Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Botanics today.
The beauty of the trees just now simply defies description.
But I felt as if somehow my eyes had been opened.
The doors of perception cleansed.
It is still a novelty to me to wear a skirt i enjoy wearing without fear, self-consciousness or shame.
And that was part of it.
But more important, I guess, was to be there with someone I love.
Because love really does open our eyes to the beauty of the world.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

It was the day before I was due to travel north for my daughter's wedding, and I had a grant application to hand in to an office in the Lyceum admin building.
I cycled there, hasty and preoccupied.
There's a drop in centre and needle exchange at the Lyceum road end, and I passed some addicts on the way to it.
One of the group, a young woman said, just as I was passing her: "That looks just like a woman".
It's years since I've encountered that kind of abuse, and I wasn't prepared.
My defences were down. I was dumbfounded.
The crushing rudeness of these remarks; the refusal to accept me or treat me as a human being... It all came back to me, along with my inability to respond.
I cycled on before I knew what was happening; and she started singing a song like "Lust like a woman" to further mock me.
And somehow the opportunity to answer back was lost.
I was struck by the sadness of it: these unfortunates, at the bottom of the social heap, busily engaged in wrecking their own lives, should still feel free to try to bolster their self esteem by mocking me as a transsexual.
And that my internalised self-oppression, in spite of all I have achieved, should still be so strong as to knock me off balance and leave me unable to respond.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My daughter's wedding.
I want to record this here, but not write about it.
Too joyous.
Too private.
The images are enough.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Casualty: 3am; and my heart racing

I’m sitting here, I think, on this computer, and it’s about nine one Friday night.

My heart starts hammering furiously in my chest, like a child that’s been ignored far too long and is having to make more and more noise to have attention paid her.

Time to stop.

So I go downstairs to rest, and pick up the blood pressure monitor, just to see.

It tells me my heart is beating at 139 beats a minute.

I feel a bit shocked and numb and try to lie down to rest, but rest is impossible because the minute my head touches the pillow my heart beats louder than ever.

Lie up then, and try to breathe deeply, and meditate.

Impossible to meditate. Impossible to focus on anything but the unimaginably rapid beating of my heart.

Turn on the radio then, there’s a discussion about the end of design, post-design, fascinating.

And then it’s composer of the week, and this soothes me.

Besides, I’m frightened of casualty at 10pm on a Friday night.

Perhaps it’ll pass, this beating, perhaps it’ll go away. Perhaps if I settle down it’ll settle down.

So it’s back to breathing, and focusing on the little spot between my eyes and time passes, somehow.

Until some time after 3am, and it’s not getting better, it’s just not, and I phone for help.

I want a doctor, but I get an ambulance.

It’s hard to get down the stairs to open the door, and the main ambulance man seems to disapprove of me, “Is it you?”, he asks as if he thinks I might be faking, and he disapproves of the blood pressure monitor, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”, he says loftily, struggling to get the portable ECG wired up correctly, and he asks, “Is that a CPAP machine” and seems to disapprove of that also.

He just says: “The Infirmary”, and that’s it, no choice in the matter, and tells me I should have phoned hours ago.

I throw some stuff randomly into a bag, and we’re off.

The driver gets lost, and the road is bumpy, and the ambulance man spends the whole journey writing figures down into a form.

But there’s a volounteer come along, and he has a gentle way with him, and that’s comforting.

At the door of A & E there’s a woman screaming. Inside there’s police everywhere.

I get parked in a chair for a while, and sit there a bit stranded until I’m asked to move into a vacant booth and wait for my trolley.

And just then a man appears out of nowhere, running at top speed, and there’s a policeman behind him.

The policeman brings him down and they’re sprawling among the trolleys, and someone says “That’s enough to start my heart off into atrial fibrillation” and we all laugh as the man is sullenly led away.

But it’s lucky I’d moved, or he would have landed on top of me.

The woman’s stopped screaming, she’s in the booth opposite me, I recognise her from her boyfriend, still stolid, still eating crisps in a conspicuously disinterested kind of way, and she’s out of control, she’s staggering, and there’s a nurse gone over to manage her.

And then there’s another falling over with a clatter, and another with blod all over his face, and a group of girls with hardly any cloths on and their tights all ladders.

And so it goes on, and the nurses and the doctor, there must be more than one, but the only I recognise is the one dealing with me, just get on with their business as if nothing unusual is happening.

I like my doctor, he’s got a nice way with him, and he explains things in a clear and gentle way that really contradicts his somewhat sinister appearance - heavily unshaven and with something wrong with one eye that keeps it half open, half closed.

And perhaps nothing unusual is happening, this totally insane procession of self-destructive is, in fact, part of the routine.

And we’re teasing one of the x ray attendants, it’s her first night shift, ever, and she’s half dead with fatigue, and all the young people wandering about with their torn clothes and their laddered tights and their impossible shoes all have the air of people for whom this is, in fact, normal. Some of them even look quite pleased with themselves, as if getting so smashed as to end up in casualty is some kind of badge of honour.

And round about six they’re thinning out, and there’s me and the other old people, and we’re suddenly joined by a truculent old man who demands checking over. And the nurse is indignant, he’s just come off the first bus and walked straight in without even bothering to go through reception, and anyway he should get this done through his GP.

“I’m diabetic” the old man says, it’s his trump card, he knows the game, and he lets itself be chased off to reception and the nurse turns away in the hope that surly gatekeeper will turn the disagreeable old man away completely.

But he’s son back, and he’s clutching a piece of paper he’s extracted from the reception and waves it at the nurse in surly triumph and she leads him off to sort him.

Meantime I’ve really lost interest. Something remarkable is happening to me.

The doctor has located a vein, set up a drip, and just injected a beta blocker into it.
And then he’s gone off somewhere.

And I’m alone, waiting, Listening to the rapid beep beep beep of my heart monitor, still at 138, and wondering if anything will happen.

Nothing happens. I’m just giving up when the sound alerts me: the monitor slowing, and I can turn round and see the rate going down, down. 90. 80. 70 60.

My chest expands in the hugest relief, the tension is gone, that terrible inner pressure, and I can breathe easy again.

And soon the doctor re-appears, all smiles, and suddenly there’s a cup of tea and congealed white buttered toast, as if to celebrate.

For a brief delirious moment it looks like I’m going to escape... but I’m caught in the hospital machinery now and there’s no way out of it.

It’s the combined assessment ward, even though I’ve been assessed, and I get the extra privilege of cornflakes, more cold toast, and an extra cup of tea.

Also I snatch a brief moment of freedom and go to the loo, before I’m tethered to the monitor again.

Hospital, I’ve discovered in the past, is not too bad a place to be, and the people can be very clever and very kind. But you have to keep alert, and keep your wits about yo: because you have to look out for yourself.

Which makes it a really awful place to be ill.

Illness has this major inconvenience in that it frightens you, it preoccupies you, and so it distracts you so you can’t take the best care of yourself.

Luckily, I’m not ill now, I’m in full possession of my faculties, and so I know to ask the doctor if I still need to be on the monitor, and I know to tell the nurse that the doctor says I’m not to be on the monitor, and that means I can get off it, and take that hideous hospital gown off and start to dress like a human being again.

And that matters, because you can act like a human being, with strength and freedom and even a bit of self-determination, and stop being a helpless cog in an over-loaded and hopeless slow moving machine.

I start o look around me and identify the faces that go with the voices I’ve been hearing.

There’s a surly young man, diabetic, who’s about to discharge himself, and various nondescripts in pyjamas, and there’s Bill.

Bill’s been pouring out an endless tale of woe to the doctor about a long list of intractable problems, and there he is looking lost and bewildered, and he’s been asking the nurse to phone his wife so she remembers his paddi-pants, and it’s somehow just his luck that he’s taken off for a scan just as his breakfast arrives.

When he’s wheeled back the porter with the wheeled chair is busy with an incontinence pad, and then there’s Bill standing in the middle of the ward like a naughty school boy, his legs all cold and wet, and he’s asking the nurse for another pair of pyjama bottoms, and the nurse is off looking through all the linen cupboards, leaving Bill still standing, a bit unsteady on his feet now, and I can see the nurse searching down the corridor, until he comes back with a pair, really bright green and incongruous, and after some business behind the closed screens Bill can at last sit down again.

Meantime there was a woman's voice earlier, sobbing, sobbing, and a female nurse telling her “You’ve got a tube in and it does the peeing for you. You’ve no need to go to the toilet”.
Again and again. And the old woman sobbing, “Will no-one help me? Will no-one help me?”

And nobody can.

And the voice subsiding into silence.

I want to see who it belongs to, but I can’t see until much later and all the wearisome business is completed, and the cardiologist has come round, and the discharge letter has been typed, and they’ve taken off the tube in the vein on my wrist and removed my armband, and my lovely daughter and her lovely man have come to take me home.

I see her on the way out: mass of straggly hair, curled up inside the cot sides, staring blankly at a woman’s magazine.

Shockingly young.


Friday, October 08, 2010

I went to the Transgender Europe Council meeting at Malmo last weekend.
There were about 300 trans activists there from at least 20 countries.
This is how it was for me:

I guess most of us trans people have had to get accustomed to isolation.

We all have to be accustomed to danger. To the kind of abuse and physical assault typified by that suffered by members of the Turkish delegation soon after their arrival; and again by them at the hands of the police who should have been there to assist them but only added to their suffering.

It is strange to believe that my time of feeling in danger of asault and abuse - although very recent - seem to have completely passed.

Partly, I suspect, because I present as a middle aged woman. And we are invisible. Considered of no consequence or threat to anyone.

Prejudice can occasionally be useful.

As for being alone, the years when i believed myself to be the only one are long over, thank God; and as time passes, I become more and more aware of the universality of being the way we are.

But that doesn’t alter the fact that for most of my personal and professional life, wherever I am, I am the only trans person in the room, and so can easily feel myself vulnerable to scrutiny and judgement.

So to prevent a lapse into permanent paranoia I have had to develop a whole series of coping mechanisms that have become so habitual as to also become invisible.

Until, that is, I am in the Conference.

Something happens, my heart expands, it is as if a weight has lifted off of me, and at first I can’t quite grasp what has changed. Until I realise: I am in the majority. I belong.

I remember experiencing a similar sensation at the Berlin Council in 2008.

I have grown so much in confidence since then; and what soon becomes apparent is that I am not alone. The whole organisation has also matured.

At the very outset we receive a message from Thomas Hammarberg, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe. He tells us, very clearly and straightforwardly, that the rights of transgender people are a top priority for his office. Two years ago I suspect it would have been unrealistic even to imagine that so senior a figure of the European Community would make such a statement.

Yet there it was. And it was followed by a wonderful artistic and imaginative response to us and who we are from Vladimir Luxuria, Italian activist and former MP.

She spoke of herself as a “person in continuous becoming”; of us as beings in continual evolution; of our experience making each one of us unique, unrepeatable and irreplaceable.

She confirmed my feeling of the nonsense of the process I have recently had to go through - of having out of expediency to accept a diagnosis of being “mad”, “disturbed” and to submit myself to assessment from two psychiatrists so they could determine if I had the right to determine what I needed to do with my body.

She spoke of the sufferings endured by so many of us throughout the world now and in the past. And, crucially, of the criminal forced surgeries sufered by intersex people.

She spoke of Hans Christian Anderson writing a letter to his lover in which he described his feelings towards him as being feminine, of a woman towards her lover.

And suddenly to see so many of those stories, like my plays, as being the product of a trans sensibility was immensely exciting.

“We do not suffer from “gender dysphoria”. But those who oppress us do. Those who deny their own gender richness. Their own possibilities”.

As for us, she concluded, we are moving towards Gender Euphoria.

I loved that.

The next session,however was rather drier.

I started to draw in my notebook, because I wanted to remain present.

Because what was being said was actually very important: and the “Gender Goods and Services Directive 2004/113/ec” that I felt so detached from is actually of crucial importance in terms of our rights not to be denied goods and services to which we are entitled because of our transgender status.

I thought, not for the first time, of what a crucial role culture has to play in the communication of such things. Because they need to be communicated: even in an audience of activists, I suspect that a good number of us were as ignorant (and perhaps also pessimistic) about our rights as my own self.

And I started to dream of using theatre - especially Augusto Boal’s Forum Theatre, as a means of dissemination.

The afternoon was a chance to begin to explore this more fully in my own workshop.

What I had discovered in the Berlin Council was that the exercises that I have been using in my writing workshops for years - to do with encouraging participants to develop their sense of self-worth, their capacity to respond to the present moment, their skills of listening to themselves and each other, and their capacity for empathy - that these exercises had an especial power in a transgender context.

As they had again: the stories we have to tell each other have the most extraordinary power.

That much is clear.

I loved the group that assembled in the room; and I was so moved that so many of them who came - people of every gender and none - were so committed to living outside gender boundaries and defying the pressures that had weighed so heavy on me. There was a liberating kind of energy to them that was a real inspiration.

The power of our stories was clear even in the next workshop, “Do it yourself! Exploring trans video blogs on You Tube as online activism as therapy”, which I had hoped would be another hands on workshop, but instead turned out to be a PhD student presenting the result’s of one year’s work into his thesis.

An interesting thesis; a door into another world; but somewhat dry.

Stephen Whittle’s lecture was cancelled, which was a shame; but actually very fortunate as it turned out because the programming of the second half of the afternoon was seriously top heavy.

3 inspiring and entertaining films that each deserved much more celebration and discussion; followed by a presentation on the beautiful and inspiring transgender African portraits; followed by a presentation of the transgender photographic portraits cum sound installation....

Serious and important work here was being quite cursorily treated. Cultural activity is as crucial as political activity and needs to be programmed as such.

The next day’s Plenary seemed full of good intentions.

From the Swedish ombudsman:

The flowers are a bit small because beyond the good intentions... I never quite discovered how her work actually operated in practice.

Amnesty had an even longer list of wonderful aspirations:

... and EQUINET even more....

There were a lot of requests here for Trans people to come forward and engage.
Otherwise, they kept saying, we can do nothing.

But I know in myself that if in the past i have been wary of approaching Equality bodies or police bodies or any kind of body it’s because I do not trust them to understand my concerns, still less act on them.

But the last speaker cheered my heart (and if I knew how, this picture would be in glorious technicolour):

It made me incredibly proud to be Scottish, and in that room where there were representatives from at least 20 countries none of whom had in place a set of policies as progressive as our own.

Or an active, engaged, articulate, passionate and committed civil servant, speaking under her government banner, helping put them into practice.

We have so much to be grateful for: we are so fortunate that our constitution should have been put together at such a good historical time.

The afternoon was about genitals.

“Genital and Sexual Diversity” turned out to be over-subscribed: and understandably so.

My late partner, as a fierce feminist of the seventies, used to stand by two profound slogans that we would do well to consider:



Attending the workshop brought back memories of how much I used to hate my body; of how strongly I had to assert myself with the surgeon who had simply taken it for granted, without even asking me or giving me the chance to speak, that I would want full Gender Re-Assignment Surgery, or, failing that, at the very least complete removal of my penis, testicles and scrotum.

As it turned out, my decision to have my testicles removed and retain penis and scrotum was the best I could have taken, though I had to take it blindly without information or advice.

All this relates so strongly to the theme of the compulsory surgery undergone by intersex infants (which seems to me a kind of crime); the compulsory sterilisation and divorce undergone by transgender people (myself included) to obtain our Gender Recognition.

What is abundantly clear is that the way we choose to live out our gendered identity is a powerful political statement; and that we need to seize our rights to determine our own bodies.

The workshop was short, overcrowded and over-ambitiously programmed and could barely begin to consider all the powerful, and potentially explosive, issues involved.

These issues of body politics deserve more space for discussion.

After a confused time looking for the Rainbow Festival parade (there seemed to be a slight lack of co-ordination here) myself and a companion went sightseeing.

I feel a little guilty confessing to this: but it was immensely helpful in terms of provoking thought around the issues of visibility and ‘passing’. Finding the courage and creating the safety, somehow, to be visible as a trans person is a powerful tool for changing people’s attitudes.

The paradoxes around this deserve some thought too.

The closing debate on the Sunday was one occasion when some of the tensions in the movement began to emerge to the surface. The treatment of the Turkish delegates by the police was still provoking powerful feelings; and there was a sharp division between those who saw value in a debate with the police and those who did not.

It was yet another moment when I felt grateful to be living here in Scotland. It amazes and cheers me to think that we have a lot of examples of good practice to communicate to the rest of Europe.

And I found myself trying to imagine an encounter between one of our trans police women and these delegates. It would be good to imagine the possibility of a fruitful dialogue.

Police are human beings just as we are; and it was a little disturbing to see so much hostility against and rejection of the experience of cis people. I hope the movement does not go much further down that path.

What also became apparent during this session is that “open discussion” is of only limited value. Dominant personalities and aggressive egos are as predominant and as unhelpful in the trans movement, too.
I started drawing the view across the harbour.

All our viewpoints are so diverse, and so different. But how wonderful we look out over a peaceful harbour.

And not, as before, over a wasteland of trenches, shell holes, and barbed wire.

The whole event left me with a feeling of hope:
a sense that our roots are deeper on solid ground even than we realise.

And that we are moving to somewhere good:

Attending such an event, I think, is a seriously empowering experience.

I have a sense that it’s altered and expanded my sense of my creativity (struck by the fact I’ve had to teach myself to use the scanner to incorporate my childish drawings into the text).

I also have a stronger sense of how my art is so crucial to my activism.

And how that, in turn, is central to my life work.

And that freedom for us trans people is integral to discovering freedom for everybody.
Jo Clifford. Edinburgh, 7th October.

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