Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Dilation update, with a digression into vibrators

Another thing that will happen on 1 March is that my dilation regime will change again. I will now need to dilate only once a week, or optionally twice a week.

At the moment I am still dilating once a day, which is not always easy to fit into what I want to do, even though the process is simple, and from beginning to end only takes up only forty minutes of my time. That's forty minutes for the bedroom setup, a pre-wash, dry off, twenty minutes with a dilator inserted, cleanup for the dilator, a douche and another wash, dry off, cleanup for the douche, put away the kit, and finally straighten the bed. Actually, that's a fair old rigmarole! But now I can dispense with it five days out of seven.

Although once a week will be fine, I'd like to stay in touch with my nether bits at least twice a week, so I'm thinking that Tuesdays and Saturdays will become my normal Dilation Days, these already being the days on which I change my hormone patch. That's concentrating all 'medical' stuff into two days of the week then. But of course, in practice any two days will do for dilation. If, for instance, I was towing my caravan home on a Tuesday, needed to make an early start, didn't expect to be home and unpacked until the evening, and expected to feel pretty tired by then, I'd probably postpone dilation to next day. I've now got that flexibility.

I'm still very happy with Mungo (that's the very thick dilator), but nowadays I alternate him with Big Jim (that's the not-so-thick dilator). This is so that I can have one dilator for maintaining length (Big Jim) and one for maintaining width (Mungo). Actually, I doubt whether Big Jim does anything that Mungo doesn't do, but you never know.

One or two of my friends have purchased vibrators, and generally find these useful, though not primarily as dilators. Apparently the best advice with vibrators is to avoid anything too large, and go instead for simple versions that are easy to insert in the vagina, and maybe very small ones for clitoral stimulation. A pleasant pastel colour and a nice-to-touch surface coating are also important.

What many people initially go for - wasting money - is a huge monster vibrator in shiny red plastic, filled with circulating ball bearings. Presumably the way it moves when activated is meant to simulate a rampant and throbbing male member, complete with bulging veins fit to burst. These oversize vibrators are invariably fitted with a large and aggressive rabbit that resembles a lobster claw feeling for prey to tear apart. I have seen these things, and have it from the horse's mouth that this kind of vibrator is heavy and thoroughly artificial and a complete turnoff. They are not designed with post-op trans women in mind. They assume a deep vagina, and if you haven't got one deep enough the rabbit can't reach your clitoris, merely clawing thin air in a threatening fashion. Nor is the average post-op clitoris the right shape or size. My own is rather peanut-like, and if that rabbit could ever reach, it would massacre the poor thing rather than sensually rubbing the spaces on either side.

So I won't be investing in a jumbo rabbit-enabled vibrator. Something much smaller and nicer one day, perhaps, but it's hardly a big priority. Besides, what are fingers for?

Monday, 27 February 2012

Don't look unless your biometrics are gender-normal!

Down in deepest Sussex we don't get London news, and it was quite by chance that I heard about this on BBC Radio 4's You and yours programme at midday today.

A children's charity called Plan UK has got together with a company that offers digital advertising technology, Clear Channel, to install an interactive panel at a bus stop opposite Selfridges in Oxford Street, London. This panel 'uses facial recognition scanning on interested viewers but only shows the ad to women - denying males the choice to view the content.' (I quote from Plan UK's website) The broad intention is to demonstrate to the male half of the population what it feels like when you are shut out of a process because of your gender, and denied information that could enhance your life. Plan UK's underlying message is that all over the world girls are being deprived of choices that could transform their lives for the better, simply because access to information is denied to them. That could be basic health information, contraceptive information, educational information...a long list. Hopefully, the inability of men and boys to view this Oxford Street ad will jolt them into recognising a very big problem.

Everyone coming within range of the digital panel can engage with it. It will ask you to come closer to see more of what made you look in the first place. But then, when it gets your face properly in view, it makes a biometric analysis of your features. If it judges you to be male, it shows you nothing more. And perhaps it also says, 'Sorry, you are male and are not allowed to see this ad, which is reserved for females only'. On the other hand, if it judges you to be female, the ad is fully revealed - maybe with a fanfair and music - and presumably it is delightful to watch.

Well, this all sounds well-intentioned, at least in the context of what Plan UK want to achieve.

But what happens if a trans woman or a trans man is waiting at the bus stop, and within range of the panel? They could be outed in a highly public and embarrassing way, couldn't they? Because unless a trans person is naturally endowed with the correct facial biometrics, or has had their face drastically modified by surgery, the panel will misread them and either deny them access to the ad if MTF, or, if FTM, let them see it when they shouldn't have access. Leading to cries of 'Ooooh! You must be a man!' or 'Ooooh! You must be a girl!' as the case may be. Hard to laugh it off as a technical malfunction. What a nightmare.

And you don't have to be trans to be misread. Butch women and effeminate men may be at risk too.

This particular panel is on a two-week trial only (so get up to Oxford Street fast if you want to try it out). But what happens if it catches on, and these gender-discriminating panels spring up everywhere? Especially wherever people have to queue up, and watch as a captive audience? Stand too close, and look at the panel, and you could end up very red-faced indeed.

'Miss' will do nicely

Over at a friend's, a conversation developed about what we preferred to call ourselves nowadays - 'we' meaning 'advanced-stage transitioners'.

We rejected the term 'tranny' completely.

It's sometimes claimed that 'tranny' is used in a semi-affectionate way between trans people and their allies, making it all right for others to use it too, perhaps to suggest insider knowledge or sympathies. Well, maybe this was once so, and I admit that two years back I personally felt fairly tolerant about being called a tranny; but no longer. We all now reserved the word for a person who crossdressed as a woman in such an unstudied, ludicrous and embarrassing way that they would be foolish not to expect adverse comment and nil acceptance. It wasn't quite a sneer word, but nothing to be proud of.

People starting their transition are bound to make the odd faux pas while they develop their female alter ego. Some may need to experiment radically with femininity; or make a statement; or defy conventions; and to do it all boldly. At this early stage they may feel that the risks of ridicule are small compared to all the freedoms and thrills on offer. Can you blame them if they dress and behave flamboyantly, quite unlike the ordinary natal women and girls? They're celebrating, they're finding their way, and it's entirely understandable. And they won't mind being called a 'tranny' for parading in public, not then, not even if 'Oy, tranny!' is shouted at them rather unkindly, because the T word does at least recognise their triumphant touchdown on Planet Female.

But it seems inappropriate and undeserved to call anyone who has seriously commenced their transition a 'tranny'. They are in for a hard two or three years, and ought to be admired for taking on the task. They need all the support they can get.

And it's an absolute mortal injury to those who have won through to the end. After all the time, effort, money and emotional capital you have to pour into transition - not forgetting the physical pain as well - you most certainly do earn the right to call yourself a 'trans woman'. In fact we agreed that 'trans woman' was the only acceptable term. Or simply 'woman', especially if you have made yourself indistinguishable from the ordinary natal version. After all, if you have finished with your transition, the 'trans' bit is redundant.

There are a host of other words floating around: 'transgendered', 'queer', and many more. We felt they were meaningless, mainly for being too inclusive and liable to lump quite different people together. Apart from that, they were labels we didn't want. When you have begun to settle into a proper way of life, strange labels can get in the way. And it's not as if there will ever be a Queer Party to vote for, with a broad and realistic agenda.

Speaking for myself, the only label I need is 'Miss' in front of my name. That says exactly what I want people to know about my gender and status.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Coming next week, another TV documentary: My Dad is a Woman

This the documentary in which I could have made a brief personal appearance, and I will be watching it with an eagle eye just in case I am still there on the periphery as a fleetingly-seen but unnamed hospital visitor, or heard as a muffled voice off. I don't remember saying anything more profound than what a different business peeing is when post-op. Since then, it's been my understanding that these noble words have been relegated to the cutting-room floor. Just as well. After all, the focus was on a couple called Jane and Andrea, fellow bloggers both; and their children, of whom I met two.

I think originally this Wild Pictures production had intended to cover three families caught up in transition. But with only an hour in which to tell the tale with any subtlety, they trimmed it to two. I don't know the other family at all.

It's being screened at 10.35pm on Thursday 1 March on ITV1. It's not part of a series, it's a one-off. And rather late in the evening, so I'm expecting operating-theatre scenes of a considerably more lurid character than the ones shown in last year's My Transsexual Summer, although those seemed visceral enough. Scenes you can watch in High Definition, if you have it.

I'm hoping that this latest version of the Trans Story - as it especially affects families with children - will be told with nuances aplenty, and will add something solid to the steadily-emerging Real View of what trans people are all about. I'm hoping it will be frank about the problems and stresses that families need to cope with, and I want to see acceptance, gritty loyalty, and heroic endurance in all family members. I'd like families who are not affected by a member undergoing transition to appreciate how well-off they are, in so far as they are not going to have their lives turned inside out by this process. But at the same time, to see that it's not a disgrace, not a disaster, just someone discovering their true self and needing the family to cluster round. And that it can be coped with, successfully, and then clearly turn out for the best. Well, that's how I'd like it to be.

This is the main blurb in the Radio Times: 'The stories of two men undergoing sex changes and the impact on their families as they go through surgery, feminising speech therapy and other procedures.' A note elsewhere says: 'The footage of surgery is not fun to watch, but the rest of this thoughtful documentary is illuminating.' Well, purists will take issue with the use of convenient phrases like 'two men' and 'sex changes', but I suppose the blurb does skilfully compress the storyline into a tweet, or nearly so, if that's a good thing.

I wonder if this will be the last of the current crop of trans documentaries? It's not in the important and coveted mid-evening slot, even though family children could presumably get a lot out of it. But then it would displace Emmerdale and Corrie. Tsk. Can't have that.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Who were the lucky ones?

An important personal anniversary is fast approaching: 1 March. On that date, almost one year ago, I had my genital surgery. It was most certainly a watershed event. Whatever no-op compromises might have been possible before surgery, they were finally blown away forever.

It seems an appropriate time to reflect on how life has turned out for me. Whether, despite all events, I am happier. And whether I have found my proper place in a world that did not seem to accommodate me at all well for such a very long time.

I don't want to do this in a spirit of bitterness and regret for what might have been in a perfect world. I feel that, very broadly speaking, things have turned out fairly well for me. I've done much better than merely survive. I haven't had horrible experiences - at least none that I would consider horrible - and I'm duly grateful to whichever god or force protects trans people while they stagger through the most demanding years of their transition. It would be foolish and wrong to make out that I've had a bad deal, all things taken into account.

But nor can I honestly say that I feel overjoyed at what has happened in my world since my transition began. There have been too many losses. I marvel that I'm not totally heartbroken. It is certainly not the case that I've 'come out of it smelling of roses'. But I can't deny that, so far as making clear plans, and doing the correct things in the proper order, and having the right friends, make any difference, then I admit to pulling off quite a feat. I do feel I'm entitled to some satisfaction. But euphoria? Well, yes, sometimes. Transition has given me something enduring that can never be lost or taken away. It's fundamental, it's life-changing for the better, and of course I feel so glad it happened. But high euphoria isn't my mood of every single moment, not at all.

I have wondered whether it could have turned out better if those who disbelieved in my gender dysphoria, or disapproved of it, or actively opposed it, had instead clustered around me, and given me all the help and support I'd desperately wanted - that I'd actually pleaded for. And had then stayed with me through the process. Well, that's a completely hypothetical scenario, of course. It's impossible to say. Maybe those who have bobbed in a sea of fantastic goodwill can say with authority that I would have managed better, and I would certainly now have all my family and friends to count on.

Actual real-world events ensured that I had to do it on my own. I will never cease to acknowledge all help given along the way, professional or otherwise, but nobody but myself set things in motion, and nobody but myself stuck at it, and did the work, and spent the money, and endured the discomforts. And perhaps this will strike a chord with all other trans people who have also had to do it all by themselves.

But who are the luckier? Those who carry their family and friends with them, or those who have to play a lone hand? I can't tell. I can see that I wouldn't have faced the destruction of my world as it used to be, if everyone had stayed with me. But I wouldn't now have total independence, and such a sense of self-reliance and self-worth. Those things mean so much to me: I thought at one time that I'd lost them forever.

Perhaps the best question to be asked here is: OK, you've got through most of what you had to do. But what now? What are you going to do with the rest of your life?

For me, the answer to this is that independence and freedom will be positive advantages to me, allowing me (for instance) to move to a new location, or to spend as much time as I please in developing what I may be talented at; and similar things that I couldn't so easily do if I were held securely in a fond embrace. But there are many alternative answers too.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

How to cope with rather small boobs

Oh dear. I'm not well at the moment. It's another upset tummy, from a Thai meal on Sunday night, I think. I felt half-dead yesterday, but today I'm able to convince myself that I'm over the worst. Certainly up to looking at my emails and posting something on my blog. But my plans for the next two days have been scrapped. I don't want to be far from home, certainly not out driving, so long as my tummy feels slightly queasy, and there are suspicious gurglings coming from lower down.

So I'm indoors, not doing much, hardly eating of course, mostly just sitting around, reclined if not actually in bed sleeping - for sleep is a marvellous cure for most things connected with dodgy eating and drinking.

Naturally I've not been putting on a bra. And strangely this spell of enforced convalescence seems to have reduced the apparent size of my boobs! Why, I do not know. Although they are still most definitely more prominent than they were a year ago, I'm afraid the bumps have never ballooned as much as I could have wished, and my current indisposition hasn't improved matters. No doubt they will be resurgent, to a degree, but they'll never give me a cleavage to be proud of.

What to do? One can resort to all kinds of artificial measures, but personally I find artificiality repugnant. I think the answer lies in cultivating the right attitude of mind.

Before me is the 2004 edition of What Not To Wear:The Rules by Trinny Woodhall and Susannah Constsantine. These two ladies seem to have disappeared from our TV screens of late, but in their time they were fashion gurus, or more particularly, ladies who were doing their best to point out the mistakes people were making with their clothes, and to prescribe what they considered to be The Right Way. It was fun to see the likes of Jeremy Clarkson being subjected to their no-nonsense ministrations. Not so much fun to see them boss less self-assertive people around. If I say that I was never quite sure that I liked their tone, you'll get the picture, and we can leave it at that.

In their slim volume about The Rules, however, that tone is under better control, and there are passages that give hope and encouragement. Take this, which is about having Big Tits:

People may look at you and think you have an amazing pair of tits - so what's the problem? Well, for a start, Susannah knows, and Trinny can imagine, that buying dresses, suits and coats to fit both the top and bottom halves of your body requires a degree in anatomy. And whilst we're all in favour of a girl making the most of her natural assets, she needs to be careful not to look top-heavy or tarty. It is lovely having men magnets when you're out on the town, but there are times when you want to be appreciated for your brain power. This requires decorous dressing and the implementation of surrepticious tricks to tone things down. The primary tool, and one that will become indispensable, is a well-fitting bra. Invest what ever it takes to find the best one for you. Hoick your tits up high and push them forward with under-wires and strong straps. Armed with the right bra, you are in control of your jugs rather than the other way around. It's much more exciting having tits that can be exhibited as and when the occasion requires.

And then this, on having No Tits:

If you are the owner of a chest bereft of tits, you have no doubt longed for boobs, thought about surgery and tried all breast-enhancing trickery to boost what isn't there. The ironic thing is, many big-titted women look at the daintily endowed with envy. Susannah longs to be able to wear clothes that Trinny can. Loads of clothes look better worn by flat-chested women. They hang better and this must surely be a compensating factor for worrying about not being sexy. You don't need tits to be alluring and at least you should have the choice of a breast day or a non-breast day. You can boost your sexiness with padded bras and silicone extras. We know it's hard sometimes for the unattached, because young men especially need an eyeful of tit before they even talk to you. Maybe this isn't such a bad thing, as turn this notion on its head and your dainty boobs are actually a filter for all the jerks out there. An added bonus is that there isn't a single coat or jacket you won't look fab in.

The ladies have spoken. But in truth, their words have given me great consolation, and that has saved this little book being tossed into my bin in seething annoyance, because I really do not like their prescriptive tone. But I can recognise wise words when I read them.

They're absolutely right about small boobs filtering out young men. They never ever talk to me. Only the old codgers do.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Street walking kit

No, I've not decided to go on the game. I want to show you my new kit for urban walking, my necessary equipment for town and promenade exercise. I had most of what I needed already: leggings, socks, a variety of suitable tops, rainwear. But I was lacking some dedicated trainers for this kind of activity, and none of my bags was quite right.

Getting a decent but not very expensive pair of trainers was a no-brainer. I went straight down to Sports Direct in Brighton. These online retailers have a big shop there, a bit no-frills, pile-it-high-in-all-sizes, but you can see, handle, and try on an awful lot of stock in most of the usual brands without having to ask anyone to get things out for you. I quickly narrowed down my choice to a pair of Nike trainers that would cost me £32.99. I think they might in strictness have been a men's design, but they looked pretty unisex to me, and hey, what does it matter? Pink detailling isn't required. Black and white is fine.

Then it was merely a decision on size. That's not so simple. With ordinary shoes, I'm often a size 8. But 8 and a half is sometimes necessary, to give me enough toe room. The trouble is usually the width: ladies' shoes generally assume slender feet. These Nike trainers had plenty of width, but I was still doubtful about their length. Size 8 was definitely too small. Size 9 felt beautifully roomy, but I reckoned that once the shoes had flexed a bit, and given a little, they could prove to be sloppy on my feet - definitely not good for them. 8 and a half felt snug, but it was comfortable and I could wiggle my toes, so that seemed the best size.

Here they are, at home, before going out for my first walk:


And this is a close up view, next morning:


As for the bag, I wanted a clasy-looking one, but nothing too big. Something light and thin. I usually carry around a fair bit of gear, including my PDA, Leica camera, and minimum makeup items. But the only absolutely vital things were my keys, my purse, my mobile phone, and some tissues. I wanted a bag that would swallow these but force me to leave the rest behind, and so lighten my load for sustained powerwalking. Last week, then, while visiting Bluewater shopping centre in Kent, I bought a neat little number from John Lewis: a leather bag by Tula. That completed my kit. Here is the bag with the trainers:


The bag wasn't cheap: it cost me £69.00. But then I can see plenty of other uses for it. I don't like going anywere without a proper camera, but actually I can if necessary take reasonably good shots with the phone. They always need a bit of work on them at home to correct the pictures for exposure and colour rendition, but if something caught my eye while out walking those city streets, I wouldn't be without a lens.

Those trainers won't stay pure white for long! But I'll look after them, and they should last me the rest of 2012 at least.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Let the past go

Last night, on impulse, I typed out a letter to a couple that M--- and I used to know for many years. They were among those who became instantly silent, so far as I was concerned, as soon as I came out as a trans person. They have remained silent.

Of all our friends, I found them the most inexplicable example of apparently taking sides with M---, and shutting me completely out of their lives. M--- knew them from her student days, very many years ago. But they had still known me from the start of my relationship with M---, since 1994, and that's eighteen years by my reckoning. A long time.

I feared that many people would ostracise me, but I strongly hoped they would not. And I had reason for that hope. They had always seemed to like me, and had always given every sign of welcome to me. And I was equally friendly with them. Ours was an easy-going relationship. She was a Quaker with a sense of fun; a talented blues singer; and I considered her serene and sensible, a lover of life, and the last person to make an ill-considered judgement on hearsay alone. He was a Humanist; a poet; a gentle, reasonable man. Both were creative and artistic, and musical too. They had very nice friends.

I expected them to be surprised and concerned when I came out, and certainly supportive of M--- in particular. But I thought they would want to know all about what was driving me, in a spirit of wanting to understand and help. They could so easily have provided a safe and gentle space, an evening meal for four friends. It could well have eased the rapidly-growing fear and tension that M--- was experiencing. It would have helped enormously if offered at once. I thought it would be. But I was wrong.

Of course there was nothing to debate, no 'doctrine of transsexuality' to examine, nothing to argue me out of. It was about self-realisation and its what needed to be done about it. About what a person, especially an older person who did not have time on their side, was compelled to do now, having recognised that they had been living their life on entirely the wrong basis. It was about feelings and their consequences. How to manage necessary changes. The best way forward.

I couldn't have spoken clearly about these things at the very beginning, as I was reeling with what I had discovered about myself, afraid of what might happen, and I had no pat explanations to give. But their practical help would have given me time to find the words. Their provision of a controlled and civilised forum for discussion would have been a reassurance for M---, a place where the pressure would be less for us both, a safety net. But they did not step in. They did not ask me what it was all about. They listened to to M---, and presumably offered her advice and support, but they did not speak to me. Nor was there a letter from them to me, nor an email, not even a text. They could have done a good thing, something for us, something that would have mattered at the time. It was a missed opportunity.

I'm not saying that they made a deliberate decision to abandon me and cluster around M--- only. I don't know what they thought. It might easily be that they discussed it deeply, and decided it best to stay detached from the situation. In case intervention, however well-intentioned, made it all worse. Perhaps they knew something about what usually happens to couples where one of them finds they are trans. They might have made a realistic assessment of our chances, and concluded that whatever effort they could make ought to be reserved for M---. I can't dispute the reasonableness of that.

Whatever their position, they left me strictly alone, and did not enquire nor offer a mediating hand, nor keep in touch in any way. I had thought them persons of understanding and tolerance, the very sort to throw down a line to a drowning human being, even to someone who might be mad, or a monster. But no line came.

At one point I felt like saying, 'So much for Humanism'. And, 'So much for being a person of religion'. Where was the fellowship that should be offered to all people, regardless of their crime? Where was the love of God, that enjoined those who accepted His will to go that extra mile with the errant? Where was the Good Samaritan?

But then time passes, and you see things differently, and you want to break the dreadful silence. To test the water. And to have a proper farewell, if farewell it must be. So last night I decided to risk a rebuff and write to them. It was a good letter, and I've kept it on file as a draft, but I've decided now not to send it.

It comes back to that word: time. Time has changed things. I can't revive my relationship with M--- as it was. I can only, at best, form a fresh connection based on how things are now. These old friends will have moved forward too. Their lives will have developed. Could we even speak to each other, after an hour of catching up and explanation? What would there be to say? How could I fit into their lives now? Or they into my own life, so different from the one I used to lead. What if their first loyalty remained with M---, and they wanted to keep it exclusively that way? Should I embarrass them with an approach?

I saw all this, and turned off the printer. They would not welcome a voice from the past. There had been too much silence for too long. I let them go.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Outing trans people

This is about the current fuss over the 'trans man who has had a baby', and the efforts being made to out the person concerned.

First thoughts: is this the only instance in the UK? Is it really that rare? Is it even newsworthy? Knowing that trans men cannot routinely have hysterectomies, and can't routinely get their vaginas sealed up forever, am I surprised that occasionally they make use of their baby-ready anatomy? What's wrong with that? What's the issue? Is having a baby a bad thing? Is experiencing parenthood a bad thing? Something to be denied? If a severely disabled natal woman can have a baby, then why not anyone else?

Trans women are always asked, before hormone treatment commences, whether they'd like to freeze some sperm. Freezing sperm is officially all right. That sperm could fertilise a female egg and produce a baby in someone's womb. That's generally all right too. Maybe a trans man's womb: ah, what about that? Isn't that perfectly all right also?

Imagine a scenario where a differently-gendered couple are both trans, and both decide to transition. The male-bodied partner freezes her sperm, and after each have undergone the usual procedures in transition, that sperm is used in the female-bodied partner's womb to produce a child that they both want. No question that he, the female-bodied partner, is naturally a suitable vessel for conceiving the baby, carrying the baby, and giving birth at the natural time. Maybe he now has reduced breasts, maybe not, but there is still a proper womb, all the correct physical connections between the embryo and the parent-to-be, all the correct muscles, the right kind of hips, and so on. The child is born into a parenting situation that both partners feel very comfortable with. The child's welfare, and the love it gets, and the nurturing skills given to it, are all as they should be. The eventual outcome is actually likely to be much better than it would have been pre-transition, because each partner is in their proper natural role, and free of internal conflicts that might have adversely affected the child. Some time later they repeat the process.

Is anything wrong with this scenario? What can be bad about it? Why would it be the business of a media organisation, such as a newspaper, to poke into it and make all the details public? What interest does that serve? Who takes responsibility for the damage done?

I don't care whether or not this particular trans parent has used the National Health Service. I do care whether this was a baby that was wanted and will be loved. I also hope that whatever high expectations this new parent had for the birth and its aftermath are now being fulfilled. And I'd wish to ensure that those conditions continue and are not put at risk by outside intervention. This is not the time to be intruding into the parents' world, when their attention should be focussed on the baby.

So why does the Sun (and no doubt others yet to come) consider that intrusion is justified in the public interest?

The point has been made elsewhere that what interests the public is not always in the public interest - meaning that there is always a standard to be observed, a line drawn, a distance to be maintained. That while media articles, documentaries, advertisements and crusades may indeed appeal to a large number of people, they may yet be so wrong and inappropriate and subversive of decent standards that they simply encourage the bad sides of human behaviour. In other words, they make life worse. That effect can't at all be in the public interest.

It isn't a good thing to encourage people to look down their noses at other lives and purse their lips in righteous indignation. It isn't a good thing to encourage a feeling in some that they are better than others. Or that their views are more valid or healthy. Or simply 'normal', as if all deviants from normality must, of course, be freaks to joke about, or shudder at, or commit social murder against. Consider those who are wonderfully intelligent, or wonderfully artistic, or wonderfully beautiful, or wonderfully saintly. They aren't 'normal' either. Will the Sun be mounting a campaign against them soon, in the public interest?

While it is right to search for the perpetrator where a genuinely criminal act has been committed, it isn't right to conduct a witch-hunt against those who have merely done unusual things. Witch-hunts remind me of other kinds of hunt. And of phrases like 'hounded to death'. And of ritual purging and killing generally. An advanced society shouldn't be shouting 'Tally-ho!' and turning on its own members. To take part in any hunt is, at best, to agree that the quarry is fair game, even if it has done nothing worthy of harrassment. At worst, it is to be complicit in an appalling and wanton act of destruction.

Getting back to this current affair. I ask again: what is the precise public interest? Whipping up ill-feeling against this trans parent is degrading the moral standards that society needs to maintain. Offering rewards to informants even more so. That kind of thing simply isn't in the public interest - to foster an atmosphere in which denunciation is OK. A bounty hunter world. Who will be safe? Is that in the public interest?

Then there's the collateral damage done. The notion implanted that all trans men want babies. Following that, the idea that all trans people, male or female, are frauds. That trans women still have male capability. I know: that would be completely in defiance of the physical facts - hormone treatment leaves you sterile, and, if post-op, male-type penetrative sex is impossible - but when have details like this stopped people believing whatever they want? Horrific things like 'trans women are perverts, not to be trusted near children'.

How can misrepresenting and outing trans people be in the public interest, when a large number of ordinary UK citizens must be to some extent trans? Maybe several million? It's a natural thing, weak in most, strong in a few, like so many birth conditions that endure lifelong. Do we want to create a national neurosis?

It is newsworthy to draw attention to astonishing and inspiring human experiences. But in a spirit of celebration, surely? Not in a spirit of victimisation.

And certainly not while mouthing those empty words, 'in the public interest'.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

February the Fourteenth

The Day of Lovers.

Twenty-nine years ago, in 1983, I got married on St Valentine's Day. It was a romantic gesture, and my own idea. The marriage didn't last. W--- and I separated in 1991, and divorce followed in 1996. But the event hasn't faded into oblivion, because every year St Valentine's Day comes up again, and I am reminded once more.

Back in 1972, forty years ago now, the commercial nature of February the Fourteenth was already well established. Bosh and humbug indeed, but it could be fun. There was a convention that all cards sent had to be completely anonymous, supposedly from a secret but passionate admirer. The fun came from sending them, or, if on the receiving end, guessing who had sent them to you. Secrecy was absolutely the essence. Many a shy teenager (and many a bit older than that) must have had their heart thumping with delicious pleasure when a card arrived in the post, or on their office desk perhaps, quite out of the blue, confessing or pledging a yearning love. A lot of artfulness and cunning went into writing these cards, using a disguised hand and, if posted, paying attention to where the card was posted from, so that its recipient couldn't easily guess who had sent it. Of course, sometimes there was a deliberate clue, to be hotly followed up at the very next disco.

Sometimes of course cards were sent merely to tease. And sometimes with a frankly cruel intention. There must have been quite a number of testy old codgers or spinsters who got a sugary card that spoke sweetly of love, but actually mocked them and made them angry and embarrassed - as it was intended to do.

I wonder if the proper ritual is still observed? Or do people simply send openly-signed cards to whoever takes their fancy, as a clear message that A fancies B, and how about it?

I'm sure that many long-established couples go through an annual routine of buying a card for each other, as if to say, 'Yes, despite our humdrum life together, we're still in love'. As if an exchange of Valentine cards, plus a meal out, and maybe a bunch of red roses from the man, is an insurance against the breakup of an exhausted relationship.

And what am I doing today? Well, my new fence was put up this morning. That was a great start to the day. The two men arrived at 8.00am and had finished the job by 11.30am, assisted by three rounds of tea and chocolate biscuits from yours truly. I expressed great satisfaction with the end result. This afternoon, a trip into Brighton for a little shopping - trainers, socks and a smaller handbag for serious calorie-burning walking - not in the country - in the town, where I can do it in most weathers without getting muddy. Another part of my quest for some fitness. Then I'll catch up with friends at the Clare Project. Then a drink somewhere. Then home to a defrosted meal. All this with nary a card in sight, nor a rose tenderly offered. What's not to like?

Monday, 13 February 2012

Selsey

Yesterday - Sunday - was a chilly, overcast sort of day, but I felt a bit cooped up indoors, and so in the afternoon I fired up Fiona and we went off to Selsey.

Selsey is a small town at the southern tip of the flat bit of land that sticks out like an upside-down shark's fin into the English Channel east of the Isle of Wight. It's a landmark feature, if you're a bird flying along the coast. Indeed, the first thing I encountered after parking was an information board saying just that, and giving details of all the birds you might see. I suppose they all bank to port on a new 030 degree course as they pass Selsey Bill. What a sight. Selsey also has a well-known resident: Sir Patrick Moore, the famous astronomer. But I didn't bump into him.

My plan was to walk the half mile or so to the lifeboat station, and maybe take a look at the lifeboat if the place was open. I like lifeboats and all the brave work they are put to in all weathers, and never fail to pop £2 into the collection box if I visit a station. Because of course the Royal National Lifeboat Institution is largely funded by voluntary donations. It's one charity I have no reservations about at all.

The Selsey lifeboat is housed in its own little building full of winches and other stuff. At least one lifeboat, the one at Cromer in Norfolk, is housed at the end of a pleasure pier, but this one had its own little pier, very similar to the Bembridge lifeboat on the Isle of Wight, or, in more dramatic surroundings, the lifeboat at Porthstinian in Pembrokeshire. As at most places, the Selsey boat is launched down a sloping slipway straight into the sea, but some are launched by tractor, a driver pulling the boat into deep enough water - as with the boat at Wells-next-the-Sea, also in Norfolk. Here are some photos I've taken over the years of the setups at Cromer, Bembridge, Porthstinian, and Wells-next-the-Sea:





And here is the setup at Selsey, in shots I took yesterday:




I climbed the steps up to the pier gangway, and after walking down to the end, found the entranced door unlocked.


This was unexpected - it was half past three on a winter Sunday, and I thought it would be all closed up. Touching the door handle, the door suddenly opened out towards me, and there was a man in seagoing clothes! We both jumped, myself whooping in surprise. He was twenty minutes away from closing up for the afternoon, but welcomed me inside, and treated me to a one-to-one tour of the boat, or at least I was permitted to come onto the deck, and look inside from there.






I felt privileged, and in fact it was the first time I'd ever stepped onto a lifeboat. I suppose health and safety requirements usually rule this out. It was, for example, quite easy to bang your head on the radar mast, which was folded down. This was necessary so that the boat could be launched without damaging the mast, as the doors to the sea had limited height. My host told me many things about the boat, and I had several questions of my own. We agreed that despite speed and seaworthiness and carrying capacity being so vital, these requirements produced some of the most graceful designs found in boatbuilding. It was easy to see how such a boat inspired confidence, respect and pride in the hearts of its crew, who were after all risking their lives to assist others in distress on the sea, and utterly depended on their boat.

I asked how many could be saved, and where they were housed. The answer was, as many as could be packed in. The boat was so buoyant that within reason - and of course possibly beyond it - they could carry as many as could be got off. They were primarily put into a chamber that occupied most of the after part of the boat, but there was another space forward, although they'd have to hang on tightly if in there, as it would be pitching up and down pretty violently in a storm. The crew themselves - six of them - sat on special seats in a spacious bridge, surrounded by high-tech instruments. My host remarked that they were mostly fishermen, who might not have anything like all this gadgetry on their own boats. But they were well-trained, and slipped seamlessly into high-tech mode for every rescue. Everyone - crew and rescued - were sealed inside wave-proof compartments, so that it wouldn't matter if the boat was pushed under or rolled over - it would self-right, and let no water in.

The crew were all local. If an alarm was raised, they would drop everything and get to the lifeboat station as fast as possible. Their sea clothing, tagged with their names, was ready behind a curtain (I was shown this). While they donned their waterproofs, the twin diesel engines of the boat were fired up - with a special pipe clamped over the exhaust outlets to take the fumes out of the building, so that nobody got gassed before launch. The sea doors would be opened. My host opened these partly for me, so that I could see what the boat would be launched down into. Even though it was a calm day, there was clearly a strong sideways current running, and I could imagine how it might be in a storm, with the waves huge and confused. The activity in the run-up to a launch must be a picture of orderly haste. Impressively, from the first distress signal to launch usually took only ten minutes.

The boat had been last launched only a week before. On its return, it had been washed down with fresh water to take all the salt off, then polished up again. It looked immaculate, almost new.

We chatted a bit. My host was a retired naval man from Tyneside, too old to be an actual crewmember, who had quite naturally been drawn to looking after the boat as a retirement job. How appropriate that the present Selsey boat was of the 'Tyne' class! He told me it had been in service at Selsey for some six years, and was expected to be replaced in four years' time. Replaced but not scrapped - these vessels were passed on to other live-saving agencies. Its predecessor went to China, for example.

We talked about various aspects of life with boats. I made it quite clear that I knew very little about them, merely having been brought up by the seaside, but, encouraged by our rapport, I mentioned in passing a recent dream in which I had applied for a job as the PA to the managing director of a Littlehampton boat-building firm. The interview had begun conventionally, then it had been sidetracked as I showed unexpected interest and passion for the practical aspects of boat construction, with a visit to the yard, discussions with the skilled men, and eventually formulating a ongoing business plan that had the directors offering me a position without further formality. How strange was that? I didn't even know whether, in real lfe, there was still any boatbuilding anywhere along the Sussex coast! But the dream had been vivid, and possibly was pointing me in a direction to take. Something connected with the sea. Obviously, my seafaring Scandinavian blood.

As an uncontrived exercise in successful passing, by which I mean behaving naturally and not arousing any suspicions, this was surely rather a triumph. It was certainly a stiffer test than getting through a supermarket checkout without bother.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Creepy

A couple of days ago I took a friend to Gatwick Airport for her flight back to Scotland. As I drove into the Short Stay car park I got a ticket to retain until it was time to leave. You know: you feed the thing into a payment machine, fiddle around with your credit card details, and then you get it back in a state ready for the exit barrier - assuming you can find your car in time!

Well, I went through the usual procedure, and happened to glance at the exit-enabled ticket. I was amazed to see this:


As you can see, Fiona's registration mark - SC10 CUR - was printed on the ticket! How was that possible? How did they know it was Fiona (and therefore probably me), and not just any anonymous car? Creepy.

There was no time for speculation. One hour had cost me £5.60 - it was worse than parking in Brighton - and having photographed the ticket for later pondering, I set off for where I thought I'd left my car. I'd made a careful note: Blue car park, level 1, row K. But how to actually get there was like finding your way into a Klein bottle.

For part of the way, the young man who had paid on the adjacent machine was with me, and while we experimented with a lift to another level, I asked him how Fiona's registration might get printed on the ticket. He thought there was a security camera facing each car that stopped at the entrance barrier, and that an automated link between this and the printer might be the answer. This certainly sounded plausible, although very Big Brotherish if true! (That's Big Brother in the Orwellian sense)

I did eventually find Fiona, and I wasn't sorry to get away from Gatwick Airport as rapidly as possible. It had seemed an overlarge, unfriendly place, in which it was easy to get disorientated and lost. A factory for processing travellers. It wasn't always like this. Back in 1971 and 1972, when going to Mallorca in a family party, the place had seemed intimate and comprehensible. Guernsey Airport in 2010 had the same pleasant feel, despite its modernity: it wasn't too big, you could park close by, you could see the planes, and you actually walked to them over the tarmac and climbed stairs to get inside! And there was no oppressive security to make you vaguely fearful. Guernsey Airport still had about it some of the old excitement of flying. Not like trekking through the echoing halls and corridors of a much larger place, then down a tube into a crowded capsule.

The largest airport I've seen so far was the one at Hong Kong. It was an architectural triumph: its vast roof and open-plan design gave it a spacious feel. But each part looked very much the same.



I was there in 2007, coming home from New Zealand with M---. While awaiting our flight back to London Heathrow, she wandered off for some exercise and lost her way. She didn't have her mobile phone. We both had an anxious time before she finally made it back, with ten minutes to spare, to where I'd stayed put with our hand luggage. That was scary, but it wouldn't put me off going to Hong Kong again - a colourful and fascinating place.

The worst impression left by any airport I've been to was by LAX, Los Angeles International, on the way out to New Zealand in 2007. The waiting areas were grey and dirty and prison-like. And the suspicious officials were surly and rude. Or at least the one I encountered was.


This was also the place where I twice had to undergo a hands-on security search of my person. It made me convinced, later on, especially when body scans were announced, that international flights were a complete no-no until I'd had my surgery, and had secured all the proper documents that might conceivably be asked for if my gender were in doubt. Otherwise argument and humiliation were going to result - especially at airports like LAX.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Getting a job

Anyone following my blog with attention over the last year will have noted regular comments about my dwindling financial resources. The sale last August of the Cottage helped immensely to stop the rot. But I still have a house to run, a car to fuel, a normal social life, Christmas and birthdays and holidays to find money for, and not least ongoing electrolysis to pay for. All on a pension that many would regard as pretty good, but all the same is still less than average earnings. I have no other income.

Since the Cottage went, I've been putting money away in my savings account every month by standing order, but really it's only to spread my costs. My forward figurings show that it'll all get drawn out again over the next year. It'll be 2014 before I will actually start to make headway with my savings. Salvation will come with a big bang in November 2014, when my State Pension kicks in. Then I can finally save big time, and eventually (for example) afford a trip to New Zealand to see my step-daughter.

Meanwhile, some extra cash would be handy. The obvious answer is to get a job.

However...

Yes, it's not so simple. The present dire state of the jobs market is well known. There is certainly work out there, but a lot of it isn't suitable for my age or physical limitations. My old job hasn't left me with skills that I can readily sell, not after seven years of retirement. I'd be willing to try something very different, but I can see that I'd be coming up against the same problem as most people: if the job isn't local, then travelling expenses will take a big bite out of the net pay. A bus pass (available when I'm 60 in July) isn't much use when you live outside the city - I'd have to drive in Fiona, and park her too, maybe at some cost. Then there's income tax and national insurance contributions. I get nothing from any further NIC paid - money down the drain, which would be highly annoying. If I was taken on at the legal minimum wage - highly likely - I might not be very much better off for the effort made, and the leisure time foregone. Which negates the entire point of finding a job in the first place!

Office work would suit my past experience best, but if I'm going to sit on my bottom in some office, maybe in front of a computer screen, thumping a keyboard all day, I think I'd be better off at home. At least I can then take a break when I like, and avoid enforced inactivity. It wouldn't help my weight problem one bit.

Which brings up the subject of control. I've escaped from the tyranny of managers. I've had seven years of undiluted freedom from someone overseeing what I do, telling me what they want done, and having to work within a team. Seven years of rule-free existence. Seven years of living without restrictions and personality clashes and insane procedures. Although middling-senior in my Department, I was never completely in charge of my daily life. At the moment I am. I don't think I would easily be able to adapt to imposed control again. Certainly not as a shop assistant or a shelf stacker. I'd tolerate most anything to save my life, of course; but when I simply want extra cash for holidays the price to pay, the likelihood of being at someone's beck and call, is not attractive.

And then there's the risk of victimisation. I'm trans, and whatever my superficial skills at passing, the fact will be noticed and people will react to it, whether boss or colleagues. It may make it very hard to land a job in the first place. But even if I'm successful, someone is bound to make life difficult for me. Do I really want that hassle? Admittedly the law can help me. Once I have my GRC, the Equality Act will be there to use as a woman can use it, not simply as a trans person. But of course it's a big gun that won't assist much in day-to-day life at work. It won't stop the little comments and glances amd appraising looks and sly jokes that I'm not supposed to hear, but will.

I don't need a job to stave off boredom. Nor to meet people. Just for the cash. That's a very good reason for seeking work, but then there's a moral issue here too. There are many people who also need a job - downhearted youngsters not long out of school, desperate mothers and fathers with children to look after, pensioners who live in virtual poverty - and I do ask myself whether it's right to take a job from someone who needs it more. I'm not highly principled, nor do I possess much of a social conscience, but this kind of thinking has run through my mind. I do live comfortably, and I'd want the extra money only for personal reasons, not to survive. Would it be selfish to 'steal' work from someone else? Because I'm sure I could. I'd make a good impression at any interview, if I got that far, and the interviewer wasn't put off by my age or transness. But would it be the moral thing to do?

Too much analysis?

I feel a bit like a posh privileged child wanting to play at Going To Work. Unfair? Well, look at the bottom line: if I got a job, and I didn't like it, I could walk out and it would make no great difference to me. I wouldn't go hungry, nor have to make drastic economies. People who genuinely need to work can't walk out as they please.

Or, even more fundamentally, am I just lazy by nature? My Mum always thought I was never cut out for work. All this agonising may simply be a way of finding excuses not to work at all. Some would say that's exactly the case. And it's probably true. Sigh.

At Melford Hall, comfortably ensconced on the settee, Lucy picks up a copy of Country Life and idly flicks the glossy pages. The fire crackles. Withers, her butler, enters.

Withers: 'Will you be going out this afternoon, my Lady?'

Lucy: 'No, Withers, it's a bit cold. I'll just have tea as usual.'

Withers: 'Very good, my Lady.'

Friday, 10 February 2012

Targeted

No, nothing sinister here - at least I don't think so. I'm talking about phone calls from call centres, and emails from commercial firms.

The phone calls first. They generally come around midday, and I get two or three every week. Always on my landline number, never on the mobile phone. I don't often answer them. Certainly, if I'm on the loo or in the shower I let the phone ring. And when I dial '1471' to find out who it was, I'll know it was a sales or marketing call, because 'the caller has withheld their number'. A dead giveaway.

Even if free to answer, I still tend to let the phone ring. Experience tells me that it's simply not worth the bother of picking the phone up. It'll be someone trying to find out about me, paving the way for a follow-up call from someone else. You know, one of those soft and easy 'market research' calls designed to make you divulge an awful lot of personal information, so that not long afterwards there will be a harder, more focussed follow-up call, now they know what they might be able to sell you.

Inevitably I will answer some of these calls by accident. I will certainly pick up the phone if I'm actually expecting a call. It happened yesterday - a typical example. A friend was with me for lunch, and I wouldn't normally have bothered to answer, but I thought it just might be my personal Gender Recognition Panel admin contact (my application has arrived safely, and I've had a written acknowledgement). Well, it wasn't. I heard a few seconds of call centre noise, then the person phoning me asked if he could speak with 'Mr D---'.

As usual nowadays, I was astonished. If he meant my father, dead almost three years now, then what kind of ancient list was he working from? And if he meant the old me, non-existent for over two years, it was almost as puzzling. I said that 'Mr D---' no longer lived here, and could he delete him from the call list, please? An immediate agreement to do so. But I know that I will get more calls asking to speak with 'Mr D---', if not from that call centre, then from another.

A couple of days before, I'd had a very similar call, not specifically asking for anyone in particular, only asking me to confim up front that I was the householder. I knew what would come next, and I played the game for a few more seconds. Yes, I was the householder. Sure enough, the caller then launched into a spiel. The words 'market research' were avoided. Instead it was 'I'd like to have three minutes of your time - it'll be to your advantage.' No thanks, and I put the phone down on him. What a waste of my time and his. But then it must be a proven approach, so that (say) one call in fifty hooks someone in and leads to a sale.

What sort of person? Who in their right mind would discuss their personal life, or their buying needs, with an unseen stranger at the end of a phone line, who hasn't properly explained who they are and what their business is? The idiotic? The lonely? The confused? Or perhaps simply anyone who lacks the verbal assertiveness to say 'Sorry, I've had enough of this, and I'm ending the call.' Click. Goodbye. End of unwanted intrusion.

Turning to another form of targeting, I've had three emails in the last week or so, all inviting me to set up a link.

The first was from the 'moderator' of the 'gonifo group' on Yahoogroups.com. The message was that I'd been made a member: it needed only a 'yes' click on a link to complete the setup. Well, it was a terse 'no' to that. A quick look on Yahoo told me that the group's area of interest was 'v53jnu743xvaq'. I couldn't make anything of that, and didn't feel inclined to be curious. I suspected something nefarious.

The second was from Simone at tvChix. I'd been selected for their TopList of people offering services and advice to their members. Again, no thanks. I'd briefly been a member of tvChix myself. I'd discovered it was primarily a dating site for transvestites and crossdressers of all kinds. It included many male tranny-fanciers. It wasn't really the right website for properly transsexual people - the sort compelled to live the life in all its aspects, good or bad, rather than just dress up for gratification and pleasure. It was not like Rose's or The Angels, and I didn't now want to be associated with it. Nor did I offer any services. And however informative my blog might be, it wasn't relevant to the the main aims of tvChix. I was midly surprised that Simone had thought me worth contacting. She took my polite refusal very nicely.

The third email was from Eden Carlsen-Rouselle of ProdigalSon Ventures Inc. I think Eden must be a girl. Anyway, she said how much she liked my blog, and could I agree to a link between it and her company, which offered superior-quality goods (breast forms were specifcally mentioned) to the transgender and crossdressing communities. Another polite 'no' and another equally nice reaction to that. But, hang on, how could my blog possibly be taken as a hot spot for crossdressers and TVs likely to be interested in this company's products? I felt mild annoyance that Eden didn't perceive what kind of person I was. Not good business.

You can see that I tend to be impatient with phone calls, but much more polite with emails, at least if the approach is reasonable. But in either case, I dislike being targeted, whatever the flattery employed. And whether it's a phone call or an email, I would like to see a law banning all unsolicited approaches from commercial companies. Across the board, with no exceptions. And I don't care if this throws anyone out of work. Freedom from unwanted contact is much more important.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Trans Media Watch gives its evidence to The Leveson Inquiry

TMW submitted their written evidence today. If you visit The Leveson Inquiry website you can read that submission, and also a transcript of the oral evidence given in the afternoon to Lord Leveson in court by Ms Helen Belcher for TMW - you need to read pages 36 to 69. (I'd put in a link to click on, but for some reason Blogger refuses to let me)

I think TMW have made a pretty noble effort. I do hope it has the desired effect, which is to put in place some recommendations that should clean up the press reporting of events or issues that involve trans people.

The examples given of prejudicial or damaging articles directed against trans people - either individually or as a group in society - seem well-chosen and fair. You do wonder at the corporate mentality of the newspapers concerned. Do they really think that this stuff could interest anyone of intelligence and proper feeling? Or do they simply want the money, and are prepared to publish any salacious rubbish to that end?

TMW's examples of bad journalism hurtful to trans people are disturbing. And it's more than just the disrespectful tone. The basic approach of these articles - as I apprehend it anyway - reminds me of how the repression and persecution of the Jews, gypsies and other 'degenerates' began in Germany during the 1930s. And in other places too, wherever there are those who are well-protected and those who are not. First you single out your chosen scapegoats; then you ridicule them; then you attack them; then you dehumanise them and strip them of all their rights. No doubt the staff on some of these papers have absolutely no intention of provoking the outrages characteristic of the Nazi regime. But those who read these papers, and unthinkingly lap up what they offer as 'true news', might totally accept what they read, and decide that trans people - whether children or adults - deserve to be harmed. It is right to stop this tendency going any further.

No doubt the press will pick holes in the evidence put up by TMW. For instance, I spotted one very minor inconsistency concerning the true cost of NHS genital surgery for MTFs, which was '£10,000 to £15,000' in one place but '£12,000 to £15,000' in another. In fact this wouldn't alter one whit the basic point being made: that the true cost of genital surgery is nowhere near the £60,000 carelessly being quoted by the online version of The Express newspaper. Express reporters please note: I paid £10,500 to have it done privately a year ago.

So well done, TMW.

I noticed however that nothing about this evidence made the main BBC news in the evening. The triumph of a certain Mr Redknapp over the HMRC was clearly more important. In case you weren't aware of it - why should you be? - Mr Redknapp is an important football manager. Oddly enough, he claims to be so unlettered that he can hardly scribble a sentence, nor type out an email on a computer. Perhaps just the sort then to be influenced by the humorous, lowbrow, easy-to-digest style of one of these offending tabloids.

This is getting annoying

For days now, I've been unable to get any mobile phone reception in my local area. I was putting it down to the very high atmospheric pressure, the cold weather, the snow, but I've now discovered that Vodafone's coverage is being affected by a 'temporary fault'. Right. So it's a question of waiting till it's fixed. But meanwhile, it's inconvenient and quite annoying.

I do of course have a landline, and I do have broadband, and so I can receive and make landline voice calls, look at the Internet, and receive and send emails using the PC. But it's not nearly so quick and convenient. The two telephone handsets in the house are of course tethered (one in the hall, one next to the PC in the study; there isn't one in my lounge where I want to remain all curled up and cosy). And firing up the PC just to check for emails is a procedure that takes several minutes, not only because the PC still runs overbloated Windows Vista, but also because of those pesky pop-ups that remind me that 'a new update is ready to install' for this and that. It seems that the startup process halts in its tracks unless you dismiss each of these. The Java one especially winds me up. It never seems to get the message that I really don't want to know. I'm not the slightest bit excited about a Java update, nor an Adobe Reader update come to that. I am mildly interested in Windows updates, but only when I have the time and inclination, say every couple of weeks. Meanwhile, they can all push off. How dare they all get in the way of instant access to what really matters!

But access to texts, emails and the Internet is fast and easy on my mobile phone, and there are no pop-up reminders. No wonder mobile phones have made home computers almost redundant for communication. Although they are most definitely not a cheap alternative. And that's partly why one's feathers get ruffled very easily when the service is less than perfect. But sheer comfort and convenience matter too. It's cold outside: I don't want to go out, and take my phone high up onto the South Downs, just to get a signal from the Brighton transmitter, or relay, or whatever apparatus propagates the texts and emails that I'm expecting, and can't presently get.

Thank goodness I'm not pathetically addicted to Facebook or Twitter. The agony would be intense. Extreme cold turkey indeed.

SEQUEL
No sooner were these ranting words sent into the Ether, than service was restored. And it's better than before. A signal to die for. Thank you, Vodafone. But I'm not retracting my scorn of Facebook et al.

Monday, 6 February 2012

It's on its way!

My GRC application form, with all the supporting documents, has now been posted using Royal Mail's 'Special Delivery Next Day' service. The cost was £7.00. This included £500 worth of compensation if the stuff sent got lost, quite enough to cover the fees for replacing items such as my passport, driving licence and Decree Absolute.

Now I wait. This is Monday. I ought to get at least an acknowledgement by Friday, in accordance with what I was told recently when I phoned an admimistrator at Leicester, and also on Mel Harrison's experience - see Mel's Musings. Then maybe a Panel decision by the end of the month.

It all feels very much like when I applied for my new 'female' passport and driving licence in January 2010. The big logistical task of getting everything ready. The nightmare of filling in forms exactly to requirements. The catharsis of posting it all off. Then frightening thoughts, such as that I'd made some ghastly procedural mistake, and would fail. Then the unbounded joy when my hopes were fulfilled.

This time I'm more confident. I'm not totally without doubt. But, considering the quality of the 'evidence' I've presented, surely the Panel will have no difficulty?

We'll see.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Her indoors

'Her indoors' was the name used by the dodgy character Arthur Daley in the 1980s TV series Minder when referring to his wife. He always said this with a kind of shudder, as if he'd be for it 'if the wife found out'. We never saw her; she sounded like the kind of termagant and intimidating woman that Arthur (and we the viewers) had best avoid!

The wife-with-the-rolling-pin-in-her-hand is of course one of the stock portrayals of domestic women, recognisable in Florrie or Flo, the wife of Andy Capp (the cartoon creation of Reg Smythe), who, apart from a certain famous monkey, seems to be Hartlepool's best-known inhabitant. Lest anyone think I'm being snooty about coastal towns on Teesside, I would like to mention that I made a special trip to Hartlepool when caravanning in Yorkshire in 2010, just to see it and appraise it fairly. It was admittedly a rather grey day late in the year, so I wasn't presented with its summer face. Here are some of my pix:







The last shot emphasises that Hartlepool has a maritime heritage. And the others make the point that all streets in the old part have a sea view at least, and even Andy Capp looks out over the harbour, albeit with a pint of beer in his hand.

In the days when Mr Capp could be the very model of the Working-Class Man - surely an ancient pre-1939 model now - he had a cartoon wife to match. Whether slopping around in slippers in a Hartlepool house, or fat and red-faced on a beach in a cheeky seaside postcard, it was always the sort of wife who was overweight, feisty, assertive to the point of 'wearing the trousers', and inclined to nag.

A myth, of course. Very few of the aunts I recall from my childhood were able to rule the roost. I'm not saying they weren't strong and clever women - life was harder then, and they had to be quite tough in many ways. But social conditions denied them starring roles. Even if he were a drunken layabout, the husband had the power and the precedence. More so if he had a good job, a managerial position, and ruled in the home as he ruled at work. The man was the important person inside his domain. He was the breadwinner, an unanswerable economic fact. He made the decisions that mattered. The wife might have her say, but she had to defer, because the husband could insist. Even more so once she was tethered by motherhood. The notion that a wife's wishes naturally come second to the husband's has taken a very long time to fade away, and is certainly not dead yet.

I don't know if Andy Capp is still gracing the pages of the Daily Mirror, but that style of humour, and the social standards that underpin it, are nowadays very old-fashioned. But not forgotten. Certainly among the age-group that might take an interest in me, there might easily be an assumption that once whisked up the aisle I'll be at their beck and call, first as a kind of slave, and eventually as a kind of nurse.

The white wedding scenario is one of the things that the GRC will bring into the frame, ludicrous though it might seem to some. A lot of my trans friends cherish the dream of having a partner, especially a partner who Knows All and is willing to commit to them in matrimony. Nothing wrong with that. And even if the knot is tied, and the dream fails, modern divorce provisions can untie it. So it's not necessarily a life sentence.

But if you're older, the idea of settling down for one last time is a step not lightly taken. We can joke about landing an elderly millionaire, and coming into the cash after putting up with him for a short while. In reality there will be two inter-dependent persons who must get on with each other if the enterprise is to succeeed. For perhaps more years than one might guess. And if the male half thinks that he can boss his wife around, then it will be hell on earth.

Now I believe I'm perceptive enough to detect anyone with old-fashioned ideas. And cautious enough not to rush into any commitments. But it's a risk, all the same, to get into an entanglement. It seems to me that the average chap out there still thinks that men are the rightful kings, the stronger sex, the best judges of what's what. 'Equality' does not mean 'you stick to your role, and I won't interfere'. It means equal power, equal consideration, no assumed precedence, no assumed superiority.

But off my cloud, back into the real world. What if one day, after a year or two of no attention whatever, I bump into a nice person who buys me flowers and treats me to a whirlwind romance?

Friday, 3 February 2012

What would Mum have made of it?

Today is the third anniversary of my Mum's death in 2009. I am well past the sorrowful stage now, but I still don't fully understand our pre-transition relationship, and no doubt I'll be pondering that for a long time ahead. Perhaps some insight will eventually come - or not. It may not matter. But I will always want to mark this kind of event with at least a brief mention. After all, blogs are essentially diaries, and diaries contain notes on things past, as well as things to come.

Both my parents were very important to me. I feel now that I always had more rapport with Dad, and that my relationship with him was consciously simpler. My interaction with Mum was less direct, more careful, possibly more confused. And yet I loved her, and had many good moments with her. The occasions I liked best were when it was just her and me, taking a country walk somewhere. She loved walking; and when my parents lived in Liphook, not far from beautiful places such as the Frensham Commons, or Waggoners Wells, or the Devils Punch Bowl at Hindhead, there was ample scope for memorable walks in wonderful surroundings. Often in the keen air of early spring or late autumn. So despite the rather messy end of our relationship - she died of cancer, sleepy with morphine, unaccepting of myself as Lucy, the topic shelved and never discussed again before she died - I have, overriding this, many fond remembrances.

But not of any especial closeness, certainly not of hugs and kisses. Neither Mum nor Dad were physically or emotionally expressive. Perhaps that was down to their upbringing, generation, and notions of what was proper behaviour. I remember Mum being scornful of another family we knew, who tended to weep and wail at every tragedy. My parents were not cold: indeed they were very friendly people, often at the centre of local social events, and well-regarded. But the 'stiff upper lip' idea, especially the notion of not 'giving in to emotion' obviously affected me, and made it difficult for me to be impulsively warm. I never learned how. We did not embrace; and that is possibly why I still find it so hard to make skin-on-skin contact with anyone. But they also imbued me with standards of head-over-heart self-reliance (and maybe self-protection and assertiveness) that I have reason to be thankful for.

As I said, Mum couldn't cope with the idea that I had always been a girl waiting to get out. Had she lived, I wonder what she would now make of her child. Here I am, having Sunday Lunch last weekend at a Brighton pub called The Fat Georges - referring to the four King Georges, and especially George IV:


My meal looks enormous, but that was the effect of the wide-angle lens. Honest.

Supposing it had instead been a lunch with Mum and Dad? They'd see me across the table, looking like this. What would they think? Would they say to themselves, at the very least, 'Well it's turned out for the best, after all.' Of course, I can never know. But I'd like to imagine that they would have achieved acceptance by now.

They would have seen me in many other situations too. I was always happy to go out with them. Yesterday I went to visit my cousin R--- in Kent, and here I am with one of R---'s little Yorkie dogs on my lap. It's her oldest Yorkie, now aged 15, with one eye lost, but her favourite. This little creature is also called Lucy, so it's The Two Lucys:


Surely Mum would now see the daughter that had been hidden inside her 'son'?

Perhaps it's best left as an open question. It can never be answered.