Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Let's talk about men

Tuesday usual meetup at The Marlborough pub with assorted peeps who have either been attending the Tuesday-afternoon Clare Project Drop-in, or used to and now walk proudly through the world unassisted. Or just people who drift in if they feel so inclined. Friends and acquaintances.

We all like company and keeping in touch; most like a drink in a friendly atosphere; and most appreciate a chat. There is also the half-shabby, half-trendy, but attractive ambience of the pub itself: it's a recognised watering hole - though not the only one by any means - for anyone in Brighton who is somewhere on the LGBTQ spectrum. Ordinary folk come in too, seen in quantity whenever the theatre upstairs is putting something on. Students and creative types also amble in, especially writers.

In Brighton it's nothing to rub shoulders, in the city centre anyway, with a host of individuals who look and behave in a slightly out-of-the-ordinary way. Or at least it's nothing for the (mostly broad-minded) locals.

If there is any difficulty, it's likely to be from the tourists who flock into Brighton at all times of the year, some of whom are looking for 'the scene' and expect to encounter 'Goths' and 'Gays' and 'exotic tranny types'. As if those kinds of people were all Officially Dressed-Up Local Characters, specially hired by the local council to promote the festive and off-the-wall Brighton Image.

Occasionally a tourist, or a local who should know better, will behave as if the target of their unwanted curiosity is a Non-Person. Which allows them (in their opinion) to point and stare, and pester with crass questions. It happens. It's shameful. Like it's shameful to treat old, doddery, bent and white-haired people as a homogeneous group collectively referred to as 'The Very Elderly', and effectively dehumanise them. And, you know, we are all guilty: everyone has blind prejudices, everyone has groups of other people in their mind who are, of course, 'not as good' as they are, and can be dismissed with a snap of the fingers. You know: People On Benefits, Eastern Europeans, The Disabled, The Retarded, Non-Christians, ASDA Customers, MacDonalds Customers, Readers of the Sun, Readers of Hello magazine, People Who Use Buses... the list varies with the individual, but is endless and generally utterly silly.

Who do I sneer at? Ah, that would be telling! Actually, surely least not consciously; and I strive to be pro-actively open-minded and inclusive. But make no mistake, I am as full of daft prejudices as anyone else. It worries me, because nowadays, as a tenet of the New Life, I want to be free of all the mental trash that was instilled into me during five decades of misliving. But so much is locked within the subconscious; and it can be dealt with only when triggered. Not a comfortable thought.

Let's get back to merrier topics.

My role at The Marlborough? You've guessed it already: I'm the post-op visitor from out of town. But I so like seeing Brighton-based CP people that the Tuesday Evening Gathering is my standard weekly social event, the one I never miss if home and not away on holiday. I'm not alone in feeling like that. The rump of Marlborough devotees are naturally those who are going through the Main Process - post-op persons are in the minority, as there is a natural drift away from support groups like the Clare Project once transition is substantially complete. Like young birds who have just learned to fly, and are ready to launch themselves forth with no backward glance at the nest.

But some do keep up the contact, at least to the extent of enjoying a bit of Tuesday-evening company after the CP Drop-in is over. There's a school of thought that urges people to completely abandon their former support groups and step out nakedly and alone into the future, to sink or swim, as the Only Way To Build A Meaningful New Life. But I reject that. Here's a range of fascinating people, all different. Consider the variety of character types on offer. I want to know what newbies have to say about themselves; what current problems mid-transition people are encountering; what post-ops have to say about their own very individual ongoing success stories. I like to hear what view other people take on this or that. I want to learn things that passed me by in the past. What is the latest hot topic. And yes, I can be a senior Queen Bee, flying in from the sticks.

But a Queen Bee has responsibilities to set an aspirational example, and (perhaps) ensure that misinformation is corrected, and important topics aired. Lately I've felt that some subjects suitable for pub discussion were being held at arm's length too much.

So yesterday evening, I suggested that we talk about Men.

Every woman has to know what Men are about, and every woman is potentially going to be affected by one or more Men. Personal sexuality is not the issue here: if you look female, even marginally so, then Men will notice you and react. You want that reaction to be one you can handle, one you can take charge of. If you really don't want a Man to get fascinated with you - perhaps because you lean much more towards women for love and comradeship - then you must still know how to handle an encounter with a Man so that the contact can be friendly and mutually useful, but nothing more.

Whether a woman is crazy for Men, or would rather dump them all on an obscure desert island and let the tsunami wash over, Men are a fact of life and need discussion. Besides, Men are an interesting topic. Just as Women are an interesting topic with Men, even if the analysis is on different lines.

It's interesting just to consider why many trans women tend to skirt around the subject of men - especially when they are clearly very female-minded, and obviously serious about creating a New Life of their own, complete with every feature that a natal woman would want to see in it.

There's a lot of opinion on this kind of thing online. Personally I think men are not discussed much during transition because a relationship - or just interacting normally with men in general - is regarded as something for the future, when the body is fixed, when the brain's re-wiring process is sufficiently advanced. For some, this will be a stage never reached at all. Despite their dreams, they'll never be fit for purpose. And so what's the point of speaking about it? I see plenty of trans women putting men on ice, and not looking much at what to do about them. Or writing them off as The Enemy.

And yet no passing can be perfect unless one is alive to a man's eye-focus, his type and degree of interest, and can complete the social exchange appropriately. Natal women learn all this gradually as a natural part of growing up, tutoring themselves through one-to-one or group discussion. Trans women have to learn it quickly, as a survival measure, and are commonly cut off from chances to discuss and share whatever snippets of experience they might have. Or if such chances arise, they generally hesitate to open the subject and learn more. Thus one can remain stuck in a world of guessing-games. That should not be. It seems to me that any expertise garnered ought to be aired and shared.

Well, I opened the topic and met reactions ranging from 'We just don't talk about that', to 'Oh, yes, I'm glad you want to know: I don't mind helping here'. It's now more-or-less on the table for the future. I do hope that no veil is drawn over my somewhat pushy broaching of a somewhat taboo subject.


  1. Got to admit I am a bit bemused by your post Lucy. Men are not much different from women in so many ways. They want a fun life, they want to earn money, be loved and love in return. The vast majority are kind, considerate and respectful and are very human. Yes there are differences and often they will react in different ways to women but that to me is no bad thing.

    I get a sense that there is a subtext here but I am not sure what that is completely. I certainly don't think men are to be feared - perhaps we need to be on our guard - but then that doesn't mean that we can't engage, can't flirt, can't be interested in men. It's just something we need to get on and learn - like walking through the door of the pub unaided. It gets easier every time

  2. Oh, I entirely agree with you: men are NOT the enemy, and should not be shunned, nor written off as a subject too hard to think about, or relate to.

    I dare say that my post didn't make my personal point of view clear, that although I don't personally want to share my life with a man, social exchanges with men are part of my everyday life and I for one want to cultivate my skills in handling those encounters well. And I am bemused that this is not a hot topic at the support group I know of.

    I do see that the CP exists to see people through the essential first stages of transition, when they need counselling and company, and perhaps simply a safe haven to resort to. In that context, it might seem 'too soon' or 'irrelevant' to bring up the subject of flirting and so on. But actually I think that transitioners ought to fully take on board where their first tentative steps will lead them. And not duck it.

    Most social problems for transitioners come from meeting men in the outside world - officials, doctors, passers-by in the street, opinionated men in pubs. And occasionally a man will try a line of chat. To react as a natal woman naturally would, and to handle the situation (possibly a crisis for some) needs some understanding of the social dynamics from a female point of view; and a life hitherto spent in male mode is no preparation at all. I am surprised that this is so little discussed among transitioners.

    Granted, individuals here and there know the ropes and have no problems whatever. But I am suggesting that many transitioners - say those who have been in a married situation - have had little chance to develop a woman's real-life social know-how, and the dearth of discussion on this essential topic when transitioners meet up must surely be a hindrance to their assimilation into everyday society, and their ability to cope with entirely normal situations. Well, I care about it.

    Yes, of course, there are websites like The Angels and Rose's, where someone who signs up can put questions and get answers, and there are websites frankly devoted to the 'arts of love'. But why is it only online? Why isn't it bog-standard to bring Men into the conversation around a pub table in, of all places, Brighton? A place keenly alive, incidentally, to the existence of trans women, and how to detect them, and therefore a place where knowledge matters.


  3. Well Lucy I sincerely do not believe that how to respond to men is something that can be learned by transitioners, I believe those skills to be inherent else the transitioner is living an illusionary life. If you are a woman acting like one should come naturally. Yes, I know women learn from their mothers, sisters and other women which transitioners are not likely to have done but they will know how natal women behave and react unless they have lived as recluses. The real problem as I see it is the trepidation that many transitioners may feel when presenting themselves to the world. Natal women act naturally and transitioned women should do the same. From a personal perspective I have had no problems with men and have dated and bedded a few but my days of fornication have ended. That doesn't stop me from flirting though!
    Shirley Anne x

  4. Well, I was really just talking about basic airings of the subject, and not formal teaching sessions. A lot of it will be instinctive, but that said, I see a lot of transitioners who seem to keep their feminine savvy to themselves, and that's a waste of valuable experience. Surely it isn't a case of 'every woman for herself'?

    Becca and yourself clearly have no problems. There are very many who don't. But what can be done for those who were never really part of the 'man's world' in their Old Life, who never had 'close mates'. I was one of those, and frankly men are rather a mystery to me. I can't be alone.


    1. If you've read my history you will know that I was never one of the lads either and had no male friends. Now I wonder why that was? I was extremely timid and shy, was often bullied by boys probably because I wasn't one of them. No Lucy you are not alone on that one.
      Shirley Anne x

  5. Since I'm happily married to a woman, I perhaps see this one slightly differently. Indeed, it's come as quite a surprise to discover that I actually enjoy flirting with men in a harmless sort of way. And when a waiter in a Newcastle restaurant squeezed my shoulders, I just melted.

    I expected the odd patronising remark from men, and when it happens I find myself just staring back and looking mildly annoyed. Mostly, though, it's pretty harmless stuff, such as from a guy who noted our All Girl crew on the last canal holiday and remarked "Blimey, I bet the cooking's good on your boat!" My cousin says she's have been tempted to duff him one if she'd been there. Perhaps I'm more forgiving as I remember the days when I made remarks like that.


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