The Half-Danish Girl

Eddie Redmayne as Lili Elbe)

[Gratuitous pic for no reason other than ‘Oh Eddie, when did you get so pretty?’]

Me, btw. I’m half Danish. Anyway… I watched The Danish Girl last night.  I have to say I really enjoyed it (the copious and gratuitous screen-time given to Nyhavn and Art Nouveau style certainly helped), but for some reason I couldn’t quite put my finger on, it jarred. I thought at first it was just that my own expectations of what kind of a story it might tell were snagging up against the actual story being told, that the disconnect between being LGBT in 2016 and being trans in the 1920s (when there wasn’t even a word for it, let alone any meaningful examples of ‘how’ or ‘what’) was unexpectedly wide. But the more I turn it over in my mind, the more I feel angry that the narrative I saw unfold on the big screen was poorly, wrongly and inconsistently told.

Let’s get this clear, I am a cis woman. I do not know, deep down, what it is like to be trans. But I do know that ‘the trans experience’ is not a simply labelled box, and will vary as much from person to person as any human experience. So I will say that while I found Lili’s (Eddie Redmayne’s Lili, not the historical, real person of Lili) story a bit weird, I am also happy to accept that some trans people have exactly that experience. Is the split-personality, talking about yourself in the third person thing common? I mean I suspect not, but really I don’t know. I am also happy to accept that The Danish Girl is an excellent starting point for the majority of people who have no experience of trans stories; I’m glad that it was made, and that it has been so successful. Yay. To all you such people – don’t stop here, find out more!

Because while starting points are good, here we have cis straight white men rewriting and performing a history that isn’t theirs, thus silencing important voices that the world needs to hear. Lili Elbe’s diaries were made into a book, so it’s not like her voice has been lost – just ignored. When Hollywood does this to a slice of society that is *routinely* silenced, and abused, and misunderstood, they are actively reinforcing an existing, faulty narrative, in a way that harms people. A narrative that in this case showed the world that a trans woman is a man who dresses, and play-acts, as a woman (and still behaves like an entitled male prick when it comes to expressing this play act to his wife. Sigh). Underlined by the choosing of a man, to play a transwoman. By the way, if they can make James McAvoy look like a fucking faun, they can make a trans actress look like a man, so there are no good excuses here. Eddie Redmayne = box office dollars and no male hierarchy boats rocked, stop pretending otherwise.

disguised_actors_14

Holly wood magic. It can be done.

No, I am not trans. But my wife is. So I cannot add much to Hollywood-Lili’s story, but I absolutely can connect with Hollywood-Gerda. Kind of. But Real Gerda is so much more complicated than dutiful-confused-wife Hollywood-Gerda. So actually… I couldn’t connect.  See, this is what *really* bothered me: the reinforcing of the narrative that when a spouse comes out as a trans woman, the wife (who is always straight, btw) is left sacrificing all she holds dear and ends up hurt, frustrated, and in need of a man who doesn’t exist any more. Cries of ‘But I miss my husband’ and ‘Your husband is dead now’ and all that tragedy. It left me wondering – is that how people think it happens? That’s not what happened to me, and that’s a horrible story, why would you show people that? Where is my story?

But, nobody else is going to tell my story, and I realised last night that I’ve never even told it myself. I thought people would just know. But maybe people don’t, maybe they assume that Hollywood-Gerda’s experience is my experience, and I’m just being brave about it. So, for anyone who wants or needs to hear it, this is my story. Because I’m through with everyone equating trans to tragedy.

I met my partner when I was 17, we married when I was 22. We have grown up together, and always been the best of friends. We have two children, who are amazing. We talk, a lot, and so her coming out as a woman was a gradual blossoming that took many months. Whenever I see onscreen couples that don’t communicate properly I just want to knock their heads together – and Gerda and Einar were an amazing couple, so the non-communication and subsequent on/off breakdown just didn’t ring true.  My partner has now changed her name, and is in the process of accessing support from a gender identity clinic. I don’t want to say ‘transitioning’, because that implies a start and an end point, and a changing of who she is, and the point I really REALLY want to ram down Hollywood’s throat is that *she is the same person she always was*.  She has grown, in ways I hope we all continue to grow as human beings throughout our lives. But I have not lost my husband, my husband is not a person who has died and been replaced with another, my husband is *exactly the same person*, except now I say “wife” when I talk about her. She still likes mushrooms, and fruitcake, and cycling, she is still an amazing musician, and a terrible Star Wars geek (I mean good, she is a good Star Wars geek – oops). She steals my cool tights now, is growing her hair long, and wears skirts more than I do, but as a person she Has. Not. Changed.

I have been privileged to see the person I thought I knew blossom into someone neither I – nor she – ever realised was there. She has always been a woman, it is society that told her that because her body looked like a stereotypical male body, thus she must be male. She must dress in man clothes, and do man things, and *pretend to be a man so deeply that she comes to believe it herself*.  I love her with all my heart, and maybe my feelings for her have become a bit more protective (thanks, established narrative, for continuing to endanger trans women), but really? To be witness to the person I love stepping into their truth, and letting me step with them through the fears, the doubts, the hurts – and the joy; who could not want that?

Painting of Lili Elbe and Gerda Gottlieb by Gerda Gottlieb

Lili Elbe and Gerda Gottlieb by Gerda Gottlieb

I accept that my bisexual identity does mean that male/female holds no issue for me, whereas it may do for others, but this is my story. I’ve heard enough sad stories and I wanted a counterpoint to them. So, none of the grieving for someone I’ve lost, no discomfort in the label of ‘husband’ becoming ‘wife’ (because they’re just different words applied the Same Person – have I said that yet?), no shame, no hiding, no frustration. I’m not going to tell you about the sex, because I need to keep *some* boundaries. But, please don’t worry on my behalf ;) Oh, and you know what? The kids are completely unfazed by it too. They don’t care what gender or sexuality their parents identify as, because we’re (say it with me) still the same people.

So, history and “complicated” ideas mangled in the name of ticket sales. Just like ‘women just want to find their man’, ‘men have to be muscled heroes’, add it to the list of stories we absorb. Yeah, I know, HOLLYWOOD, but it still grates, no matter how often it happens.

Please, share my story. Not because it’s mine, but because it could be yours, or your friend’s, or your co-worker’s. Yes, I am white and privileged, so my experience will not be everyone’s, but it is one more to add to your library. Don’t assume that when someone comes out as trans – male or female or neither or anything in between – that the person they are will be lost forever, or changed beyond recognition. Instead dare to assume that everything will be as it always was, only more honest, and more joyous because of that. Let’s make the standard narrative not “person is trans, everything falls apart”, but “person is trans, WOOO YAY BALLOONS!” Because surely nothing is more worthy of celebration than finding your true self, finding the courage to live it, and loving supportive people to live it with. Those are the stories I want to hear.

 


Unconditional love

I’ve just read a blog post about snow, which drops in the (widely held, according to this) forecast that unless climate change can be halted, there will be no snow in Utah by the end of this century. The author says “My memories [of thick, winter snowclouds] make it incredibly painful to imagine a Utah without snow, but this is the reality confronting us.”

Across the globe the impacts of climate change are painfully uprooting people’s (possibly nostalgia-tinged) memories of what a place is like. Should be like, has always been like. We humans are very clever, and are more than capable of seeing the bigger picture, but somewhere deep inside, don’t we hold ‘what it was like when we were growing up’ as the yardstick to measure life by? Did you grow up with central heating, and shudder at the idea of life without it? Did you grow up with an outside toilet, and roll your eyes at people complaining their bathroom is too cold? When I look back at my childhood winters, they were filled (like, for weeks) with snow, sledging, days off school and failed attempts at igloo building – and this in Gloucestershire. So I remain perplexed when people in Yorkshire get wiggy about a couple of days of snow in January. But isn’t this normal? I ask. But ‘normal’ is what we grew up with. Nothing is ‘normal’ any more. Like it or not, believe the reasons or not, the climate is changing. Every year we see new weather records – hottest June, wettest December, highest monsoon, most ice lost, earliest melting.


So we are losing the things we love. This earth we live on is changing, and things are dying. People, species, hope. It’s easy to read the statistics and despair. And nothing I can say, no wishful thinking or positive affirmations, can change the facts. So maybe your childhood was filled with snow, and you have to face an adulthood without snow. Maybe the home where you grew up was filled with flocks of starlings, chattering and murmurating across the evening skies, and now there aren’t any. It hurts, it’s painful, I hear you; but I want to take your despair and kick its backside right out of the room. Let’s ask another question: maybe your partner is diagnosed with a degenerative disease, or maybe your parent succumbs to dementia. That person you love, you’ve know for so long, is changing, and there is nothing you can do. Do you despair? Or do you love them anyway? Do you love them as much when they cannot speak to you, as you did when they could? Will you love them when the chemo steals their hair? Will you love your home even when it loses its snow?

If we love this world, this earth, then we must love it unconditionally. If Utah loses its snow, it will not cease to be Utah, it will be a different Utah. And we can mourn the change, but we must continue to fight for its survival. I think this for me is the essence of climbing the Dark Mountain. Earth is still Earth, whatever state it is in. We must love it, and fight for it, and protect it, but we must never let change be perceived as failure, and an excuse to give up. Change is constant, and so must we be.  And yeah, I can see how this might be hard to hold in your head, the seeming dichotomy of ‘we must fight to prevent change’ and ‘we must accept change’, but come on. There are plenty of lessons out there from people who are doing this already; we’re clever. We can do this. We can love.

 

 

 


You Are So Very Beautiful – a craftivist project

[Reblogged from Pickymiss.com]

heartplaysmall

The photo above is one of the pieces of encouragement I’ve been leaving around the place for a few months now. Not all at once, just one at a time, when I can. If you follow me on Instagram you might have seen them. But now I find something similar you might want to be a part of: because that amazing Betsy Greer is at it again, stitching things to make the world a brighter place. And she wants YOU (points finger) to get involved. Stitching positive affirmations, no bigger than the palm of your hand, and putting them out there for people to find. Like these:

You-Are-So-Very-Beautiful-Craftivism-on-Uncustomary

The ‘You Are So Very Beautiful’ guerilla art drop is happening in Baltimore and London on 7th February, so if you’d like to stitch something for it, or get involved in some other way, get in touch. For details (including posting addresses) of how to send sunshine and happiness to Baltimore and/or London, look at Craftivism.com. Please make sure your stitchings will arrive by February 4th. These three are en route to the Maryland as I type :)

yasvb

I’ll leave you with Betsy’s words about why she started this:

“Because craftivism is as much about fighting the bad things of this world as it is about fighting the bad things we tell ourselves. We live in a world where the media constantly tries to tell us what is in, out, cool, passé. Every day we have to fight to remember that we are enough just as we are, we are beautiful just as we are. Some days, though, we forget. And those days can drag on into weeks and months. Leaving our souls sucked and dry, leave us husks of what we were as children, back when we knew we were amazing.

It’s time to remind both ourselves and others of just how wonderful we are just as we are. It’s time to let our acts of stitching go by leaving them in places for someone to find, someone who needs to hear those words just as you do, if not more. As craftivism is about healing ourselves as we make, and then healing the world with our products, let’s get to it.”


Democracy isn’t picking the nicest guy

You know what’d be good, and I accept this might be a radical and naive idea, would be if instead of MPs, we had ‘elected representatives’. Not people we voted in because we liked their opinions, but people chosen to listen to the people in their area and represent those views before the current government in charge.

I’d like to sit Nick Clegg down and say ‘Listen you spineless weasel (which essentially makes him a small and ineffective draught excluder, but that’s another story for another time), I don’t give a shit what you think. It’s not your job to have an opinion, it’s your job to represent the opinions of your constituents. You are not a leader, you are messenger, to whom WE have given power and authority to effect change. But not YOUR change. So do your fucking job.’ And then I’d punch him in the face and fly home on my unicorn. Sigh.


Rise and Root – a rune for the revolution

A few years ago a wonderful creative wild woman called Rima Staines posted on her blog a vision for subverting the blandness of the rat race we inhabit. She crafted this beautiful image for all of us to share, to draw and paste and print and stick and share as widely and as brilliantly as possible.

riseandroot

“I suppose I wanted to plant my revolution-seed in the dirt in the cracks of the pavements, in the dirt between the formica and polyester, in the dirt pushed to the edges of millions of touchscreens, in the dirt underneath escalator rails and hygienic hand-dryers. Like the gargoyles and marginal grotesques of the middle ages, I wanted to coax beauty in once more like a stranger to the citadels of public ugliness we all have become so used to. I wanted to surprise and unnerve and delight and disedge all the lovely human beings who have grown so unseeing in the unbeautiful subway of their daily rush through these places.”

I think we can all plant seeds like this. It’s what draws me to craftivism, and leaving my own art for people to find. It’s what keeps me looking up, when all around me hurry along with heads bowed against the wind and the dirt and the heaviness of surviving. Just seeing, just slowing down and looking around, is a radical act of dissent in this world of instant gratification and relentless productivity.

Rima also gives us a rune, which came, she says, through a dream, and via birch trees and sketchbook became this:riseandrootrune

Take this, Rima says, “as a symbol we’ll all recognise when it’s chalked on our doorsteps, and tattooed on our foreheads.”

You can (must) read her blog post here, and check in the comments for links to the full-size images, as well as wonderful discussion as to the etymology (for want of a better word) of this rune. These images are a gift for the revolution. Take them, she says; take them and run.


Checking in, and checking out

Gotta love a smartphone. It’s like I open my eyes, and the first thing on my mind is ‘I wonder what’s going on in the world? What are the media saying about Jeremy Corbyn today, have there been any terrible disasters in the last seven hours, who’s died, who’s been saved, who’s been taking cool photos, who’s liked that witty remark I made on Facebook last night, what’s happening in the Arctic, in Syria, in Australia, in somewhere random I just spotted a mildly interesting article about?’

I tried that this morning, and it was surprisingly boring. So I think I’m done checking in with the world outside, it’ll still be there later. I’m going to start my days checking in with where I am, with who I am.  I sat in bed this morning and ran a quick diagnostic – how’s my back feeling this morning? How is my stiff shoulder, any better? Hey brain, how are you? It’s grey outside the window, that’s going to have an effect – think you can cope with that today? I checked in with my heart, asked how it was feeling, what it wanted to do today. Aside: There is a reason the heart is associated with love, with emotion, and it’s probably more amazing than you think. Your heart has neurons, like your brain, did you know that? Have a wander round this conversation and its associated links. Anyway, aside from the science, it’s just how I work. I check in with my head, and I check in with my heart, and I learn from them both. So sue me.

carpediemclose

I left the internet on my bedside table, and I walked the dog in the woods. I checked in with the trees, their leaves just starting to hint at a turn to autumn hues. I saw the moorhens looking for insects in the damp grass, and the crow family (two adults, one juvenile, and one extra – maybe a chick from last year, they do come back to help with future siblings) in their usual spot, pecking around, then flying up to a low branch to caw indignantly at my dog. I walked by the stream, which was chuckling faster and cloudier after last night’s rain, and paused to look for the brown trout that always spend the mornings swishing lazily under the bridge. I couldn’t see them through the murk, but they were there somewhere, swishing their tails and thinking trout thoughts. I listened to two robins, chatting to each other across the path, and I watched the grey clouds gradually break apart ahead of a band of clear blue sky.

My lunatic hound didn’t spot any squirrels today (thank goodness, or I’d most likely still be in the woods now, whistling loud whistles and looking like a woman who’s pretending to own an invisible dog), but still had her usual fun five minutes, racing round in large circles, chasing off the pigeons, and spattering me with wet mud every time she charged past. Dogs know how to enjoy the world. Dogs don’t worry about the opinions or body images of other dogs they’ve never met.

OK, I've run, I'm good now.

OK, I’ve run, I’m good now.

I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, living in the Information Age, but I just like to know I can put it aside, and live in the moment.  Because isn’t that all life is, a series of moments? I don’t want to lie on my death bed and think ‘I never noticed the seasons change, but at least I know why Australians put their onions out that one time.’

Happy Tuesday everyone. How are you today?


Amanda Palmer, soft fruit, and sharing.

I was in Manchester yesterday, to see the one and only Amanda Palmer, and ask if she’d sign my book. Or her book. Whatever. Look, she wrote a book, and it’s really really inspiring and beautiful, and I have a copy, and now she’s signed it for me, and I’m very happy (if a little short on superlatives – I’m tired, OK?). If you haven’t listened to her music yet, or read The Art of Asking, then you absolutely should.

Title page of The Art of Asking, signed 'For Abi. Take the fucking donuts'

Read the book. You’ll understand.

ANYWAY. I was in Manchester yesterday, and it was gorgeously sunny, and massively busy, and I was hungry after standing in a queue in Waterstones (ZOMG so many lovely booooks) for two hours. There was a hot dog stand, which was tempting (and I can never work out why), but I decided to stop at the fruit and veg stall nearby and buy a punnet of cherries instead.  And as I walked back towards the station, through the sunshine and the crowds and all the people trying to give me leaflets, I discovered something amazing. Enlightenment through soft fruit choices: I had something to share. Giving people (especially strangers) things is often weird, and hard to stop from feeling like charity. But somehow sharing things is completely different.  It’s like people are happier to take something from you if you are still keeping some – or most – of it for yourself. That way they are receiving, but not really depriving you of anything, so they are not in your debt. And you know what’s great for sharing, on a sunny hot day in a big city? Cherries.

Punnet of dark red cheries

Tiny morsels of pure joy

“Leaflet?” “No thanks, but would you like a cherry?” “Oh, how kind, thank you!” That kind of thing. I’ll borrow from Amanda Palmer’s book here, but really, it’s exactly how it happened to me too – people were surprised when I spoke to them instead of mumbling  a ‘no thanks’, or just striding past, eyes averted. Handing out leaflets, or newspapers, that nobody really wants, must be a thankless job indeed, and it was lovely to look people in the eye and say ‘would you like a cherry?’ – which really meant, ‘I see you.  You are a person, like me, and it’s a hot day.  Have some fruit.’ There was a homeless guy with a massively chunky Staffordshire Bull Terrier, who asked if I had any change. I had to admit that I’d spent my last change on cherries, but would he like a cherry? He said no thanks, but we had a chat anyway, and his scary dog with a head the size and weight of a bowling ball climbed on my knee and licked my ear.  I may have made a complete cabbage of myself when I came face to face with one of my heroes (I have no recollection of what I mumbled at the lovely Amanda, it was probably cringeworthy), but through her inspiration and permission, if you like, I shared a connection, and smiles, and a lot of cherries, with some complete strangers – who I’m sure are somebody else’s heroes in their own right :)


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