Archive for October, 2015

A Short Story About Allies

Posted: October 25, 2015 in Uncategorized
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Once upon a time, there was a big open-plan office in Bristol, with big shiny lights, uncomfortable seats, and dual screen computers that never had the screens in line with one another. It was filled with people who spent all day clicking on keyboards, drinking copious amounts of tea, and going Excel-blind after manually cross-checking another fifteen thousand rows of data because the network server was down again.

And in this magical place of tea and passive-aggressive emails about the communal fridge, worked a transguy. He was the only transguy in the office, and had still been an undercover one when he joined the company. He even wore dresses back then, imagine!

Then in April, the transguy came out of the  closet and began to transition. He asked his colleagues to call him by a new name, and use ‘he’ and ‘him’ pronouns. He had to have a meeting with HR so that the company could pretend to be inclusive and diverse, when in reality everybody knew that the magical office preferred its employees to show no signs of having any sort of life whatsoever.

But, because the magical office was fuelled by unreasonable work demands and overseen by a tyrannical, three-headed beast known as ‘the senior leadership team’, none of the transguy’s colleagues could care less that one of their kind was changing. “Alright then,” they chorused, and the clicking of keyboards continued in peace.

For six months, nothing more was said on the matter. The servers continued to fail. The multi-headed beast continued to issue demands for constant status reports. The IT desk continued to insist that the solution would be to switch it off and on again, despite the problem being that the device would not switch on in the first place. It was not a happy place, but it was content, for tea supplies were plentiful, and — on the rare occasion that the beast had been cornered in its dark and dreary cave by the paranormal power of Meetings — office banter was happy.

Now in this office, there were three line managers. One ran around all day looking frazzled and feeling sorry for his stressed staff, and shall be known as The Fluffy One. One spent all day shouting at the people on the phone, and tormenting her junior staff with excerpts from Fifty Shades of Grey (the horror!), and shall be known as  The Kinky One. The other…

The other was simply known by his name. For what was there to say about Bob that could be agreed on? Bob did not like being a manager. He despised meetings and staff welfare. Bob liked to manage projects, not people, and the tedium of listening to employees’ problems bored poor Bob. And because Bob was tall and rarely smiled, people did not want to bother Bob. If he could be a One, Bob would have been The Stern One.

But ah! the transman knew better. For you see, he and Bob had worked together before. And he knew Bob to be the kind of man to trade insults as names, and enjoy the more relaxed banter that was always to be uttered out of earshot of the three-headed monster. In the transguy’s previous life, Bob had called her ‘shorty’ and ‘midget’, and said that the day did not begin before she put on her high heels ‘and grew three inches in three seconds.’

Now, the transguy found this attitude refreshing. What is working, after all, if there’s not some fun to be had? So the transguy and Bob mocked each other occasionally, and all was well.

But then one day, six months after the transguy shed his heels for the last time, a rogue manager strayed into the magical office of tea and banter. He had come to see the transguy about an assignment, but — for the rogue had not called the transguy to check he would be there — he found the desk empty, the cup of tea half-drunk and cold, and the employee sinfully absent from their desk.

So the rogue swooped down upon the only manager, our hero Bob, for answers. “Where is she!” the rogue demanded in a loud voice. “I have to discuss the loss reduction report with her!”

“Ah,” said Bob. “It’s ‘he’, actually. And he’s just–”

“No, no, no,” the rogue trumpeted. “The woman who sits there! We spoke last week! She’s doing a loss reduction report for me!”

“No, you don’t understand,” Bob tried. “It’s not she. He–”

“I think I know a woman when I see one,” the rogue guffawed.

And so Bob had little choice, and — in front of all the employees of the magical office — said, “He is transgender and uses the pronouns ‘he’ and ‘him.’ I’m aware you may not have been told before, but I’ve just tried to tell you. Please use the right ones in future.”

As the transguy could not be found, Bob sent the rogue away and pondered on what had just happened. For Bob was a private person, and did not like discussing an employee’s personal business out of their presence. So when the transman returned from his dangerous foray into The World Beyond The Office, Bob called him aside into the hall.

“I have to apologise to you,” he said, and the transguy was quite bewildered. What had Bob done to apologise for? “Fred was looking for you earlier and kept saying she. I tried to correct him subtly but ended up having to tell him the situation in the open office, in front of all the staff.”

“Oh,” the transguy said. “Well, everybody knows. And you know me, it’s not the kind of thing I’m bothered about.”

“I didn’t think you would be,” said Bob, “but I still didn’t feel it was appropriate to have to do it like that without you at least present.”

“Well, I’m not worried,” the transguy said. “Everybody in there already knows anyway.”

And so they returned to the office, refilled their cups of tea, and worked apathetically ever after.

****

Moral of the story: being an ally isn’t about being a boring shit who never says bad words, never makes fun, and never cracks a joke. You can call people every name under the sun and still be a good ally. You can play Cards Against Humanity at your desk during lunch, hooting like a group of monkeys, and still be a good ally.

Because being a good ally is about knowing where the lines exist in the circumstances you are in, with the people you are with, and upholding those lines where they are at that very moment in space and time.

Is it harder than blanket statements like ‘never use this word, never say that thing’? Yes. But it’s also more genuine. It doesn’t make a big deal out of things, it allows humour space to breathe, and it treats us all like the adults that we are.

So go Bob. For being the best ally, whilst simultaneously being the manager who can make you shit yourself with fear when he loses his temper.

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Surgery Countdown

Posted: October 18, 2015 in Uncategorized
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So tomorrow is exactly one month until my top surgery.

There’s a lot of stuff happened I could have talked about this week: mental health, what it’s like to not fit in to a community that likes to brag about how much it includes the LGBT, having a sense of humour about who you are, and so on and so forth. But they’re all pretty thorny issues, I’ve had a bad day, so I’m not going to talk about anything that’s going to piss me off or upset me.

So, surgery!

On 19th November, I will having top surgery. In layman’s terms, a surgeon is going to remove my breasts, put my nipples back where they would be if I were biologically male, sew me up, and send me on my way. Several pounds lighter, given that I have a massive rack.

I will be posting quite a bit around surgery day itself to keep you guys posted with a real blow-by-blow of what it’s like to undergo that procedure, but let’s start here with some background.

1) I am having to undergo this privately. For those of you in the US, that’s like ‘duhhhh.’ But in the UK, typically medical care is via the NHS, which is free at the point of use. The problem is that the NHS has serious financial problems right now and, even if it didn’t, frankly doesn’t much care about transgender patients and tailoring their treatment to the individual. In short, the NHS will pretty much refuse to give anyone any surgery before hormone treatment. As that isn’t what I needed, I went private.

2) So basically, I’ve been saving up £6,000 for this surgery. My bank balance is going to be a paralysed heap on the floor next month.

3) On 10th November, I will be heading to hospital for my pre-operative consultation. This is basically the bit in the medical dramas where the doctor draws on you with a sharpie. See, top surgery is done a whole bunch of ways, depending on the size of the breasts and the aims of the patient. Some people really want to keep as much sensation in the nipples as possible, so the surgeon will have to find a way of doing it to avoid as much as of the nipple resize and regrafting as possible. Others, like me, have looking naturally male top of the list and to hell with nipple sensation. So for me, the surgeon can use techniques that would render my nipples literally senseless and it wouldn’t bother me at all, as long as I can go topless at the beach and nobody looks twice.

4) On the same day, the hospital want to run a whole bunch of tests. Basically to make sure I’m fit to undergo surgery. I have to fill in a questionnaire the size of a stottie cake to bring to them, then they get to make me look like a heroin junkie with all the blood samples they’re going to take.

5) If all is well, I come back on the 19th. It’s nil by mouth for the evening and night of the 18th, then I have to show up first thing in the morning and get checked in. At some point, an anaesthetist will attack me with a mask, and then I will (ideally) wake up some time later sans boobs.

6) I will leave the following morning (20th). I know some American surgeons are all ‘you have to demonstrate you can eat and put a t-shirt on over your shirt’ but this surgeon hasn’t specified anything I have to do in order to be signed out.

7) I lounge around generally feeling knackered for a week.

8) On the 26th, I return to hospital for a post-operative check-up. By this point, swelling should have gone down and the early results should be obvious.

After that, I can get on with my normal life, albeit given that I currently wear 30F or 28G bras, my equilibrium will be a bit off for a couple of days, the car seatbelts are going to be shady as fuck for weeks, especially going over speedbumps where currently it’s like “Ma’am, please remain in your assigned seat,” in my shirt, and I will probably be mega confused the first few times I shower and reach to put on a bra again afterwards that I no longer need.

A few things will be different for a while, such as:

1) No driving for a week or three. It’s difficult to lift the arms afterwards, and nobody’s power steering is that good.

2) I’ll be taking pain medication and arnica to counteract bruising and swelling for a while.

3) I’ll have to wear a binder for a while afterwards too, to help healing and minimise scarring.

4) No swimming or working out for ages. Which is going to be a bummer, as I’ve worked super hard bulking out for this surgery to give the guy something to work with.

But that’s the boiled down version of what’s happening in like…four weeks. I’m also moving house in that time, so I’m going to have to pack a hospital bag super early, move, hope I lose nothing, arrange the new house in time to be useable when I’m released, and — of course — take entertainment.

Because lying around unable to work out, go to my day job, or roam is going to be fucking dull.

National Coming Out Day

Posted: October 11, 2015 in Uncategorized

I have mixed feelings about National Coming Out Day.

On the one hand, I agree with the idea of having a big celebration for those people who have come out of the closet, and have to come to terms with who they are, and are living ‘out’ as their true selves. Secrets can be bad for both those around the secret-keeper, and the secret-keeper themselves.

On the other hand…it’s kind of cruel to people who can’t come out.

Let me draw a comparison here. A friend of mine lost his father about five years ago now. Ever since, Father’s Day is a huge struggle for him. For me — I lost my mother in 2013 — the same doesn’t apply. I wasn’t close to her, we had a horrible relationship, and the family didn’t celebrate Mother’s Day anyway. I genuinely am bewildered every year when someone out of nowhere goes, “Oh, thinking of you and yours today,” with a sad face on. I need prompting, as I’ve probably missed what day it is!

Similarly, National Coming Out Day never bothered me, before or after I came out. Before I came out, I didn’t much feel like I was burdened with some horrible secret or anything. If anything, I came out because more people in my author world were driving me nuts about smack-talking my gender identity and orientation than people in my real world.

But one thing does bother me.

Every time National Coming Out Day rolls around, there’s a slew of posts on the forums (‘the’ being transgender and asexuality forums, respectively) from people worrying about how to do it, when to do it, who to do it with, and the consequences. And that’s totally normal. But there’s a significant number of them who openly admit, in the same post, that they don’t want to do it.

So don’t!

My God, does this still need saying?

Nobody — and I mean nobody — has any right to make you, or even pressurise you into coming out. If they do, they’re a fucking cunt. And I really mean that.

Not coming out does not make you a coward. It does not make you a liar. It does not make you homophobic or transphobic or any other phobic. It does not mean you are not ‘really’ the orientation or gender identity that you are. It simply means you have not come out. That is all.

Many people cannot or do not want to come out. I never wanted to tell my family, and I regret doing so. A friend at university never told anyone he was gay unless he wanted to have a relationship with them. Both of us had the perfect right to feel the way we did. In his case, he ran no real tangible risk of being ostracised by his friends and family, because they were all gay-friendly. In mine, I did run a risk of being turned away by my own blood, and it happened. I regret coming out. He doesn’t regret not coming out.

If you want to come out — if everything else aside, you want your family and friends to know, you want to tell the world — then congratulations, have some cake, and kick ass doing it. But if you don’t, that is fine too.

For everyone else — gay and straight, cis and trans, because sadly this exists on both sides of the fence — remember that there is no requirement to come out to count. People are what they are, whether they tell you or not, and you do not earn a ‘gay legitimacy card’ by coming out of the closet.

When I say I am asexual, I am telling you something about my sex life. When I say I am transgender, I am telling you something about the contents of my clothes. That is deeply personal information. It could get me murdered. It could lose me my family and friends. It could destroy my marriage (if I had one). It could get me fired. And it could simply be something I don’t feel like telling other people all about.

Every choice is valid — being in or out of the closet.

To everyone out or coming out today: congratulations, good luck, and make sure you’re safe and supported doing it.

To everyone in the closet: don’t let anyone tell you that you’re wrong or you don’t count for being there.

The Smear Test

Posted: October 4, 2015 in Uncategorized
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This one may be a bit TMI for some people.

But it needs to be done, so here we go.

On Friday, I had a smear test.

Yup, that delightful ‘let’s stick a toothbrush up your vagina’ experience that, in the UK, ladies are auto-invited to have regularly after you turn 24 or 25. Seriously, the NHS sends  you letters about it.

(They even sent me one right after I changed my name and title. Apparently changing your title from Miss to Mr gets you an invite to have a stick shoved somewhere sensitive in the NHS.)

Now don’t get me wrong, I get the idea. Preventative screening is  important, especially when the various cancers that can affect the plumbing department for women are generally not caught early, and lead to lots of unnecessary deaths. And I would generally encourage people to go if they’re due, or if they’re told to go thanks to abnormal symptoms.

And transmen – except those who’ve had the type of bottom surgeries that remove everything feminine between your knees and your ribcage – need to have it too. Not using your lady plumbing for periods, sex and babies doesn’t mean that nothing can go wrong down there. So transmen need to have smear tests too, and should go.

Except…

I wouldn’t follow my own advice.

The fact is, I walked out of the nurse’s office feeling like I was dirty, disgusting, and a total freak of nature. I felt humiliated and embarrassed. I went straight home, had a hot shower, lounged around in full pyjamas for an hour, then had another shower. I felt like I’d been sexually assaulted – and before anyone goes mental, I do know what that feels like, and that’s all anyone needs to know on that subject. And to top it off, I felt angry with myself for overreacting. It was just a bloody smear test. People have smear tests all the time.

Cisgender women do, anyway.

That’s a large part of the problem. Not only am I asexual – meaning nobody ever touches my vagina except for me, and even I’m not doing it for pleasurable purposes – but I’m transgender. Meaning I don’t feel like I should even have a vagina to touch, never mind have something inserted into it. It’s awful on two different levels. It’s awful because I’m asexual, and it’s awful because I’m transgender.

And did the nurse help?

Did she hell. She hadn’t even read my notes as to why I was having the test done (hint: not routine checking, as I refuse to go for my routine ones). And yet, this is what the NHS has to say on the matter of transmen needing smear tests. Yeah. A measly paragraph. The equality analysis simply said to increase the uptake, they ought to remind GPs that transmen need these tests too. Duh. It wasn’t worth the time it took to find it, although it must be said that wasn’t just for transmen. (Seriously, I’m an analyst. I would strangle any colleague who handed me this analysis.) And a Google search for ‘trans men’s experiences of smear tests’ gets you, you guessed it, women’s experiences.

TL;DR – the nurse wasn’t trained, wouldn’t have been trained anywhere except West London thanks to the Charing Cross GIC working with nearby hospitals and clinics, and wasn’t interested. I was simply Patient Number Whatever, not a person with more-complicated-than-usual feelings on the matter.

And yet, this kills people. People are literally dying because they feel too uncomfortable, too afraid, too downright traumatised, to go to get their smear tests done. Dysphoria plays a big role, but for Christ’s sake, we get our tits out for the surgeon who’s going to cut them off. Most trans men can be persuaded easily enough in a medical situation that something is necessary, if you treat them with respect, dignity and a little bit of compassion. I went because my symptoms were ticking the boxes for something I really don’t want to have.

And frankly?

I’ll wait it out next time. I know I will. I know if I get those symptoms again, I won’t get a smear test. I won’t go for my next routine one. And part of me knows that it’s stupid and dangerous and I would go mad if a friend told me the same thing, but…I still won’t. It was a horrible experience, and I won’t do it again.

All because there is no humanity, no time, and no compassion for anyone who’s different.