5

A Catholic Transsexual Applauds Several Points in Latest Papal Remarks

An article by a dear friend elucidating the recent, unexpected news that the Catholic Church is showing signs of softening its stance somewhat regarding gay and gender-reassigned people. Though not exactly a definitive swing towards liberalism, these hints do represent a dramatic change of tone from the oft-paraphrased trans people as “nuclear weapons” analogy and in that sense are both meaningful and encouraging: especially to those like my friend who happen to be both trans and Catholic, and risk being ostracised depending on what the “word from the top” is perceived to be.

I have personally been lucky, finding my own Church (Welsh Anglican) to be very inclusive and affirming of trans people, and the congregations welcoming and open, if not always perfectly understanding. I have, however, faced occasional religious bigotry and interrogation and dread to think what it would be to face a life of it …

10

The Transphobe Within

“Nowadays we are all likely to meet people who think they are women, have women’s names, and feminine clothes and lots of eyeshadow, who seem to us to be some kind of ghastly parody, though it isn’t polite to say so. We pretend that all the people passing for female really are. Other delusions may be challenged, but not a man’s delusion that he is female.”(1)

“The lack of insight that MtF transsexuals about the extent of their acceptance as females should be an indication that their behaviour is less rational than it seems.”(2)

(Prof. Germaine Greer)


Before I began my transition, it is safe to say that I had a pretty grim social life. Defined by the perceived need to embody a certain image that I hated and had no desire to be read according to, nor interacted with on the basis of, I more often than not simply tended not to bother, and thus became both very creative and very lonely. For many years I had decided that this was as much destiny as my gender was, and always referred to myself as an introvert.

I am not so sure of that, now. While 2015 was very much about tentatively finding my feet as a self-confessed transwoman, 2016 has seen me at my most socially active, and being trans has itself opened social doors which I never anticipated: my Springboard career development course, for example. Although I was initially very nervous about being the only transwoman in my group, there has been no hostility or bad atmosphere whatsoever. My local LGBT support group continues to invite me to conferences, plays, and coffee mornings, and in a recent highlight my friends in the local queer scene invited me to Birkenstomp VII: a feminist music event and LGBT-friendly space, describing itself thusly…

Obviously, it’s trans-inclusive. Do we need to even say that?

…so why, in that case, did I feel so uneasy there, and afraid that I was intruding?

I have no good reason to believe that. Quite apart from having been invited, I wanted to see a friend’s new band that was playing their first gig there, and thus felt my reasons for attending to be basically supportive. Still, in spite of that and the fact that my presence there was never questioned, I found myself being sceptical and judgemental on everyone else’s behalf, second-guessing all of my possible ulterior motives for being there, and feeling guilty for the unnecessary strain I was putting on the tolerance of all of the non-trans women, as if I was cruelly taking advantage of their kindness… and in fact I know why I felt that way, and the reason is that I have brainwashed myself. Bravo me…

To be more specific, I have conditioned my mind to repeat a trope that I have often encountered in gender-critical discourse: that (non-trans) women, being socialised into politeness, kindness, and putting the needs of men first (which I do not dispute), would never think to confront a transwoman in public, but in private they all consider us as frauds, or at any rate the majority who have not bought into the delusion think so. That being the case, this discourse encourages us to distrust whatever acceptance we receive, especially from women, and to assume that we are more often than not merely pitied, or secretly held in contempt and derision. In effect, it aims to encourage suspicion and social disengagement, and to thus hinder meaningful social transition, although it may also be argued this is for our good if it encourages us to see transition as a hopeless, hollow sham, and to thus detransition and accept reality.(3)

Is there anything at all in this? It would be disingenuous of me to claim no sympathies whatsoever. I have, alas, suffered enough past sexual harassment at the hands of the local trans / drag scene that these days I assume the worst automatically and never set foot in those type of clubs (including, alas, the one Cal and I first met in), although to my mind the transwomen who frequent such venues have little in common with the dysphoric, innocent, endearingly nerdy lot who tend to constitute our support group. Still, a new transitionee or someone considering transition will sometimes join the group, and my instant mental reaction will, unfortunately, be “she looks and sounds just like a traumatised, effeminate man”… which I can hardly help but be aware is exactly the figure I cut when I first dared to seek help there.

Knowing that, there is certainly no part of me that feels I would do any good in this world by promoting a message that boils down to “who are you kidding?” Transition, for all of its trials and imperfections, brought me out of a profoundly low, dark place and has so far shown me an overwhelmingly positive side to humanity, and if acceptance is the reaction I get from almost everyone who isn’t the very worst type of unreformed alpha-male misogynist (or pretend alpha, at least), then distrusting it seems more than a little ungrateful as well as counter-productive to my social transition. Nor do I see that my internalised transphobia does anything positive for feminism. Rather, it probably just makes me look like a paranoid wreck, and hinders me from more positive and effective participation.

The other event that got me thinking along these lines was re-connecting with the dear friend whom I mentioned in my previous post, who heavily cut down her own internet activities after online transpolitics left her depressed and disillusioned. She had, prior to that, been known as a strong radical feminist ally and prepared to accept some fairly disheartening definitions of transwomen’s social status in the interests of this alliance. When, in spite of that, she still drew accusations of delusion, perversion, and seeking to divide feminists by playing on their sympathy, she renounced the cause altogether and pulled back from social media. She has also started to speak of her transition not as a limited, faintly tragic thing that might just about be excused in our flawed society, but as the miracle that healed and saved her (and me). For all of my self-conditioning, that is still how it feels.

So if I do not seem to be around so much these days, I can only offer my apologies, but I must beware of offering as open a channel to transphobia as I seem to have done. I know there is an abundant supply of it, but until real life starts to justify that deluge (and it has so far done very little to) I feel I can do no better than to ignore it. With any luck, I may thus hope to cut a less shy, uptight figure at Birkenstomp VIII, although I will still, I rather fear, be a cringing mess of embarrassment around the ceramic vulva craft stall. My inner transphobe may one day be exorcised, but never my inner Victorian…


1 The Guardian, August 20 2009, “Caster Semenya sex row: What makes a woman?”

2 The Whole Woman (London: Transworld Publishers, 1999), p. 93… and if there was ever a more ironic choice of publishing house, I would like to hear it.

3 In an excellent pseudo-public demonstration of this, I was once chided on Twitter for calling a transwoman friend of mine sister, with the following rationale…

“you don’t think it’s hypocrisy to call a man [sic] your sister? … if you shore up his [sic] delusions, he [sic] begins to expect other women to do the same.”

…and no, they had not realised they were talking to another transwoman, but one gathers they were even more displeased when they finally clocked me.

29

A Year of Existence

It was on the 8th of January 2015 that I began this blog, following the advice of my friend Jason, with no very clear idea but plenty of trepidation as to what might come out of it. Now seems as good a time as any to take stock of what I have learned and gained…

1. THE BLOG ITSELF

The Good – After a quiet start, interest and sympathy started to flow in, and rarely let up pace, from trans bloggers, from those in relationships with trans people, from non-binary activists, to supportive people in general. Particularly honourable mentions go to…

Ambivalence Girl

Anna Secret-Poet

Ariadne

Charissa Grace

Curiouser and Curiouser

Daniella Argento

Fairy Jerbear

Georgia Kevin

A Kinder Way

Kira Moore

Kit

La Quemada

Plain T

Tish Wolfsong

…among many other generous and uplifting voices who have encouraged me to keep this extended muse / rant as a going concern. My profuse thanks and love to you all. xxx

The Bad – Thankfully, little negativity has drifted this way, at least proportionally. Some critical feedback was drawn from Radical Feminists (a bit more on that later), and some downright hostile feedback from an older transperson who thought (and still thinks) me a charlatan, but not to name any names. The positives have vastly outweighed the negatives, and overall, the blog was a sound move that has helped me to keep a sense of purpose and progress, as I had dared hope that it might.

2. MEDICAL TRANSITION / THE NHS

The Good – Initially, this went unexpectedly well. It was with great fear that I came out to a new GP in January, and they proved incredibly sympathetic, totally helpful, validating of my new identity, and not at all judgemental. Although they did warn me I would need patience…

In February, I saw a local psychiatrist with a view of obtaining a gender clinic referral. This too went not only smoothly but pleasantly, with no hostile questioning, no attempts to sow doubt, and complete consideration shown to my (by then) firmly established transgender identity. The referral was quickly processed, and I was (fairly) promptly informed that I was on the waiting list for the gender clinic.

The Bad – Progress for the past few months, alas, has been non-existent. This was expected. Worse, however, since the referral my permanent GP  (sadly, not the one I initially saw) has declined to help me at all. I have, like the majority of transwomen-in-waiting, ended up self-medicating with internet-bought hormones and androgen blockers. This is not supposed to happen, but the interim NHS guidelines for Gender Dysphoria, like the Pirates’ Code, are all too rarely followed, and I may be doing this for months (or years, even) to come.

legopiratequeen

Disturbingly, I am in spite of this doing better than my husband Cal, who applied around the same time as me and still has yet to hear news of his referral. Also, we have by now encountered insensitivity from some GPs, and according to information Cal obtained from the gender clinic (which ran an informal workshop), many of the profession still do not see gender dysphoria as a genuine medical issue. Thankfully, the medical status of GD is still official NHS policy, but until we actually have our diagnoses we will continue, I fear, to fret over the outcome, and the possibility of policy changes that could leave us with no option at all.

3. FEMINISM

The Good – I had a suspicion right from the beginning, even before I had any experience in the murky world of online transpolitics, that feminists might look askance at transpeople, though I had no idea back then of the whole Liberal / Radical divide. For someone who began the year with little academic knowledge of Feminism, I have learned a lot in the course of understanding this debate, but apologies if I err in the following…

At a very basic level, and as I understand it, Liberal Feminism (such as espoused very early in Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792) holds the view that sexism in society arises from custom, tradition, and ignorance rather than by preconceived malice, and can thus be effectively fought through the reform of existing structures. Radical Feminism (such as pioneered by Second-Wave feminists like Andrea Dworkin in Woman Hating, 1974) by contrast holds that gender and patriarchy are deliberate tools of oppression, constructed with the full, misogynistic intention of keeping women as second-class citizens and an exploitable resource, and can thus only be effectively fought by the complete overhaul of the existing, corrupt social order.

Given that Radical Feminism posits an intentional campaign of hatred and control with the oppressor / oppressed rigidly delineated by biology (specifically, males conspiring to control and exploit females as unpaid labour, sexual slavery, and breeding stock), it naturally has very little scope to accommodate not only transwomen but any queer gender identities, finding them irrelevant at best, or at worst a malicious attempt by men to impinge on what rights and spaces women have obtained. This notwithstanding, there is no monolithic Radfem community or party line, and I have met those who tentatively accept transwomen as women, albeit with the (perfectly logical) caveat that they are not biologically female, even post-transition, and should be respectful that Radfem issues will often be specific to natal women. There are some transwomen even active and generally welcome within this community, although they qualify themselves as “allies” rather than as feminists per se.

Regarding the two schools of Feminism, I am still very much a learner. I have been fortunate enough to make friends in both quarters. However…

The Bad – I have, alas, read some strikingly inept journalism from trans Libfems including inappropriate comparisons between deficient trans rights and deliberate human rights atrocities, ironic attempts to shame confused allies for not being quite sensitive enough (in the journalist’s view), and accusations of really quite moderate, even reconciliationist feminists as “TERFs” (such as Helen Lewis and Penny White). This makes me hugely sceptical of the value of lending my weight, such as it is, to trans Liberal Feminism (or Liberal Transfeminism).

However, whilst there is no particular value in harping on with the “TERF” line (it is construed as an insult, and for me to disrespect anyone else’s chosen or rejected identification seems too ironic), I would strongly advise any transwoman to be very wary of most Radfem circles, even if invited to comment. If you do, expect hostility sooner or later, and do not expect to sway any perceptions or allay any scepticism, even if your intention is allyship. For everyone who appreciates such gestures of support, there will be others who construe them as patronising or hypocritical. I have had to watch two dear friends in the course of this year being slandered and grotesquely insulted in Radfem social media circles, one of whom was broadly sympathetic (at first) and one of whom was actually a long-standing ally (but has since disavowed that role). The hatred is there, make no mistake. As one of the commenters on the previously linked article by Penny White (who, incidentally, has always been very kind to me on Twitter) felt the need to put it…

“You should be listening to what WOMEN say, and not cowardly men who would rather claim womanhood and redefine the language we use for ourselves rather than break away from the patriarchal system they benefit from and embrace their gender non-conformity AS MEN. Trans “women” are not women, they are not female, they are not her or she, they are gender non-conforming men, and if they were brave enough to face that fact, they might actually be strong allies. Instead they’re men who reinforce harmful gender stereotypes, that help maintain the patriarchal oppression of women.”

Not for me to state my own courage, or lack of… but suffice it to say that this view is representative enough. Engage with these politics at your peril.

4. FAMILY

The Good – Our respective families, with understandable concern, have been quick to offer their support, and given that many transpeople face rejection, this is something to be hugely grateful for. Also, I feel easier in my conscience now, as the weight of my dishonesty all of these years is finally lifted, and has not been held against me. Cal’s family have also accepted me as their daughter-in-law, which is a tremendous relief. Any fears we might have had of being isolated as a couple, with only ourselves to rely upon, have been beautifully dispelled.

The Bad – Sadly, the timing of our coming-out did prove embarrassing enough that we were required to attend a family wedding as our old selves, in order to avoid a scene. Hashtag awkward… Thankfully, it is understood that this will not be happening again, whatever the occasion.

5. ODDS AND ENDS…

The Good – Rediscovering modelling was a joy this year, and one that helped me to raise my public confidence. The main project has been a short film (which is finally in post-production) called “Imago,” and when it eventually became necessary for me to do a shoot in “boy mode,” I felt so awkward and unnatural that it was wholly unnecessary to act up my melancholy for the scene… I am very pleased with the results, at least, so we shan’t be needing to revisit that concept. I also had studio and location shoots to rebuild my portfolio (having junked all of my male-model shots), and have shamelessly ripped off the most iconic trans editorial shot of 2015 (and probably of ever). Take a wild guess whose…

_MG_2630

…although I wanted to Goth it up a whole lot more. The photographer (Alan) talked me out of that, his philosophy of plagiarism being to do it as faithfully as one can.

Coming out in work was unexpectedly easy. The Royal Mail policy has proven cast-iron to the extent that I have even been included on a women’s workplace development program. There has been no outspoken discrimination since (although I gather some unkind gossip).

Administrative changes proved easier than I dared to anticipate. I have now amended my NHS details, my bank details, changed my name by deed poll, changed my PhD certificate, and best of all obtained a new passport marked with an “F” in the gender box. I feel this part of transition is, to all practical intents and purposes, completed.

Also surprisingly, my church participation increased a lot this year with extremely positive outcomes, including my invitation to speak on being a trans Christian at Pride Cymru 2015 (at around the 13:50 mark for anyone wishing to hear my weird voice again…).

The Bad – Chavs making abusive comments on the street, white van men doing the same, misogynistic creeps messaging me on Facebook, elderly gentleman insisting on knowing my old name prior to lecturing me on why I am an ungodly rebel, the person who started the “dirty freak eleanor antony burns” Facebook group… oh, and electrolysis really hurts and I have many months of it to look forward to.

REGRETS

None.

Thank you for helping me through a tumultuous but overall wonderful year. xxx

11

Reblog: A Letter For My Niece, Whom I’ve Not Been Allowed to Meet

And so another Christmas passes, and although I did not get to spend it with either my family or with my husband’s due to working for the Royal Mail, who hate giving out leave at such a peak time, the presents I have received from them are rather telling: a Philips Lumea IPL machine (a pastel-pink flash gun, a bit like a 1980s “Star Trek” phaser, that demolishes dark hairs like nobody’s business), new earrings, and an Oxfam gift card with the theme “Girl Power” (donating on my behalf to empowering women in the developing world). Also, not a single card addressed to my old name, although I have seen a variety of different spellings of “Elinor”… or is it “Elaenor?”

I am blessed. Unfortunately, I am not representative…

As an addendum, I might add that my friend Aoife was accused by certain radfems of exhibiting “womb envy,” who cited this piece in evidence. I will leave that interpretation to stand on its own merits (or total lack of, to say nothing of compassion).

10

Misogyny

I have now had answered to my own satisfaction that as a transwoman, I can expect to receive prejudice based on the fact of my being trans. Now to the vexed question of whether or not I will also receive prejudice on account of being a woman (or a whatever… I appreciate this is a contentious one).

During my “former life” I made friends in the oddest of places, being both averse to and utterly rubbish at ordinary forms of masculine socialising… Hippies, anarchists, artists, and one very eclectic street performer who, a couple of years ago, spent a month or two living solidly as a feminine persona. He added an feminine “a” to the end of his standard performer name, went around various shops loudly insisting on being shown dresses and lingerie (Retail assistants must need to work hard on that poker face), and at length he materialised as – to be fair – a not unimpressive looking drag queen. I think that was his goal, as he took this persona to stage, shot a music video, and hosted gigs in it. At any rate, he was rather too extreme to actually pass, though that did not seem to be his intention. It was an act, and it did not last. He did, at the time, ask me to become his “sidekick”, which did briefly make me wonder if he had a much better trans-dar than any of my other friends seemed to… I declined, at any rate.

A week or so ago I met him on the street, chatting to a friend whom I did not know. He called me over, and asked me to confirm something that he had been telling this friend, who was apparently sceptical…

“Tell him: I inspired you, didn’t I?”

…or words to that effect, and I had not misunderstood them: he had been telling this friend (and, as I later found out, a friend of mine as well) that “Anthony” had only chosen to become Eleanor on account of being so awed by and envious of the aforementioned drag act. That was the first nail in the coffin of this friendship…

The following day, he plumbed a new depth. Approaching me in a public place, with a mutual friend, he greeted me with the following pronouncement:

“Eleanor: you’re working for me now.”

…and he went on to explain, but I missed the details in the commotion. Our mutual friend later filled me in, with incredulity:

“He said that now you’re a woman, he’ll take you down to Bute Street and pimp you out.”

If I had any scepticism of the Nordic model before, it now seems like a damn good (and a cathartic) idea…

The hubby has since emphasised that he will not be responsible for his actions if he should meet this chap again, so we can safely say that this friendship has run its course, and without regrets. One could of course be forgiving and assume he was ignorant of the large numbers of transwomen who end up condemned to prostitution and its attendant atrocities, and may have been unaware of just how sick and tasteless his joke was. Looking back, however, his views have always been deeply sexist and essentialist, and I find myself ashamed that I did not distance myself from him more quickly. It may be that my recent excursions into feminist journalism and literature have given me the perspective to appreciate how poisonous those attitudes are (and thank you, incidentally, to @Neopythia for the massive Andrea Dworkin trove). It may also be that I was more “tolerant” than I should have been because friends were hard to come by, and it is almost certainly the case that I am very bad at telling some people what they need to hear. Ironically, it seems this transwoman needs to “grow a pair”…

In more positive news, Leeds University have updated their files and sent me a lovely new PhD certificate. My doctorness is restored to me. A TARDIS would make my joy complete, but I’ll take what I can get.

phccert

19

Transphobia

It took its time, but it had to crop up eventually…

…though I am never quite sure if “phobia” is a fair description. He certainly did not strike me as consciously afraid, and even seemed on some level to enjoy the encounter, or at least rather more than I did. “Phobia” does seem like clumsy terminology. Homophobes though the Westboro Baptist Church are, for example, if they are sincerely afraid of gay people then they have certainly picked an appalling strategy for keeping them out of their lives and off their backs… but as ever, I digress.

I was at my usual Anglican church – St John the Baptist in Cardiff City Centre – where I had, some months ago, come out as a transwoman, and been accepted without any judgement or pity, by both the clergy and the laity. This very positive state of affairs went on till last week, when after a mid-week service I was approached by an elderly gentleman whom I had not seen there before. He shook my hand, stated in an friendly but sceptical tone that I was an “interesting person,” and asked me my name…

Eleanor B: “Eleanor.”

Gent: (Confused look)

Eleanor B: “I’m Eleanor.”

Gent: “Alright, but what’s your real name?”

Eleanor B: “That is my real name. It’s my legal name. I-”

Gent: “Yes, but you weren’t always called that, were you? So what’s your real name?”

“Eleanor” B: “Well… my name used to be Anthony.”

Gent: “Right. So you’re a transvestite.”

…whereupon we arrived at the point. I was sternly quizzed about my intentions, and admitted under direct questioning that I was indeed intending to undergo a sex-change operation. Having thus ascertained that I was in fact a transsexual-in-waiting, his expression of benign disapproval became a little more disapproving and a little less benign, and he pronounced something to the effect of…

“God made them male and female, Adam and Eve. I know it’s hard, but you can’t change your sex. It’s not God’s will. But I’m glad you’re coming here. I encourage you to keep doing so.”

…and gave me a parting handshake and another stern little smile.

Well, not to complain. I did, indeed, go back to this church in full expectation of being challenged at some point, and even to discover how this would feel. Am I troubled by it? Not overly, in fact. For the gentleman had already diminished his credentials in my sight by having, before he admonished me, regaled our vicar, Dr. Sarah Rowland Jones, with the following gem of condescension…

“So, you’re one of these lady vicars? In charge of this whole church? That’s a huge responsibility.”

…to which she responded with the utmost diplomacy, though she made it quite clear that she did indeed know her job. He then proceeded to criticise the way the service had been conducted. She answered all of his points calmly and lucidly. He interrupted her repeatedly, laughed dismissively, and pretty much ignored everything she said.

I am reminded of an essay my friend Jaqueline Sephora Andrews wrote on the extreme dilemma of being a Christian, feminist-allied transwoman, and how she reconciles those seemingly contradictory facets:

The words of the Bible were influenced by the Greco-Roman culture, as were other religions and writings during this period. We say that the Bible is misogynistic, but it is the culture that produced the Bible that was misogynistic; the Bible was a reflection of the culture. In this misogynistic culture, there was one, Jesus, who attempted to change the mindset. He was different; one of the things that was different about him was that he valued women, so much that he had women as prominent disciples. He also trusted women to give the gospel message. Women were faithful and were the ones who stayed with Jesus until the end. It was the men who left Jesus to die, while they ran and hid for fear of their lives. The women were the ones who weren’t afraid, so Jesus trusted them to give the message. In a misogynistic world, Christianity was liberating and egalitarian, which frightened the men who wrote the books and letters of the Bible.

Extract from “Liberation from the Imperialist Patriarchy of the Bible”

st-johns-3

I daresay there are theologians who would give Jaqueline an argument on this, but as I watched Dr. Rowland Jones patiently attempt to enlighten this man who had seemingly just come into her church for the sheer pleasure of feeling disdainful pity and demonstrating his own righteousness, I felt she had hit the nail on the head.

Which is not to say that I am absolutely confident that God is as affirming of transwomen as she is of women per se… though if she isn’t, she certainly picked the wrong ambassador to convert this sinner.

My dignity now picked up and dusted off, I shall dare to remain cautiously optimistic…

7

Love for the Freak

Today commenced on what is fairly described as a low-key note, as in sifting through my spam on Facebook I came across the following stream of messages received over the last few months from a stranger…


15 June 11:39

omg your a fucking freak Anthony burns..your poor poor wife *****…well she looks like a bloke anyway

14 July 14:04

FREAK…

22 July 17:46

r u for real..freak freak freak..omg

28 July 17:46

https://www.facebook.com/groups/675487022551799/

11 August 11:14

attention seeker

18 August 10:24

your an embarrassment

29 September 09:44

dirty stinking freak


However, the group to which she was “kind” enough to refer me – entitled “dirty freak eleanor antony burns” – is no longer visible, as when I told Cal about it, he immediately shared the information with his friends at AFP Patreon Patrons (Cal being a huge Amanda Palmer fan), who immediately responded by reporting the page en masse and posting a hundred-odd messages of support for us. For comparison, the hate group had two members… one of whom was its founder. Small fry, one might well say, but I feel it was worth playing the censor as the group had started targeting another trans friend of mine, it was using my pictures without permission, and all the love we have subsequently received from the AFP Patrons has completely restored my faith in humanity.

dirtyfreak

In other news, the film I have been shooting with Jason Marsh has finally been graced with a short trailer…

Editing on the existing reels continues, and hopefully we will have a first instalment soon. Knowing that my transition is likely to take a long time, perhaps even years, I suggested that we wrap the whole thing very soon, but Jason very adamantly said that he would like to continue to document the whole story, so “Imago” is likely to be a very long work in its final form. Hopefully quite a unique one, though, and certainly a fulfilling one for me. This freak is well supplied with supportive friends…