Featured

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me!

Lichen on a picnic table: I enjoy noticing and recording tiny details

I’m here to explore my personal history with the aim of sharing it more widely. The more queer stories out there, the better chance of people finding those they can relate to.

Sharing my process here is a gesture of trust. It’s mainly so that others on that questioning path might find recognisable signposts or comfort, but it’s also for my loved ones to understand The Transgender Thing a bit better. Some thought that it came out of the blue, because I’d not shared until the last minute. Some thought it a whimsical or trendy choice, despite my total inability to be on-trend in other areas of my life.

Thoughtful, compassionate questions are welcome and I will do my best to answer them in a way that respects both parties. I will not be engaging with trolls, as it is a blatant waste of everybody’s time.

If you are a grammar nerd, please feel free to leave your corrections in the comments. I mean that in all seriousness. Constructive criticism of any variety is welcome. I wish to do better. Thank you for caring.

All photography is my own.

LGBTIQ Visibility

“The first time I realised I needed help was when I had trouble crossing the road,” I told the circle of people before me. “I felt as though they were all staring at me from their cars, judging me. I was already shy and nervous and blushing all the time, but not being able to cross the road shocked me.”

“I was already seeing a counsellor and not getting anywhere. Then I saw a leaflet in the waiting room of my doctor’s office and thought omg that’s me! That’s my problem! I thought if it has a name, somebody knows how to help me.”

I looked around the room. Most were nodding. Some still kept their eyes to their laps. The group leader smiled warmly at me.

“So I took the leaflet in with me to the GP and she put me on the waiting list for treatment. It took over a year, I think, before it started, and I think I nearly had a nervous breakdown when they told me it would be a group, and that we would be filmed!”

Laughter.

“At home, after the first day of group therapy for social anxiety, I was almost catatonic. So overwhelmed! But after a while I relaxed a bit and learned some things I could use. I used the tools and it made a huge difference to my life. I’m not cured, but life’s much easier already, you know?”

Shy smiles and more nodding. At least one person is grinning, body language open and engaged.

“Anyway that’s me, and I’ll be over by the tea urn if you want to talk. Thank you.” Exit, stage left, to light applause.

Immediately I’m surrounded. They’re animated, complimentary, and I’m noticing that none of us seem shy in this moment. We chat for way longer than anticipated. Eventually I see the leader looking uncomfortable, so I say my goodbyes. I’m hugged and leave on a cloud. I made a difference! My very existence made a difference!

Later, I contact the leader to say I’d enjoyed the experience and am happy to repeat it. As an ‘exposure task’ for myself it had gone swimmingly, and before tackling more public speaking in a new environment, I think some repetition here would be good. Consolidation and all that.

He fobs me off.

When pressed, he says I did a good job. His tone is off, and he continues to waffle. My ears pricked for clues, I persist, confidence boosted and raring to take the next steps. But I guess – I just don’t want to believe or accept.

I had seen his face as I’d talked in front of the group, and knew he was happy with that. Then I’d seen his face when the queers in the group spoke of how good it was to see themselves in me. To have a queer person give the talk. That queer visibility mattered. No doubt he, as a leader and a psychologist, had taken the point, but he personally was against it. It was 1998.

I was ropable, but he’d said nothing I could use in a follow up meeting with management. So I moved on.

I’d always hunted for myself in stories and media. Until that group, I’d never considered that I could be that person for someone else.

Working out The Point of my Book

CW: contains mention of suicide.

This week I’ve been woken a couple of times by a narrator who wouldn’t be shushed. It’s been early morning in cold weather and all I’ve wanted to do is return to blessed slumber, but blah blah blah continued.   

This morning the narrator was a combination of those from Shameless, Call the Midwife, and Nanette.  Passionate, smart-arse, and lots of swears.  Gutsy, I guess. A fun stream of consciousness commentary on my life and on the book I’m writing. Full of in-jokes and refrains, and with a clear, playful structure.  I wanted to press ‘record’ because it was genuinely entertaining and worth saving, and I didn’t trust that the voice would continue if I sat here at the computer at such an ungodly hour.  But it was my voice. The voice that Mum told me was too outrageous and too outspoken and to be honest, bombastic smart-arse most of the time and likely to annoy various people. But it’s my voice,  or my choir of voices to be more accurate, and there’s bound to be someone other than myself who appreciates it.

One of the refrains was about suicide. About how a loved one is fighting for her life and I’m fighting right alongside her. My struggle is a slower, quieter one these days. And my sibling’s of course is over.  But the refrain reminded me of that Little Golden Book, The Monster At the End of This Book, with Grover.  What will happen at the end? Will there be a monster? Will there be a suicide? Because the idea of the book, according to the narrator, was to share my life with my loved ones (without constant interruptions, invalidations, contradictions, judgements, etc, and as though someone cares). At the end of the book I gave myself permission to suicide, because I had finally expressed myself and my work here was done.  That’s how the story went. And I kept saying that it was my story, so I’d tell it how I wanted to.

Right now I’m reminded of Adrian Mole and of that dreadful classic with the boy who constantly complains about his life.  What’s that one called?  Agh. What are the female equivalents?  Anne of Green Gables perhaps.  And that one that was made into a movie with Judy Davis, where she thinks a lot of herself, My Brilliant Career.  I enjoyed those because they weren’t chronically good and humble. Anne always thinks she’s naughty, and the naughtiest thing she does is have an opinion of her own. 

What if I were to write a book and suicide at the end of it? I can’t honestly see the point of it at this present moment, despite feeling strongly about it in the past. But if I were to write a book and plan to suicide at the end of it, what would I say? What would be that important that I couldn’t leave without articulating it?

The trouble with having been gaslit is that it’s harder than usual to have faith in the value and reality of your own perceptions. Second-guessing becomes second nature and that’s a torture in itself.  Yes I’m using ‘torture’ loosely, although constantly second-guessing is just as tormenting as a dripping tap and omg am I now going to dissect the word ‘torture’ and justify using that word? Stop!

Ahem.

So what is so important that I have to say it?  Surely I’ve said everything already and if anyone really wants to know what my life’s been about they can just read what I’ve written?  I wanted my nephew to know that he’s not alone in experiencing certain things. I wanted to tell friends things I couldn’t express in person. I wanted the chance to tell my parents how I made my decisions and show them that while my path may look strange, we’re still not so different. We still share the values instilled in us – taking responsibility, having consideration for others and for the environment. Doing our best and taking care of our belongings. Being frugal. Being kind. Doing what’s true for you even when it looks crazy to others. Stuff like that. 

I most want to write when triggered by an interaction. I wonder what yesterday’s event was. Was it realising how revolting some of the Shameless characters were, regardless of their richly comedic value? Was it my emotional hangover after talking with a mate?  I think it was the latter, yes. I think of us both as being robust, intelligent people and I keep falling into the trap of comparing our lives and trying to mind-read (and falling short of my own projected ideals).  Yesterday I came away with the sinking feeling that I’d just engaged in criticising others non-stop for two hours, while somehow feeling superior to those who do the same. Holy moly. Then I watched two documentaries – 100 Men, about a Kiwi gay man’s sexual history (very moving), and the beginning of Tickled, about another Kiwi gay man’s investigation of the strange world of competitive tickling. The former was inspiring and was probably behind my internal narrator – simply because the experience of coming out and navigating the identity within the wider community of the time (1980s) was so singular. Things have changed so much and I wanted to tell someone what it was like. Facebook didn’t seem like the right forum for such musings, and I get fed up with non-LGBTIQA people misinterpreting my life. I end up feeling even more invisible. So there you go, that’s the narrator’s source code.

So many of my quirks make sense when in context. They make sense to me, even when others are wilfully deaf and blind. Oh, that was another trigger, that point when my mate spoke of dealing with people who don’t know what they’re talking about and are aware of their ignorance while being extra loud and pushy to try to cover it up. That reminded me of myself at times, as well as of certain others. Hmm…

But my quirks make sense in the context of my experience. Functional or not, they were designed to help me. I would like to sit with those two sentences for a while, and later expand upon them to remind myself of the insights in case I should ever forget.

‘Smart-arse’ keeps cropping up and I’m choosing to acknowledge it today as a superpower instead of a character flaw. Has anything been gained by suppressing it? Sometimes I am able to transmute it into a genuinely healing, insightful version of humour and I’m pleased about that. At other times it serves a similar purpose to black humour, in that it makes the unbearable less so. It lifts my spirits even as it annoys others. Hahaha. That’s the unfortunate side. The collateral damage. I don’t like that it pushes others away, and yet isn’t that useful at times too?  Keep those boundaries strong and clean. Ha.  Plus, the ABC appears to favour smart-arse young white males. Three out of four qualities ain’t bad.

What else do I need to say? Well, muting myself hasn’t helped my loved one at all. I’ve been so aware of how hurt she was as a kid being compared to me in academic terms, that I tried to overcompensate. Look, nothing to see here! Nothing to be envious of here! Nothing oppressive occurring in the present moment! Or is it? And does the present absence obliterate past hurt? Was that hurt even my responsibility?  I’d say no, and yet I assumed responsibility.  I’m not even as smart as I thought I was. Or as suited to certain lifestyles as had been assumed. We’re both still wrestling with ghosts.  What do I mean by that? She’s still trying to heal that old hurt by looking at it and discussing it. I’m trying to help, often while looking at and discussing my own injuries. Is it Positive Psychology that advocates engaging in judiciously chosen present day activities in order to indirectly heal those hurts? I need to look into that.

EDIT: This was originally titled “Woken With Words,” and posted on February 2 of this year. I’ve changed the title in order to make content more obvious to potential readers, and altered a few names to better preserve privacy. Thank you for your interest.

My Own Gender Questioning

There’s been plenty of discomfort, which makes me laugh when someone offers me a well-worn chestnut about venturing beyond your comfort zones as a remedy for anxiety. You have no idea, lovey, but thank you.

First I want to ask WHY gender is such a big huffing deal at all. I ask that in all seriousness. Why was I so uncomfortable in my allocated gender? Why can’t we all avoid labels, why can’t we all be human?  Why would anyone care whether I chose to live as a different gender from now on? People make changes to themselves and their lives all the time. What is it about gender transitions that makes people so uncomfortable?

Why was I so uncomfortable when I couldn’t tell, on one memorable occasion, whether my bus driver was female or male? Why did I find it so unsettling? What difference would it have made to me? I wondered back then whether I’d have been more polite or friendly toward them if they’d been female, and if so, what did that say about my belief systems? Were my beliefs based on fact? Did I consider all men to be a certain way and less deserving of courtesy? Of trust? Why? Or was I merely affirming and celebrating a woman’s choice to pursue a non-traditional career? As a woman-loving feminist this made perfect sense yet I felt naive, unworldly.

This one experience of confusion prompted protracted self-reflection. I started paying more attention to others’ attitudes and assumptions about sex and gender.

At times this was funny and at others, frankly disturbing and dispiriting. I wondered in particular about those heterosexuals who clearly didn’t like or respect the opposite sex at all. How on earth could they expect to experience loving relationships? I read and analysed more ‘male’ and ‘female’ magazines and chick/dick lit and decided that the world was even more fucked up and complicated than previously imagined. 

So what the hell did it matter whether I felt female, male, both or neither? I’d lived for so long as an androgynous person already. Why couldn’t that be enough? And yet it wasn’t. The social scene felt wacky, out of kilter. No wonder I was a hermit. But I kept thinking that if it were purely about feeling ok in my own body, and the social side of things was taken away for a moment, I’d choose to transition in a heartbeat. Since I didn’t really relate to the “born in the wrong body” narrative, I tried to articulate my own situation. Clearly I wanted to change my own body in significant ways, so why? 

Socially, I was just a person, a person with certain personality quirks, talents, interests and abilities, and certain primary and secondary sex characteristics. I felt vastly uncomfortable being squashed into the F box, and was frankly horrified by my perceptions of the M box. I simply wanted the freedom to be myself and to be allowed to do this without ridicule or restraint. Isn’t that what everyone wants?

At this point I drew upon my feminist background and sifted it for clues as to how to proceed. I wondered whether I was simply articulating my need as a woman to be considered a person. Was I paraphrasing every feminist ever?

I further analysed myself and my roles – I felt I had the capacity to be nurturing, yet not maternal. Was I simply one of life’s non-maternal women? I preferred the company of women, but was that situational? After all, when younger I enjoyed playing with everyone regardless of gender, before the age where “boy/girl germs” became a thing, and been very hurt and confused by that segregation. While backpacking at 18 I’d gravitated mostly toward men. What was that about? We’d had similar interests and enjoyed each other’s’ company; was that all it was, given that since then I’d spent very little time in male company?

My low tolerance for sexism ruled many guys out. I also preferred practical clothes and having next to no hair to fuss with. Given that I was attracted to women, did that all just confirm I was a dyke? While some people considered dykes to be something other than female, all the lesbian feminist literature I’d encountered was women-focused and female-affirming and beautiful. And sure, there were lesbian stereotypes and uniforms, but a wide range of gender expression was celebrated.

So why was I always male in guided meditations where I met my older self? Why did I want to be rid of my breasts and why would I be just as happy without my womb? Why did I avoid mirrors and being photographed and only feel present in my skin when I was physically active, useful?

I wondered whether I was just being overly pragmatic and preferring to simplify myself, even as I complicated and cluttered my living space. I wondered whether I’d just absorbed some wacky message in the collective psyche that it was better to be a bloke, so I was seeing myself as male to feel better about myself. Why couldn’t I be happy to remain a more masculine-presenting woman? I’d struggled yet managed to accept this until now – until learning I had choices. 

All valid questions perhaps, yet it was hard to talk about with anyone in constructive ways. Most therapists warmly nodded and smiled without actually engaging with my questions; and almost everyone else was either freaked out or wanted to push their own agendas. There was nobody available to chat with on my own level.  Then there was the ultimate rabbit hole aka the internet, and the impenetrable array of academic texts in university libraries. Thankfully, after meeting a few trans and gender diverse people and reading a few books such as those by Rae Spoon, S Bear Bergman, Leslie Feinberg and Ivan Coyote, I could place myself in the bigger picture. I could relate to enough in others’ stories to work out what was happening for me. I likened it to someone pointing out the existence of complementary colours when all I’d ever known were the primaries.

In the end I decided fuck it, I’m making a decision. After all, when coming out as a dyke decades ago I found zero use for all those “were you abused as a child?” and “don’t you get along with your mother?” questions. I’d naïvely assumed they had validity due to the frequency of use, but no. They were indications of the general societal lack of understanding and acceptance.  I decided that my own questioning had been necessary and yet ultimately pointless. I am what I yam.

Then I started listing all my early clues, to present like dead mice to the psychiatrist. The times I was called “sonny” as a kid and liked it. The Boy Scout and Peter Pan costumes I chose for fancy dress occasions. How much I enjoyed beating up boys and protecting my best friend from their nonsense (also a ‘baby dyke’ clue but whatever). There were a lot. Given that I had to wait a long time for my initial appointment, promptly cancelled it from sheer terror of meeting my first psychiatrist and having to travel so far to do so, then waited another five months for a new appointment, I reflected and wrote a LOT.

I thought about what kind of man I already was. What kind of man did I want to be?

After all that I made faces when concerned loved ones asked me whether I was really sure. Had I really taken time to give it some thought? Would I consider seeing a psychiatrist, please?

EDIT: This was my inaugural post, back in January of this year. I’ve given it a clearer title, to help readers find what they’re looking for. I’ll be giving other posts new titles, and not necessarily reposting.

Snippets of today

Taking a leaf out of a friend’s book/blog today, and sharing informal writing. Or I will, once the cat has removed her bum from the pages. My morning pages. Snippets.

The tradesperson has left and the day is stretching out ahead of me. Odd to be up and dressed and fed, so early. Not that it’s early by average working human standards. Far from it. But I’ve been cocooned in my odd hours, minimising human interactions through the power of biorhythms.

Ready now to venture out to top up my debit card and reassure Netflix that all is well. I still love them.

Back. Admired the array of early birds and tradespeople. The street is relatively deserted. Meanwhile someone out there is using noisy garden maintenance tools and the wind is wild.

The cat wants a pat and conversation. I’m decorated with shedded hair again.

A creative writing teacher. Faith? I think it was Faith. She said that words could either be a bridge or a fence. As a journalist I think she understood that very well, and it has stuck with me as something to chew on as I write. Am I aiming to be accessible or to obscure facts and confuse people? Am I giving mixed messages, conflicted as I am within myself about exposure? Self-protective, of course, but aiming for mutual understanding as well as personal reckoning with my past, present and perception of future. 

Last night I felt so happy, immersed in words. It must be so deflating to lose access to them on a permanent basis, to feel them slip away from you. It’s been excruciatingly difficult and shame-filled enough to lose them in fog, while depressed. And yet that’s when they can be so helpful. Or not. Hmm. I suspect an element of self-protection there too, obscuring the pain from myself. Or that may be the intent. Whereas it just made it harder to sort out a way forward. I had hoped that therapists would be a guide through the thicket, the foggy thicket that was my mind. Agh. Humans. So fallible. 

I love the idea of books as therapists. Is there a website? I’ve heard interviews with people who prescribe books according to the affliction or social circumstances. Ok, going to research that now. Bibliotherapy. It made sense at the time I heard of it on the radio and makes sense now, after reading of how personal writing, done correctly, can heal trauma. The DeSalvo book specifies the type of personal writing – linking events to your feelings about them, both past and present – and recommends the supervision of a mental health specialist. Of course, as usual this hinges on the availability of a suitable therapist, so. Agh. But there have been things I’ve wanted to write about and just couldn’t, because I didn’t trust that I could handle the emotions involved. Such as post-breakup and post-relocation. I was such a mess and felt volatile. Maybe there are optimal times to write? Or different methods for each situation? I don’t know. 

About ten years ago I told a friend that I couldn’t see a coherent narrative in my life and wanted to find it. She said that nobody has a coherent narrative. I was disappointed, because I’d hoped she’d have a few helpful tips or encouraging words. I felt stumped. Later, when I told others I wanted to write a memoir, I felt embarrassed because it sounded self-involved, self-important. I’d been aiming for self-aware and engaging, but didn’t know how to say that with a straight face either. I’m hardly the outgoing type, so why would I bang on about myself in a book? Apart from the fact that hardly anyone would read it? Haha. Seriously, that’s the key, isn’t it? Who even has the time to read, let alone talk about books? Wink, wink. 

Let’s go with that, as long as it gets this book written.

Hardcore, Soft Heart: Positive Activism as a Die Hard Rebel — The Aspergian

I’m a punk. I’m a rebel. I think one of the most badass things you can do is fight the system, and the biggest system there is is the culture of division and the human nature of defensiveness. So I’m going to fight the system and bring down the man, but I’m going to do…

Hardcore, Soft Heart: Positive Activism as a Die Hard Rebel — The Aspergian

This made my squishy heart happy, so I’m sharing it in the hope it does the same for others.

Daily observations

Before I was even a gardener I enjoyed books by May Sarton and Kate Llewellyn. Books about solitude and the daily rhythm of noticing, attending to the natural world, and creating.

I just walked around the block with my bearded friend. He’s given up smoking and needs the distraction and endorphins. We made note of new housing and new plants, what was flowering and what smelled particularly good (roses and port wine magnolia), who we knew, who was away and where else we might like to live, given the chance. We waved merrily at a friend’s security camera.

An elderly friend used to walk around the block with me, before her death from cancer. She’d say that her doctor would be happy with me for getting her active, and give me a running commentary on her ailments as we walked. Then she’d point out landscape details I’d managed to overlook. I’d be amazed by the difference in a solo lap and a tandem. I reminded myself of another friend’s husky, who had a strict routine of checking this patch of grass, this lamp post, this fence line. I was just as predictable in what I paid attention to. That second pair of eyes was like taking me to an entirely new neighbourhood.

This post is more of an amble than a purposeful commute. But I’d like to return to the books about solitude and gardening, because those daily quiet observations of my own natural environment feed me in a way that nothing else can touch.

PS: Still enjoying the NaNoWriMo experience and earlier today added almost 1600 words. Today I’m writing about death, grief and resentments, which sounds way less fun than it actually is. So much to learn from reflecting on situations. Thank you for reading my words and I hope your day is going well, in whatever way is meaningful for you.

Vital stats

A cuckoo raised by finches in urban Australia.

Two siblings; one deceased. Plethora of furred and feathered friends.

Generation: X

Gender label used: M

Pronouns: he/him or they/them

Height: average

Hair: not much, grey

Skin: yes, pale

Favourite colour: green

Favourite word: poppycock

Hobbies: reading, writing, organic gardening, random acts of kindness, and overthinking. Black belts in catastrophising and appreciation.

Greatest achievement: survival

Favourite family quotes: “You have a way of making the simplest thing look difficult,” (stepchild) and “You always found the hard things easy,” (mother). An ex-partner is sometimes fondly referred to as A One-Woman Ministry of Aggravation.

Favourite humans: friends (naturally), support workers, and anyone I encounter who displays kindness, generosity, compassion, honesty and the ability to refrain from using the word ‘moist’.

Pretty sure this is a case moth. No relation, despite family resemblance.