Bare

I’m feeling like this painting today. Which doesn’t really tell anyone anything, since we all have different responses to the same things. And each of us has different responses to the same things at different times. Today, this painting reminds me of how I feel, which is as though my seams are being loosened, and stuff is bursting, running, oozing, dancing, meandering, flying out through the growing, softening cracks. That’s EMDR for you. Good value for money.

About this painting. It might not mean as much to me as it does, if I hadn’t landed a strange summer job in 1985, cataloguing the book collection of one of the artist’s descendants. The artist is the famed (and slightly fast-and-loose-with-the-truth) war artist, C.R.W. Nevinson, and this painting is called Bursting Shell. And I think it’s very beautiful – and a distressing window into warfare from the trenches.

His descendant was a Nevinson, but I’m a bit narked to discover (half a life beyond) that I couldn’t remember all his name without googling him – he was John L. Nevinson. He was in his 80’s, a hale fella who walked 10 miles a day, was an acknowledged expert on the history of fashion, a polyglot and polymath. He lived in a gentleman’s residence in Belgravia surrounded by about 4,000 books.

And I never met him. The reason why I had this job was that he’d been out on one of his long walks, and got knocked over by a cyclist, broke his leg, and ended up in hospital. I was halfway through cataloguing his books (on library cards, using a pre-war German typewriter) when I heard that he really had ended up in hospital. Once he was flat on his back, he stopped being hale, and never left the place alive. I was surprised by how upset I was by the news – but then, after cataloguing half his books, I felt as though I’d known him for some time. He often wrote little reviews in the flyleaf – often pretty scathing and funny. I was glad that I got to go to his funeral. I learned quite a lot, going through all those books. I enjoyed learning how to pronounce Uitgeversmaatschappij, that there was a firm of publishers in the 18th century called Bulgin & Rosser (almost as good as the Bath piano vendors Duck, Son, & Pinker), and that there existed once a man with the glorious name of Lord Ballantine Elphinstone.

Watch out for cyclists, won’t you.

That was then. Now, the EMDR I’m going through at the moment is making me feel the shell-shock of a life coloured by being used instead of loved as a child. There’s a tiny little kid in me who is distraught and furious about this, and who fucks things up every time I get into an intimate relationship with anyone – because she’s constantly trying to get that love she should have got as a child, which it’s neither appropriate nor possible to get, as an adult, from anyone. So all I can do is look for some way to hold her, and suppress my impatience. Blimey. And in spite of that, I can still love and be loved, just not the intimate, physical stuff. (Give it time. Okay.)

Bursting shell.

Change is happening. Otherwise I would not be feeling like this. Armistice, I hope. I’m hurting, and it’s better to say so.

Two songs to end with – the first is The Fury Brothers singing The Green Fields Of France, which is a raw and sentimental song about WWI, and which honours the lost ones and the walking wounded.

The second is Robert Wyatt singing At Last I Am Free, a song originally by Chic, of all bands – as I type this, I’m listening to their version for the first time. I’m always going to prefer Robert’s cover. It’s got a shy tenderness to it that I love. And it’s about escaping from something that looks like love, but isn’t. Yes.

[Why Bare? Of course because the last blog-thing was called Bear. But also because I feel unskinned at the moment, a bear without her pelt – and because I’m trying to be more naked in my awareness of me, to allow the sharp as well as the sweet, allow… allow.]

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Bear

This is going to be about gender dysphoria. Mine, naturally enough.

Dysphoria is a captivating word, for me – it literally means “hard to bear”. In recent times, thank goodness, the medical profession has seen things more clearly, and stopped (or is stopping, gradually) calling our condition Gender Identity Disorder, since they now recognise that it has never been a disorder (we caught a later train than homosexuality in that respect, but we’re on it now).

If something causes you dysphoria, it means that it’s sufficiently hard to bear that it interferes with your ability to lead a normal life without doing something about it.

Mine seems to have jumped up quite a few notches suddenly. I have to admit, until now, I never really “got” the intensity with which other trans people talked about this experience.

I think it’s hit me now because lately, I’ve been making a lot of headway in making my femaleness “official” – changing my paperwork, getting official bodies to change my gender on their systems, and that kind of thing – and because I’m slowly feminising physically, and because I’m feeling more and more comfortable in my sense of identity (such as it is) as a Trans Tomboy.

The more I feel like myself (and am accepted as such by the world around me, by people around me), the more I’m jangled by the incongruities that still exist. So it gets harder to be called Sir or Mate by shop assistants and strangers in general. It gets harder to see Mr on correspondence.

But most of all, it’s getting harder to have my body manifest maleness. I notice this especially with regard to facial hair and, excuse me, genitalia. I can’t really shave every day. I’ve never been able to do that, my skin has always been too thin, it gets inflamed and sore and cut if I shave 3 days in a row, even 2 is pushing it. But this is now becoming a more pressing issue. Nearly all of my facial hair is white now, so laser can’t remove it. I’m basically doomed to many, many hours of expensive electrolysis.

A choice I’m facing right now is whether to just keep on having an hour done every couple of weeks locally, or to head down to London and consign myself to an intense 6 hours of (locally anaesthetised) full-on electrolysis by more than one person at once. This could either be a really great, or a really terrible thing to do. If it went right, I’d have got the equivalent of 6 months’-worth of electrolysis done in a day (and for around the same amount of money as that would have been anyway), and be freed of a great deal of my facial hair in one fell swoop. If it went wrong (worst-case scenario wrong), I could end up with a lot of facial scarring that would take a long, long time to heal, during which shaving would be really difficult.

The fact that this has become a real dilemma for me is showing me how much my dysphoria has grown. I can take a run-up at this one, because if I’m going down this path, I’d have to visit them for a consultation first. They have many years of experience working with trans women, so I would expect them to be straight with me about the chances of my thin skin turning lunar surface at their hands. And as it goes, I also suspect they’re way better at what they do than my local electrolysist (I hope that’s a word) is, who’s a bit hit-and-miss. I’m sort of amazed you’re still reading at this point, sorry, it’s all so banal and fraught, let’s quickly move on to genitalia.

Yes. The more my body feminises – the more I have woman-curves instead of man-curves – the more it feels as though someone has stuck this daft thing on my crotch as a prank.

Transition for me has always, always primarily been about the genital surgery. Everything else is less important than that (even though pretty much everything else is more visible than that). But in the last couple of weeks, my impatience to have this surgery done has gone up vastly. Tough – I have to wait at least around 14 months before it’s realistically going to happen. Next October I become eligible, and then there’s a waiting list. But it’s really bothering me now.

I never expected to feel this driven about something I have no control over at all. It’s a pretty intense practice, maintaining patience in the face of this. The Buddhist quality of kṣānti is often translated as “patience, endurance” but it can mean simply the quality of bearing things being the way they are. I have borne for decades being a tomboy in the wrong body, and I’m now getting the opportunity to redress this, to some extent. So I can bear to wait. Just barely.

Meanwhile, to end on a less whiny note, I’m really enjoying how this arrival in myself is heralded by a new sense of assertiveness, of having boundaries, of what I want mattering (even though I may not always get what I want, it’s actually still alright to want). I am becoming a risk-taker, a my-mind-speaker. This has consequences. But so does not acting, not speaking. I’m having to learn new skills, such as that of choosing not to chase someone I know is involved with someone else – which never would have been an issue before, since I’d never have considered myself worth being chased by. Anyway, here’s one of my favourite Navajo poems, in honour of being potentially dangerous.

The song of the black bear

My moccasins are black obsidian,
My leggings are black obsidian,
My shirt is black obsidian.
I am girded with a black arrowsnake.
Black snakes go up from my head.
With zigzag lightning darting from the ends of my feet I step,
With zigzag lightning streaming out from my knees I step,
With zigzag lightning streaming from the tip of my tongue I speak.
Now a disk of pollen rests on the crown of my head.
Grey arrowsnakes and rattlesnakes eat it.
Black obsidian and zigzag lightning streams out from me in four ways,
Where they strike the earth, bad things, bad talk does not like it.
It causes the missiles to spread out.
Long Life, something frightful I am.
Now I am.

There is danger where I move my feet.
I am whirlwind.
There is danger where I move my feet.
I am a grey bear.
When I walk, where I step, lightning flies from me,
Where I walk, one to be feared I am.

Where I walk, Long Life.
One to be feared I am.
There is danger where I walk.

*****

My favourite line from this poem is Now I am.

[The painting is The Angel Israfel, by Edmund Dulac – it just felt appropriate in a “busting out all over” sort of way…]

Meta-Sangha

What makes a sangha?

Well, what is a sangha, for a start?

Sangha is a Pali/Sanskrit term which for Buddhists means “the spiritual community”, and which can be understood as something as broad as “all beings everywhere, who are striving for happiness” down to something as specific as “all beings who have reached a particular level of spiritual attainment”.

More generally, though, a Buddhist group will often use the word to mean broadly all of their own group of practitioners, “The Sangha”, and more specifically the local manifestation of that, like, say, The Potrzebie Sangha being the people who practise together in Potrzebie.

The Buddhist group I practise within does this. It has always made sense to me to think of the people who practise together locally as a sangha. But given that our particular group now has possibly even tens of thousands of people practising on all continents, I don’t think it’s appropriate to think of us collectively as “a sangha”. To me, one of the vital distinguishing features of a sangha is that people have personal contact with one another, know each other.

I think it’s safer to think of the entire group around the world as a meta-sangha, made up of a whole load of sanghas. And these sanghas, these days, are not simply the geographically close communities, but also communities connected not through locality, but through shared personal experience. So in the UK, for example, we have what I think is a thriving sangha of gay/bi women all over the country, who participate in events and retreats together, often travelling some distance to do so.

It’s all pretty fractal.

And yes, I’m leading up to something here. In ten days’ time, I’m attending a meditation day for gay/bi women, 200 miles (or 5 hours’ journey) away from where I live. This is the second one of these days I’ve attended there – the first one was almost a year ago, only a couple of months after I began really transitioning. So the first thing I did back then was contact the organisers, to ask whether as a polysexual trans woman, I’d be welcome. They told me quite simply that the events are open to anyone who identifies as a gay/bi woman. I went, and was made very welcome, in a no-fuss way, and the day was a very positive and significant experience for me. I’m really looking forward to this next one, I missed one a few months ago because my PTSD was less manageable then, and the intricacies of staying in someone else’s place after such a long journey were overwhelming – I’m more robust right now than I was then, which is good to notice.

A couple of days ago, I got a round-robin email from the nearest big sangha (a mere 80 miles/2 hours’ journey from here) telling me there will be a practice day for women there next month. I found myself strongly moved to go to it, so I emailed them to ask how they felt about me attending. They wrote back today and said they’re not ready for me yet, and want to wait until I’ve “been welcomed into the women’s wing of the order.” they were very nice about it, and acknowledged the complexity of the situation, as they see it.

So I’m sat with this interesting experience. On the one hand, the event I’m going on in ten days’ time takes some sting out of being rebuffed (for now). But it adds a different sting – that I’m welcome further afield, but not by these women more local to me; I’m welcomed by queer women, but not by Women, somehow. This is definitely Something To Work With™.

And it highlights for me this reality of meta-sangha. What’s really, actually happening – and what I expect to happen, in the real world – is that different connected groups of people have different feelings and perceptions about the same situations, and respond differently. This is why I asked them specifically, and made a point of not telling them I was going on the other event, until they’d made their decision for themselves. It was important for me to respect them as a unique node in the meta-sangha.

I do feel a little down about this; a rebuff is a rebuff, and I’d like to have attended that day, and met some of the more local women, had them meet me. But I’m also glad about how I went about this, and glad that I’m able to be patient in the face of other people’s uncertainty. I’ve got my tribe to go and be with, soon, so I’m not crying in the wilderness. And I’ve told people what I’d like, which is always worthwhile. It feels good to tell them I want this to happen, so I’m no longer merely something abstract to discuss, they have to engage with me as a person making requests.

I admit that I took a small, little, eentsy amount of pleasure out of telling them “never mind, I’ve got my party to go to over there” :). My inner teen has to be pacified somehow. I also admit to having mixed feelings about knowing for sure that the women making this decision, on behalf of the women in their sangha, are all straight. Make of this what you will – I know I am.

[That thing up there? it’s an edible fractal – a Romanesco Broccoli. Beautiful and tasty, and very weird.]

Au-delà du placard

I’m in an odd frame of mind right now, after the pub alarm (I live above a pub) went off at 3.30 am, setting off my Inner Meerkat in a cascade effect. It’s now 8.30 in the morning, and I’ve had 90 minutes’ sleep, but I’m not too insane yet.

Yesterday was more stuff about coming out, I think.

I had my second session with a voice therapist, wondering what my voice wants to do (if anything) about sounding more female, whatever the hell that means. The important thing I discovered during the session was that I’m in another of these clefts I get myself into: on the one hand, I’m reluctant to change my voice because I’m afraid of not being accepted by women (because I don’t look sufficiently female to “justify” it); on the other hand, I’m reluctant to change my voice because I’m afraid it will alienate my friends; ooh, a third hand appears… on the other other hand, I’m reluctant to be loud, because I’ve been told to be silent.

So fuck it, I’m going to raise my pitch a little, and change my intonation a little, and not strangle myself in the process. But mainly, I’m not going to feel like I should – or shouldn’t – change my voice, I’m going to let my voice take the lead. I’ve got some exercises so it can feel its way up and see where it feels comfortable. Already, during the course of the session, I found myself comfortable with a higher pitch than I had at the start. I don’t know where I’m going with this!

Then yesterday evening, I went along to meet up with some gay/bi women in Exeter. I knew it was going to be hard to get myself to go out again in the evening – socialising takes it out of me at the moment – but I was determined to get myself there. I was nervous because I was out after dark, because they meet in a new place now that I’d not been in before (which turns out to be really cool and funky), and just because of will I fit in?

15 minutes of sitting awkward and shy while they all chatted to their mates, and then I turned and started a conversation with the woman sat next to me. 2 hours later, I almost missed my train home, getting on like a house on fire with her and her partner. I was fascinated by her partner right from the start, an artist who’s very boyish in looks and clothes. The two of us ended up having a really good conversation about others wanting to label us. I felt this heady blend of kind of wanting her, and wanting to be her. It didn’t get in the way, it was just a pleasant thrum to feel within.

The thing is, I felt so at ease once I started talking (and listening), and felt very quickly simply accepted among them. Which makes sense, because I am one of them. It’s such a bloody relief to spend time with people to whom I make sense, and who make sense to me. And the lovely thing about the dozen of us there was what a diverse bunch we were. No feeling of having to be a certain way, dress a certain way, talk a certain way – sharing the experience of being women who like women. The best tribe is a loose tribe.

Meanwhile: o spirits of the earth and air, protect my heart from lovely short-haired women in bomber jackets…

[au-delà du placard is French for “beyond the closet” – the peacock photo, which is there just because I love it, is by this fella]

Exarmorio!!!

I’ve been too busy healthily catharting to post here for a bit. This EMDR therapy is strong stuff!

But I’m feeling strangely freed up. And one of the things I’ve been doing over the last couple of weeks is, well, I suppose it’s just part of my gender transition process, but it’s fair to call is an aspect of “coming out”. It has involved writing to my GP’s surgery, and to the DWP (Department of Work & Pensions) asking to be referred to as Ms and female from now on – and getting affirmative responses.

Well, mostly. Neither the NHS nor the DWP are able to properly change me to the big F on their systems until I’ve had surgery, but both of them are set up to help people in my situation, by changing our identifiers on their system at a more surface level. So their computers tell them to call me Ms and “she” when writing to (or about) me or talking on the phone. This is great!

I’ve just had a funny old experience this afternoon in connexion with all this. It’s something we Buddhists refer to as The Worldly Winds – dualities we tend to swing about between (or get blown about by, if we let ourselves), like pleasure and pain, praise and blame, and so on.

So this afternoon I had to go to see a GP at the local surgery, partly to query my latest Estradiol test results, which are suddenly 5x higher than they should be (test error? was my first thought), and partly to ask about getting a prescription for Eflornithine (aka Vaniqa), a facial hair growth inhibitor crème thing. Our surgery has a self-check-in touch screen thing in the lobby. It has always amused/frustrated me that the first thing you have to do to check in there is to press the Girl or Boy button. Today, for the first time, I got to press the Girl button, and I was so happy when that worked! Wow, huge grin on my face. Little big things are important.

However (sense the winds turning?)… the GP I saw today, not my usual one, is not very with-it. She said she’d have to call the pharmacist to ask about the Eflornithine, because The Book sayeth it’s only indicated for women. And then, over the phone, she kept referring to me as “he”, and said to them “he’s going through a gender change, but he’s still a guy until he has surgery – can we prescribe this?”

I was so shocked by this (given the efforts I’d recently gone through to get them to update their system, and how helpful they’d eventually been about it) that I couldn’t say anything on the spot. But I’m going to write her a gentle but firm letter explaining why that was inappropriate and made me very uncomfortable.

But… Girl Button!!! 😀 😀 :D.

My next step – and this one is making me pretty nervous – is to come out to my landlords. Pretty much everyone around me knows I’m transitioning (just try getting me to shut up about it…) but I live in a flat that’s above a pub in a small Devon town, and my front door is actually inside the pub, and I haven’t felt safe enough until now to tell the bar staff what’s going on. I mean, some of them must have figured out something is going on, because of my changes of appearance, and, well… because of all my post that now says Ms.

But it feels like time I cornered one of them and told them what I’m up to. Apart from anything else, I want them to think about thinking of me as a “she”. I feel nervous about this, because it’s my home and I don’t know for sure that they’ll be cool about it, but I’m fairly confident that at least the important people will be.

I figure I have 9 days in which to do this, as the 26th is my first anniversary of going on hormones. Wish me good luck/good judgement.

Exarmorio, you say? Fair question. I’m helping a friend start an LGBT community choir in Exeter, and she asked me for suggestions for a cool name for the choir. this is one I came up with, that it’s really hard to let go of (even though she won’t let us use it, grmmbll). It’s Latin for Out Of The Closet! – I love it because (well okay, because I thought of it, sigh), um, because it sounds like a Harry Potter spell, and because singing together is magical, and because we’re an Exeter choir on the River Exe. Its time will come. For the moment, we’re to be called Exeter LGBT Community Choir, and fair enough, that tells people exactly what to expect. And once we’re rolling, she promises a cool name pow-wow (though she gets executive decision). But.. but… Exarmorio!!

[The emerald solar flare thing is because I couldn’t find a decent photo of an exploding wardrobe – come on internet, what’s the matter with you? – so I googled green explosion because why not.]

Three little words

What the hell, I’ve got the writing bug at the moment, so I’m (sort of) taking a break from going blah blah me me for a night to ask you a favour, if you’re reading this.

I want to play some creative writing games with myself – the idea is, you (if you feel like it) send me three random words as a comment to this, and I write something based around them, as spontaneously as possible.

Your rules are: English words please, or at least something I can look up successfully! Try to make it random and spontaneous at your end too, don’t overthink of three words that would “make a good story”, just let ’em leap out at you.

My rules are: I may use the words themselves or I may not, but I’ll be writing about them. And I’ll either be writing a short-short story, or a haiku (western-stylie, 5-7-5 syllables thing), or (because I’ve just started playing with this as a pattern, and it’s tough fun) a story in six words.

I’ll post here what I come up with, if it isn’t too cringeworthy, as light relief from my trans-maunderings. If you want to play too, let me know and I’ll three-word you back. In any case, give it a go, it’s good for the brain and heart and that.

Here’s one I made earlier (again):

Boats, Boots, Books

There have always been those who want to know how to walk on water – and always those who looked for the answer in books.

Even before there were books, people looked for the secret in the stories born of word, they sought the way: the way not to get drowned. When the Great Paranoid One whispered in Noah’s ear, it was to make a story that people would follow – that’s why the Ark always looks like its roof is an open book, so you had to be on board to read the secret story.

Then he gave it to his Boy, but that was all a Fish story – still, people followed that one like crazy, because the arc of the Ark was the one about not going under in the first place, but the Fish Boy story was about coming back up after, and that’s what people really wanted to know about. The far easterners knew a thing or two – there’s no name that keeps your feet dry, because the secret of the story is this: where the power is, is not walking on water, it’s being water.

[the gorgeous porous porcus is made by Woody Fox]

Deep Lucy

I can’t remember what book it was I read, in which someone said I’m caught between the Devil and the Deep Lucy. But I like it.

Anyway… having spent the last few blog-things here outing myself as a mystic weirdo (good grief), I thought I’d try for something a bit more prosaic, or something. Pff.

What am I warbling about tonight? Extremes and middles. This could all get terribly Buddhist, if we’re unlucky, but I’ll do my best to steer around the clichés.

Specifically: as I mentioned recently, a consequence of me beginning my EMDR therapy has been a shift away from helpless fear towards intense outrage instead, outrage at the abuse that was foisted on me as a child. What I’ve noticed in talking to people about this (chiefly online, facebook, blah blah) is that I get one of two extremes from people in response – it’s either You Go Girl Feel Your Anger™ or it’s Rise Above It And Forgive Your Perpetrators™.

I’m actually really uninterested in buying either of these products. If I’ve learned one thing lately (oh please, let me have learned one thing lately…) it’s that grabbing stuff or shoving it away, neither of these helps anything. So I have this outrage, and (yes, I have learned to do this over the last few months, and I’m a bit proud of me for this) I know that the best thing I can do is simply to keep it company. Don’t celebrate it, don’t try to “transform” it, just allow, allow.

Alongside of this outrage, when I allow it instead of investing in its shares, is a great lake of sadness. That’s strangely even harder to allow, but I’m letting myself keep company with that too, because nothing else works. Today, I tried to shove it away for the evening, and all that happened was I got pseudo-perky and brittle, and ended up hurting a couple of people’s feelings a bit, by being rigidly opinionated about things online.

I caught myself doing this, and I’ve made amends, and I’ve not punished myself (that’s something else I’m learning, apparently – proud again). And now I’m back with the sadness, for all the unnecessary grief that my abusers have caused me and those around me to experience, for the present me who can’t empathise when she sees people in films and tv shows getting hugged by their parents, who wonders what it would be like to find physical intimacy joyful with no shark of terror beneath. And maybe I’m going to get to find out, one day.

I almost hit the organic gin this evening, but just because Misery Loves Cliché is no excuse to capitulate. I’d rather be sad than drunk. I’d much rather be sad than drunk and sad. I like myself better for keeping myself company through all this meandering painfulness. I like that I get to tell you about this stuff, because it’s something I learned.

Anyway, sorry to make you sit through all this (well, you could have changed channels if you weren’t into it). I’ve lately been revisiting old poems that I wrote, that have been especially true for me and stayed true over time. Here’s one I made earlier, as they say – about fear and love.

Mirror

So there’s the great ocean there
And one day, you glance out
Out beyond the land
And you know something bad is coming

Gulls start from the waters, yarring
Bubbles and things rise, float
Stillish seas no longer still
Disturbed sun shatters in sparkles

Something huge
Something terrible
Long ago foretold, long feared
Rising from the very roots

Finally you glimpse it
Dark vast shape surging
Inescapable through the depths
The ocean dances and bows to it

And it breaks through the surface
Looming, menacing
Dripping, encrusted
And it looks at you

And looking into its eyes
You see your scared reflection
And then with fine cloth, and your warm breath
You gently begin to polish it