Saturday, November 20, 2010


I carry in my mind so many maps of my city.

There’s the A-Z, Google, and bus map, usually, but superimposed on that there’s another. Marked in black.

That’s where those teenagers laughed at me. That’s where I almost got beat up by those drunks. That’s where the man hammered on my taxi door. That’s where that man shouted abuse at me from the pub. That’s where the barman called me “sir” even though he could see I was wearing a dress.

A dull map, and a dreary one.

I prefer the one marked in white: the one with the little points of light on it. That’s where the support group met. That’s where the dance classes were. That’s where Jean held her trout party.

Many of these places feature Jean.

She loved fishing, and held parties with her partner where she could share her catch and be Jean.

And I could be Jo. And Miranda Miranda. And Annabel Annabel.

And we could meet with her straight friends also.

Those were the first occasions in which I was able to be myself with ordinary people; and they gave me the strength to go out into the street in daylight.

It’s these simple daily acts that at the beginning can be the hardest; and Jean helped me through them.

We’d also meet regularly, her and me, in a series of wine bars, eventually settling on one in the West End which I think she favoured because it had dark alcoves where we could sit together and only with difficulty be seen.

She tended to dress as the conventionally successful male academic she also was. I would wear the effeminately androgynous style which was as much as I then dared.

And we would talk about the agonies of electrolysis, and of hormone pills. Of the gender specialists we had seen, or were seeing (she had gone private. The NHS specialist she first got herself referred to had dismissed her as “not serious”). Of the vile managements she and I were both working under. Of the betrayals of New Labour. Of trips to Spain. The painfully few occasions on which she could be Jean. Of the anguish with her family. Of the daughter who did not know her. And was not to be told.

Occasionally she spoke of her dream of us being able to meet in the wine bar, and not in male disguise. Not in “male drag” as she called it. But dressed as herself. Just being Jean.

But poor Jean was never really able to give herself much of a chance. She was too haunted by the fear of being seen by her neighbours.

We usually got through a bottle of wine, and enjoyed it (though it was lunchtime), but I was naive about these things and was shocked when her distraught partner told me they had split up because Jean had such a problem with drink, and she couldn’t stop her.

I should have known. Jean would occasionally talk of the misery of being brought up male in the west of Scotland. Of how men there solved their problems with drink.

I remember her helping me with my shopping when I was ill, driving me to the supermarket with her breath stinking of alcohol. But the more I came to living as a woman, the less frequent our meetings became.

Up to then, like her, I’d seen it as a frontier it felt impossible to cross. The wire was too high. Too dangerous. Electrified.

Looking back on that time I don’t know how I managed the crossing. I know she helped me. And I did. And she did not. Perhaps my happiness was too painful for her to witness.

She withdrew further and further; changed her email and her phone; and finally placed herself out of my reach.

Not long ago I learnt the police had been called in to break down her door.
That she had died alone.

And then was buried under her male name.

It’s the time of year when we remember our transgendered dead. When we read out the names of those of us violently killed just for being who we are.

Her name belongs to that list, I think.

Her name, and who knows how many others killed by loneliness and shame.

By fear and prejudice.

By the inability to become the people they really are.

I wish I could have helped her. It saddens me I could not give her the help she gave me. And was unable to give herself.

She was so kind to others: so kind to everyone but her own dear suffering self.

I know one day all this will change.

I know that one day, when one of us comes to know who we are, we will be able to openly tell the ones we love.

And they will rejoice.

They will give thanks another being has come into the world with the miraculous richness and diversity and compassion and pride that belong to us as our birthright.

Jean was born too soon for that, and never could live out her full potential either as a woman or a man. Or as an academic, or as a politician, or as a parent.

Or as a full human being.

But in spite of her suffering she helped so many. She was a step on the way.

She did not live in vain.

And I want to honour her name.

Jean McIntyre.

Rest in Peace.


Monday, November 08, 2010

Not long ago I dreamt of Susie.
There she was, my late wife, back in the house.
In Merlindene, in Fife, where we had our commune.
It was a scruffy cold house then; but now it had been smartened up and there were new carpets everywhere.
And Susie was back, and in her chair in the living room, and she made it seem like a throne.
She was better, and strong again, and was going to return to work as a journalist.
She said she though I should start working as a journalist again too.
And I protested, I said I was perfectly happy doing what I am doing now.
I didn't see the ned to start going back to work on newspapers again.
And then it was time to go to the bedroom, and the carpet was filthy, so I went off to look for a hoover.
And then I woke up.

Reflecting on it afterwards, I can't help noticing how intensely my preoccupations are personal these days.
To do with living as a transsexual, with the intense and wonderful relationship I am engaged in...
But also I can't help thinking this has to do with a growing sense of despair at the wider world.
A deepening sense of futility at engagement with it.
A sense that no matter how angry I get it will not change the cruelty and vindictive folly of the present UK government...

And yet I need to engage... and also understand and appreciate that everything I say or do is also in its way and expression of engagement.
And that's why i dreamt of Susie again, and in that amazing house where we tried to live as a commune because we wanted to change the world.
Because we thought: The Personal Is Political.
And we believed it too.

And it's appropriate I should be feeling and thinking this now, right after going to the turbine house at Tate modern in london and seeing Ai Weiwei's installation there.

Which looks like nothing when you first see it. Visually, I was far more interested in all the people looking at it and crawling under the little barrier with their cameras to take close-up pictures of it. There was a wee girl there with her dad and every time he went on all fours to do it she clambered on his back and crawled all over him, laughing.
I actually wanted to film that.
i squatted at the edge of the barrier and thought about it.
It took some time.
One hundred million porcelain sunflower seeds.
A dear friend of mine has just come back from China, and she spent some time in a city in China of 38 million inhabitants.
It took 8 hours to cross it.
And this wasn't even one of the biggest cities there.
And I feel insignificant even here... and helpless. And struggling against conformity.
I must be sunflower seed number 67,459,321, buried quite deep, and I barely catch even the smallest scrap of daylight.
And yet I do matter.
We all matter, even if all we do is make up the mass.
And I am diminished when one of us goes.
And the sunflower seeds are all uniform... and yet hand pained, and different.
And the sunflower seed is an image of conformity... but of nourishment and kindness too.

it was all so intensely moving an invitation to reflect on our humanity.
Wonderful to be seeing it with my daughter Katie.
We giggled and talked and discussed things and shared our looking at the world together with such love and pleasure.

Something so important me and Susie did was have our children.
Not just the decision to bring them into the world, but how we chose to care for them.
Deciding to share their care as best we could. Knowing this was an intensely political, as well as an intensely personal, decision to take.
susie dedicated much of her intellectual life to developing an understanding of citizenship.
Citizenship in its fullest sense; citizenship which involved personal life choices alongside political ones.

And very wonderful to see that the artist, Ai Weiwei, believes this too.
That the way an artist lives matters.
I know that. i have known that for a long time.
It moves me so deeply to see a fellow artist, in a different continent, in a different art form, putting all this into practice.

Because it is true: we all do belong together.

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Friday, November 05, 2010

Yesterday my daughter sent me this amazing article she had written, called "Remembering Sonia".

This is what she wrote:

"The one solace in death is that if you live your life well, you will be remembered for it. That the person you have created yourself to be will be recalled fondly at your funeral. However, transgendered lawyer Sonia Burgess, tragically killed last week under the wheels of a tube train, hasn’t been given this privilege. A hugely respected human rights lawyer who was, from the rush of praise being sent in after her death, clearly loved by everyone who met her. Yet the British press is portraying her life and death as a hugely seedy matter, as if the only thing more shocking than someone being pushed under the train is that the said person was wearing women’s clothing. I can’t abide reading as the papers insist on calling her by her birth name of David and referring to her as ‘he’ throughout their coverage when this is so clearly what she would have hated.
You may wonder how I, a 25-year-old straight female, could possibly understand how Sonia would feel if she could read the articles dismissing her true identity. But I can, for when I originally read the story I was shaking so hard I had to sit down. For Sonia with her well-respected career, loving family could have been my Dad.
If you’ve ever had a conversation with my Dad or seen one of her plays you’ll realize why it is no exaggeration when I say that I could not have asked for a better parent. I have been raised phenomenally (if I do say so myself!) and have never, ever felt unloved. I’ve been taught so much and have never had to be ashamed of who I am. My Dad however hasn’t been as lucky. Conceived during her parents' mourning for the premature baby girl they had lost, my dad was carried in a womb that was suffused with longing for another girl.
She grew up in a state of terrible confusion: trying to make sense of a deep feeling that somehow this wasn't the body she was supposed to be in. Her feelings became clearer to her as she failed to bond with her father whilst growing up and was packed away to an all boys boarding school where there was nothing worse than being effeminate. Bullied badly the only place where she felt confident was on the stage, where her girlish looks earned her the female parts. Happiest when wearing a wig she quickly realized why she felt so uncomfortable in her male body. This revelation brought relief but also fear, being transgendered back then was so unknown there wasn’t even a word for it, never mind people who she could reach out to, people who understood. It was only forty years later, coming out to her friends and family that she stopped feeling ashamed and discovered that there were people who understood her and loved her for exactly who she is.
My Dad, being in the public eye, has had her fair share of being in the papers. Only recently she attracted 250 protestors to the opening of her new play – Jesus Queen of Heaven – that she starred in, playing a transgendered Jesus. During this time there were certain papers (prizes for guessing which ones!) who refused to name her in the female pronoun. Considering her wardrobe full of women’s clothes, her female body and a passport which under ‘sex’ has a proud, and unquestionable ‘F” this is transphobia in its worst form. It amazes me that we live in such a supposedly progressive country, that is finally beginning to accept other people’s cultures and beliefs, yet is still so backward in its treatment of transgendered people.
My Dad’s had people coming up to her on the street and asking whether her hair is a wig, had junkies singing abusive songs after her and school children yelling ‘it looks like a man’ after her. Because of this type of abuse many transgendered people fear leaving the house. And what has happened to Sonia Burgess and the way the press have reported on her death isn’t helping them open the door.
I have read a couple of posts on the internet, with people commenting that Sonia’s sex shouldn’t be an issue, that the only thing people should be worried about is the loss of someone, who from the sound of it, was truly inspirational. This is a good sign, it shows people aren’t being as influenced by Rupert Murdoch as he would like. However, there needs to be more awareness, more transgendered role models like my Dad and I hope that, in the dark of Sonia’s tragic death, there is light as people being to see, when they hear the words ‘transgendered woman’ not a clichéd drag Queen dancing on speed at a fetish night but a strong, inspirational woman who has overcome her fear of being truly herself. "

You can find it on her blog at

...and I'm reproducing it here because it just makes me so proud.


Tuesday, November 02, 2010

It was maybe two years ago i was first invited to breast screening, and it really panicked me.

It was one of those things I felt I really should do something about, but couldn't quite bring myself to do it.

I felt embarrassed at the thought of phoning up with my masculine voice and asking for an appointment... but when a new appointment arrived in the post the other week i felt I simply had to take it.

How crazy to turn down a screening and possibly put your life at risk out of simple embarrassment.

But I still felt nervous about it, and wanted to get there on time, especially didn't want to be late... but out of nerves, i guess, I started out later than I intended and then took a different bus from the one I meant to, figuring out it went in roughly the same direction.

In fact it went somewhere else altogether and I ended up in a strange part of town, and utterly unable to figure out how to get to where I needed to go to...

So I did end up phoning (in my masculine voice) and there were no problems about it at all.

They had designed the waiting areas to minimise everyone's embarrassment, as I was waiting, with my bra off but my top on, as instructed, I was trying to think back as to what had originally scared me.

That i would stik out, that I would be exposed, that i would be made to look ridiculous...

None of which, of course, actually happened. The X ray operator was efficient and pleasant and manoevred my breasts into the right spot to be squeezed by the bizarre machine. I was trying to imagine the task of designing it, of responding to the brief, and the utter surreal contrast between the plastic and metal squeezing and measuring thing and the soft, gentle, yielding and tender material being squeezed...

And I came away from the process feeling pleased as you do when an embarrassment or fear has been overcome.

What lurks, however, is the dark possibility that they may fin something...

But that, for the moment, is firmly placed at the back of my mind.


Monday, November 01, 2010

I went to my last board meeting tonight.
When i was a professor, I used to be on several boards; I did a cull of them when i was ill, a while ago.

This one - the board of Tabularasa ( I maintained. Because i rate the company, I especially rate Claire Pencak, its founder/director, and I enjoy the other members of the board.

But something about getting my bus pass; about my last heart scare... have reminded me time is short, and I need to focus on what I am in this world to do.

Which is essentially not to sit on the boards of companies.

It was a good meeting, the company is moving in a new and exciting direction, and I felt pleased both to be leaving and to be leaving right now, at the brink of this change.

And then I got a taxi home.

And I asked for my address with what i imagine is my best "female voice".

Which was inaudible.

As it always is.

And I wonder at this...


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