Wednesday, 30 November 2011

MTS: lasting impressions

Well, the show's over. What will the public take away from part four of My Transsexual Summer? I'm sure the question is worth asking.

It was in many ways a watershed programme: the first major TV excursion into trans territory for half a decade, at least in the UK; the first to show so much upbeat celebration of transness; the first to show a proper selection of trans people of both types (MTF and FTM), and yet suggest that trans people are not all alike, but have different personal takes on their condition; the first to throw away the silly stereotypes of 'ex-men' who can't leave train-spotting and car mechanics alone, or flamboyant pageant queens.

We were treated to a big slice of inspirational bonding, as if the main message was that all trans people are caring and nice and unselfish, and get on well together, and are terrific company for each other. And that - in most cases - their families are loving and reasonable and supportive, and will go that extra mile. We were not presented with terminally screwed-up pathetic saddos from dysfunctional home backgrounds. We saw high-energy people with ambitions and plenty to say about themselves, and each in their own way worthy of respect. It was very theatrical, but all very positive.

And the darker aspects of trans existence were not quite edited out. There were little glimpses of bleak despair; personal losses that could not be put right as if by magic. Karen did not rediscover her daughter. Drew and Sarah both found that prejudice and misunderstanding and myth can deny you a job, or a place to stay.

On the whole, MTS successfully repackaged British trans people and made them seem extraordinary for some good reasons. If that impression lingers, then the programme makers and Channel 4 will have done the community a service. I don't personally mind if one or two of the participants find a way of exploiting their celebrity. Nor do I mind if they seek peace and quiet and an ordinary life, and never become trans activists or advocates.

There's just one thing...none of the participants resembled me. And some of the friends I know in Brighton are saying the same. If the British public now think this is how 'trannies' typically look and speak and behave, then that's certainly an improvement in general perception, but it won't quite be the truth. There is a danger that the public will not see our problems, and that the issues that beset us will never be fixed.

Perhaps we - my friends and I - may now cease to be recognised as 'trannies' at all, simply because we don't fit the new TV image. Is that a good thing? Will we mind being treated as just slightly eccentric women? And not the 'real thing'?

Rejected

Just over a week ago I saw an old friend while driving through the little town he lives in. This friend had withdrawn with sadness when I came out to him early in 2009, and we had not seen each other since. The encounter was sudden and unexpected, and it upset me. I couldn't stop. But I wrote to him next day, proposing an experimental meeting, simply doing the ordinary things we'd always done on our former monthly meetups. I knew that he looked at my blog at least occasionally, so he'd know what I looked like, and something about my current thinking and attitudes.

Actually, I didn't think I had changed all that much. I had some hopes that he would have reappraised me, found merit, and now felt ready for some kind of reunion.

I had a letter from him ths morning: it was brief and disappointing. He used kind words, but he did not want to make the experiment. He wished to retain his fond memories of me as I used to be, as he knew me for twenty-four years until I changed.

It was gently expressed. But not seeing me to protect a fond memory was really no different from not seeing me for any other reason, including the one that I had become persona non grata. I'm sure it wasn't the intention of my friend, but I felt rejected, and it hurt enough to bring me close to tears. He wanted to avoid me, to not see me, and to keep me away.

I won't harbour resentment. I'm not made that way. But it seems to me that if this is how my friend still feels after almost three years to ponder on my situation, then there will never be any change, and I must accustom myself to that. In my past life I did not have many personal friends, and my impulse to show friendship had been very much concentrated into this particular friend of very long standing. His loss in 2009 was therefore severe. And this fresh reaffirmation of that loss is equally hard to take.

I am lucky, of course. Some of us have multiple losses like this, so many that the accumulating rejection affects basic self-confidence, even health. It is very, very damaging. But all you can do is be strong, forget the hurt, and carry on. There is no other way.

Monday, 28 November 2011

My silver necklace and its meaning

You'll have noticed that I don't wear gold, and never vary my jewellery much, the standard items being a plain silver ring on my left little finger, a curly-looking silver ring on my right ring finger, a stainless-steel Tag Heuer lady's watch on my left wrist, a chunky silver bangle on my right wrist, and discreet titanium studs in my ears. The only thing that ever gets changed is the neckware, and even here it's almost always just one of three items nowadays: my pearls, a Labradorite pendant with a silver chain, and a thick silver necklace that looks a bit like a slow-worm. This post is about the last item.

You'll have often seen my slow-worm in pictures of myself. Here it is in close-up with the Labradorite pendant:


And here it is around my neck in a Winchester pub yesterday evening:


Yesterday was an anniversary. Exactly three years ago, on 27 November 2008, M--- bought that slow-worm for me as a gift when we were in Bournemouth for the day. It came from a shop just off the town centre called Enigma. My coming-out to her was still recent; she was still struggling to cope; we'd had a blazing row that afternoon; but, meeting up later, the anger and frustration felt by both sides had died down, and we earnestly wanted to be good to each other. I'd seen this necklace in Enigma. I'd wanted one like it for years past. I'd bought M--- a slightly more slender version twelve years previously. Now I wanted to have one myself, to match hers. In a way, a strong gesture of togetherness when so much was starting to fall apart. I had hesitated over the cost. She didn't hesitate. The purchase was made. Once mine, I wore it proudly, straight away. Of course it was a very girly possession: my first openly-wearable major item of proper ladies jewellery. But it was still androgynous enough for her to feel comfortable with it.

It was the last present from her that was given in anything like the circumstances, with anything like the feeling, of all the other gifts we'd given each other through the years.

We didn't stop buying more things for each other in the months ahead. For instance, when I finally had to move out, I bought her a laptop and other stuff to go with it, so that - with my PC gone - she could still process her own photos and be on the Internet. She bought me things like a Chinese tea set, exquisite and attractive and loaded with significance. But all these following things were given with sadness and regret for what was passing, and were inevitably either practical gifts, or tinged with symbolism for what had been, and was now tragically fading, and might in time be forgotten.

But the slow-worm was different. I loved it, and it gave me pleasure and hope, if not for us, then for a meaningful future I couldn't yet see, but felt sure would come. And it has, but M--- is not in it, and it isn't the future she wanted but the future she feared. And that is a sad thing that is sometimes very hard to bear; but at least I have this reminder that, despite everything, I was once loved with an all-consuming fire, and without despair.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Costs, costs, costs

2011 is drawing to a close, and about this time each year I consider setting up speadsheets and databases for the following year. I have quite a number of financial ones going, some documenting my plans and the outcomes, some merely recording expenditure under various heads as it accumulates.

One set of spreadsheets records my transition costs as they occur. I've maintained them - using a consistent format - for each of the years 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. Some months ago (see Counting the transition costs on 17 June 2011) I disclosed what I'd spent on my transition up to that point. It was probably typical for a transitioner with a bit of cash, and the will to record everything relevant. I thought then that the spending would tail off, and it has. And until very recently I wasn't going to bother with a spreadsheet for 2012. But I've changed my mind.

There's more than one motive. First, I actually like recording things. Somehow all the records, all the photos, all the letters written and copies kept, fix me in time and space and show that I have a history, and that real development is going on. It's not just an impression, or in my imagination. This is psychologically reassuring.

Second, I like to fulfill plans, record progress, reach targets, finish the job properly and measurably. That's the kind of person I am.

Third, I want to prove to myself, and if necessary to others, that although mistakes were made aplenty, I did not indulge in heedless and gratuitous waste. Money is a finite resource, like a tank of fuel; you have to eke it out, and use it well. Just how you do that is your own business, but once it's gone, it's gone, and the show stops until you can refill that tank.

All along I've been acutely conscious of dwindling resources. Transition is an expensive business, and I've done it all out of my own pocket. I'm not claiming kudos for that, at least not within the trans community: I simply have a personal principle that if you can pay, you should, so that money is freed up for those who can't afford the expense themselves. It does place me on high ground, with those inclined to take a certain holier-than-thou moral attitude. If I'm ever challenged by an indignant non-trans person who feels strongly about 'wasting NHS resources', or taxpayers' money generally, and accuses me of being a leech on society, then I will absolutely flame them. Because by their standards, I'll have a clean pair of financial hands - and I'll insist that they acknowledge that. But otherwise my sheer ability to pay should not get me through the Pearly Gates. It's the least I could have done.

And, let it be said, I got what I paid for. I got hair removal, voice tuition, genital surgery. I got clothes, shoes, bags, accessories and everything required to boost my confidence and self-worth when these things were vital to have. I avoided hassle. And I shortened 'the process' into a timescale that made sense for a late transitioner with no time to waste.

And bear in mind that once I've got my Gender Recognition Certificate, I'll eventually recover some of those costs, by having my State Pension paid a little bit earlier. I have no shame about that. And once the pension is being paid - it'll start three years from now - I can save up for anything else that I may need to complete the process: a nose or boob job, say. Unless I decide that at 62 it no longer matters.

There is also another, fourth motive: I really don't think that my transition is over. I still need to record at least its fourth year. It'll be a year that will contrast strangely with the three that came before. A year in which my spending changes character, becomes more like that of any woman, and drops to a level that I can sustain without raiding my savings account. A year in which I stabilise; a year of carefully managed thrift. I want to see my savings account balance actually start rising again, as much as I want my waist measurement to shrink.

Well, there's two New Year resolutions!

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Newspapers

The current enquiry into UK press practice is taking evidence that reveals disgusting and callous approaches to news-gathering and publishing. All to boost circulation. It's a scandalous, salacious news story in itself.

I have always since my teens been quite certain that newspapers exist solely to make money or political influence for their owners. And not at all to be a reliably impartial source of truth and knowledge. They have other functions too: as a mirror of contemporary society, as a marker of social status, and as a vehicle for mass advertising.

I don't know if the question is still asked, but back in 1970, at my two first and only job interviews, a key question was 'Which newspaper do you read?' and much depended on the answer. Back then 'The Times' or 'The Daily Telegraph' were safe replies. 'The Guardian' would suggest intelligence but also a degree of political awareness inappropriate to a minion in the vast and conservative Civil Service, and it was therefore a risky answer. There was of course no way of sitting on the fence by saying 'The Independent', which didn't then exist. These were all broadsheet newspapers. Tabloid-sized papers were all of much lower status, and not deemed to be the reading matter of potential high-fliers. You were career-dead if you claimed to read any of those. They were thought trivial and working-class. They defined your level in a world still ruled by a snobbish elite, and even if you landed a job, you would be regarded henceforth and forever as a mere worker ant. Such was the position of newspapers in British culture at the time.

Forty years on, and the crown has slipped. Is there a paper - or any well-known publication of national circulation - that still has an untarnished reputation? Any at all that you'd happily admit to reading regularly? They all seem like vassal states in a cruel and despotic empire, tainted not simply by who owns them, or who sets the tone, but by the sleazy basic practices of the news industry. What now distinguishes a news reporter or news photographer working for the popular press from a private detective?

But face another fact. If these papers could not be sold, if nobody bought them, the industry would not be as it is now. The paper-buying public fed the machine that hounded Princess Diana and so many others to destruction. You cannot point a finger at (for instance) the Murdoch family without admitting that people bought their products daily by the million, and that if their standards are wrong, then so are the standards of most of us. And that goes for the news-makers too: the reporters and writers of all kinds who gave the public what they wanted to read about. It may have been a cynical exercise in spoon-feeding, but the salacious diet was eagerly swallowed.

Apart from buying and reading 'The Listener' before its demise, I have not bought a daily or weekly newspaper for nearly thirty years. I wouldn't waste my money, and I certainly don't want to encourage the press as it has now become.

The three traditional uses for yesterday's newspaper were to wrap your fish and chips in it, to clean flies and other muck off your car windscreen with it, and (in poor or makeshift circumstances) wipe your bottom with it. There are better substitutes for all three nowadays. I suggest there are better substitutes for the newpapers that are presently being savaged but will no doubt survive. A brief radio news summary, or a news headline feed on your phone, might be much better for your information, understanding and peace of mind than a thousand weasel words on a printed page.

And this is quite apart from the issue of Saving the Planet. There are better uses for paper and chemicals. Ask yourself: if cast ashore on a desert island in a post-apocalyptic world, who would you like for companionship? A survival expert? An inventive genius with knowledge of agriculture? A doctor? A banker? A reporter?

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Success stories

Last Sunday I was once again - it was my third consecutive annual attendance - at the Dorset Gardens Methodist Church in Brighton, who were hosting the Transgender Day of Remembrance Ceremony for the city. It was very well attended indeed. A sea of people arranged in concentric circles around a large candle. Present were two of the TV participants in My Transsexual Summer, Sarah and Fox, and the mother of Andrea Waddell, a trans girl who was murdered in Brighton in October 2009 - one of two such murders in the UK that dark month. I spoke with all three. Not present were representatives from any of the political parties, not even the Green Party, which is strong and influential in Brighton. But the police were there; and, would you credit it, the Rainbow Flag was flying from their building.

The format of the Ceremony was changed this year. Hitherto, a book had been passed from person to person containing details of all the known trans-related deaths around the world in the previous twelve months, including the name of the victims, where they died, and how they died. 2009/2010 was an especially bad year for hate crime, and it took a long time to complete this part of the Ceremony. And the cruelty of the deaths - which might involve torture, mutilation while alive, stabbing, strangling, even burning - was harrowing in the extreme. Some had found it impossible to read from the book when their turn came.

So this year, people were invited to take one or more cards from a table by the big candle, and stick them up on a large blank wall. We did this not one by one, but all together. Each card showed the name of a victim in 2010/2011 and their country, but thankfully not the mode of death; although if you wished to know, the details were available. This proved to be a better idea. It also allowed each man and woman there at the Ceremony to make their own personal act of remembrance, and not just briefly read something from a book, stumbling sometimes over the pronunciation of strange foreign names. This was more contemplative. Inevitably you paused at the Wall after sticking up a card. Just you and the Wall; and those cards with the names of those poor people on them. The cumulative effect as the Wall slowly filled up was impressive and moving. Meanwhile a choir sang.


There were an awful lot of cards, even though the death rate worldwide had fallen. Maybe the worst of the hate was done with, maybe not. But in some way I thought that the Ceremony was much more a celebration than a sorrowful tribute to the dead. It had been a more 'successful' year for trans people, in the sense that a few more than usual had survived. But the threat of sudden, casual death still hung over us all, even in Brighton. We were still in the hands of twisted people full of mockery and hate. And - despite being voters - still not taken seriously by most politicians.

Two days later, it was part three of My Transsexual Summer. This time it was all about achieving goals. That's more like it, I thought. Let the public see trannies being successful. Doing the things they do themselves, and getting praise and acknowledgement and recognition for it. The focus was on Lewis (desperate to raise cash for his breast-removal surgery) and Drew (equally desperate to get a proper job). Lewis set up a musical event in St Helens, drawing in an impressive number of friends and supporters - and also his dad, who hadn't fully accepted him but now clustered round, with a spot of bonding taking place. A double success then. Drew nervously survived a two-day trial at a town centre coffee shop, coping with the discerning ordinary townspeople of Wakefield. And she did very well, dropping the odd cake knife, but proving to be a champion waitress. She got the job, wow. Which meant not so much more money of her own, but the satisfaction of being an essential member of staff, making friends, and getting accepted by the town at large.

I have to say, I greatly admired them both. Singing on a stage in front of a crowd would be a frightening experience that I'd do much to avoid. Likewise, the pressure of a busy town centre coffee shop - taking orders correctly from customers, and serving them in a skilful and unflappable way - would be a challenge that I'd baulk at. What, you may cry! An ex Tax Inspector afraid of the public? But remember, I had the myth of the old sinister Inland Revenue behind me, the KGB in all but name, and people took the view that it was useless to resist, however annoyed and resentful they felt about being 'looked into', and however much they might try to delay the inevitable. And I was paid well to be persistent, and assertive for the truth. So it wasn't all that hard to acquire a confident approach, to be Christian in Pilgrim's Progress, and put up with the sneers and crossness that sometimes came one's way.

But survival on a stage, or in a waitress's uniform! Fear and terror! Nothing like the comforts of a safe office with colleagues on hand. No comparison. Couldn't do it.

At the beginning of the programme it was mentioned that 'two-thirds of trans people have suffered hate crimes'. Two thirds: as much as that? I didn't mind a startling statistic like this put in front of the general viewing public, but I hope it was accurate! Cut to Simon Powell giving the participants tips and lessons on self-defence. I'm pretty sure this is the same Simon who (back in November 2009) showed a keen group of us at the Clare Project in Brighton how to 'Walk Tall' and physically disable attackers if running like hell, or boldly facing up to threatening people, were not viable options. It was useful knowledge if sensible, confident personal behaviour, and good, unobtrusive presentation didn't keep you out of trouble. We were all inept Kung Fu Pandas at first, but we got much better very quickly. I'd therefore recommend a quick course in self-defence if you haven't already done one.

The final part of MTS is next week. I want to see Karen reconciled with her daughter.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Meeting local women at a keep-fit class

I need to take some exercise, but I also want to meet many more natal women. One obvious answer is a keep-fit class. But I've drawn a blank looking in the local papers.

When I invited my neighbour J--- in for a coffee this afternoon, I asked her how she would go about finding a local keep-fit class. Her suggestions were the internet, or simply looking at the stuff pinned up in the Village Hall, which is just across the park from me, and within easy walking distance. Job done then - nearly! I'll trot over to the Village Hall tomorrow, and find out what might be going on there. And I can do the same thing at other village halls within a few miles, although it'll be nice if I can find what I want on my doorstep.

There are also bound to be classes at the two leisure centres that I belong to, but the cost per session may be greater. I can check that out on the internet.

There is of course a problem in all this. Will I be accepted? It's one thing to walk confidently down any street in the country. Quite another to join a local class and fit in, especially if my face may already be known.

We discussed this. In June 2009 (when I moved back to the village after the death of my father) I went full-time, and was suddenly seen around the village in full female clothing. I was shopping for food, going to the doctor and dentist, doing things at the Post Office, and keeping the charity shops well-stocked as I cleared my parents' wardrobes. My presentation was OK, but far from perfect: there was little hormonal effect so far; hair removal had only just begun; I had no female voice. I never noticed any tongues wagging as walked by, but surely I must have been seen and discussed by dozens of local people. But, J--- pointed out, I would have been just a nine day wonder. People soon move on to other things to talk about.

And nowadays I would not be any kind of news at all. Indeed I'd be very surprised if anyone, apart from immediate neighbours, could recall what I used to look like. I'd expect to be taken as a middle-aged women in all circumstances, and treated accordingly.

But a credible appearance and voice is one thing. What about my lack of lifelong 'female background'? In between whatever aerobic gyrations we are put through, will I be asked about my marriage status, family, former job, the school I attended, current interests, and medical history? I'm thinking I might well be. I'm a chatty sort, not one to stay silent and say nothing; I intend to make friends; and once rapport is established, and we're swapping personal stuff, I'm going to be vulnerable to a lot of natural probing. So a decision has to be taken now: how much do I disclose about myself? I'm inclined to be completely frank, and if anyone has a problem with me, face that with honesty, and not be affronted or embarrassed or in any way negative. I'm sure that there will be fair-minded people in the class who will support me, if I stand my ground in a reasonable way. And if the situation is clearly not winnable, then I will try in a neighbouring village or town where I can be a little more anonymous.

Bottom line: I need exercise. I will find somewhere to go!

J--- thought, if I wanted women's society but not necessarily any exercise, that I should also try groups such as the Women's Institute. But I can't make jam, I said. She said go: it wasn't how I thought.

Perhaps I'll end up as a Calendar Girl.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

MTS 2: more questions than answers

I was a little disappointed with part two of My Transsexual Summer. It didn't seem to add much to the first part last week. The presumed purpose of the programme - to present a group of people whose interactions and personal revelations will 'explain' transsexuality to the general public - wasn't much taken forward. Four incidents stand out: A fuller account of Drew's attempt to find a local job; the displaying of successful FTM surgery by a visitor; the Saturday night in the local pub; and Sarah's coming-out to her mum.

Drew's experience when she approached a bridal shop who were looking for an assistant is perceptively described on Jane Fae's blog (her 'Internalised Oppression' post). I won't add to it, except to mention that as I watched, I felt like saying to Drew 'Why on earth didn't you try your luck at a proper beauty salon, or a hairdresser? Plenty of those around. Or even better, get a till job at a supermarket, put some money together, attend college, and get some qualifications to show'. It seemed desperately unrealistic to rely solely on a nice manner and makeup skills. If she is meant to represent the plight of unemployed transsexual girls, and the sort of self-improvement notions they have, then she did them no favours.

Next, the FTM surgery. This was the first time in years that I'd seen a 'created' penis on TV. It was rather impressive. Perhaps a bit too big, in fact. It didn't look anything like the penis I used to have, which in no way resembled the proverbial elephant's trunk when relaxed, wasn't overlong or overthick even when erect, and shrank into a pathetic crinkled little appendage in cold weather. This one looked permanently half-inflated and half-erect in its normal state, and had a circumcised look. Despite the mention of how many operations were needed, and the high cost, and the fiddly stiffening procedure, as a surgical accomplishment it was remarkably well-crafted, and must have come as a surprise to the general viewing public. The six in the house were pretty awed.

I considered my own reactions carefully. Would I, as a trans woman, find it exciting if a trans man revealed his penis to me? It was hard to give more than a tentative answer. I wouldn't be in the position of even seeing it unless I was contemplating sex with him, or living with him on an intimate day-to-day basis. That would only happen if we had already got very close; and if so, I would be accepting of him as a whole person, and not just one or two of his parts. I would be disposed to understand and forgive any anatomical imperfections in his physique as much I would want him to forgive any in myself. The more challenging issue was whether a natal woman would be content with a post-op trans man for a lover, if he had a penis like that, and the scars where the skin grafts had been taken, and scars where breasts had once been. And not being a natal woman, I couldn't possibly say.

The night out at the local pub was driven mainly by the young, pretty, up-for-anything Donna. And it raised a few question-marks about her. She had been saying that she 'liked being a tranny' and didn't want genital surgery, and her out-and-proud actions at the pub, in which she successfully won over most of the men, seemed awfully like a stage performance. She wasn't a drag act; but it seemed to me that if she wanted to make a career in that general area then she had the right temperament and personality. Which begged the question, was she really transsexual in the same sense that I was? Why didn't she want surgery to remove the male organ that Karen and Sarah so disliked to see on themselves? It will be interesting to see whether the next two episodes clarify this.

She made the men think. Donna really is very pretty and convincing as a girl, very vivacious, and was igniting pilot lights in the men's loins. She was pressing all the right buttons. One or two men found it disturbing. It made me wonder whether the wrong kind of man would find it so threatening that he'd want to retaliate in self-defence, as it he were being seduced against his will into what he might regard as 'gay sex'. Is that in fact the 'thing' men have against trannies, that they are sirens luring them onto the rocks? That their own suppressed gayness will be exposed to the unbearable scorn and ridicule of other men?

Drew had also been saying that she didn't see the need to have genital surgery, but in her case I'm inclined to think that she presently finds the thought of a drastic and irrevocable operation too enormous to cope with. As she emerges from her social isolation and gets more clued up on what can be done, maybe her fears will not hold her back so much. Again, something to watch for.

Sarah's coming out was rather a non-event, at least in the limited way that we saw it. There was a big build-up. Sarah was clearly very nervous (my goodness, I would have been). She later described her mum as 'red-faced' (and spluttering?) as she explained matters to her. But all we saw was a low-key private tete-a-tete in Sarah's car, in which her mum basically said little more than 'are you sure?' and 'all right then'. I felt we were sold short on that. Much more must have been said, and her mum must have been perfectly aware of the purpose of this meeting. I mean, there was for instance a camera crew in the back seat. It was all made to look far too quick, simple, and easy. That said, if it really was so easy, then all the better for Sarah.

And was the general public educated by any of this? I think not. I can't help feeling that its mental image of trans people has been confused further, and that there is much work to be done in the final two parts of the programme.

Where is the basic underlying reality that a transsexual is a driven person, unable to do anything else but find psychological relief in a different body and a different life? That all normal living is on hold until transition can be completed? That it isn't primarily about the clothes and makeup? That basically we are all desperate and leaping in to the dark? That we have faced black moments of despair and endured many hopeless and frustrating weeks and months (and maybe years) of delay? And that we may have been scarred by the prejudiced opposition of family, friends and neighbours? That some trans people have been routinely insulted and hurt and even murdered? Not just in far-away places but here in the UK? This bleak side of it hasn't yet come into the picture.

Will the viewers come away with the impression that trans people are uncomplicated, sweet and lovely, with a family safety net? People who can easily get help, and meanwhile can have a jolly good time?

And will they believe that their dreams of 'money for surgery' will be met with cash for appearing on MTS?

Actually, it would be interesting to know how this particular group of trans people came to be chosen for the programme. Will that be touched upon? What was the process? Were people like Drew really as closeted and hermit-like as they have been portrayed, and what was their precise motivation in putting themselves forward for the nation to examine?

Would you or I be seen as suitable candidates? And would we agree to participate if approached and shortlisted? I'm not sure I would.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Where does this place us? The first episode of MTS appraised

I was delighted to discover last night that Channel 4 were rescreening the first part of My Transsexual Summer at 11.05pm. I'd missed the regular slot last week because of my Somerset holiday, and this was a chance to look at the programme and decide what I thought about it. Part two of this documentary is on tonight at 10.00pm. I've asked my female cousin R--- (a retired headmistress, and one of the people who gave me active and unwavering support in my transition) to watch too, because I'd like to know what she (as a member of the ordinary public) thinks of it.

This first part of the documentary had to do several things for the programme makers and Channel 4.

First, it had to grab the attention of the public and make them watch it at least once, and if possible get hooked sufficiently to see the whole documentary as it unfolded.

Second, it needed to suggest that that the programme makers and Channel 4 were serious, unbiased, open-minded, progressive and sympathetic in their approach to a very difficult subject. Professional reputations are important, and tacky, voyeuristic, salacious 'tabloid treatment' would have been a mistake in an area where public opinion is beginning to undergo its own transition.

Third, it couldn't dwell on frightening medical details or dry-as-dust psychological explanations that might turn viewers off.

Fourth, to get the widest audience, there had to be a range of individual types, so that at least one person there would remind a viewer of someone they knew of in their own lives, perhaps themselves.

Fifth, there had to be a reason for watching week after week. So every one of the participants would have an individual story to bring out and develop, with if possible a looming crisis to face. It had to be something like a soap, leaving the audience with a cliffhanger at the end of each episode, and some kind of resolution at the very end.

Clearly these considerations could apply to a very wide range of possible subjects. Just now is a good time to put the spotlight onto transsexual people. Tomorrow it may be some other group.

So I felt before watching that in this first part of this documentary there would be a big effort to stimulate my senses and hook me in. There might be some shock tactics as well as more subtle methods of arousing and then sustaining my interest. I was therefore prepared to see a preponderance of frothy in-your-face stuff, and not too much of what was quietly thoughtful and reflective.

As for the line-up it was, as expected, weighted towards the young end of the scale. There was only one person anywhere near my own age: 52 year old Karen, who disappeared off for her genital surgery. Perhaps it was a rational production decision to whittle the contenders down to six, all of them much younger, but it meant that the army of older transitioners (of which I am one) won't have a representative to identify with.

I took it for granted that whatever their individual problems, all seven had to be basically lively, extrovert, outgoing, and full of life - just the sort who would be willing to appear on TV in this kind of showcase. Nobody was lethargic, depressed and so lacking in self-confidence - or fearful of being attacked - that their lives were crippled. And yet I know of trans people who are stuck in that place. I do see that the portrayal of transsexuals with a personal situation so dire that they can't function would be at odds with the upbeat and celebratory nature of this documentary. But there are a lot of them around, and leaving them out of the picture is to ignore a defect in the care of trans persons in this country.

I thought the idea of bringing everyone together for a series of weekends in a country retreat - a rather nice large peaceful lakeside house with bright modern furnishings - was a good one. It provided a pleasant, problem-free setting against which to assess the seven individuals. It was a 'safe haven', a place in which everyone could relax and let go. There were few glimpses of the real backgrounds that they all had to go back to. We saw most of Drew's (she was the young slim blonde one), who lived with her very supportive mum, and seemed happy pushing the pram and hanging the washing up in the back garden, but clearly wanted much more from life. I felt rather sorry for her, when, enquiring after a job in a salon, it was pointed out that her adam's apple might be a giveaway to customers. I wondered if the public at large could appreciate that general acceptance, and getting a foot in the world of work, can depend on little things like this. And that it isn't 'mere cosmetic surgery' to want male features banished and female features created. There was something quite poignant about one of the other girls (Sarah I think) showing how to 'put on' a pair of artificial breasts, and the way they were obvious underneath her bra. Or how much 'less Sarah' she was without her wig. Or Fox explaining how he was desperate to squash his breats into flatness with a binder.

Deeper personal problems were beginning to emerge towards the end of this first part. I especially felt for Karen, admitting to not seeing her daughter for years, and fearing to lose her entirely. She burst into tears about it, and it was nice to see Drew comforting her. I hope the documentary reveals more of this sort of thing: that transition usually means devastating personal losses. The general public is still stuck with the idea that it's simply a 'lifestyle choice', and all about pink and fluffy things. MTS needs to correct that.

The 'big night out' in London was the worst bit. Off they went in a stretch limo, the girls in typical tranny getups, all happy and bubbly, and inevitably having a confrontation in a bar with a young drunk male person who wanted to mouth off at them on camera. I hurrahed when convincing FTM Max intervened to deflect the foul-mouthed idiot's abuse. It was nicely done, and completely defused the situation. The lout couldn't cope with another man offering him 'female sex'. For, of course, in the ignorant world of cultureless and badmannered chavs, FTMs don't exist. MTFs are the target they think they understand; but FTMs are confusing and disturbing, and they can't handle them. Hurrah again!

Anyone watching might have judged that the seven trans persons on their night out asked for trouble by going around in an obviously tranny group, by the clothes and wigs and shoes they wore, and by their lack of authentic behaviour. But hey, this was a celebration of a weekend together in which they had bonded, and besides, next day Karen was off to Charing Cross for her fateful appointment with Mr Bellringer the surgeon.

So there was plenty of excuse for over-the-top behaviour on the night. But at the same time, I'm sure that the ordinary viewer would have it confirmed in their mind that when trannies go out they look like that, sound like that, and are really just messing around. My parents seriously thought that when I went into Brighton, I tottered around in red high heels and the sort of dress and makeup that would get me arrested. They had no idea; it was ridiculous; but it was one reason why I changed my surname, as well as my first name, just so that arrest wouldn't besmurch the family name and embarrass my parents and their friends. As if a retired, 56 year old ex-Inspector of Taxes was really going to be cheeky and provocative to members of the Brighton & Hove Constabulary, or tout for business in a pub, or provide frontpage copy for a Brighton Argus reporter. But my shocked parents had their lurid notions of what a 'tranny' was and did, and that was that.

It'll be interesting to see whether tonight's part two will be more of the same, or move on into more thought-provoking territory.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Lucy wears her new snood at Tyntesfield and Clevedon

I'm back home again, half glad (for wintur be around the cornur, m'dears, and 'tis time to chop the wood and light the fire) but half regretful, because I don't intend to embark on another caravan outing again until the spring. Last year I went off to Cornwall in December; this year it's Christmas at home, and family and local friends will be getting my attention, which I hope will be nice. But I'm sure to get restless!

Now that the Cottage is history, and that dreadful and unpredictable drain on my resources has finally gone, I am following a carefully worked out spending and saving regime. This is simple to do while at home, but holidays are another matter. I have to admit that I found it hard to keep to plan. But I didn't do too badly. I cut down a bit on day trips and had no evening meals out. I also applied iron restraint when visiting shopping centres. In fact, I bought just one item of clothing while away, and that was a snood.

Now a snood can be several things for the neck or head, but as presently offered in the shops it's a wide loop of fabric, something like a large scarf joined at the ends. You can probably form a hood with it, but it's most easily worn as a scarf, just slipped over the head and left to hang down your front. If you give it a half-twist and loop it over your head again, it makes for a very cosy chest-warmer. These pictures of me will give you the general idea:




I bought my snood from Debenhams in Taunton, and I think it's just the thing for a chilly afternoon by the seaside - Clevedon in the two lower shots above - although it's so snug and warm that out of the breeze you soon overheat! The top shot was at Tyntesfield, a National Trust property between Clevedon and Bristol, and I can tell you that as I went around the place I had to take off the snood, and then my coat also, and generally loosen my clothing. I would have stripped off down to my bra and panties if it had been possible. It was so warm inside!

I suppose they have to keep the indoor temperature quite high in order to dry the place out after its long decline. It came into Trust ownership only few years ago, and most rooms are still undergoing conservation work of some kind - which adds to the interest of course. There was an NT volunteer in every room, and I found myself chatting to them all. I must have spoken to twenty-odd people at some length, both male and female. All good voice practice, of course, plus I learned a lot about the house and its history.

But later on that afternoon, at Clevedon, it was distinctly cooler, especially as the sun began to set. I'd been there for shots of the famous pier three years before, but I was looking forward to a reprise. The pier is a very popular place to go, and this time it was seething with people. No wonder: the sunset was well up to standard, and very well worth waiting for:





Over on her blog Upside Down In Cloud, Dru Marland shows Clevedon Pier threatened by Godzilla, but there was no sign of that monster when I was there, and 'tis my belief that she made that picture up using Photoshop. But maybe I was just lucky, and would have been eaten on another day.

Friday, 11 November 2011

The potato walk

The Dubarry boots have proved to be a great success.

They're comfortable, sure-footed, keep chill breezes off my legs, look posh and distinctive, and I've seen nobody else wearing them, so they feel deliciously rare and unusual.

I've worn them every day on my holiday, and they have seemed right for all kinds of occasion, whether it's exploring Georgian Bath, tramping around fish and chippy Weston-super-Mare, or clambering onto rocks in rugged Cheddar Gorge. I can drive in them, walk along seaside promenades, wade through heather on moorland, or pop nonchalantly into smart shops. Having a stout rubber sole with plenty of grip makes them great on wet grass and all kinds of rough ground. And having no heel allows them to score over ordinary high-heeled fashion boots, which, I notice, are a wobbly ankle-twisting liability on cobbled surfaces. I suppose that's when a man's arm comes in handy: something steady to hang onto.

Boots are definitely a big part of the winter scene for women. Indeed for all the cooler days of the year. British men normally don't wear boots unless they are toffs riding with the Quorn and Pytchley, or attending a Country & Western show, when cowboy boots are just part of their yee-hah getup. Wearing boots is almost exclusively a feminine thing, and there isn't much else that says 'woman' with such a big shout.

Every woman is impressed by a pair of nice boots. There are all kinds. The cheapest seem to be those clumpy formless faux-suede fleece-lined objects that will look tatty after just a few weeks. Then there are cheeky and trendy ankle boots in proper suede or leather. And short perky boots that the girl playing Peter Pan might wear. But the smartest, the most desirable boots are the ones that enclose the calf and are knee-high. And the most expensive of those are always in soft, yielding leather.

I will admit that - given really good legs - a soft-leather brown or black knee-high boot that closely hugs the calf and reveals its shape, with an elegant heel, takes some beating. But if you haven't got Hollywood legs, then boots like my Dubarries hide all sorts of shape problems, and disguise the Awful Fact that the feet are Rather Big. Like wearing pirate boots, me hearties.

Have you noticed how women walk in their boots? The gait varies, but is not the same as with ordinary flats or heels. It's occasionally a strutting, no-nonsense march, like a Communist soldier in Tiananmen Square. Sometimes something more fluid, quick, and bouncy. But most often it's a slower, more deliberate waddle, with plenty of hip movement. And really wide or heavy girls seem to make a big deal of every step.

These nuances need study and close attention. I'm sure that every natal girl has watched her pregnant mum walk in boots and has aped her down to the last detail. Maybe such things as a wide pelvis and a low centre of gravity come into it somewhat. But I feel convinced that the accepted best way for a girl in boots to walk is like a potato with legs. And so this is how I walk in my boots. I'm certain that waddling as if I'm carrying an overdue baby gives me a completely authentic look, and wins unconscious nods of approval from women young and old. And after all, no man would (or could) walk like that.

So my boots - correctly worn - are a powerfully feminising accessory. Worth every penny then.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Rebranding

Over on Angie's Aspirations is a post about Nicola and Meg, who recently featured in a sympathetic Daily Mirror article about how they successfully managed their changed relationship when the hitherto 'male' partner (Nicki) needed to become her true self. Now they have appeared on breakfast TV, reinforcing the message that some couples do make it, and remain happy together, despite the wife definitely not being lesbian.

I have met Nicola, but not Meg, so I can't say anything first-hand about their life together, but I do applaud their public endeavours. They are not a dysfunctional pair of warring individuals, but a united and articulate partnership, and keen to place the Trans Issue right in front of the country on prime time TV. This can only help to familiarise people with the basic ordinariness and normality and reasonableness of day to day living when a trans person has loyal and meaningful support from her partner. It's not a shocking tale at all, but an inspirational one. And it should make many, many people think.

It's tempting to add 'Too late for me', but that would be negative and detract from the upbeat effect of what Nicola and Meg and others like them are doing. It's becoming less unusual to find trans persons on serious programmes. There was for instance a youngish-sounding FTM person on Radio 4 last night (on Four Thought) who had the additional issue of being Jewish and wanting to become prominent in Jewish religious services. He seemed fearsomely intelligent and clear-thinking, yet had realism and humour. And the My Transsexual Summer series is apparently opening eyes in a good way.

Dare we hope that the media is at last ready to rebrand trans people as notable heroes and heroines in a life story that everybody has a role in?

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Bad timing

My Somerset holiday is turning out to be rather a subdued affair, mainly because of the weather, which, perhaps not surprisingly, has been dull for the last three days. It's relaxing, but some more sunshine would make a huge difference.
Well, I'm off to Bath today with sightseeing in mind, of course, but one particular and essential purchase to make. I want to buy a kitchen timer. My old one - it was actually Mum and Dad's, and I inherited it - was a good one, but it has died. I've been looking around the towns for a replacement - my chief reason, apart from general curiosity, for going to Taunton and Bridgwater the other day. (They're not worth a second visit, trust me)

Why is a timer so important? Well, I have no sense at all of how much time has passed, or how much is left, and I'm easily distracted. These are lifelong traits. For me, all sorts of things get out of control and turn out badly if I can't time them. Cooking most of all, but making a nice cup of tea is a close second, and gluing things together is another one. I'm definitely not of the 'intuitive' school of cooking, often expounded to me, in which you 'just know' when the right time to do something has arrived. Never mind: I can do it with the help of a timer, and I don't think that I'm 'less of a cook' or indeed 'less of a woman' if I use electronic assistance.

And surely I'm not alone. But where are the timers in the shops? Most departmental stores have a cookshop, but none of the ones I've visited have had anything worth buying. Old-fashioned mechanical timers are out, because it's difficult to set short times such as one minute - it must definitely be an electronic timer. And I don't want silly features like a magnetic back, or a clip, or a stainless steel finish - just a freestanding, steady, unpretentious device in white plastic with big buttons and a large display. But the 'march of progress' means that my Ideal Timer seems to be no longer available. How annoying. Perhaps everyone uses the timer app on their iPhone?

Ah, I can actually see a crack in the clouds, with blue sky beyond. Time to set off. Maybe Bath will be Timer Shop City, with a vibrant cooking culture, a Mecca for all temporally-challenged persons. The Roman Baths, Pulteney Bridge, Royal Crescent, and all the rest, including global economics and passing meteors, will have to take a back seat till my quest is satisfied!

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Wonderful time in Wells, but cheesed off in Cheddar

It was my first full day in Somerset, so I went first to Wells, the famous cathedral city. I wore the Dubarry boots. They got noticed, I can tell you. But that wasn't the thing that gladdened my heart.

Having inspected St Cuthbert's Parish Church, and a shop or two, I went to the Cathedral Cafe, had a nice lunch, and then toured the Cathedral itself. I had to buy a photography permit for £3, but I simply regarded that as my donation.

I've visited cathedrals all over the country, but I'd not been inside this one before. I'd only viewed the very elaborate West Front. Well, the interior was very impressive indeed.

Eventually I found the Chapter House, which is reached up some ancient and very worn stone steps. God knows how the more infirm Chapter members climb them. But they look highly picturesque, extremely photogenic, and once aloft the fancy fan-vaulting in the round Chapter House was well worth the effort. I had the place to myself, but as I tackled the descent, a guided party caught up with me, led by a learned cathedral bod, who urged his charges to take great care when climbing the steps. As he said this, he saw me coming down with a slow, careful tread, and he added 'just like that delightful lady there'. Well! I descended like a blushing princess, apologising for holding them up, but glowing with pleasure.

The rest of the afternoon maintained that glow until - rather on impulse - I decided to visit Gough's Cave in Cheddar Gorge. The girl at the ticket office recommended a £10 deal that included a free drink and cake at the adjacent Costa Coffee. I took it. Then discovered that I'd paid for a 'Senior Citizen Special'. Oh no! She'd assumed I was already 60! That brought me down to earth somewhat.

Still, I suppose that I'd paid less than the ordinary adult rate; and there was that Costa bit to look forward to. So I put my best boot forward, and advanced into the well-lit and flat-floored cave complex.

Actually, the cave and its passages were worth seeing, and I enjoyed the stalagmites and stalagtites. But I didn't much like the handset I was given. This was my audio guide to the cave features. It was easy to use, but the male person supplying most of the information was putting on a rich but pseudo 'west country' voice as if he were Jethro doing a comedy turn at the pier playhouse. There was another voice too, meant to be that of the stone-age skeleton lying in a side passage, but it was ridiculously posh. These things took the edge off the visit.

And the Costa deal didn't mean a strong Americano plus a yummy cake. It meant a weak pot of tea and a scone, the sort of thing you'd give an old biddy off a coach. It was OK, but frankly I'd have done better to skip it and enjoy a brew-up back at the caravan.

Tonight, however, I'll raise my spirits at Weston-super-Mare, watching the big firework display on the seafront. Should be good!

Friday, 4 November 2011

My Transsexual Summer

Hmmmm. I see in next week's Radio Times that on Tuesday 8 November a new four-part mini-series begins on Channel 4 at 10:00pm, entitled 'My Transsexual Summer'. The programme summary says 'Seven transsexual men and women gather at a series of weekend retreats where they share support and explore what it is like to change gender in Britain in 2011'. The retreat in Part One is a country house. Apparently the programme has been 'sensitively made' but there are some 'eye-opening moments'.

Next Tuesday evening this programme will be chiefly up against the BBC News (BBC1), Later live...with Jools Holland (BBC2), ITV News at Ten (ITV1), Big Brother (Channel 5), and EastEnders (BBC3), and so I'd say it has a strong chance of being watched by a lot of people tired of the same old stuff and seeking fresh meat. I just hope My Transsexual Summer isn't perceived simply as weird, alternative late-evening entertainment, a freako take on The Only Way Is Essex. For some reason that I've never been able to fathom, Essex is seen as a county full of flash, oversexed, cultureless posers who think they live in the World's Best Place. What nonsense. But Only Way perpetuates the Essex myth admirably. Maybe Transsexual Summer will perpetuate the tranny myth admirably too.

I will watch it, and make up my own mind. But not next Tuesday, because I am now pitched at the Caravan Club site at Cheddar in Somerset, and there is no TV in the caravan!

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Too much personal information?

The essence of a blog - a 'weblog' - is that it posts up stuff about the blogger's world, as a kind of diary. Not a diary that faithfully records all daily incidents big and small, although it may do that; but a diary of selected items and incidents that caught the writer's attention, and led to a post. Many posts are surely a distillation of impressions that were pondered over, and then offered as a concentrated experience to the readership - a bottle labelled 'read me' - for them to ponder in turn, and perhaps be informed, enlightened, inspired, or even changed.

It may be like penning an article each week for some magazine. Your readership expect regular posts. You want to write creatively and well. You have plenty of ideas that need expression, and some writers - like myself perhaps - have a lot to get off their chests. But unlike working for a magazine, there is no overarching editorial control to restrict what you can write about, no gatekeeper to censor your words and prescribe what is allowed in the way of style and content. In a blog you can be free. And as personal as you please.

The last point is very important. Although there are blogs about fishing and cycling and mathematics and parliamentary life - non-personal 'hobby' blogs you might call many of them - this kind of blog, based on the transition from one gender state to another, quite possibly the most demanding episode of one's lifetime, is a different animal entirely. It's likely to be shot through with extremely personal stuff. For me, and clearly for many others, 'the blog' is our chosen vehicle for expression, a vital outlet, a way of touching the scattered trans population around the world. In many ways our kind of blogging can be regarded as 'group therapy', in which you explain how you feel, and hope for feedback and support. All right, we know of blogs that exist only to upset, mock, and destroy confidence. But I'd say that the rump of trans blogs have a common intention, which includes the sharing of information and experience.

But then that raises a serious issue: just how much information and experience should be shared?

There are various constraints that might apply. Although blogging is one of the least inhibited ways to get ideas across on the Internet, it's surely prudent to have regard to personal safety and the laws of the country you live in. Beyond that, anything goes, but I would personally apply some further restraints, such as adherence to good English, properly spelled and punctuated and organised effectively into paragraphs and sentences, to make it easier to digest. A reasonable, non-strident tone: there may occasionally be a case for SHOUTING AT THE READER, but it puts me off and makes me want to click away, just as I might want to walk away from someone shouting at me in the street, whatever their message. I don't mind emotional language if from the heart - for goodness sake, the writer might be in extremis and on the verge of complete emotional collapse from the strain of living a lie. However painful to read, that person needs attention, and some immediate supportive feedback.

What about 'good taste'? Well, what is good taste? It varies from time to time, and from place to place. My parents' generation were sniffy about many things that I thought were rather sensible. And in turn, I must seem rather uncool to some younger people. It's not just a generation thing, of course. Convention - what 'people' think - or just what 'most people' find comfortable - is important to an awful lot of folk. But again, conventions are not absolute, and slither around, so that over a decade many things become acceptable that were once considered 'bad taste'. Prudery and snobbery and artificial behaviour of all kinds will always be with us, but I would like to think that trans bloggers, who have faced their demons and are battling with prejudice and mockery, have no use for such attitudes. It really achieves nothing to appease other people's sensibilities. It just prolongs the agony for both sides.

What about content? Are there 'forbidden subjects'? Just how much can you pour out your heart? How far can you go in describing some experience? Is discussion of genitalia OK? The details of surgery? What about dating? Do you describe not only the meeting and what was said, but also the bedroom scene? And what your orgasm was like? Or, if you were unlucky, how it all went wrong? Or worse, how you picked up an infection, and what you did to seek a cure? Very personal stuff. Setting aside all questions concerned with 'good taste', should you write a post about these topics?

Assuming that you aren't simply seeking an excuse to be pornographic, then I would say yes, absolutely yes, if it needs to be celebrated. It's your blog. If your readers desert you, you'll find out that you went too far. But a very important personal experience needs expression. The loss of post-op virginity, for example, is surely something to write about, not to be bottled up in the name of 'good taste' or because it may be 'too much information' - all the circumstances, all the apprehension, all the relief if it went well. Why not share it, if this was one of the most memorable things that has ever happened to you?

After I published my piece on that dream a few posts back, even though it was written as a medically-significant event, and couched in plain language, I had some feedback about the risk I took. It was a point very well made, and to be taken seriously. The risk was that a pervert looking for masturbatory material would find my post salacious, and that I could be inviting emails and worse from those likely to stalk me.

Well, I'm not brushing that warning aside. Those who have met me will surely agree that I'm as sexless as a lump of cheddar cheese, and so is the atmosphere of my blog. But I accept that a pervert won't make fine distinctions, and will get off on any mention of vaginas or sticky love juices.

Do I shut up? Should you?

On the whole I think not. I always say that posts on such subjects can be very helpful to anyone who has led a sexually ignorant life until now. I don't mean someone who knows nothing at all, but someone, perhaps of my generation, whose former sex life was scant and unsatisfactory, and certainly safe and unadventurous. For people like that, it may be valuable to read straightforward accounts of what actually happens, what to expect, and not be left to speculate. Not everyone is confident enough to ask a friend. Not every trans person has anyone to ask. So this kind of post, an essay on an experience, is offered as educational information.

If anyone finds that it is all too much, then they can always click away from the blog. But surely too much is better than too little, or not at all.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Must try harder

I think some aspects of my presentation are starting to slip! It happens. You get complacent. In particular, my voice is not what it was.

Never having heard it, most of you won't be able to comment usefully on my vocal abilities, but believe me, this was something that I had spent a lot of time and money and practice on, and I think it showed.

So my pitch was well within the female range. It had smoothness and warmth. My words were clear and properly articulated - no slurring, no mumbling; each consonant properly and crisply enunciated. And I'd slowed my rate of speech down, to give the vowels a full, rounded sound.

I'd stopped being over-emphatic, or too loud, or too definite in my delivery. I'd eliminated croak and monotony, and a tendency to drop the pitch at the end of sentences.

I'd studied how women speak in a group, and how they do it with just one other woman; and how it is different again in male company. How women give each other a generous space of time to say what they wish, the lack of interruption and overtalking when they speak. I'd tried hard to emulate how they lean forward when speaking, or angle their heads and bodies; and I'd noticed the differences in posture between sitting and standing; and little ways in which the entire body says as much as the words themselves. I'd watched the facial expressions women use; the way they employ hands and eyes to assist the flow of words, and to punctuate the speech with gestures and significant pauses.

Well, you get the picture: I hadn't fooled around, I'd set myself a high standard, and I believed that I was doing rather well, and had achieved something important. Because this wasn't merely a social accomplishment, like learning to dance, or cook for dinner parties. This was a vital personal skill that I had to succeed with if I wanted to blend in with all other women, and enjoy a full life as one.

But in the last few days I've become less sure of my progress.

I'll give you two very recent examples. On Monday I went up to London by train, and on the way there it got stuck at Gatwick Airport station. A problem with the brakes. We were all first advised that it was minor and that we should best stay seated, and not switch trains. At that point, I fell into conversation with a 25 year old Brazilian girl. I didn't start it; we just caught each other's eye, and spoke, as you often do when caught up in a travel problem. Ten minutes later, it was 'all out and cross to another platform', and so, still speaking, we did as we were told, hung around a bit, and eventually joined another train. It was pretty full. There was a seat for me, but not for her. Without much thinking about it, I stayed standing with her, and we chatted all the way to London Victoria. She was easy and pleasant to talk to, and seemed to find me much the same.

Now while talking to her, I definitely noticed one or two glances in my direction, and I wondered why. I eventually narrowed it down to the voice. The background train noise made it hard to speak in a normal way, and, standing up, you had to hang on, so that a distinctly female body posture wasn't easy to maintain. There was nothing but my general appearance to counteract the overloud way I was forced to speak. To put it another way, if I had simply been standing there, swaying with the train movement, but otherwise silent, I don't think I would have attracted attention. As it was, this was one occasion when I didn't pass too well. Not that my companion showed the slightest sign of clocking me. But then she was a polite and intelligent young women from an obviously good family background, and perhaps there was no way that she was going to behave badly to me, or embarrass me. And, despite Brazil being a black spot for anti-trans hate crime, the social mix there must be very diverse, and I'd be prepared to believe that she didn't find me an especially odd person to share a casual conversation with. We parted in a very friendly fashion. To the last, she was warm and polite.

But I made a mental note to sharpen up my voice!

Then yesterday evening, I was in a Brighton coffee shop with a friend, and she said that while my facial and body movements when speaking were very natural, I tended to let my vocal pitch drop in prolonged conversation. We made videos of each other. Yes, it was true. Oh dear, back to school!

This morning I felt resolved to get on top of this slippage, and try even harder. I'd been so proud of acquiring a convincing voice. But it has now clearly deteriorated and must be repaired.