Fighting Back

orlando

Cal returned from the GIC last Tuesday, and the news was all good: like me, he has been granted a second appointment in February, at which point all going well he will be approved for HRT. The clinician seemed absolutely charmed with him (only naturally), and they had a good conversation. The fact that we both have had such positive experiences with the London side of things is certainly something to be very grateful for. It touched upon a subject of grave concern to us both right now, though: the UK’s impending referendum on whether to remain within or leave the European Union. The clinician was pessimistic, and when we consider the implications of leaving (which now seems the likely outcome) it is hard to feel too blithe about our future. For one thing, if it throws the UK back into recession, the NHS will suffer more cutbacks, so our transitions could be stopped by simple market forces. For another, it is liable to make the UK more isolated and right-wing, which rarely goes well for LGBT+ people (no more than one might expect of a Trump presidency…). Even if neither of those scenarios develop, we are bound to be affected as Cal is French, and will thus have to change nationality (at high expense) or risk losing his job, his right to stay without a visa, and his rights to NHS treatment. If Cal has to leave the UK to transition, I will of course leave with him, which will thus stop or at least hugely delay my own transition. Thus, if you are one of my Brexit-supporting work colleagues and you wonder why I am less than friendly with you these days, you can probably work out why now…

Furthermore, though, it has been next to impossible for anyone in the LGBT+ community to be particularly happy and easygoing this week, in the wake of the Orlando massacre. Cal and I attended a memorial vigil in Cardiff Bay (image above) and were moved to see so many of us and so many allies come out in support and recognition. The priest at my very LGBT-friendly church also gave a sermon and prayers on the shooting (acknowledging that it was an anti-LGBT hate crime, unlike a certain prelate). Still, it is hard to get away from the sense that the world is still not exactly on our side, whatever the mansplaining, cisplaining voices at work would have me believe: “Of course it won’t make any difference to you if we leave the EU. You people have full rights now. We’re a tolerant society.” And so forth, while I bite my tongue.

Cal thinks we may have spent too long biting our tongues, and now is the time to speak out, fight back, and be uncompromisingly courageous and visible. He has determined to make this year his first Pride appearance, and thus our first Pride as a couple. We have also initiated complaints proceedings against our GP, whose non-response to our progress at the GIC continues to infuriate us. Such combative behaviour does not come naturally to either of us, but it helps to remember that we have, in such a short time, gained many friends within our community who are also affected by these issues. God willing, this will be the year when we cease to be the timid little trans couple living almost like recluses for fear of offending, and not before time. Perhaps the world could use a little offending…

keepkissing

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GIC – First Assessment

Apologies for the delay, but things haven’t stopped moving since I returned from London last Friday. As for the reason I was there at all… well, it certainly took a long time (albeit 11 months rather than the dreaded 13) and there were plenty of times I dreaded it wouldn’t happen at all, or would be cancelled and rescheduled time and time again, but in the end it all went to plan.

The Gender Identity Clinic was well hidden away in an unassuming part of west London, and I shall respect their secrecy and be no more specific. Suffice it to say it was over a shop, the purpose of the building was unstated, and that one had to be rung in via a door intercom. It may well be that they fear the potential of harassment to their patients, although as I had lunch nearby and saw various transpeople exit and enter the building, it occurred to me that some locals had surely noticed over the years. Nevertheless, I had no trouble in the area. I never tend to experience transphobia in London, would that it was not so expensive to live there.

I made sure to travel very early, just in case there were any transport delays and also in case I had not correctly estimated the time to reach the clinic, but in the end had about a two-hour wait. I had a meal, a quick walk, and pestered the hubby on the phone, which whiled the time away and kept my morale up until I actually pressed that door buzzer. Then, I had another 45-minute wait within the clinic itself, along with various other nervous-looking transwomen, as they were running late. I began to have a paranoid fear that someone would only come at me with an apology that the clinician was for some reason unavailable and I would need to reschedule, when thankfully the gentleman himself emerged from an office and invited me in. I smiled, took a deep breath, and followed.

The meeting lasted a further 45 minutes and covered all expected bases, repeating much of what I had been asked during the community mental health assessment in Cardiff last year: how long had I known, was I inclined to suicide or self-harm, how was puberty for me, medical history, work and social circumstances, etc. The clinician acknowledged that much of this would be repetition, owing to that extra hurdle one is expected to pass within the Welsh NHS. I was rather pleased he did not seem to consider this fair.

His final assessment, at any rate, was the most morale-building experience I have had in ages: I seemed, evidently, to be a totally straightforward case, and he had no issues in referring me onwards to discuss surgery, and also in writing to my GP to, at last, authorise HRT and get me off my self-medication. This latter habit of mine, which I had been warned could stand in my way, thankfully did not become an issue. He acknowledged it was not the best thing one could do, but also one that many people and especially those in the Welsh NHS turned to for lack of GP support, and I had at least attempted to do so in an informed way (A general hint I might give, to anyone considering that option, is always to seek as much information within one’s community and support groups as possible).

He also said, to my immense gratitude, that in his opinion I had successfully completed my social transition. While I can imagine a few gender-critical feminists balking at the notion of a male clinician supplying that seal of approval, at all events hearing it from him was reassuring, as it always is when I meet someone who only sees me as Eleanor. There are days when feel I could happily enact my transition 1970s-style, tear up all roots, move among strangers, and start life afresh… only the hubby still loves Cardiff. Well, I could probably do most of that that here. It’s a big city, though a new job will still be essential, hopefully sooner rather than later.

So, my next step is to visit my GP today bearing the clinician’s written authorisation, which will hopefully soon have me started on the first true stage of my medical transition (Anti-androgen injections, and continuation of my regular estradiol doses, but medically supervised). As for surgery… my second assessment will be in February. Another test of patience, but at least now I know I am on track, I no longer have anything to prove, and I can, in a way I did not quite feel free to before, finally embrace the fact of being a woman, being myself, instead of being cursed with that nagging sense of anxiety, that fear of being disbelieved, deemed as delusional or perverted, and told for my own sake I should backtrack and reconsider my options.

There is no going back now, and I could not be more delighted.


P.S. Thank you to all my followers here who have supported me through this. Your encouragement has done a great deal to keep me on track, and I only hope I have managed to be a little entertaining for my part. xxx

Burning Bridges and Glitching Vampires

My silence has been repeatedly noted, so I thought it time to type a quick assurance that contrary to the evidence Cal and I are still alive and well, and continuing as planned with our transitions. There have, alas, been no positive developments, though, and this week I find myself a somewhat lonelier trans lady…

Some may already be aware of what transpired mainly on Twitter this week, but if not then I’m afraid I must be vague. Suffice it to say that a very dear friend of mine has, unfortunately, felt the need to cut ties with most of her circle, including me. How I managed to upset her I have no idea and may never know, but since she was rather a controversial figure in her way, I have already shed a few friends and followers for having been so close to her.

I am hurt, but should I be offended? I was not the only friend thus soft-blocked, and her critics are now gleefully assassinating her character and chiding all those who trusted her. To be honest, though, I find myself just sad and sick of the whole thing. While I worry that she did not do herself complete justice (though from what I can gather very few do on Twitter), the fact was I admired her immensely, and still do; saw so much of myself in her, not to mention traits I only wished that I possessed; and I was so touched by her kindness and encouragement towards me that to see her encouraging the social media community to think and spread the worst opinions of her is mortifying.

But perhaps that is the very point of it, and by burning all her virtual bridges she hopes to move forward in real life, away from a medium that seemingly brings out so much anger in her. I hope so, and I hope I may one day hear more of her, and that it will all be good news. In the meantime, I may follow her example again, and go back to keeping only a very discreet profile on social media. My attempt to draw inspiration from her radical feminist politics has only backfired ironically, and reminded me of how divisive trans voices unfortunately still are within these circles.

At any rate, my friend has declared herself apolitical and the last I heard of her, she has devoted herself to writing. That seems a pretty healthy resolution, from what I know. I don’t know that I will ever make a difference to the world that way, but through fiction I find I can express myself a lot more deeply (and hopefully entertainingly) than in real life. Not to mention, of course, the welcome distraction it provides from the interminable wait the NHS still refuse to provide any relief over.

In more trivial news, I have just finished a Commodore 64 game which will hopefully be entered into a competition next month. I am a little proud, as it does include my first tentative efforts at programming in 6502 Assembly (a cross between hex code and utter gibberish), and will, God willing, not just crash everyone’s emulators. Unsurprisingly, it’s about vampires. In love. Fighting Nazis. They don’t glitter, though. Just glitch a little.

End of Act I

I find myself lacking a proper theme or any real news, indeed, but lest this blog be facing its permanent wind-down at any time I would rather it did not vanish without explanation.

Not that this is necessarily the case, but I think it may have a long hiatus, at least. Its purpose was always to give me a sense of progress during my transition, but of late that sense has been very elusive. The NHS has been silent, my self-prescribed meds are having little discernible effect (other than to give me very flaky nails), and after twenty hours of electrolysis I could probably still grow a full bushy beard if I had a mind to it. Oh, and my Facebook feed keeps chucking up articles on detransitioning, of all things. Sometimes it almost seems as if the universe is trying to send me a very unwelcome message…

Given the little progress I have made, If I stopped this now I could probably resume my former life in fairly short order. Not a remotely appealing prospect, but the wiser course may be to impose a delay. For it seems I am faced with having to choose between trying to continue transition on my own terms, paying for treatments and medication and so forth, or investing the money into a college course instead and putting my DIY transition “on hold.” Not an easy decision. Work has been grim of late, with some embarrassing episodes of anxiety to liven the tedium. Finding a job better suited to me will be no easy task – introverted transwomen with useless PhDs and four years’ work history of sorting mail (and not much else) are only of so much use in a modern workforce – so further study would be highly advisable if I don’t want to be stuck there the rest of my life. But ending my ongoing transition-related expenses would be a hard sacrifice to make.

In the interests of rebuilding my morale and clearing my head, I am planning to spend much less time on the internet. I’ll keep a fairly regular check on my email, so please feel free to contact me, but social media and blogging will be joining wine on my Lenten abstinence list. Hopefully this will also give me the impetus to start writing again, which also raises my spirits (as long as I am not writing about trans topics). Hopefully this will not be the end, so much as it is just a rather downbeat close to Act I…

Shell

oldshell

“Let us be clear: there is no such thing as “sex-reassignment” surgery. A mutilated male pumped full of estrogen remains just that—a mutilated male pumped full of estrogen. He has not “transitioned” into being a woman. He can never be a woman.”

(Margaret A. Hagen, Transgenderism Has No Basis in Science or Law)

“At the heart of the problem is confusion over the nature of the transgendered. “Sex change” is biologically impossible. People who undergo sex-reassignment surgery do not change from men to women or vice versa. Rather, they become feminized men or masculinized women. Claiming that this is civil-rights matter and encouraging surgical intervention is in reality to collaborate with and promote a mental disorder.”

(Dr. Paul McHugh, Transgender Surgery Isn’t the Solution)

“What the fuck is that?”

(Question asked by passer-by about twenty minutes ago)

“You’ve changed, like coming out of a shell. You’re not guarded all the time. You interact with people, you smile more, you’re easier to get along with.”

(Some observations made by my work area manager last weekend)

I have listened to so many arguments, and I have taken good note even of the ones that do not please me at all: of the undeniable limitations of medical transition, of the drastic and never-ending treatments I will face, and of the politically problematic message that perhaps underlies gender reassignment. Morally, I struggle to defend my decision to go from being a gender non-conforming male to a gender-conforming transwoman: it is scarcely revolutionary of me by any measure, and it arguably reinforces the very binary that keeps women (and transwomen) oppressed. I know I do not pass, and I probably never will given my height and bone structure, thus in spite of my conformist wishes I shall likely always be a figure of curiosity (or of scorn, as above). Not to mention that my decision to create within myself a lifelong dependency on synthetic hormones is practically doing a favour to “Big Pharma,” whereas loving my natural body (as I have been advised to try harder at) would be the far more ecological and left-wing thing to do. On many levels, I often feel I have failed. Not as a man, as I never wanted to succeed on that level on the first place, but as a feminist / ally, as a socialist, as a nonconforming artist… even, ironically, as a transgender person / ally, as my obsessive (yet always critical) dedication to this medical transition route  arguably fits me for the category of “Truscum.”

My transition is a surrender, I would not deny. But taking off my armour and letting my guard down has felt too liberating that I am in no frame of mind to take up the fight again. Also, whatever I am becoming – whether a pseudo-woman, an ersatz woman, or not a woman at all but just a “feminized,” “mutilated” facsimile – apparently I am becoming a better (or at least a more agreeable) person for it, and this has to count for something.

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

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).

Responsibilities of Embodiment

Last week at Royal Mail, while on break and working my way through the exercises in my Springboard Workbook, I encountered the following passage…


Being a woman

Being a woman is at the core of who you are. Usually the first thing that people notice about each other is the gender that they are. Some people have changed their gender, usually after a long process. So if you have had your gender re-assigned you will have thought a lot about what it means to you to be a woman.

Daisley, Jenny and Willis, Liz; Springboard – Women’s Development Workbook; 7th ed. (Stroud: Hawthorn Press, 2013); p.48.


…which certainly clears up a lot of my anxiety as to whether or not I should even be on such a course (one can at least assume from this that the course designers did not see it as a problem, in theory), although I found it an interesting point in and of itself. Perhaps even a worrying one.

Regarding that point about “the first thing that people notice”: Caitlyn Jenner’s recent gaffe about non-passing transwomen making people feel uncomfortable, although possibly taken out of context in some sources, has been making much noise of late, and as someone who struggles to pass at the best of times it rings with a nasty logic whether I like it or not. Almost certainly, as time goes by, I will try to send out increasingly unequivocal signals of my gender identity if for no other reason than to mitigate social awkwardness. Whatever feminist instinct I may be said to possess bridles at the thought of a life spent becoming more stereotypically feminine to attain social ease. It is true that one does not see that many butch transwomen. Given the alternative of spending my life being assumed to be a gender-neutral / gender-fluid / non-binary man, however, I cannot see myself doing anything other than capitulating on this point. Even my weekly electrolysis sessions, although with a bearing on my dysphoria, could also be seen as an expensive and unnecessary cosmetic concession to social expectations (It is not as if there are no born women who do not experience unusually heavy facial hair growth). One option that does not currently appeal to me is facial feminisation surgery – I have seen poor psychological outcomes of heavy facial surgery, and have no wish to inflict that on myself – but even so I am cursed with a sad sense that the means of embodiment of a transwoman could be argued from all of this as inimical to women in general: their right especially to express as they please, without reference to anyone else’s comfort or expectations.

This is germane to the second point, “you will have thought a lot about what it means to you to be a woman”, and I find in other ways that I now need to be far more analytical about my life. One disturbing thing I have noticed of late is not that I have become less assertive per se, but I have become more comfortable with being unassertive, when I strongly suspect I owe it to the world to do exactly the opposite. I used to feel acute shame when men (it was, alas, overwhelmingly men) steamrollered me in conversation, patronised me on points where I was at least no more ill-informed than they were, and generally talked down to me without actual benefit of greater knowledge (and I don’t count the Daily Mail as valid source material). This all still happens, but since my coming-out it feels inevitable, and thus less shameful.

To clarify my thoughts on this point: sexism is not shameful to women (nor to transwomen). It bloody well ought not to be inevitable, though.

Still, that is part of the reason I am on this course in the first place, and hopefully it can help me to better define my role within the context of feminism, if I even have one. One faces a curious double-bind as a transwoman: anxious about appearing too meekly self-effacing, and thus embodying the most socially regressive stereotypes, yet also anxious about appearing brash and narcissistic, too eager to make oneself the centre of the struggle. I do not, as I have hopefully already said, believe that feminism – liberal or radical – should bend over backwards to centre transwomen or trans issues in general. The issues are complex, and the place (or even existence) of trans people in any speculative gender-reformed or genderless future society is hard to guess at. Second-Wave radical feminist Andrea Dworkin (1946-2005), who it should be stressed was not inimical to trans people (seeing their condition as symptomatic of rather than causative of a patriarchal society), had this to say:


There is no doubt that in the culture of male-female discreteness, transsexuality is a disaster for the individual transsexual. Every transsexual, white, black, man, woman, rich, poor, is in a state of primary emergency […] as a transsexual. There are 3 crucial points here. One, every transsexual has the right to survival on his/her own terms. That means every transsexual is entitled to a sex-change operation, and it should be provided by the community as one of its functions. This is an emergency measure for an emergency condition. Two, by changing our premises about men and women, role-playing and polarity, the social situation of transsexuals will be transformed, and transsexuals will be integrated into community, no longer persecuted and despised. Three, community built on androgynous identity will mean the end of transsexuality as we know it. Either the transsexual will be able to expand his/her sexuality into a fluid androgyny, or, as roles disappear, the phenomenon of transsexuality will disappear and that energy will be transformed into new modes of sexual identity and behavior.

Dworkin, Andrea; Woman Hating (New York: Penguin, 1974); pp.185-6.


Possibly slightly digressive of me, but I do enjoy quoting that, as it is so much more compassionate and less vitriolic than legions of modern internet philosophers and activists on this subject… but it does raise that nagging possibility that we are creatures born out of the very structure of abuse that feminism is (and by definition must be) ranged against. Of value in diagnosing it, perhaps – as Caroline Criado-Perez suggests – but perhaps too closely and ironically identified with it for our perspectives ever to be taken without a pinch of salt, even by ourselves. It makes my skin crawl when a retail assistant addresses me as “sir” or “fella” (although I am curious to know what training manual recommended the latter as a polite form of address). Should it not equally make my skin crawl when a stranger addresses me as “darling” or “babe?” The answer would be yes… It certainly should not feel as if I have achieved something.

Having said all that, there is one solace I dare take to from all this, which is that the authors of the Springboard workbook included that passage referring to transwomen in the first place. Critics could argue they only did that to appease liberal lawmakers, but they could easily have skipped over the issue (The law merely requires that they do not discriminate against applicants). Since the authors thus apparently felt it appropriate to include people like me on their women’s assertiveness / development course I will take that as a sign of encouragement, though also as a warning. Whatever I amount to – be it a badly-constructed woman or a badly-programmed man – I made a conscious decision to embody the social category of woman, and heaven forbid I should do so irresponsibly.

Mutant Musings

JudiBmini

(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.

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