Thursday, 14 August 2014

Back from the Grave 5

Ah yes...I remember now. I had an email exchange with Halle some months back, in which I mentioned these nine posts that I had retracted, and could regard as The Worst Posts I'd Ever Written. And I casually suggested that I use them - or snippets from them - in a short series of posts on How Not to Blog. A kind of tutorial for anyone interested in avoiding awful mistakes. Halle thought this a great idea, but I never got around to it. Well, perhaps this current republishing session can be taken as a dreadful disclosure on how not to write.

The next post was certainly one I dearly wish I had never released from its box. It brought me grief. Well, I think to be featured (in fact pilloried) on GenderTrender counts as grief.

It was a light-hearted effort called Female drinking - a bit of what you fancy..., and it escaped on 28 December 2012, nicely in time for New Years Eve. I have omitted the photos of the Babycham bambies and so forth.

I'm speaking for myself, but I do think 'a bit of what you fancy does you good'. Why not? Where's the harm? Surely none, if you do it wisely.

This post is about female drinking, meaning drinking liquids containing some alcohol, and specifically my views on what's prudent for a woman (and especially a trans woman) to do. It's a personal point of view, and not prescriptive. So if you don't agree, that's absolutely fine by me. I'm not laying down any rules, and I won't have a go at you if your own drinking views and habits are different. We'll just respect each other's feelings about it.

For me, then, the entire 'drinking thing' hinges on these principles:

# that the drinks are consumed for refreshment and enjoyment.
# that they put everyone in a great mood, and foster sociability and the meeting of minds.
# that they don't hurt anyone's health or mental capacities.

As you will gather at once, drinking is for me something done in company. If not actually with friends, then at least among strangers doing the same thing in a pub or restaurant or theatre bar or similar place. I don't drink alone at home, or at least only very rarely, because at home there is no social element and it seems pointless. From which you can see that I don't 'use' drinking to cheer me up when I feel sad or worried. Nor as a routine accompaniment to watching favourite TV programmes, nor when cooking, nor when basking on my patio. I don't think I'm in any way dependent on drink, and, applying the 'Desert Island Test', it would be one of those things I could happily do without for the rest of my life, if cast away on an island without hope of rescue.

Drinking for refreshment and enjoyment
Some drinks, served cool or chilled, are perfect on a hot day, or after thirst-creating exercise. For me, a gin and tonic with ice and a slice of lemon or lime is absolutely what the doctor ordered on a sunny summer's day. I don't care much for the raw taste of any of the individual ingredients, but together they come together to make a pleasant, sippable drink that refreshes superbly. The tonic drowns the gin, and tones down its pungent taste. Which makes another point: I only enjoy drinks that taste nice. Taste is a very individual thing. For me, most wines have the right kind of taste. Scotch whisky, on the other hand, seems unbearably sour and unpleasant to my palate. Beers too, although I've sipped some properly conditioned real ales, and I've had to acknowledge that they are interesting. But if beer and lemonade were the only drinks available, I'd have lemonade every time. Or just a cup of tea.

Drinking to grease the wheels of social exchanges
To my mind, this is the major purpose of drinking, and pretty well its entire point. Unquestionably it helps to make a group of like-minded people open their minds and party. I can trust everyone in my current circle of friends to exercise appropriate restraint. None get incapable, ever, or at least never when I've been present. The potential for the boozing to get out of hand is always there though. It's a matter of fine balance, deciding when to stop drinking and switch instead to cola or coffee. I decide in advance how much I'm prepared to drink, and will choke off the intake at some point to ensure that I get home safely, as I will for instance on New Year's Eve.

Drinking without health damage
I suspect that this is, strictly speaking, not possible. Even a little imbibing will have a temporary effect that can impair brain function and body co-ordination. And the potential harm to body parts has to be taken seriously. Part of my daily medication puts pressure on my liver, and I know that I mustn't play ducks and drakes with that vital organ. (To be honest, I'm rather glad that I have this personal reason or excuse to go carefully, quite apart from wanting to remain competent to drive myself home) It's well known that women have a lower capacity to process alcohol than men - roughly a third less. I know of no study on this, but I believe that this reduced capacity applies to trans women too, because of the greatly changed body chemistry that feminising hormones induce. I don't mean that a trans woman's internals necessarily shrink to natal female size - although who can say without an autopsy - but that in a straight drinking contest with a natal man of similar weight, the trans woman is likely to suffer worse health consequences. I'm not risking it.

How to drink if you're a woman
It's simplistic and old-fashioned to say that 'men glug down pint after pint of bitter beer, while their women daintily sip one sweet little drink'. We are not stuck in the 1950s. Time was when She'd be expected to say - if asked - 'I'd love a Babycham!' - which for anyone who doesn't know was a cider-derived sparkling drink made in Somerset, and originally marketed as a 'champagne perry' until the French objected. It had attractive TV advertising involving cute little baby deer, like Bambies with blue ribbons around their necks. I saw a china collection of them in a Cornish pub only last September. In its time Babycham must have seemed frivolous and exciting compared to the respectable sweet sherry previously allowed to the female of the species! But it still typified the 'woman's drink', and tiresome conventions about what was suitable for 'nice girls'.

Not surprisingly a lot of girls eventually found something much better to knock back, such as barcardi and coke. Foreign package holidays, and midnight beach parties on Greek islands, well away from parents' eyes, doubtless had much to do with the emancipation of female drinking.

So that nowadays it's perfectly acceptable, in the right circumstances, for a woman to drink what she likes. I'm not saying that male sensibilities have moved into the twenty-first century yet, but if a girl wants to drink beer or whisky she has the freedom: they are no longer the sole preserve of men, and haven't been for a very long time. But it still depends somewhat on the occasion. In a normal pub, at least in Sussex, a girl drinking a pint of Brakspear's Old Wanker will occasion no comment unless she's dressed up for a wedding. But a girl quaffing a pint in the Grand Hotel in Brighton risks a sharp intake of breath, no matter how she is attired.

Part of the trouble is that pint glasses for beer or lager look wrong in small and shapely hands. There's really no getting around that. Half-pint glasses do look better; but whether in male or female hands, they hardly constitute the proper 'beer experience'. For similar reasons, a man drinking out of a tiny glass looks odd, unless it's a glass of schnapps, in which case it's all down the hatch in one go, with glass-hurling into the fire a theatrical option.

Which all brings me onto the special problems of trans women. Now remember (if you are not trans) that these are women born with masculinised bodies, and a rearing erroneously slanted towards the male world from the outset. Not many older transitioners have been able to avoid developing large hands. And a lifetime of thumped-in male conditioning, which includes male drinking culture, has left its mark. This places trans women at a physical and behavioral disadvantage where having a drink is concerned. I'm sure that any such woman afflicted with big hands is acutely aware of the fact, and we need not dwell on the issue. But we can discuss the pitfalls of holding the glass and swallowing the stuff.

Remember: I'm not being prescriptive. This are just my own views, which I'm putting up as a tentative practical guide. I don't mind if you consider them total poppycock.

Holding the glass. The golden rule here is (as in most other areas) to do what the natal girls are doing. But if still in doubt, then, if it's a wine glass, consider it 'male' to hold the bowl in one hand, but 'female' to hold the stem - because it looks daintier. With any glass at all, it's 'female' to use both hands. So if you want to drink out of a pint glass, don't hold it like a builder would. Pretend you can't lift the weight one-handed, and bring both hands to bear on the problem. Shots are an obvious exception.

Swallowing the stuff. A man will tend to take big masterful gulps, treetrunk legs planted well apart, a strong, a nutbrown muscular arm raised well up to tip the brew in, often tilting his neck back so that the adam's apple bobbles up and down as he swallows eight or ten times in one long swig - followed by a loud gasp of lip-smacking satisfaction, and a hearty roar of delight. All of that's rather a no-no for a trans girl. At least in Sussex. Just sip demurely, and keep any suggestion of an adam's apple well out of sight. And if sipping seems impossibly twee with a pint of Adnam's Tooth Rotter in your grasp, then switch to a Wkd or a J2O. Perhaps with a straw. There's no shame in being unobtrusive and refined. But make sure you stop sucking on the straw before you reach the dregs: that loud gurgling sound is so not.

Enough said. I wish to propose a toast to everyone who is dear to me. You know who you are.

Posted by Lucy Melford at 16:12

There were five comments comments:

1. Caroline 28 December 2012 19:00

A botany professor was telling me yesterday that when on field trips to Russia he takes bottles of gin and when offered vodka he offers his gin in response saying that back home it is a girls drink... They fall for it and soon fall over!

Once I opened a bottle of wine when home alone for a week with partner away with work, it took four days to finish it with no company. Definitely a social drinker here.

2. Cynthia Rose 3 January 2013 12:49

Hi there, I am one of those "natals" speak of. I would just like to add that I work out and can currently bench press 65kg as an example. A wine glass would not be a problem on which I would need to "bear down upon", and I highly doubt it would for any other women who do not work out. That said, holding a wine glass by the stem is done by people as a whole in order to prevent the wine from getting warm due to hand contact with the bowl. Any variation or choice is likely made out of comfort.

We could do without all the women are weak expectations/stereotypes and long-winded analyses of how women "should" act. It's already been done and caused us enough grief throughout history. Thanks.

3. Lucy Melford 3 January 2013 14:28

Well, Cynthia Rose. I did at two points say I didn't mind if people have a different view, or think my view is poppycock! I also said twice that I wasn't being prescriptive.

From what you say, I take it you're a fit natal woman. But not necessarily large-handed. I was suggesting what would be a good idea for large-handed trans woman, and that seems not to be you. It's difficult to see why you should need to be critical, but in any case I'm sticking to my own 'no offence will be taken' position. Cheers!


4. Cynthia Rose 5 January 2013 00:41

You based your "opinion" on a specific way in which women might do something based on a fetishization of the stereotype that women are weak and dainty. I am a woman who does not fit that description and does not want that idea enforced around her as she has future daughters and sisters(as in all women in this world) to consider. Women are taught that we are weak all the time; I don't like seeing people continue to suggest that, and it is really awkward for me to see people wanting to emulate it.

5. Lucy Melford 5 January 2013 09:28

Thank you for making your reasons clear. We do agree that in the long run, it does no good to reinforce stereotypical perceptions. Meanwhile, a trans woman with big hands risks getting noticed if she grasps her drink like a man would. Whether she cares is up to her. I know people who do not care, who believe that the world should adapt to them, now, and not over the next thirty years. That's brave. Personally I do not think these stereotypes will fade away in my lifetime, and in the meantime I'd prefer to play for safety. As a woman, you stand no risk of getting a beating if you get noticed. Trans women do, and we need to consider the consequences of even quite minor things.

Trans men - girls who want to look and live like men - have to think about their public behaviour just the same, and it wouldn't do for them to drink with an artificial debutante daintiness that a bog-standard bloke would never adopt, unless messing around.

I just want you to be aware of these things.

Finally, some trans women have small hands. I'm one of them. Historically I found it hard to grasp and carry pints, and smaller glasses suit my anatomy much better. My father suffered from bad arthritis. If that gets to me, I will, as he had to, be holding my drinks in two hands for purely medical reasons.


Post-mortem in 2014
Ouch! Despite my avowals not to be prescriptive, this post most definitely was. I tried to be tongue-in-cheek, but it clearly wasn't tongue-in-cheek enough. And that's nobody's fault but mine. Cynthia Rose was quite right to complain about stereotyping, and my drawing attention to it. And yet surely nobody was going to take this post too seriously? Right? Wrong. It was paraded and lampooned on GenderTrender. There were some very unkind comments. But of course I had brought it all on myself.

I remain convinced that any otherwise undetectable trans woman will blow her cover if she downs a pint of Theakston's 8.3% Rat Brew in a lip-smacking way, followed by a deep belch, and asks for another. She may get a big cheer, of course.

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