Thursday, 30 June 2011

No bids

The auction has taken place, and much as expected there were no bids for the Cottage. There may of course be post-auction offers.

Well, I am saying no more about this for now. It's mentally taxing, and I need a week away to refresh my mind!

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Big eyes

One of the most pleasing effects of hormones is the subtle alteration they make to your face. It's never anything radical - you need to change the bone structure for that - but undoubtedly fat moves around, and the entire tone of the skin alters. The coarsening effects of age are halted and slightly reversed. And I'm convinced that the lips and nose and ears gradually acquire a certain delicacy that wasn't there before.

I think the whole weight of my face has shifted, so that instead of the lower half dominating, it's now more evenly balanced between the upper and lower halves - assisted by my cheeks being fuller, plus the hint of 'cheekbones' that certainly weren't noticeable in the past.

I've deliberately been plucking my eyebrows to raise them higher above my eyes, reduce their thickness, and make them gracefully arched - not yet with conspicuous success, but eventually it will look right. But I don't think that reshaping my eyebrows is responsible for my wider, more open eyes.

My eyes just never used to look like that. They were slitty. And it's not as if they have simply been 'rejuvenated'. The tired skin around my eyes is sagging worse than ever, and has lost nearly all its elasticity. I have an old person's eyes close up, the eyes of a hag. But from arm's length or beyond they look younger, and oval, and there are times when (on photographic evidence) I look positively pop-eyed.


I suppose that in former times I was on my guard, ready to defend myself. And in such a frame of mind the eyes would refect the state of tension within, and be narrow and watchful. Nowadays I am much more relaxed, and so maybe the eyes have relaxed too, and have widened out.

Maybe!

Snobbery and Superman

One of the things that really annoy me is snobbery. You know, when someone takes an attitude that insists that they are superior, which enables them to look down on others, and even abuse others because they - the superior ones - have the 'right' to do it.

Snobbery can take many forms, all of them obnoxious and unattractive. In my time I've especially come across professional snobbery (ego-driven high-flyers at work), intellectual snobbery (academics, legal people, and at least one scientist), and social snobbery (mostly to do with a moneyed background). It's ugly, and makes me feel tainted.

When had a job, I met many types of people in the course of my duties. Some were very pleasant, and answered my questions in a clear and straightforward way, enabling us to conclude matters quickly and cleanly and with satisfaction and mutual appreciation on both sides. Others made an attempt to obfuscate, to intimidate me with their assumed superiority; and that made it hard going, because I had to be persistent. I wasn't a minion at some shop or restaurant, to be treated as if I didn't exist. I had to get at the facts, and judge for myself what the correct interpretation of the law was. I couldn't simply accept their view. I well remember the peevish atmosphere that developed when interviewing a scientist about the 'business entertaining' costs he claimed in connection with membership of the Athenaeum Club (a Pall Mall gentleman's club in London), and attendance at the Royal Society meetings and functions. Perhaps he saw it as a challenge to his eminent position and reputation. And something similar occured when discussing the convoluted property-investment affairs of a politically-ambitious former County Council chairman, and a senior member of the All-England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club (who run the annual Wimbledon tennis championships).

These were all men with puffed-up opinions of themselves, who began talking to me amiably enough but turned nasty when challenged.

But I've met some dreadful women also. Once, when working in an office that covered a posh part of London, I had to tackle a socialite who belonged to a prestigious ladies' club known as the Cadogan Club. (Does it still exist?) It became necessary for me to probe what she actually did there. I was new to the London scene then, and tended to mispronounce the names of places in my country-bumpkin way. I so well remember the look of disgust on her face when I first asked her about the 'CADDO-gan' Club. I should have said 'Cad-UGGAN'. Whoops. She remained aloof and icy thereafter, refusing to take me seriously. What a snob.

I can see how the possession of money and social position could go to one's head. Or how, if one has actually 'earned' these things through sheer personal hard work, how one might feel jusified in sneering at lazier or slower-witted folk, especially if they lack Good Taste. I'm quite sure that I am myself a middle-class snob in certain respects, and with very little to base my bad attitude on. But all the same I simply can't abide anyone who rides rough-shod over other people's feelings, and casually assumes to know better, and thinks that only their voice should be heard, just because they were lucky to have a decent background and were Well Brought Up and Have The Right Standards.

Has snobbery ever served any positive purpose, or achieved anything at all, except get up people's noses?

Has it, for instance, ever saved the planet? You know, it's a good lesson to think about the most admired and inspirational persons that have existed in the popular imagination. One such mythological personage is Superman, the chap with the red cape who flies around. It's interesting to look closely at him. He's intelligent, handsome, perfectly formed, noble-minded, caring, and despite his super powers and daily world-saving actions, not a snob.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

The auction; and an escape to Wiltshire

The Cottage comes up for auction at Hove Town Hall early on Thursday afternoon, just four days ahead. The show starts at one o'clock. But to get in and seated, I'd best be there by twelve-thirty at the latest.

The auction has been dominating my thoughts of late. That's why I haven't felt in the mood to post much. I will have a lot to get off my chest afterwards, whatever the outcome, but for now I find it hard to concentrate, and I'm just passing time.

I'm not sitting around in a paralysed condition - there are plenty of little things to get on with - but it's rather like waiting for a very important interview, or a vital exam, or a consultation with a specialist when you think you might have something dreadfully wrong with you. I can't put this out of my mind, and I'm living from hour to hour until the day of the auction comes. But I have at least decided what I'll wear! And I've looked up where I can park nearby. I want to see what happens, and I don't intend to be late.

The Cottage is a failed investment project. The way we did it, mainly to secure a tax advantage if we made a profit - hah! - is that I took on the role of 'sole owner', and M--- became my 'private loan creditor' for a huge 'loan' that in the ordinary way I couldn't possibly have raised on my pension. The loan documents were lodged with the Land Registry, and M--- acquired the right to veto any sale that would sell her interests short. Which was all fair enough three years ago, but it has since then worked out to my gross disadvantage. However, short of an alternative direction by a Court, the 'loan situation' is fixed, and I have to live with it. But it sets a minimum requirement for the net sale proceeds, so that M--- can have what she expects.

Although a very pleasant and attractive property - a des res if ever there was one - the Cottage was never intended to be a home for M--- and myself. For us, it was just a stepping-stone, the first of a series perhaps, towards a million-pound house somewhere down the line. While the project matured, we thought we might use the Cottage as a romantic weekend retreat during the summer, when not away caravanning. (This was in the pre-transition days, in a world now vanished) It was in a charming, sunny, riverside village lately deemed to be within the new South Downs National Park. It seemed a very good proposition in September 2007, and we had every expectation of making a shared profit of £100,000 on a resale two years down the line.


If only we'd had a crystal ball. A month after purchase, the first rumblings of the UK property crash could be heard, and the market quickly took a downturn. Then on top of that, the Cottage became blighted by the building of an incinerator at Newhaven, a mile away across the meadows. The incinerator was in full view. Add to this the general economic uncertainly, and constant threats to economic stability from events in the Euro Zone and elsewhere, and it's little wonder that finding a buyer has been difficult. I've long given up salvaging any significant part of my own £202,000 stake. The ambition now is simply to sell for a price that covers selling costs, and gives M--- the loan repayment she wants.

Auctioning the Cottage is just another approach that we decided to try.

But there hasn't been much pre-auction interest, and I am expecting to find that no bids will reach the reserve price. There may indeed be no bids at all. But you never know. And sometimes, in the week after the auction, there are approaches from people who didn't bid, or from unsuccessful bidders who didn't go as high as the reserve price, asking whether the seller might accept an offer.

If there are any of these post-auction approaches, I'll be fielding them from Wiltshire. I'm going down there in the caravan for a week. How come, you ask? Weren't you going to leave caravanning till September, because of the physical effort involved? Well, two immediate things came up. First, I'm off to the opera again at The Grange at Northington, not far from Winchester.

And it has struck me that meeting up with the two friends I'm going with will be a lot easier (and save a lot of driving on the day) if I'm already ensconced in the general area. Second, three days later, I want to attend a monthly trans night in Salisbury itself, co-hosted by another friend. Again, an awful lot of driving will be saved if I'm staying just outside Salisbury.

The physical problem was this: could I turn the caravan around on my driveway by my own unaided efforts, without busting anything inside, such as a half-healed bit of surgery? If I could do that, I could handle any other physical task connected with a caravan trip. Well, I tried, and it was no problem! So I booked up at Pennings Farm at Coombe Bissett, and I'll be off soon after the auction. How nice to fire Fiona up, hitch up, and take to the open road with my little £10-a-night-luxury-hotel-room-on-wheels tagged on behind!


Mind you, I'm going to take it very easy. But every task can be broken down into little bits that won't strain my body. And I won't go mad with daytime sightseeing in between opera and dropping in on the local trans community. I intend to spend a lot of time on gentle country walks, and just sunning myself in a deckchair, in a swimsuit if it's warm enough. Rest and recuperation. Because there are still limits to my stamina, even though my energy level has greatly improved in the past month. That said, it'll be hard not to drive all the way over to the Dorset coast, and climb down to the beach at Durdle Door!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Caroline Wyatt, defence reporter for the BBC


I stumbled upon this outrageous thread at Digital Spy (http://forums.digitalspy.co.uk/showthread.php?t=1158840), which was about Caroline Wyatt, who reports on defence matters for BBC News. The thread began in November 2009 and rumbled on until October 2010. The opening post asked if she were a man because of her deep voice, and further along it was suggested that she might be a post-op 'trannie'. The poor woman! Thank goodness she was defended, and the infantile comments condemned, but as ever nobody 'won' the debate, and all the crass and hurtful remarks went unpunished.

Wikipedia has this to say of her:

Caroline Wyatt (born 1967) is the BBC News defence correspondent.

Wyatt was born in Darlinghurst, a suburb of Sydney, Australia, and adopted by a British diplomat.

Education

Wyatt was educated at the Convent of the Sacred Heart School (subsequently renamed Woldingham School), an independent school in Woldingham, Surrey, UK, before studying English and German at Southampton University, which included six months at Rutgers University in New Jersey, USA. She went on to gain a postgraduate diploma in print journalism at City University, London.

Life and career

Wyatt joined the BBC in 1991 as a news and current affairs trainee. She reported from Germany between 1993 and 2000, first as Berlin correspondent then Bonn correspondent. She was then the BBC's Moscow correspondent until 2003, when she became their Paris correspondent. She took up her present post as defence correspondent in October 2007.

War reporting

Wyatt reported from Baghdad during the December 1998 Bombing of Iraq. She covered the 1999 Kosovo conflict from Albania and Kosovo. In 2001-2 she reported on the War in Afghanistan from the headquarters of the Afghan Northern Alliance. She also covered the Iraq War in spring 2003 as an embedded journalist with the British troops in and around Basra.
Wyatt chaired the jury of the 2008 Bayeux-Calvados Award for war correspondents.

Radio presenting

Wyatt has occasionally presented for BBC Radio on the Radio 4 programmes The World Tonight, From Our Own Correspondent and the Saturday edition of PM , as well as Europe Today, Newshour and Outlook on the BBC World Service. She has also co-presented Euronews on BBC Radio 5 Live.
 
Wyatt has an unusually low pitched voice.


Well, that seems to depict an intelligent and well-travelled lady, with a pretty meaty CV to boot. She's clearly not a mere lightweight TV presenter. And there is absolutely no mention of remedial surgery for a transsexual condition. There's nothing odd about a woman in her 40s having a deepish voice. She certainly isn't going to sound like a young Shirley Temple!

My heart goes out to Miss Wyatt. I really hope she is still unaware of the Digital Spy thread. It represented a gross personal attack, making a mockery of such concepts as 'fair observation' and 'free speech'. It makes you wonder what would happen to any of us if we had the temerity to appear on TV. Alas, it's entirely typical of the attacks made upon individuals who are seen to be 'not normal'.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Mistaken for a lesbian

You know, I do sometimes wonder whether nowadays I don't get mistaken for an older lesbian of a certain type. In other words, accepted as a woman, yes, but as a woman Who Is Different. This notion doesn't occur to me very often, but sometimes there is that in a person's manner, when I'm speaking with them, that makes me think these thoughts are rapidly going through their mind:

Next customer.
Oh, I like this lady, she's friendly and pleasant and isn't going to dither.
Something masculine about her face though.
Can't decide. She sounds right, and looks right, but she's not quite like my Mum.
Hmmm...she's quick and decisive. 
But I like her smile. And her eyes are smiling too.
I wonder if she's one of those lesbian women, a bit mannish and capable. 
Oh well. 
Next customer...   

I may be completely wrong, of course, but I do occasionally catch the odd look which makes me think that I am puzzling someone. They can't pigeon-hole me, and it bothers them just a little. They're not going to think My God, that's a man! But they don't know how to to label me, and for a fleeting five seconds I half-engage their special attention. Then we part with a smile, and that's that. Over and forgotten forever.

Do I mind being mistaken for an older lesbian woman, as popularly perceived?

Well, you know, I really don't care about the 'lesbian' bit, whether it's true or not. Being lesbian is a normal state for someone to be, just part of your personality, and it isn't potentially harmful to anyone. I suppose somebody whose sexuality was very wobbly might feel afraid of me. And I wouldn't want to send the wrong signals to a genuine lesbian, and confuse or embarrass her. And by definition a lesbian is a woman, and I'm very, very happy to be recognised as unquestionably female.

I really don't think it matters what people take you for, so long as it isn't something dangerous or prejudicial to your enjoyment of life. For certain, a 'lesbian' label won't put off anyone, male or female, who feels irresistibly inclined to begin a conversation.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Counting the transition costs

We all know that transitioning costs us dear. You pay with lost partners, lost family, lost friends, lost homes, lost jobs, lost social position; and sometimes you can lose your life.

There have been a lot of posts devoted to these aspects, and there always will be, and rightly, because many of us pay these costs, and many of us want to know about them in order to learn the lessons. The experience of others is a resource that can't be underestimated: you can't transition without information and assistance.  I for one found that the support I got from online comments and advice was essential to getting successfully where I am now.

But there do seem to be some taboos! Things that people don't mention much, or not at all. One is sex. Another is money.

I've already written a little about my initial post-op sensitivity in the genital area, and something about how I may deal with any male attention. The latter topic is entirely hypothetical at the moment, but as real-life experiences come my way, I'll tell you about how I got on, and what knowledge can be gleaned from the encounters. I'm told that the Art of Flirtation is one of the most important things that a woman can learn. But surely the Art of Seduction is part of the same game, and how to react to a man's (or woman's) sexual overtures is a related skill that one must become expert in. And not merely in order to 'pass'. I now feel I need these accomplishments in order to live my female life naturally and to the full.

But today I want to discuss frankly the money side.

Call me a nerd if you will, but I've kept spreadsheets going on all my transition-related expenditure from the very beginning. I'm talking about all transition-related costs since 1 July 2008. All right, I've excluded some travel costs, like car parking and rail tickets when I've had to go up to London - partly because I usually made the London visits multi-purpose - but I have included all these things...

# Name change
# Consultations and counselling
# Medication
# Hair removal
# Voice therapy
# Surgery
# Clothes
# Shoes
# Underwear
# Jewellery
# Bags
# Other accessories
# Cosmetics, nailcare
# Hair
# Miscellaneous

...which I think you'll agree is what you'd expect to see on a Transition Costs List that made some honest attempt at including everything 'girly'. Let's go into it a bit. Remember that the headline figures are the total of almost three years of expenditure.

Name change £85.00
A one-off expense in 2009 for the Deed Poll and 25 legal copies (of which 22 had to be used).

Consultations and counselling £1,824.00
This is for initial counselling to help me understand my gender dysphoria and explore any other issues that might have been confusing me; plus the regular visits to Dr Richard Curtis, the London gender specialist. A category of expense that tails off drastically as you go on - only £240.00 of this total has been spent since the end of 2009, representing two visits to Dr Curtis. 

Medication £Nil
This means the cost of hormone patches and regular tests of various kinds. It's nil because I was already popping pills for my blood pressure and cholesterol - an inherited family problem - and I have been buying an annual NHS Prepayment Certificate for those non-trans items. The latest one in February 2011 cost me £104.00, and having got it I don't have to pay anything extra for any additional medication prescribed by my doctor, no matter what it is. She has regarded the hormones and tests as simply part of my established whole-life medical treatment, and so she includes the extra stuff on my regular prescription. So it's cost me nothing more. (And when I get to age 60 next year, my prescriptions will be free anyway)

Hair removal £3,758.34
This is the cost of laser and electrolysis treatment to remove hair from my face. 40 sessions so far, so that's an average of £93.95 per session. Nearly all of them have lasted 90 minutes, so that's about £1.00 per minute. I currently pay £79.00 for 90 minutes' electrolysis, the laser sessions having ended. Treatment will go on for a long time yet, because all my remaining hair facial is blonde or grey or white, and can't be removed by laser, only by slow-but-certain electrolysis. Eventually it will dwindle to maintenance-only sessions every two months or so, at a cost that I won't notice nearly so much! Meanwhile it's my last big, unavoidable transition expense.

Voice Therapy £2,023.91
The fees paid to Christella Antoni, the London voice therapist, for 18 one-to-one sessions plus a number of group sessions; also attendance at a transgender medical conference she organised. I still like to go to occasional group sessions, but this expense is essentially now behind me.

Surgery £10,875.00
The fee paid to the Nuffield Hosptial at Brighton for surgery by Mr Philip Thomas, plus a week's stay in a private room, was £10,500.00. The rest represents the initial consultation with him, and the cost of getting a pre-op Second Opinion from Dr Michael Perring in London. And unless I have the money and inclination for any facial surgery - not highly likely - there will be no further surgical costs.

All the above costs - which together come to £18,566.25 - can be regarded as 'basic transition costs', the absolute minimum that had to be spent taking the private route, as opposed to the NHS pathway. Time was not on my side, so I felt it was worth paying in order to shorten the timescale and save myself anguish and possible frustration.

Now for the 'optional extras'. Mind you, in principle these are just as necessary for the female life. They are justifiable on psychological grounds: the Prada handbag, for instance, was a deliberate choice, intended to boost my female image and say 'I'm worth it' to any onlookers. You can spend very little, or be very extravagant. I was one of the big spenders, but only because I had the cash. Nowadays, I've learned some wisdom and restraint, and have curbed my impulses - although you may disagree about that!

I know I'm setting myself up for some comment by going into all this, but then if you were inclined to feel guilty over your own purchases, you may feel rather better if you see that they are in fact modest and reasonable compared to mine. Some of you will have spent more, of course. And it must be recognised that certain natal women spend outrageous amounts on this and that. I spotted this in the Daily Mail a few weeks back (I don't read the Mail; it was at the Volvo dealer's, where I was waiting for new front tyres to be fitted on Fiona):


Click on the picture to see the price tags more clearly, and read some of the article.

Clothes £8,013.20
No apologies! I have been very spendthrift here. But then I had to learn what suited me, and experimentation doesn't come cheap. There have been many mistakes; but not lately. £5,156.85 of the total - well over half - was spent by the end of 2009, so my extravagance has tailed off somewhat. I still love clothes, and will continue to buy them, but I've given up on expensive boutiques and big-name brands unless the purchase is very important. At least I'm never stuck for 'something to wear'!

Shoes £1,818.36
Some mistakes here, no question, but it's not a bank-busting total, and currently the only shoes I lust after are a pair of Dubarry boots this autumn. Marks and Sparks will do for everything else.

Underwear £218.24
Nice, comfortable stuff, lately with a hint of lace trimming, mostly from Marks & Spencer. But clearly I haven't indulged in sexy bras, panties and other provocative accoutrements in satin and silk! Not even for my own secret pleasure. Which just goes to show that luxurious personal adornment, and the feel of gorgeous, slinky fabrics next to my smooth skin mean nothing at all to me. Absolutely not!

Jewellery £2,474.05
In here are the cost of my ladies Tag Heuer watch (early 2009) and my pearls (2010). Both of those were one-offs. I've also spent some cash on silver rings and bracelets, and some pendants, but nothing of great value. No diamonds! Gold is nice, and would probably suit me, but I haven't anything made of gold, and don't intend to acquire anything either. I prefer silver. The four things I wear nearly all the time - my standard kit, so to speak - are all silver items. That's a plain silver ring on my left little finger (a birthday present from M--- in 1994: it cost her just £2.00, but I'll wear it forever); a flexible silver necklace that looks like a slow-worm (another present from M--- in 2008; it cost her £79.99); a silver ring in a curling-wave design that I wear on my right hand (2009, £12.00); and a hinged silver bracelet that I wear on my right wrist (also 2009, £120.00). I regard these as 'lucky' things to wear, and clearly their cost is irrelevant. I have no plans to augment my jewellery collection.

Bags £3,192.38
This total includes the Prada handbag (early 2009).  I admit to being never satisfied where bags are concerned. There is no such thing as the 'ideal' bag, but my search renews with each season's arrivals. All I will say is that in recent times I have shown better restraint. Not perfect restraint, but better. I swear it.

Other accessories £1,575.52
All sorts of things, such as gloves and scarves and hats. 

Cosmetics, nailcare £861.72
An amazing total, considering that plastering myself in makeup, and submitting to makeovers, has never had any strong appeal. But somehow the cost has mounted up to this figure. Nowadays I wear no makeup apart from mascara and lipstick. No foundation and other stuff; no eye liner and eye shadow. I dare say that I would look great after a proper professional makeover, but unless I am invited to Buckingham Palace or need to appear on TV, the Melford face will remain unpainted and natural, revealing - of course - my astonishing teenage complexion and soft, fresh, youthful bloom. And ongoing costs ought to be low, too!

Hair £1,475.28
The cost of my Trevor Sorbie cut-and-blow-dries, plus the odd extra. It works out at about £10.00 a week over the three years. You can spend that just parking for a few hours in Brighton.

Miscellaneous £523.20
A rag-bag collection: bits of equipment, reference books, but I've still recorded it all.

Well, there you are. I suppose that if you're strapped for cash you will choke at my self-indulgence. But I did learn a lot on the way. Every purchase was vital practice at mixing with women in women's shops, and asking questions, and getting into women-only conversations, and going in and out of women's fitting rooms, and generally learning what women do and say when men aren't around. So that knowledge has to be thrown into the balance. Perhaps it was knowledge bought at too high a cost; but it has been of priceless value to me.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

It's not just gender

In general I feel marvellously content with how things have gone for me in my transition. But now and then something reminds me that there are unresolved personal issues lurking in my mind which I need to address.

One of these is my childhood. I spent it in a tower, in a small turret room full of books, with only Teddy Tinkoes as my friend, and the stout door locked against the outside world. Not literally, of course: I'm speaking of my inner world. The outer me wore the mask, and conformed, and survived. Here are some pictures, to show how well I played the part expected of me, that of a well-behaved little boy:

I want you to understand, however, that very early on I retreated to a place of safety inside my head. I knew there was something wrong. But I couldn't say what. I remember, for instance, drawing invented maps, and constructing invented languages. I was fascinated by the notion of wizardry, and of a solitary existence in a place appoached only by winding stone steps, a secret place. I was groping for a different reality. I wanted to be someone else, but I didn't know who. I certainly didn't want to be that awkward, rather shy child who didn't know how to play with other children, who had no birthday parties after the eighth birthday party. That was quite true: the next was not until I was forty. It was not cruelty on my parents' part. They were always kind and protective and loving towards me. No, it was on my insistence - I begged my Mum not to arrange any more parties for me. I couldn't cope with them.

I did not understand other children, nor anything about how to be a child. I gave up on trying. But the problem was merely postponed, and re-emerged time and time again as I got older, because not understanding childhood, not living it, meant that I no proper foundation for adult life. I have therefore got to nearly fifty-nine entirely on a string of endless improvisions and lucky guesswork. That's not good.

And not having lived the full life of a child, I have always felt denied some essential joy. If I had experienced it, that joy would have let me love people so much better. I was a failed child; and that's a bitter thing to know about yourself. And I sometimes weep for what I missed, and can never now have. I don't cry self-indulgently. Indeed, I try not to dwell on anything concerned with childhood, but you can't escape it. Something will set me off, and then the tears come to my eyes.

Teddy Tinkoes is so precious. He is a tangible relic of a vaguely-remembered era long ago. He is a kind of key to something that I can't get back to and put right. I wish he could speak. If my home was on fire, and there was time to save only one thing, he would be it. Here he is:


And here are two other relics. Uncle Des's boomerang, and Sandy the Seahorse:


There's not much else. No toys, for instance. They've long gone. So when I saw James May organising his Great Train Race on BBC2 the other night, in which he raced his treasured childhood toy, a model of The Flying Scotsman, against German rivals from Barnstaple to Bideford, I could not help reflecting on what wasn't in my attic.


Lucky James May! He still had his Flying Scotsman. But I wasn't envious, just glad for him, that he had childhood ambitions unfulfilled that could still be fulfilled - among them, running this beloved toy train on a tiny 00 guage track ten miles long.


It was an hour's enthralling viewing. It took many hours for The Flying Scotsman to run those ten miles, the equivalent of 700 miles non-stop for a real train. Sunset showed James May anxiously awaiting the arrival of his train at Bideford:


It was coming. And then it suddenly appeared, and the dream was fulfilled:


I felt so happy for him. Then sadness gripped me and the tears came. I'd had no childhood ambition better than to endure those years and hurry on to adult life. It seemed such an impoverished existence, devoid of the things that would have given me many pleasant memories now.

But I shook the mood off, and watched the Race again on the following evening. Ah well. I still want to throw that boomerang and make it come back to me! Perhaps I could interest the BBC in The Great Boomerang Trials?

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Little Joe gets the Push

Hah! Another Dilation Milestone passed.

Yesterday I dilated only with Big Jim. And henceforth, only Jim will get a look-in where doing the honours with my vagina is concerned. Lucky Jim, in fact. (That's a literary joke)

For those who have not yet crossed the Rubicon, when you leave hospital after the op you are provided (in the UK anyway) with two clear persplex rods called dilators. These look like miniature intercontinental ballistic missiles, that is, rockets with a smoothly blunted nose (that being the part that penetrates your vagina) and a flat base (which makes it easy to keep the thing in with slight pressure from a finger or two, once it's been inserted as far as it will go). But no fins, of course. And no little US or EU or United Federation of Planets logo. Just the purity of the transparent perspex: clinically simple and minimalist. They could be examples of modern art.

They are in fact way too clinical to be remotely sexy. I suppose a high-tech robot might regard them as ideal sex toys, but you and I won't get worked up over them, not unless you have a much better imagination than I have! For one thing, they are not really penis-shaped - no bulge at the end, for instance - and they are rock-hard, lacking that slight squeezability that even the most rampant willy has. Nor do they throb or vibrate, or have sound-effects (such as a 'realistic chuffing sound', as James May kept on saying about his Flying Scotsman toy train in the Great Train Race challenge on BBC2 the other night).

And quite right. They are intended for a single purpose, to enter and distend your new vagina so that it keeps its length and shape. And additionally, in the first vital few weeks after the op, they help ensure that the various tissues that have been attached to the interior muscles in the surgical procedure stay in place and bond with them. Once the possibility of a prolapse has receded, these dilators will have to be used lifelong, to keep the vaginal passage open - because, given time, those interior muscles like to close up the cavity created for the vagina, and also the skin surfaces inside the vagina may want to attach to each other. So using a dilator enables you to keep the vagina running as a going concern, open all hours and always ready for business. Look on the dilator as an ice-breaker, thrusting its way through the pack ice and keeping the shipping lane clear for giant oil tankers. Except that actually it's warm and moist in there.     

Enough of these fanciful images, and on to the point of this post.

Both of the two dilators are 19cm (7.5 inches) long, but one is thicker than the other - they have diameters of 25mm and 30mm respectively. That 5mm makes a noticeable difference in girth, rather frightening at first. How will I get that in, you say. But of course you quickly learn how to. And with the aid of a liberal smear of KY jelly - smeared over half the length of the dilator before insertion, that is - each dilator will go in smoothly.

At first you use both in each session. The small one opens up the vagina and gets it used to having such a thing inside. Then, after a set number of minutes, you take it out and put in the big one, which stretches the vagina out a bit more, and makes sure that the internal skin is bonding properly with the surrounding muscle. Again you count the minutes. Then out it comes. You clean up, and repeat the process as directed. To begin with, that means three times a day. After a while it comes down to twice a day (which dominates your life much less), then once a day, and eventually once a week.

But it continues for the rest of your life, even if in between sessions you get the opportunity for natural penetration. This is because natural sex is rhythmical and may not involve anything like full penetration - certainly no man is going to push his member deep into you, and then obligingly hold it in there, quite still, for twenty minutes. For one thing, without movement the thing could deflate; or he may not have the lust to keep it erect for so long; or his belly (or yours) may physically prevent a deep and prolonged thrust. Or he may fall asleep, or not want conversation, or need to break off for a sandwich. There are many possible snags.

Anyway - we're getting close to the crux, nub or kernel now - eventually the vagina gets used to being stretched out, and can retain its proper shape in between sessions. At that point, you begin to consider even larger dilators, to 'school' the vagina, training it to expand just a little more, so that it can accept super-sized penis-shaped objects up to its natural limit. I have now reached that point. Certainly, the small dilator, Little Joe, has been doing nothing useful lately. So yesterday he got the push.

Sorry, Joe. I know that 'Goodbye' is the hardest word in the world, but better we part now, and have a clean break, than drag on in ritual fashion for months and months, when you know, and I know, that's it's over. At least I was able to tell you to your face.

Joe, can't you see: Jim is the better one for me. Jim can do things for me that you can't. It's not your fault. You're just too thin.

So now it's Big Jim's chance to do it all on his own. This will have positive consequences. For one thing, with only one dilator in use, my KY jelly bill will be halved, and with less wiping, there will be a small saving on kitchen tissues. In theory, too, the time needed for each dilation session will be reduced; but I may well give Jim rather longer than when he was sharing the action.

Until he too gets the push. Then I shall look at a larger-diameter dilator. 32mm, maybe even 35mm.

Hello, Mungo.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Having to explain why

Haven't we all been bombarded with questions, over and over again?

Questions like:

# Why have you made this choice to transition? (It's not a choice: I'm driven)
# Why can't you wait a bit longer, and see whether you'll feel different? (I've waited all my life, and time's now running out)
# Have you considered that other things could be making you take this course, like a search for novelty, or wanting to escape a dull life, or wanting to make a big gesture? (I know how I feel, and I'm quite sure that my feelings are genuine and true)
# Why don't you think hard about the awful effect on other people? (I have thought about them, and it's killing me with guilt; but I'll go mad if I don't do something about this)
# Where's the evidence for what you say about yourself? For instance, why didn't you cross-dress more in the past? (I was too embarrassed to acquire the clothes, and besides, I was afraid of discovery and ridicule)
# Don't you realise that you'll never look like a woman, and will never be accepted? (I can't help that; whatever the outcome, I can't help doing this)

And so it goes on. Sometimes relentlessly. It's understandable that those close to you want to know what's going on, and the why of it. But it's so hard to provide a coherent explanation when you can't find the right words, or don't even fully understand it yourself. How do you put across what you feel so deeply about yourself? How do you avoid being on the defensive, backed into a corner?

For me, those days of interrogation are largely over. The sceptics have vanished from my life - or they can see from events that I had total conviction, whatever the precise trigger that set things in motion during 2008. I still get asked questions, but now they come from people empathetic to me, who simply want to relate my story to theirs. And we often discover points of great similarity.

I'm not really a word person. I prefer pictures of the before-and-after sort. They can explain how I feel at a moment in time, and reveal a difference. There are plenty of smiling portraits of myself from every era of my life - who keeps unsmiling pictures? - and they give a false impression. Like going on holiday, and taking no photos on cold rainy days, only on the warm sunny days, so that the holiday looks fabulous when it wasn't. But occasionally there is the odd shot that shows a sterner face. Compare these shots of me in 2005 shortly before retiring, and in 2007, with the bottom one, taken only yesterday:


It hardly needs comment. I know the bottom shot is frivolous, and I'm pulling a face for the camera, but it shouts vitality, and a zest for living. That's what transition has achieved. Surely it answers every possible question as to why I did it.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Late transitioners

As happens fairly often, a comment made on someone else's post forms the nucleus of a related post of one's own.

Calie of Calie's Chronicles (http://calietg.blogspot.com/) had written a post (Uncorking the Demons) about how deeply upset she'd been by a film called Normal, watched at home on her own while her wife was away. I've not seen it, but I have to say it sounded unbearable to watch, and I don't think I could have stood it. Part of Calie's post lamented the position of those who have to transition later in life, rather than in their teens, and therefore have to cope with such things as a hopelessly compromised body, and close family ties that mean too much to needlessly harm them. This was my comment:

You have a big, big reason for sitting on your gender dysphoria, Calie, and managing it as best you can; but I do worry that one day it will get unbearable for you. Your reactions to the film show how much pressure is inside. 

I too wish that I had transitioned donkeys years ago, except for three things. 

First, the hormones have worked wonders on my ugly face, and I've learned many of the supporting tricks and techniques that let people see you as female even if the face isn't pretty: so I can get by very well. I think so can anyone else who believes that they could never ever pass. 

Second, the surgery has evolved and is definitely better now that it used to be: that's an important consolation. 

Third: being older means that many of the social pressures that would complicate and subdue a young transitioner's life no longer obtain. For instance, I don't have to be attractive and play the dating game. I don't have to be sad about not being able to have a baby. I don't have to prostrate myself to get on in a career. There are no older family members to control me. I can bring maturity and garnered wisdom and realistic expectations and mental stamina to bear on any difficulty. I can be assertive and get my way, knowledgably insisting on my rights, browbeating people if I have to, certainly facing them down if it's their opinion or mine that must prevail. In short, when young I was unsure of myself and afraid. But not now, especially not after finding my true self through transition. 

I am not advocating transition, only saying that it may become inevitable, and that if it does, then an older transitioner may enjoy some practical advantages over someone younger. 

Mind you, there is one big snag: not much lifetime left. Nobody can fix that. 

Let me hasten to say that I've not actually 'browbeaten' anybody yet! But I would certainly do so if something vital depended on having my wishes met. Such as insisting on seeing a particular doctor. Or the manager at a supermarket or restaurant if something bad had happened, and I wanted to speak to the person who really could sort it all out. (Wow, what a change: the old me was so submissive and feeble)

As you can see, late transitioners - if you share my point of view - do have something going for them. Even at 60 or so, it's so worth doing. But I'll be the first to agree that it's best to transition young, as soon as possible in fact, and enjoy a long lifetime of femaledom without remedial surgery, and with lots of time for every female experience available.

There must be quite a lot of late transitioners out there. I wonder how each has fared. The risk of being left jobless way before retirement must be very high. Ditto the risk of losing family and friends, and of encountering prejudice and various petty humiliations. Such was my own nightmare as soon as I realised that I had to transition. It was a fearful vision of social ostracism, impoverishment and physical danger.

I was lucky. I came through it unscathed, if that's the right word when you lose both parents, your partner, a host of other people, and all your life's savings. But at least I wasn't emotionally scarred. In a strange way (and it feels like a cliche to say so) I feel stronger, better balanced, much more able to face challenges. It's no longer 'I can't'. It's 'Yes, I could do this - any reason why I shouldn't?' I've not become reckless, but I've moved from Planet Do Nothing to Planet Get On With It. That would be regarded as completely 'out of character' by anyone who thought they knew the old me inside out.

Calie's situation is obviously far from unique, and must strike a chord with a large number of people, possibly most. But some MTFs do carry their families with them. For example, Jane Fae of Jane Fae's Blog (http://janefae.wordpress.com/). I'm not competent to say why some have easier rides than others. But there must be some lessons to be learned. That's why we should all pool our experiences.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Catch-up - things going on; healing and feeling

Wow, I haven't posted anything for days. This flows from a number of causes.

The Cottage is going to auction
One biggie is the approaching auctioning of my former home, the Cottage. It became urgent to sell it as soon as possible. As it was a one-off property in a country setting, and hard to market conventionally, M--- was advised to think about putting it to auction, and she in turn passed this suggestion on to me. I agreed that it was well worth a try, and once we had sorted out a problem or two (splitting the extra fees involved for instance) I moved fast and got it into the catalogue for a sale on 30 June. That's only three weeks ahead.

Both of us have attended a property auction before, so we know what to expect. Crucially, you have to set the guide price - what you hope it will fetch - at a level that will encourage plenty of competing bids. If they reach or exceed the secret reserve price (the minimum figure you will accept, known only to you and the auctioneer) then you have a legal, can't-back-out-of-it sale as the hammer falls. And that's the attraction. A 'sudden death' maybe, but you know exactly where you stand once bidding is finished. Not a bit like the slow and uncertain estate agent route, where, under English law, you can be strung along for weeks after an offer to buy is made, and then quite possibly be let down by that offer being withdrawn at the last moment, typically just before exchanging contracts. Or they may quibble about the price, and generally make difficulties. Not so with an auction. Bidders have to register their interest, and prove to the auctioneer that they can provide immediate finance, and an ability to proceed to very rapid completion at the bid price. So the Cottage could be completely off my hands by the end of July, and I can then move on without this money-eating millstone round my neck.

The nerve-wracking thing with auctions is whether the reserve price will be reached. That depends on several things. For example, how attractive the property looks in the catalogue; the publicity; who will be at the auction on the day (on 30 June it'll be predominantly Brighton-based landlords and property developers, with a splinkling of ordinary people). All attendees will at least have the necessary cash and a willingness to buy, but of course everyone will be looking for a bargain. Nobody will intend to pay more than their limit - unless the bidding gets the better of them. It happens. At the last property auction I attended, a country auction in Dorset seething with potential bidders - this was before the present slump in the property market - people were making bids for all kinds of strange lots that surely they wouldn't have considered purchasing in cool blood. Most of these lots needed planning permission to convert into a fantastic country residence, and that probably wouldn't be forthcoming. Yet all the lots sold, and nearly all guide prices were well exceeded.

Not so many lots this time, and I will be lucky to sell the Cottage at the first attempt. However, you never know. The entire auction should be over inside an hour. I'm going, because I want to see for myself how the bidding for the Cottage goes. Even if there is no sale, I'll discover exactly what the place is worth, and then won't have to guess the best guide price for the next auction.

Meanwhile, this is becoming a large and growing preoccupation with me, tending to crowd other things out. I mustn't let it get too dominant! It's not just the financial angle. The Cottage was a joint investment with M---, a way of making money for a continued future life together, and it has instead become a symbol of failure and disaster and contention. There will be an unpredictable emotional fallout on both sides once it is sold and gone, and the last tangible link between us broken.

Healing and feeling
Yesterday was exactly fourteen weeks after my surgery. Healing is now rapid. Although some skin discolouration lingers, the external suture lines are getting fainter and the post-op swelling is getting hard to distinguish from ordinary fat. Body movements are much, much easier. I can now for instance reach down and pick things up off the floor without feeling that I'm over-stretching something. This will soon allow me to do some gentle gardening - there's a lot of weeding to get on with! But I'm still going to wait until September before recommencing caravanning, even though my strength, such as it is nowadays, seems to have returned. I don't want to take any risk of straining something inside when (for instance) turning the caravan around on my drive. It weighs over a ton when loaded. (I can see myself investing in one of those electric caravan-movers with a remote control within a year - although that will depend on making something from the Cottage sale)

The female bits have settled down nicely.

The urethra learned to behave itself very early on, and now gives me enough of a jet to reach the top story of the tall Canary Wharf Building in London. And I can go over three hours between peeing if I have to. Couldn't manage that in the old days! (What has changed, then, apart from drastic rationalisation of the plumbing? It's odd. But highly convenient all the same) I am SO happy to be freed forever from the male way of going to the toilet. Sitting down in a clean and fragrant ladies' loo is a highly pleasant experience. Even squatting a bit off the path on a country walk is something to be relished. You feel so much less conspicuous, and of course the whole thing is done with in a jiffy. The pee just jets into the ground, and there is no danger of the wind spraying it back onto you, as can happen if standing up. I used to be paranoid about the sudden appearance of a party of nuns, or rambling ladies from the Women's Institute, or horse riders, when in male mode. You felt so exposed. Nowadays I snap my fingers at the prospect of inquisitive boy scouts wandering by. Let 'em. They can't see me behind this little bush.

The vagina is not such a success story. Oh, it works all right, and has healed up beautifully. But I recently made a careful measure of depth, by smearing three inches of KY jelly onto Big Jim, pushing him right in, then withdrawing him and measuring the length of the ensmeared part after insertion. Oh dear. Only four inches. I must have shrunk. And yet I'd followed the proper dilation frequency and technique to the letter ever since it all began. Sigh. You shouldn't, I know, get hung up on this: I'll have to concentrate on width if I can't have length.

The clitoris continues to acquire sensitivity. After my last attempt at self-stimulation (which somehow produced a spot of blood) I had another go, and there was no problem. Phew. So in the last week or two I've been experimenting very carefully to see what can be felt, and to what degree. It's all still rather low-key at the moment, but there's most definitely feelings of pleasure to be had, whether you stroke with fingers or use a pillow between the legs, and clench. And I often feel arousal sensations when just sitting. I've been rather inspired by the 2006 article by Lynn Conway's entitled Vaginoplasty: Male to female Sex Reassignment Surgery (http://ai.eecs.umich.edu/people/conway/TS/SRS.html#anchor66325) which begins with a very interesting discussion of the history of such surgery and how the techniques evolved, and then, in its second half, goes on to cover post-op care and how to have jolly good sex using your new bits. There are several useful links to other websites and articles. I have no quarrel with what she says, and certainly take on board the message that a programme of well-directed self-stimulation will get you ready for the real thing, so that you know what gets you to orgasm, and what you need to tell your partner so that both get the most out of lovemaking. (Even if it will have to be making love to a vibrator - a short fat one, in my case!)

One thing I've discovered is that the inner skin of the labia majora is highly sensitive to touch - at the moment, as much as the clitoris itself. Which of course greatly increases the target area for  touching-up. A bonus here is the clean, 'Scandinavian Design' look of Mr Thomas's surgery, where really there are no labia minora to get in the way, at least not in my case. So your fingers can stroke widely to their heart's content without getting snagged up in loose flaps of skin. I've also discovered that pubic hair stretched across onto the clitoris enhances the sensation at that spot.

I do hope nobody minds my mentioning these things. I'm passing this stuff on in a spirit of helpfulness. For my generation, the word 'masturbation' can easily carry a heavy baggage of childhood and teenage furtiveness and guilt in the face of shocked or stern-faced disapproval from adults. It's hard to subdue those legacy feelings and see it all as part of the necessary post-op exploratory and learning process.

So I approach this very much as I approached getting my voice right. I see touching myself to generate an orgasm, finding different ways that suit me best, as a vital part of settling into my new life as a woman.

Friday, 3 June 2011

I don't want to lie, but...

This post is about lying and fibbing when speaking with ordinary people that you encounter in daily life - people in shops and queues, people you pass when walking about - and more particularly people you keep on meeting, so that you become a familiar face to them, and a kind of casual relationship develops, leading nowhere probably, but you can’t tell.

I’m not primarily discussing what to say to a prospective romantic partner. That’s quite well-covered on the internet and is a frequent subject for posts. Whether to reveal one's trans history to a new person in your life, and if yes, when is the best moment, is a perennial subject of vital interest to most of us. I haven't been in that situation so far, so I can't offer any comment based on personal experience, but I do read those posts avidly on a ‘just in case’ basis!

But of course I am not looking for love, and my main concern in potentially romantic situations would be to keep control of events and manage the situation. I do have some concerns in that area. The comments from friends that I am ‘attractive’ are getting more frequent. Well, I’ll concede - purely on photographic evidence - that I do look prettier than I did two years ago, but then don’t we all? Hormones have a wonderfully softening and rejuvenating effect on the skin, and remodel the face quite well. And I do smile a lot in company. So there may be the odd beery old codger in a pub, who will one day lurch over to me and attempt a nice line in chat. Or even some nicer man-of-the-world type who finds my looks strangely quirky and fascinating and different, says he’s intrigued, and takes a more sophisticated approach. Both will want me to flatter their egos, and ultimately they'll want to get their end away. Well, no thanks. Thank goodness, it hasn’t happened more than twice yet, and not recently, but it could happen again at any time, and maybe I’ll reach a critical level of attractiveness that gets me noticed far too often. Let’s hope not. But meanwhile I must have a game plan. And that involves a choice between the truth or a lie.

In those situations, typically in the bar when buying drinks, I will do whatever is necessary to keep the situation in hand. I have a choice or weapons - the truth, or a lie - and I think that if a lie has to be used, then I can justify it on grounds of personal comfort, and to fend off an invasion of my personal space.

Oddly the truth might be the more effective weapon: given that it's apparently 90% certain that disclosing one’s trans origin will kill a budding relationship stone dead, it’s a no-brainer to ‘come clean’ at once, as the very best way to  prevent getting drawn into an unwanted entanglement. And you can do it gently, with a smile - how could anyone take offence? The only difficulty might be where the other person is clearly going to over-react. If there is a possibility of hysteria or anger, it’ll have to be ‘excuse-me-I-need-to-go-to-the-toilet’, and a discreet but rapid exit.

Getting back to ordinary situations, and day-to-day living, I constantly go into all sorts of places where I'm likely to speak with people. It's often with people I may never meet again. But that's not the case with local shops and other places to which I will return again and again. I find myself getting recognised, even well known. Inevitably there is conversation, and as time passes it tends to progress from the merely general to matters that involve my personal history and my attitudes.

These are just some of the difficult areas:

# Do I have a husband.
# Do I have any children.
# What exactly was my recent operation.
# My childhood and schooling.
# My upbringing, and what my parents allowed me to do when a girl.
# My boyfriends and what they were like.
# My career and other ambitions.
# My interests.
# Men generally.

Other women - interested as always in you, not your gadgets or possessions or job - will readily delve into your past, eager to learn your life history. And they expect you to ask them about theirs. It's no surprise. I often saw my Mum do this if she'd been standing in a queue for more than a minute. But my goodness, you need to be very quick-witted to field some of the questions put to you, or develop some theme, without giving away something. It wouldn't be hard if you were resolved to tell the strict truth, and nothing else. But do you really want to be totally frank? No romantic personal relationship hangs on this. I therefore take the line that I will tell no definite lies, but I won't mind giving a somewhat misleading impression to a stranger or very casual acquaintance. I know: a ‘somewhat misleading impression’ is a weasel expression that in plain honest English can be paraphrased as ‘lie’. But there are obvious difficulties and traps for a trans person, and unvarnished truth can get you into many kinds of difficulty.

So when discussing my childhood, I always speak of myself as being a 'child', and not specifically a boy or a girl.

When speaking about the ongoing effects of my genital operation, I mention that I musn't lift things or be energetic in any way for months on end, knowing full well that every woman will instantly assume that I've had a hysterectomy.

When marriage comes into the conversation, I don't say I married a woman. I let them assume that I had a husband, even though I won't categorically say so at any point. Nowadays I leave my wedding ring finger bare, so there’s a sporting chance that they’ll assume I’ve stayed single. But if I want to mention my step-daughter, then I’ve got to admit I was once married.

And if we move onto parental experience, I don't claim motherhood. I do claim parenthood. But I don't explain that my role at the time was the male one.

I'm committing some falsehoods here. But it does enable me to have conversations that would simply not happen if I wore an 'I'm Transsexual' sticker on my forehead or chest. And these are life-building conversations. They give me vital glimpses into the real histories of natal women who grew up in a way that I can’t now experience or share, except by talking with them. I think that’s an important justification for being careful with the truth about yourself. Of course, I’m often uneasy about giving the wrong impression. It’s definitely not being honest. I console myself with two thoughts.

First, it’s necessary that I learn, as quickly as possible, all those things I should have learned had I been brought up as a girl; all those things that I would have experienced as a young woman; and all those things that an older woman comes to terms with: children growing up and leaving home, husbands becoming boring or unfaithful, thwarted ambitions, looks fading and femininity retreating, women’s illnesses. If a temporary masquerade will get me this knowledge, then I feel I should have no qualms.

Second, once I have sufficient ‘background’ in my head, and can hold my own in any conversation between women, then I can concentrate on recent events in which I was myself an active participant. I don’t need to lie about any of that. And eventually, after a few years, that aspect will be the one that dominates what I talk about, and lies can be left behind.

Perhaps these two justifications are still offensive to some, who hold absolute truth dear. I'm not competent to discuss theoretical morality or ethics. I do think however that being careful with the truth is a responsibility that must be taken seriously. You have to use judgement. The truth can hurt and upset, and if its disclosure can’t improve a situation, or make it damaging, then I think you should keep silent. It's as potentially dangerous as a loaded gun. For instance, supposing you discovered in some family letters or papers that a sibling was an adopted child, and not the natural child of their Mum and Dad? Or that the real father was a wartime airman from Canada or the States, and that an illicit affair was kept a secret? Would you in every circumstance tell them what you had found out? I think not, unless they’d specifically asked you to winkle out the truth for them.

And on a much less contentious level, if a harmless misrepresentation lets me chat vivaciously with someone for ten minutes, to our mutual enjoyment, how does that matter?

It might be said of course that all this fibbing is gradually undermining my sense of truth, even of reality. I disagree, because I remain acutely aware of the deception, and troubled by it.