Femme fatale

La Femme FataleI’ve been coming across the term femmephobia lately, and I’ve realised I’m guilty of it. It means something like being dismissive of or reactive to femininity, in whatever form.

I think for me, it’s been a kind of self-protection. I’ve had to put up with the vast majority of femme trans women I meet being dismissive in one way or another of me as a trans tomboy – generally by negating my existence as a woman, and wanting to see me as androgyne, or gender-neutral, or just “not yet done”, as though my tomboyhood is just a phase I’m going through on my way to True Womanhood™ (I know, I’ve banged on about this before, so I’ll stop now).

What I’m interested in right now is how I’ve consequently bought into some kind of protective femmephobic behaviour. The fact that I evolved a language for myself where I would describe these femme trans women as überheterofemme is actually pretty unpleasant. Worse yet, I’ve been noticing how often I find myself in conversations with cis folk where I tell them I’m a trans tomboy, and then they want to take the conversation down a path of us colluding in slagging off* femme trans women for being “over-the-top” in their presentation etc.

I’ve gone along with this a few times, I confess. Partly, it’s an opportunity to vent some frustration at the trans women who have been so dismissive of me (and left me feeling very isolated sometimes) – a retaliatory way for me to feel like it’s not me that’s the mutant. But partly, it’s also subtle a way of “getting cis folk on my side”, so I feel safer.

I’m not going to do this any more – it’s divisive, and it doesn’t help anyone in the end. I’m a little ashamed to admit all this. But it’s part of the growing-up process, I suppose. So, for the record:

I have no idea why people who present differently from me present the way they do – but if I want to know, I’ll have to ask them. If I’m not willing to do that, I can at least stop making assumptions. I don’t have to understand other people in order to accept them (though I’d like to make the effort to understand them too). And this is what I’ll tell people when they want me to participate in transfemme-deconstruction.

All I need to do is be a little more brave than I have been.

women-courage

[*Note: “slagging off” is Brit-speak for what Americans call “ripping on” – language is weird…]

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Crimson blossom

After writing my last blog-thing last night, something more occurred to me this morning, which should probably have been obvious – but I’ve been following this slow train of thought/feeling through floodwaters whilst short on sleep… so it all comes into focus slowly.

What occurred was this: for me, it seems my arrival into womanhood has two faces. One is the rising up of my woman psyche out of the protective slumber she was put in as a child; this is an ongoing journey home into myself. The other is very much a somatic, anatomical thing, and it has at its source the surgery I’ll be having at some point around a year from now, which feels absolutely necessary, to complete my arrival, and has a strong ritual significance for me that I’m still learning about.

So my arrival into womanhood will involve a kind of menarche after all. It will be my first and last. As a woman, I will be born in blood. Ordinary, and magical.

*****

It does feel odd to me that I’m dwelling so much on the blood face of womanhood at the moment. But then again not odd too. I had in mind a flower unfolding, when I started to write all this, so I googled crimson blossom at random to see what images were out there – and found this piece of art by Julia Kunin called Crimson Blossom. Strange are the ways of coincidence. Sometimes it the blood, and sometimes it’s the forest.

Arkhē

Something strange came to me tonight, in the run-up to this full moon.

I was travelling home through flood weather, after spending a weekend visiting a friend of mine who (although I don’t think he realises it yet) is coming out to himself as bi-gender. Sitting on the train earlier, reading a book he passionately insisted on lending me, called The Red Tent. Reading about the menarche – the young women’s first bleeding.

I will never bear children is not something I’ve felt much, though I’ve thought it much.

When I was 24, after I’d persuaded myself that a gender transition was not an option, I did (what I somehow imagined was) the next best thing: I went to a GP and asked for a vasectomy. She laughed me out of the consulting room (which was cruel of her), and told me to come back when I was older. I eventually had a vasectomy when I was 39. When I look back at this, I see my desire for a vasectomy part driven by the knowledge I was no man – but part driven by my utter certainty then that I could only be the parent my parents had been, and I swore never to inflict that on any child.

A few years after my vasectomy (by which time I was, incidentally, married), I began training as a counsellor. Somewhere in the middle of that first year of training, a lot of things began to wake in me, and one of them was the knowledge that I could be a good parent. A couple of years after that (by which time I was, incidentally, separated – counselling training will do that sometimes), I almost found myself having a vasectomy reversal, because I was finally with someone I could imagine being a good parent with. That didn’t work out, partly because what I wanted to be in the end wasn’t a father.

Tonight, it’s finally reached me, this knowledge that I’m never going to bear children. It’s something that many trans women find themselves having to embrace, at some point, those who would like to be mothers. It’s weird how some things just don’t rise up in you until they do rise up in you – and tonight, I find myself mourning that I will never experience the menarche, and where it can lead. I have a lovely young friend who, amongst other amazing things that she does, is involved in setting up a network of women to help celebrate the menarche among the young women around them. I love her for doing this. And it makes me sad that I’m outside of this experience.

If you’re a woman who has experienced this, you may perhaps be finding this sadness and desire of mine naïve, or even annoying. For sure, I have no idea what it is I’m missing (but that’s the nature of missing out on things). But there it is. I can only say: I am feeling this.

I was mulling over this feeling again later this evening, once I got home and was in bed, reading more of that book – when it suddenly struck me that I am 50, and I’m on HRT; that in a weird sense (which makes sense to me, at least) as I enter womanhood physically at last, I’m also entering menopause, which is why I will never bleed.

Menarche: mēn month, arkhē beginning. I’m here at the beginning of something, as well as an ending. Both a sunset and a sunrise. I choose to experience this as a blood mystery I’ve happened upon in my wayward journey to physical womanhood.

I can feel myself, having written all this, pulling myself in again, against some imagined derision from women born in woman bodies. But it doesn’t really matter. Biological accident, and damaged parenting, between them took away my turn at being Maiden and Mother. But I get to be Crone, and that’s been worth living for. So mote it be. I may not be the Crone I’d be if my body had walked the moon’s path unhindered to get here, but I have walked it nonetheless (oh my goodness yes), and I am this kind of Crone that I am – even as HRT makes a teenager of me. Thus is equilibrium maintained…

[…two happily found photos: Blood Sunset by AshATurner, and Sunrise With Venus by Alessio Andreani…

…and it now occurs to me just what a natural progression this is from my previous blog-thing – from the choice of celibacy to the welcoming of Cronehood…]

Escolhas, escolhas…

[…this is going to be quite personal…]

Since it’s just you and me here tonight, let me tell you a private joke.

As with everything that goes on in my mind, this connects past-present-future as well as this-that-those-these. Anyway…

Back around this time 12 years ago, I was on a solitary retreat in a caravan in North Wales, a few months after my mum died, and I had some kind of psycho-spiritual awakening. I’m not going to say more about it than that it didn’t last (the conditions to support it lasting were not there), but I thought for several months that it was with me forever – until I took a good look at myself, and laughed and let go, with some final relief.

During the holding-on time, though, I met up with the Portuguese surf god I’d used to live with at a Buddhist retreat centre (he was back over from Portugal for a visit), and he told me his partner was pregnant. In a rush of self-deluded grandeur, I said: hey, I’ll come over to Portugal and teach with you, help you out! (Spoiler: I got over this…)

Before I got over it, I went out and bought a Teach Yourself Portuguese book, and a Portuguese-English dictionary. I went to a café and got the books out to look at them, but got distracted by a beautiful Brazilian woman who’d noticed them, and offered to teach me Portuguese – I sadly declined (we lived in different cities), and after she’d sauntered away, I picked up the dictionary, and opened it for the first time, at random. And behold, the headwords at the top of the two pages seemed to say it all:

Masturbate … Meditate

My private joke with my Portuguese-speaking friends I’ve shown this to is escolhas, escolhas – choices, choices…

*****

There’s a reason, apart from the approaching full moon, why I’m thinking about this tonight, and telling it. For a couple of days now, it’s been on my mind to wonder about why I always seem to be oriented so strongly towards being in a sexual relationship? Because of late, I’ve been faced with the certainty that although I yearn for a relationship, I know I’m in no fit state to be in one  – because of my PTSD, because of my transitioning, but chiefly because…

The thing is, being sexually abused by my parents (among the other weird mind-messes they made) has left me with a pretty unhealthy relationship with sex. Many selves:

  • someone in me believes that the only way to get love is to be sexually available
  • someone in me believes that being sexual gets you rejected and abandoned
  • someone in me believes anyone who loves me wants me sexually
  • someone in me believes anyone who wants me sexually just wants to use me
  • someone in me believes anyone who doesn’t want me sexually doesn’t love me

…and so on. It’s not easy to stay beyond this, watch all this go on at once and not be sucked into one or the other someone, like a chromed ball on a wire, wandering randomly between magnets on a 70’s executive toy (dammit, this is too specific, and I can’t find a picture to explain this). What I mean is, when I’m sexual with someone, I flicker between these states of “certainty” about what’s happening far more than I stay beyond them, actually experiencing what’s actually happening.

What’s been on my mind the last couple of days is choice. I know I’m not asexual – I have desires towards people. But I think I don’t actually want to have the sex I seem to desire, because it scares me, and I’m tired of being scared. And it’s seemed as though on some level (because of the manifold someones above), I think I don’t have a choice about whether I’m sexual or not.

But I do.

What I want: I want everything that I love about being in a relationship – except the sex. I don’t know that I can get that from one person, and maybe I don’t need to get it just from one person. But I want intimacy, and affection, and continuity, and love, and laughs, and friendship, and depth of communication, and openness, and vulnerability… and giving, singing, and dancing!

(…oh, and I want kissing… kissing is way more fucking amazing than fucking is amazing…)

Well okay, what I’d really like is not to be frightened by sex, but I have no idea whether that’s ever going to be possible. (My experience of it is going to be “different” once I’ve had surgery, but I have no idea in what ways different and in what ways not-different.) And meanwhile, alongside of all that amazing list of possibilities with people, sex really doesn’t need to be a priority – I’ve just been conditioned (by my culture, and by my damaged parents) to see it as a priority, even though (as I’m finally admitting to myself) it’s more frightening than it’s enjoyable.

Over the last week, I’ve had some truly lovely interaction with people that’s reminded me of how rich and fruity friendship can be, in and of itself. I have no idea… I really, really, have no idea… whether I’ll feel like this a week from now, I have such strong conditioning towards the old story. But I wanted to tell this one while it’s in my mind.

I’m evoking a reality where the someones that are me get to give and get love, without sex (and therefore fear) being a price, because I don’t want there to be a price in love.

So if there ever comes a day where sex no longer costs me what it always has done, I may give and receive it with as much joy as I do love – but until then, I choose its absence.

[…moth dances in the dark…]

A call to mind

Today, 20th November, is Transgender Day of Remembrance, in many countries around the world.

The purpose of this day, since its inception 15 years ago, is to remember all those trans people who have died as a consequence of being trans – either by their own hand, or by being murdered.

The figures go up each year – perhaps because more cases are properly reported (though many trans murders and suicides are still recorded as gay- rather than trans-related by recidivist police and press), and perhaps because there are more and more out trans people around the world as time goes on.

But when I say “because”, I don’t mean that people are dying because they’re trans – I mean that people are taking their own lives because being trans in unsupportive conditions can be such a huge burden; people are being murdered because there are transphobic people out there who wish to do us harm.

I’d like us not just to call to mind the dead, but also the struggling living, who are with us (who may be us) and need our love and support, and encouragement, who need us to educate and open the minds of those who hate or fear us.

And the best tribute we can pay to the dead among us is to live well. In spite of all that persuasion to think of ourselves as unworthy of care and love, we can love and care for ourselves, for each other, for everyone we encounter.

Revenge is a dish best unmade, uneaten – but the best revenge against hatred is to live as better people than those who hate.

Label babel fable

I’ve just found a cool new non-binary genderqueer forum to play in called Transyada. I’ve been enjoying further wrangles with terminology and identity, and I came up with a (for me) new label this morning, which I’m foisting on you: trandrogyne.

What’s the point of this? Good question. I know.

Well… there was some discussion about a couple of terms I hadn’t really come across before: transfeminine, transmasculine. The general consensus seems to be that these terms are used by trans people who don’t want to describe themselves as women/men, but also don’t want to describe themselves as trans women/trans men – but who identify in some way as more female/male respectively than not. As with any terms, google them and you’ll find (as I just did) a broad probability cloud of definitions, so I’m inevitably doing some people an injustice with this stab at a brief definition.

I’m not comfortable with these terms. Well, there’s no reason why I need to be, since it’s a matter of choice whether I use either of them myself. But there seems to me to be a built-in assumption that femininity/masculinity is inherent in femaleness/maleness. I encounter this often enough, even in the (mostly binary) trans world, to find myself more and more reluctant to want to just call myself a woman or trans woman – because there’s such a strong pull in people towards assuming that being a woman/trans woman means I want to present as feminine.

I quite like having trans in my personal label of choice, since I’m in mid-transition, and it’s a significant aspect of me. I like womandrogyne a great deal as a label, but when I came up with trandrogyne, it too has a very nice fit. The trouble is, I want a label that’s somewhere between the two (and yet still catchy as hell), because I don’t fully identify as either woman or androgyne.

Hmm, let’s see. Transwomandrogyne is pretty much the most accurate, and least catchy, label I could possibly come up with. So, no.

This is the trouble with labels. They’re small, don’t tell you enough about the product, and they either fall off too easily or are hard to get off when you want them to. I wouldn’t want the label transfeminine, because it would leave a sticky residue.

Skipping across metaphors… a label is basically a very short story. Being so short, it has to leave a lot to the imagination.

Once upon a time, there was a person who was born with a body at odds with their genderself. They didn’t fit neatly into the genderslots their world was offering as options, so nobody was sure what to call them, and they were unsure what to call themselves. They longed for a Name of Power that would reveal their true nature to all.

But the Power of Names becomes diluted, as more people hear them. This is the way of things.

Or something. So… The Trandrogyne Womandrogyne hath a ring to it, don’t you think? But its Power is mainly to make people go “huh?”

The point being, I both want and don’t want a distinct identity and a label to go with that. I want the convenience without the stultification. I want the security without the prescription/proscription. I want to know who I am, and say who I am – but I don’t want to fix who I am. I like this paradox, this dilemma, this tension-that-isn’t.

woman, androgyne?
trandrogyne, womandrogyne?
need/don’t need a line…

*****

[the images are the twin states of “Tension Thing” by Judith Fegerl – ceramic sphere, human hair, cables, high voltage generator]

Frontierswoman

Something’s gently swelling in my chest – I got my new passport back in the post this weekend, and I scored an F in Maleness.

This is the last big legal gender-change thing I can do, this side of surgery, so it’s a big milestone (ah, all these travel metaphors!)

It coincides strangely with a recent new contact – I’ve just started to get to know a fellow Buddhist in Ireland who’s quite near the beginning of her gender transition, and we’ve been talking about going on a retreat together – and I’ve been looking into going over for a visit early next year. So I may soon get to find out how progressive UK and Irish border guards are these days.

I’m grateful to be living in a country where it’s straightforwardly acknowledged, by the government and health service, that transitioning is supported by being able to change official gender at quite a deep level during transition. The only thing I can’t change yet is my gender on my tax record, and on my birth certificate. If I want to, I can do that next October (though it will be easier if I wait until after surgery). I’m very aware of the hell some people in other countries (even the ones where being transgender is both legal and supported by law) go through in changing their gender, being at the mercy of prejudiced local officials.

I also just want to take this opportunity to say thank you to all my friends (even though hardly any of them are reading this), for the efforts they’ve been making in using the right pronouns for me. I was just away with friends in Bristol over the weekend, and it still gives me a thrill to hear people I care about calling me “she”. You’re all stars.

*****

[This is a Hubble telescope picture of the Tadpole Galaxy. It’s 420 million light years away. That’s a bloody long way. Sometimes my transition journey feels like a bloody long way still to go – but I can see the destination, and it looks fascinating. And it’s filled with stars.]