Monday, 30 August 2010

Deeper Problems

The people most hurt or outraged by one’s transition can be very insistent that they know better and that you are so wrong. How do they know? What can they see from observing the surface? How can they know you from remembering the old you, and all the things you said in the past, which were all part of the compromised life you led? They urge you to seek an independent assessment of your psychological state before you commit to something irreversible. As if you cannot know your own mind.

Indeed as if you have never grown up. How old do you have to be? How many really bad things must happen to you before you are deemed to ‘know something about life’ and your own capacity to face up to it? Have events left no mark? Let me see: In the last fifteen years I have lost my only brother in a car accident; had a divorce; had an exceptionally damaging work experience that permanently affected my promotion prospects and pension; lost my job through early retirement, which deprived me at a stroke of my daily routine and constant social contact with dozens of colleagues; more lately I have survived the first months of transition; lost a friend of twenty-four years standing; gradually and painfully lost my beloved partner of the entire fifteen years; lost both parents in quick succession; and now, a devastating financial write-off of at about £100,000, even if my old house actually sells for the present asking price. Plenty of life’s knocks there.

I admit I have escaped serious personal illness and the death of a child or partner, but how much more do you need to take in order to qualify as ‘experienced in life’, responsible for your actions, and not a child anymore?

I had a job that taught me how to sift through information and distinguish fact from fiction. I learned what it meant to be lied to, and I learned the ugly face of dishonesty. It was a job that could make you highly cynical. It was not a comfortable job. It was stressful at times, and yet I took it in my stride for thirty-five years. And the attitude I had for coping with a job like that did not fade away after early retirement. Four years on, I was capable of turning my mind to what had to be done when my parents died. I did not go under. I organised their funerals, composed and delivered the speech at each cremation service. I registered their deaths and did all the other things necessary to administer their estates correctly in my capacity as sole executor. I did it all in a methodical fashion, and did not allow grief to interfere. And there were no questions about the soundness of my mind or my competence to act from the doctor, the coroner, the solicitor, the probate officers, or other officials that I dealt with when carrying out my duties. I made no mistakes. It was a marathon that I wouldn’t like to repeat, but I saw it through. As indeed we all have to.

Nor have the hormones made me wobble. I thought they would. But I have been able to keep pretty good control of my feelings, not often giving in to tears. I wouldn’t say I am happy: I am so sad that my life with M--- is presently in abeyance, and in grave danger of being snuffed out for ever. She is irreplaceable. It would affect me (and her) for the rest of our lives.

But I would say that despite everything I am presently more hopeful than I have ever been. My self-confidence has returned. I have control over my life. And if I seem all ‘me, me, me’ to some, then I also see an outward-looking attitude that was never there before. The fear has gone. So has the desire to hide and cover up. Surely that’s all a real gain.

Just as well. My transition is far from universally accepted. I have had it put to me over and over again, usually in tones of sorrow, sometimes with sharp indignation, that:

1. I cannot ever 'be a woman' in a physical sense because I lack the proper internal anatomy, including a womb and ovaries. A surgically-created vagina, however realistic, does not count. It’s an appalling idea anyway, which I will regret further down the line. Nor do any of the hormone-induced changes such as smooth skin and breasts count. Nor can I claim to have the emotions and thinking-patterns of a woman because I lack the correct brain tissue and neural connections, and am stuck with a typical man’s brain.

2. I have no right to claim 'womanhood' because I have never had periods, never (even potentially) had the experiences of pregnancy and giving birth. These things, which women suffer, are the essential capabilities that distinguish women from men. I cannot have a child and never could, and to claim womanhood in any form is an insult to real women and a mockery of their role as mothers and all the pain involved. Indeed, my attitude makes all women seethe with anger. How dare I presume to claim any such thing. Even a lesser claim, that I am simply an undefined female, is a palpable falsehood, and a slap in the face of every woman.

3. I am at best sadly deluded. I am really a man, always was, and cannot change. The medical profession is conniving in a fraud. And any legal recognition or advantage I may get is based on a lie, a disgusting travesty of the plain truth. I’m caught up in an unnatural process and I must see that before it goes too far.

4. I am rewriting my personal history all the time, reinventing the past to fit my vision of how I’d like to be. Past events that had no significance are now reinterpreted with a transsexual slant, as 'evidence' of femininity, to pad out a very thin and unconvincing track record. I have played down the significance to me of other events, which clearly shook me and are the real reason why I need to break with the old life.

5. I am slowly destroying the lovely person I used to be. The replacement is horrible, lacking all the warm, caring qualities that marked the old me.

Well, these are strong challenges. I am sure many of us would be disheartened by these assertions. They don’t help. They undermine. The instinct is to turn away and ignore the cold blast of alternative opinions. To be stubborn. But I will think very seriously about them in the run-up to my surgery next spring, and examine them for truth.

As if there were not already so much to do.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

The Normal Woman - let's discuss it further

Chrissie (of Chrissie's Place) has lately reopened this can of worms on her own blog. I think rightly. The cluster of questions that surround public presentation need asking over and over again. And the answers change with time, as social changes slowly take place. There are always fresh waves of people discovering they are trans, or facing up to what they always knew, and they need suggestions as to what will work and what will not. And perhaps pointers to the deeper meaning of what it means to be male or female.

Magazines have cycles of articles for beginners, intermediates, and confirmed enthusiasts that unfold over a period and then repeat endlessly. And every such publication has its question-and-answer section. When you look at readers' questions in past issues of magazines, whatever the subject,  it's striking how many of their questions never stop being asked, even if the replies move on somewhat. There is a perennial interest in knowing what the right way is, and most of us like to know at least occasionally how we measure up to the contemporary standard, even if we are unrepentant individualists and scorn such arbitrary and transient things.

Even if you are highly experienced, you will still look at these magazines occasionally, just to keep in touch with what the style-setters are getting up to. You can smile and pass on; but people new to it all, who may feel insecure and unconfident, will take a diffferent view. 

So, to get down to particulars.

Scenario: you are presenting as a female, and let's assume your voice is OK and that your clothes and shoes and makeup are right for the season, the surroundings, the weather and the time of day. You are in a queue, in a waiting room, or on a bus, or in any public situation where (because you are presenting as a female) sooner or later conversation is going to take place.

As soon as you open your mouth you will be judged in many ways. In the UK, certainly on your social class and standard of education. But let's not digress in to that. There you are, and you are going to speak, and what you say will give clues to what sort of woman you are. Objective number one: to be taken as an ordinary woman. Objective number two: to find and share topics of mutual interest. Objective number three: to make both of you feel good after the exchange, so that the woman you spoke to thinks, 'what a nice person'.

The opening remark may be rather banal. 'Don't these buses take ages to come?' or 'You've only got a small basket of things, would you like to go before me?' That's an invitation to chat.

What are the expected subjects? The defiant attititude of North Korea? Toyota's latest hybrid model? Arsenal's brilliant result in last night's match? The pain of Microsoft's latest update? The Prime Minister's latest export initiative? The debate on GM crops? The New Feminists? The fringe comedy acts at the Edinburgh Festival? The floods in Pakistan? The attacks by the Taliban? Employment rights? These are intelligent subjects, to be sure, but not stuff for the bus queue. I suggest any of the following might be safe, and establish that you are an ordinary universal mainstream woman:

Home decor and furnishings ('Oh, that's a pair of cushions that they had in the sale. Nice, aren't they?')
Shopping for the home ('Do you know, I've just paid two pounds for this baguette in Marks. Daylight robbery!')
Gardening ('I've got a few pots, and I saw these begonias, and I couldn't resist.')
Cooking (My kids are so fussy! But I think they'll like this.)
Modest entertaining (Do you ever have people round? How do you do it?')
Home crafts ('I love knitting these little gloves in really wild colours')

Partner ('Yes, my partner's got his own business. I just help out on the side')
Own children ('Two kids. The youngest has just started school, so I can get out more now')
Grandchildren ('I wish we lived closer')
Parents ('My mum's eighty-three now, still fighting fit. Loves to see the children.')
Holidays and family events ('My oldest leaves school next month. There's the prom to think about, and her dress, and she can't make up her mind. It's a total nightmare')

Relationships ('It's his birthday and I don't know what to buy him')
Friends ('I've got a friend who rides and doesn't care what she wears, ever')
Community activities ('I like to help out at the Age Concern centre too - which day do you do?')
Dieting ('I'm so hungry, but I'm not giving in')
Fitness ('Those stairs just about killed me')
Skin and nail care ('Oh look, I've just broken another nail')
Hair style and hair care ('Every month or so I treat myself to a really good cut')
Clothes ('Oh, do you like this? Got it in the sale at Debenhams. Bit of a story about it, actually...')
Shoes ('Well, these were in the sale at Jones, and normally I couldn't afford their prices, even in a sale, but I just happened to see them, and...')
Hobbies and passtimes ('Oh, we both like motorsport, and we go off on the bike somewhere every weekend. You can imagine me in my leathers!')
Job ('I work in customer services. That's right, in the big store at Holmbush. Well, what was I saying, just the other day...')

OK, the illustrative verbals are a bit of a joke, but you get the idea.

I have to say I wouldn't personally be able to chat very long about some of these topics. No relationship that I can discuss, no young children, and no job now. You may be in the same boat. But there's enough in this basic list for most situations. And none of them should give away your male upbringing.

I can't stress enough that lists like this are for a specific purpose, to help someone get by successfully in role, and are not meant to prescribe 'what makes a normal woman'. I couldn't easily say what defines a normal woman. Everyone is an individual. It may be that more women than men obey traffic signals and signs when driving; that women tend to be more painstaking and less slapdash than men; that women are more likely to abide by recognised social customs; and that generally women pay closer attention to what is considered 'normal'.

I suspect all this is because, as a section of society, women feel more insecure, and open to scrutiny and criticism. Whose fault that is is something we might easily guess, but I won't go into it, simply accepting the apparent facts that women risk more if they do not conform; they play for safety; they are in any case physically vulnerable; and though mentally often very strong, they usually have no ambition to dominate. They nurture, not destroy. Women co-operate; they are gregarious creatures, needing company, and are not often loners. So if you seem to reach out to people, and are soft, compliant, unaggressive and emotional, and caring to the point of total unselfishness, you are likely to be taken as a woman and treated like one, because not many men are like that.

I'm not saying you can't be assertive. In fact you have to be, if you want anything to happen when you want it and how you want it. (Good luck)

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Busy girl

I'm busy with appointment after appointment between now and the middle of September!

I kick off with a trip to south-east London for electrolysis with Roz. Then it's a hair appointment at Trevor Sorbie in Brighton. Then a local breast screening, followed immediately by voice therapy in London with Christella Antoni - I hope I won't be in any pain from having my boobs clamped in the scanning machine! It's my first time. Next day it's a chat with my local doctor, immediately followed by an appointment with the nurse to take various blood samples (five different things). Then another visit to Roz. Then that important visit to Dr Richard Curtis in London to discuss my current hormone dose and my referral for surgery in the spring. Then Roz again. That's nine appointments, and a lot of travel. Thank goodness I live conveniently near motorways and the London-Brighton main railway line!

There's hope that I may have found a buyer for my old home. In fact they've offered the full new asking price. The only snag is that their own buyer (it's a chain of three) is on holiday and solicitors can't be instructed until next week at the earliest. I hope they won't have changed their mind by then. Anyway, fingers crossed...and if it's on, then I'll need to attend to the initial legals and property information queries, and find out whether they want the washing machine and so on. Meanwhile I've spoken to my friendly tree surgeon, who is coming to make the boundary hedges look cared for. So many things to fix up.

Then there's also a possible family funeral looming. I'll want to go off to south Wales for that.

I was seriously toying with another visit to Scotland, in fact Orkney, but I don't see how I can go before the end of September, and then it'll be too late in the year - days too short, likelihood of abysmal weather - to justify the effort of getting there. Plus the photos I had in mind might be impossible to take. I could still do it as a three-day dash in Fiona, with a hotel on Orkney, and a slightly more leisurely drive back (seeing two friends on the way), but that would be really expensive because of the hotel costs. The much cheaper alternative, despite the increased fuel and ferry costs, would be to take the caravan. But that would mean three weeks away, and I think the particular caravan site on Orkney (the one down by the shore at Stromness, with a glorious view of Hoy) will have closed by the time I can get away. Besides, with so much going on with the pre-surgery, the house, and family things, I think I have no business to absent myself in the far north. I'll have to save that trip up for next year, and meanwhile take out-of-season breaks much closer to home.

All this is typical of my life just now. Full of places to get to on time, not a lot of opportunity to stay at home and chill. I'm not complaining, of course! Better an existence spent travelling around with plenty to arrange than one stuck indoors with nothing much to do. I will have to plan my post-op activities with care. I won't be whizzing around much for a while, and I'll want to avoid boredom. Maybe I'll get some decent sleep in! (I feel unusually tired at the moment)

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Have you had your bottom pinched?

Facing fifty-odd strangers at that 40th birthday party at Yelden, and apparently not being detected, was really some achievement. I suppose the old hormones must be thanked for it, that and the voice therapy. My confidence rested on those things. It made me ponder on how things might be in a year's time, with downstairs seen to, and a bit more plumping-out and rounding-off in other spots, including my face. I might actually look moderately worth chatting up. Well, some beery old lecher is bound to have a go. And the odd younger bloke who likes rotund mother-figures. Sigh. And I suppose somewhere along the line I'll get my bottom pinched.

It's happened before. Back in 1993, when I was of course in J--- mode, although I hasten to add that the circumstances were special. 1993 was an especially athletic year for me. I belonged to two badminton clubs, I walked a lot up on the hills, I was taking horse-riding lessons, and I was learning to fence. You couldn't fence in jeans. You had to wear more suitable clothing. Keen types bought themselves the full kit. I made do with the special jacket, the mask and the gloves. Below the torso it was normally jogging bottoms and trainers.

One evening I decided to experiment a little. At home I had found some leggings, very similar to what girls wear nowadays. They were a bit short and a bit body-hugging, but I felt daring and decided to wear them for a change. To be frank, I knew they were rather girly, but I wanted to wear something girly, and they were quite suitable for fencing, just a bit unusual. I think they passed without comment at the fencing class. But later, at the pub (the St Leonard's Arms in Horsham), they caught the attention of the local lads. And in the crush at the bar, when I was buying a drink, one of these young gentlemen gave my bottom one hell of a pinch. I was speechless. I pretended nothing had happened (even though I heard some nearby sniggering), quickly paid for my drink, and marched stiffly over to my fencing friends without looking back. I was mortally embarrassed and not a little indignant at this ill-meant assault on my person. How dare they! I also felt cheapened and humiliated, knowing that somewhere back at the bar some silly young men were laughing at me.

I suppose it gave me an insight into how women might feel when men leer at them and strip them naked with a lewd glance. But it cut short any further forays into female territory for a long time.

That wasn't incidentally my first appearance in public in ambivalent attire. In the late 1980s, I was working in an office in Bromley. I was in fact a big wheel there, the Investigation Manager; I was also the Liaison Officer between the Revenue and Customs (then separate government departments) for the whole of south-east London. Not exactly a backroom positon. No chance of staying in the background. And so when the technical staff proposed a Christmas Mystery Play for the entertainment of the rest, I couldn't slink away, I was obliged to join in.

Mystery Plays involve such characters as St George and his adversary the Turkish Knight, with Father Christmas thrown in, and other traditional personages, all saying traditional things and performing traditional acts. The play (if 'play' was the right word) began with Father Christmas intoning a traditional speech that ended

Welcome or welcome not,
I hope Father Christmas will never be forgot.

Merry stuff, as you can see. In fact the Mystery Play, if done correctly, is rather doleful and dispiriting, as if to remind the audience of death and the insignificance of worldly ambition. The only real action is where St George faces up to the Turkish Knight and slays him. I'm sure the onlookers in medieval times thought that rare fun, a bit of colour in their drab lives. But the 1980s as we all know was the decade of MTV, flash clothes and cars, spend, spend, spend with loadsamoney in your pocket, a glittering time of easy prosperity built on easy credit. The Recession was just around the corner, but nobody cared. Few were in the mood to reflect on grim tales of woe and morality. It was therefore my personal opinion that this Mystery Play was rather a mistake. It struck the wrong note. I decided to cheer it up.

If I had no choice about taking part - I had landed a strange narrative or connecting role in which I 'explained' the action as it occurred to the puzzled audience - then, by St George, I was going to dress up! I chose a Christmas red and holly-green theme, and acquired a green tunic, red and green scarves, a green cape, a red belt, red gloves, and green tights. Somewhat like Robin Hood, or maybe Peter Pan, but more Christmassy. It was my first piece of public dressing-up since those ghastly Christmas plays involving angels in my junior school thirty years earlier. I have to say, plenty of eyes popped out when I made my own entrance! People couldn't believe the green tights, and the whole office was pulling my leg about them for weeks after. If ever there was a propitious moment to go further, and wear more than just green tights to work, that was it. But I didn't ride the wave. I wanted to, but I didn't. Besides, (supposedly) male Investigation Managers didn't wear tights, period.

Probably it wasn't really the right era to 'come out' anyway. To be honest, I didn't know why I had enjoyed my moment of androgeny. It had not yet crossed my mind that I might be 'transsexual', and it would not for many years to come.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Celebrations at Yelden

Yesterday evening I was at an East Midlands village called Yelden. The event was a 40th birthday party. It was a 250 mile round trip. We (friend R--- and myself) set off at 4.30pm, got there at 7.00pm, left at 12.15am and arrived back at my place at 2.45am. Five hours on the road and five hours there. No wonder I felt a bit tired next day. But at least there was no stiffness from the driving or the dancing!

Here I am in the big tent laughing my head off early on in the proceedings:
No, I didn't tip over backwards. Note how I'm managing not to spill the drink: the gin and tonic stays dead level. A pity all my fillings are showing, though.

One especially nice thing about the event was the friendliness of the villagers and the bar staff at the pub. Not a hint of transphobia. It was absolutely brilliant fun to be up there dancing away with all the girls and having completely natural in-depth girly conversations back at the table or in the pub, with genuine offers of overnight accommodation if the journey home seemed too much.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Two different shots

Right, pay attention. Top photo taken with my Leica D-Lux 4, arguably the best small-sensor pocket camera money can buy just now. Bottom photo taken with my Nikon D700 (still one of the best full-frame digital SLR cameras money can buy) and the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom lens (a highly-regarded professional-quality mid-range zoom). The shots were taken in my book-lined study at home within a couple of minutes of each other. Sorry about the unkempt look - this was before I'd had my daily 'wash and shave'!

The Leica has 10 megapixels, the Nikon 12 megapixels, no real difference there. Both cameras have world-class lens designs with the best glass. But the Nikon's sensor (what the light falls on to create the image inside the camera) is very much bigger. I think you can see the resulting difference in picture quality. The Nikon is sharper, has richer colour, and more contrast.

What is more interesting is the way these cameras render the scene. The pocket-format Leica has almost everything in focus. The Nikon throws the background out of focus, making me distinct, and my face looks a bit flatter, or at least the dreaded nose does.

I'm not sure which shot I prefer, but the bottom one makes me look more girly I think. Difficult to say which is more 'true to life', though!

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Music to iron by

You can't beat some of the golden oldies. Here are two from the early 1970s. George Harrison's All Things Must Pass, and Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells. Great stuff to do the ironing by.

Of course I have the original vinyl versions stashed away in my attic, and these are the CD editions. The Mike Oldfield CD album actually contains no less than three CDs, and includes not only the original 1973 recording but a remastered version dating from 2009. I have listened to both, and either I'm a bit deaf or even more musically challenged than I thought, because I couldn't detect a difference. But I love this music all the same. Mike Oldfield came up with a work of genius with Tubular Bells, and I enormously enjoy the sequence of haunting themes and his cleverness in not only playing the instruments but creating this harmonious mix. I believe that the first big record company he approached dismissed Tubular Bells as self-indulgent rubbish; how wrong they were. Shame on them.

In many ways these two albums established, on their own, George Harrison's and Mike Oldfield's reputations as distinctive and heavyweight musicians. And arguably neither did anything else that was quite as good. But then that is often the way. How many bands or single artists have had just the one totally outstanding album, even if they produce many albums over a long career? There are some exceptions, of course. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones instantly come to mind. When young I was a Beatles fan. The Stones were too rough and raunchy for me, their lyrics dealing with subjects and attitudes that were no part of my life. But forty years on, things are different. M--- educated me. I grew to appreciate what the Stones had to say, even if their focus was very narrow compared to the Beatles'. And you have to admit the Stones have kept going with admirable stage energy and memorable music. My favourite albums? Emotional Rescue, Voodoo Lounge and Bridges to Babylon, the last two from the 1990s.

And that's quite enough musical comment for a while. I consider my musical taste to be dubious and primitive, and even saying this much makes me feel exposed and open to ridicule. But by heck, I know what I like.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

New shoes, new books

I went up to Crawley this afternoon. There are better shops in Brighton, which is much closer, but I fancied a change. I was going to a 40th birthday bash in two days time, and needed some new shoes. So I bought these from Marks and Spencer:
Marks always have something in my size (8), and these all fit very comfortably. The brown pair and the nearest black pair actually have a proper heel, something I don't normally go in for. I won't get vertigo, but they do hoist me a respectable distance towards the stars. I did of course already have a good choice of footwear, but my black shoes had been worn the most, and they had become shabby. Hence the emphasis on black in the replacement lineup. I haven't finally decided what I'll wear to this birthday party, but I think it'll be something black/white or red. Either way, black shoes are called for.

I also bought two books:
The one on the left is a collection of black and white photos of actors and actresses in that half-hour before they go on stage, showing how they relax or get focussed for that moment. I thought it was a great resource book, not only for B&W portraiture, but to study different actresses' appearances, and what there was about the way they looked that appealed to me.

The book on the right contains a large number of colour illustrations of Beryl Cook's work. She died recently and was one of the best known popular artists in England. She specialised in slightly saucy pictures of middle-aged people enjoying themselves. I always thought her depictions of people interacting were very well observed, and she managed to capture the convivial atmosphere of pubs and other social gatherings with humour and subtlety. She usually painted people with thick, plump limbs, which became a trademark style. Everyone looks stout; but they also look prosperous, contented, and at ease with life. They have worked it all out, know what it's all about, and feel no shame in having a good time.  I think the women have been so well-studied that this could be a great resource book for how women look when together and in a party mood. It's one way of absorbing aspects of a background female culture that was denied to me while I grew up.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

The letter has gone

Done it.

I've just written to Dr Richard Curtis, the gender specialist in London, requesting referral to Mr Philip Thomas for genital surgery in the spring of 2011, hopefully in March or April. I want the procedure carried out at the Brighton Nuffield Hospital.

This commits me to a summer spent convalescing at home, and of course no caravanning during that time (too much pushing and bending down and carrying). But I expect to be moderately fit and able by the autumn. And, once the go-ahead is given, and the timetable is established, buying in a boatload of medical supplies. Not forgetting food and other things for the first weeks after the op.

This is all assuming that my next medical tests don't show anything alarming, and that I pass the psychological examination. And that the presently redundant male member remains completely suitable for its glorious reincarnation.

First thoughts. Should I get a larger freezer? What things need fixing around the house, that I won't be able to fix for a long time after the op? Shall I invest in a lot of really big, comfortable cushions? Will I be able to bear not driving for at least a month?

It'll be not driving that will get to me. Serious deprivation. 

At least there will be a fresh photo subject: How I Learned To Dilate! (But I absolutely promise not to put anything on the blog, or on Flickr!)

Fiona - still gleaming

After nearly three months of ownership, my car is still looking new, and she still gives me huge satisfaction.

Earlier this morning I gave her a good clean, inside and out. You might think 'Oh, Lucy's doing the usual Sunday-morning consumer ritual, yawn', but frequent exterior cleaning is actually necessary because there are so many sensors that musn't be blocked off by grime and dead insects. Let me see...four parking sensors front, four at the rear; the rear parking camera; the blind spot sensors on the underside of each door mirror; an entire battery of sensors in the top centre of the front windscreen (four at least). And you should, anyway, as a minimum, keep your windows and mirrors clean. And your lights (there's a lot of them too). And the streamlined fin on the roof that must be the satnav aerial. By the time you've washed all those, you might as well do the bodywork and wheels. Then it's all done. And I can stand back and say to myself, well, you haven't cleaned the windows on your house, but the Queen, if she should call by, will approve of the car and make you a Dame of the British Empire on the spot. I wonder if there's a special Dame car sticker that will let me park for nothing in town? How super if there is! So you can see that it's worth filling up the bucket and setting to now and then.

Fiona has lived up to expectations in all ways. As hoped, she has made caravan trips easier - the rear camera makes hitching much slicker, and there's no embarrassing slow-down going up steep hills any more. Frankly, if the law allowed it, I could keep up a really high speed and stay well ahead of the general traffic. If I'm not towing (that's most of the time of course) then Fiona is queen of the road, and can eclipse most things on the highway. It's all down to the car of course - no skill needed - I just twiddle the steering wheel a bit, and move my accelerator foot now and then. She has become a high-performance, luxurious travel capsule, whisking me off to places old and new.

I'm already planning an Orkney holiday. These are the islands off John O'Groats in northern Scotland. I won't take the caravan. I'll just make a three-day dash in Fiona to Scrabster, an hour on the ferry, then spend a few days sightseeing with a hotel as my base. Ancient standing stones, prehistoric settlements, seals and seabirds, art at Stromness and evening life at Kirkwall. Scapa Flow. Island-hopping. Should be able to fill my time up quite nicely. A photographer's paradise, I'd say. And if the wind is a bit strong at times, or there's a wave of showers every half an hour, then Fiona will be my snug mobile refuge.

No doubt about it, Fiona is a woman's car. I haven't seen a man driving one yet. The above shots (from the brochure) show quite clearly that the car is intended for pretty girls who might wear shoes to die for, or who need to transport not only a nice rug from IKEA, but what looks like a boat's propellor. As girls do. Even Jeremy Clarkson in his review saw at once what the Volvo design team were thinking about - see - and there are several little touches inside that suggest she was designed with women mainly in mind. For instance, there are three memory settings on the driver's seat. Of course: one for each heel height. setting 1 for flats; 2 for medium heels; and 3 for the heels in the photo above. QED.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Facebook is not for me

I'm not going to abandon Facebook. It's clearly a great way of keeping in touch with what people are doing from hour to hour, and all the things that strike them as their day progresses, and it's very useful for making contact with people in the first place, but I'm finding it full of irritations and need to keep it more at arm's length. So I've been into Settings and stopped Facebook notifying me by email if anybody hiccups or blows their nose. I'll just visit it just once or twice a day in future, if convenient, and catch up then. It was using up computer time that I really wanted to devote to my photos, my blog, and maintaining Flickr. All much more important to me.

My flirtation with Facebook was really quite brief. I've already hinted that I got fed up with all the incessant emails, which were not always trivial, but certainly not urgent in any way. But my main gripe about the networking experience is that it's all short sentences, a bit like chatting, with nothing covered in depth. That's very frustrating. If anybody has news, I want a proper bulletin of decent length.

So (for me) it's back to blogging and ordinary emailing. And no apologies for going against the grain.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Legacy people

What a dreadful phrase: 'legacy people'.  By which I mean the people from your old life who have not been told about the new you. There are still a few - former neighbours, former friends, former colleagues, one or two distant relatives. People I am unlikely to see ever again unless I make some special effort. I don't, because it would serve no purpose. We have been out of touch for so long that my continued absence cannot matter. If they never cared much for me, my transition will not make them warm to me now. And if they thought highly of the old me, then news of my transition might easily upset them, and I wouldn't want that.

What prompted this post? It was a post from Veronica (of Life Right Side Up). I responded to it, then thought afterwards that my reply had enough merit for reposting on my own blog. This was my comment on Veronica's post:

I agree that after a while you forget that there are still people out there who may not even have heard of your transition, or, having heard about it some time ago, have since then not moved forward and may need to have the basics explained to them. When you thought all that was back in the past.

Yesterday evening I encountered a former neighbour in a shop (a former male neighbour from my old locality, that is, who wasn't 'told' about me when I first came out, but who must have heard that I'd 'changed sex'). Our eyes didn't meet. But I bet I was recognised. And I felt unsettled about this. I didn't want an awkward and uncontrolled 'hello' situation in a public place. I really didn't want to talk about how I was with someone who had never been more than someone across the road. I didn't want to go through the whole explanation ritual with anyone any more.

Yes, I was able to pay up and get away without that slight encounter turning into a polite confrontation. But I felt I was copping out, almost running away, and that's a bad feeling when I believed that I was ready for any casual challenge from a stranger or an official.

A family funeral may be coming up soon. I intend to go, if only to represent my parents who died last year and would have wanted to go. I will certainly meet a few people who I have not told about myself, mainly because they are not close relatives and we would not otherwise ever meet again. I suppose I'll need some concise explanations ready for them, unless they deliberately ignore me, or we both contrive not to acknowledge each other's presence. (Perhaps I'd prefer it that way, if I can't 'explain' things as well as I'd like to)

Worse that this, I'm starting to mentally call these people 'legacy people', as if they are a hangover from an old phase that must somehow be 'dealt with' or if necessary permanently left 'pending'. That's no way to treat anyone.

It certainly isn't the right way to treat anyone. Even if they cold-shoulder me, or object to my presence. I'm worried about regarding anyone who isn't moving forward with me as in some way belonging strictly to the past, written-off.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Not so good yesterday

I didn't have a good day yesterday. Several things got me down and reduced me to tears by the evening.

Number one concerned my old home, which has been up for sale since the end of May. This is the third attempt to sell it. Yesterday morning I discussed the marketing strategy again with the agents, and we agreed that the only realistic option was to reduce the price a second time. I did this before in June, dropping £50,000; now another £40,000 came off. £90,000 altogether, and maybe £100,000 or more if the only offer I get is exceptionally low. Money I will never see again. It feels like throwing away some of my future life. Maybe future security. Money means options. Less money means less options. For instance, how much travel will have to be foregone? How many more times in my life will it be possible to see my step-daughter A--- and her family in New Zealand? Just twice more, rather than every three years or so? Will I ever now visit Easter Island? And so on...  Depressing. I'm actually half-hoping that my old house doesn't sell, and that I remain stuck with it, and that miraculously in a year's time the property market recovers, and I won't lose nearly so much. Some hope. Meanwhile my old house has to be maintained, and basically I can't afford to run two homes without steadily depleting the cash in my bank accounts. One day it will all run out. But look what I need to do with those funds in the meantime! What was I talking about in my last post - £31,000 for surgery? Is that going to be in danger? It might easily be so.

Then the other things. Small things, but they had a crescendo effect on my emotions. It was a rainy day. I had a bad back. I looked and felt overweight and unattractive and, worse, unfeminine. Somehow dye from my blue jeans had made a mark on the cream leather driver's seat in Fiona. And then, having been out for the afternoon, I got home to find that the pilot light in my boiler had gone out, and there was no hot water and the house felt chilly... I fought them back, but eventually had to give way to tears.

I had to phone M---. I apologised for bending her ear with my little woes, but she was so sympathetic that the tears stopped and I did feel better.  Well, we may have shipwrecked as far as the old relationship is concerned, but clearly are still there for each other when it matters.

Today, the next day, is another thing entirely. I feel OK. I'm snapping my fingers at the money that may be lost on my old home. Look, it hasn't been in my bank account for nearly three years since I bought the place. Have I really missed it? Have I really needed it? No, of course not. So I won't worry. What will be, will be. It's sunny this morning. And I am resolved to eat slightly less and definitely begin exercising more - walking around will do as a start. Yes, a cliff walk, Eastbourne way, this afternoon. I fixed the dye stain on Fiona's upholstery. I got the pilot light lit again, and it has stayed lit. Big wins.

Tomorrow I'm up in London to see Christella and take my voice further. Maybe I should do something else while up there? Not just spending money in shops...doing something.

The daily battle to stay upbeat and focussed!

Monday, 9 August 2010

Surgery: which bits first?

This won't be another should-I-go-ahead-or-shouldn't-I post. I feel ready for these next stages in my transition. Just as well: the inward driving pressure can't be resisted indefinitely. Fortunately my female life as Lucy Melford is proving successful. Time to move forward a bit further.

Circumstances are favourable. I have the cash, the leisure, a nice home to convalesce in, and caring neighbours and others who will cluster round and see that I'm all right.

But which bits first - my face, or the bits down below? I need to set this all out and make a rational decision. 

The things I am contemplating are irreversible. It's not a matter for flippancy. If I have my nose done, for instance, I can't have it restored it to how it was if it doesn't look right. And obviously, the genital operation, which can bluntly be summarised as skinning my penis like an eel and pushing the outer skin into a newly-made cavity, discarding the rest, is an even more radical change and even more obviously a one-way procedure. Face or genitals - either will drastically affect my self-perception.

Let's look at the face first. I'm unhappy about my nose. It's too large and broad, the tip of it points down, and it lacks any sort of graceful line. Its not a female nose. It needs to be made slimmer and very slightly retroussee. Indeed, the entire lower half of my face is a bit heavy for a woman; some remodelling here would be beneficial, including a mildly pointed chin. My lips aren't too bad: I already have a decent trout pout - but maybe the surgeon will tell me it's more of a pike pout and needs a tweak. My cheeks seem to be gradually filling out with the hormones: that's fine. My ears are a bit oversize for a woman, but I can live with them. My eyes are OK - ironically, when living my former male life, I always complained that they were unattractive piggy eyes, but I think this no more, and looking at photos it seems to me that they have actually widened out over the last year. My own theory is that the weight of the fuller cheeks has dragged down flesh away from the eyes, making them seem wider open. (Yes, that does sound fanciful, but I can't otherwise explain why I seem to have lost the slit-eyed look of the past) Not sure about brow work. It wouldn't hurt to make the brow bulge less obvious, but it isn't prominent, so is this really worth the effort? That'll be one area where the surgeon will have to persuade me. The face as a whole bears the residual scars of bad teenage acne, a pitted moonscape under magnification. But all that will smooth over eventually. The hormones and hair-removal have worked wonders here. I have no skin discoloration, no embarrassing moles or growths, and for my age not a lot of lines. Eye bags? Yup. But hey, I'm 58. People that old have blemishes. In order to look natural, I need to keep some of them. The face must match the body, which, God knows, is nothing to write home about.

Downstairs there's not a lot to say. The usual equipment, somewhat shrunken but otherwise nothing odd about it, always has been in good nick, and kept scrupulously clean nowadays ready for the op. 

Now let's do some straight thinking.

Nobody sees my genitalia, but they do see my face. If I want to most enhance my female appearance - incidentally making it safe to holiday in places not known for being trans-friendly - then facial work will have the best effect. But I still won't be able to wear beach attire or most kinds of body-hugging clothing. It's not psychologically good to still have the male bits when the rest of you looks alluringly feminine. (I'm assuming that decent facial work would make me seem attractive! Ever the optimist) And what about those latest airport body scans - what will they actually reveal as I pass through? I can't help thinking that until put right, having a pretty face but a genital mismatch would undermine one's self-confidence and prove a potential embarrassment.

Yes, the essential operation is the downstairs one. The facial stuff is the optional extra. And let's be frank, I'm having no trouble getting by with the face I have just now. The voice, and the right clothes, and the right demeanour and movements, are letting me live normally. A more feminine face would help, but it isn't something I vitally need. Nobody is pointing at me or staring at me when I go out. And in any case, the hormones are very, very slowly softening and rounding-off my face as the months go by.

Some preparation is needed for the genital surgery - hair removal. Time has to be allowed for that. So there is a lead-in time of a few months. And a long, long recovery time. You are walking wounded when you leave the hospital, but unable to do much at home for weeks. Regaining full fitness could take six months. And I'm not young, either.

Conceivably, facial surgery could be more 'on demand', although realistically the waiting list for a full makeover is probably going to be long. But healing would be rapid, and the scars and bruising would all be gone within a month. If one had the face done first, there would be no ongoing fitness problem to stop you having the genital surgery quite soon after. The reverse is not true. One hears of packages that will have everything seen to in one go, but I don't fancy the idea. It sounds much too traumatic.

What about costs? Supposing I have my face done first. Let's say a US surgeon. Let's say we agree that I need brow, nose, chin and some interconnecting tweaks. I reckon that'll be minimum £15,000 plus travel and aftercare, plus the cost of a week's vacation at the end (I could hire a car and tour New England, and maybe see something of nearby Canada). I'm looking at £20,000 surely. At least that. And there'll be that waiting list. If I set things in motion this month, it might be late spring or early summer before I can be done. That could put back the genital operation to the autumn of 2011. Another year gone. And yet I wouldn't want to fit in the genital operation before the facial one, because of that long recovery time. Supposing it worked out that I had downstairs done in March next year, followed by upstairs as soon as May. No, that wouldn't be possible, I'd still be too weak for a long flight.

What about the genital operation first? If I set things in motion now, the op will be in the spring of 2011, probably in the snow, but travel won't be a problem because I think I will have it done at the Nuffield Hospital in nearby Brighton, a taxi ride away for goodness sake. There are other places abroad and some famous surgeons there. But some post-op attention or at least inspection will be needed. I don't want to travel far for that. If Brighton, I think I am looking at about £11,000 all in. And I can then try to arrange the facial stuff for the autumn of 2011. Mmmm...all those gorgeous fall colours in the States!  I hope I can really afford it. 

Money availability probably determines it. I must play for safety. If pushed to choose between the two operations, the more essential one has to come first, just in case some unforeseen emergency reduces my capital to a critical level. So downstairs first.

Sorted. Thanks for reading this far, if you did!

By the way, I don't expect the NHS to carry me.  If some financial disaster overtakes me and I become impoverished and have to join the NHS queue, then I will cheerfully do it, but if I can pay then I feel I ought to be self-financing. I simply couldn't blow my cash on a facial job, then demand that the NHS see to the rest. Sorry if this offends anyone's principles.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Brighton Pride: not dressed for the part

It was Brighton Pride today. But I didn't get to see any of it until late in the afternoon. I'd been lunching in a country pub with my sister-in-law G---. That's me at the top, suitably dressed for a leisurely lunch, wine to hand. At that point, it didn't seem likely that I would make it into Brighton later on. However, once home again, and with G--- gone, I had a sudden compulsion to leap back into Fiona and see what was happening. For certain, some of my Brighton-based friends would be somewhere in the melee. And a quick look at Facebook established that a group of Angels girls was going to be there too. It would be very nice if I bumped into anyone I knew or recognised, or alternatively I could text to find out where my friends were, and maybe link up. But none of this worked out.

I headed first for Preston Park, which is a large park well away from the seafront, and the destination of the Pride March earlier in the afternoon. I had doubts about being able to park Fiona, but did find a free space within a few hundred yards. Preston Park was seething with people, all dressed rather more freely than I was, and frankly I began to feel a bit out of place. I was walking around purposefully, looking out for faces I might know, not chilling out on the grass, and I must have looked like a plain-clothes policewoman searching for suspects. Oh dear. And for some reason I couldn't make any calls on my phone - it wouldn't connect. Rather like when you attempt to make a call or text on New Year's Eve and find you can't because all airtime is already in use. So, apart from getting a few shots of the crowd, visiting the Park was a waste of time. I then drove closer into the town centre, but couldn't find anywhere sensible to park. My enthusiasm evaporated and I drove back home. To be honest, I wasn't dressed for the occasion, and wasn't in a party mood.

Once home, I enjoyed a light snack, a documentary on Queen Elizabeth I, Top Gear, and a Wallander episode that I hadn't seen before. For once, something decent on TV.

On this showing my Pride credentials look pretty poor. Do I care? No. I'm not drawn to any part of the Pride thing. I'm not gay, or lesbian, or bi, and although there is supposed to be a trans aspect to Pride, it isn't a prominent feature and I wouldn't join in even if it were. I'm strictly a spectator. From what I could see, it wasn't even an especially 'gay' celebration. I saw nobody doing anything that might be called 'typically gay'. I got the clear impression that most of straight Young Brighton had seized on the event as a chance to cavort around in slightly zany clothes, and mildly misbehave. And that it would all end in tears later on, when all those people, with heads aching from too much to drink, finally realised they needed to go home.

So I drove away with no regrets. As I crossed the South Downs, golden sunshine came out and lit up the road ahead. Fiona growled with pleasure as I pressed the accelerator pedal.

I looked forward to a nice cup of tea, just minutes away.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Fiona tops 5,000 miles in two months

I love my car. And I've just covered 5,000 miles in only two months of ownership. That's 30,000 miles a year, if I keep it up. Which is interesting: I could circumnavigate the world (with a triumphant extra lap) in only twelve months by just hopping into Fiona and doing my usual daily drive. Why don't I have lunch and try it? Hope the door seals don't let in the ocean!

You may wonder, if of enquiring mind, why I haven't bought the F1 ONA plate for my beloved. Well, I don't think it's either available or affordable. The DVLA's own information is that it was sold by auction as long ago as December 1991, and the buyer paid £19,000 then. God knows what it would fetch now.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

It's official - Lucy is Fabulous!

At the beginning of my holiday I made a day visit to my Auntie P--- in Newport, South Wales, and had a most pleasant time as her family came round. This is now the most extensive part of my wider family that I can easily get to see en masse, so to speak. I'm minded to make as many visits to see P--- as I can. And also not to neglect other members of my now very attenuated blood family.

As you get older, these connections get so much more important, especially if like me you have already lost every one of your immediate family: mother, father, brother. How I wish now that I could have had a close relationship of my own with all the aunts and uncles who populated my earliest days! But I was a shy, very awkward little person who was overwhelmed by 'family gatherings', was embarrassed and tongue-tied, and forever lost the opportunity to know most of these people well. If Lucy could have been around instead of J---, things would have been different. I would have been treated differently for a start, and that would surely have facilitated all kinds of bonding and confidences. I dare say I could have become an annoying little madam if allowed to, but at least I would have asked and asked and asked, and my knowledge of who's who and what made them tick would have been so much more complete. Now I can only mull it all over with P---.

P--- is not actually a blood relation: she was a schoolfriend of my Mum's. But they were close friends for nearly seventy-five years, longer than some people live, of course. And P--- and her husband W--- (who died in 1993) were my godmother and godfather. They were both very important influences on me when young. I was always extremely fond of them.

I haven't been able to find out who my other godfather was. There are usually two, aren't there, for little boys?

Now to the point of the post title. P--'s son R--- has a family of his own, and the girls seem to have taken quite a shine to me. At some point in the afternoon, I let them borrow my little Leica and they disappeared upstairs for what I thought might be a photo-shoot, and I looked forward to seeing the pictures, as these are really nice girls with bags of personality and style. It turned out that that they had an additional notion. They produced a little coloured-in note that said 'Lucy is Fabulous', as shown above. Well! You can imagine how delighted I was with this.

So there you have it. I'm fabulous, not to say lush (a word back in use to mean especially cool and trendy). It's official.

A tea set for a Water Dragon

Look what M--- gave me, just before I went on holiday. It's a chinese tea set, with a dragon design. As I was born in July 1952, I'm a water dragon, so it's highly appropriate. It was a lovely surprise present.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Kentisbeare and Exeter

By yesterday (Monday 2 August) I felt my cough was well enough under control to risk another meal out. I decided to have one if going any distance.

So I made my pilgrimage to Kentisbeare, where Dad grew up as a boy. If you look up the post I made last year (Monday 27 July 2009 - Kentisbeare: angels and tears) you'll see that I was pretty upset then, with Dad dead only two months, and I couldn't keep the grief at bay. This time I felt sad and reflective, but there were no tears. So I suppose the bereavement process had been 'successful' - although this visit to Kentisbeare provoked a dream, which I'll mention at the end of the post.

It was a warm, very sunny afternoon, and I felt a headache coming on. There was the village pub, the Wyndham Arms, and behold, a sign saying tea and coffee. In I went. There was a young barmaid and a sprinkling of customers, and I got a cheerful greeting. Soon I was sat outside in the shade enjoying a reviving cup of tea and two paracetamol tablets.

I brought the tray back in, and had a ten-minute chat with the barmaid (vivacious, cheerful) and her slightly younger colleague. I'm getting quite good at these chats. I'm pretty sure there was no point at which a certain look came into either girl's eye - the 'aha, you're not what you seem' look. I mainly put it down to (a) the voice, which I've been paying huge attention to, and (b) the subjects covered in our conversation which were: you saved my life with that lovely cup of tea, what a great non-slip tray, Exeter and its university, how well my young neice and nephew were now doing, my step-daughter's approach to life, and are you doing evening meals? Safe subjects for a self-confessed late middle-aged lady. I decided that I would return later, after a visit to Exeter.

Exeter is Devon's county town. Actually, it's a city. It has an old and venerable cathedral which didn't get flattened in the war. Much of the town centre did. The post-war rebuilding has been less hideous than in Devon's other city, Plymouth, and there is more evidence of constant facelifting, making Plymouth look a bit shabby by comparison. In fact Exeter seemed as pleasant as any large city I've been to in recent years, although it doesn't possess quite the charm and attractiveness of York, say. The most obvious omission from its amenities is an attractive park in the centre. I didn't have much time to spend there, so I concentrated on the cathedral and its precinct. I was wandering around in a skimpy top and cropped jeans, and it crossed my mind that the cry might go up with so many genuinely nubile young uni students milling around, or sat in clusters on the grass surrounding the cathedral. They all had a chance to scrutinise me very closely. But I got away with it, just as I had at the pub in Kentisbeare. How gratifying it was, when youths and slender girlies made way for me, older people smiled at me, and I was actually asked directions! All with windblown hair that should have had a wash that morning.

Back at the Wyndham Arms, the same cheerful girl was behind the bar, and she seemed delighted to see me back. I asked for a large glass of Pinot Noir and ordered duck, later adding summer-fruits pavlova and Devon ice cream to follow. Yum! Service at this pub was attentive. I got almost too much duck. A jolly good main course, and the pavlova was delicious.

A small party came in, smiled at me, and then, when I nearly knocked over my wine glass with an accidental nudge (old biddies do get clumsy) swapped some chat with me. One lady thought she knew me, having lived in Haywards Heath (a town north of where I live in Sussex), but she didn't recognise my name, although she wondered that I didn't know a man who was a leading light in the artist community at Ditchling, a nearby village. What a small world! She too had lost her father in 2009. What a coincidence! More and more things to say and share. The entire exchange made me feel good. Other people came in - it was clearly a get-together of committee members - and each of them smiled at me and one man said something really nice. I felt completely accepted. I was reluctant to leave, but nevertheless decided not to linger for a coffee, and so paid up, went to the immaculate ladies' loo, and sped away in Fiona, in a very happy frame of mind.

What an uplifting day! On this evidence I don't need root-and-branch facial sugery to live some kind of life. Voice and general appearance will get me by, even to the extent of possibly joining some villlage committee if I ever get the chance (I had been urged to move to Devon in the pub).

The dream left me empty though. Dad and I had parked in a huge dark grassy car park on the edge of a town. We walked in together (clearly this wasn't the arthriticky Dad of later years) and began searching for something, knocking on doors, looking in cupboards, having tea with all sorts of nice helpful people, but not finding. At some point I wanted to speak to Dad badly, but he wasn't there. I became worried then frantic, went back to the car park, drove about, he wasn't anywhere. I couldn't remember his mobile phone number, nor the number of anyone who might help, because someone had burned a large, thick black-covered book in which all my lifetime notes had been made. I stopped the car, realising that I'd lost Dad forever and had no home.

I don't often dream, and rarely in a coherent way. I'm sure my Kentibeare visit prompted it.

Monday, 2 August 2010

The fly must die

You might tolerate it in a house, but it's impossible to ignore a buzzing fly in the confines of a small caravan. That's why the fly must die.

It's a primordial scene. I'm the hunter, the fly is my quarry. My brain, my skill, my reflexes, set against the fly's. The fly has complex eyes that see more than mine, and it has lightning speed, but it is fragile and has nowhere to hide. I stand there motionless, only my eyes moving, a damp cloth ready. The fly senses danger. I flick the cloth and miss. The fly goes beserk, frantically trying to escape, but I flick again and a litle corpse lands on the floor. A little life snuffed out, just because I can't share my space with another creature.

The fly might not have been self-aware, but it knew it was being attacked, and so it was conscious. Did I have the right to kill it? Simply because it was an irritation? What about other things that are 'simply an irritation'?