Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Do post-ops put off early-stage trans women?

When I was at the beginning of my transition, the end result, a fully-feminised version of myself, seemed attainable but a very long way off. Years away, in fact. The 'process' was going to be grindingly slow.

I looked in the mirror at myself as I was then, and then looked at the finished trans women who occasionally came to the Clare Project in Brighton as visitors, and I couldn't see how the gulf between them and myself could ever be bridged. It seemed to require not only a vast amount of time and expense, but a magic wand as well. Even though I was fascinated by these polished, smooth-faced, silver-voiced females, their achievement seemed dauntingly out of reach, and if I'd been of a different stamp, I would have been discouraged and depressed.

Of course, I've come some distance since then. I'm still a work in progress, but 'nearly there' has recently been said of my appearance and behaviour, and I'm prepared to accept and believe the compliment.

But could I now be, in my turn, a potential discouragement to newbies? And not just me, any post-op trans woman who is living that open life in the sunshine, and is not stuck in the shadows?

I had been explaining (or justifying) my continuing visits to the Clare Project by regarding myself as a positive role model. Not to be slavishly copied, but an example of how one person has got on with her transition and made a moderate success of it. The message was, 'I did it my way, and you will have to do it your own way, but look, see what can be done with unpromising material. If you're younger, prettier, concentrate on acquiring a good voice, and get rid of your facial hair, you'll turn out even better than I have'. But lately I've begun to wonder whether I'm actually an irrelevance rather than an inspiration to those starting out on the long journey to womanhood. Perhaps they'd prefer to see half-formed women who are still suffering their doubts and frustrations, and seem much closer to themselves.

And another thought: even after three years of relentless effort and a small fortune spent, I'm still not perfect. That might make some on a small budget, who have to go slowly and appease endless gateway keepers, think that they will never get there. I don't want them to have such thoughts.

So it's quite a difficult position. I'm too far down the road (or too quirky, or too much in control of my own life) to seem properly empathetic to those starting out. But at the same time I'm clearly not a fully-finished product, despite telescoping the process as far as I can.

Might it be better to stay out of sight?

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Farewell to the Cottage

Today the Cottage is out of my hands.

I have taken meter readings, handed in my keys, and expect to see the net proceeds in my bank account in the next few hours. I'm not retrieving much cash out of this, but that's not a worry. Let's move on, and make the most of what's left.

Yesterday I visited the Cottage for the last time. I'd already taken my 'final shots', but of course couldn't resist taking a few more. I can't show you much, because I don't want to compromise the home security of the new owners, whom I've now met. But here's some shots of the main rooms, to give an idea of what a spacious place it was inside:


Top two shots are of the lounge, the biggest room. As you can see, I left some flowers to greet the new owners. Next shot down is the kitchen. Then two shots of the main bedroom, the one in the front that looks over the meadows to the river and has the South Downs view. It also now looks over to the new incinerator at Newhaven. I think you can see from the expression on my face that I was feeling mixed emotions about leaving the Cottage. The bottom shot is a bit of the bathroom.

And here are four shots to suggest what the village itself is like:


It's very much a riverside village, with lovely walks along the banks, and great photographic potential! There is an annual Garden Weekend in the summer, and a dozen or more householders open their gardens up to the general public. Mine wasn't one of them; but maybe in future years the new owners will make the Cottage one of the nicest on display: it has all the right potential.

What a pity the 'village property investment project' went sour. But the Cottage itself is innocent. I can only wish it a happy future.

I made a walk-through movie, with a voice-over. I have a lot of visual souvenirs now, and will never forget the Cottage.

Farewell.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

My aunt's 90th birthday


She's the slightly older-looking one on the left, in this shot of P--- and myself. It was taken a couple of days after the event, which involved a lovely midday meal at a restaurant named Junction 28 at Bassaleg, a suburb of Newport.

I gave my aunt a present, a framed photo of a view of the Valley of the Rocks, which lies in Exmoor, but right by the sea not far from Lynton. P--- has always loved North Devon, which has some of the best scenery in the South West. Here's the picture, taken in my caravan soon after its recent purchase in the Market at Great Torrington from Mr Elliott, a local photographer (http://www.northdevonphotography.co.uk/):


Gorgeous colours. I wish I could do so well. As ever, click on the picture to enlarge it.

The birthday lunch was a comprehensive gathering of all P---'s immediate family, including grandchildren and the one very lively grandson. Here's some shots with me in them, which I hope convey the conviviality of the occasion:


I hope I make it to 90 intact! That wish means of course that by then I'll have enjoyed 31 years of post-op life, and nearly 34 years altogether of life as Lucy Melford, if you count in the entire period from the start of active transition. That's an awfully long time. A very big portion of my life, more than a third of it. Surely it makes it completely worthwhile to have attempted a late transition, although one must add a rider to this: this fresh life as one's 'proper self' must be a full and rewarding one. There's not a lot of point in going through the traumas of transition if you don't then grasp the opportunities it makes possible.

Those opportunities will vary hugely with the person concerned. Some may want settled happiness based on finding the right person to share their life with, and creating a home to be proud of, and a lifestyle to match. Some may want to use their new identity to plunge into business, or a dazzling new job, in a field never before open to them. Some may explore a long-desired creative release, or the quiet fulfilment of a specific dream they never thought could come true. Some may just have massive undirected energy and will end up trying many things before deciding what they will do, or be.

I don't know what I shall do myself. But my recent travels suggest that I'm not going to stay at home!

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Dark valleys, sunny cliffs; Rhossili and Worm's Head

I'm in South Wales, and two days ago attended my aunt's birthday lunch, as part of the family. It was her 90th birthday. And it was a lovely sunny day.

Yesterday was free, so I headed up through the Valleys, eventually taking the A4048 towards Tredegar. When I lived in South Wales as a child, it was on the coast, at Barry, and I saw very little of the grimness and griminess of the Valleys, which were then still heavily involved with coal mining. What I did see was memorable for its drabness. It seemed to be (to my child's mind, used to sunny beaches and beautiful parks) a gloomy, rainy, dirty and depressing world, all closed in; narrow bumpy roads, endless rows of plain terraced houses, schools and chapels with rusty railings, and tired little corner shops, all black with coal dust; railway tracks everywhere, and no flowers, nothing green at all.

How changed now! The blackening hand of the coal industry had long gone. Everywhere was green with trees, and much was hidden behind them. Colour had returned. Fast roads surged up valleys full of new supermarkets and offices. At Blackwood a futuristic suspension bridge took the Tredegar road over a gorge - I think it was called the Chartist Bridge - suggesting regeneration and new vigour in the Valleys. Landscaping everywhere: no sign of the old pits and their slag heaps.

It was impossible to say from appearances whether life in the Valleys was on the up. I suspected not. The topography - long, snaking valleys parallel but mostly separate from each other - still made travel difficult, unless you wanted to go to Cardiff or Newport. And the old houses remained, tarted up, but still recognisably those tiny old-fashioned, inconvenient miners' homes that used to look out onto the local pit or railway yard, and once knew the desperation of layings-off, strikes, and now and then pit accidents. The accident I remember best was Aberfan, in 1966, after we had left Wales and moved to Southampton. A gigantic slag heap (spoil heap?) made unstable by rain, suddenly slid downhill into the village. It engulfed and killed over 140 people, many of them little schoolchidren. It was horrific, even from the safety of Hampshire. We were not so used to disasters then.

The sun really came out when I reached Tredegar, so I changed my plans for the day, and decided to treat Fiona to the Gower. We dashed down the A465 to Neath, through Swansea, and on to Rhossili.


Once parked there (£3.00 all day - compare that to just two hours in Brighton) I sat in the back of Fiona with the hatch lid up, lunched off tongue, olives and sun-dried tomatoes, then walked to Worm's Head, a mile to the west.


The sea was a deep blue with lazy surf, the high rocky cliffs were majestic, the breeze was refreshing. The tide was going out, but the elongated Worm was still an island. Access wouldn't be possible till 5:00pm. I lay back on the high cliff, and let the sun kiss me.


I was last here in April 2009, on a similar sunny day, but with M---. My transition had begun in earnest. I was on hormones, but appearancewise I'd hardly altered except for longer hair and slightly androgenous clothing. I was actually making a special effort, for M---'s sake, to avoid obvious girliness. It was bearable, though a compromise I did not like making. Just as yesterday, we had a nice lunch and a sunsoaked walk to the Worm - and onto it - that should have uplifted the spirits. But all the time M--- must have been sick at heart, full of apprehension at what lay ahead for us. I was very conscious of her edginess. And no amount of sunshine, stunning views, ice cream and (later on) a fantastic sunset, could make her pain - and my pain at seeing her like this - bearable.

And here we are, two years on, with the Cottage - our last tangible connection - almost gone. We are still speaking, but it's a standoff, a fragile thing. Can anything now be revived? Or remade? Or freshly added? There seems to be nowhere to go. The old relationship has gone. No new relationship is in sight. But neither of us are really free. Nor want to be, on my side at least.

What will happen in the time ahead?

Will I return to Rhossili in 2013 with nothing changed?

Monday, 22 August 2011

That wedding-ring finger

I never wore a wedding ring when married, even though I'd romantically chosen St Valentine's Day for the ceremony. But I felt I needed a wedding ring when I embarked on active transition in 2008.

I'd read in a book for natal girls about personal safety and survival that wearing one often put off men intent on pestering unattached females. I thought it might do the same for me, as I became sufficiently feminised, and men began to perceive me as an ordinary woman rather than as some strange hybrid creature. It would also be another little 'female identifier' that everyone would notice. I hoped it would say 'This woman should be given especial respect and courtesy'. It was in essence a security device.

I didn't feel it was a fraud. I had, after all, really been married, and felt entitled to wear a wedding ring if I chose. It certainly did its job. See my post 'I've acquired a husband!' on 8 October 2010.

But by the beginning of 2011, I felt that ring had fully served its purpose and that I was now confident enough socially to manage without it. So before surgery took place, my wedding-ring finger became bare again.

It crossed my mind that taking it off could mean trouble. How would I now be seen? Not as someone's wife. I might instead be taken for a spinster with a personality so awkward or career-fixated that I'd never got myself a man. Or as a devoted daughter who had given her life to her parents' care, was now free, but might be shy and inexperienced and an easy target for a man on the make. Or as a divorcee who had shed the giveaway signs of a previous marriage, now called herself 'Miss', and was open to a good time with anyone who might ask. None of these images were how I wanted to be, but the ring was a chunky thing, not completely comfortable to wear, and I decided to put it away and see what happened.

Half a year later I'm thinking that I'd prefer to wear a wedding ring again.

It's hard to pinpoint the precise reason. Perhaps I just don't want to seem too obviously 'single and unattached', especiallly now that the Cottage is going. My life will be surprisingly changed, there will be fallout, and I'm not going to want pressure from romantics with reason to guess from appearances that I am totally free.

So I'm now looking around for another, nicer ring for that finger.

What will it be like? I'm not a 'gold' person. I prefer silver. But I know I want something beautiful and distinctive. I suppose I hanker for something old and gorgeous, with a large oval stone set in it, quite unlike the modern wedding ring. Back in 1992 there was a two- or three-part TV drama called 'Portrait of a Marriage', which dealt with the tempestuous lesbian love affair that Vita Sackville-West had with Violet Keppel. In one scene, Vita was asked by a man - it might have been Denys Trefusis, who was trying to woo Violet and perplexed by the emotional wall that the girls had erected against him - what the large and very old ring on her finger was. And she replied 'It was once worn by a Venetian doge'. I'd love to be able to say that about my new ring!

Of course, with old rings come old associations - some happy, some sad - and a little of the personality of each past owner. I might end up with ghosts looking over my shoulder. So I think I need to proceed carefully!

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Jo Pryor

As you know, I buy art. In fact in the last two years or so I've spent £4,545 on pictures (mainly paintings) and £710 on sculptures (all of them animal figures), a total of £5,255. And this excludes smaller things like prints and ornamental glassware and books on art and artists.

At least £50 a week then. That sounds a lot, but it's about the same as my weekly half a tank of diesel for Fiona. And I have beautiful things for this money that I can keep forever; things that give me pleasure to look at, and make my home an even nicer place to be.

I suppose £5,255 would have bought me a new nose, and that might have been beautiful, and of course it too would be with me forever. But it may turn out that spending the cash on artworks instead has done me a favour. Surgical outcomes are not precisely predictable, and if I'd had the money and rushed in to fix my nose, I might not now like the result - quite apart from the intense discomfort I'd have endured while the thing healed and settled down. In fact getting facial surgery has fallen to a low position on my list of priorities, certainly behind giving my home decor a makeover, fitting an electric mover to my caravan, and saving up for another trip to New Zealand. By the time I can afford any more surgery, I might well decide that tinkering with my face is quite unnecessary.

Back to the point of this post. Jo Pryor is a rising artist who lives in Great Torrington in North Devon. I discovered her two years back. She has a website (http://www.jopryor.net/). I bought one of her paintings ('A Field of Dreams') in July 2009. You've seen it in the background of many shots of me taken at home:


Jo Pryor finished it in 2009, and I bought it at the Burton Art Gallery in Bideford. It cost me £340. It's a beautiful painting, and must have taken the artist ages to paint, because the decorative detail on the women's clothes is so intricate, as intricate as patterns in celtic or islamic art. It remains my favourite. Click on the photo to enlarge it.

But now I've come back from North Devon with two more of her paintings, to keep this one company. This is 'Sister' which she completed in 2010:


Sorry for the oblique angle - it was hard to avoid reflections when I took the shot. I bought 'Sister' at Gallery Three Nine in Barnstaple, and it cost £400.

The third painting, which she completed this year, is 'Russia', was on exhibition at The Plough Arts Centre in Great Torrington:


Again, apologies for the reflections! 'Russia' cost me £550.

When I attended the Private View at this year's exhibition at the Burton Art Gallery in Bideford, I noticed that her painting there 'Umblemead' was going for £600. Now all these paintings are roughly the same size and in the same consistent style, with developments in technique and experimentation in colour of course, but basically similar to each other, and comparable. It seems to me - and I wasn't the only person to notice it - that as she is getting better-known, and becoming something of a 'name', Jo Pryor is quite rightly able to ask more for her work. You can see an upward trend in the asking prices, and I wouldn't be surprised to see her first £1,000 painting next year. Already she is getting beyond the financial reach of many local people. I have chatted to one or two. Women especially like her subject and style. But the man who owned the gallery in Barnstaple said he liked her work too, and had one of her paintings at home. I rather think that the £1,290 I've so far spent on my Jo Pryor collection will not be money wasted!

The sunset light in my lounge at home sends golden streaks across these paintings, making the colours sing:


And here is the happy art-collector:


My study is now the new home for most of the wildlife pictures. I'm leaving the remaining wallspace in the lounge for any further Jo Pryors that I can afford. The hall is a hotch-potch of different pictures at the moment, and ripe for wholesale redevelopment as a miniature gallery. And my bedroom is bereft of artworks: that'll have to be put right!

Friday, 19 August 2011

Invasion of the Gender Snatchers

On the whole I'm getting more and more at ease with this new life of mine. Very gradually - so gradual as to be imperceptable from week to week - I'm changing into a person that you'd take for an ordinary woman. I watch other people when out - kids especially, as they are so quick to pick up on anything odd or curious. But I never see a suspicious glance in my direction. And believe me, I'm inclined to be eagle-eyed about this!

I must be doing a lot right. Giving out strong female signals. Looking and acting in a way that for the time and place and the company is both natural and 'normal'. And I can only get better at it.

My last visit to North Devon has reawakened thoughts of moving there. If I ever do, I'll want to be immediately accepted as plain vanilla Lucy Melford, that nice retired lady who likes art and photography and eating out, and is at all times cheerful and chatty. I've no intention of getting into intimate situations, so the questions of My Past and My Anatomy may never crop up. And I'd like to think that if I get to know a few good friends well enough to speak about these things, it will be so far down the line of knowing them that they won't care. They might even confess that they guessed at once, but it didn't matter, because they liked me. And on current evidence I don't think that scenario is so terribly improbable.

But dark undercurrents might place all such plans in danger.

Politicians in Power have been getting restive again about their basic lack of control. The Prime Minister has made The Sick Society into his battle-cry.

For the moment the focus is on the Underclass Of Morally Bankrupt People From Broken Homes, who have No Stake In Britain. But I wonder how long it will be before a new or revived target for official governmental insecurity will be found, in an attempt to find a more subtle set of culprits for What's Wrong With Britain. After all, you can't lock up everyone. It costs too much. It clogs up the courts. It alienates too many people. Better and much cheaper to have a constant go at those who don't necessarily commit crimes, but can be blamed for having Unconventional Modes Of Living, and therefore of Undermining Society's Values. Like Travellers: gypsies. Like Immigrants: all foreigners. Like Job-shy Benefit Fraudsters: cheats and layabouts. People who Won't Do A Proper Hard Day's Work.

Or anyone who is an outsider to the Indignant Classes. Anyone who doesn't seem to Contribute To The Recovery, but instead Uses Up Our Limited Resources and Sets A Very Bad Example. Anyone indeed who can draw attention away from the ineptitude of government departments, and the politicians who are meant to be in charge.

You can easily see where this is leading. Today, let's revile looters with uneducated accents. Tomorrow let's revile marginal folk who like to keep their heads down, like transsexuals.

I'll admit at once that this all sounds a bit paranoid. But the danger is merely latent. If you start smearing one section of non-standard folk, it tends to taint others that the general public regard as 'much the same'. I recall a notorious instance back in 2000 when a female paediatrician (that is, a children's medical specialist) was thought by some ignorant local people to be the same thing as a paedophile, and was hounded from her home. Hounded because some stupid people misunderstood what different but similar-sounding words meant. But mobs don't take notice of dictionary definitions. Nor of ordinary laws. They seize on a notion, and then act brutally and without remorse.

All you have to do is point the finger.

Unscrupulous governments everywhere know this, and use mobs to do their dirty work. They don't need the elaborate panoply of a legal system to fix blame on scapegoats. They simply need to know how to inflame those uninhibited citizens who will take to the streets and commit violence. It's one of the lessons of history, that no minority is safe for long. No minority. At intervals, and in their turn, all minorities will have a finger pointed at them, and then life will get perilous. And of course it doesn't necessarily need to be a government finger. Some of the very recent riot victims must be wondering at how much blind hate and prejudice and resentment is simmering beneath the surface of multi-racial communities, populated by ordinary people like themselves. And how much more of it has yet to be expressed. And what could happen if the police ever relax their tenuous grip, and the thugs get a free hand to do what they want.

It just couldn't happen? It most certainly could. And anyone who stands out could become a target. Then, like the two main characters in the 1956 science-fiction film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, we could end up running for our lives.


They look pretty ordinary to me: but they were running from people they'd known all their lives, who were now against them.

So this is one of the reasons why I'm taking my ongoing transition so seriously. It may one day save my life. If I turn a corner, and I'm confronted by a gang of mindless angry cretins, I want to be instantly accepted as an unthreatening female. That won't save me from robbery or rape, but it might stop me being seen as a punch-bag for fists and boots, knives and chains, and whatever else a thug uses to bring down someone he intends to maim and kill.



Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Blackchurch Rock

Having had the amazing news about the Cottage on that sunny day in Bude last week, I was in a 'can do' mood, and after a meal I decided to tackle the descent to little-visited Mouth Mill and see for myself the rock formation known as Blackchurch Rock. This involved a drive along lonely roads to the hamlet of Brownsham (west of Clovelly), parking Fiona there, putting on my boots, and then walking to the cliff edge through fields and woods.


The only other car in the car park was an abandoned Ford with flat tyres. Not good. I hoped Fiona would be all right. I hoped that nobody would try to break into her, or let the air out of her tyres.

I'd brought along my stick, but five minutes from the car I did wonder whether this evening jaunt was a wise undertaking for a solitary female. The sunset was well advanced, and it would be dusk or darker when I got back to Fiona. I began to wonder about lurking men with carnal matters or murder on their minds. My legs weren't up to running like hell if a mad axeman or somesuch pounced. And as a weapon the stick was a joke. But this was all silliness. It was very lonely coastal countryside, and I had only cows and seabirds to contend with.

Having negotiated the kine, who were as usual curious, crowding forward before scattering in sudden panic, I got near the cliff edge. You could really appreciate how high and steep the cliffs were. Lundy was on the horizon, floating in the gathering haze.


The path zig-zagged down to the cove. Here I first came to a collection of derelict stone buildings, rather gaunt, certainly less inviting to explore than they would be in broad daylight. Then, as I advanced towards the beach, the Rock came into view. The tide was half out - no sand visible, but the Rock was approachable, and it was bathed in a golden light. Here I am, savouring my triumphant arrival:


Yes, definitely worth the effort! As you can see, the upper part of the beach was strewn with large pebbles. I had to take great care - it would be all too easy to twist an ankle hopping from one huge pebble to another. And I was utterly alone on that beach, with no mobile phone signal. So I took no chances. The stick helped me keep my balance, but things got no easier when I reached the bare rock further down the beach, because everything was tilted at a wild angle. These shots show what I mean:


Does it look like a black church? I don't think so. A pyramid maybe. You can see how tilted the strata were. Closer to the cliffs the strata were almost vertical.

After half an hour or so, the sun was sinking and it felt rather chilly and forlorn. I still had to walk back along a track through the Brownsham Woods, and I wasn't exactly looking forward to it. A comment on a recent post of mine mentioned the death of some children who got lost in these woods. Fortunately I hadn't yet heard about this, but it was getting dark and creepy and I longed for the safety of Fiona. The moon was rising. I now saw that near the beach was a single inhabited cottage - what an utterly secluded hideaway! Who (or what) dwelt within?  I did not wish to find out.


I set off along the track, which led into a dark world of whispering trees that might have seemed friendly enough by day but was clearly the abode of nameless fears by night. It led gradually uphill. I kept on looking back, and was reminded of the words from Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner:

Like one that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.

And also of the fate of poor Mr Harrington in M R James's tale Casting the Runes, who was chased to his death by a horrible creature of the night.

I pressed on. I was very, very relieved when suddenly, around a bend in the track, a bit of Brownsham came into view.  Four minutes later I had hurriedly shed the boots and was safely locked inside Fiona with the engine running. But I'd made the effort, and I had my pictures to prove it!

As I drove back to the main road, a barn owl ghosted by with outspread wings; and a deer ran before the car for a hundred yards, right in my headlights, until it jumped into a gap at the side of the road. Morrisons in Bideford was open for fuel. It was brightly lit up. I had a few cheery words with the girl on the till. It was an antidote to primeval terror.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Dilation: lubing up

We all start with tube after tube of KY (or equivalent gel) for our thrice-daily date with those perspex rods that we insert oh so carefully, and then push gingerly inside. And the sticky gel goes everywhere. It's messy to spread onto each dilator. It tends to drip off if you're not quick. It oozes down to your anus as you insert the dilator. It's very hard to get it off your fingers one-handed. Ugh. So many soggy tissues!

If used too sparingly, KY's been known to congeal a bit if you keep the dilator in overlong, apparently sticking to the vaginal skin, and giving reason for a panic attack, when for an instant you think you won't get the dilator out. But if you use plenty, you not only waste gel, you go through a wad of tissues wiping the dilator as it emerges, before setting it aside for its careful cleanup in the bathroom. You then consume another wad of tissues wiping yourself off.

You do this three times a day at first, but even when it's down to only once a day the procedure is still as messy as ever, and you are using up entire forests with all the tissues needed. You still seem to get through a bulk order of KY in no time. And KY is not cheap.

There must be a better alternative. I think I've found it.


It's water-soluble oil. This version is called Boots Silky Lubricant. I asked a lady shop assistant in Boots in Burgess Hill a little while back what I could use for my dry old vagina when contemplating rampant sex, and she said this product was very good. I didn't use it straight away, thinking I'd keep it in hand for any sex shop purchases I might experiment with, but three weeks ago (not having been near a sex shop) I decided to give the oil a whirl in place of KY. The spur for this was that I was beginning to run low on KY, and I baulked at the idea of buying another box of 30 tubes, costing £114, which would last me only five weeks or so.

Well, this 75ml bottle of Silky Lubricant is still half full, so I reckon that one bottle could last me a month. Even if I were still on a three-times-a-day regime, a bottle of this oil would last at least a week. And it costs only £3.05. Obviously it's a very much cheaper proposition than KY.

Other benefits: it's a colourless, odourless smooth non-sticky oil that really does wash completely away. The plastic label comes off completely, leaving you with a plain little bottle that could contain anything at all: how discreet. The bottle has a cap that won't come off too easily. You press the applicator beneath the cap to extrude the oil. You drop a very small amount straight onto the dilator, and spread it with the tips of your fingers. Then smear the rest of the oil that's on the fingers around the vaginal entrance before insertion. I dare say the oil is good for the vagina. The tiny residue still left on the fingers wipes off very easily. A film of oil is quite enough to allow a nice, smooth insertion of the dilator, and it comes out just as easily. No oil runs anywhere; you could almost dispense with a protective sheet on your bed. That just wasn't possible with KY. I generally find I need to use only one or two tissues to wipe the dilator before washing it, and to wipe myself before douching. I used up to eight before. Much less of a tax on Mother Earth's precious resources!

One other thing: even after douching, I fancied I could sometimes detect a curious faint sweet odour from my vagina when using KY, as if a slight residue hadn't been washed away and was left 'cooking' inside me. I don't get that with this oil.

And yet another thing: clearly this little bottle (with a couple of dainty tissues for post-activity wiping) could easily be carried in a handbag at all times, ready for instant lubrication of body parts. Much more elegant than a tube of KY and a full-sized kitchen roll.

I really can't see any snags. I dare say that for those who are very recently post-op, it's psychologically reassuring to squirt the KY on, a whole tube if need be, in order to be quite sure that there is enough lubrication, even if much less would do. I absolutely understand that. I felt just the same. But now, a thin film of oil does the trick.

So, does Boots Silky Lubricant gets the coveted Melford Excellent Product Award? You bet it does.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Sex tests for female athletes

Hmmm. On Radio 4 tonight was a programme called 'The Sex Test'. It looked into whether 'new guidelines on gender testing will mean a level playing-field for female athletes'.

It was interesting listening. It covered such topics as women with a Y chromosome, and those with (for various reasons) high testosterone levels. But strangely there wasn't a word about transsexual women. I thought that was very odd, because the more extreme chromosomal disorders (for instance) are quite rare, and surely rarer than the incidence of post-operative trans women in the sporting population. I personally know a trans woman who competes at national level in women's matches. And there must be a boatload of trans women worldwide who take part in top-level sport of various kinds.

But perhaps not at Olympic level. If not, why not? Is there nobody of sufficient ambition? Or is there a fear or assumption that a mandatory sex test would lead to the instant exposure of non-natal womanhood, with embarrassing consequences? But would or should that alone deny a properly feminised person the opportunity to compete?

Perhaps, after all, there are just no Olympic-standard trans women. I have to say that, post-transition, certainly post-op, I seem to be a whole lot floppier and weaker and more easily tired out than before. It could be my age, but I don't think so entirely. So maybe trans women are, as a group, actually less fit than most natal women! In which case, it isn't any wonder that none seem to go in for Olympic contests.

One thing you can surely guarantee, though: no trans female athlete is going to illegally enhance their testosterone level in an effort to gain a performance advantage! Not even for a gold medal.

Sun, sea and very good news

I can't believe what an eventful holiday this is. The big news now is that contracts have been exchanged on the Cottage - that was yesterday afternoon - with completion on 6 September! Wow, that all happened damned quickly: the buyers clearly wanted the place badly. Well, they're getting a fine property at a knock-down price, and buying when the market is low. Eventually they'll make a good profit on resale. They're probably very glad to get their cash into bricks and mortar, the way the stock markets are just now!

As for myself, I'm very, very relieved that after four years of trying, the Cottage is sold, and will be off my hands. I won't make much from the sale - after costs and the loan repayment I may walk away with just £1,500. Which means that I've lost a small fortune forever - £200,000, which I actually had in the bank in 2007. Imagine what I could have accomplished with that money in the years ahead. But it's just another indirect cost of transition. If you add this huge loss to my more conventional transition costs (see 'Counting the Transition Costs' on 17 June 2011), and lump in the net cost of Fiona (which some will say represented the ultimate tranny accessory), my transition outlay approaches £280,000. Phew.

Well, you can't say I have come out of it smelling of roses. Not from a financial standpoint. And remember too that I lost my partner, both parents, and a slew of other people in the process. In all a devastating experience, and enough to make me cry if I think on it too much. But I try not to. I'm still here and functioning, and life has to go on. And life can be so enjoyable if you embrace it. So I'm counting my blessings and putting these disasters behind me.

By the way, I've been to Kentisbeare (my annual pilgrimage to Dad's boyhood village), Lydford Gorge (a deep gash on the west side of Dartmoor with a famous waterfall), Bude (sunshine and surf), and actually made it down to Blackchurch Rock (in the sunset).

Bude was yesterday. A perfect day. The wide beaches were packed with families enjoying the sun, as was the shoreline. I paddled up to my knees as the gentle waves rolled in. I felt so happy. I saw the children fishing and frolicking, and almost for the first time in my life felt truly carefree. It must have shown on my face: more than one person smiled at me and one chap, there with his entire family, shared a conversation with me.

I floated back into town, and had tea and cake in the Ocean View Cafe at Wroes, Bude's department store (it's no John Lewis, but it's a proper modern store, with a sophisticated feel, and a rather strange thing to find in a remote Atlantic resort). That's where I got the news about the Cottage. I felt strange and dazed and tearful as the news sunk in. I bought an aqua-coloured fleece-lined rain jacket as a momento of the occasion. I really didn't want to leave Wroes, this house of good luck. But eventually I went back to where I'd parked Fiona, told her the fantastic news (well, I speak to my car! Don't you?), and drove to Marhamchurch, and had a celebratory double gin and tonic, with a steak, at the Buller's Arms Hotel.

The evening light was good. Good enough to top everything with a strenuous walk down to Blackchurch Rock. I drove to Brownham, put on my boots, and set forth as the sunset developed. More on this, with pictures of the extraordinary Rock, once I'm home again.

What a day.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Dinner ladies and painted ladies

This is actually my 500th post!

Today would also have been my Mum's 90th birthday.

Happy Birthday, Mum, wherever you are. I'm OK. You'd have no cause for comcern.

I suppose it's probably a bit pointless posting a description of my holiday without photos, but I can't do that on my phone, so words must do.

I haven't yet made it to Blackchurch Rock, nor onto Exmoor or Dartmoor. The weather has changed, and it can be sunny one moment, heavy rain the next. So I've mainly stuck to the towns.

But two days ago I went to a village called Pyworthy, and had lunch at the pub there, the Molesworth Arms, owned by a lady called Denise Short. She's been in the educational news this year, because she saw an opportunity to benefit both the pub and the children of the village school just a few yards away. The children needed a midday meal, but providing one for them by ordinary means was uneconomic. Denise, an ex school dinner lady herself, offered to cook the necessary meals in the pub. A deal was done. In term time, then, the dozen or so children now troop into the pub and sit together in a closed room set aside for them, where they can't be assailed or led onto a wayward path by the fumes of beer and lager, nor the bawdy language of the village regulars. So it's all perfectly kosher. The cost to the school is much less than any alternative, and the pub has gained an assured income. Headmasters and headmistresses everywhere are looking at this innovation. I heard about it on Radio 4 - Woman's Hour, or You And Yours - and decided to see what the cooking was like. Well, I actually met Denise Short, who keeps her pub immaculately, and she cooked me a very tasty giant Yorkshire pudding with local sausages in onion gravy. Real pub grub! I saw the room reserved for the children. And I fell into conversation with four friendly people, one of whom was the retiring rector. All very pleasant.

That same evening it was the Private View at the Burton Art Gallery in Bideford. There was a long queue to get in, and it was packed. Having secured my free glass of wine (not bad wine either) I examined the many exhibits, and quickly decided that a picture entitled 'That Night in St Ives' by Bill Wright was outstanding, and sped off to the desk to buy it before anyone else did. That done, and with the usual orange 'sold' dot now affixed, I had a lot of satisfaction seeing how much interest and admiration the picture was generating. It was very, very skilfully done. Rightly or wrongly, a lot of people will pay money for a work that has clearly involved hours and hours of careful, skilful effort on the part of the artist, and this was such a work. The picture also told an intriguing story. It stood out from the rest. More than once, I engaged people in conversation by mentioning that I was the buyer.

Jo Pryor, the Torrington-based artist with a highly distinctive style featuring intricately-decorated women, had also exhibited a painting at the Burton entitled 'Umblemead'. I'd bought her painting 'A Field of Dreams' at the 2009 exhibition, and noticed that, two years on, she was asking nearly twice as much for something similar on the same sized canvas. Clearly she was getting better known, and becoming a name. And no wonder. Every woman I spoke to found her work very appealing. I didn't buy this one, but next day I did buy 'Russia', at The Plough Arts Centre in Great Torrington, where a number of her paintings were on display. That'll pair nicely with 'A Field of Dreams' and the two could prove a decent little investment. I talked a lot with a woman there, who loved Jo Pryor's work, but now couldn't afford to buy. Her birthday was coming up, and she was very, very wistful. I waited until she'd gone before making my purchase.

A new tyre and two pictures! At this rate, the cash raised by the camera and lens sales will soon be gone! I'd better stay away from the shops. So, a few 'cheap and cheerful' days now, to make up for such extravagance!

Here comes another shower!

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Trans ambassador

I think that post-op trans women like me, who live active lives and appear to pass effortlessly, should consciously be ambassadors for everyone else. I'm convinced that the impression I make on 'ordinary' people matters hugely. Some of them will, during or after our encounter, put two and two together and realise that they have been speaking with a trans person. If so, I want them to be struck with the thoughts that (a) it was a pleasure; (b) it wasn't embarrassing, but easy and natural; and (c) they'd be happy to repeat the experience. Each encounter that goes well is another little victory on the way to general social acceptance for all trans persons. So, for me, every encounter is important, and I'd feel ashamed to let my standards slip. I behave well even when I'm obviously alone. I want it to become second nature.

Possibly all my cultural chat about art galleries and picture purchases and opera is taken by some as an elitist pretence. But all sorts of people enjoy these things, not just snobs, and I'm no different. And pursuing them is a great chance to play that ambassadorial role and change the views of people who might have some influence in the community. If I can impress a gallery- or theatre-going businessman (or his wife) that at least one trans person they have met is outgoing, engaging, well-adjusted, articulate, socially skilled, and apparently sensible, then perhaps, just perhaps, that conversation will translate into a job interview or sponsorship for a trans applicant who might otherwise be rejected out of hand. Or at the least help them be taken more seriously, whatever they are trying to do. To that end, props to create a good impression, such as nice clothes, well cared-for hair, a pleasant speaking voice, good posture, good manners, even a car like Fiona (a big Volvo will seem credible and reassuring to some minds) all play their part.

So I have found a role, not as a writer, or after-dinner speaker, or political activist, or formal educator, but as a low-key mole, unobtrusively digging away, doing my little best to make the general population see trans people in a positive light.
And if there are other moles doing the same, we can achieve much.

There is of course a potential problem. I pass well, but I'm still easily detectable to those who are 'trans aware', even if they say nothing to me. If the day ever comes when my appearance is perfect, then I can't play the ambassador any more - not unless I out myself. But that's not yet, maybe never, and in any case different territory.

Friday, 5 August 2011

North Devon holiday, day 2

Well, yesterday (Thursday) Fiona needed a new tyre. It cost me almost £170, but that's the going rate for big low-profile Pirelli Pzero Rosso 235/60 R18 tyres in North Devon. At least it was cheaper than getting the same new tyre fitted back home in Sussex. It was all handled efficiently. And to kill time, a nice man called Chris drove me into town, and then picked me up later, once the tyre (not in stock locally) had arrived and been fitted. So I had another quick mooch around Barnstaple, successfully finding nice birthday cards for both M--- and my step-daughter A---. The whole thing was as painless and effortless as it could be, and I could hardly claim that fixing the damaged tyre had spoilt my holiday. I suppose those wide new tyres, with their deep treads, are vulnerable to picking up all kinds of junk from the side of the road. I'll just have to be more circumspect about driving off the highway.

For the first two nights I had cooked in the caravan, but yesterday evening I treated myself to a meal out. I was driving back along the B3227 from Umberleigh, and on impulse tried The Cranford Inn, about a mile east of High Bullen, and close to St Giles in the Wood. This was no ordinary pub. It had the air of a select old country hotel, where people who like to eat well gather. And gather they did. Although I arrived at just before six, and was one of the very first arrivals, it soon filled up. The two girls behind the bar were very welcoming and gave me good service. I had a smoked trout salad as a starter, duck breast and vegetables as my main course, and rice pudding for dessert, washed down with a large glass of merlot. As I'd had no lunch, this was all very necessary nutrition. It was also delicious: I'll be eating there again. Funny that the place wasn't in my Good Pub Guide, nor my Michelin. Perhaps I'll tell them about it.

Back at the farm, the five children of my fellow caravanners helped me with both farm gates, which was sweet of them. I was surprised that the oldest girl could manage the heavy chain that secured the outer gate to its post. But she did, and I gave her particular thanks. Presumably I am a bit of a puzzle to them (no husband with me to do the caravan chores) but the very fact that they wanted to help showed that I must give off good vibes. The boys were called Rory and Angus, and this gave rise to a hilarious mistake when I spoke to Phil the farmer and his wife Ann. Phil hoped I wasn't irritated by 'Fergus and Angus'. Not being very sharp of hearing (or just dull-witted!), I thought he meant these young boys. So I said no, they were really very nice and well-behaved, and made no noise at all. But he meant his two cockerels, who were always trying to out-crow each other! Too late I remembered the eldest girl saying that there were two Anguses on the farm. Now I realised what she was referring to. Oh well, Phil and I had a good laugh over that. Rather a cock-up, you might say.

Tomorrow (Friday) is the Private View at the Burton Art Gallery in Bideford, from 7:00pm. Maybe a posh frock and pearls? Depends on the weather!

And Saturday is looking good for fine weather. I may go to see the spectacular Blackchurch Rock that day. It's at the foot of towering cliffs west of Clovelly. You really need to go at low tide, which will be around 5:30pm. So I may be able to catch it in the golden late afternoon sunlight. And maybe fish and chips on Bideford Quay afterwards!

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

North Devon holiday, day 1

What a day! It's been the first full day of my holiday in North Devon, and full of pleasant events and encounters - bar one thing, which will cost me money.

So let's get the not-so-good thing out of the way first. A screwhead has appeared in the tread of one of the expensive new tyres I bought back in May. It was already well sunk in, and had mangled the surrounding rubber. I knew that pulling it out (if I could) would instantly deflate the tyre, so I left well alone, and consulted the Volvo dealership in Barnstaple (Kastner). I wasn't surprised to hear that the tyre was a write-off for any but the most undemanding use. I certainly shouldn't risk a blow-out towing my caravan with it. So I'm booked in for a replacement tyre at 2:00pm tomorrow, and will drive sparingly and slowly meanwhile (not over 60mph, anyway). I have to say, their service receptionist Rachel was a very pleasant and helpful young lady (I told her so), and the technician who examined the tyre was a cut above most garage staff that I've met. And their loo was spotless. It was bad news about the tyre, but a great experience nevertheless.

And now some major, major good news. Before I ventured into Barnstaple, I phoned the auctioneers and discussed a post-auction offer just received on the Cottage. Yes, a credible offer of the asking price (that is, the reserve price at the auction on 30 June). I first heard about it by email the previous afternoon, when stuck in a traffic jam with the caravan in tow. This morning I learned more and it sounded good. So no more to be said for now - let's not tempt the fickle gods - but potentially this could be my deliverance from the burden of running two homes.

After seeing the Volvo dealer, I parked in Barnstaple town centre, and my first steps brought me to the Queen's Theatre. A sign outside drew attention to their first-floor Gallery Cafe. Wow, I felt so hungry! So in I went, and enjoyed a delicious Coronation Chicken panini, washed down by Elderflower cordial. The staff were SO friendly. Again, great loos. Another lift-the-spirits experience!

I then went around the shops trying to buy the compass that I'd already researched on the Internet. It was a good make, but not an expensive model: the Suunto A-30, web price around £17.50, plus delivery. But not one of the 'outdoor' dealers had it. So I think I'll have to forego walking about in mist and fog, until I get home and order the thing online. Once again, my reception in each shop was uniformly friendly, and that didn't flag when I wouldn't buy a substitute.

I was taking photos of old buildings all the time, and an old chap came up to me, and gave me his advice on how to get a good shot of Butcher's Row. That was very pleasant of him, even if the tips were unnecessary (although I would never tell anyone that). He went on to give me his personal list of the 'top ten' things worth photographing in Barnstaple. He obviously thought I was worth talking to!

Inside the Pannier Market, I had a long conversation with a nice lady selling homemade knitted cardigans for very small children. She kept knitting as we spoke - how impressive that she could do that!

In the church, a group of elderly ladies had a tombola, and for just £1.00 I could draw three tickets. I never win, but they were nice ladies, the cause was good, and the prizes were fabric items they had actually made themselves; so I paid my pound, pretty well as a donation. But would you believe it, two of my tickets won me something, and I acquired an attractive shoulder-bag and purse! Was it a sign that my luck is improving?

Finally, back at the farm, there was a man eating a sandwich in the sun next to his bike. 'You seem to be enjoying a good rest!' I said to him, with a twinkle in my eye. It turned out that he'd cycled on ahead, and the motorcaravan wasn't far behind. We had a lighthearted exchange, then I opened the gate (with a little difficulty: you had to lift it up a bit, and I found it heavy) and drove through. Once again the Melford manner must have worked its magic, for lo, the chap put down his lunch and closed the gate behind me, saving me the trouble. How really nice of him.

Thus has passed Day One. How good people are to me. And I can't quite see why!