8

T-minus 24 Hours

This is just a quick but significant news update to report that as of this time tomorrow, my husband Cal – who has been waiting since early 2015 to receive treatment for his gender dysphoria – will finally be getting his first dose of testosterone. This has been long delayed by a combination of NHS bureaucracy and actual malpractice (some Welsh GPs – unfortunately including one we were involved with – having seemingly ganged up to stymie trans care in Wales) but all the hurdles are finally crossed. We are both excited, if a little nervous – we are not sure what the effects will be, and the intramuscular injection is bound to be painful – but this is most definitely a time for celebration. I am so proud of him for having come this far, and more grateful than I can ever express for the support he has given me on the same journey (which was somewhat easier from my perspective, since I finally got official treatment last November).

Nothing much else going on in our world. I am still writing, programming, have taken up Tarot and Wicca, and am considering taking up ballet post-op, if I can find (or start) any trans-friendly groups. Hoping to have more creative news soon – I have made a new C64 game recently for a competition, and had a novel accepted for publication – but actually releasing them to the public now depends on how quickly others can move (The competition organisers and the publisher). I am also planning another fanfic to conclude the Movellan War trilogy, since the new season of Doctor Who actually did not close off that promising plot hole the way I was expecting it might (Any feedback on the other two, incidentally, would be massively appreciated, up to and and including “I got bored on the first page.” It helps to know).

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22

Jumping Hoops – A Rant on the Welsh NHS

Today, as I learn that my legal caseworker is leaving her job and my MP can’t be of any help in local health issues, I am far from being in the best frame of mind…

Let’s quickly recap… Early last year, my husband and I went to our GP to finally pursue gender reassignment, as is our right under NHS protocols. However, the NHS in Wales is more restrictive than its English counterpart, as the GP correctly informed us, and accordingly set up the various hoops that we would need to jump through to receive treatment. These were…

Referral to the community mental health team for assessment.

Referral from the CMHT back to the GP.

Application to the “gatekeepers” (nothing to do with Ghostbusters) for funding.

Once funding obtained, referral to the West London Mental Health Gender Identity Clinic – the only one available to Welsh NHS patients.

A year’s waiting from said referral to our appointment times.

First GIC appointment.

…and that is as far as we have got, at present. However, our first appointments did go very well, and as far as London goes we have no complaints. The clinicians we saw were sympathetic and eager to help, and in my case even provided me with a prescription for HRT to be handed to my GP. Hormone therapy is, of course, an essential first stage of transition, and one that patients in England (and even some Welsh health boards) can obtain even before their first appointments, to dissuade them from self-medicating on internet-bought hormones… which I have been doing for over a year now. My GP, unfortunately, said that they could only help with authorisation from London, so you can imagine how pleased I was to finally obtain some.

Having imagined that, you can now imagine how displeased and shocked I was when my GP practice – a Cardiff Bay-based clinic that had been recommended to me as trans-friendly – still refused treatment. Their latest justification is that there are proposed changes to the Welsh gender identity care pathway, and they want those implemented before taking the responsibility. They assured me it would not take long.

About a week ago I went to a trans information meeting hosted by a local NHS official, who spoke on these proposals and told me they may take up to three years to implement… though she did also tell me – as one might expect – that my GP is making pathetic excuses, and has a responsibility to treat their current patients according to the existing gender care provisions. Also, much to my surprise, she informed me that our GP had lied when they claimed there was no provision for speech therapy under the Welsh system – though both Cal and I had expressed a great interest in it.

She even told me she would be in touch to help me challenge this state of affairs… but unfortunately was not. I have since told my caseworker and my MP – to the sad lack of effect stated above – and contacted my Welsh Assembly Member, but have heard nothing back. That leaves me, at present, at a bit of an impasse, where all I can think to do for now is express my dismay and disgust that things have had to come to this. Unless the local health authorities will support Cal and I in our transition, there is nothing much London can do all by itself (monitored HRT being, as far as I know, still being a prerequisite for surgery, and Cal not being able to self-medicate in any case – testosterone being far too dangerous to take without professional help).

Our worst fear, though, is that they are playing for time, hoping that if they can stall us for long enough then inevitable NHS cuts will impact on the whole gender care service and they will simply be able to deny us care and get us off their monthly budget for good. Paranoid of us? Possibly, but that practice hasn’t exactly been enthusiastic or sensitive in helping us. I recall asking them if they could prescribe Vaniqa hair reduction cream just after my GIC referral… only to be answered with a blunt “we can’t give that to men.”

Though, to be fair, one doctor down that practice has been sympathetic to us both, though the last thing he said to me was “the squeaky wheel is the one that gets oiled.” Cryptic at the time, but in retrospect we both think he was giving us broad hints that the system is not our friend, and we will have to fight tooth and nail if we want to see this through. Not something I excel in, but I guess it can’t hurt to learn.

If anyone has any suggestions for our next manoeuvre in this battle, please pass them along. I could use some fresh perspectives after today’s disillusionments.

6

Steampunk Spam Time…

This is one thing I truly hate doing, and I can assure you have only succeeded in doing through quite considerable amounts of motivational talk on the part of friends. However, I have a novel now up for a competition – with the hope of eventually finding a willing publisher – and it rather badly needs some love.

As far as sales pitches goes… and bearing in mind the time I worked in marketing was one of the shortest and least successful of my “professional” life… it’s completely free to download, fully proofread, very steampunky, and loosely inspired by The Phantom of the Opera (though no particular version. As some of you may recall the story in general rests among my pet obsessions).

If any of you or your friends feel it might be your sort of thing, please do take a look at the site, or share this around.

Gloriana’s Masque

The Republic of Lucinia was once a kingdom founded on feudalism, magic, and tyranny. Following the revolution, it is now founded on technology, propaganda, and more efficient tyranny. Magic, though practised by a few, is seen as quaint bordering on laughable. The Alvere – a magic-using fay culture – have been totally subjugated by Lucinian science. Some Alvere have been assimilated as lowly citizens, while others have been isolated in the puppet state of Alvenheim.

A mysterious, disfigured rebel Alvere calling herself “Gloriana” invades Alvenheim with an army of mercenaries, equipped with advanced weapons of her design, and sets herself up as queen. The Republic sends an envoy: the reformer Secretary Kasimir, sympathetic to the plight of the Alvere. He is charged to secure peace, but failing that he has orders to liquidate Gloriana. Reluctant though he is to follow them, he also distrusts the queen’s ambitions.

Her ambitions, however, prove to be far loftier than he could have imagined. Gloriana has discovered the truth about their world and the forces that govern it, and believes that she can manipulate these forces to the benefit of all humanity. She is, alas, disastrously wrong…

9

“Wolves of Dacia” – Call For Readers

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Finally, I have a finished draft of the vampire novel I have been wittering on about for ages. If anyone is interested in reading it and offering me whatever feedback they feel able to, good or critical or scathing, please drop me a PM. Synopsis follows…

Genre – Dark Fairytale / Dieselpunk / WW2

Pages – 409

Words – 176,988

Berlin, 1933: Andreea Petrescu, a Romani gypsy biology student, is expelled from university by the Third Reich. She returns home to Transylvania, to face a grim future of poverty, misogyny, and the stigma of having associated with outsiders: a fact her insular community regards with distrust. Just before she returns, her mother – a gifted medium – strikes a terrible deal in order to protect her.

Eight years later, Andreea’s circumstances have only worsened: her mother is dead, her father is unsupportive, her community is as estranged from her as ever, and fascism has spread to Romania. The Nazi-allied government takes measures to deport gypsies to concentration camps, forcing Andreea and her father to go on the run from the SS. Their flight leads them to seek refuge in ancient catacombs, where they soon discover that they are not the first to have taken shelter.

Though her superstitious father is repulsed by their discoveries, the scientifically-minded Andreea finds herself fascinated, and drawn into the activities of the mysterious resistance unit that has set itself up in the area, and of their leader, the charismatic and ruthless Miss Bendice. She seems eager to recruit the brilliant young fugitive to her cause, and offers Andreea a unique opportunity to escape from her degrading circumstances, but at no insignificant cost.

As Miss Bendice’s hubristic plans escalate to a world-threatening climax, and as the SS death squad closes in, Andreea finds herself caught in the vice. Forging unlikely friendships with a naïve Wehrmacht lieutenant, an amnesiac teenage vampire, and a scatterbrained Welsh parapsychologist, she finds her knowledge, her courage, and her integrity put to the test as she struggles to survive, save her loved ones, and stay true to her principles, though it may entail sacrificing everything she has dreamed of.

© Eleanor Burns, 2016.

15

Gothic Dieselpunk

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Manchester Mk1 Computer, late 1940s

…and if that isn’t a mouthful of a name for a genre, I don’t know what would be.

I am conscious this has recently turned into a blog for my weird artistic pursuits rather than for anything directly related to my transition, but so be it. Since my fiction has for many years been a channel (or a coping strategy) for my gender dysphoria, it may as well have its due as long as there is no more obviously relevant news, and real-life news has been pretty scarce for both the hubby and I of late.

This novel I am currently working on is now in the 90% region of completion, so I will fairly soon be pleading for readers… For the present, however, I would just appreciate opinions on this synopsis. I will be using this, or something like it, to pitch the finished story to potential publishers and / or agents, so please tell me if it fails to grab, or share any advice you may have for improving it (and be as harsh as you please).


Wolves of Dacia (Synopsis)

Berlin, 1933: Andreea Petrescu, a Romani gypsy biology student, is expelled from university by the Third Reich. She returns home to Transylvania, to face a grim future of poverty, misogyny, and the stigma of having associated with outsiders: a fact her insular community regards with distrust. Just before she returns, her mother – a gifted medium – strikes a terrible deal in order to protect her.

Eight years later, Andreea’s circumstances have only worsened: her mother is dead, her father is unsupportive, her community is as estranged from her as ever, and fascism has spread to Romania. The Nazi-allied government takes measures to deport gypsies to concentration camps, forcing Andreea and her father to go on the run from the SS. Their flight leads them to seek refuge in ancient catacombs, where they soon discover that they are not the first to have taken shelter.

Though her superstitious father is repulsed by their discoveries, the scientifically-minded Andreea finds herself fascinated, and drawn into the activities of the mysterious resistance unit that has set itself up in the area, and of their leader, the charismatic and ruthless Miss Bendice. She seems eager to recruit the brilliant young fugitive to her cause, and offers Andreea a unique opportunity to escape from her degrading circumstances, but at no insignificant cost.

As Miss Bendice’s hubristic plans escalate to a world-threatening climax, and as the SS death squad closes in, Andreea finds herself caught in the vice. Forging unlikely friendships with a naïve Wehrmacht lieutenant, an amnesiac teenage vampire, and a scatterbrained Welsh parapsychologist, she finds her knowledge, her courage, and her integrity put to the test as she struggles to survive, save her loved ones, and stay true to her principles, though it may entail sacrificing everything she has dreamed of.

© Eleanor Burns, 2016.


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Christopher Lee as Dracula – just because nobody else ever looked that good or ever will look that good as a vampire…

4

Call for readers

Again, this has sod all to do with trans life or trans issues, but would anyone be interested in reading a steampunk fantasy novel? It is high time I decided what to do with this one I finished last year, and have been sitting on ever since, before I forget about it entirely. If I get enough positive feedback, I might dare to self-publish, but if not it will be useful for me to know where I went wrong.

If anyone is interested, please contact me privately (via the contact form on this site) and I will send you the manuscript via email. The short blurb follows…


Gloriana’s Masque

The Republic of Lucinia, one of the three global super-states, was until recently a kingdom founded on feudalism, magic, and tyranny. Having since gone through both an industrial revolution and a violent political revolution, it is now founded on technology, propaganda, and much more efficient tyranny. Magic, though it is still practised by a few, is generally regarded as quaint bordering on laughable.

This is particularly bad news for the Alvere – a magic-using near-human race whose once-dominant culture has proven to be no match for Lucinian science. Some Alvere have been assimilated as lowly citizens of the Republic, while others have been sequestered in the puppet “protectorate” of Alvenheim: a hostile mountainous realm which is all that remains of their ancient kingdom.

This changes overnight, as the mysterious, highly accomplished, disfigured, and deeply vengeful “Gloriana” arrives in Alvenheim at the head of an army of mercenaries, equipped with bizarre new weapons of mass destruction. Lucinia’s puppet regime is destroyed, and Gloriana sets herself up as queen. The Republic sends a peace envoy: Secretary Kasimir, who has built a reputation as a sympathiser and a reformer for the Alvere citizens of Lucinia. Much to his chagrin and guilt, the peace mission is a sham: his real orders are to discover any information he can about Gloriana’s weapons, so that Lucinia can retain its superiority in the arms race. Failing that, he has orders to liquidate her. Deeply reluctant though he is to follow them, he also distrusts Gloriana’s intentions and ambitions.

Her ambitions, however, prove to be far loftier and deadlier than he could ever have imagined. For the Alvere queen has discovered the truth about their world and the forces that govern it, and she believes that she can manipulate these forces not only to her own advantage, but to the benefit of all humanity. She is disastrously wrong…

© Eleanor Burns, 2016

 

7

Mutant Musings

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(Judi Bowker as Mina Harker in “Count Dracula,” BBC version, 1977)


A good friend of mine recently declared her intention to draw back from the depressingly polarised, prejudiced world of social media activism and instead express herself through her own dedicated writing. This seems an excellent idea to me, having myself spent far too much time and energy in activist circles, to no avail. The main difference being that my comrade will be devoting herself to serious writing on transgenderism and psychoanalysis, while I will be writing about vampires.

This is not my first try. I did bang out a short vampire novel in 2007, to pass the time during my year of ESL teaching in Beijing, but it was a pretty sketchy attempt. This time I am aiming for a longer work, and one that will be much lighter on romance elements and put more emphasis on the twisted parental aspects of vampirism. I am hopeful when complete that it will have a strong female protagonist (though not for me to be the judge), a convincingly depicted setting (Romania, circa both World Wars), and nevertheless a clear fairytale ethos. As C S Lewis, whom I shamelessly namedrop in chapter 12, expressed it…

“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

(From On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature)

…which sentiment, to give it its due, also helps me to feel a lot better for being so inexorably drawn to a trope which has produced no end of prose and film of dubious artistic and moral quality.

What is it about vampires that keeps drawing me back to the genre? One pretty obvious answer would have to be the theme of change, and that the change is often depicted as a release from some debilitating state, be it fear of death, fear of age, powerlessness, repression, etc. Of course, nine times out of ten this release comes with an appalling catch in the small print. Vampires, by and large, are not welcome in society, which may also be a factor of my empathy / interest, although the reasons for this exclusion are of course pretty solid… Lestat and Louis may add a touch of decadent class to one’s party, but no-one would wish to be stuck with the task of cleaning up after them. Irredeemably evil depictions are not the be-all and end-all, however. Although the preeminent mythos established in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) and massively popularised since depicts vampires as demonically reanimated corpses, the trope of more sentient and sympathetic vampires is older. Theophile Gautier’s La Morte Amoureuse (1836) is particularly ambiguous, depicting its vampire anti-heroine Clarimonde as an emotionally complex being who is deeply hurt and embittered by the eventual betrayal of her lover – a young, morally conflicted priest; who survives his attempt on her (un)life; and who subsequently abandons him to the life of celibacy and regret he has chosen.

But this, of course, leads to another massive moral caveat: in general, the depiction of women in vampire fiction is less than inspiring, and has a nasty tendency to focus on misogynistic, medieval tropes of carnality and sub-humanity versus the reason and morality generally represented by male heroes of the Van Helsing mould. This is occasionally presented in a deconstructive or satirical way – the ironic coda of La Morte Amoureuse makes clear that the life of priestly repression the hero has chosen will not bring him peace – but the sexist dichotomy remains (and to make it even more unnecessarily blatant, Clarimonde is depicted as having been a courtesan in life). One of the most famous, squicky, and totally unsubtle examples would have to be the oft-depicted turning of Lucy Westenra in Dracula. Her mutation from cloying, girlish sweetness (which is seen as a positive state) to unbridled sensuality and sadism, and her bloody redemption-by-staking at the hands of her former fiancé, ironically depicted in the same year the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies was founded, has to be one of the most distasteful and untimely subplots in English literary history.

But Dracula almost redeems itself in the character of Mina Murray / Harker, who comes into her own in the latter half of the novel. Film versions have a bad tendency to underplay her agency in the story, and make her into a damsel in distress or even worse into a love interest for Count Dracula, neither of which is actually faithful to the book. A middle-class intellectual, Mina is an independent, employed woman, although sadly disdainful of the Suffrage Movement. Nevertheless, she emerges as one of the most pro-active and clued-up characters in the book, being the one who actually collates and makes sense of all of the diary entries and newspaper clippings that testify to Dracula’s evil intentions. In spite of thus being the main provider of intelligence, the male characters then decide to sideline her for her own safety while they set off to heroically kill the monster. This backfires hideously, as Dracula just takes the opportunity to drop in on Mina while they are all gone, mentally and physically abuse her, then infect her with his tainted blood to inflict a slow and humiliating mutation. This is the scene which has, in film, got into the unfortunate habit of being a big romantic moment…

This, however, backfires even more horribly on Dracula, as Mina has now become telepathically privy to his movements. Having now learned from their mistake and having fully included her in their hunters’ cabal, the heroes start doing much better, making use of Mina’s insight to track the Count’s movements, destroy all of his London-based sanctuaries, and follow him back to Europe. Mina’s mutation progresses to the point that she can no longer eat, sleep normally, or cross spiritual wards, but she holds onto her personality, and memorably chides Van Helsing for his ill-timed gallantry when he nearly steps out of a warding circle to drive some minion vampires away from her. As she sagely points out, there is not a whole lot more they can do to her.

Dracula comes a cropper soon afterwards, although not, alas, at her hand. The decapitation scene in the 1992 film version is its own invention, although it certainly did not pioneer the highly dubious romance between Mina and Dracula – Universal’s 1979 version was there way before it. She does get to wield a rifle and shoot one of Dracula’s goons in the BBC’s 1977 adaptation, which probably captures the spirit of the novel’s character more than any other: her morality, her intelligence, her courage, her being undervalued by the male characters, and the wretched injustice of her fate. Notably, it is the only version I know of that includes the scene where Van Helsing attempts to bless her with a host wafer – shortly after her contamination – and in spite of the fact that she has neither consented to her mutation nor succumbed to evil, the talisman burns and scars her. The sense that the whole of patriarchal existence, right up to its God, is out to get her for no good reason at all is starkly apparent. One can only conjecture if Stoker wrote more into this than he was necessarily aware of.

I suspect there will be quite a bit of the original Mina in my next protagonist, albeit without the disdain for her contemporary feminists. Nobody’s perfect.