The flames licked the inside of the glass tube surrounded in a tall thin pyramid cage – partly to keep out the fingers of drunk stupid people. It lit the table orange and kept a hint of warmth in the cold December evening. It might seem madness to sit outside on such a crisp night with single figure temperatures, bobble hat, gloves, scarf and more layers than normally acceptable but the modern little village bar was full which meant sitting outside was the only option. Everyone had to be sat down in the current situation, on their own tables between their own clear plastic screen separators keeping us protected as much as possible from that damn virus.
It was the only night I could be there as well because it was a Friday – you know, thatFriday, before national lockdown where alcohol would no longer be served and besides it would all be last orders by six. But, like my effort to get out and exercise more, I also wanted to socialise more. This was the last chance until who knows when and with work being so hectic and working from home now, I needed just some time out, even if it was just an hour and a half outside in the chill.
He looked over from the next table, the one around the other side of the flame heater, “Didn’t I used to work with you? Where did you work?”
“Oh god, how many do you want me to list?”
It turned out that I hadn’t worked with him but he had been a client of a place I had once worked several years ago. I hadn’t even been on that project but somehow he’d remembered me. We chatted until lockdown decided to end the bar opening time and it turned out our places of work had crossed at other times without even personally meeting. It seems that getting out to socialise and meet new people, a quote I remember from someones CV once, had actually worked.
The one time I’d visited that same bar in the village weeks before, I had ended up chatting to an American woman who had only been in the country for several months and had plenty to say, slightly tipsy, about how Americans would never accept country-wide lock-downs like the UK. Her British boyfriend joined us soon after and divided the conversation. She dropped items from her purse on the way out without even realising, the effects of strong alcohol, until I informed her. Seeing people in these ways that we normally take for granted had helped a little.
It wasn’t just work though that had pushed me out for a couple of hours with locals, it was that last session with the gender clinic in London. It had kind of passed me by, the time between that and the last one that was actually in Hammersmith, this time it was over the internet, a “Zoom Meeting”.
Last time we talked about what the clinician wanted me to do next. It was pretty much everything you could think of rather than just one or two next steps. It was too much but whenever I speak to some kind of clinician or psychologist I usually end up bouncing out of there with a tonne of confidence that slowly fades as the weeks go on. It’s the sort of thing that either needs to be jumped on straight away or boosted once a week – regularly recharged like an overly hungry mobile phone.
I said to her last time I was there, “The thing is I’m worried that I’m not progressing and I’m tying up your time and resource.” or something along those lines.
“Don’t worry about that, this is what we’re here for. It takes as long as it takes.” may be not word-for-word.
I waited for my three o’clock appointment. Laptop set up, plenty of light and privacy in my own home. Zoom all ready to go and waiting for the other person. Nothing happened. Three passed by as did ten past. I gave it fifteen minutes and decided to call. It’s probably just her last session over-running as they normally do at the actual clinic. “She’s probably still on her previous patient, they tend to get delayed through the day.” said the receptionist at the other end of the old-school phone call, “Give me your name and address and I’ll send her an e-mail to let her know you’re waiting.”
I gave my name, my male name, after all that is the name they’ll still have in my records and it seems pointless confusing the matters, and my address. Within five minutes zoom sprung to life and there was a clinician on the screen.
“Hi, have you changed your name.” she said straight away?
“No?” I said confused.
“You called just now didn’t you, and gave a name of –”, now for privacies sake, insert any street name here. That’s right, she seemed to think my name had now been changed, by Deed Poll, to the name of my street. I would have laughed at the ridiculousness of it, the street isn’t the name of a person, it made no sense what so ever, if it wasn’t for the fact she seemed annoyed at me. I was utterly confused.
“No, that’s my street address.” I said incredulously.
We started to talk about what she said we were going to do by next session, I hadn’t done any of them, I’d prepared for some and even tried, but nothing achieved. I got the feeling she had just read the notes from my file, may be they were a set of bullet points and expected me to have ticked them all in real life. I don’t expect them to remember me specifically from all the others they see over such a long break but this is where the system is broken. All emotion and understanding is lost until I go over things again, my fears and concerns, my broken confidence. It just doesn’t work.
It’s not worth trudging through the whole session again but it ended long short of my allocated forty five minutes. “I’m going to discharge you. I think you need to see someone, may be a counsellor or psychologist locally to help deal with those issues. Do you agree?”
I did of course agree. I couldn’t meet their expectations and it probably wouldn’t be possible over a long distance to London. “You have a local Gender Clinic now so in my letter to your GP I’ll recommend gender counselling locally and hopefully they’ll refer you to them. In fact you could contact the gender clinic yourself and at least you’ll know. You’re not justsaying you’re ok with it are you because some people say yes and then go away and feel differently.” I agreed. It seemed right, it made sense. It felt like I had somewhere to go and not have to commit to expensive long trips to London in the future.
When the call ended I wrote to the new local gender clinic right away. I wasn’t sure quite how I felt, I know I felt exhausted by the past year or so of not knowing where I was with this whole thing. It’s almost like I felt like I needed a holiday from being transgendered. Two days later a reply came back.
“Hi Becca,” Becca! I know I’m confused about my identity but this really doesn’t help. I wrote back and they were more than apologetic, but “Unfortunately we do not provide counselling services. Your GP may be able to refer you to your local community mental health team or may be ask London if they can provide therapy.”
Suddenly I felt a bit… abandoned. I remembered what the therapist had said the last time I spoke about worrying I was taking up their time but this time I was discharged because they could no longer help. The two sessions were chalk and a very short bit of chalk. I wrote an email to the reception of the London gender clinic for the attention of the therapist informing them that the local clinic will not be able to help. Of course I received no thank you or no reply.
Some weeks later I received a copy of the letter by email, by email – that nice secure form of communication for very personal matters like this, from the London gender clinic to my GP, the discharge letter if you will. “..the patient has not embarked on his social role..”, “He has said that he had..”, you get the idea, I was misgendered nearly twenty times through the letter, come on – basic gender identity rule one. There were of course mistakes about me in the letter as well.
I think it was at that point that I really lost faith in the London gender clinic and that I’d exhausted their use and what experience they have with gender identity issues didn’t really seem to go as far as I thought it might. The fact that clinicians come and go between sessions, ever increasing waiting list for referrals, the awful handling of appointments and paperwork.
When I first went on the waiting list from a referral by my local hospital mental health unit, by the time it came to my turn London had no record of my referral and said I’d have to wait another year. Only when a high position staff member from my local hospital proved the referral had been sent did I get a date that I still had to wait some time for.
It’s a shame, but once faith is lost in something that is supposed to support you then it would be difficult to gain that trust again. I’m just glad that at present I feel mentally solid enough to move on in some way but I also worry about those who are vulnerable or fragile and will be joining them – relying on them for support.
–– ❤ ––
I found myself at the supermarket. The last visit before Christmas. All my Christmas present shopping had been done early, I didn’t even need wrapping paper – it was all done, and so I found myself thinking about myself. May be a little treat just to make the weekend feel better and may be melt away the tense working-week. A quick browse of the make-up isle. ‘Nail varnish, something sparkly that feels like partying and Christmas. Crystal Rocks.’ A clear vanish packed with extremely shiny silver flakes that reflect colours like crushed diamonds. ‘Ooo, Mascara. Haven’t had that for a long time.’ – one of those things bought, used, hardly used, gets thrown out because it’s past it’s opened time. ‘Which treat though. Oh get both for god’s sake.’
There are some tips though;
- Spend on decent varnish. It goes on better, it comes off better, it looks better.
- Mascara. Get whatever. It’s probably going to be under-used and in the bin soon enough.
- When putting Crystal Rocks varnish on, remember to put a regular coat of clear varnish down before you start.
Some days after the weekend and enjoying the sparkle of toes sticking out of the froth of bubbles in the bath I decided to try to remove the varnish, protect my nails from wavy growth caused by old coats. Of course knowing to put down a clear coat first came from experience and I should have remembered. Cotton balls soaked in varnish remover and toes soaked in cotton balls soaked with varnish removerlead me to twenty minutes of rubbing and scraping, covering fingers in silver flakes and leaving nails with a mat unhealthy looking finish. So remember this, when it says top coaton the bottle, they really mean it. The mascara seem to disappear all by itself. May be don’t get the cheaper?
However you find your Christmas sparkle this difficult time, Merry Christmas.
Until next time.