16

Showgirl at the seaside …

Here are a few snaps from my latest photoshoot down in Mathry, West Wales, in the beautiful Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. This was going to be my final shoot before surgery – a quick change of scene before my extended indoor convalescence – but given my recent bad news on that score, there is now no telling. Still, I had a very pleasant stay over there, had a quick spell of decent weather (all a Welsh girl ever dare hope for), and made sure to take some images in my burlesque costume from the “Far Far Away” show (see here, or here for the video) before it gets retired, alas … although actually it got a quick dusting off this week as me and two of my Cabaret Club classmates did a reprise of the dance routine for a local intersectional feminist event. I would say more about that, but it all hinges on the ongoing media and political war between trans rights activists and trans-exclusionary radical feminists, and Goddess forbid I should draw that sort of attention back to this blog. I prefer to keep it as light and decadent as possible these days … although I am glad our dancing was able to support the cause, in its small way. 🙂

All photographs by the lovely John Waring.

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7

Black Widow

… but no sexy spy catsuits in this latest photoshoot, I’m afraid: just a replica 19th century dress kindly lent to us by Marigold Costumes along with several veils and a musty-looking bonnet. Combine with heavy dark eye-liner and the old graveyard behind Llandaff Cathedral and you have …

… and in case any film buffs were wondering, I was indeed consciously paying homage to the ghostly Miss Jessel in Jack Clayton’s “The Innocents“.

The photographer was the wonderful Rahim Mastafa of Sugarbox Studios UK, who also bought me lunch in Jaspers Tea Rooms after, so all in all a wonderfully Victorianesque day. 🙂

It has been such a delight getting back into modelling and dancing this year, that I am almost dismayed that I will have to put both on hiatus for several weeks to come … were it for a less pressing reason than my confirmation surgery. When my recovery is through, however, I can see myself coming back to both with a vengeance.

19

Shot by the Dark Side

I thought I’d given up modelling, but thanks to a few bigoted a**holes who felt the need to resurface my body image insecurites (possibly to alleviate their own sense of stupidity at having been lured into voting for Brexit) I got the urge to put out some feelers for another shoot. Modelling has always helped me to cultivate a bit more body-positivity. Eventually I connected with a local photographer (known as “Dark Side“), and we arranged a very local shoot at the industrial estate right next to where I live. We’d hoped for some more dramatic scenery, but the natural light was not on our side (which serves us right for arranging this in January). Still, I’m not displeased, and if nothing else it was a chance to work on my future “cabaret” image assuming I stick with the burlesque dancing (which I fully intend to, as long as I don’t make a complete fiasco of my first performance … here’s hoping).

22

Year of Politics and Procrastination…

I always suspected this blog would tail off rather than go out with a bang, alas, but although I must take part of the blame for that in a sense it has been unavoidable: in the early stages of transition one’s mood was of constant panic, and it was a matter of priority to keep very busy and pro-active to have some sense of control over it all. Additionally, things seemed to move more quickly. Now, nineteen months down the line, things seem a lot slower-paced, although by no means resolved. Cal and I are both now officially patients at the London GIC (Charing Cross) and technically on the gender care pathway, although our GP practice continues to refuse us any interim care and I am still self-medicating HRT based on rough figures which have so far not killed me, touch wood (As ever, this practice does not come recommended). However, a trans social meeting I attended recently gave me to understand that we should be receiving care from our GP by now, so a complaints procedure is looking increasingly like our best option. It’s stress we could live without, of course, but we knew this would be a struggle.

It might help, of course, if we were transitioning at a less volatile time, but it seems whenever we glance at social media these days there is a new reason to fear the course of global events and what this may mean for us as LGBT+ people, as well as NHS patients: the Orlando massacre, the rise of the right and hatecrime, Brexit, the apparent disintegration of the Labour Party, Donald Trump, etc. Being introverts never made so much sense… Unfortunately, I now find myself as an introvert at a loose end, having finished the novel I was working on and lacking inspiration for a project to follow it. I am hoping to start some voluntary work later this month with a Cardiff LGBT charity, and Pride Cymru is coming around again (13th of August), while Cal is hoping to upgrade his working hours to full time. Modelling, alas, has fallen off considerably – not that I ever expected it to go huge – though I do have a few shots from a training shoot I did a couple of weeks ago at Mark Cleghorn Studios (Barry, Vale of Glamorgan), based around the “Little Black Dress” theme:

Not that I would say I am remotely satisfied with how I look, nor ever likely to be, but it was nice to be asked. Validation has been in short supply of late, for us both.

Thus, we continue to support each other, and I really can’t imagine how I would have got through this without Cal, but the motivation and stamina to be “out and proud” is difficult for us both to maintain, even on mere social media, so my apologies for my very inconsistent presence this year. I hope I will feel more in the mood for visibility in the future. I know invisibility does not serve my community very well. It can feel awfully stress-relieving, though, but I will seek a healthy balance.

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

8

I LOVE MY BRICK!

Explanation of bizarre allusion below…

The occasion for this insanity? My last photoshoot with the amazing Alan Moss, for which the only completely new outfit I had to sport was a vintage 1980s Nicki Ferrari dress. Fortunately, a dirty great brick of an obsolete not-so-mobile phone I picked up at a car boot sale made for the perfect accessory…

_K3_1567 _K3_1597 _K3_1670 _K3_1737 _K3_1749 _K3_1781

On the subject of accessories, it would be remiss of me not to add that the compact, the lipstick, and the lipstick holder were all presents from my mother-in-law, and in other family news, my folks have offered to help with the costs of my permanent hair removal. Did I ever mention I have the coolest relatives?

8

Springboard is here (Why doesn’t my heart go dancing?)

So then, my employer – Royal Mail – has fully accepted me as a transgender employee and I have managed to keep my job, change my name with HR, and acquire the right to never again have to set foot in that foul annex of Mordor known as the men’s restroom… So far so good. Sadly, however, some managers there (quite understandably) still seem to feel I am the same healthy, strapping lad they thought they were hiring back in 2011, and that I am thus eminently suited for high-endurance tasks… while my stamina-draining antiandrogen medication begs to differ.

While management technically has to make accommodations for employees’ medical conditions, part of me cannot evade the argument that I did in essence choose to render myself less physically able. Many people, both trans and their critics, would state that physical transitioning is not an essential concomitant of being transgender, and one could well make a case that I have repaid my employer’s goodwill quite badly by taking a singularly nasty medication that unavoidably makes me worse at key aspects of my (very manual-based) job.

However, an opportunity has now come along to hopefully make myself useful in other ways, by broadening my responsibilities with a possible view to taking on acting management roles. Last week, I received an invitation to the following scheme…

springboard

…and yes, in case you were wondering, by “women’s development programme”, that does mean “women only”… and I wouldn’t blame anyone for wondering “how the hell does she / he / it* have the nerve?”

Well, in fact I didn’t have the nerve to apply while I was still wondering if they were perhaps in the dark about the “quality” of my feminine status, so I emailed them thusly…

I was interested to recently receive information on the Springboard Women’s Development Program, and would like to express my interest in participating if deemed appropriate. I should clarify that I am a transgender woman, and I am aware that some people might have strong feelings about such a person participating in a women-only program, so I would understand if it was considered an unwarranted disruption. If I was allowed to participate, I would certainly endeavour to be discreet.

[…]

Thank you, and I hope to hear from you.

************

Hi Eleanor

Thank you for your email.  I will register your details with the Springboard database and as soon as we have enough ladies interested in attending a programme at Cardiff I will write to you and invite you to attend.

You are definitely entitled to attend as long as you are not managerial grade as Springboard is for non-managerial grades only.

[…]

Many thanks
Regards
Louise

…which, I can but hope, will lay to rest any rumours that I am some kind of patriarchal Trojan horse muscling in on female-only spaces, though I am steeling myself for any such accusations that may arise from fellow-participants of the programme (It is not as if the conveners can speak for all possible attendees). If those objections arise, I am not yet sure how I will deal with them. I would probably seek to have a quiet chat with the course conveners to discuss what they would prefer, as there would be no ideal solution: were I to bow out for the sake of dubious tact, it might send the impression that their programme fails on the diversity / intersectionality stakes (though I suppose there might be scope for reorganising the groups to avoid friction). I have no particular wish to find myself in the middle of a political fracas. Then again, I have no particular wish to have to work for a living in the first place, but life is all about making the best of a bad lot (as one keenly comes to appreciate in the painstaking course of trying to customise one’s woefully off-the-mark body to match one’s sense of identity).

I do of course feel my true calling was to be a vampire and haunt the Opera Garnier, but sadly the vacancies just aren’t coming up that often these days…

(Pictures by Alan Moss)

_MG_2587 _MG_2592 _MG_2606 _K3_0069


* Though as I said before, I am quite cool with “it”: such an egalitarian pronoun, and the only “insult” it implies is a shaky connection to the human race (and my solidarity with it has never been all that great…).