Tag Archives: Life

What are you like?!

I have an “About me” page somewhere around here, but nobody ever goes there. Yeah, this is about me, but I want to know about *you*. Who are you? What fires your passion? What kind of news article is bound to get your blood pounding, and which to make you smile and know that the world isn’t such a bad place after all? What do you do to relax, where do you go? Do you prefer to listen or see or both or neither?

I was waiting for the bus this morning, and an older lady tried to stand her trolley up, but it kept falling over. “There’s nowhere flat in this city!” she exclaimed (and she’s kind of right – Sheffield is built on seven hills). And because part of who I am is being remarkably restrained under provocation, I *didn’t* say No, not even Flat Street (a steepish hill in the city centre)! Although Flat Street is so named because it is an artificially flattened slope allowing passage from the medieval fishponds (now ‘Ponds Forge’) to the top of the cliff (a geological fold known as the Don Monocline) whence sat Sheffield Castle. I didn’t say any of that, I just nodded and smiled, and then got on the bus to go to my studio at Bank Street Arts. There are no banks on Bank Street (as far as I know); it’s so called because it follows the line of the bank of the aforementioned Sheffield Castle. It runs as far as Angel Street, which has no such historical beginnings, it’s just named after a pub that was destroyed by bombing in WWII. Did I just read all that? No, it’s straight from the recesses of my brain, after hearing it at one talk two Septembers ago at Festival of the Mind.

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C’est moi

That’s who I am. I am somebody to be either sought out or avoided at parties, depending on how much random origins trivia you’re feeling in the mood for. I still need step by step instructions to fill out my tax return, but I’d be great on your pub quiz team.

As regards my questions to you: I am outraged by injustice, especially as regards the rights of children. I am comforted by humans, doing human and kind things – I believe the good outweighs the bad by a large margin, but it doesn’t make exciting news, so we just don’t hear about it (this is actually true). Choral music relaxes me, and Taverner, Tavener, Tallis and Part (composers, not a law firm) in particular. Walking in woodland, near water relaxes me. And sunshine, and gardens, and birdsong.

So, who are you?

 


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.

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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.

 


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.

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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?


Ringing the changes

See what I did there? That was a pune, or play on words, because this post has nothing to do with campanology at all! Très drole. But it does have to do with change, and it does have to do with rings. My partner and I got unmarried last weekend.

Myself and my partner hugging, barefoot in a field, with bunting behind us

When my partner and I started admitting to and exploring our different sexualities a few months ago, so much of who we thought we had been fell away. Our lives changed, we changed.  I’ll spare you the details, but that change wasn’t, isn’t, always easy. I started a journal, and most of the pages are full of positive, excited things, but there are other pages smudged with tears that just have fuckfuckfuckIcan’tdothis written all over them. But I’ve sat with my feelings of hurt, of despair, of insecurity, and I’ve come out the other side a better, stronger person, and I know that I CAN do this. And that whatever “this” is, it’s totally worth the struggle. I had some good chats with my friend Allegra about this, who then wrote a great blog post about “The transformative nature of discomfort”. Well worth a gander.

Aside to this, I had been unhappy for a long while with my boring gold wedding band. I never wear gold, and I only wear pretty. It seemed to me to be less like jewellery and more like a badge, or a stripe of office – I’m married to someone, I’m taken, I’m a respectable traditionalist and allowed to have children. I’m not saying this is what I think when I see someone else wearing one – I love all you marrieds out there, I want to give you a squishy hug and bake you a cake full of rainbows and smiles; I’m just saying this is how I felt I had been labelled.

Anyway, I digress.
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The girl, the dog, and the moon

I can’t believe I haven’t written about this before. I have a daughter. A wonderful, clever, funny, beautiful daughter. When she was two she was bitten by a dog (our dog, and probably mostly our fault, but I still don’t want to talk about it, thanks.). She has been left with permanent scars on her face, but no worse, and thanks to some impromptu puppy therapy, no scars on her heart either. In fact, since she was about four she has been begging us to get her a dog. Begging! As parents, let me tell you that the scars left on our hearts, our conscience, our confidence, were huge. So we got her stuffed toy dogs, and hoped she’d grow out of it. Yeah right. When she was eight she was going to the library and getting out as many books about dogs, and how to look after your dog, as she could carry. When she was ten she decided she wanted to be a vet, and work for a dog rescue charity. When she was eleven, she started dragging me out to a local animal shelter so we could walk their dogs. And when she was twelve, we gave in. We got that girl a dog.
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For Better Or Wurst

Life has been a bit of a drama recently, and I’ve not really talked to many people about it, so I thought I would write a few things down for your delectation and delight.  I suspect you may read this post with the same horrified fascination with which the Romans used to watch the latest Lions vs. Christians Smackdown, but maybe you’ll enjoy it and get some good thought-food out of it.

I’ll give you some bullet points as a primer, then some more detail.  Are you ready? You don’t have to take notes, it’s OK.

  • Came out as queer
  • Partner retaliated by also coming out as queer (but not as queer as me, ha. I win)
  • Decide to open our marriage to waifs and strays
  • Spend so much time talking and loving and talking we end up with serious sleep deprivation
  • Invoices go unpaid so we have to raid savings to cover bills
  • Have to cancel planned festival holiday because we now have no money
  • Black depression and bitter disappointment in one party, and not just from the holiday cancellation
  • Other party cancels fun plans to look after aforementioned party
  • Shower breaks, but too soon after other major plumbing work to comfortably ask landlord to fix it
  • Shit just goes wrong, OK?
  • Shit goes right, depression banished, invoices start getting paid
  • One party has massive meltdown as relief sets in
  • Open relationship going even better than expected
Mellorware teapot

You can take a tea break now, if you like.

So, early in April, I came to the scary realisation that I am bisexual.  I’m not a teenager, just starting to explore my emotions, and worrying what my parents might think, I am a grown woman, emotionally mature (quiet, you), married for nearly 15 years, thinking Why Now? and WTF? and worrying what my children might think.

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Out

And if you wondered what prompted that last post, here you go.

Yes I am

Married, mid-thirties, two kids – I’m sure you can see why I was a bit thrown. But hey, it’s all good now.

That’s all, must dash – Life beckons 😀