Ocean Deep – Perfume and the Ocean Part Two

I could feel the hard lines in the decking through the blanket and the sun hot on my legs but it wasn’t quite the same. The air was cool and when the sun went behind the clouds it really did feel October-cold. I was squeezing every last ounce of vitamin D out of the sun like the last press of olive oil from an olive to recreate that sub-tropical release I had just over a week ago but it wasn’t quite the same. I was firmly back in the UK and the most I could do was this. Laying in the sun when it showed in the garden with a coffee, a recreation of a holiday island baguette and my laptop.

I heard the low note white noise that sounded like it was coming from a seaside shell. I turned over, laid my head on the many cushions and stared at the sky. It was blue but just not quite so ocean deep in its vibrancy and there it was – a jet cutting through the sky leaving it’s hose pipe spray of steam in it’s trail. I remember how an old friend of mine who had commented to me once about how every time he saw a plane flying over how it got him itching to be on it and to be elsewhere. I didn’t quite get-it at the time, he was uncharacteristically misty eyed about it, gone was his uber-excitement replaced by some kind of trapped feeling of being grounded. He was already travelling but the world soon became his life moving country to country to keep him happy. I don’t want to be moving country to country all the time but at this very moment looking at that plane I felt exactly what he had told me, an escapism. The problem is I don’t have his money and here I am on the decking periodically suffering post-holiday blues, even a week on, like I have never before.

I moved the blanket as the sun moved the shadows across the decking trying to keep that warmth. I couldn’t work out quite what would set me off with those post-holiday blues several times a day. It wasn’t just feeling down, it was actually welling up that would come in waves just like grief for a loved one. There was no actual death but there was a passing of something. It wouldn’t take much to set me off. ‘Oh a photo of the ocean crashing on the rocks that morning’ whoosh, without delay I suddenly welled up, ‘Lets have a licorice tea’, bang, thoughts of the box of licorice tea I’d left in the apartment and welling up again – pretty much anything would set me off. I think the death was what I had lost in coming back.

While I played out much of my holiday as a holiday, you know, restaurants, bars, entertainment in the evenings et al, I also played out a lot of it as though I lived there. I would sacrifice the tiredness from a late night out with an early wake-up, early in holiday world being no earlier than 8a.m., but it was at least an hour before the tourists. I would have that run along the ocean lined coast amongst the palm trees and apartments that spill out along the coast path and beaches with other local runners and walkers. Watching those shops slowly setting up for a long hot days competitive trading of gifts. The simple coffee and lunch at a cafe overlooking the ocean devoid of checking Facebook for updates because this was more interesting and immersive – it was real life. And of course there was being relaxed being me wearing some of the things I wanted to wear, the whole thing was pretty much perfect.

Now that I am back, jobless, I feel the grief of loosing that short taster course of what perfection of living would be. The warmth of the air was gone as was the feeling of being grounded. A slower easier pace of life. I’m not blind to the realities. Baring a lottery win or an unexpected win fall I would still need employment, a place to live, a budget to live on – friends; but I need that here too. Here I seem to be cut out for that one career I’ve been in nearly twenty years, the career that while on holiday I realised I didn’t want to go back to – one hundred percent to put it in numbers. I know if I don’t break from it now then when will I? Aged 45? 50? 60? Retirement? Would I get to retirement without breaking my mental state? It’s so enticing to be in a well paid career but at what cost to me and how to deal with that toxicity that runs throughout it.

I moved the blankets to the far end of the garden away from the decking as the sun started to fall away from the sky and the shadows became longer earlier. I worried about how tomorrow might be rainy and how my vitamin D might just fall away rather than enjoy this moment as much as I should be. Another jet just flew over, it’s orange colouring giving away it’s budget airline nature. I could cash in all my money I have left for a flight ticket back, and a ticket to the airport, put everything in storage and see how life panned out – but I feel just a little too much of a coward to do it like that. What would I do out there, how would I get by with the limited foreign language I have. What about my gender appointments and GP help. What about my gender progress?

I thought for a moment in the little remaining heat coming from the sun, ‘what about my gender progress?’ Really, what about it? I made more progress in two weeks away from here than I’ve probably made in two years. I’ve come back with a decision about my career, or at least the decision not to go back to it, and a sense of reality about the gender thing. In fact it’s so much less of a thing now and more, well, fact. I have a sense of parking and packing away those times ten years or so ago going out meeting people with some gender identity issue and drinking it away on a Saturday night and packing it away early Sunday morning – that was no more, I was archiving those memories away and happy to do so. I needed to move on and not feel guilty or devastated to do so.

Healthy salads covered in olives, olive oil and sea salt. Ocean spray in the morning. Grey days at a minimum and white villas with hard charcoal tiled floors. May be there is a way to construct what I need in my life to be content. Just may be.

Until next time

Hannah x

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Perfume and the Ocean

Thick orange horizon fell quickly with the sun as it hid itself below the other island that was outlined in fading grey. Sub tropical air with the atlantic bringing in the evening surf and people, just like me, standing here in awe at the sunset. The humidity clinging around my clothes and the remaining orange glow where the sun, now gone, leaving the burning embers in the sky. I really was here, taking an hour away from my parents while on holiday and just taking a moment for what it was, no life stresses, no gender thoughts, no nothing other than that moment. The sky, the colour, oneness, wholeness – how things should be.

It started just a few days before packing clothes at home and trying to decide what I wanted to take, what would end up being those clothes that would never get worn on holiday, I mean who wears a denim jacket in thirty degrees. On top of that was what female clothes, my clothes, could I really take that I would use without feeling anxious around my parents on the rare time I would holiday with them. ‘Sod it’, I thought, and chucked my denim shorts with the coloured crystal studs and turns ups into the case, my black running short-shorts, my turn up soft leafy camouflage shorts in pale greens and creams, the new look t-shirt with the cropped sleeves and most things I really wanted to wear but rarely had the confidence. I stopped short of perfume because I was down to my last spray, there wasn’t much point.

It was funny how quickly, once on holiday, that conversations between myself and my Mum had turned to clothes. I think it was when a woman worked by with a thin white seamless long vest top branded with Calvin Klein, shorts and a seamless tan down her long legs. I say branded but as with many clothes bought and worn on the island the brand had been stolen, printed and sold for five euros a top. “I like her vest top, Mum” I said without thinking.
“Which one?”
“The white CK top. I’d like to have one of those for running.”

Thoughts seem to churn for her a little and within a day we were shopping together looking for the elusive Calvin Klein vest and it expanded into looked for linen cropped trousers and shorts. I was already wearing some of my female shorts. There was some immediate acceptance but the underlying reason still unspoken.

I slipped into a perfume shops and tried a few scents on either wrist and caught up with my Mum who had walked on slowly browsing the trinket gift shops. I smelt either wrist trying to make my mind up which I preferred.

“Let me have a smell.” I offered either wrist but didn’t mention one was perfume, the other the men’s equivalent which I genuinely wasn’t so keen on, but it was okay.
“Oh that’s nice – ” she said smelling the ladies perfume, “I prefer that one. It seems longer lasting.”
“Yes me too. I might get it for a change.”

It wasn’t too long before we were talking about it again as we wandered in and out of clothes shops with genuinely nice clothes. Mum was soon talking about perfume rather than ‘aftershave’ and not even ‘eau de toilette’, “well if you decide to get your perfume you can always put it in my luggage if it doesn’t fit in your case.” The holiday suddenly had lifted some barriers without any kind of dramatic conversation, it just happened organically.

Mornings were started with solitary runs along the Atlantic coast with the deep blue ocean waters and fizz of oxygen turning the water aqua marine pale green as the waves broke. I would put on my short running shorts showing my now carefully tanned legs much like the woman with the vest and legs. My mum would already have woken and from the gap in the door wave to me as I left the apartment. Another day she got up early and took that refreshing walk with me and commented, “they’re nice shorts.”

“Yes, these are my running shorts. They’re nice to run in. I think I might have to replace them soon as they’re just about to start loosing their cling.” I pulled at the side with my fingers.
“They need to be clingy for running don’t they.” She said.

The jig was certainly up just like it was with the perfume. It was just accepted that I preferred perfume, I preferred my running shorts and cropped white Mediterranean linen trousers. Yet things were still unspoken. I know she knows. She knows. She knows I know. Rinse repeat.

May be this how it is or at least how it should be. No dramatic hand written letter about the gender thing or sitting them around the dining table, “Mum, Dad, there is something you need to know.” God, thank the stars for not having to go through that rigmarole that sums up that song and dance drama of the phrase coming out – eugh. The less of that the better. A long slow change of life rather than some overbearing statement.

Even my dad had been talking briefly here and there about what I was going to buy or wear. We might not have been sharing shopping trips and conversations of ‘how nice that girl’s top is.’ but he was equally trying some kind of encouragement to do what I wanted. When my Mum was pulling linen trousers and vest tops from the rack that were clearly female, especially with fancy cuts going down the back, hold it up and saying, “how about this one?” I felt suddenly at ease.

The coffee was short, hot and bitterly strong and the view from the beach side rustic cafe, dramatic and relaxing. With the few highly coveted seats on the wooden flooring surrounded by sand and rocks bordering the ocean I was home away from home. Holidays, for me, are always life changing. Re-evaluating and inspiring to change things for the better when I return, throwing away the ruts that drag but I didn’t expect to suddenly have this honesty thrown upon me. I suppose if I had known this would happen in advance I would have felt like that moment when you need to pull that plaster off your arm but are afraid to yank it through the fear and the longer you think about it the harder it becomes. Instead someone else just pulled that plaster and it came off painlessly like it was stuck on with Post-It note glue. Enough so that I would put on more plasters just to pull them off so I could be more me around my parents.

Until next time.

Hannah x

The Night Air Spoke

I leaned on the sill and stared out of the bedroom window into the cool near still night. Surround sound grey noise of a busy carriageway in the distance, the street lamps delicately producing the minimal picture of the houses and black sharp shadows beneath the bay hedges outlining the gardens. I rested my head in the palm of my hands together with my elbows gripping the gloss paint of the wooden sill. I thought all sorts. Sharing shopping with my mum, discussing clothes, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to do that. A lack of testosterone that would normally eat away at me and make me annoyed like a dripping tap. A bit of stubble that had grown throughout the day now feeling spiky under my chin and jaw, wouldn’t it be nice if that was just gone.

It was as if the bank holiday weekend had just culminated all my fears of leaving behind the old male driven stuff and decisively made the decision that I would be better off without that stuff and allowing the feminine side to take precedence outwardly and not just inward. An acceptance of fait. An acceptance that things might be better or at the very least, not worse.

I looked around the surrounding homes. All those people for who gender probably isn’t even a thought, let alone an nightmare of self mental abuse in constant questioning every few minutes throughout everyday. I suddenly noticed a figure standing in the bedroom window across the road, I looked, the curtains twitched and they disappeared as soon as they realised they were rumbled. May be I’m the only one here who happily takes a moment to take in the night air, its sounds and atmosphere that is so different to any other time of the day and not rushing to bed hoping for enough sleep.

It was funny that such a subtle step forward this bank holiday weekend would lead to such a big change of perspective in my own head. I was getting ready just the day before yesterday to go to the beach and spend some time with my parents. With the sun out I was at an internal conflict. My instinct without thought was that I wanted to wear my denim shorts with the turn-ups, the soft thick stitching around the pockets and crop sleeve white t-shirt with the wider-neck-than-a-male-t-shirt design that just fell lovely over my shorts and freshly shaved legs ready for vitamin D; only normally within seconds of that initial ‘want’ this idea would be replace with the complimentary logic that “I can’t dare to wear that with my parents” and justify it with “I’ll have plenty of times to wear that stuff on my own, in the garden, or something.”

There was a difference though that day. There was a self assurance that I knew who I was and that really, I wanted to wear those clothes that day so much that I was, well, just going to wear them. Not just that but also be proud. I packed the car and got ready. Checked myself in the mirror and doubled checked it was ok and I wasn’t making a mistake or complete fool of myself. Christ it wasn’t like I was turning up in a beach sarong and a bikini top or something so obvious that everything was about to be out in the open. I didn’t flinch with the thought. I didn’t second guess. It wasn’t even an option, that’s what was right today, that’s what would make me feel good and nothing else really appealed.

At the beach my Mum said ‘let’s go get some ice cream’ and so we went for a walk. “Are those shorts new?” she said casually. They were hardly new but I don’t think I’d ever dared to wear them around her or Dad. The floral material lining the pockets were ripped on both and some of the subtle blue and green glass jewels on studs that pinned on the joins of the demon had fallen off; but some hadn’t fallen. They really had been worn to death and were clinging on to the crown of being favourite shorts saving them from becoming dirty cleaning rags or bin fillers.

“No, I’ve had I them ages – ” I really had, “the pockets are ripped even.” I pulled out what little material was left and showed the hole.
“Oh they look like new. They’re nice.”

We had shared a moment. I felt that thought cross my mind once again, ‘is this the time? The time to tell her?’ And then other thoughts of what we might share and how our relationship might bond a little differently, like an extra add-on to a coffee, salted caramel flavouring added to a latte and so the mother and son friendship which would have the additional mother daughter relationship that she’d never had, or myself for that matter, at least not fully.

It seems such a small thing in retrospect with two countries in the world in flood with the horror flashing on the news on the TV on mute that made it ever so more prominent and thick with sadness. Putting that aside as there is little that can be done from the forces of nature I realise that problems are just relative to everyone. First world problems fill the void for society where third world problems have been eradicated and no matter how more immediate those terrible atrocities are that fill our media those issues of mental health, depression and loneliness are just as sad and dark, hidden and difficult to deal with.

Point of view is the relativity of our problems, especially when it comes to the gender thing. Just when one problem is solved, like the subtle issue of denim shorts and cropped sleeve t-shirts, another more deep and complicated one comes to the surface. Complications with other people, new people, interactions that stop us being ourselves or just hiding away our true selves because of being afraid of being rejected. The story continues in the book that I’ve not read yet. Another chapter turned and a new fear to experience.

Until next time

Hannah x

Insightful Chemistry from the Ocean

I threw an ice-white linen cloth over the garden table and placed a small clear glass candle jar on the table and lit a tea-light. I returned to the kitchen to put the finishing touches to my dessert and returned outside, sat at the table, eating crumble made from freshly picked local wild fruits topped with a glaze of white custard, and watched the sky turn from dark blues with tall puffy clouds in the distance to the black of night. The smell of vanilla waft across the table from the candle with it’s fuel-like vapour reminding me of the late night smell of a chlorinated hotel swimming pool abroad. Coupled with the sound of grass hoppers bristling their legs in the lawn and the warm air that had come in yesterday, I could well have been abroad.

Abroad. A place in my mind to escape. A silly idea that if I went away to do my something different that all my troubles would float away on the thermals of air like the scent in this candle. Now short-term self retired, also known as self-unemployed, I have the world as my choice but I seem to have little in the way of credible ideas. My head has been mush all week. Unable to bring together any effort in either thoughts or physical activity and occupation of my time; with the exception of running which seems to be the only energy I can muster.

I did start a list of ideas what I might do next, one of which would be to return to the same type of job I just quit from, but soon wrote down next to that ‘to go through the whole thing all over again.’ In fact it would be just another cycle I hadn’t broken. The easy route that would earn money and allow me to sit in an office, at a desk, for the whole day, feeling uninspired by the work and feeling my life slip though my fingers and before I know it it’ll be a decade gone and I’ll be going through the whole process again. The week before I was excited by the possibilities of what I could choose to do for a career and yet now I felt lack-lustre. I don’t think it was particularly the ideas that were at fault but my current state of mind and health. I felt drowsy and so the ideas seemed drowsy.

I looked up from the laptop and realised, apart from the glow of the screen, I was surrounded by complete darkness and the air had cooled rapidly the warmth escaping to the stars in the clear sky. I took everything back in doors.

The next morning I went for a run in an attempt to clear this almost hangover fuzzy head which isn’t much fun when no alcohol was involved. But despite clearing my head a little I was still unable to pull together the thoughts I needed to figure out what I should do.

By the afternoon I found myself walking along the waters edge of a beach that spans the coast for as far as the eye can see and beyond. The sand still damp where the tide had retreated as far as it could. A blue sky filled with puffy white clouds above and tall dark clouds in columns over the flat horizon.

I pulled off my trainers and my pink and grey short socks, the toes already damp where sea water had found its way through my trainers. I continued to walk along the waters edge an inch deep in the incoming tide. It was cool but soon enough became late summer tepid that made it pleasant. Was it not this that I wanted, rather than specifically being along the Mediterranean Sea or the darker greyer waters of Britain, but just to be able to spend time by the sea. Was it time that I needed rather than a complete change? Being just me at the beach wearing what I wanted and feeling I was who I should be rather than the daily mask, even though much less of a mask these days, I was still not one hundred percent where my gender should be.

Much like the trickling clear water drifting it’s way down from a rock pool along a river it had cut into the sand itself, my thoughts on my gender were just as clear. It was clear that I should find a way to progress a little more with the gender thing and find an income that suits my needs for my time, my financial needs where the two can live in harmony with each other. Whether that be on the Côte d’Azur or in the highly charged seasons of the United Kingdom.

I found a rock where I could lay a towel, put my feet up on the coating of rock barnacles and sit with a dark bitter hot chocolate drink and allow the drama of the sky, the high sea breeze and the sun to dance between the fast moving clouds to stir my thoughts and hopefully lift this fuzzy head.

May be I need to mix things up. Keep a free flowing process in how to plan my life and also inversely be regimental. Make lists, jot down ideas, add seemingly unobtainable goals. Be a teacher to myself. Pull out the whiteboard and get busy with a marker. Pace around looking important with a felt pen muttering thoughts, anything that gets ideas moving and bullet points written. Be a bit harder with myself but also patient. If a villa over looking the French Riviera is what I want then put ink on paper and look at it the next day and think, can I, should I, and shout “put the damn effort in and you might just get it.”

It’s the same with gender. It’s a personal thing. Everyone is different and people have different stop-points where they become content. May be I’m content now? After my walk I feel I’m not quite there. There is still a freedom I don’t have and I don’t use – yet.

The tide just a few meters away from my rock. The self made little river continues to delicately make it’s way to meet the incoming sea that looks grey, white and hard when the sun is obscured by the cloud and full of dark earthy greens and white surface froth in the waves when the sun appears. The wind constant without breath and despite being August continues to bite around my arms where it has made its way, I suspect, from the cold of the Atlantic. My ponytail being pulled by the wind and material of my clothes fluttering. I wonder at this point why I spend so little time doing this, productive, thoughtful, insightful chemistry from the ocean.

Nettles and Pollen

It was a run. Not the weekend run event, an evening run, alone and self introspecting. I left just as dusk fell and the mood had taken me. Just a kilometre or less and I was at the fringes of the countryside overlooking the village. A slash of neon orange hung slowly fading over a distant forest lined hill like a candle at the end of its wick and the neon amber street lamps lit in time with the falling darkness. It was so still and almost painted fiction as three swans few with long slow wafts towards the sunset and another followed on a minute later, alone, just like me.

With the last glow of the sun to the west, humidity at my skin and thick dense and fussy clouds to the east it looked as if the storm promised for Wednesday was on it’s way. A thick smell of fuel oil hung in the air and in the distance between me and what natural light remained a haze that was reminiscent of a November Guy Fawkes night only warm.

I ran down to the bridge and found bats fluttering fast and circling trying to catch dinner above the water. It felt almost fictional and so still it was as if the scenery was oil painted and all motion would stop when it dried.

I felt fitter. The weeks of running regularly were starting to pay and my stamina had increased. Not all my ailments had been fixed and certainly not my gender identity. It wasn’t as if running an extra mile or so would suddenly give me gender reassignment. It’s funny that term – gender reassignment or that old term the tabloids cling on to – sex change. It’s not like we’re changing gender, for those of us who are truly gender dysphoric, we’re already that gender inside. There are just some technicalities to sort out. I suppose that’s why reassignment is as near as it gets as a description, reassigning physical parts to match the soul. I like to think of transgender of being a state of decision, not a permanent label.

Two days later I ran the same route again only it was gently raining. Not heavy but large spots and enough to dampen my skin. It was different. Earthy. Rain raised smells of wild garlic, cow parsley and salts. The bats still fluttered over the stream and under the stone bridge but it felt darker and forest-like. One difference in the weather had made a huge difference to me. It reminded me of how things had changed in the last ten to fifteen years where sporadic double-life going-out had been replaced by real life. More subtle but real each day rather than saving it up for one night when everyone wanted to meet up miles from home in a protected shell in the back street bars of Bristol.

After my down patch last week I thought about people I used to know either in person or a little over the Internet that had a gender dysphoria of some kind. Four of them were dead. One I was told had “died on the operating table” but the truth had eventually come out she had taken her own life. I didn’t really know her, I met her once or twice but it was still truly sad. Another had a brain tumour. I had met her a few times, she always seemed troubled even after transitioning and living female full time. It was so sad. One girl I remember who ran a blog and was well known in music. The day I had come across her website the opening page had simply been replaced by a message that said something like “I’ve had enough, goodbye everyone.’ I quickly put a call out on a forum to see if anyone knew her and thankfully someone did and I was reassured friends were with her and she was now fine. The future didn’t hold well for her though when she was found having taken her own life. People that weren’t just in the news. They were real as was the depression.

I find it hard sometimes when a clinician at the gender clinic says how times have changed and how much better things have become, and to some extent they have changed a lot and for the better but it isn’t truly free and easy, sunshine and roses. I’ve been told so many times how things have changed with the gender identity clinics and how they look past the clothes, it’s not like twenty five or more years ago where if you didn’t turn up in your grans best floral tea dress you wouldn’t be taken seriously. ‘Wear what you like, you don’t even have to present female.’ and yet as another letter was delivered to my GP from the Gender Clinic in London the letter still contained a detailed description of what I’d worn that day; even if it was rather feminine, and there was no question as to what I was trying to be, I suppose it serves as a record of how I was that day.

It was quite nice that they had referred to me, in that letter, as Ms which I think was probably the first genuine time I’d been referred to that way, even if it did precede my first male name and later with my surname which seems a little more normal. I suppose in many ways these are little things not to worry about and after all one or two 45 minute sessions isn’t really enough to get inside of someones head to know how they feel, what they want and how they want it, whether it be the contents of a letter or how they should present with clothes. Does this stuff really matter, I mean when we look at the bigger picture. They are after all only facilitators even if technically they’re ‘gatekeepers.’ Taking a realistic look on how life is changing, hopefully for the better, through whatever path we take is really the important thing and providing they give enough support to help us through those low patches and avoid anymore losses, then the contents of letters and expectations is just icing sugar on the table ready to be blown away and forgotten.

I attended another weekend running event. It was warmer than expected. A long t-shirt over black three-quarter length running tights and ankle socks. Now the rain from the week had cleared and a morning hot sun was warming the weeds, trees, nettles and grass that lined the path through the city common land I felt the pollen and smells fill my lungs. As I got to a bend in the path, standing on the side was an old school friend watching. As I passed he called my name and I shouted back hello as I continued on. I didn’t care about my appearance, it didn’t even enter my mind. It seems bizarre that the one time I didn’t actually run away from a situation like this, I was actually running away.

Until next time,

Hannah x

Quite Simple Really

My chest had a thumping deep inside that I wouldn’t normally notice. The spitting of rain had stopped and the air was clear and cool. I kept a steady pace. I didn’t want to burn myself out in the first five minutes. People passed me quickly while I passed just a few but I knew it would pay off. I hadn’t run for several weeks, let alone enter a Parkrun event, it had been a couple of years, but I had to do something. It was only earlier that week that I had dreamt of the chance to run any distance was passing me buy with legs pains and colds but when I woke on Saturday morning I just knew I could do it and I knew I had to do it.

I had got up and flung together everything I needed. That old long and neck-stretched t-shirt that was a kind of comfort zone top for running. Ankle socks that cost extra because they were for running but the bright colours felt nice. A decision on which hoodie to wear given the threat of rain that would eventually come to very little. Then the decision of which running trousers to wear, the three quarter length regular baggy things that don’t suggest anything remotely feminine other than visibly shaved legs that would be underneath or the capri style three quarter length that I’d so confidently worn when I would run from home.

All this confidence the last few years suddenly in question over one pair of trouser because there would be several hundred people running along with me. I applied the question rule to myself, “If it didn’t matter what I thought other people might say, think, look, what would I want to be wearing today?” A question that filters and banishes any reason that would be linked to, ‘just wearing it to look feminine’. I ask myself this question because I don’t want to be wearing things just to prove to others or myself who I am. I want to do the things I do – because I want to. I get fed up of having to do certain things that I’m doing to constantly win approval from myself. The answer to the question was simple, the obvious capris because I like them better, they’re more comfortable and I just like them.

It felt good to be just getting in the car in the things I wanted to wear and get down to the city and join the others. When I arrived there were pockets of people walking to the park in numbers all in running gear, dated marathon tops of their last phenomenal achievement and equally baggy old comfort t-shirts. The start had that murmur of crowds-of-people chatter and that alone felt freeing.

The organiser made a speech of instruction and encouragement on a megaphone that was typically incomprehensible for the first two minutes until he exclaimed, “can you all hear me ok?” Before too long we were off and I held a steady pace like driving a road lined with speed cameras. I knew given how long it had been since I’d run. I would need every ounce of energy for the end and a few calories for worrying about who might notice my clothes and me and make some sort of odd calculation to what I was about. There was nothing to worry about, of course, and besides which people were concentrating on their own goals – it really isn’t all about me.

The well in bloom trees arched over the park path creating a pedestrian tunnel along side a scenic fast flowing river. The smells of spring and the morning thick. The park a line of runners meandering with the flow of the path and five kilometres in front of me to tread. An gentle pain in my lung and a weakness in my ankles just didn’t top the feeling of elation, not just for my identity but just getting some morning vitality into my veins and sharing it with other like minded people of all types.

I didn’t think much about the gender thing through the whole event. Apart from reminding myself that ‘the wall’ doesn’t exist and if it should confront me then I would simply smash it down, promising myself that if I couldn’t sprint the last few yards then it wouldn’t matter today, I was here and that’s all that matters, apart from that, it was just a glancing feeling that things were right. Things were clarified. Doubts put to rest, at least for now, and knowing what I want was actually, quite simple, really.

What it is about running, or any exercise for that matter, that clarifies thoughts and doubts I don’t know. The rush of adrenaline or stirring up nutrients in the body, who knows, but it works. That’s the moment I know what I am and what I want. Blockers just don’t seem to exist.

The end of the run was approaching. I couldn’t see the end, there were a few swirling bends in the path blocking the view, but I could tell by the people who were starting to tire. Breathing in and out through the mouth, that time when controlled breathing had been flung into the river by most. I had kept control of my breathing. Keeping my run realistic. Every pounding foot to the floor felt a bit heavier and the chances of a sprint to the end were unlikely but a good finish time and taking part was all that mattered to me.

The trees cleared and the time keepers came into view. I crossed the line with many. As if I had ordered it spartan spots of rain started cooling my face as I came to a stop evaporating from the heat of the skin on my cheeks, breathing in huge breaths and my fingertips tingling with lack of oxygen. I’d done it. A small victory for running and another for identity.

Until next time,

Hannah x

Purples and Pinks of Bayswater Road

It was one of those late night curiosities. You know, you finished watching a film and recognised somewhere that you think you been and want to flick through some old photos to see if it was that place. Of course flicking through photos for me now, or at least at the time these particular photos were taken, were well into the digital age of mobile phones becoming as clear as a traditional cameras though mobile phone videos were still clunky when there was any suggestion of movement. Rather than pulling out a number of albums from the book shelf, or loft depending how old those photos you want are, and blowing off the dust and that strange of scraggly grey hair that no one in the house possesses, it was a case of opening iPhoto and scrolling to two thousand and seven and looking for photos amongst the small thumb nails that might suggest ‘London’.

Right towards the end of the stream of The West End, the London Eye and a glowing parliament building in the hot August night, was a curious photo. A part of my foot in life-style trainers and the bottom of my jeans. I remembered it well. Mid afternoon laying with my back to an old mature tree and sat on the thick green fresh grass of Hyde Park, a guitar propped against the bark and a small suitcase for the three days I had been there. Behind me the rumble of Bayswater Road drifting between the black victorian railings that keep the contents of the park from the towering flats, regency buildings and the fumes of black cabs. The view in front seemed to capture the stillness of time when time to relax seems to make the day just stretch on for as far as it would seem possible like the stretch of green that seems to never end – I don’t even remember being able to see The Serpentine that felt like it was over the horizon and even my pending train at Paddington seemed like it was weeks away.

There was something blurry-eyed about that afternoon and that moment. It was like time to breath. I had recently walked out of my employment due to unbelievable anxiety that taught me what stress really was and London seemed like the escape I had needed even if it meant spending a months rent. I almost cancelled going but at the last minute I dived out of the house and headed to the station. Even to this day that moment in the park was a full stop on one part of my life and a whole new chapter was to begin; even if it wasn’t a huge change it was about control in my life.

That photo – the one of my foot, that wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t one of those “whoops I’d clicked the shutter button” photos only to discover it weeks later when the film was developed. They just don’t happen these days when cameras have to be switched on and we have to wait that infuriating delay while the camera pops down the shops for a coffee and the event has passed or the fiddling around trying to unlock a photo or trying to remember the shortcut to take a photo without unlocking.

It was a photo with purpose. It was a place I was in at the time, and I don’t mean Hyde Park, but how I felt about myself. Between my jeans and my trainers was a visible slither of sock. Thin stripes of pinks and purples with some interlaced foil-silvery strands. Female socks. My little way of wearing something secretly that helped me be true to myself. It just seems so mad now thinking back to then that I had to do this – wear something that was unlikely to be seen by anyone and that I would be nervous that someone would notice my socks and suddenly shout or point. It was a place I was in though at the time and while two thousand and seven is, holy christ, ten years ago it’s also only ten years ago.

Was I really like that then? So worried about wearing soft-colour socks with some kind of femininity to them. So much so that I had to take all these little victories just to win over my true self and keep that authentic self quiet and content. Hell – I was even taking a photo to remind myself what I had done, worn feminine socks, and got away with it to make myself feel happy. As crazy as it was to do that I have to thank that part of me for taking the photo because now I look at it I realise how through all the subtle changes over the past several years I have made that when combined they become huge changes. So much less afraid of those little things and now being confident to express that side of me openly; even if I’m not completely there yet, I am further than I am not.

I don’t need to take a photo to prove to myself that it actually happened and that to some extent is freeing. May be something is being lost if photos are fewer and far between as they once were in the beginning of that self discovery. Hard times but also exciting times with an amount of teenaged-styled innocence which for many with gender identity issues is experienced in their twenties or thirties or so. May be photos help keep track of that progression much like photos from childhood through to adulthood; after all coming to terms with the whole gender thing is much like growing pains it just happens at an unpredictable time. Looking at ourselves in some kind of past introspection may be just a health way of seeing how far we’ve come and who we’ve become.

Until next time.

x

New Year’s Eve Special – Cropped Socks and the Orange Solitude

The television was on in the corner of the empty kitchen of my parents house. I glanced out of the window, the cars still dusted with Christmas holiday week frost with blues skies and the sharp yellow winter sunlight enough to cut through and slowly reducing the white. The TV switched to one of those adverts in the break. You know, those ones you usually only see early in the morning taking up channel space before the actual channel starts, day time TV or, in this case, the Christmas break. An extended advert, an infomercial. An American accented delivery of an exercise DVD set or equipment which just about falls short of snake oil.

While these adverts have little power to get me to part with money my attention was caught. The narration was a blur as was the exercises but I noticed thinner toned bodies and the lycra which just shouted enjoyable exercise to me. It was mesmerising to see what these people were doing and what they had physically and how I’d been missing it. One too many mince pies adding a millimetre here and there to my body making me just a little disappointed that I’d not been able to keep up my exercise recently.

At that moment I wanted to sort it out. Waiting for the New Year wouldn’t cut it. That was too long away. Sure a few days won’t make a difference physically but mentally it meant everything. If I had the money at that moment I would have been straight to the car, into the city and at the nearest decent sports shop to find some new clothes to boost that feeling of returning to running that makes me feel elated and fresh. With that comes clear thinking and solutions. I had to do the second best option – go home, the next day, and find the next opportunity to run, that was after two loads of Christmas holiday washing.

Cropped socks and running shoes. A pull-over hoodie and three quarter lengths. Then fingerless gloves, one purple that I’d lost the matching other glove and one blue one because the matching blue one had developed some air conditioning in the palm. I was glad I had waited until the washing had finished because it meant it wasn’t too late that I’d have been risking my neck on black ice under clear star lit skies and that I was early enough that the sky in the relative silence of the small village was lined with a glowing orange so vivid that I felt like I could reach out and grab it. The orange faded in twilight to a pale blue that stretched over the hills and my head to the darkened deep blues of the approaching night.

It was perfect. It was more than the fact that I had got back to running before the New Year and preceding any resolutions. Beyond the fact I didn’t feel any joint pains or even happy with the clothes I can run in, it was the sky. It had painted the scenery to give me the encouragement that I needed to keep doing what I love, running and everything else. These types of days can be a delivered by fate. The weather, the conditions, my body, fate – things out of my control.

This is the important bit. Fate is only responsible for some of the things that make a day or what ever we do to occupy our time, but without making our own effort to move we get little from fate that would be in our control. I read recently that “Great things never came from comfort zones” and that “you are only confined by the walls you build around yourself.” That second statement is the powerful one. While it can be applied to almost anything it certainly fits precisely with the gender thing. Those walls are the things that I had built way back in my late teens; made of reinforced concrete and covered in Araldite for good measure.

In the last few years all that bonding gunk is gone from the wall. I don’t even have to peer over the wall any more as it’s low enough to lean on and take a look around while exposing a little of who I am. Walls can take a while to knock down with a small hammer. It may be a slow subtle process but it’s a way that suits me and some other people too. For some, they’re happy to take a sledge hammer to it and get right into the surgeons hands and back to work to get on with life. We just need to pick the best way for ourselves and not feel pushed, raced or guilted into any decision either way.

The morning came with an awakening to the feeling of not being able to sleep anymore; and so I shouldn’t have. Nine thirty a.m. is late enough even after staying up until one to see the end of a film. I had a lot to fit into today, all things for me but they had to be done today, including another run. ‘Start as you mean to go on’ as they say and doubts about running again so soon were halted by a mental vision in the mirror of loosing just enough weight to feel happy about myself again.

It was lunch time and with my running clothes ready I quickly tied my hair off in a rough plait that wrapped around my hoodie and down the side of my neck topped off with a wooden hat to keep out the cold.

As I approached the village the winter wire trees and luscious green hills in the distance were disguised in a rising grey mist from last nights hard frost. I felt so energetic today, probably helped by two of the remaining mince pies from Christmas I had after breakfast, but even so it was different. I could go further. I didn’t want to push too hard so soon but I wanted to go further with the reward of a stunning view over the other side of the village.

I ran over the old road bridge that crosses an ancient celtic river flowing with pace with a line of thin fog following it just a few feet above between the over hanging trees. It was a hard run up the hill on the other side of the bridge but I pushed for that view – that reward. It might sound like a small reward, a view of the countryside with the rising mist and grey distant outlines of farm houses, pastel skies and the black and white dots of a town, it could have easily have been the beach with it’s wide open space, gentle lap of the waves and solitude only found there during the winter months; the thing is as long as it’s meaningful to you it’s a reward. Something that is away from the work–home cycle of daily society that turns us into the machines we so despise and where some of us just make do.

The effect of these small rewards can add up to leading a much more positive life with more affirming decisions and being proud of what you do, whatever that is, and of who you are.

The city centre shoppers were still flowing even days after Boxing Day. As lunch time became afternoon the more claustrophobic it became with crowds of people. I was only there to swap the one single duplicate present; no post-Christmas retail hangover craving for me. I escaped to the nearest branded coffee shop as soon the swap was done and sat in the large window with panoramic views of the pedestrianised street.

Girls coming in with names like Chloe while an unsupervised toddler presses their hands against the door refusing entry. Espresso machines screamed steam and Christmas special latte’s and hot chocolates on the menu disappointingly out of stock. New Year was nearly here and the old year in it’s last few breaths. Manic and desperate.

I had taken myself out of the busy crazy retail frenzy. The only thing I bought was a nice diary for the year to come with a store credit given to me for buying some presents there before Christmas. It struck me while sat drinking my hot chocolate that people seem to be in a desperate rush to get that thrill of Christmas, opening presents and the acquiring of shiny material things for one more time. I had seen a family pass by, son, mother and grandmother. The mother defending some decision to buy something and the grandmother trailing a few feet behind and angrily announcing ‘well if you want it bloody get it.’ I could feel the goodwill and cheer peeling away from them.

Taking yourself out of these situations, watching other people struggling with British life and how many of us live here fitting so much into every second never taking a moment to watch life, was a prescription without medication. It’s cleansing. It brings things into perspective. Just watching other people there are moments when we can see the things we don’t want to be and the things we do we wish we didn’t. It puts everything about gender identity into perspective. It sizes the problem for what it really is. It might be an important thing for us but it doesn’t have to be made into a big monster of a problem. It is, after all, such a small thing amongst all the other good and bad, relationships, work, careers, travel, family, friends and our outlook.

In the past year so much has happened and as always in small bite sized subtle chunks. What I wear and when I do. Expressing parts of my personality that I may have suppressed before; although may be I didn’t realise I wasn’t suppressing it at all. Visiting the GIC and making a step towards making a decision; or not having to make a decision which is a valid answer in itself. My best friends finding out about the gender thing and being totally cool about it.

The subtle changes to anything are usually the things that matter. They’re sustainable and comfortable. Easier to live with and probably a bit more honest. Whatever you decide to do for twenty-seventeen, whether you decide that continuing as you are is what makes you happy – may be you’re already at your most balanced self, or may be you have plans to change things for the better, whatever it is, have a good year.

Until next year,

Hannah x.

That Winter Chalk

When it was cold, and I mean icy cold, damp clinging to the floor and frost staying all day in the grass in the shadows, it felt christmasy. I actually felt in the mood for Christmas. But then this week the temperature rose and the damp remained in the air along with the thin fog and everywhere seemed to be in the clouds. That Christmasy feeling was replaced by the trudge around shops for Christmas presents with Christmas songs from the 70s and 80s being tinned out and over exposed on the shop floor and everything just seemed a bit stressful. Thankfully I seem to have beeen given a break with the sun beaming through the glass doors in the dining room with an orange glow on the horizon behind the trees lining the local fields with just a spattering of winter chalky clouds.

As I move through December seeing other women wearing those christmasy type clothes, whether it’s warming huggable coats or fun pattern leggings under a skirt, it reminds me that I shouldn’t dismiss the expression through clothing as part of the whole gender thing. We express who we are in how we communicate, how we speak to each other, how we express our body language, our moods – our clothes. It’s all part of the ingredients of what makes us who we are. I think sometimes, since realising a couple of decades ago that the clothes weren’t actually a cross-dressing thing, that I can dismiss it as just a side part of the problem. The reality is that I don’t see these clothes as female clothes, I just see them as mine. Just something that’s enjoyable to wear. Just like anyone I can go through days of preferring a pair of jeans over wearing turn up denim shorts or a skirt day or whatever. Moods and clothes go together, especially with such diversity in female clothing. It also reminds me that I shouldn’t doubt who I am.

We are more than our physical bodies. We are ingredients of a recipe and may be that’s how we should decide our gender. I think Christmas time only magnifies how we feel about gender because some of us are around loved ones and friends. Going about shopping in town and city centres when crowds are even heavier this time of year and if you’re someone who isn’t currently free to wear everything you would like too, then this can constantly be a reminder of things. For some it’s a pressure cooker very slowly coming up to heat. One day it will boil.

When you can’t wear anything when you want there can be times when we just buy stuff for the sake of it trying to make ourselves just feel a bit better in the interim while we sort out who we think we are. A bit like buying cheap jewellery. We know we probably can’t wear it day to day and so it doesn’t seem to make sense to spend proper money on a decent necklace or ring or something. Besides it’s hard for some to fund two wardrobes and so it supposedly allows us to experience these shiny feel-good things for cheap.

The problem is, it makes us feel cheap and unworthy. The cheap tat makes us feel like cheap tat and brings us down, just a little and so the side of our gender that makes us feel better can also conflict and make us feel worse. Sometimes it’s a little better to just do without or save for something special whether you get to wear it much or not. Either that or bring your gender expression to the public and free yourself of these types of shackles.

I’m beyond the cheap tat now. It didn’t take too many mistakes like that to always think about my purchases. I tend to mostly buy things that I can wear when I feel I want or things I know I’ll cherish that make me feel good. The things that make me feel good help me overcome those rainy misty days and see the good that the rain brings rather than how wet my feel have become.

I’ve been so wrapped up in job hunting and colds that I’ve not been running properly for a long while. I miss days where I can run the three miles or so to the lake where only ducks and swans break a slow ripple in the water and the air feels rejuvenating spreading to the branches of my lungs. It’s a spiral that takes some getting out of.

I stop running from time to time because of a cold or some kind of virus that’s going around. My fitness declines a little, I start running again and get another cold. But when I have those weeks or even months where it’s undisturbed by any interruptions I’m in another place. When I’m not running I see other runners in their running clothes running along a river or the coast and feel a part of my ability to express myself, as well as doing some exercise, is actually missing.

I sometimes feel that the amount of meaningful expression does come from the everyday supposed mundane things like running, both the clothes and the freedom. A walk along a long serene beach in the winter seems to sort all of life’s problems within the first twenty minutes or less. I think sometimes we should be able to get a walk on the beach on prescription.

Until next time.

x

Futility

Rain, hail and thunder, it’s done it all today. A change in direction being processed by the universe I expect. The clouds so dark and grey at midday huddling up to each other closely to let out a huge release on us all shouting, “It’s November!” It’s a Friday and I find myself sat in another cafe over a pot of tea, every now and then huge rumbles of thunder being felt running along the floor and up through the chair legs like minor earthquake aftershocks. I finally, after many years of promising myself, started my christmas shopping early. I braved one shop before the cafe with faces of shoppers dull and drawn waiting to be served and staff rushing back and forth in confused state with all their processes of service falling apart. Christmas tunes chiming out of the shops speakers did little to make it feel Christmasy, it was just commercial, industrialised trading of brands and cheap toys being passed in exchange for money or debt; as grey and dull as the sky outside but without joy, art or substance.

During the week I decided, finally, to write back to the GIC. I was a little confused over some of the processes and who I needed to see about what and that blood test that hadn’t been done. I piled it down in some kind of order into a letter to the clinician I’d seen in London when I was there a few months ago, clearly asking what I needed to know. It wasn’t a moan but just so I knew what was what. A short trip to the post office to have the recorded delivery sticker added and it was off. Just an administrative thing that needed to be done so I could get on with things; it was surprisingly positive.

There was something about sending the letter that later on had lifted some weight off me about my uncertainty about where I was. Because I knew that I would likely get answers to the boring stuff it meant I didn’t have to think about it. Within a day the clinician had kindly rung me and spoke to me about what I needed to know one-by-one answering every point I’d had. Things were being sorted out and it wasn’t just how quickly he phoned me back but the understanding that was given had helped me clarify everything; he even spoke about how they might be changing things a little to help those who attend the GIC with these types of queries by giving us information to take away after a session with them.

While the clouds outside are still clustered together and producing the noise of war through the windows and walls of the cafe I don’t feel phased by them. The weather is passing me by because it’s part of the joy of the seasons adding depth to the winter while we go about our lives. It does of course help that I am, to some extent, my own boss and work for who I want when I want and because I have unshackled the way I live from the nine ‘til five to something that is more, well, nine ‘til five during some parts of the year and ten ‘til whenever when I ‘work’ for myself. Shopping for food when I want, taking in the surrounding people of a cafe and making time for those moments ensuring that my life isn’t a week-weekend of binary living. It can be hard because setting my own challenges to make life interesting is a challenge itself. Without that I wouldn’t probably get out of bed except for meals and the other.

Despite the more free living the question is still there. Don’t think for a minute that anything that makes life supposedly easier would make that question about whether the gender thing is the right things to do or the other question of whether it’s real rather than some learnt behaviour, besides, what is learnt behaviour. The problem with the question is that it’s impossible to answer without just accepting who you want to be and I think after acceptance and being then the question is self answered over time, there isn’t a scientific test that will answer it, at least not yet. Even if there was a scientific test a new question would be asked ‘Is the test right?’ Answers to the questions will never be one hundred percent. I find that the constant self questioning is a futile one. There is no winning answer. There will always be a leap of faith involved without huge amounts of evidence that satisfies our curiosity. Some people are able to commit to their change of gender without question. I don’t think this is down to the strength of those feelings though, I think some people are able to just make that leap without the need to question their own decisions – may be some are just inherent gamblers.

I don’t know where things are heading and from time to time just like anyone I have moments of doubt or uncertainty, especially without life that is particularly routine, mundane or monogamous. Restoring some order though and reminding myself of what matters to me goes some way to restoring my path. Whether it’s apparently frivolous things like tidying the house, discovering my favourite clothes again or how I occupy my time and how I ration myself to others, these are all things that can make things clear again.

Until next time.

x