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Tuesday, 28 December 2021

Art and artifice: The Book of Dolores

I do hope you had a happy Christmas and wish you all best wishes for the New Year.

As usual, I am not able to spend any of the holiday period as Susie. However, given the two alternatives come down to spending Christmas as Susie on my own, or sharing the time with my partner, then the choice becomes a bit of a no-brainer. While I enjoy the time I can spend as Susie when L goes away for a few days, there comes a point when the house starts to feel a bit lonely.

Here's a thing.

I discovered the work of American writer William Vollmann back in the late 1980s via his Pynchonesque debut novel You Bright and Risen Angels and the collection Rainbow Stories. He followed this with a massive and ambitious 'Seven Dreams' book sequence on the history and colonization of the Americas, though my bookshelves suggest I only made it as far as the first volume, The Ice Shirt.

 I'm not sure what prompted me to remember his name and run it past Google the other day, but it turned up a book of his I'd not previously heard of, although it was published back in 2013.


This is The Book of Dolores, a book of paintings, sketches and photographs of Vollmann as his female alter ego, Dolores, who he describes as 'a young woman trapped in this fat, aging male body'

Vollmann's interest in cross dressing in the 1980s while researching an Inuit myth in which a brother transforms into a woman, and later writing about cross dressing clubs in in Japan which led to his realisation that "I had always imagined femininity as what you’re born with, what’s between your legs."  "And then I realized: no, it’s a performance. It’s about how you move, all the things you do to get ready."

Vollmann himself started seriously cross dressing as Dolores in 2008, while writing a novel about a Mexican transsexual sex worker of the same name. 

Stephen Burt, who also sometimes presents and writes as his own female persona Stephanie Burt, reviewed Vollmann's book for The New Yorker 

"His Dolores imagines herself as pretty but gets caught up short by her unattractiveness in real life. Yet she doesn’t necessarily look bad, except when she puts on a scowl; she just looks bigger than model-sized, and grown-up." and notes that when speaking of Dolores Volmann "gives her, always, the grammatical third person when he write of her like this. “How many times has Dolores imagined herself to be pretty, only to inspect her portrait with her spectacles on?”'. Burt sees this as a separation of Dolores as a construct, a self-portrayed doll he can control, rather than part of Vollmann's psyche. 

This is all rather  troubling. I'm aware in my own posts and comments that I invariably talk about Susie, my other half, in the third person, as someone separate. This maybe because I nearly always write about Susie when I am back in my male mode. Or maybe it really is that I consider Susie as someone separate and not really a part of me. But that doesn't feel true either. If so, why is she a constant - and sometimes very insistent - presence in my head most of the time - even when I'm asleep? She definitely feels part of me, and an increasingly important part of me at that, if not a fully integrated one in that she lives a separate life and has a separate set of friends than my male half. I rarely if ever think about my male side when I'm Susie, only the other way round, but I wonder if that's down to the fact that circumstances dictate I live 90-95% of the time in male mode.

Joshua Cohen in another review in The Observer notes "The strangest thing about all the Dolores images is that, unlike any images of Mr. Vollmann as a man—as a white male author depicted on book flaps—Dolores is smiling" and wonders of Vollmann has "the idea (which only a man could have) that women should smile, or else he’s truly happier as a she." 

This feels truer. There are a couple of pictures of Susie where I'm looking pensive but mostly she's smiling which is a reflection of how I feel at those times. It's harder to judge in photos of me in male mode since I never take selfies in those periods, and the few I have of me are either official (ID, passport) or social occasions where the smile is expected or forced. I have one, taken by someone else, where the smile is real. This was from a convention where I finally met up with a group of people I had corresponded with for decades but either never met or hadn't seen in many years. It's about the only photo of me after my 40s that doesn't make me cringe.

I can't make up my mind about Vollmann and Dolores. I have to confess  that I've not read the book itself - it's a little hard to find and only seems to be available in the U.S. and only the introductory 20 pages (tellingly titled 'Constructions') are available from the Amazon preview - and my thoughts are based on those reviews I've been able to find. Vollmann himself seems ambivalent, while suggesting Dolores is a part of him rather than merely a dress-up doll and photographic mannequin, "I do not exactly cherish Dolores, who is, after all, an aspect of myself" while others, in particular Stephanie Burt, seem less convinced. 

As Susie, I feel perhaps closer to Burt, who is more comfortable with her female alter-ego, than to Vollmann and Dolores. But Vollmann and I are closer in age and he hits the mark when writes about the self deception  that can happen when making up and adjusting the wig in front of the mirror "perhaps because she is newer.. she appears to be blinder to her faults than I", and then the disappointment of Dolores vainly taking off her glasses (we are both very short sighted) to primp and pose for the camera and then replacing them to examine the result only to find "she did not look as pretty as she felt" and wishing "If only the camera envisioned as she did". 

"To see ourselves as others see us" wrote Burns. But would that be blessing or a curse I wonder? And if we did, would we still have the confidence to venture outdoors in a smart coat and heels again?

I wish you all the best for 2022.

Susie


 





Wednesday, 22 December 2021

Happy Holidays

The holiday season is almost upon us. 

For some us us who can celebrate and share the time as their preferred/true self with their families and friends it can be a time of joy, but for others who are unable to do so fully it can be a lonely time that hits especially hard.

If you are in the latter camp, my sympathies and especial love and wishes to you all. Although it may come of scant consolation, I know something of how you feel.

 I would happily forgo a raft of presents and treats at Christmas for the one unspoken item that has topped my wish list for the last few years: the chance to spend the day quietly as Susie together with my own partner. Or failing that, opening a present from her that is specifically intended for Susie. I know that won't happen, and that it is unlikely ever to happen, but if Christmas is not about dreams and wishes, what else is it for?

In the event, Susie will remain an unacknowledged and largely unwelcome presence in the background of this relationship over Christmas and the New Year as on any other day, however much I might wish for that situation to change. But I do have the secret satisfaction that one trace of her will be there on the day as, in something that's almost become a tradition, she has done all the present wrapping again this year.

***

I've noticed a couple of people using FaceApp images in their blog posts and I was intrigued to try it out.  As I don't have a smartphone and there isn't a version available for Windows, I ended up downloading the BlueStacks Android emulator on my PC so I could download it and give it a try -or at least the free trial version.

Naturally one of the first filters I tried out was the gender swap option. It's interesting how different FaceApp's female version my normal male self is from my own transformation to Susie. 

(I normally wear glasses, but I'm vain enough to take them off when I'm Susie, at least for photos, although maybe I don't have the right frames. Interesting that FaceApp also thinks I should be a redhead. I'm not even sure how I knew that.)










Then I tried playing with some of the other filters, the most interesting of which was 'age'.

So I now have an idea of what what I might have looked like if I had been the person I wanted to be as teenager.


butter wouldn't melt...


xx Susie

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Domestic Bliss?

While giving the bathroom and the stair carpet a thorough clean before my other half* was due back yesterday, I was struck by two thoughts: 'Why is it you never have a maid’s outfit when you really need one?'**, and 'where does all that hair come from'? What remains of my own hair is nowhere near that profuse or long and we haven’t had a cat in many years after our first feline housemate died. 

[* my other half as a couple. My other half is, of course, Susie. Which is useful in shops when I  can say honestly that I am buying something for my other half and not specify which one I mean.]

[** I still haven’t quite laid that particular adolescent fantasy to rest. Sad, isn’t it. ]

But it also sparked one of those curious random flashback memories from my first time living alone.

If you show even a trace of domestic competence as a male, such as cooking, cleaning, washing or mending clothes, have you ever had someone tell you, even in jest, “You would  make someone a good housewife”? And how did it make you feel at the time? 

Times and attitudes, of course, change. That sort of comment would seem out of place now. Nowadays we are probably more likely to regard a man who can’t even boil an egg, or load a dishwasher or a washing machine with scant sympathy or even scorn rather than expect them to know nothing about such things and to rely on or expect a more domestically competent member of the other sex to always do it for them. 

But the memory of this instance, in my case, dates back to the mid 70s, when some people actually regarded Alf Garnett as a role model. It was said, I think, by one of my landlords after I first moved out to live on my own. Or maybe by a flatmate. I’m not sure. I’m not even sure what prompted it. I can’t even remember what I was doing at the time: sweeping the communal stairs or cooking something that didn’t involve merely opening tins or (throwback horror) Pot Noodles.  I certainly wasn’t wearing a pretty floral frock at the time. Or even an apron. (While I grudging acknowledged that side of me existed and had been there for  as long as I could remember, I was trying as hard as I could to ignore it.)

It obviously jostled a nerve, otherwise why would would it have lodged in my memory to reappear many years, decades even, later. How would I have felt about it at the time (or even now)? Defensive perhaps, even secretly smug (my parents both worked; I learned to cook and clean at an early age). Maybe even secretly thrilled at the idea. 

It was that fantasy vision of stereotyped domesticity  that would come back to bite me some years later when my first girlfriend saw me dressed for the first time, ironing a skirt in her parents house that we had moved into to look after for a week when they were away on holiday. My girlfriend knew I dressed. I had already told her in a long heart to heart early in our relationship. She had just never seen it up to that point. She had even suggested I should take advantage of the family home as a safe space away from our prying landlord to relieve my obviously pent-up desire and frustration to dress and live as a woman (but only indoors) for that week. But seeing me, made up, legs shaved, wearing  a blouse, skirt and heels and standing  ironing a blouse, broke something in our relationship. From that point she could no longer see me as a boyfriend. That other image would always stand between us. We survived the week, though I stepped dressing before it finished, but two months later she was gone, leaving an empty bedsit flat when I returned from an overseas business trip. 

My current partner also knows I dress. In fact she knew before we moved in together. She’s never seen me dressed as Susie (although that name came many years later) and has made it clear that she doesn’t want to, or even talk about it. We have a fortuitous arrangement where they are a number of days where she wants to go out alone or with friends and thus give me 'time to myself’. Perhaps not as many as I’d like, or for as long (and for that reason I’m both putting off and dreading retirement, but for how much longer I don’t know). Neither does she really want to know what I do on those days. But we’ve survived thirty years together, which is better odds than I might have expected from past experience. 

Monday, 20 September 2021

Getting out and about: Belonging and blending in.

Several t-girls, including Lynn and Hannah have written about passing - or more probably not exactly passing, but at least being taken for the way you choose to present when out and about.

You’re good girl. You’re a good tall girl. You’re a good sturdy girl” (Self Esteem, “I Do This All the Time”)

While the above quote may seem a bit of a back-handed compliment to a self-conscious cis-girl, I suspect quite a few of us would gladly take it as an affirmation.)

At a bit over 6 ft I realise that I am unlikely to pass unnoticed, especially in the street or in shops. There’s little you can do about that, except avoid adding to the problem by wearing heels. (I tend not to and elect for flats when I’m out, and on the basis that if I look at what other women are wearing it also tend to be flats, trainers or low-heeled boots. And the few times I’ve been out in even low (one inch) heels I became acutely conscious of the sound of my steps on the pavement, even if heels do force you into taking smaller steps in a more feminine gait - something which you have to remember and concentrate on when walking in flats .It’s a bit of a trade-off, especially for us girls of height.

What’s the answer? Perhaps to slouch a bit to try and minimise your height? Absolutely not. Don’t. Again, take note of other women around you and how they hold themselves. Men often hunch or slouch, usually leading their walk from the upper body or shoulders. Women, with a different weight distribution and centre of gravity, walk from the pelvis with their shoulders straight, and lead with the foot first. It takes conscious practice and it’s often easy to forget, especially if you get to the comfortable point of no longer thinking about how you are dressed and start to fall back into more male mannerisms. (My default look these days tends to be skinny jeans or leggings and a sweater, partly for comfort and partly for anonymity and  not to stand out, although there will always be those occasions when you see someone wearing something particularly stylish and think “I wish…”)

Confidence is a preference” (Blur, ‘Park Life’)

As Stana, Kandi and many others have said when touching on this topic, the main key to not drawing the wrong attention to yourself is to act as if you belong – “nothing to see here-  just another woman going about her business - glance away and carry on.” Getting to that point does take a bit of confidence. I gradually build mine starting with greetings exchanges with early morning joggers and dog walkers in parks or the local nature reserves (again, a reason not to conspicuously over or underdress unless you want to try pulling a 4 in stiletto out of the grass or a muddy path).

 Initially I would try and limit those encounters to a brief “Good morning” to older women out walking their dogs As confidence grew that people seemed happy to take me as I presented I gradually expanded those encounters to the point where a man walking his dog greeted me as “love” and I treasured that for the rest of the day. At point I felt confident enough to take Susie into indoor spaces: a small art exhibition in a village hall, an afternoon at church sale, browsing in charity shops or the sale racks in Sainsburys, or a quick drop in the library.

Actually my first excursion into a public space was my first appearance (and so far only, but more to do with the lack of places to change in central Oxford) as Susie at a meeting of the local trans support group in the upstairs room of a pub in central Oxford. Both scary and exhilarating – especially that first walk along the High Street to the venue, but the reception was worth the first night nerves.

Which brings me to another point. Safety. My first tentative ventures outside were alone and at night. I really don’t recommend this. It can be very scary. Remember how you might look to others and don’t put yourself into unsafe places or situations. (Although I can guarantee that after the first time you feel you are being followed with your keys gripped tightly in one hand you will have a much starker idea of what most women have to deal with every day. You won’t forget that easily) Then there’s the additional issue that if you are identified as trans or a cross-dresser out alone you may make yourself even more subject to abuse or attack.  As a first timer you may think that you may be less likely to be ‘read’ after dark, but it’s not worth the danger. Just don’t. If you really have no other option, make sure there is someone with you.

After that experience I swapped late walks for morning ones. Early enough that I could leave and usually return before the neighbours were up and about, though sometimes a little touch and go on the return, but not so early that it wouldn’t yet be light and that there wouldn’t be a few people around (at bus stops, jogging, or taking dogs for an early walk).

Building confidence in being out is still a work in progress. I would still like to visit a proper tea room rather than a supermarket cafĂ©, or go shopping in town or visit a museum, and I would love be able go out with a trusted friend (male or female) maybe for a drink or a meal. 

xxx

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Like mother, like daughter?

 

At the risk of wearing it out, lets paraphrase Oscar Wilde once more.

"All women come to resemble their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That is his."

Or so it seemed until a few weeks ago. 

They say the camera never lies, and indeed in a lot of my photos it does have an unnerving habit of looking right through the painstakingly applied layers of make up and contouring to show the old me that I've spent an hour or more trying to hide under a layer of cosmetics.

That is until this photo, taken a few weeks back, where what I noticed with a slight shock was not only Susie as I hoped to see her, but also, rather unnervingly, my mother looking back out at me. 

Its something about the eyes and the set of the mouth, familiar from many family photos of around 20 years ago.

I'm really not sure how I should feel about this. Worried, or quietly pleased. On the whole I think I'm pleased. Plus I think this is also one of the better photos of Susie and being able to see an echo of my mother in it as well makes it kind of special.

(I've often wondered how much my  mother knew or suspected about my dressing from the time I was 10 to my late teens when I left for university. Not having any clothes of my own - I didn't start shopping for clothes until my mid twenties - I 'borrowed' a number of her outfits. And not matter how careful you think you may have been putting everything back in its place, there must have been tell-tale signs. Did she ever suspect she may have been had an eldest daughter as well as a son?)



The above photo was taken when I had a period three days to myself as Susie around the end of August, during which I managed to get out for several walks and even a few quick trips to the shops. (After spending  hours getting ready, I really didn't want to have to go though the whole change again just because I needed bread and milk.) 

I was anticipating the eventual comedown to set a few days later after L returned from her few days away and Susie had to disappear again. What I didn't expect was that both of us would come down with a cold that lasted the best part of two weeks and at least three boxes of tissues between us. 
Thankfully the cold has mostly gone now, just in time for another break where I have a couple of days to myself this week when I can let Susie out (and about) again. 










Monday, 16 August 2021

No Room in the Closet

"All women dress like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That is his"

(a wonderful misquote of Oscar Wilde in Alan Bennett's 40 Years On)

"No man does."

Apart from those of us who did at an early age, those being the only female clothes readily available to us, unless we were fortunate enough  to have sisters close to us in age. Unfortunately, my only sister being very much younger than me meant that by the time I started to explore those feelings I had as much chance of wearing her dresses as those of her dolls, so I missed out of whole experience of dressing as a girl - except in my dreams - and that moment had long passed by the time I was brave enough to venture into a charity shop and look for clothes of my own. But back in 1967 I would always feel a frisson of desire when I heard the plaintive complaint of outrage on The Who's 'I'm a Boy' from a boy being dressed as a little girl by a mother who only wanted daughters and wish we could have swapped places. Maybe outwardly I might have protested too (though I'm not sure) but inside I would have been thrilled and delighted.

I had a similar reaction of missed opportunity when I came across a  recent post from Stana (femulate.org) which mentioned a young Minecraft gamer, who blogs under the name F1nn5ter,  who as a result of losing a bet started to blog as as a e-girl named Rose. Things started to escalate as Finn accepted more bets and challenges from viewers to the point where he was practically dressing and blogging as Rose full time, first for a week, then a month, then three months.  While Finn makes no effort to pretend be other than a boy dressed as a girl (often in the mostly ridiculous outfits his viewers send in bids for), he definitely aced the genetic lottery when it came to facial features. As Rose, he is remarkably pretty (and manages an enviable cleavage). 
He has even inspired a few others, and one gamer he chats with, who goes by the name Fr3ddi, is if anything even prettier.

But it was this post on Finns YouTube channel which caught my attention, where Finn goes for a walk outside at night dressed as Rose (Night time walk as Rose).  

Watching this took me back to my first blog post when I did the same thing for the first time six years ago back in July 2015. And like Finn I was acutely conscious of the sound of my heels on the pavement, (I've since learned to wear flats or low heel boots when outside and also, after one scary night when I was convinced I was being followed, of the inadvisability of going out alone dressed late at night.) 
 
I'm not sure if it this, or another when video where Finn goes for a walk  dressed (this time during the day) where he gets lost and finds himself in a road he doesn't recognise, with no idea of where he is. I've done this too, more than once. On several occasions that I've been out as Susie, I've found myself giving in to what seems like her desire to explore side roads and footpaths that I never normally go down (or in some cases wasn't even aware they existed) just to find out where they go. And on at least a couple of those occasions I have ended up getting completely lost with no idea of where I am, and am faced with a decision to either try to back track my route and hoping I can remember which turns I took, or press on in the hope that I will eventually come out somewhere I recognise. 

"Guys, I may have a problem."
In one blog a viewer asks Finn how many dresses he has so he does a quick tally and comes up with twenty four. And I suspect this is before someone posted his address online and fans started to send him parcels (anything from sweets to makeup, shoes and of course, more clothes) 
At that point it must have seemed that Rose had completely taken over any available space in the wardrobe.  That's a point I reached with Susie a while ago. Six years ago Susie's things could fit in a small suitcase. Since then they have overflowed to two drawers of the bedside cabinet,  half of the bedroom closet and part of the spare room.
A large part of that overflow could probably be put down as 'retail therapy', browsing the racks in various charity shops as a sublimation activity in extended lean periods when dressing was not possible. 

Two thoughtful recent posts by Lynn (Time and Tide) and Andrea (The Dress) both touch on the subject of clothes buying as a form of distraction activity to try and cope with the 'pink fog' that sometimes descends at times of frustration or stress. 
Like Lynn, I am in another extended period of trans lock-down, due to the lack of opportunity and what seem an endless parade of rainy weekends though July and the first part August. 
Since my partner doesn't want to have to see Susie, opportunities for dressing usually only come on weekends when she goes out for the day to pursue her own photographic interests but also that I can "have some time for myself". 
It's a compromise that usually works out fairly well (and that I'm hugely grateful for) but it's very dependent on the weather forecast for the weekend and it's often left both of us frustrated and tetchy after a long series of rainy weekends.
It's then that the urge for a bit of sublimation activity to scratch the itch kicks in and I spend time browsing the racks in local charity shops. Luckily I have not succumbed to the temptation of shopping online, despite the tempting adverts cropping in the sidebar of my email account. I'm also acutely aware that Susie is in danger of staging a trans takeover of available space in the house - not just in the closet (and when was the last time I bought anything for my male self, apart from socks?) but that the overflow of wigs, shoes and makeup is competing for the space for my guitars and keyboards in the spare room. So for various reasons I've become a lot more selective about bringing any new stuff into the house. Do I really need another yet dress or pair of shoes and if so, why? - and will I ever wear it, or am I just buying for the sake of buying something? (I have a similar problem with buying CDs that I rarely get round to listening to, but at least they don't take as much space, although they are starting to stack up in piles around the house.)


I don't know if was Finn's idea to get a bridal gown or whether it was something in the many parcels that viewers and fans started mailing him. (I do wonder how may of Finn's viewer are secretly of our ilk and  use Finn willingness to dress up in a series of fantasy outfits to sublimate some of their own desires.) 
He does make a delightful bride though, although with the same struggle to get into a long corset style dress that Andrea mentioned. 
I've never succumbed to the lure of a wedding gown, or even a bridesmaid's dress, mainly for practical  reasons. Where would I keep it, and when would I even wear it? It's a bit impractical for housework, never mind nipping out en-femme for a a loaf of bread or bottle of  milk. But I can see the allure. Possibly most impractical dress I have is a long back button dress which requires an equal amount of contortion and arms that bend the wrong way to get into (and equally importantly) out of.

[I have a slightly shameful fantasy here, of being buttoned into a dress that it is impossible to unfasten on your own and thus dependent on someone else to let you out of. It's probably the nearest I come to a bondge sub/dom fantasy.]

No points, apparently, for the spot the lyric quiz in my last post. It was from the middle section of Genesis' 'Supper's Ready'. I know I'm old, but I didn't realise I was quite so outdated.

xxx
Susie


Friday, 23 July 2021

Now We are Six

 Now we are Six

Or so an email today from Tumblr informs me.

Who remembers – or still uses - Tumblr these days? But apparently it still remembers me, enough to send a birthday message at least. And a reminder to update or verify my account.

Tumblr must have been my first attempt at a blog, or least until I got bored with posting badly photoshopped pictures of Susie and used it for posting bits of artwork instead, and then abandoned it in favour of Blogger where I had more control (theoretically, anyway) over the mixture layout pictures and words. And there on and off (sometimes for quite long periods) I have remained.

But Susie is six? At least as far as her appearance in the blogosphere is concerned. My first Blogger post is dated 19 July 2015 . Perhaps there should be cake, and candles. (Actually, there should always be cake., although I’m prepared to forego the trifle.)

And I wonder if some of those early posts will prove just as embarrassing as seeing your baby photos when looked back on from the grown-up perspective of being six.

 ***

All change!

Feel your body melt
Mum to mud to mad to dad”

 [points to anyone who identifies the quote.]

The Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu (Zhuang Zhou) once dreamed  he was a butterfly, and when he awoke suddenly he wondered if he was now Chuang Tzu who had just dreamed of being a butterfly or a butterfly now dreaming he was a man called Chuang Tzu.

While I wouldn’t go so far as to describe Susie as a butterfly, except perhaps in her flightier moments, or her rare, fleeting appearances in the garden, I think I sometimes know how Chuang Tzu must have at that moment of feeling still suspended between two different states: that of a light carefree butterfly and the solid reality of mundane existence.

It’s a feeling that lingers in that hour or so when the last traces of Susie have been packed safely away out of sight after receiving a phone call from L saying she’s on her way home, and before she comes in through the door, bursting to tell me all the news of her day out. In that state I am neither completely one thing nor another. I am no longer Susie, and I’m just starting to miss her – especially the feeling of hair against the back of my neck once more, but I have not yet fully adjusted to being boring old S again. 

(For myself, I will not be asked about how my own day was, or what I did, unless the answer contains no reference to spending the best part of it as Susie. While her existence is acknowledged in this house, it is not open to discussion.)

That context switch from being Susie back into mundane life can sometimes prove difficult, especially when you’re busy editing your answers before you speak.  This is something that came up in an LGBT+ Ally discussion at work. Self-editing your responses when your boss or colleague asks about your weekend because you’re not comfortable being out at work  takes a lot of mental effort that is basically wasted - and constant non-committal answers have the danger of making you seem aloof, distant or stand-offish. That wasted mental effort, and the strain it imposes, is part of the reason the company I work for has a strong Pride LGBT+ network and encourages and supports people who want to be out and open at work. It’s not totally altruistic: All that wasted mental effort, they judge, could be better used thinking about work and contributing to company goals. But it is a move towards a win-win situation. (That is, if you actually like your work.)  

Although here I perhaps ought to confess that despite being on my workplace’s Pride committee, I am not out myself as trans / bi-gender, even to fellow members of that committee. That time may still come, but it still seems a big and potentially irrevocable step to take, despite all the reassurances about diversity and inclusion, after 40 years of being in hiding.

Sunday, 4 July 2021

A Bridge too far.

 While not entirely surrounded by water like the fabled Seven Bridges of Konigsberg problem*, the village that I live in is bounded on one side by a canal and on the other by a small river  and by a couple of small nature reserves at the top and bottom of the village. 

(*well, famous a handful of mathematicians and students of graph theory anyway.)

There are around five bridges (I can never keep track) mainly on the canal side, plus two or three locks that allow footpath access to some of the neighbouring villages on the either side.

When I first started venturing out in the early mornings as Susie, sometime in mid-2019, it was often those two nature reserves and trails that I headed for, where I could walk for an hour or two and not encounter anyone apart from a few intrepid joggers and early morning dog walkers. (Later, as I grew more confident, I would look forward to these chance encounters and even stop for a brief chat or make a fuss of a playful dog.) 

I've only ever done the full route (some 12 miles) once, which proved to be a bit of mistake. Probably as a result of dehydration and tiredness, I took an awkward tumble on the way back. The next day I found I couldn't put any weight on my left foot, and was still hobbling about painfully for the next two or three weeks, and which put paid to any more excursions for the result of summer.

After that I decided to take things in more relaxed and manageable chunks, taking  in just one side or the other and two three bridges at a time. At some point I decided I should bring a camera with me and record of photo of Susie at each of those crossing places. 

Then just as I was getting more comfortable and confident about those weekend morning walks, along came covid and the first lockdown, which put paid a those excursions for a while, since it's very difficult to maintain 2m distance on a narrow towpath from someone coming in the opposite direction without diving into a hedge or ending up in the canal, neither of which are guaranteed to enhance a lady's dignity.

Indeed, it's only recently that I've restarted some of those morning walks again. So here's a reminder of those pre-lockdown days when a chance encounter on a morning walk was an opportunity to exchange friendly greetings or a few word rather than avoidance and concerned looks. Hopefully we will be able to return to those days before too long.






same coat, but different hairstyle: blonde for a change.


[edit] apparently the bridge in the photo above is called a wight bridge, where a small island (wight) splits the river into two for a short stretch before it rejoins later downstream. Also the bridge I crossed to get to a neighboring village where I once spent a delightful afternoon in a church sale as just another lady from a nearby parish. See back (in black).


Thursday, 24 June 2021

Readings: Stories of loss, desire and transformation

"In Cleveland it was well known that any wild goose which flew over Whitby would immediately drop dead, and that to catch a seal it was as first necessary to dress as a woman."

This little epitaph, taken from Keith Thomas in Man and the Natural World prefaces Sara Maitland's 1988 short story 'Self-Seal', first published in A Book of Spells and reprinted in Ellen Datlow and Terri Windlings's The Year's Best Fantasy. Second Annual Collection, which is where I first read it, along with Lucius Shepard's 'Life of Buddha' (which I'll return to later.)  It is a one of a handful of trans-themed stories that made an immediate and personal connection that has remained with me since, some thirty years since I first read it.

The main character (there are only three people in the story, and two of them are not human) is a youth (never named) on the verge of manhood and yet to prove himself a man by going down to the sea's edge to catch a new born seal and bring back its skin as a prize. He has continually put this off but this will be the last year he can do it before his beard grows and it is too late. It is not the killing he is afraid of - he has slaughtered pigs, wrung the necks of chickens, drowned unwanted kittens in a sack as part of growing up on a farm. 

No, not the killing, but the feeling when his mother lays out her skirt for him the night before the mother seals arrive on the beach to give birth.

"It is the other. His mother had smiled last year when he tried to tell her. His stomach feels sick to think about it. His dreams fill with it."

When the day comes, he wakes, strips and puts on the dress his mother has laid out. It falls lumpenly, ugly. The sight of his feet poking out from the bottom are ungainly, ludicrous. In that moment, "He knows what his fear is. It is pleasure. Pleasure and desire." 

Instead he raids his mothers kist for her best clothes: stockings, corset and petticoats and bonnet, and fumbles with the ribbons with now slippery hands, until at last he is dressed and it fells right this time. One more thing. He takes a ribbon and pulls his member tightly back until he is smooth down there. There should be something else down there, something he will never know, but this is the best he can do.

As he leaves, he sees himself in the parlour mirror. How pretty she is, he thinks. And then, in the next sentence, comes the switch of pronouns. 

"How pretty I am, she thinks, and she raises the latch and skips out." 

Shivering in the cold air, she goes down to the water's edge, where the seals are coming in, to watch them give birth and suckle.

"Good morning, my dear," says Seal  Woman to her. "and welcome".   "Hello says the new Seal Child. "Will you come and play with me?". "Yes" she says, "yes, please".

So the three of them enter the sea, where they swim and play (she has no fear of drowning) and one by one she loses her bonnet, skirt and petticoats as the Seal Child nips and tugs at the laces and ribbons until there is just one small ribbon left. And when, back on the beach, this comes loose with another playful tug, there is a moment of consternation, alarm, and shame.

"I'm sorry", he says to Seal Woman.

"I was never fooled before" say Seal Woman. "Why is that?" 

"I was naked", he says. "You could have seen. You must have known"

"That's not what counts", says Seal Woman. "You must go now."

But we know. I can't speak for Sara Maitland, but in this poised moment of shame, sorrow and loss, I feel that she she does know, and that she's talking to me. That this is a story aimed squarely at how I felt at that age, and when I first read this story, and still now.

And then the exchange that has puzzled me ever since.

"I could cut it off", he offers, and for a sweet moment of fear, excitement, desire, he means it.

"No, that's not what counts," says Seal Woman.

"No" he agrees.  "Please. Please let me stay."

But the moment passes and before he can remember the reason he came in the first place, and the rock drops from his hand, they vanish  into the sea.

'Later will say, "I caught a seal, but then I let her go." He does not know if they believe him. He does not know if he is a man.'

Some of us are still wondering, or even if we really know what it fully means to be a man.

But what was meant by that last "That's not what counts", which, unless I'm misreading this, almost seems to counter the first? My reading of the first is that Seal Woman saw a girl because at their first meeting on the beach and in the water there was only a girl there to see, as evidenced by Maitland's use of pronouns, which then shift back abruptly to 'he' when the final ribbon loosens and the girl is revealed as male. Is this an argument that what counts is anatomy, or only when anatomy is revealed or, in this case, becomes erect? I still hope not. So much of what has gone before to this point, seems so unerringly accurate of that mixture of fear and desire to cross and be taken for and seen as female, that to snatch that away at the last moment, to say "that's not what counts", seems cruel.

It's an argument I have with another story, Neil Gaiman's otherwise  sympathetic graphic novel A Game of You in the Sandman series, in which Wanda, a young transwoman frightened of taking the final step of GRS, is left behind by her flatmates when they cross into another world because, according to the witch child, Thessaly, in the eyes of the Moon Goddess, she wasn't born a woman. Wanda's abandonment ultimately leads to her death when the house she has been left in comes, literally, crashing down around her,  and to the ignominy of been buried in a suit under her deadname by the parents she has run away to escape.

Gaiman has, not surprising received quite a lot of flack from readers among the trans community, either from the implication that (at least in the eyes of the goddess) what matters is how we are born rather than who we choose to become, or an inability to envisage an ending that didn't follow the tired clichĂ© of a tragic ending for a trans character, or both.

Contrast this with Lucius Shepard's short story 'Life of Buddha' in which it is magic that effects Taboo final transformation, a magic which initially seems to inhabit him precisely because of his gender fluidity, presenting at different times as a man (albeit with small breasts hidden under loose clothes) or in a dress and wig as a rather beautiful young woman. Taboo, like Wanda, is afraid of the surgeon's knife, and resists his friend Buddha's arguments that he should take the final step and become the woman that Buddha believes he is destined to be. Things come to a crisis when Taboo's flat is raided and both the attackers end up dead in the ensuing fight. Taboo, panicked and afraid, has to disappear, and Buddha sees the obvious way out. If Taboo can cure other people's complaints and remove warts and growths with his herbs and magic, why not use it for this last step. 

* * *

There are several other stories that have remained with me long after I read them (William Carlson's very strange 'Dinner at Helen's and Sonya Dorman's 'When I was Miss Dow'), but maybe for another post depending on whether this sparks any interest.





Sunday, 6 June 2021

Pride, Proud?

 The eagle-eyed (and eared) among you may have noticed that this June is Pride Month.

It's a curious time, and not just because most of the celebrations are online (or in the case of BBC Radio 6music, on the airwaves) rather than out the street.

It happens to be a curious time  for me personally because this is the first time I've been actively involved in the celebrations. 

Circumstances have conspired in previous years - even before lockdown - to prevent me actually attending a public Pride event, either as my everyday male persona or as Susie. That one is still on my bucket list.

But this year I found myself on the newly formed Pride committee at work, helping to arrange and publicize the network and a number of events lined up throughout Pride Month in June.  And it's even more curiouser* for me in that I have not actually come out to the rest of the committee as bi-gender, or hinted at the existence of Susie. Instead I registered as an ally when I joined rather than identifying as any part of the  LGBT spectrum.

[* if it's a good enough for Alice then it's good enough for me.]

It feel does a little disingenuous, and I suspect at some point that this unresolved situation may have to change. The trouble is, as with a lot of  decisions you keep putting off, the harder it gets to finally do something about it, and the more uncomfortable having to explain why you kept putting it off in the first place. 

If and when I come out at work is not down to any actual or perceived pressure to do so. The company I work for is very supportive of Pride as part of a wider remit of Diversity and Inclusion and it's made very clear that you are not expected to do anything that would make you feel uncomfortable: You can be out and proud, or you may not think you are ready, or you even think it's no-one else's damn business how you feel and you you fancy. It is entirely your choice, and everyone needs to respect that.

But Pride? If I'm still hiding the existence of Susie, even to my fellow members on the Pride committee and who I can trust to be accepting and completely confidential, then should I be celebrating Pride? Am I, in fact, proud?

Possibly not. I've lived with this dual aspect of me so long, and though some pretty grim times, that it's not something I can say I'm proud to be in the same way I can take pride in a skill or an accomplishment. It's just a weird kink, maybe even a glitch, in the way I developed. It's there, and it's always been there, and to me it's sort of like saying  you are proud of being left handed, or having blue eyes, or a middle toe longer than the rest. (I haven't by the way, so don't bother checking your own in case it's some weird medical marker.)

No. I'm celebrating Pride for other people: for my colleagues and my friends, both at work and elsewhere, whether they know me as Susie or not. And that means for you too.

Happy PRIDE.


Monday, 31 May 2021

Back (in black)

So, (she says brightly, as if five years hadn't elapsed since her last post), I have a question for those who, like me, don't or can't live in their preferred gender full time, but have to take those days on a catch-as-catch-can basis when circumstances allow.
When it's time to stand in front of the  mirror for that essential transformation from who you have to be, to who you want to be, does the face come first, or do the clothes come first?

I ask because in the early days - and in my case we are talking about the very early days  of the 1970s and 80s  before trans was an encompassing spectrum covering bi-gender, non-binary, two-spirit and the rest, there seemed to be just two options for who you were: either on the path to full transition, or  a crossdresser (and more usually the loaded term transvestite for the latter), and even then neither seemed to fit comfortably with how I felt -  but in those early days of secrecy (and, yes, a degree of shame) it was very much more about the clothes. 
But in the last few years something has changed. It's become very much more about trying to capture who I want to be seen as. The clothes aspect of the transformation has become a lot more understated and dressed down. Consequently, I find I now pay far more attention getting the face, the makeup  contouring and eyebrows, and (most importantly) the hair to the point where I can see Susie gradually emerge in the mirror, even if she is still (at that stage) flat chested and wearing one of my old raggedy sweaters.
So what changed? Partly the realization that I will never be the late teens to twenties girl who has been inside my head for as long as I can remember, but more importantly because, since the middle of 2019, Susie started to venture outside the house and into the wider world. And with that, a realisation of the importance of blending in, of how women of a certain age (it's impolite to ask, but you can make your own estimation from the pictures below) looked and dressed when out and about. 


 So, yes, five years since the last post, That's not so many. Sorry about that. What on earth  happened?
The short answer is I went into a sort of meltdown and retreat, at least for a large part of 2017-2018. The most immediate cause of that was stupidly leaving my private journal where my partner found and of course read it. And in which I had vented a lot frustration about my feelings of being trapped into pretending to be someone I wasn't happy being. Cue recriminations, accusations and a retreat, on my part, into sullen silence and a period of personal lockdown. That lasted for most of 2018, when, to my surprise, I was invited to go the the States (I'd not been out the country in almost 20 years). "You should go", my partner said. "In fact you need to, and do something to get out of yourself."  So I went, not without some trepidation (the last time I went abroad, in the early 80s, after a similar confrontation about my dressing, I returned to an empty flat). And for the first time in ages, I had fun and enjoyed myself. I came back both rejuvenated and determined that I didn't want to be in  retreat and hiding for the rest of my life. 

The first step  was to re-establish contact with the local trans support group and the second was to come out in public for the first time as Susie at one of the meetings. That first time out was a nervous moment, especially the walk to the pub, but the smiles and hugs (remember them?) were something I'll remember a long time.

Since then, I've been out as Susie a number of times. Those occasions are still on a catch-as-catch-can basis, but we've established a workable arrangement where I can have occasional days to myself, and as Susie, as long as my partner never has to meet her. 

Of course, that last bit of acknowledgement and acceptance is still pretty high on my bucket list, but outside that I've given that bucket a good denting, going out on long walks, shopping, dropping in on a local art exhibition and, still a memorable highlight, attending a church fair in a neighbouring village where the curiosity of my appearance for the ladies of that parish was not that I was unusually tall, or had big hands or a deep voice for a woman, but that I had walked "all the way from K--", a couple of miles away on the other side of the the river, just to get there.

That afternoon, browsing the stalls and  chatting over tea and cake, I almost forgot the way I was dressed, or the unaccustomed feeling of having long hair again, and felt completely comfortable and welcome. (Whether and what was said after I'd waved my goodbyes is something I'll never know, and to honest I'm quite resigned to the fact I may not always 'pass'  on every occasion I'm out, as long as people are happy to take me as I present.)

 


So, that's it, and where things remained, at least until everything got locked down again, although this time for the covid outbreak and a long period where Susie had to go back to being a fond memory, at least as being able to get out again is concerned. 
Hopefully there will be better times ahead.

xxx