap your fish and chips in it, to clean flies and other muck off your car windscreen with it, and (in poor or makeshift circumstances) wipe your bottom with it. There are better substitutes for all three nowadays. I suggest there are better substitutes for the newpapers that are presently being savaged but will no doubt survive. A brief radio news summary, or a news headline feed on your phone, might be much better for your information, understanding and peace of mind than a thousand weasel words on a printed page.

And this is quite apart from the issue of Saving the Planet. There are better uses for paper and chemicals. Ask yourself: if cast ashore on a desert island in a post-apocalyptic world, who would you like for companionship? A survival expert? An inventive genius with knowledge of agriculture? A doctor? A banker? A reporter?

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Success stories

Last Sunday I was once again - it was my third consecutive annual attendance - at the Dorset Gardens Methodist Church in Brighton, who were hosting the Transgender Day of Remembrance Ceremony for the city. It was very well attended indeed. A sea of people arranged in concentric circles around a large candle. Present were two of the TV participants in My Transsexual Summer, Sarah and Fox, and the mother of Andrea Waddell, a trans girl who was murdered in Brighton in October 2009 - one of two such murders in the UK that dark month. I spoke with all three. Not present were representatives from any of the political parties, not even the Green Party, which is strong and influential in Brighton. But the police were there; and, would you credit it, the Rainbow Flag was flying from their building.

The format of the Ceremony was changed this year. Hitherto, a book had been passed from person to person containing details of all the known trans-related deaths around the world in the previous twelve months, including the name of the victims, where they died, and how they died. 2009/2010 was an especially bad year for hate crime, and it took a long time to complete this part of the Ceremony. And the cruelty of the deaths - which might involve torture, mutilation while alive, stabbing, strangling, even burning - was harrowing in the extreme. Some had found it impossible to read from the book when their turn came.

So this year, people were invited to take one or more cards from a table by the big candle, and stick them up on a large blank wall. We did this not one by one, but all together. Each card showed the name of a victim in 2010/2011 and their country, but thankfully not the mode of death; although if you wished to know, the details were available. This proved to be a better idea. It also allowed each man and woman there at the Ceremony to make their own personal act of remembrance, and not just briefly read something from a book, stumbling sometimes over the pronunciation of strange foreign names. This was more contemplative. Inevitably you paused at the Wall after sticking up a card. Just you and the Wall; and those cards with the names of those poor people on them. The cumulative effect as the Wall slowly filled up was impressive and moving. Meanwhile a choir sang.


There were an awful lot of cards, even though the death rate worldwide had fallen. Maybe the worst of the hate was done with, maybe not. But in some way I thought that the Ceremony was much more a celebration than a sorrowful tribute to the dead. It had been a more 'successful' year for trans people, in the sense that a few more than usual had survived. But the threat of sudden, casual death still hung over us all, even in Brighton. We were still in the hands of twisted people full of mockery and hate. And - despite being voters - still not taken seriously by most politicians.

Two days later, it was part three of My Transsexual Summer. This time it was all about achieving goals. That's more like it, I thought. Let the public see trannies being successful. Doing the things they do themselves, and getting praise and acknowledgement and recognition for it. The focus was on Lewis (desperate to raise cash for his breast-removal surgery) and Drew (equally desperate to get a proper job). Lewis set up a musical event in St Helens, drawing in an impressive number of friends and supporters - and also his dad, who hadn't fully accepted him but now clustered round, with a spot of bonding taking place. A double success then. Drew nervously survived a two-day trial at a town centre coffee shop, coping with the discerning ordinary townspeople of Wakefield. And she did very well, dropping the odd cake knife, but proving to be a champion waitress. She got the job, wow. Which meant not so much more money of her own, but the satisfaction of being an essential member of staff, making friends, and getting accepted by the town at large.

I have to say, I greatly admired them both. Singing on a stage in front of a crowd would be a frightening experience that I'd do much to avoid. Likewise, the pressure of a busy town centre coffee shop - taking orders correctly from customers, and serving them in a skilful and unflappable way - would be a challenge that I'd baulk at. What, you may cry! An ex Tax Inspector afraid of the public? But remember, I had the myth of the old sinister Inland Revenue behind me, the KGB in all but name, and people took the view that it was useless to resist, however annoyed and resentful they felt about being 'looked into', and however much they might try to delay the inevitable. And I was paid well to be persistent, and assertive for the truth. So it wasn't all that hard to acquire a confident approach, to be Christian in Pilgrim's Progress, and put up with the sneers and crossness that sometimes came one's way.

But survival on a stage, or in a waitress's uniform! Fear and terror! Nothing like the comforts of a safe office with colleagues on hand. No comparison. Couldn't do it.

At the beginning of the programme it was mentioned that 'two-thirds of trans people have suffered hate crimes'. Two thirds: as much as that? I didn't mind a startling statistic like this put in front of the general viewing public, but I hope it was accurate! Cut to Simon Powell giving the participants tips and lessons on self-defence. I'm pretty sure this is the same Simon who (back in November 2009) showed a keen group of us at the Clare Project in Brighton how to 'Walk Tall' and physically disable attackers if running like hell, or boldly facing up to threatening people, were not viable options. It was useful knowledge if sensible, confident personal behaviour, and good, unobtrusive presentation didn't keep you out of trouble. We were all inept Kung Fu Pandas at first, but we got much better very quickly. I'd therefore recommend a quick course in self-defence if you haven't already done one.

The final part of MTS is next week. I want to see Karen reconciled with her daughter.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Meeting local women at a keep-fit class

I need to take some exercise, but I also want to meet many more natal women. One obvious answer is a keep-fit class. But I've drawn a blank looking in the local papers.

When I invited my neighbour J--- in for a coffee this afternoon, I asked her how she would go about finding a local keep-fit class. Her suggestions were the internet, or simply looking at the stuff pinned up in the Village Hall, which is just across the park from me, and within easy walking distance. Job done then - nearly! I'll trot over to the Village Hall tomorrow, and find out what might be going on there. And I can do the same thing at other village halls within a few miles, although it'll be nice if I can find what I want on my doorstep.

There are also bound to be classes at the two leisure centres that I belong to, but the cost per session may be greater. I can check that out on the internet.

There is of course a problem in all this. Will I be accepted? It's one thing to walk confidently down any street in the country. Quite another to join a local class and fit in, especially if my face may already be known.

We discussed this. In June 2009 (when I moved back to the village after the death of my father) I went full-time, and was suddenly seen around the village in full female clothing. I was shopping for food, going to the doctor and dentist, doing things at the Post Office, and keeping the charity shops well-stocked as I cleared my parents' wardrobes. My presentation was OK, but far from perfect: there was little hormonal effect so far; hair removal had only just begun; I had no female voice. I never noticed any tongues wagging as walked by, but surely I must have been seen and discussed by dozens of local people. But, J--- pointed out, I would have been just a nine day wonder. People soon move on to other things to talk about.

And nowadays I would not be any kind of news at all. Indeed I'd be very surprised if anyone, apart from immediate neighbours, could recall what I used to look like. I'd expect to be taken as a middle-aged women in all circumstances, and treated accordingly.

But a credible appearance and voice is one thing. What about my lack of lifelong 'female background'? In between whatever aerobic gyrations we are put through, will I be asked about my marriage status, family, former job, the school I attended, current interests, and medical history? I'm thinking I might well be. I'm a chatty sort, not one to stay silent and say nothing; I intend to make friends; and once rapport is established, and we're swapping personal stuff, I'm going to be vulnerable to a lot of natural probing. So a decision has to be taken now: how much do I disclose about myself? I'm inclined to be completely frank, and if anyone has a problem with me, face that with honesty, and not be affronted or embarrassed or in any way negative. I'm sure that there will be fair-minded people in the class who will support me, if I stand my ground in a reasonable way. And if the situation is clearly not winnable, then I will try in a neighbouring village or town where I can be a little more anonymous.

Bottom line: I need exercise. I will find somewhere to go!

J--- thought, if I wanted women's society but not necessarily any exercise, that I should also try groups such as the Women's Institute. But I can't make jam, I said. She said go: it wasn't how I thought.

Perhaps I'll end up as a Calendar Girl.