Phobos

“That’s no moon…”

This is about transphobia, and its lack of visibility.

This morning, I had to call the JobCentre to chase up a letter they’re supposed to have sent me confirming that I’m in receipt of benefit (without this letter, something else will cost me a load of money I don’t have).

Things have got more complicated since I told the JobCentre I wanted my correct gender and title on their system (they were still writing to me as Mr). They put me on a confidentiality register, which means that the general office and phone folk can’t see my records, and have to refer everything to a “back office”.

A few weeks ago, I called to request the confirmation of benefit letter, and they said it would take a week. I called them today, and they told me the request never went through to the back office, so they’re trying again. The thing is, the woman I spoke to kept calling me Sir. Now, I know she’s got my record on the screen in front of her and it’s telling her I’m female, title Ms. I also know I have a deep voice. After the second time she sirred me, I asked her not to – but she carried on doing it. About six more times before the conversation ended. I started to find this funny.

Afterwards, though, I decided to send a complaint to her department. Not complaining about her as such, but complaining about the lack of training that led to her behaving as she did. I then spent some time fruitlessly looking online for details of how to lodge a complaint – and found they’ve carefully removed any reference to how to do this. A link that claims to be to their complaints division just goes to a main page, etc. eventually, I just wrote a letter and addressed it to their local office.

I mentioned this on facebook (like you do), and explained what I was complaining about. This is when things got messy.

I made it clear (I thought) that as far as I’m concerned, there are two possibilities: either she was misgendering me on purpose, or she couldn’t help herself. If the latter, then I’m not that bothered – people have autopilot responses to what sounds like a male voice; if the former, then she was being transphobic.

Simple enough?

But a genderstraight friend of mine waded in, in “defence” of her, and we got into a rather circular argument, because he doesn’t seem to believe there’s such a thing as transphobia. It seems clear enough to me – if I ask someone (who knows I’m officially female) not to misgender me, and then she goes on doing it, if she’s doing that on purpose there can be no other reason than prejudice.

I am quite shocked by my friend’s strength of reaction. He really seems to want to find ways in which her behaviour, even if it’s deliberate, is not transphobic. Because for some reason, he has an investment in not seeing transphobia as a real issue. I think he thinks it’s some kind of political correctness.

I had to explain that people who are transphobic do regularly use deliberate misgendering as a way to try to make someone trans feel bad – such as calling us “it”.

And this leads me to another incident from yesterday. A very old friend of mine phoned me up. We hadn’t spoken since the last time I saw him, just over a year ago, when I told him I’m transitioning. Now it’s always been me phoning him rather than him calling me, even though he’s always happy to hear from me – some friends are like that, you know you have to do all the legwork. After I saw him last year, I decided to wait and see if he’d get in touch, and he didn’t. And then I was in too much of a state for a while to do it myself. So I was very pleased when he called yesterday.

We talked about loads of things, including my transition, and he made a comment referring to me as “he” – and then hauled himself up and said he wasn’t sure what pronoun to use, “he, it?” I was struck by how “she” was missing from that list. I told him that “she” was clearly appropriate – and then gently (as I knew there wasn’t deliberate malice involved) explained to him that pretty much nobody (who isn’t currently wearing a gimp mask) likes to be referred to as “it”.

I find myself surprised at two pretty with-it, right-on, progressive hippyish men, both of whom haven’t a clue about trans issues. I suppose I had the idea that it’s all much more out there and talked about and known about than it really is. It feels crazy to be having to explain why I’d rather be called “she” than “it”. It feels crazy to have to defend my use of the term transphobia, as though I’d just made it up on a whim.

But so it is. I’m willing to give people the benefit of the doubt, because it’s crazy not to. It upset me being misgendered, but I don’t know her reasons. It upset me that my friend wants to ignore transphobia, but I don’t know his reasons. It upset me that my friend didn’t think “it” was unacceptable as a pronoun… but each time, all I can do is assert myself in a non-confrontational way (I sort of failed with friend number one, because I got pissed off) and keep communicating.

Here’s a picture from 2001: A Space Odyssey to cheer us all up with after all that, eh? What a beautiful film.

20121031-023438.jpg

Keep on taking the small risks

I was in London a few years ago when I saw this, near London Bridge – a piano had been set up in the street, for anyone to play on if they felt like it as they walked by. I stayed long enough to hear some good playing happening (she was one of the good ‘uns).

I want to write about taking risks. It’s been a few days since I posted anything here, as I’ve been feeling a bit low and unsure of myself in general. But I’ve been thinking about what it’s like to be me at the moment (I have too much time on my hands, I have to think about something…) and trying to get a sense of what it is that makes me feel valuable when it might appear (to the Casual Observer) that I’m not doing much, and am therefore not good for much (for behold, the shame-factory of which I wrote last time runneth full apace).

This is bullshit, in a way, which is the point of my last blog-thing. But at the same time, it’s hard not to want to know “is there any point to me?” when you’re someone like me, who’s used to being a lot more “able” than I currently am. Hence the pondering. So shame aside, I’m taking a good clean look at me and wondering what I’m doing with my days at the moment?

Okay, well there’s a lot of time spent on facebook, communicating. Yes, a small portion of that is me unable to resist making classy puns (the feedback is consistently supportive of “classy” as an adjective here, I’m not trying to paint myself prettier than I am, I am an avowed pun pundit). But most of what I do on facebook is real communication, with people I’m not in a fit state to go and spend actual face-to-face time with at the moment. This is really valuable to me. They seem to like it too.

Then I spend time moderating a trans forum, which for me mostly involves being the voice of peace in arguments, and especially being the voice of “don’t decide things too quickly, take your time, never mind the labels” to counter the noxious twin voices of “you’re like I am, so you should call yourself what I do and do what I’m doing” and “you’re not like I am, so you’re not valid and shouldn’t be here.” Shudder.

Then I watch stuff (DVDs – I don’t have a telly). Then I read books. Then I eat. Then I talk and text and email with friends. And I’m getting down to more writing than I have been.

I don’t go out as much as would be good for me, as I’m often dealing with irrational Inner Meerkat (courtesy of PTSD) – but I do get out sometimes. I meet friends, go shopping, see my therapist(s), and then I need a day on my own to recover from the adrenaline caused by going out.

Sometimes it’s absolutely fine that this is what my life is like at the moment – I’m still learning to live with PTSD, and I’m in the middle of therapy that challenges it, which is making me feel more unsafe, temporarily, so I’m doing alright to be doing what I’m doing. I’d like to take more time to just sit with my experience, but I’m not doing that because that also can induce Inner Meerkat, which is a shame – meditation used to help, now it doesn’t, for the moment.

Sometimes, though, I’m not happy at all to be like this. This is why I need to give myself the little present (in the present) of reminding myself that I keep on taking the small risks. For me, that’s the sign par excellence that I’m still alive, I’m still living, I’m not completely stagnant.

The kind of risk I’m talking about isn’t the ride-a-motorbike-without-a-helmet kind of risk. I mean something that’s always to do with communication, either with myself or with another or with others. I like about myself that I’ll take the risk to tell people when I’m in a state where the last thing I want to do is tell people. I like about myself that I’ll take the risk of telling people I love them, or that I really like them (which is often a more powerful thing to be told than the love thing). I like about myself that I’ll take the risk of telling people the truth – when it’s not what they want to hear, or when it’s not what I want to tell them, but when it’s nonetheless too true not to tell.

Just recently, I took a risk with an online teen friend to ask her about her sense of gender and sexuality – and she came out to me as queer and genderqueer. And she’s not really out to anyone else about this yet, so I feel very honoured. I told her (and someone else) recently to “keep on taking the small risks”, and they’ve both taken this to heart, and good things have happened because of this.

*****

I wrote this a few days ago, and then couldn’t take the risk of posting it – I persuaded myself that I was blowing my own trumpet too loudly. Anyway, I now think that’s bollocks, so here it is :).

Something else really nice has just happened. Well, two things, actually. The first is that one of my oldest friends, whom I’d heard nothing at all from since I told him I’m transitioning over a year ago, just rang me up and we had a really good chat. He’s been on my mind a lot lately, so I’m very happy to be in touch with him again. And it was always me calling him, so I’m very pleased he did it this time.

The other nice thing that’s happening is that I’m back into writing my novel. Twelve years ago, out of the blue, I had a whole story land in my head over around 2 days flat, like watching a video. I’ve tried writing it several times, but never got past around 10,000 words, got bogged down in “First person? Third person? Aragh!!” and left it. The story has barely changed at all over the 12 years, until now. Lately, frustrated by all the trans fiction and the apparent total absence of any trans tomboys in it (it’s all populated by trans women who “always wanted to be a beautiful feminine girlygirl”), I’ve been straining to find a story to write about her, one that wasn’t just some worthy documentary-about-transition-dressed-up-as-fiction (I get tired of that). Anyway, a couple of days ago I suddenly realised she’s who’s been missing from my novel. It only just occurred to me how weird it was that my main character has no friends. Et voilà, he has a friend who’s a trans tomboy, who saunters in and out of the story, and who makes more sense of the ending. And her transness is not a big part of her story here, except where she gets to moan about people not “getting” her being a tomboy (one of my pet peeves, as you know – that everyone assumes all trans women want to be femme). Thinking of her in the story makes me very, very happy!

Oh, and by the way, what does she look like? She kind of looks like a less 80’s version of Watts, from Some Kind Of Wonderful. Who is that, I hear you ask (unless you already know)? That is this. —>

I love her gloves. And she’s a drummer. Gorgeous. Anyway, my character looks sort of like her, and has her kind of fiery spirit (and is Irish).

Just to end with, here’s a sunrise scene from one of my favourite films, 2001: A Space Odyssey, just because.

Oh please, like shame is something to be proud of…

This won’t be so easy to write. I can’t think of an image to go with this – I was tempted to post a photo of Cordelia from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, from whose lips were uttered the words of the splendid title, but I don’t feel like joking this thing up (though she is easy on the eye, sorry).

I want to write something about shame, as it’s on my mind at the moment. I’ve become aware of how pervasive it is in my life, in a subtle way. I’m going to spare you the inevitable dictionary definition (ooh, therefore evitable!), since I think it’s reasonable to assume you already know what shame is – a product available almost everywhere.

Anyway. How to write about this without sounding like a whiny victim? Excuse me: why would you think that writing about being made to feel shame would make you sound like a whiny victim? Good point, self. Yes. So here’s the thing: shame isn’t innate, it’s acquired.

I have been encouraged to feel shame: for not being heterosexual; for not being gay; for being Jewish; for not being Jewish enough; for being a Buddhist; for being short-sighted; for having sticky-out front teeth (back when I had sticky-out front teeth); for missing some muscles; for being middle-class; for having been sexually abused; for being a man; for being a woman; for not being masculine enough (back when I was trying to be a man); for being too masculine (as a tomboy, “letting down” femme trans women); for being afraid to swim out of my depth; for being afraid of wasps; for being too tall; for being transgender; for doing drugs; for not doing drugs; for having a “mental health issue”.

Oh, hang on, that last one… well, I’ll come back to that one, because that’s interesting. But first… doesn’t this seem ridiculous to you? It does to me, writing this list, and watching it get longer and longer. This has all actually happened to me. People, and society at large, have between them gone out of their way, at certain times and in certain places, to encourage me to feel shame for all these different things. That’s just stupid. Why are we doing this? What have I encouraged others to feel ashamed of, knowingly or unknowingly?

That last one on the list, the “mental health issue”, it’s interesting because it’s clear to me that I’m the one encouraging me to feel ashamed, there. Well, okay, the culture I live in does habitually attach a stigma to mental health issues. But I haven’t had any trouble from anyone about my PTSD, except myself. Why am I doing this?

I think I’m feeling ashamed because I’ve learned over the decades how to feel ashamed, to assume I should feel ashamed. It’s been soaked into me since I was abused at 6, and in all those different ways that I listed above. So I have the habit, I have the knack. Shining my shame about mental health through a prism, I see: my inner Dad-Clone telling me I’m never good enough; my inner Society-Clone telling me I’m only “valid” when I’m doing stuff I can’t do at the moment; my inner pseudo-Buddhist-Clone telling me I should be able to overcome everything through meditation, so I’m clearly just lazy/weak; my inner Lover-Clone dismissing me as unworthy lover-potential.

Well, they can all go fuck themselves. If I’ve learned one thing over the last few months (and yes, I have learned this one thing), it’s how to keep company with the parts of me that hurt, that I’m more used to fending off. So this is just another layer of learning to do that. What my shame needs, more than anything else (and certainly more than it needs being ashamed of), is my arm around its shoulders.

Oh, and I get to win because in spite of shame, I still know how to be loving, and am willing to take the risk to act on it, over and over.

If you’re reading this and suffer with shame, I wish you freedom from it – but first, I wish you the freedom to comfort it.

*****

Here is an image to end with, after all – a deeply warm painting by my friend Srivandana. I don’t know the painting’s title, but let it stand for this: Love trumps shame, in every game.

[…and of course, I feel really self-conscious about all the above, now. But so be it… And I know people for whom shame won, it’s important to say that. Love is kind of acquired, too, we need to learn it, be taught it well.]

Epithalamion

Rant alert. Yes. (Contains some strong language.)

As the British government meanders its ambivalent way towards making some kind of decision, before the end of this year, on the matter of equal marriage in the UK (or in England and Wales, anyway, since Scotland is making its own mind up at some point), I ponder the labyrinthine hilarity of the current situation, from a trans perspective.

By way of background, my own story so far (sorry in advance for all the acronyms!): I’m currently in the middle of a MTF gender transition. Until I get a piece of paper called a GRC (Gender Recognition Certificate), for the purposes of marriage and tax I’m still legally considered male. It is possible to get a GRC without having GCS (Gender Confirmation Surgery†), but in practice it’s much easier post-surgery (the world still being very genitals-oriented when it comes to thinking about gender).

If I’d got it together to transition earlier in life, things would have got very interesting (in all sorts of ways! – but let’s stick to the marriage situation). Let’s pretend I transitioned in the 80’s (if I’d been less messed up, it would have been then). In this imaginary scenario, if I’d wanted to get married…

Before 2004 (when the Gender Recognition Act and the Civil Partnership Act were brought in): living as a post-surgery woman (but considered a man, legally), I’d have one “choice” – to marry a woman.

Since 2004 and the inception of those two Acts: without a GRC, my two “choices” would be to marry a woman, or to “enter into a civil partnership” with a man. If I had a GRC, my “choices” would be the exact opposite – to marry a man, or “enter into a civil partnership” with a woman.

Behold the labyrinth.

Without a GRC, as a “man”, I’d be considered in a same-sex relationship, if with a man. With a GRC, as a woman, I’d be considered in a same-sex relationship, if with a woman. In either case, as things stand, my country won’t let me marry – instead merely allowing me the business-transaction-sounding “civil partnership.” Same person, different piece of paper, opposite rules, and all orbiting around religiously-inspired homophobia.

So as things stand, trans people who are married and then change their “legal” gender via GRC are obliged to annul their marriage. They can then only “enter into a civil partnership” with their ex-spouse. And the opposite is true too; someone who’s in a civil partnership and then gets a GRC has to annul their civil partnership, but is then allowed to marry their partner.

This is all, and I cannot stress this enough, fucking ridiculous. It would be funny, if it weren’t so oppressive and offensive.

The fact that the country finally got it right (more or less) on the gender recognition front back in 2004, and yet is still stuck in some weird gender-matters-to-marriage universe that causes all this chaos, is fucking ridiculous. The Gender Recognition Act itself demonstrates with crystal clarity just how nominal, how contingent, the whole concept of one-man-and-one-woman is, when it comes to marriage.

Many of those opposing same-sex marriage really like to pretend that this is not a homophobia issue, but in some mysterious way, a non-homophobic this-word-means-this-one-thing-only issue, a semantics issue, an etymology issue. They’re kidding no-one except themselves. Many of the rest, who are more honest with themselves, think same-sex marriage will bring down society. Because opposite-sex marriage clearly has such an unblemished record for upholding moral values, blah drone. They’re kidding no-one except themselves.

Come on, Britain – get your shit together and level it all out. I think I’d like to be able to marry a woman, as a woman, once this is all over and I have (what I consider to be) the right body. Well, I’d like to have the choice, anyway, instead of this inconsistent Choice Lite™ crap you’ve been dangling in front of us.

Disclaimer: I was married, back when I was still pretending to be a man. It didn’t work out, as 1 in 2 don’t, apparently. So in some ways, this really can’t be about how great marriage is, because it so often isn’t. What it is about is withholding choice from a selected social group, on the basis of prejudice. You can’t tell people: we no longer consider you mentally ill, and we no longer consider you illegal – but you still don’t deserve the rights we have. Stop pissing about.

*****

†Gender Confirmation Surgery (GCS) – is also known as SRS (Sex Reassignment Surgery) or GRS (Gender Reassignment Surgery) but I prefer GCS as a term; “reassignment” sounds like something that’s being decided for me, not something I’m having done as a confirmation of true gender.

[Epithalamion is a lovely Greek word, meaning a song or poem in celebration of a wedding.

By the way, I am aware of, and amused by, the irony of using the † symbol, which looks like a cross (though it’s actually known as the dagger or obelisk), in this blog-thing, in place of asterisks for footnotes – it’s just that the asterisks looked naff without superscript, and I don’t know how to invoke superscript in this blogware.]

Outward bound

Today is what’s known as National Coming Out Day – but it’s way more International, as it’s now celebrated in many countries around the world on October 11th. It’s a day on which to celebrate the courage of we people who’ve come out (or who haven’t yet come out) as queer or genderqueer in whatever flavour or texture – but also a day to send out love to all those for whom it is a risk to be themselves out loud.

I’m enjoying reading people’s coming-out stories around the ‘net today. I responded to a request on Butch Wonders‘ blog for tweets, haikus, and limericks on the subject, with these two:

came out three times now
gayboy, transwoman… tomboy
enough, already!

and…

It’s enough to demolish the brain
How the Transmatriarchy inane
Demand Bette and Tina
Be the trans girl’s Athena…
When I only long to be Shane

(The limerick refers to characters from The L Word, in case that helps. It is deeply apt that I couldn’t find anything to rhyme with Jenny Schechter.)

[the image is by Jantiff Stocks – step out…]

Transpires

[Been away for a bit, catching up today, sorry if this one sprawls a bit…]

One of the reasons why I find it hard to meditate, concentrate, sleep, and all that kind of thing, is that I have a very associative mind, I’m told. What that means in blunter English: everything reminds me of everything.

I was wondering what I wanted to call this particular blog-thing, and this word transpires came to mind. It means so many things at once, I was a bit overwhelmed when I started to think about it, because I don’t generally give a lot of attention to my intertwangled state of consciousness, and here it is. So let’s see… oh, and all of these associations relate to the things I wanted to write about, so this is by way of being a really daft analogue of a spoiler…

Transpiration – something passing through a surface, like moisture through a plant leaf. Which comes more originally from spirare, to breathe – which also gives us our word inspiration, which means to breathe something in. Transpires also means “it turns out”, or “it is revealed…” I also got from this word, in a sideways-glance sort of fashion, the idea that within each trans person’s transition, there are certain peaks, or spires.

Ooh, that’s interesting, I was carefully avoiding the French word pire, which means worse or worst – but then I realise just now that a phrase very relevant to my experience over the last few days is “what’s the worst that could happen?”

Okay, so much for the showing-off preamble. This is going to be loosely about being a trans tomboy, about having PTSD, and about Tonglen. What transpired?

Well, last Saturday I took a deep breath (or 20) and got on a train to travel 200 miles to stay with a friend for a few days, one day of which I spent at a meditation day for gay/bi women. The day was on the theme of Tonglen (I’ll get to that).

Because of my PTSD, going away from home is really hard work (I’ve written about this before, I know). I’ll only do it for friends or Dharma or music, nothing else justifies the effort at the moment. Okay, I’d probably do it for lurve, if such were on the menu at the moment. Being on a crowded train is about as bad as it gets, for me – my Inner Meerkat needs constant attention to prevent it from exploding and taking out the entire carriage. I did well. For 5 hours. This is a little big triumph.

I was really pleased to see my friend (in spite of the not-sleep I got on a futon at his place). But the meditation day was the star event. I went on a similar one about a year ago, and I feel very grateful that they exist, and that they’re very explicitly welcoming of anyone who identifies as a gay/bi woman.

And it’s not just welcoming-on-paper – from the moment I got there, I was just one of the women. What a relief. This was yet another positive experience of queer women being my ‘tribe’. We make sense to each other, and I really need that.

Tonglen: this is a Buddhist meditation practice, from a Tibetan tradition. The name means ‘giving and taking’ or ‘sending and receiving’. Put very simply, the practice involves (in your imagination) breathing in suffering, and breathing out its antidote. The point of it, you could say, is to learn to turn to face discomfort, instead of what we usually do, which is to back away from it with our weapons up. It’s not a practice to do lightly… by which I mean, you need a strong grounding in emotional positivity to take this on without being knocked down by it.

It’s also not a conceptual exercise. The point of it is to not think about suffering, but to call to mind its feeling, its ‘texture’, to sort of embody it – and then to do the same with its antidote. We connect with either our own or someone else’s suffering in a concrete way, and we connect with everyone who is experiencing the same suffering right now. It’s strong stuff.

What was significant for me about spending a day with this practice was that I’ve clearly been living it for the last few months already. In my painful path towards learning how to live with my PTSD, I’ve learned (or at least I am learning) how to keep company with my suffering, instead of trying to get rid of it.

This is the big point I wanted to make here: that as Buddhists, it’s easy to fool ourselves using words like transform. You hear a lot in Buddhism about transformation, but we’re not seeking to transform suffering, we’re transforming our relationship with it. It’s very, very easy to slip into wanting suffering to go away. But holding it at arms’ length is just another way of holding onto it.

So lately, when I feel pain that I’m resisting (which is pretty much always!), I’ve taken to imagining myself putting my arms around it instead, and cuddling it. We’re in this together. This is making a quiet profound difference to life. I hope I can keep it up.

I had quite a comedown after the meditation day, because it was so lovely being around these other women. But I’ve noticed, a week on, that my self-confidence has really risen after that day. Which brings me to… this weekend just gone.

I took a risk and went away again, when I hadn’t yet recovered from the last trip. This was for a weekend of singing hormones – hahahaha, that’s supposed to be ‘harmonies’ but it’s so apt I’m leaving it there – and was worth all the stress/distress involved in being away again. It was more stressful because it was with a bunch of people I don’t really know, apart from one or two. It was stressful because my inner teen was being stroppy, grumpy, and specifically very lovesick. But it really wasn’t in any way stressful in relation to me being trans. I found that I didn’t expect (and didn’t get) any trouble from people there for being who I am. And the confidence in myself that I got from the meditation day meant that I wasn’t uncomfortable with having to sing bass :).

It’s kind of weird and tiring, though, trying constantly to work out whether you love someone, or are in love with them. And of course, it turns out to be both. This is another tonglen scenario, as a part of me believes she’s the antidote to my suffering, sigh… Trying to stay adult in the face of all that going on was a full-time effort, but I did a good job.

The high point for me was singing this song by Bon Iver – I still have it going round my head:

[unfancy flowers springing from the cracks in a wall seemed like an apt photo – this is near my house]