Tuesday evening...Brighton...my 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 nobody...at 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.