Saturday, 18 January 2014

Blogging mistakes, part 3: Needless self-exposure

I made my mind up when the blog began in February 2009 that being 'out' on the Internet would not matter.

There were no workplace issues - I was already retired. And no relationship would be put at risk - those who wanted to abandon me were gone, or going; and I felt too old and emotionally battered to care whether I found anyone new to share my remaining life with.

In fact I soon decided, as a matter of public policy, that I was going to remain fiercely independent and unattached. If that sounds self-defensive, bear in mind that the mass-departure of people from my life in late 2008 and early 2009 was like a searing wind from icy wastes. I felt hated, an outcast, a criminal, condemned to the gulag. Coming in from the Siberian Cold has been a slow and difficult process, and I am still completely unable to contemplate anything resembling intimacy. Sharing a home would be out of the question. It's often remarked on, that if away from home I won't accept a bed for the night. I need my own space, and I fly back to it at the end of the day. It's still a necessary sanctuary, a citadel.

It struck me that if I avoided stealth, and instead made a point of mentioning my trans origins, I would have a means of nipping unwanted attention in the bud. Attention from certain non-trans men, for instance. I'd simply go into full-disclosure mode straight away. Or tell them that I had a blog, and suggest that they looked at it. That would quickly stop 'em in their tracks! Or at least the kind of prejudiced person that I wouldn't want near me.

Keeping people out of my home was not the only possible motive for being up front with my past. There were other considerations.

I was not ashamed of my past life - not at all - so why should it be hidden? And if I presented it with complete transparency, wouldn't that bolster my credibility? I did not want to invent a sanitised past that was a big fat lie, with big fat consequences when the lie was inevitably discovered. It surely would be. If I was 'out' in a public blog, it was surely a safeguard against accusations of dishonesty and duplicity, and indeed such openness would spoil the game for media reporters looking for a story.

There was more. Discussing my past, sharing it, might lead to insights. Let there be a forensic exercise in self-discovery. I wanted to delve into my personal history as one delves into an archive, searching for evidence, examining it, looking for answers. I could not see how it was possible to move forward without acknowledging the past and coming to terms with it. It couldn't be ignored, nor could I pretend that some of the past had never been.

The only other aspect to be considered, and one that I took very seriously, was the impact personal frankness and honesty could have on those close to me. I didn't want anyone embarrassed or dragged down by association. So the names of friends and family had to be disguised, or not mentioned (and this still applies unless they themselves have 'gone public'). But as for myself, I grew bolder, to the extent of writing posts that included a series of photos of myself over the years.

Once you feel secure enough to do it, it is quite exhilarating to show a series of pictures that reveal definite progress in the desired direction. I suppose the prime motivation is the likely responses: You've changed out of all recognition! You've become so pretty! You've blossomed so much! and so on. From that point of view, it's all highly validating, a psychological boost.

It's also very risky, and I'm not doing any more of it.

Why? Well, after publishing a post titled Six years of physical change - the gallery on 2 January 2013, a radfem commentator seized on a shot of me taken in 2007, the year before I started my transition. I won't reproduce it here, but it showed myself in a church crypt café, with short hair and wearing a man's leather jacket, smiling into the camera. I went on to show five more photos, the earliest not so smiling, that revealed a gradual physical change. The piece was meant to be encouraging in tone, and in its small way inspirational to anyone who might be slightly down-hearted about their hormone treatment not having an instant effect. But I should have realised that not everybody was going to see the thing in the same spirit.

Some of the responses were nice. I rather liked this one:

I must say, the gentleman in that first photo was rather good-looking! It's kind of a pity that he is no longer around, but I totally understand why he isn't. One thing I have noticed each time I have seen a photo series like this is that as transition progresses, the person smiles more and more... and you do look quite happy in your latest photo. That is what really matters.

But meanwhile GenderTrender had spotted my New Year's Eve post on drinking. The only photos in that were of Babycham bambis, glasses of beer and wine, and a cup of black coffee. But a radfem commentator had seen my gallery post too, and promptly told everyone else, reproducing the 2007 'happy man' picture in giant size. More than forty sharp comments tore into me. Ouch. Never again!

It was, fortunately, the only occasion that GenderTrender have had me in their sights. I mean to keep it that way. So there will be no more 'then and now' galleries!

Lesson? A face shot from way back can be lifted from your blog and recaptioned to depict a misguided saddo, or worse. Don't risk anyone having access to it, even though you no longer look like that.

In fairness to the radfem woman who reproduced my pre-transition photo on GenderTrender, she did say this:

Lucy, dear, you make a very handsome man. And you’re flirty in dresses. Please do not condemn yourself: your nose is not too big for your face, your eyes are very fine, and you are'nt jowly at all. Please stop hating your body. 

The post that you put on your blog about drinking was all in good fun, but I hope that you can understand that it is sexist to portray one style of drinking to women (dainty, stem-holding, sipping) and another to men (hearty, planted, draughty gulps). It’s very damaging to point to one set of actions and proclaim that they are female and another set that are male. It enforces stereotypes that are keeping women in chains around the world. 

I don’t believe in gender. I’m not a very gendered person, actually, but I’m happy in my place in the world. I wish that you find that place for yourself. 

I was 12 years old when schools in the USA started letting girls wear pants. We were only allowed to wear them from Thanksgiving (last week in November) to Easter. And they had to be corduroys or slacks. No jeans allowed. I remember the uproar in our church that the girls and women were going to be usurping men’s place. That we’d want to tell them what to do. 

There might have been some truth to that.  

It was the beginning of breaking the idea that women were inferior. No one blinks an eye when a woman wears pants now. But we have such a long way to go. These gendered stereotypes are not helping that path. And the transgender community celebrates them and enforces them on us. They’re a particularly joyless angry lot that want to eradicate gay men in drag or anyone else who doesn’t want to transition to womenhood wearing a dress. And they keep wishing that all of us radfem women would die in a fire. It’s really apparent when you read some of the transgender support forums. 

You know what happens when you are hated? You begin seeing the hater in a lens of that reflected hate. And positions harden. And no dialogue can happen. RadFem 2012 in England. Dyke March with …no real dykes. Butch Voices without any born women whatsoever. (oh wait, one workshop for crones. Because they want us to die soon.) Michfest with deranged boys in dresses carrying spears outside the gates. Really, it sounds like a bad conspiracy novel. But these people are vicious. 

I’ve heard transgender men say that wearing women’s clothes helps them relax. Personally, I don’t see how anyone can relax in pantyhose. They’re quite binding, don’t seem to want to straighten out to fit your bends, and always seem to end up with holes somewhere no matter how careful I am. I think they were originally designed by a guard in a mental ward looking for a new straightjacket to keep the patients from running. It’s obviously not my cup of tea, but you are quite welcome to whatever you need to make yourself happy. (To a point.) 

I will admit to inner conflict on deciding whether someone gets a female pronoun or not. I don’t think transgender MtF are women –they’re simply men with a lot of cosmetic surgery and a need for clothing that brands them as women to the world. If I tattooed my face brown, I would not be black. Neither can men really be women. Though I’m not as strict about using only male pronouns to refer to transgender MtF because….well, I’m not really sure. I guess I feel like it harms no one to use a state of address that the other party likes. But do I feel you are female? Not really. I think of you as yourself. Which is a better frame of reference. If I feel that actions have threatened women, I refer to that trans as male. 

I have two bright lines that I will fight and die for: 1) No opposite sex genitalia in nudity areas and 2) No drugs or surgery for children. Women should have the right to be comfortable in women’s spaces without feeling the pressure of a penis. Men shouldn’t have to be confronted with a vagina. And children should be free to grow up supported and loved for who they are. 

I’ve talked too much here, but honestly, I can’t condemn you. You’re actually one of the few MtF transgenders that doesn’t seem to howl for blood in a fire. Or sound utterly bonkers. That second picture in your transition series really tears at my heart. You look so sad. And I see sadness in many of those photos. I wish you happy, Lucy. I hope that you see the person in those photos and not just the clothes or flaws.

... It’s not your appearance. Your appearance is fine. I really can’t help feeling sympathetic to your dilemma because I spend my life trying to heal internal pain. But I can’t support it. It isn’t real, and it damages everything I try to promote for my own daughter.

There is much in there that could have formed the basis for a meeting of minds. How I wish she had been the only radfem commentator.


  1. Lucy - I have not been into the Blogosphere for quite some time, but I thought I'd have a mooch around some old haunts.

    Gendertrender is a ghastly place, existing in large measure to cause hurt and misery to trans people. The essential position is that transgender does not, cannot, exist, and that anyone who identifies in this way is at best mentally ill, and worst (and usually) a male rapist seeking to invade female spaces to sexually assault. Photos will be taken with the specific intention of causing distress and pain, some even hoping that you will commit suicide, of casting you in this light, and they will never stop. The TERF mentality (sickeningly even finding common cause with hard core radical evangelical Christianity in the US now) is one of bitter vindictiveness.

    One thing about the experience of being trans is that you have to realise that there are some people out there - not many, but some - who actively, genuinely, wish trans people harm. Many of these people have that aim. When you don't have the wish to harm others yourself, it can be quite a realisation that others DO want to hurt you.

    You are wise to remove references they can exploit.

  2. Hello again, Jo!

    I completely agree that there are malicious and spiteful folk out there, and that one shouldn't give them ammunition.



This blog is public, and I expect comments from many sources and points of view. They will be welcome if sincere, well-expressed and add something worthwhile to the post. If not, they face removal.

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Lucy Melford