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 It reminded me of how things had changed in the last ten to fifteen years where sporadic double-life going-out had been replaced by real life.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

Daydream

I sat looking out through the windows of the cafe. The alfresco brave sat in duffle coats or craving warmth from an ember between a pair of fingers. A steady stream of tobacco smoke slowly drifting in the cold sunlight of November. I hugged my hot chocolate with both hands after working through the mountain of cream precariously with the end of one of those extra long green thick straws meant for the summer drinks. The glass door opens with another customer and a blast of icy air floods in around my knees and my ripped jeans making the cafe heating more evident. The pigeons tapping away around the tables outside define the tourist nature of a Starbucks by the sea.

It may be a little capitalist here but it’s a home while I need time to think; and not just for me. Someone with a laptop staring furiously at the screen waiting for some kind of idea to jump out of them. A couple on the sofa chairs out for the afternoon both of them staring at their mobiles silently taking intermittent automated sips from their white embossed-branded mugs. A few tables away is an elderly middle-eastern gentleman, with a head scarf and a grey wiry beard that took some patience to grow, sitting quietly without a drink. I almost feel like buying him a cup of tea but for fear of offending him in case I’ve misread his fortune or lack of.

It’s been a while since I’ve just sat in a cafe and people-watched. That’s not to say I haven’t been at the cafes by any means, I’ve just had my head stuck at the screen working so much or had my head in the thoughts that drive me day to day about the gender thing that I’ve not stopped for a while and just taken a look around. Next time you’re sat in a cafe take a look. I don’t mean just a brief covert glance, stop for a moment and really take things in. Life really is eclectic, there must be at least thirty stories to tell in here right now. It doesn’t matter if what you see and think is the actual truth but I can make a good educated guess at who some of these people are. As much as gender issues are really the current thing at the moment which may be seen by some as outside of the norm, sitting in a cafe and watching how diverse people are – there is no norm.

If I was able to, if Starbucks was open late and they provided a decent sofa and if I had an endless pocket of change then I would quite happily watch other people all evening rather than watch the television. The diversity of people just shows that really, apart from gender stuff being slightly unusual right now, we’re really no different. We all have our daily problems. We have our good days, our bad days, days when we choose skinny and others when full-fat milk and topped with cream is the only thing that will do. I just suppose some of us put aside the things that make us different and conform to the society we are supposed to adhere to and then regretting sticking to the middle line at the end of our lives and wishing we’d been the different person we are.

The elderly gentleman is still sat on his own. At least an hour or more without a drink quietly sat there. I wonder what he is thinking. Is he mulling over his thoughts, is he just waiting for opportunity to spring it’s luck on him or is he just content because he has already solved the meaning of life and is happy in the knowledge that everything is going to be ok? He seems to have little worry and, other than what my future holds, I suppose my only worry at this minute is how much time is left on my parking ticket.

The afternoon seems long. It may be a Friday and people are winding down for the weekend but yet it has a Saturday afternoon about it. With low winter sun comes long shadows. It’s funny how small things like that define how we feel about the day. At the bottom of a hot chocolate came an order of an Americano. As much as I love hot chocolate I feel the guilt of it etching away at my teeth and my coins alike. A bitterness that is heads and tails away from the sweetness. Ideal to flip my way of thinking in an instance much like those long sun cast shadows. The bitterness of the coffee brings on more methodical thinking for a moment at least. Things like the letter I should have written a few weeks ago about one of the missing blood tests to the gender clinic in London but I know I should be taking this day like a Ferris day out. A break from work. Living for the moment as they say, the here and now and all that.

I have to be thankful, to myself at least, for getting to a place in my head where I feel comfortable in the places I like to be in the clothes that I like to wear and damn anyone else; well – some. It must be something I need to remind myself of from time to time so that I know that given how far I’ve moved forward and how normal things are now that if I continue to make those little changes then where I want to be in the future will be just as normal everyday as it is now.

At the end of my coffee I grabbed my black denim jacket, the one with the buttons down the left, and headed to the door noticing that the elderly gentleman had somehow quietly left without notice. The water in the bay was gloss black with gentle gloopy waves with a hint of yellow sun reflecting back in ever changing loops. If you want to examine yourself, take time out to examine others, and then reflect.

Until next time

x

Disconnecting

James appeared at the door as I walked down his driveway. James, if you remember, friend from uni, first person I told and also gender confused but secretly so – et al. The kids were playing in the living room, the last time I’d seen his daughter she was a baby that did nothing but look around and crawl. Now she stood there looking up at me, curly dark locks of hair and an angelic look that would burn into the hardest soul. A rustling and clanging of cutlery came from the doorway to the kitchen and a brief walk by of Kate in her dressing gown getting dinner ready. “Hiya.” she said briefly continuing in chore bliss. Our conversations have never gone much further. She always seems to be busy with marital and motherly life. Given how inside-out I know James it feels strange how little I know Kate.

I’d not seen James for weeks, and given all the changes that had happened since then, this evening was the perfect chance to catch up. We jumped into the car and made a short journey to the sea front where tourists were at their height of populating the promenade with food, ice cream and excitable sugar-fed children at the end of the hot day. The stillness of the warm evening hung heavy in the air as we walked and I started picking at a polystyrene tray of chips topped with fresh cod with eye stinging vinegar fumes rising.

“I can’t believe how much your girl has grown. Last time I saw her she was a baby and now she’s talking and got her own personality.”
“She asked Kate about you. She said, ‘Mum, that is a boy, isn’t it?’” James said grabbing a chip from his tray.
“What did she say?”
“Yes dear, it is.”

It reminds me of when I was in a bar in Bristol many years ago. There was just me and one of my old friends from the Bristol days, Sara. We were tucked away on a small round table at the very end of the bar by the back wall. It was only us two. An older man at the end of the bar turned and looked at me while we talked. He kept turning back and looking again with a confused look on his face, the wrinkled lines coming together above his brow. Eventually curiosity got the better of him and he came over. “Can I ask, you are a girl aren’t you?” I decided to have some fun with him rather than my usual honesty.

“Yes, all woman.”
“Really?”
“Yes.” Sara was trying hard to keep a laugh in her mouth pretending to drink but shaking uncontrollably.
“So, you’ve always been a woman.”
“Yes, always, since I was born.”
“Oh. Okay.” he returned to the bar and looked back a few times still looking confused.

We drank up and left but I told Sara how I felt a bit down that I wasn’t convincing enough that he had to ask but Sam reminded me that the fact he didn’t know for sure was as good as passing. That night stuck with me and I guess with James’ daughter it was a similar situation although I wasn’t openly dressed and Kate doesn’t know about my gender-thing and certainly doesn’t know about James’ special box of clothes.

I try not to go too deep into gender things with James. We do talk about things from time to time but as his life moves on and his family grows connections between them, a bond that is hard to break, I see that he seems content with just dressing-up from time to time. Even with all the close-calls he’s had, when Kate has come home early or the risk of things being found, it doesn’t compare to the risks of telling all and starting down a path that could mean the breakup of his marriage or worse still his family. It may not be right but I certainly don’t want to be the one striking that match.

Every time I meet up with James I see how much further apart our lives have become when it comes to the gender thing. Drifting away from each other like galaxies in the universe, or expanding – depending on your scientific preference. James’ problems are the size of the box for his clothes and his ever expanding collection. Does James get a bigger box or try and fit in just one more thing and risk it splitting open. How old will the children be when they start exploring parts of the house they’ve never been to before and discover a box of clothes.

This compares to my problems of remembering my next appointment or who I should tell next, if anyone. How far should I really go? Should I allow the innate feeling of needing to become the opposite gender outwardly to others or battle those feelings for the innate need to have children. It’s a never ending battle and as age creeps in both of those become ever more difficult to decide upon and each making the other more unlikely.

When I missed my last appointment at the local hospital with the psychiatrist, which was very much unlike me, I felt it was the one time I needed to talk to someone and the new date given to me was an age away. But September is quite literally less than an hour away and just a couple of weeks to that appointment I feel that the March referral for next year will be here in no time at all and yet despite this I have never felt quite so at a loss to how I should feel. It’s not so much that my mind has changed or I have new confusion or conflict. It’s that now appointments are far apart that I become slowly unsupported.

The thing I need to do is find my focus. Find the focus on the life I have and the direction I want it to go in and move towards that goal. I don’t need that rubber stamp from the medical professionals to find that focus it’s just sometimes I think I forget.

Until next time.

x

Milovska

She was huge. I don’t mean fat or obese, I certainly don’t mean it in any derogatory way, it’s just fact that she was so large. Tall, must have been at least six four, large hands, large feet with pretty and delicately varnished and decorated toe nails with what seemed like a German or possibly an Austrian accent that might explained her natural size, or may be she was from a more Polish region; I just couldn’t tell. By comparison I felt like a short person in a tall persons land and, I expect, the even shorter Chinese barista in the cafe even smaller. Yet this woman, who as far as my apparent in-built radar concluded, was not trans. At that moment when I saw her in the queue struggling to find the price of a Starbucks cup in the basket and even my suggestion to check the bottom of the cup turned up no clues, I felt foolish.

I thought about all my hang ups and worries about passing and give-aways, hands, feet, nose, shadow, voice et al, and here is this woman. No question of a doubt a woman. Going about her business. Despite everything about her, that most of us male to female transgender people worry about, she doesn’t even register these things as an issue, or the people in the queue, the barista, the busker outside with his guitar playing solemn classical music. It’s proportions and mind set. Most of it at least.

She asked if it was okay to sit on the soft window sofa next to me and within a few minutes was talking to a couple next to her about some make-up tips from the woman next to her with thick black Winehouse mascara eyes and fantasy hair style to match. After the couple had finished their expensive lattes she turned to me with just a few minutes of my lunch hour left.

Milovska was her name. She had a registration page open on her mobile phone and needed help. She couldn’t read the text. “The library gave me my details.” she handed me a small sheet of paper with details like an email address, a password, a username amongst other things and placed her mobile in my hands. “Can you help with this, only if you have time.”

I gave it a go and tried many attempts but I think there was some kind of confusion. It was a registration form she was filling in for some kind of service but it didn’t work and I got the impression she already had some sort of account. I felt bad that I couldn’t help her any more and directed her to the library and started to pack away my Kindle that I’d stopped reading for the conversation with Milovska. “Well I have to head back to work unfortunately.” I said politely though I really would have liked to have a proper chat with her. She was forthright but pleasant and a beautiful character.

“Where you do work?” she asked. I tried to explain the street but didn’t hold out much hope of her knowing where that was given her recent arrival in the country and settled on a local landmark. She had some office work in an industrial park somewhere. I stood up and dropped the Kindle in my bag, “Hope you have a good day, nice to speak to you.” I said. She looked at me and in a manor of surprise and warmth, “Thank you. You have a good day too.” she said in her European flavour.

I left realising that it isn’t our size, clothes or voice that shapes us as women, and only in part how we carry ourselves but it starts with how we see ourselves. Our own self belief. Our inner image of who we think we are. Without this we only end up projecting our hang ups.

Until next time.

Hannah x

Whole Again

It was a birthday party. Sporadic people I sort of know but the birthday girl was someone I’ve known for a very long time but hadn’t had a proper conversation with her in more years than I should be old. She was a girl I grew up with. If anything is to blame for the gender thing it was our friendship. She showed me how to plait hair when I was about seven.

I was tucked away in the far corner while the DJ set up his rig ready to blast out some typical birthday DJ tunes though thankfully YMCA was not to be heard. My parents were on their way but for now it was great to have a conversation with one of my in-laws. Not an in-law through my own means but through my greater sibling who decided to leave our conversation when his other half started a love-life chat with me.

“So come on, tell me. Are you and Maddie back together?” she said getting straight to the point. No dashing in and out of different roads of conversation over ten minutes to soften the blow of her question. As she normally does she got straight to the point. “Hope you don’t mind me coming straight out with it.” she said with an inquisitive smile suggesting that I must answer.

“Well you’re the only person to ask me that.” I said throwing back the exact reason why I’ve not spoken to anyone about it and that it never crossed my mind that we would ever get back together – so I said so, “No. We’re not.”

“So if say there was a chance and there was nothing stopping you –” she asked trying to dig further “– would you get back together.” At that moment the DJs test music suddenly stopped like a game of musical chairs and loudly she said, “– do you think you’d get back together then?”

“No.” I said. “I’m not in that place and it’s not going to happen.”

This was the exact point when I felt conflicted. She doesn’t know about the gender thing – well, she might do but I don’t know. It was so difficult trying to have the conversation about it without giving the main reason why it wouldn’t be happening. At the same time I didn’t want to give some exact reason that was basically made-up because I’m just fed up of the lies and hiding. At the same time this wasn’t the time or the place to be having that conversation. Shame.

“It’s just you seem to have remained friends.”

“Yes. Well I did live with her for years.”

She finally dropped the interrogation but continued on similar lines like whether there was anyone else or what I wanted. The conversation fizzled but I felt stagnant not being able to say what the reason reason was. I think she sees my loneliness and the stresses I go through.

With everything in the news this week on Caitlyn Jenner and Kellie Maloney I’ve felt the need the question myself and the difficulties coming with every that is gender. Reading the comments in Facebook news clippings, that have been going around, most people appearing to be supportive and some sounding ill-educated spurting out sound-bites like ‘she’ll never be a woman I don’t care what anyone says.’ It got to me a bit, not because of what that person said or any meaning behind it, because I just wondered if I could cope with that sort of a reaction. In the end I came to a conclusion of sorts that firstly I wouldn’t have to go through half of the crap either of those will get from time to time because they’re high up the celebrity list, but secondly it didn’t really matter. For each day I may find that I just won’t get bothered at all.

What struck me last week though walking through the city one work day lunch time was the change in the air. A certain something about the news on these two transgendered people that made it feel like there was a change in attitude. It was no longer humour at our expense as these things usually turn out. There was a tide of change amongst the public’s understanding. It felt like people were finally seeing something new that meant our civilisation as a national community was coming to some kind of acceptance. It was like the word was on the street. People were finally talking about it and being positive. It felt like people weren’t finding gender identity a strange thing to fear. People were coming to an understanding. It’s only a start but it was something and it was noticeable.

It gave me a glimmer of hope and a resetting of my mental state. I have felt like my heels have been dragging. By Saturday I was in town and browsing some clothes. I still want that dress for the summer but nothing had quite fore-filled the template in my head that the dress had to match until I came across a skirt in the back of a shop of beach-style wear. Vintage cream with a dusting of floral print throughout and tailored lines down the front and back with a soft cotton feel. I grabbed the first one I could find in my size and bought it on a whim. I needed something to make me feel just a little whole again even if it would be short lived.

The sunshine of the weekend and the grass now finally dry in the garden meant I could be laying out in the sun and wear my new treat but even on my own lawn I suddenly felt a feeling I hadn’t for quite some time. I knew this skirt was obvious. It was a skirt after all but not just that it is ultra feminine and there would be no doubt, if anyone saw me, who I was. That small hesitation made me feel like I’d gone back a few steps, even a few years.

This is easily over come though. All I have to do is think about my counselling sessions with the phycologist and some of the feelings of progress come back. Those feelings of knowing who I am and caring more about how I feel about it that others. What others think is for them to deal with. With any luck I’ll find my way back to where I was knowing my way forward.

Until next time.

x