The Ladyboys of Bangkok are back in town. Their show opened in Brighton last Friday, and is very popular indeed, and not just among the transsexual or transvestite communities: the general public have taken the Ladyboys to their heart, and getting tickets to see their performances is not so very easy. But then, the Ladyboys more-or-less kickstart the entire annual Brighton Festival, and the best performances in the Festival are always a sellout. Although with so much alternative stuff going on, a dedicated follower of this outpouring of culture and comedy can't fail to find something to see (or take part in) throughout the day at locations dotted around Brighton and Hove, many of them in pubs and even private homes, not just the 'official' venues.
But back to the Ladyboys. A friend of mine, who enjoys them very much, tells me that back in Thailand they have no special legal position, indeed no rights as such, but do occupy a recognised position in Thai society as a kind of 'third sex'. And this is without undergoing castration and becoming one of a special holy caste, as happens elsewhere in the East, India I believe. So if a Thai male person feels his calling in life is to live as a woman, then it can be done without the social finger-pointing and ridicule (and potential danger) that besets such a person in the West. Of course, earning a living is something else. And plainly the sex trade or the entertainment industry are the chief practical occupations for a young, beautiful ladyboy from a poor background. But how much better than ending up a head case or a suicide statistic somewhere in the UK because in your town they just don't understand...
That said, there are signs that the trans scene is changing apace. Again and again, That Programme, meaning My Transsexual Summer, is mentioned as affecting the views of the general public for the better. Certainly, anybody watching MTS over its short lifespan last year would, if they were fair-minded, have got the impression that transsexual people are ordinary girls and guys who have ordinary and non-sensational aims in life - the things we all want, like a job, success, the love of close ones. And not freaks in any way, nor cobbled-together abominations, nor pageant queens, nor mentally disturbed. Trans people have parents and brothers and sisters. Trans people have natal girl and boy friends. Trans people can be highly educated, very knowledgeable, worth listening to, accomplished and talented, with vim and determination and social skills. Trans people want to work and be useful, and not to be a drag on everyone else, nor treated as perpetual medical cases. Trans people can be very attractive, great characters, nice to know, loving, gentle, useful caring and responsible people, champions of the best causes, not just their own. They are out and proud, and some are undeniably strident, but it's now OK to say you're trans, and to be doing something to fit yourself better into society, and make a proper go of it all. And it really is something that you can tell people about without shame. It's not something you need to hush up, or lamely admit to if pressed. And you expect to be given more than just a dog's chance. Trans people are part of the Big Society... right?
It's noticeable how, at The Clare Project in Brighton, more new faces are attending, and mostly they look very good and behave not like frightened mice or crazy parodies but as normal, confident human beings who have found their natural way of living, and just want to meet others in the same boat while they go through the necessary transition process. Rather different from when I took my own first steps into the trans world only four years ago. Then I felt exposed, a potential hate crime victim, certainly a potential target for embarrassing street incidents. And looking back at my photos of late 2008, and throughout 2009, I'm still amazed that nothing happened in public to turn me into a terrified outcast, afraid to show my face anywhere.
The same 2008 face would fare better in the streets nowadays. The social climate has evolved, and there are more of us to share worthwhile tips and techniques, more scope for finding trans friends when they are most needed, many more places to go to where one might enjoy life as ordinary people enjoy it. And although the skilful presentation made at the Leveson Inquiry (to highlight the shabby press attention given to trans people over the years) will probably not have much impact on public perception, at least in the short term, it's a sign of the times that such evidence is now taken seriously and given weight.
I never felt quite comfortable going to specifically trans events, such as Transister in Brighton. I felt on parade. It was a 'safe space' but also a commercial exploitation that really only offered a chance to dress up in the typical 'tranny uniform' and 'enjoy' another kind of disco experience while sipping expensive drinks. Not really much glamour there. Or fun. I'm not doing it again. I never made it to Sparkle in Manchester, nor clubbed at Pink Punters in Milton Keynes, nor the Way Out Club or other clubs in London, and I will never go now. Why would any ordinary woman wish to go?
I'd sooner lunch smartly at the Randolph Hotel in Oxford, then wander around the Ashmolean. Or join the windy queue at Stonehenge; or walk a Coastal Path; or go beachcombing; or spend a morning at the National Gallery; or see another operatic production at The Grange; or simply sit in a nice sunny pub amid a score of other ordinary people, and chat with them if I feel so inclined. You can see what I'm getting at: life has become a lot fuller and more sophisticated lately for all trans people, if they want it to be like that. You don't need to attend garish heels-and-mini events to demonstrate that you're a Girl. Nor do you need to be loud. Quietly consuming coffee and a teacake (or a six-item breakfast!) in the restaurant at Debenhams at Brighton or Taunton or Middlesbrough is quite enough. That's what women do, when they want to fuel themselves up for a two-hour browse around the shops. And also because Debenhams usually have nice loos. Women often shop with a friend or daughter; but if you're alone it's still all right. So much is fine and kosher nowadays.
Ordinary life...at one time it seemed impossible to arrive at this point. When parents and partner had reacted badly, when only that inner flame that could not be quenched told me that it had to be transition, at whatever personal cost, or suffer a slow living death of mind and spirit. And now I'm here. And others will get here as well. As indeed many already have. All achieving that peace and stability. All merging into British Everyday Life. It has to be good for society if wrongly-perceived people are allowed to sort out their lives and become better citizens.
Some things remain out of reach - motherhood, for instance. But perhaps not grandmotherhood. While up in London a couple of days back I did something that made me feel exactly like a doting grandmother. I won't say what - yet - but it was so much fun, and I want more of it.
By the way, this is the very first post put together on my new Sony tablet. I used the bluetooth keyboard, and that made getting the words out easy and quick. I did it in an imagined caravanning situation where I didn't have wi-fi on site, but could compose offline, then go into a nearby town, get online there, copy and paste the text into the Blogger 'new post' text box, and then publish.
It didn't go quite as expected. I found that copying slightly formatted text directly from a Word document didn't work, even though it should have. So, just this first time, I pasted it into a notes app (ColorNote), where it automatically showed up as plain text, but with paragraphing apparently intact. I then copied this plain text and pasted it into Blogger. But it all came out as one long screed without paragraphs when published! Oh dear! I had to fire up the PC and edit into a proper form - as you see it now.
Clearly I need a better workaround than this. So until I find one, please find a way to endure my tablet experiments. I do hope to have the technique sorted out before going off to the Cotswolds late in May.