12

Transition Update – Second GIC Appointment

Yesterday I went up to London for my second Gender Identity Clinic appointment. It had been intended that I should be referred for surgery at this stage. Unfortunately, there was a snag …

After my first appointment last year, my GP was instructed to put me on a certain regime of feminising HRT, with a view to getting my hormone baselines to a level equivalent to post-surgery. They refused, citing amongst other things lack of experience, the fact that gender transition is still technically an unlicensed (albeit routine) use of these drugs, and their belief that the GIC recommendations had no authority in NHS Wales. I argued, I took them to advocates and the Assembly Member, but they refused to budge.

I eventually (November 2016) found a new GP who agreed to prescribe me somewhat of a compromise (using a cheaper but less effective anti-androgen), but the damage was done and I have lost 8 months. I return to the GIC in October for a follow-up session, but unless I am on the right prescription by then I will be no closer to being referred for surgery.

It is clear now the NHS in Wales, at least at the primary care level, is substantially opposed to providing gender reassignment, but since there is certainly no Welsh GIC in the works (for many reasons, both cost-based and owing to Wales’ weird geography) unfortunately their cooperation is essential. With the support of the GIC, I now intend to report my old GP to the General Medical Council and hopefully this will set a small fire under the collective posteriors of GPs who are refusing this care (and of their union the BMA, who are it seems not our friends in this political tussle). Since my husband is also meant to be starting his HRT very soon, and we see no likelihood of leaving Wales any time soon, this is doubly personal.

On a lighter note, some snaps I took while I was there …

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Horsenden Hill, Perivale. Its claim to fame is that it is the main location in the last ever episode of “Doctor Who” (1963-89 version). Well, I felt awed, anyway, and tired (It is a fair bit steeper than it looks in this shot).

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Shipping cranes at West India Quay, near Canary Wharf. Seen in the movie “Hellraiser,” in spite of that film being superficially set in some weird Anglophile American locale (The clear shot of a British Rail Intercity 125 train hardly helps, also).

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Smiling through the chaos, until next time …

10

Misogyny

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

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

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

“Tell him: I inspired you, didn’t I?”

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

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

“Eleanor: you’re working for me now.”

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

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

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

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

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

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6

Faith

I first met Cal in April 2012. That was, as I recall, a grim and directionless time for me. I had for several years given up on the hope of transition. At thirty-three I felt that it was too late – which seems bloody absurd now, I barely had a job at the time, I had failed at my last relationship (for various reasons, though dysphoria certainly did not help), and I had no settled accommodation. I was, in fact, in the midst of an extended house-sit for my parents, as they had recently moved to the Shetland Islands, but the house was imminently to be sold, and I could not see myself ever making a permanent move up there, although I would have been welcome with them. I had vague ideas of just spending my life as a drifting TEFL teacher, having done a year of that in Beijing, but I felt that too was setting myself up for a lonely and purposeless existence in its own way.

But part of the “unrealised me” must have been clinging on to some vague hope of emergence, as at that time I also joined a South Wales Fetlife group that had a pub meeting in Cardiff City Centre. Why Fetlife, one might well ask? Simply because I felt that I might make more friends in the company of fellow “transgressors” of social decency, whether voluntarily or just by dint of their inner weirdness. In the event, I found myself struggling not to be shy and tongue-tied even at those meetings… until Cal approached me at one of them.

He had just arrived from France, having been laid off after the library he was managing was closed, leaving behind a bad relationship with an emotionally abusive partner, and looking for a completely fresh start. He had the notion at the time that he was done with men, and would look to have his next relationship with a woman… though he had no sense that this would be realised in a decidedly ironic fashion.

Neither of us knew from the first that the other was trans. Cal saw a fey, shy, effeminate or gender-fluid young man, and I saw a proud, handsome, and erudite young woman, though it was not too long before we figured out that neither of those terms would quite cut it in our relationship, or at least not in that order. In every respect, at any rate, I could not quite believe my luck. Cal was everything I could ever have dreamed of in a soulmate: intelligent, compassionate, charitable, left-wing, hugely literate, a librarian, a gamer, a geek (and proud of it), and French… though don’t ask me why I idolise Frenchness.

My amazement was compounded when I talked about this new relationship with an old friend, who pointed out to me that I had once described exactly such a person to him, when we had been idly fantasising about perfect partners… right down to the details of mine being French and a librarian. That reminder is one of those moments I often look back to, when my faith is looking frayed and shaky. It was shortly after that, having decided we had so much in common that we could dare to make things serious, that Cal moved in with me… and he promptly confessed to me that he had suffered gender dysphoria since childhood. This, incidentally, explained why he, without the vaguest interest in fetish or BDSM, had been a member of that Fetlife group (I had wondered).

Geek, gamer, French, librarian, socialist, humanitarian… and accidental husband. In fact, the ideal husband whom I never thought that I could hope to have, even if I ever dared to transition.

Even so, it took us another two years before we actually decided that we would take that plunge together, but neither of us would have reached this point but for the support of the other. After twenty-odd aimless, lonely, and self-deceiving years, in the space of one year I had found both my soulmate and myself.

That story may fall short of the strictest definition of a miracle, but it keeps me going.

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2

Day of Reblogs – Part 1 – “How It Is To Be Miss Tobi?”

In personal news… nothing much. Such, alas, is the way of transition on the NHS, and both Cal and I are just seeking to make the best use of the wait. I have resumed weekly sessions of electrolysis, and can scarcely remember a time that my face did not look red and swollen. Cal has given up smoking, since the GIC will not prescribe hormones to smokers, and is finding it a severe toll on his stress levels and sleep patterns, but seems to be doing well. At least the motivation is there. Still, we are likely months away from clinic appointments, so our priority is finding ways to live authentically within our present limitations, and without obsessing on the future.

In the interests of not obsessing, rather sadly, both of us have drifted away somewhat from the wider trans community. While I still make the effort to attend the occasional local trans meet-up, it is a foregone conclusion that the conversation will eventually (if not immediately) come round to such subjects as hormones, waiting lists, facial feminisation surgery, mental co-morbidities, the NHS, “I am Cait”, etc… which, to be honest, don’t much help me to unwind. For similar reasons, Cal has distanced himself from some of his online FtM groups, as the preponderance of alpha-male airs and exaggerated “bro talk” was doing nothing to raise his spirits.

“I understand dysphoria,” he explained, “but why take off one mask just to put on another? Is that all we are, then? A gender?”

Indeed, when one begins to fear that perhaps one’s only defining, outstanding characteristic in the eyes of others is one’s misaligned gender identity, one suspects that trans-critics and gender-abolitionists do have a point (if not a ready solution for dysphoria that actually works better than transition). Is it even possible, one occasionally wonders, to be trans and not to be some sad, ersatz caricature of stereotypical masculinity / femininity? Thankfully, it is…

The article (and linked video) that follows celebrates Miss Tobi: an artist, anarchist, and transwoman from Berlin, who identifies as neither male nor female, but simply as transgender. Her acceptance of this, her expressive non-conformity, and her lack of anxiety over and concern for labels makes an inspiring contrast to the mainstream…


(Original Post)

How It Is To Be Miss Tobi: I Don’t Feel Like A Woman, I Don’t Feel Like A Man, I Feel Transgender

TransgenderHave you met Miss Tobi?

(S)he’s the main character of the very first How It Is To Be You video portrait and am I ever grateful for it!

I could not have found a sweeter and more Berlin person than her and am very proud of the work we did together.

The little film is filled with insights into her life and the way she chooses to live it.

Here’s a hint: she does so with a lot of balls!

In case you missed the video, here it is:

Want to know more? Read on:

Who is Miss Tobi?

(S)he’s a 44 year old male born transgender anarchist living in Berlin who makes amazing metal sculptures, plays in several performance art groups and is also a part-time physical therapist.

A free spirit as ever there was one, she’s been dressing up in her mother’s clothes since she was 4 years old, has lived in a bus for 4 years touring all through Europe before settling down in Berlin 18 years ago and has loyal friends all over the world.

She comes from a loving and open family in Köln (Cologne) Germany and has been in an open relationship with the tough looking yet incredibly sweet Michael for the past 15 years.

Even though she was born as male, she doesn’t always feel that way. But she doesn’t always feel female either (the link is to a little video that does a great job stating what transgender is and what issues they face). She feels like herself and is happy with just that. No extra hormones or operations needed.

Actually, she doesn’t care about the pronoun ‘he’ or ‘she’ either, she truly feels transgender and like a person beyond the binary gender system and simply wants to express herself the way she wants to on any given day.

She’s very aware that she’s a very exotic person and that many people find her a bit strange to look at. And she does indeed get stared at a lot in the streets and sometimes even called names or worse…

But…she’s made the decision to live outside, to look what she wants to look like and to NOT be in the closet. And for that reason (and because of the fact that she’s gotten used to it) she doesn’t give a shit about people looking at her :).

In fact, if her flamboyant appearance will help others come out of the closet and into the streets looking however they want to, than all the more reason to do it!

It does mean however that she tends to avoid public transport but uses her bike to go around Berlin. It just makes her life a little bit easier.

How Miss Tobi and I met

Transgender

I was looking for a ‘typical’ Berlin anarchist (which is indeed a bit cliche…) but the guy who was supposed to take me to a rough and rowdy anarchist’s bar to help me find one didn’t show up. As it was raining that evening, and as the bar didn’t sound like the kind of place a ‘normal looking’, barely German speaking woman should hang out alone at midnight (I’d imagined the bar was a bit like Fangtasia from True Blood but it turns out it’s just a rowdy yet regular dive bar…), and as anarchists aren’t really that well organised on the web (yeah…surprise surprise…), I ended up scouring for anarchists on OKCupid.

I mean, anarchists need love too, right?

As it happened, they do indeed! I’d widened my search range and after a bit of scrolling, Michael popped up in my feed (see the picture on the right).

The sensationalist filmmaker in me immediately saw the visual potential and when I clicked on and read through the profile I was immediately sold.

Because here’s a bit of the profile: “in relationships and sexuality I try to be open for new ways to live love and sexual desires. I’m polyamorous, live and lived in long term polyamorous relationships with a big sense of empathy and caring for each other.”

That had documentary gold written all over it!

So I sent Michael a message and a few days later we met in the garden of his surprisingly conservative building (mind you, it’s only the building, the neighbours and the garden that are conventional, his appartment is not!). He was very open to the whole idea but was struggling a bit with time so he proposed his partner Miss Tobi to me.

And Miss Tobi, well…as a performance artist and a little bit of a diva, she was of course instantly open to the idea and we planned the whole shoot in our very first meeting over cups of tea in her kitchen (where the fridge was covered in green fur and a little dragon sculpture was flying over our heads).

The shoot

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As this project was part of the documentary making course I had both my classmates, my teachers and the school’s equipment to back me up.

But…it was still the first time for all of us to do this so it took a little getting used to…hence the icky sound here and there and the important yet slightly awkwardly filmed interviews that made my editing life rather difficult…

Shooting at the physical therapist client came first, immediately followed by the art workshop.

Great stuff!

The exotic Miss Tobi in a Berlinian suburban home was a very pretty sight indeed. And the workshop… tiny, dingy, stuffed with metal thingies and lots of fireworks going on; it was perfect!

Fun fact: in the longer version of this video (that I can’t publish yet because I’ll be sending it in to festivals), there’s a point where Tobi’s father says that she’s like a ‘big fire’ and you see sparks come straight for the camera. At the time, I was putting more money in the parking meter so wasn’t there but (in the unedited version) right after the sparks came flying, you can hear the camera- and sound women scream and see the camera topple over. I shouldn’t have laughed as hard as I did, but I did anyway…

Then came the shoot at Michael’s place (which didn’t make the cut of this short version unfortunately) but is was quite the experience! See, Michael’s apartment is…well….a giant mess! With clothes, leather BDSM making parafernalia, stuffed animals and all sorts of other items lying all over the place it took a little breathing and planning for the filmcrew to actually set up and be relatively comfortable. But…we were professional and dealt with it like bosses!

The final shoot in Berlin was at the Folsom Street Festival. Or better described as a (mainly gay) fetish street festival. On my own, with my DSLR and in my yoga tights and comfy sweater I followed red latex clad Tobi around and next to the many many naked butts I shot elderly men being caned and whipped in front of a crowd, 2 men fully wrapped in ductape (including arms) and several grown men dressed up in latex dog costumes (including tails) play and bark like…you guessed it…dogs.

Extreme? Yes! But in the end it’s all just human expression of relatively basic needs…so why not do so out in the open instead of fussing about it?

And lastly, our day in Cologne! 5 Hours to and fro (so a total 10 hours in the train) to visit Miss Tobi’s best friend Paul (who’d come over from Holland) and her parents. Another shoot I did on my own and with DSLR and Zoom only and apart from some newbie technical hick-ups, it was lovely!

The warmth, the love, the park, the pumpkin soup; what a great family!

The lessons I learned from Miss Tobi

TransgenderApart from the rigorous documentary film making lessons I’ve learned whilst doing this shoot (thank you Met Film School Berlin btw), I’ve learned a whole lot from Miss Tobi as a person and the way she lives her life too.

The most prominent of which:

  1. Be who you want to be, live how you want to live and don’t give a shit about what other people think of you.
    I’ve done quite a good job in choosing the life I want to live but still…I’m nowhere near as cool as Miss Tobi is when it comes to not caring about other people’s opinions. And looking at her, seeing how happy and relaxed she is with herself, how many really sweet and caring friends she has…that seems like something worth striving for even more than I do now.
  2. Friendships are worth energy and the effort.
    Interestingly, I heard that Miss Tobi was such a good friend from her actual friends and father before she even spoke about it herself. She’s very loyal to her friends, keeps in close contact with them even when she’s busy and the proof of that is for example shown through the many people that showed up at the screening of this film in Berlin. A friend of mine who was also there used these words to describe it: “She is loved”.
  3. Not every opportunity needs to be pursued.
    Ah yes, a pitfall I know very well and Miss Tobi appears to be no stranger to this either. She loves new (ad)ventures and projects and has a tendency to say ‘yes’ to too many of them. This sometimes leads her to signs of burn-out or even depression as her father told me. It’s the risk of being an extraverted social butterfly that loves living life…sometimes it gets too much. But she’s learned to say no more often and realises that feeling unhappy is not worth it at all.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is it he or she for Miss Tobi?
    It doesn’t matter! She prefers Miss Tobi over Tobi but in the end they’re all just labels to her. The most important thing is that the people she’s in contact with are open, empathic and respectful.
  • Has Miss Tobi had any surgery or hormones?
    No. Though some transgenders lean more to one or the other gender and are grateful these options exist, Miss Tobi feels like a different person. One that lies outside the traditional binary system. She’s very happy with the way she looks and has therefore not felt the need to alter her body in any way.
  • TransgenderDoes she ever NOT dress like a woman?
    Yes, when she goes to client’s homes to give them physical therapy treatments she doesn’t have the orange eyebrows and skirts. Instead she wears colourful trousers. When she dresses like that, she does sometimes feel like she’s performing but a trusting relationship with her, often more conventional, clients is more important.
  • What’s with the orange eyebrows?
    She just likes them and paints them on every single day.
  • What does it mean to be in an open relationship/polyamory?
    This is the Wikipedia definition of it: polyamory is the practice, desire, or acceptance of intimate relationships that are not exclusive with respect to other sexual or intimate relationships, with knowledge and consent of everyone involved.
    For Miss Tobi and Michael it means exactly that; they’re in a committed relationship with each other that is all sorts of respectful, empathic and loving but they have other relationships and lovers too. But the main condition though is that it is indeed open and honest and that the moment any feelings of doubt or jealousy arise, they’re instantly talked through.
  • Does Miss Tobi’s art have a deeper meaning or is it mainly ‘just’ pretty?
    Almost all the art Miss Tobi makes for herself or with befriended artists have a political meaning usually mainly geared to queer- and trans-rights and ensuring the city of Berlin remains as culturally diversified as it is (Miss Tobi is also an anarchist). In fact, she’s in Rio de Janeiro right now to do several projects in the slums!
  • Miss Tobi’s art is amazing, where can I find more information and contact her?
    Miss Tobi’s website has all the necessary details on her sculpture art and includes contact information: www.orangegecko.de. For more info on her performance art check: www.lickmehappy.zone.
17

The Trouble With Regeneration

This comes in response to a comment left on my last post, which got me thinking:

“Maybe what is being missed, (again amidst the rhetoric), is that the vast majority of those who “old guard/privileged” people who successfully struggled through the change and fully assimilated, no longer identify as trans.”

I take this to mean that the “old guard” of transitioned transpeople now fully and successfully identify as their acquired genders, and so feel justified in revoking any former allegiance they had to transpeople still undergoing transition. I have heard that before, with people (who shall remain nameless) confiding in me their disillusionment with the trans scene and how they can’t wait to leave it and just live as their acquired gender. Some of them are seeing the situation through rose-tinted glasses, I fear, but others no doubt have that option, if they prefer it.

And myself? If I could fully assimilate as a woman, without the “trans” prefix? I can certainly see the temptation, and I would be lying through my teeth if I claimed I feel no sadness over the great unlikelihood of it.

I see changes in myself, and I am generally pleased with them, but I know I do not pass, and the old “T” has done its groundwork too well. Even when I have fried every follicle and taken my precious blue pills for years, I will still be well over average female height, with a bulging Adam’s apple, a jutting brow ridge, broad shoulders, a bony nose, and a square chin. Any one or two of these disadvantages I might get away with, but the whole ensemble is just too much of a give-away. My regeneration will only leave me looking like a different kind of alien.

Which raises the valid question of why I want it so much, but I at least know that the further I proceed with this – even with the merely social aspects of transition – people relate to me differently, even if they do not and will probably never relate to me exactly as they would to a genetic woman. All limitations aside, I will take that as far as I can. Of course, it is also hugely personal, and beyond what I can call rational. I used to hate my face and body. I no longer hate them, even if I remain greatly dissatisfied with them. I feel more confident, if not perfectly confident, in projecting the sort of image that speaks truly of my inner being, rather than a socially-safe option that is no more than a suit of armour. Even if physical transition was not an option – if I was refused it, or NHS cutbacks saw it on the scrapheap with life-prolonging cancer treatments (sadly true) – I would still have to pursue my social transition. Living in hiding, even in plain sight, is something no-one should be expected to do.

I can live with being a visible transwoman, which is as fortunate as it is destined. It is a destiny that faces most who do not transition early, and cannot afford expensive plastic surgery. Whether or not they transition fully, the prospect of full assimilation is unlikely for them, unless that is societal attitudes to gender and appearance change considerably… which would be no bad thing, but would certainly require much activism and education.

I do sympathise with my trans sisters and brothers who have transitioned and cut loose from the trans scene, locally and online, or those who intend to. If I could “go stealth” and fully assimilate, I would certainly struggle to resist the temptation to join them, but It is not a realistic option for me, and my conscience tells me that may be for for the best. I have been placed exactly where I need to be.