Sunday, 26 August 2012

Gay marriage

A few days ago my boiler got its annual service. It's done by the man who did it for my parents, when they were alive. M--- is semi-retired, says he doesn't need the money, but he likes the work, has all the necessary certificates, and specialises in elderly gas boilers. He's a useful man to know then. Mine's a Potterton of at least twenty years vintage. It's simple and very reliable. Over the years, M--- has replaced this component and that, so that essentially it's up to date and ought to soldier on for many years to come. And last spring I had a digital programmer installed, thus bringing my control of hot water and central heating into the 21st century.

M--- is ten years older than me, and very much of the 'older generation', but he has somehow accepted the progression in my appearance from the androgynous person he first knew to the me that the world now sees. The obvious changes haven't made him awkward with me. Good for him.

He likes a chat. In fact he likes a good discussion so much that I'm sure he arranges his schedule so that he never usually has more than two jobs a day, one in the morning, and one in the afternoon. Last Thursday he was in my house for over two hours, and we still had a chat outside by his van before he finally drove off. The topics vary. His work puts him in touch with a great variety of people. So his anecdotes are interesting. M--- generally recounts his own experiences, and tells me his own views. He doesn't normally ask me what I think about some topic of the day. But he did this time. Straight out, he asked me what I thought of Gay Marriage.

I rapidly wondered what lay behind the question, but then thought that he'd caught some news item on the radio (the opposition of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland) and genuinely wanted to know what other people like me might think.

I said that I had no strong views. Partly because I wasn't gay, and partly because I wasn't religious. As I understood it, the question was whether same-sex couples should have access not only to a civil ceremony, but to a holy ceremony with religious vows: the formal White Wedding in a church, sanctioned by God. I could see that there was a psychological difference between the two kinds of matimony. I could appreciate that for a same-sex couple, access to the sanctified ceremony might mean much. At the same time, I was not unsympathetic to the feelings of the minister, whatever his denomination, who might genuinely believe that his church could not allow the ceremony, and that, in a theological context, it was fundamentally wrong. Such ministers shouldn't be compelled to officiate.

In short, I could see both points of view, but did not identify with either side of the argument. And as it was highly unlikely that I would myself ever remarry, it was not an issue that mattered to me.

We promptly changed the subject. M--- didn't pursue it. Perhaps, after all, he'd wanted to hear me say whether I was gay or not. Well, he'd had my response.

Of course, a transsexual person can't say 'I'm not gay' without further clarification. In the mirror-image world trans people inhabit, what would have been 'straight' in the old life has now become 'gay'. And vice versa. But I doubt whether M--- appreciated this.

If pressed further, I could have said that just now I think I have a sexual preference for female persons - I love the beauty, the curves, the delicacy, the gracefulness, the hairlessness. But that hasn't been put to any test, nor have I any plans to fling myself at some woman, whether natal or trans. So I may never find out for certain.

I think it's likely that at some future point, when the hormones have finally made me pretty enough, some half-blind man will attempt to woo me. I'll have no objection to the attention, and might enjoy what they have to say, but I can't see myself responding sexually, chiefly because I find men's bodies offputting (they're too angular, too muscular, too hairy).

In any case, my overriding aversion to entanglements is going to keep the lid on sexual adventures, and make a definitive judgement on my orientation impossible. I may end up being a paragon of celibacy, though ironically the churches that would ban same-sex marriage would ban my very existence on principle.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012


My Mum once told me that I had a cold heart. And more than one partner in my life has asserted that I do not know what Love is, or what it entails. That I am emotionally crippled in some ways.

All this negative lifelong indoctrination has accustomed me to thinking that I am incapable of giving or receiving Love in its fullest sense. So much so, that it hardly seems worth investigating what it may be all about! After all, if others (who profess to know) find you deficient, why then struggle? You are what you are: surely locked forever into your own ignorance and insensitivity.

And yet, from my own point of view, Love does not seem incomprehensible. Merely difficult. And the same people who sadly dismiss my capacity to engage in Love will nevertheless recount past moments when I did make a loving gesture, or acted selflessly in the name of Love. The picture is inconsistent. Both their memories and my acts.

I suspect that several things are going on here.

First, that Love as a concept is multi-faceted and some emphasise one type of love, some another. It's not easy to be sure that we are talking about the same thing.

Second, Love is often - indeed usually - conflated with lust and desire and passion, and the supply of satisfying sex. Clearly these are all related, but there are types of love that do not involve any sort of physical expression - the love of a home, of a place, or one's country, for example - just as there are types of love where the gratification of desire is absolutely essential.

Third, Love generates huge emotions and feelings. It can make you feel completely wonderful and uplifted. It can take you down. Certainly, 'being in love' is a much better, healthier state than 'being bereft of love'. Medically speaking, love that goes well may be very good for you indeed. But love given in vain, and the jealousy arising from a type of uncontrolled love, can corrode and destroy. Nor are loving impulses always wise or good in their effect, even though they may be well-intentioned (and because of that, often excused, 'because they were done for Love's sake').  

Fourth, Love is a mental thing too, a focus for the highest, most perfect ideals imaginable. But Love, and the person or thing or principle loved, tends to end up on a pedestal. For those who are idealistic, this is clearly dangerous, because where idealism comes in, reality goes out. So much that is unloving has been done in the name of Love.

Fifth, there is the notion that Love is cleansing, pure, untarnishable, a solemn sacrament, a promise never to be broken. All the stuff of the White Wedding. The real-life effects of pressure from family and society, personal selfishness and other failings, the passage of time, and inevitable ageing and ill-health, are all ignored. And so a gap opens up between the dream and what is actually achievable. Love is fragile. It takes a battering. It may get chipped and dirty. It may not endure. This reality underlies every discussion of Love.

Sixth, Love requires effort and intensity, and plenty of time. You need to feed it and nourish it. It's hard work. It's a challenge to keep it fresh. This is no problem to the inventive and energetic. But laziness and time-starvation are the enemies of Love.

Seventh, Love is often given a very personal slant by people, based on their own lives and experience, and they develop an attitude from that. A lot of people have strong and implacable opinions about Love, and will explain The Word to you whether you ask to hear or not. Some have been treated well by Love, and some have been hurt. If you have been damaged, and few escape that, it may sour and warp your judgement on the merits of Love, and whether you will ever seek it again. I fancy that the doctors and experts who write in magazines about Love, must surely base their advice on no more than what they personally know. For whatever that is worth. It's the only way to write with conviction.

Eighth, Love requires intimacy. If you can't let your partner into your heart, into your head, and into your body, then there will be problems ahead.

Ninth, Loves requires warmth, tenderness, kindness and gentleness. Nothing that generates hurt can be Love.

Tenth, Love has many unsaid subtexts. When someone says 'I love you' it can be a short way of wrapping up many messages. They may really mean any or all of these things:

You are my rock.
You put me first.
You give me all your attention.
You make my bad day seem so good.
You heal me.
You make me so happy.
You make me smile.
You make me laugh.
You make me feel so important and wanted.
You are my protector.
You are the strong arm around my shoulders.
You stop me worrying.
You are so generous.
You give me so much.
You are so gentle and forgiving.
You make me forget all my errors and mistakes.
You make each day seem a fresh start.
You make me lose myself in your eyes.
You make this moment so very special.
You understand me.
You listen to me.
You care.
I can't live without you.
You are mine.
I am yours.
I am so proud of you.
You need me.
I need you.
I love your touch and your kiss so much.
You make my eyes shine.
You make me want you so badly.
You have only to say the word and I'm yours.
I want you.
I want us to be together like this forever.

Lines from any love song ever written.

Eleventh, and perhaps most important of all, Love between two people means an intense bonding within a private world. For most people, this must be the most attractive and welcome and best-understood aspect of what Love is. It's a commitment, of course, and life-changing, and not to be lightly undertaken. But also an adventure. A way of finding fulfilment. A way also of wiping the slate clean and starting again, getting it right this time. No wonder so many people see a Relationship as the most important thing to yearn for. No wonder it falls short for those with the wrong attitude or insufficient ability to share and compromise and generally give Love total priority.

Well, those are my ideas of what Love may be about. If some things are missing, then these are the aspects I fall down on, that reveal what I have never known about Love. Do point them out, and I'll see what I can do.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Scott McKenzie dead, but the flowers will never wilt

Today's news is that Scott Mckenzie, whose buoyant 1967 single San Francisco made Californian Hippy Culture the thing to aspire to, has died at age 73. I hope he had flowers in his hair to the last.

1967 was a special year for all who lived through it. Sunshine and sex were the major themes of a year in which an awful lot was overturned. The events of that year wrong-footed the Older Generation. They recoiled in shock and perplexity. I well recall visiting Padstow in Cornwall with Mum and Dad, and encountering some cheerful and gaily-clad young people with flowing hair, handing out flowers with a message of peace and goodwill on their lips. Mum drew me away as if they were lepers. Yet they were an amazing sight in that little town, and I felt my parents had deprived me of a one-chance-only connection with a freer, inspirational existence. I made do with the music.

I had just begun to take serious notice of contemporary pop songs - I was fifteen in 1967 - and especially what was being sung about. A lot of it was incomprehensible, part of the Big Unknown that I thought would be revealed only when I Had A Relationship. But some of the stuff in the charts was easy enough, and I could enjoy it without guilt or confusion. I had started to cut out and keep the printed pop charts in Dad's Daily Express, sticking them into a notebook. I still have that teenage relic. Here is the weekly article for 15 August 1967 (click on the photo to enlarge it): 

By my halidem, Scott McKenzie is Number One! And Welsh Boyo Tom Jones is Number Two! And look at the rest: The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Dave Davies (of The Kinks), The Tremeloes, The Alan Price Set, The Turtles, The Mamas and The Papas, Amen Corner, Desmond Dekker, The Monkees, Otis Redding, Pink Floyd! Great names of Pop. What a roll call, missing only The Beach Boys, The Who, and The Rolling Stones. What a summer to live through. Admittedly the silken ballads of Easy Listening were much in evidence too: The Johnny Mann Singers, Anita Harris, Vikki Carr, Engelbert Humperdinck, Nancy Sinatra. But, you know, I liked those as well, and still do. They were as much part of the scene as the rest.

I used that notebook for three or four years more, soon acquiring the definite habit of listening to Alan Freeman's Sunday afternoon slot every week without fail, and taking careful notes. Here is the page for 17 August 1969, two years later:

Another classic list: The Equals, The Move, The Marmalade, Billy Preston, Donovan, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder again, The Plastic Ono Band, Robin Gibb (of The Bee Gees), and at Number One, The Rolling Stones! Wow. And with them people like Jim Reeves, Zager and Evans, Elvis Presley, Cilla Black, and Clodagh Rogers. I remember drawing the line at the time at Jim Reeves, but I did really like Cilla. She is well-represented even today on my phone, with several songs of hers to listen to and enjoy.

You'll notice that, at the age of seventeen, a tendency to tidiness and analysis has emerged. Those blue arrows. The precise details for new entrants to the chart. I now think this was all symptomatic of a solitary person with not much else to do, the kind of person who had long ago retreated into their shell, their bomb-shelter, listening to the outside world, imagining what it could be like, but not part of it. Not yet. Once I left school - having done my full sentence, with no remission - I went straight into a job, and found an enticing new adult world beckoning. In time I stopped keeping lists of what was in the charts.

But I never forgot Scott McKenzie.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

No passion, no love, no emotion at all?

I'm not an emotional person. I live my life in a middle-of-the-road way, with only occasional dips into real sadness and tears. And I never seem to be more than ordinarily pleased and happy, wild joy eluding me.

For all I know there are zillions of people just like myself. But I've met plenty who do hit those big high and lows. They seem to get something very profound from enjoying (or suffering) whatever experience has pushed them over the edge into the extreme emotional territory that I've never visited. They have told me so. I'm not saying they have always emerged triumphant and undamaged. But they appear able to claim a higher level of living than I have ever achieved. They have gained some kudos, so to speak, where emotional matters are concerned. And, lamely, I have none - despite my own traumatic events, that in adult life have included divorce and family deaths. Apparently I still haven't suffered enough, or been ecstatic enough, to have any standing in this area.

I've often wondered what it must be like for them, to feel so much, and so deeply, and thereby become experts in emotion.

I have wondered what I could be missing, and whether there is a safe method of enlarging one's emotional response a bit at either end of the scale. For seeking sensation is usually a dangerous game. I think there are obvious advantages in keeping cool and controlled where provocations are concerned. But is it quite so good to stay so calm and collected when a more impulsive and carefree nature would yield to impulse, take all the danger and excitement offered, and abandon themselves to it without another thought, giving in to the overpowering emotional surge of the moment but experiencing something absolutely unforgettable? A moment of catharsis, perhaps. Confronting, losing, and finding. Seared by fire.

I've never been able to 'let go'. In fact I've tried desperately hard to avoid situations where giving in to an inpulse might be required. So I've never, even in metaphor, jumped out of the plane not caring about a parachute.

I don't feel inferior to those with a wide emotional capacity. On the whole I'm glad that I don't get easily swept away by just any sudden stimulus.

But why shouldn't I? What's it all about? I am at least curious to know why I'm so circumspect and unadventurous. Is it timidity? Some hang-up that needs sorting out? Or merely the way I'm made?

I've pondered the question of emotional response for a very long time. For decades. I never understood how some people could get so worked up by their beliefs, by patriotism, by injustice, by anger, by fear, or by love, that they would do desperate things. I simply accepted that it was so. I never saw why I wasn't inclined to become a martyr, or a fierce defender of civil liberties, or a berserk fighting soldier. Partly because self-analysis was not my forte. I went no further than saying that because I felt different, I must therefore have quite another kind of emotional life, quite distinct from the emotional lives of those who loved or fought or hated with passion. This was too easy. I was ducking the issue. I should have probed deeper. But then, what has rational enquiry got to do with unconscious impulse? Passionate lovers and passionate killers don't go in for self-analysis either.

When my hormone treatment commenced in 2009, I looked forward to changes in my emotional response. I expected to become unpredictably weepy, for instance; or inclined to grand gestures of delight. Nothing of the sort. I'm pretty certain that the oestragen has paved the way for some modifications, but I have not become a drama queen. In a mild sort of way, I feel 'freed up', more able to express how I really feel, less inhibited, less passive, but that's not saying very much. I think that my slight emotional progress has much more to do with at last knowing what I am, and with all the self-confidence that gives. I feel empowered by being me: the mask is off. I don't think it's much down to a changed body chemistry, or to new connections forming in my brain.

It has been flung at me that a 'real woman' has an outlook and emotional response that I absolutely fail to show. Certainly, most of the women I know are more easily upset than I am. And they seem to have a capacity for putting others first that I signally lack. And commonly they find pleasure in things that would bore me. I can't pretend an interest in certain 'typically female pursuits'. Perhaps, if I'd been exposed to them young enough, and for long enough, I'd have grown to like them. Like I do like ironing and washing up, and keeping things tidy, and cooking. Who can say?

Perhaps most of the 'typical' emotional responses women have are learned. And I could have learned them too, had I the opportunity. But do you learn passion? How? Are you born with it? If so, you must either have it, or you don't. In my case, clearly not. That probably means I'm stuck with my middle-of-the-road emotional life forever!

Sunday, 12 August 2012


Old and grey peeps may remember a song that did very well in the pop charts in 1968, sung with operatic hysteria by Barry Ryan, called Eloise. Well, I'm not going to discuss the song, even though its always been a favourite of mine. I'm going to talk about my new mobile phone also called Eloise.

These devices have to have names, for bluetooth pairing if nothing else! All my personal companions get girls' names (surprise, surprise). The tablet is called Papagena, after the pretty woman Papageno gets to marry at the end of The Magic Flute by Mozart. My old phone, the Nokia, was called Joanna, after my pre-transition alter ego on Second Life, called Joanna Windlow. Just so you know.

Eloise is a Samsung Galaxy SII. Some say that this was the best Android superphone of 2011. It's lately been superseded in 2012 by the SIII, and if you want that (or the HTC One X, its arch rival) you'll currently need to pay out Big Money. But I can't now afford to lash out £500 on a phone. Nor even £36 a month to have one on a contract deal. But last year's model has now become affordable. I judged it time to kiss Joanna goodbye, and welcome Eloise into my life.

I looked at the 3 network, but stayed with Vodafone. I think I got a reasonable deal at their shop in Brighton. Basically I received all the discounts that an entirely new customer would get, simply by accepting a change of phone number, which I didn't mind, especially as I was able to choose from a list of 25 vacant ones. I plumped for something memorable. The bottom line is that I've now got a top-notch phone for £20.50 a month - £5 less than I was paying before. And absolutely nothing to pay up front - so my savings have taken no hit at all. I can't see any flaw. 300 minutes, unlimited texts, 500MB of mobile data usage, and 1GB of free BT Openzone wi-fi when not at home - all completely adequate for me. There are certainly much cheaper deals to be had, and you don't need to look far for them, but then you have to accept a budget phone, and maybe a network that hasn't got the best coverage outside well-populated areas.

Like Joanna, Eloise is a white plastic affair with chrome trim. But whereas Joanna had a small screen to make room for a physical QWERTY keyboard, Eloise is all screen with a virtual keyboard that pops up automatically. The large screen is the killer feature for me: small screens mean very small text, and Joanna's screen was becoming a strain for my sexagenarian eyeballs. Here they are side by side:

Eloise is resting atop a rather nice soft leather case, lined with suede. You can see how my poor tired eyes are going to enjoy the bigger screen. But it's still much smaller than the screen on Papagena, my Sony tablet. So I won't be using Eloise for anything too visually demanding. Papagena will as before be handling the documents, the spreadsheets, the photos, the maps, and the games. But her little sister has nevertheless been loaded up with many of the same the same apps (with no second payment required, if there was a cost). Both being Android creatures means that they share a perfectly synchronised calendar and contact list with the PC at home, which is useful. If pushed, Eloise can do most of what Papagena can do, plus texts and voice calls.

Here's how Eloise's unlock and home screens were looking earlier today:

The wallpaper is a photo of mine, taken in the Brecon Beacons about a year ago. It shows a standing stone called Maen Llia, which lies just off the narrow minor road north of Ystradfellte.

I'm not sure whether I'll get back to South Wales this autumn - I'd love to see my aunt again, and her family, but it's not yet clear whether I can afford it. At least the blame for any lack of funds can't be placed on getting Eloise.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Men in aprons

I've been away for five nights at Lyme Regis, hence the lack of posts!

It was a strange holiday. Nothing upset me, but the mood was not quite right. I was doing it on a tight budget. That meant no meals out. I now see that this was a mistake. So often, I've found pleasant conversation with strangers in pubs and restaurants where I've come for a meal. This time I denied myself that, and although I ate very well in the caravan, I ate alone, and I felt the lack of people-contact. I'm really as gregarious as anyone else, despite my constant assertions that I need space, love the freedom of doing things on my own, and never feel lonely. Next time, I'll make sure that I have enough good company.

However, meeting people can be complicated. It's not going to hold me back, but it's always in my mind: how will I be received? As such, passing isn't a major problem. I'm sure that in a general sort of way people see me as I present myself, and that means they see only a middle-aged woman. They may wonder about me if they give me a jolly good, close-up scrutiny. But most people won't. Kids don't give me a glance: I'm not young, I'm not part of their world, and can be ignored. Older people may be too busy or preoccupied to goggle at me. But there is potential danger from a certain kind of woman who was brought up to feel uncomfortable with anything that isn't quite right and proper. I saw one or two of these give me a piercing look while on holiday. I smiled back. They remained stone-faced. I wondered what, in their eyes, my sin was.

Then of course there are some middle-aged men who are simply not going to be fooled. Despite a very clear and natural female presentation on my part, they will persistently call me 'sir', because they feel absolutely bound to ignore my obvious gender preference. They do it on principle, to demonstrate to other men that they have eyes, and are not taken in. They are quite sure they know exactly what's what. If they can remain polite (as did the man behind the fish counter at Waitrose in Sidmouth) I will ignore their 'sirs', stay natural, and having bought whatever it is (a halibut steak in the Sidmouth instance) I will say thank you, and walk away without a fuss. Secretly I will be a bit nettled, but they are not going to see that I am!

I've noticed that it's mostly men serving in a shop, behind a counter, probably with an apron on, that assert their no-nonsense masculinity like this. Such as the man at Waitrose mentioned above. Such as the three chaps at Clive Miller, the Hurstpierpoint butchers, when I made the meat purchases for my Family Gathering six weeks back. These meat men didn't actually say 'sir' at any point, but I could see they were bursting to. I think two things kept them under control. First, the size and value of my purchase. Once it went over the £100 mark, I was going to get big respect. Second, Fiona. When they realised that the impressive Volvo parked in front of the shop, and visible through the window, was actually mine, they became as accommodating as could be. Men set such store on cars. One of them carried all the meat out to Fiona for me, and believe me, it weighed plenty. I rather enjoyed that moment. But I still realised that, in their hearts, they knew exactly what I 'really' was, and that as soon as I drove off, they'd be murmuring among themselves all about me - darkly - and nodding their heads. I hope they didn't share these murmurings with the other customers.

I wonder if the aprons, and the need to be deferential to customers, make them feel less than proper men? So that, when they can, they score secret points off the customers to re-establish their male dominance and self-respect? People like me must be a godsend.

Not all men are playing games like this of course. I've met some who were very nice, and were ready to treat me with a fitting (and not ironic) courtesy. But then they weren't in positions where I was the customer, and they my servant. We were conversing as equals. Insofar as men and women are ever in fact equals. At the best of times, even with the best of people, that's pretty debatable.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Painful parallels

The conviction today of Iftikhar and Farzana Ahmed for the murder in 2003 of their 17 year old daughter Shafilea, after a long period of relentless disapproval and pressure to obey them, must make many a trans person wince at the parallels with their own treatment. A series of parallels short of death, one hopes; although poor Shafilea did attempt suicide, which is by no means unknown among trans people, even if only a passing thought.

It certainly passed through my own mind once, when I felt particularly under attack. (Fear not: I have always believed in the tenet, 'where there's life there's hope', and in the principle of 'no surrender'. A stubborn and possibly perverse determination not to give in to anything or anyone would have kept me alive)  

Back to my theme. The convicted parents happen to be Muslim, but really that's just a red herring. They represent every father and mother of whatever background who have ever been prepared to put their own feelings and social standing before the happiness and wellbeing of their children.

It was my own fate to be subject lifelong to the controlling wishes of my parents. They exercised control when I was a child, when I was in my teens, when I was in my twenties, in my thirties, in my forties, and right on to the end. Mostly it was a benevolent control. And it was very supportive control, much to my financial advantage - if I complied. I usually complied. The habit was ingrained in me from the earliest times. So my parents determined my career. They made it known whom I could go out with. They cold-shouldered anyone in my life who they thought didn't count, or should be ignored. And finally they cold-shouldered me, or to be accurate they judged me when I came out, and seemed to suspend their love. Mum went to her death never treating me with warmth again.

After Mum died, Dad relaxed a bit, changed his attitude a little, and found that his weird child was still good company. I believe he would have moved towards a kind of acceptance, but he died before it was achieved.

But before he died, he attempted bribery: he would pay for us both to move to sunny, sandy North Devon, somewhere really nice. But I'd have to stop transitioning. I said no without any hesitation. Dad did then concede defeat, and merely asked if I would 'do nothing drastic' before he died. In order to have his love and regard back, I felt I could promise that. I did not have to keep the promise for very long after it was made.

Why couldn't Mum and Dad immediately forget what their friends might think, disregard the strangeness of my new self-knowledge, and simply pledge their support? Was I not their only remaining child? Why then alienate me, beg me to snap out of it, exact promises and undertakings, and make conditions, when a parent should be there in a heartbeat for their child, absolutely without reservation?

It was a shock to discover that parents can have feet of clay. I grew up somewhat in a very short time.

It was also a shock to discover how so many others in my life also failed to prove that they were human beings of quality. They may have sincerely thought they were right not to get involved, right to keep silent, right to be horrified, perfectly justified in condemning me. But from my viewpoint it all looked very shameful and unedifying. So much for professing to be a Christian; or at least believing in compassion and other such high values; and not giving way to knee-jerk prejudice; and never coming to judgement without first hearing all the facts. But nobody asked me for the facts. Of course not; I was deluded; no facts were necessary.

It was the hardest moment of my life, not because I suffered any special abuse, but because I realised as never before how people who seemed so admirable can fall so short. And that most people's first instinct is to think of the consequences for themselves. Not at all to reach out with a smile, and a good wish, and an offer of genuine help. Well, saints have always been in very short supply.

So we come back to poor Shafilea. Done to death for being 'too Western' and 'seeing boyfriends' and 'refusing an arranged marriage'. Basically for not doing what her parents expected of her. Not fitting into the mould. Not being dutiful. She made them feel ashamed. Just as I (and many people like me) have made our parents feel ashamed. Except that she suffered permanent alienation. They made sure.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

No woman would do that!

(This is post number 700. Metaphoric champagne for all when I get to post number 1,000! Just over a year ahead, I'd say...)

Sigh. It doesn't floor me like it used to, but I can't help feeling at least irritated by exclamations that 'you can't be a real woman' because you've been doing X, Y or Z and 'no woman would do that'.

Or rather, you have been allegedly seen doing those dreadful things. Because the only people who hurl them at you are people from your past who can't bear the sight of you, and never see these things happening themselves. They rely on hearsay, and second-hand accounts from like-minded friends. So all these accounts come through a filter, and are skewed. It's all repeated to correct or demolish your self-beliefs. In my case, that I am not, nor ever can be, a woman. And that to prove it, I have been seen doing certain things 'that no woman would do'.

But these reports prove nothing. It's like two pigeons tut-tutting over the behaviour of an eagle. Of course the eagle is different from a pigeon. It has different plumage, wider wings, a sharp eye, a hooked beak, and talons; its mindset is not the same; it hunts and eats red meat, and does things no pigeon would do. But it's still a bird, and a magnificent one at that, with a soaring lifestyle that makes the pigeon's seem small and humdrum. It's unfair and misguided to knock the eagle for being an eagle, and doing what a pigeon thinks is inappropriate.

I don't know who saw me doing The Thing that has sparked this post, but they are apparently a friend of the person who passed it on to me, as yet another example of how I am not coming up to the mark as a woman.

This is the accusation: that I was seen using a footpump to inflate the tyres on my car. Well! No woman would ever do that, would they?

I have three ways of checking my tyre pressures. One, a simple digital pressure gauge, kept in Fiona's boot. Two, an electronic pump, also kept in Fiona's boot, which I can plug into one of her 12V sockets, and let it do all the hard work of reinflating a tyre that has a slow puncture and loses pressure. It even stops automatically when the correct pressure is reached. I just stand by in my micro-mini and red high heels, and toss my hair. Or I've just enough time to sit inside Fiona and do my nails, touch up my lipstick, and read a magazine, maybe Steelworker or Fishing Weekly.

Neither of these gadgets requires strength or ungirly manoevres. Surely both are within the province of the Modern Girl.

Then I have an old-fashioned footpump, slow but sure, and easy to use, kept in the front locker of the caravan. You can't really wear heels or Italian beach sandals with this. You must don flats or ballet shoes. This is the aerobic method of pumping up good tyres that need only a quick monthly check-and-top-up. If there's a lot of pumping to do, it can get monotonous and a little too aerobic! And it's not an especially elegant thing to do, I'll grant that. But then, nor is pushing a pram, or lugging a shopping bag around. It doesn't require the strength and stamina of a Charles Atlas, and it's much less of a technical performance than setting up the electronic pump. So I tend to use the footpump more often than not.

The Big Question. Is it right and appropriate for the Modern Girl to use a footpump? Should she instead pester a Passing Man to do it for her? Or call out the AA? Or give up in despair and take the bus? Would Sigourney Weaver, needing to pump up her tyres in order to chase after an Alien, baulk at using a footpump? Has Anne, the Princess Royal, never used a footpump on her Land Rover? And if the Queen can parachute into the Olympic Stadium (at least fictionally), and get acclaim for it, why would she turn her womanly nose up at a mere footpump? Especially when up at Balmoral? Come on: any woman who isn't genuinely feeble would scorn asking a man to pump up her tyres. It's an act of female assertion. Look, it says, we aren't wimps! We don't need Popeye here. We can pump up our own tyres, thank you. It's OK and cool to show the men that girls can do it just as well.

By the way, I'd draw the line at changing a tyre. I haven't the required muscle. It's a phone call to Road Rescue for that.