Category Archives: Trans

One Year, Another Step

Yesterday Karl had his first appointment at the gender clinic down in London; the next significant step in the journey. As part of this he had to get the paperwork out evidencing that he’d been living the “real life experience” which in plain English means giving proof he has been living as a male full time. In going through this material he saw that it was a year to the day yesterday since he came out at work.

I know that he intends to write something on the subject, explaining how he has found the year, on his blog at some point and during the year I’ve given some posts about my feelings on this blog. Today I want to look at it slightly differently to when I’ve talked about the feelings and making sense of the journey side of things and talk a little about what it’s been like practically for me living with somebody going through the journey.

First subject I want to approach is clothes shopping. Initially this was a hard experience and I found myself getting a bit indignant on Karl’s behalf when there were changing room issues, for example. However, we quickly found strategies to deal with things – a key one being that we were careful to know measurements and be certain about what we wanted. We’d buy with a we can always return this after we’ve tried it on at home approach. Obviously for somethings like under wear this doesn’t apply and so if it is something where we can’t try the item on and return/ exchange it if it’s not right we’ll buy a single item and/or cheaper style first and then invest in the better quality one when we know it’s what Karl wants/finds comfortable.

Mail order is something that can be useful if you know what you want but in many ways we have found it useful to go round and continue to shop locally. I don’t know how much of that was influenced by Karl’s initial order for a binder being impounded by customs along the route but I think actually it’s because in many shops, where staff are well trained on customer service, if you explain the situation you can be helped on the journey. One example of this is where I was going shopping for a pair of slippers for Karl fairly early on in the journey. Karl has relatively little feet and so shopping for male items can be an issue. The lovely lady in M&S said that she didn’t have any male slippers which fitted apart from the children’s, which weren’t appropriate but there was a pair in the women’s section which were plain navy and unisex in style. Thus, we were able to get around the problem and it is something which has continued to be the solution when looking for shoes other than trainers. We find very plain dark coloured footwear which they do in almost identical styles for men and women, it means Karl can have shoes which fit but which are still masculine in style.

Another area which we have learnt to deal with is toilets when we go out. Karl will make judgement calls as to whether to use the male or disabled toilets dependant upon how much hassle he is likely to get and whether there are disabled customers around who will need to use the disabled facilities, thus meaning he really needs to use the male toilets even if he thinks some level of personal safety risk is involved. It’s complicated but again it means we think about where we go and the facilities available. One pub for example is somewhere where the level of risk involved for Karl is quite high but also you have to get the key for the disabled facilities and this is something that he sometimes has issues getting – as people don’t understand there is  a good reason behind it. We try to avoid being in this pub for too long in anyone go and are likely to use other ones in the area if possible. It was weird initially for me getting used to Karl using different loos but now it seems quite normal.

Other people’s reactions is something I am still getting used to and needing to judge how to handle different people – knowing whether to correct them when they talk about him with the wrong pronoun or not. Often because I don’t feel confident challenging them – because we all get pronouns wrong sometimes, myself included – and what I do is just make sure I put in his name to emphasise it is him.

I know when there have been odd issues which have arisen Karl has not told me because he hasn’t wanted me getting either upset or indignant, (and I could go either way). This has been fine but I do want find it useful to know and not just hear about by overhearing his conversations with others who he is more comfortable talking to these things with.

Another issue which has really hit home is the importance of healthy eating. I know that for surgery to be offered and successful health is important and that Karl needs to lose a bit of weight to get his BMI down to what it needs to be. As the person who does the shopping and majority of the cooking in the house that has laid a responsibility on me that I need to introduce changes in both our diets. It’s a journey, over the next few months things will need to step the changes to diet/ portion size up a gear further and get more exercise included in our routines in order for Karl to get to a point where he can have the surgery he needs.

Like so many other things that last point is something beneficial to us. Thinking about what you eat and being more careful in choosing your clothes, etc are not bad things. They can take more time and effort but they are positive changes which are benefiting both of us, trans or not. My own views on clothing have changed slightly too. I am getting very good at looking in well known quality stores, where I know staff are excellently trained and have good customer service, as their sales are coming to an end in order to find the right clothes at a properly affordable price.

A final issue for me has been the level of myth and uncertainty around the journey and what happens next. Trans people and their families in many ways are expected to be the experts with the answers when to be honest they don’t always have all those answers themselves. When Karl got back yesterday I was reassured in many ways because he’d raised some of our joint concerns with the doctor and had gotten clarification on a few things. One problem we have found is that myth and exaggeration can creep in to an extent they become accepted fact when actually things are sometimes slightly different and what is actually described is the worst case scenario rather than the norm.

We know that whilst not always easy our journey, and Karl’s first year of real life experience has been far better than most people’s and that is in a large part because of the way in which he has been supported by a range of people including others in the trans community, his employers, his church and beyond. I have also been grateful for the support I have received from others in the trans community, some of whom I guess it might have been a bit difficult for – seeing us as the happy couple when many of them are single. I have also been so lucky that I have been able to take time listening formally and informally to a local trans expert who has advised the FA and others on trans issues. For me one of the most useful things has been going to see her give presentations and listening to her talk about trans issues in a way which has been depersonalised. It has helped for me to be able to look at the issues involved, and what Karl is facing, in a far more objective way.

For me the key to the last year has been communication and confidence. One aspect has been learning to say what I’m worried about or what I don’t understand in a sensitive way. When things have become difficult it’s often been because one or other of us hasn’t felt comfortable saying what we’re feeling – in the aftermath of arguments it has become clear on those occasions that we were talking about aspects of the journey at cross purposes. One was expressing a fear they had whilst another was expressing a completely different fear. (Doesn’t help here when you have a scientist and a humanities/ social studies person talking using totally different frames of reference).

I still view myself as a gay woman, he views himself as a straight guy. Our relationship doesn’t fit into having the binary labels normally used because there isn’t a label to properly fit it. In many ways that it quite liberating and something I have become more comfortable with as the year has progressed. It has also helped that our confidence and the strength of our relationship have both grown through this. It forces you into a place where if you are to live in fullness rather than fear you have to face things as they really are rather than how you wish they were. We have found you also have to be ready to ask the question “can I do this?” with the possibility the answer may be “no”. Our own answer is, “we don’t know, but we’re going to have a damn hard try at it.”

So it’s been a challenging year, and the year to come will be more challenging as Karl moves on to starting the hormone treatment and he visually starts to change even more. The lesson we have both perhaps learnt is that on this journey we need to simply be ourselves and use the strategies we already have from our wider lives. Both of us have experience of getting through without fitting in and not always meeting the perceived norms – this is just another example of that.

So that’s where I’m coming from and how I’ve found it – when Karl has written his side I’ll post a link on here.

Standing up to Transphobia

I learnt my lesson with the whole Radfem debate earlier in the year…..don’t go there unless you have no choice. This week for various reasons I have made my choice and decided that it was going to be a week of celebration, hence no comment thus far on the Suzanne Moore furore which had broken out. I had left intelligent response to people like Stella Duffy (see this post).

Today things within the whole debate changed with an article by Julie Burchill. I read the article and can only say I was distressed by it. Both in my work and personal life I am in contact with many amazing trans people and I admire their courage greatly, they don’t need stuff like this. However, I am also aware having followed something of the debate on Twitter the highly charged atmosphere on both sides at the moment. I didn’t want to add to it and I didn’t want to write something ill informed.

I was glad then when Karl decided that he would respond. The Burchill article and the comments surrounding it relating to both education and trans issues pushed him to that point where a passive guy got angry. The response he put together is something I think is deeply moving as well as important. Please read it as much to understand more about the trans issue from the perspective of a trans person as much as anything else.

Clarity in Emotion

The Transgender Day of Remembrance event I’ve blogged about recently was last night. It was a moving event which about 20 people including the local mayor attended. There were poems (one of which was written by a member of the local trans community), a reflection, a prayer and we all read out together the names of those we know about who have died as a result of transphobic violence over the last year. At the end of the event Labi Siffre’s Something Inside So Strong was played.

It was an emotional event and whilst the reading of the names was extremely moving it was the prayer, (which is the second one down on this link and which Karl amended for a secular, mainly non-Jewish audience) and song which hit me.  As I sat at the back of the room I could see around me a number of trans people whose stories I knew something of, as well as people who I didn’t know. I could also see the local police woman who is in charge of dealing with hate crime locally. Finally I had in my mind a couple of people who couldn’t be there for various reasons, whose stories and struggles again I knew something of. Listening to the song I knew the reality of the lyrics, these people do really have something inside so strong which enables them to carry on in the face of prejudice and injustice.

This event then was not just an act of remembrance it was also an act of solidarity and in a strange way also a celebration of hope.

After everybody had left and we had cleared away Karl and I walked out of the small hall hired for the event and into the main church reception, the lovely guy on reception gave us the news. “They’ve said no to women bishops.” (Making an Ass of Myself has posted the figures and his reaction, he clearly makes the point that the majority of the church is in favour.) I managed to hold it vaguely together and not burst into floods until I got outside the building, but it hurt. Karl commented that he was surprised by the force of my reaction seeing as I didn’t even believe in bishops. The thing is though this isn’t about bishops entirely, it’s much wider, it’s about women in the church and how they are viewed. It’s about the continuation of struggles over a century old, it’s also about whether in reality there is any way in which closer ecumenical ties can happen, it’s about having a barrier to credible mission and witness removed and so I could go on.

For me it’s also about knowing that whilst it’s a problem for some who provision was being made for it’s something which the majority of ordinary CofE attenders are not opposed to – something yesterday’s figures have confirmed. Whenever this issue is discussed I think back to a conversation I had with my grandma about 10 years ago. My grandma was a dyed in the wool Book of Common Prayer, 8 o’clock communion type who in many ways typified a certain type of rural church attender. She was a woman who had strong views about what women could and couldn’t do. She was of the opinion that women most definitely should not be serving on the front line or going to sea with the navy, they were not designed to be refuse collectors and there were various other things they shouldn’t be doing but she could see no reason why they could not be bishops. In fact she commented one of the local clergy, who was amongst the first ordained as a women priest, would make a very good bishop.

Where do we go from here? None of us know and it will be interesting to see what happens later this morning. All I would say is that this is clearly now about what provision is provided for those who cannot accept women bishops rather than the idea of women bishops. The debate yesterday afternoon was mainly focused around this and I know that over the last couple of years it is what both sides have been arguing about. I hope and pray a solution is found and that the fear expressed in some of the speeches yesterday can be overcome.

I think this is where I go in a circle and to those who are reconsidering their future in the CofE after this vote, and various Facebook status’s I have read are indicative that some are doing just this, I would go back to the TDOR event and the Labi Siffre song. In the face of opposition it is important to hold on to that thing inside which is so strong and which has kept you there thus far. I’d also point you towards this post from Artsy Honker which contains much wisdom.

This morning, just as I stood last night (and continue to stand) with my transgender friends, so I stand in solidarity with my sisters (and brothers) in the CofE who are continuing their struggle for justice and the ability to be all that they truly are and were designed to be. Just as TDOR was in a strange way a celebration of hope after the emotional numbness of yesterday I now see the vote as a strange celebration of hope….the majority voted yes, the will of synod and the wider church is clearly yes and one day it will happen because there is something inside so strong.

CLGS info

The Pacific School of Religion is home to the Centre for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry (CLGS). I was interested to read of a forthcoming event they have coming up in November the Transgender Religious Leaders Summit.

There are several things about this conference which have interested me.

The first thing to strike me about this event was the way they define what a leader is, and so who the event is aimed at. They say, “Who is a faith leader? If you are an active member of a faith community and are promoting transgender inclusion, acceptance, and dignity then YOU are a leader!

This definition fits in with one of the sessions which is being run entitled “What Does it Mean to be a Leader?” which is described as follows: “Topic Description: Do “Trans Religious Leaders” really need to be clergy?  There is a tendency to align leadership with the need for PhDs and MDivs. This session will focus on the kinds of leadership needed that fall outside of traditional seminary/clergy credentialing tracks.

I am not sure if the reference to post-graduate qualifications is as relevant in the UK as the US but there is certainly, in the mainstream denominations, a link between academic qualifications in theology and ministry and authorisation. Over recent years there has also been a professionalisation of leadership roles (both lay and ordained), as various theorists have discussed. Even within the pioneer church movement (linked to Fresh Expressions and Venture FX) there has still been this issue of authorisation and professionalisation to some extent with programmes such as the CMS one being introduced to give academic accreditation up to MA level. Therefore, whilst this discussion is related to the trans community it relates to an issue which can and should be more widely discussed.

The next thing which grabbed me as I read the conference agenda was the way that it had such a varied group of contributors. It is inter-faith in the widest sense, including both Wiccan and Jewish contributions, but also very Christian in content.

Then there is the way it is a both an academic conference dealing with biblical and practical theology and an activist/ support gathering by the looks of the programme.

I couldn’t work out if this is pretty much intended as a Californian gathering or whether it is more widely attended from across the United States. If it is primarily Californian then that in itself raises a range of questions about whether there is a west-coast power base which impacts the wider nation.

I, for reasons regular readers will be familiar with, was also interested in the launch of the Transgender Families of Faith Support Group, although I suspect this will be a US based rather than international support group. As the description of the session launching this organisation says, “Topic Description: Gender non-conforming family members impact the entire family. Some of these issues are difficult to live with especially when there are issues of faith to consider. This will be the launching of a new support group for family members of transgender, transsexual, queer, intersex, and gender non-conforming individuals.

Overall this seems to be a somewhat unique event which does not have a UK equivalent. Whilst cultural differences between the US and Britain do need to be acknowledged many of the questions it raises and is intending to discuss still apply this side of the Atlantic and have relevance within and beyond the trans and inter-sex community. For example what is a leader? How do we nurture leaders in a way which is not linked to the professionalisation of ministry or to academic qualifications? How can faith leaders (however we define that) “act as ‘bridges’ to communicate life-changing thoughts and actions” by giving voice to youth within and beyond faith communities?  How can the experience of different groups change or influence our liturgy? How do we create “change within and without spiritual communities?”