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 …

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

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…

0

Day of Reblogs – Part 2 – ‘”Poof! You’re a Girl!” The Interval of Losstalgia and a Childhood Friend’

Today’s second reblog is an essay by Dr. Aoife Hart: transwoman, devout Catholic, and feminist scholar… which, needless to say, is a rather unique and not always very comfortable niche to fill in today’s world. Though a Christian now, I had the mercy of being raised in secular surroundings in my dysfunctional, dysphoric “boyhood,” so the inevitable bullying of the school sissy was at least not coloured by religious self-righteousness, and though I knew myself to be abnormal, at least I was not encouraged to internalise guilt over that fact. Nevertheless, I can relate all too easily to so much of this moving account.

For an essay that starts on a very theoretical, philosophical note, I was holding back the tears by the end, though not all of them were sad tears…

2

Reblog: Giving birth, being adopted, becoming a “transphobe,” hating reality TV, and generally entertaining revelations against my will

What a year it’s been. If you’d said the syllable “turf” to me last September, I’d have only envisaged large squares of grass. Being married to Cal, himself a non-binary transman, I was vaguely aware of the concept that transgenderism involved a spectrum of identities, not all of whom wanted to fully transition, but I had no idea that this was a matter of controversy. I certainly had no idea it was a controversy even among trans people themselves, but you live and learn…

Being myself a downright uninteresting binary MtF transsexual, I’d be lying if I said part of me didn’t have anxieties about the wider trans activist movement – especially its shoutiest social media exponents – and how well it represents me as a gender-dysphoric person rather than as a “gender revolutionary” (For I would gladly “go stealth”, if that were only a realistic option). I have conversed with some gender-dysphoric and fully transitioned transpeople who have turned their backs on the trans community altogether and openly criticise it as an ideology, and I am sometimes tempted to count myself among their ranks, but my moral instincts still balk at the notion of me daring to cast aspersions on anyone else’s gender-related weirdness… which is not to say I feel the obligation to unquestioningly approve of every action and attitude any particular trans person may express.

I see nothing wrong, at any rate, with the trans community being honest enough to be self-critical, and accepting that while our concerns are just, the situations we find ourselves in tend to be difficult for everyone involved as well as ourselves, and empathy never goes amiss. But I do feel all such criticism should be tempered with compassion, in spite of our disagreements. At the end of the day, all gender / sex-nonconformist people face a similar prejudice, and the more we are unified the better we can resist it. On that note, I will leave the last word on this topic to trans blogger Anna Magdelena (@annamagda4xt ), who probably comes  closer than anyone else to expressing my own troubled feelings on this but in a less waffly way, and with some seriously moving spiritual bits thrown in for good measure…

Voila Viola!

For months now my posts here and at catholictrans have been building up to a new direction. I realize in retrospect that everything I’ve posted recently, original material or otherwise, have been the contractions leading up to massive labor pains. For many insomniac nights I’ve been squinting at my dark ceiling and seeing patterns of motion, webs of ideas, and clashing good n’ evil in such a large vista that my small human mind can’t actually piece it all together and I feel literally insane. But slowly, the different pieces that I feel to be interconnected are presenting themselves to me in an orderly queue.

View original post 1,217 more words

5

Pride, but no Prejudice

Like you haven’t heard that one before…

There are Pride events in Cardiff (AKA Mardi Gras) every year, though my previous attendance at them has been limited to drifting about aimlessly and wistfully, observing other trans people and wondering what might have been if I had only dared to be as honest with myself as they were. This year was certain to be different, even before the leaders of The Gathering (my LGBT church support group) asked me if I would help out on their information stall, as well as give a brief talk in their Faith Tent. All told, a fairly daunting prospect.

Gathering

(At the information stall. Photo by Andy Wicks)

As things turned out, though, it was the best weekend I have spent in a long time… though since I spend most weekends working in a warehouse, that might not be thought to be saying much. Still, the contrast is all-too palpable, as I realised upon resuming work today. Though I am accepted there, by dint of policy, I do feel awfully like the token freak. That may well be an exaggeration, but the looks I get, ranging from the bemused to the downright disgusted, are real enough to let me know I am as much a fish out of water as ever. I try to make the best of it, be thankful for my uniqueness, and so forth, but it can be a wearisome business.

At Pride this year, for the first time in a long time, I felt completely normal, and I’m almost sorry to confess that it felt damn good. I felt a peace I have rarely experienced, even since my coming out. Sadly, I was born too late for the Summer of Love, but I think I may have discovered my equivalent of Haight-Ashbury, albeit with a lot less mud and LSD, and a lot more glitter and eyeshadow (as things should be). Just a shame they only hold it once a year, but I know where I shall be next August…

As for my talk, although it was almost completely improvised on the spot, inspiration came when it was needed and it seemed to go down pretty well. Is it just my imagination, or is that a wolf-whistle I got when I ascended to the stage? If so, I dread to think what it says about me that part of me hopes it was not ironic…

4

Prodigal Daughter?

st-johns-3

In last week’s news, another old cliché took a battering…

The perception of religion in general and Christianity in particular as being not-overly-friendly towards LGBT+ people is pretty well worn, and this blog has done its share of the wearing. One can thus imagine my surprise when I attended a mindfulness and meditation session at St. John the Baptist Church, Cardiff, chiefly attended by older parishioners, and I was frank with them about my transition… which got very little reaction, other than to check they had my new name correct, and to confirm what pronouns I would prefer. Furthermore, the lay minister in charge of the group wished me well and told me this was a positive step if it would bring peace into my life… which will probably be contingent on how well I can resist the addictive urge to waste my time debating online transpolitics, but it’s the thought that counts (and how).

Rather inspiring, I thought, and perhaps a little lesson from above in how I ought to avoid pre-judging people – especially if I wish to be treated as an individual myself, and not as a stereotype. The reason I had gone to this church in the first place was because I had recently got into conversation with a Christian blogger over the issue of Caitlyn Jenner’s transition. They were displeased with the extent to which society was lauding Ms. Jenner’s coming-out, and to a certain extent I could see why. To live as oneself without fear or judgement is everyone’s God-given right, but not necessarily a good enough reason to be handing out bravery awards. Still, as an LGBT+ Christian I felt the need to share my perspective – particularly my experience that queer identity was not something that I had chosen over God or over cisgendered normality, but is an intrinsic part of my being.

And they listened, and they responded compassionately and politely, which I must say is a damn sight more considerate a response than I have often drawn from my secular critics. Since my regular church group, The Gathering, is specifically for LGBT+ people, leaving me with one might argue to be a pretty insulated social outlook, I did say that I would make a point of visiting my old, regular Anglican church, and seeing how they would take to my transition.

To reiterate, they wished me well, asked me my new name, and switched all of their pronouns for me, no questions asked.

No doubt the trans-critical crowd could just seize on that as ammunition to prove how reactionary and conformist trans identity is, that the Anglican Church treats its exponents with respect and sensitivity, rather than with honest-to-goodness vitriol and tactlessness. Still, if politeness is now reactionary, will someone please pop me in a TARDIS and beam me back to Jane Austen World (or am I thinking of “Red Dwarf”?).

In other news, I have started recording audio voiceover clips for the “Imago” film project I have been shooting with Jason Marsh. In the interests of keeping it retro, we are using a Sony minidisc recorder, of the type that was cutting edge for about five minutes or so during the late 1990s…

2015-07-03 14.16.56

Ideally, I would have used this…

2015-07-03 14.16.13

…but my magic eye is too old and faulty to allow recording, alas. I would love to think at least one person will read this and understand what the hell I am gibbering on about.