Archive for January, 2016

So I had a rant a couple of weeks ago, but looks like it’s time for Mark II.

Over the last 24 hours, I’ve had an exchange with another author on why there aren’t more transmen in m/m fiction. (I will not be identifying this author, as I don’t believe in any of that name-and-shame shit that stalks the LGBT fiction genre like a seriously bad smell.) Anyway, I shared a picture of some trans people who are passing like fuck, y’all, and said this was another reason why that absence of transmen in m/m fiction is confusing to me.

Because not being funny, a lot of m/m fiction is about two hot guys, probably both alpha male types, getting together with [insert plot]. And that in itself is a whole different discussion, but my point is, if there are transmen who look 100% male and alpha type-y then…why aren’t they featuring too?

The response?

“Because it’s harder.”

Seriously, that was it. It’s harder.

Well, why? Literally the only thing I said was trans character, so…what, trans characters are de facto harder to write than gay ones?

Yeah, that’s about the point at which I blew my lid.

You know why they’re supposedly harder? You know why they’re so scary and so intimidating? Because you’re not looking past the word ‘trans’ to the word ‘person’ or ‘man’ or ‘woman’ that follows. Can you write women? Then you can write trans women. Can you write men? Then you can write trans men.

This author continued to explain that, obviously, this is because trans people are new. They confessed to waiting decades to publish about gay men in case they got it wrong, and as trans people and the trans community are new, authors need to be made more comfortable.

(I’m not even going to address the stupidity of demanding that the minority make the majority feel ‘comfortable enough’ to accept them.)

Even without addressing that, it’s still ridiculous.

Movements and groups progress and gain visiblity largely through the media. And what does it say about us as a genre when bloody EastEnders is showing trans characters — played by trans actors, no less! — and we’re still trotting out this pathetic ‘ahhhh, they’re haaaaaaaard!’ every time the issue is raised.

Transgender people have been around for as long as human beings have been. They were at the 1969 Stonewall Riots. In 1979, the WPATH Standards of Care for transgender patients were first set up. Are they more visible now than ever? Yes…largely due to the media. Writers should be ahead of the game on this one, and to wail that trans people are new and scary is just another example of prejudice and ignorance, especially now in the face of their increasing visibility.

This author said they had waited decades to publish about gay men, for fear of getting it wrong. Can I assume, then, an explosion in trans literature in 2056, also decades after it was so desperately needed? It is needed now. The explosion should be now. But too many writers are still trotting out the excuse that it’s somehow hard. They don’t know enough about trans people to write them!

And why are so many writers ignorant?

Because they choose to be. All of that information is out there. I could delete this whole blog right now and I wouldn’t have added anything to the information already in existence, already accessible. Writers somehow are fine with intensive research on places they’ve never been, jobs they’ve never worked, languages they don’t speak…but to write a trans man trying to decide between the cute guy next door and the hot but dangerous boss, that’s far too difficult and requires far too much research. Obviously.

Well, not to be sarcastic, but how the fresh hell do you suppose trans people find out about how to get treatment, about all the tricky little issues you’re too scared to address? We’re not born with an inherent knowledge of binders, packers, and the order in which treatments should be taken.

Google.

Stop hiding behind this excuse that it’s too hard. Writing about a specific trans issue is hard. Writing about trans people is not. You know why? We’re human. If you can write about other humans, you can write about us. So either stop making your excuses, or at least have the common decency to recognise them for what they are: excuses.

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So my aunt is Catholic. Not the nice moderate type of Catholic who is all love thy neighbour, oh no no. The crazy type who is all “UNMARRIED MOTHERS WILL BRING THE END OF HUMAN CIVILISATION.”

(No, seriously, she’s said that.)

Anywho, I went visiting for the first time in years this weekend. This is because I told my family my new name back in the spring of 2015. She’s had nearly a year to get used to it, but still persists in sending me things with my old name on them, cards and the like. So I thought, right, time to sort this out.

Her grandkids came to visit while I was there.

The two in question are four and six. Last time I saw them, they were two and, well, nothing. A blob with a tuft of hair, really. And that’s the two-year-old. In short, they haven’t the first clue who I am — a point made rather obvious by my aunt saying to the four-year-old when they walked in and clocked me, “Oh, that’s Aunty Anna.”*

(Note: everyone in my family remotely older than you is aunty or uncle so-and-so, simply because it’s so freaking big.)

This. Was. Torture.

For four hours, these kids decided they liked me (god knows why) and wanted me to play with them. Constant ‘Aunty Anna, look at this!’ and ‘noooo, Jamie, Aunty Anna’s playing with me!’ and all sorts. It was like having my ears shredded. Twice, given that I don’t like children in the first place.

Obviously I am not saying this is remotely their fault. But my aunt?

These kids do not know me. My aunt could have said I was a traveller from the Romanian circus and they would have believed her. She could have said I was a new lodger here to soak up the glory of Gateshead, and they would have believed her. She could have, shock-fucking-horror, used my actual goddamn name.

I honestly would not even have minded had she said, “Oh, that’s Aunty Ali.” My name is unisex. It can be applied to a boy or a girl. I would genuinely not have minded, given these kids were four and six and not the brightest four and six year olds either, still being labelled as female. I still sound female. I still generally look female. They would probably have perceived me as female with or without ‘aunty.’

But no. Aunty Anna. After nearly a year.

Combine this with my aunt constantly slagging off my father (her brother) for being obstinate and stubborn. “He’ll never change,” is her refrain.

AND YET.

And yet my father, who is 69 years old and denounces most modern footballers as being nancy boys, has come to terms with my transition. He takes the view that I am his child, and he will support my decisions. We still talk. We still have a positive relationship. I am taking him on holiday for his 70th birthday this year. Does he use my new name? Well, no, not often — but if he sends me post, it’s to my new name. My Christmas cheque was written out to my new name. He has seen and not commented on parcels from my publisher to Mr. New Name. Is he perfect? Dear lord no. Would he understand if I said, “Look, come on, you still calling me Anna down the pub to your mates is hurtful sometimes.” Hell no. Is he, however, accepting of who I am?

Yes, actually.

But my aunt? Apparently not.

Well, needless to say, I wasn’t happy. So I took her aside before I left and asked her to please use my new name. The response?

“Oh, that.” *scowl* “Yes.” *scowl* “Now, do you need any petrol for the drive home?”

I tried to explain it’s hurtful.

“It’s hard,” she said. “You’re in the middle of transition. Enough of that.”

No, not enough of that! I’m not in the middle of changing my name!

“No, enough of this, now tell us when you get home safe–”

I slammed the car door and drove off. I actually had to pull over a mile down the road because I hadn’t waited long enough to put my sat nav up.

When I got home (having mentally sworn at her the whole way), I wrote a letter. Two sides of A5, telling her how rude and disrespectful she’d been to me and my family, and that as she clearly neither loves nor respects me, I won’t be visiting again. I ended it by telling her not to contact me. I’ll be posting it in the morning.

And yet.

Out of all of it, I learned something positive about myself.

I’m angry.

I’m bloody fuming! I’m furious with her and her hypocrisy, her constant bleating about the importance of family and bemoaning that we (my siblings and parents and I) are too far away and never get in touch, and yet having the disgusting hypocrisy to disrespect a simple request to use the correct damn name.

But I’m not upset.

I don’t feel I’ve lost something. I don’t feel I’ll miss out by cutting her off as I’m going to. I simply feel angry with her, and all of it is based in I am worth more than that. I deserve to have my name respected, and if you loved me, you would. As you won’t, you obviously don’t love me, so why the fuck should I keep you in my life?

This, I think, is a big positive step for me.

So onwards and upwards: shedding the transphobic load and filling up my life with people who like for who I am, not for who they want me to remain.

 

 

*NB: my birth name was not Anna, but this flowed better with a name shoved in there.

Not once have I said, “I’d like to see more books about trans issues.”

What I have said, frequently, is, “I’d like to see more trans characters.”

Do you get the difference?

Do you really?

If I had a pound for every time I said ‘I’d like to see more trans characters’ and was told by various authors and would-be authors, “Oh, me too, but I couldn’t do it, I don’t know enough about trans people,” then I’d be sailing around the Seychelles in my yacht right about now.

And if that’s you, that’s said that, then guess what. You’re prejudiced.

No, seriously, you are. You’re either prejudiced, or you need to open your ears more. Pick whichever one offends you the least. Or most, I don’t really care right now.

If I asked someone, “Why don’t you write more black characters in your books?” and they responded with, “I don’t know enough about black people,” guess what my conclusion would be. That this person thinks that black people are somehow fundamentally different from them. That somehow being black overrides everything else that makes up a human being, and you must have in-depth knowledge of that magical thing before you can write a character with that trait.

Piss. Off.

There is a difference between being trans, and trans people.

Let’s take the black example again. Being black is a thing that has specific concerns in, say, 1880s Arkansas, or parts of Chicago, or all of South Africa. There are specific issues that apply to black people in certain scenarios that do not apply to white people. That is about being black. But there is no goddamn possible difference, unless you put it there, for your space adventure story around Saturn’s rings in 4452. No fucker cares. In that example, you are just a bigot if you claim you can’t put a black character in your space adventure because you ‘don’t know enough about black people.’ You don’t know shit about white people in 4452 either, so what?

Trans characters are exactly the same. What you need to know depends purely and simply on what you are wanting to talk about. And unless you are talking about the things that only affect trans people, then you already know more than enough to write a trans character.

If you want to write a book about Abby becoming Stephen, then you need to know a lot about being trans.

If you want to write a book about a hotshot lawyer trying to get a scumbag sent down for murder who’s using the trans panic defense, you need to know a lot about being trans.

If you want to write a book about Jamie’s hot as fuck boss and how totally wrong but totally right it is to be shagging your executive director after hours, you do not need to know the first goddamn thing about being trans.

If you could replace the trans character with a cis one and it wouldn’t change the plot, then you don’t need to know jack!

Because guess what, there is a ridiculous amount more to any trans person ever than their gender identity!

I am trans. But if you put me in a book, you’d need to know a lot more about my swearing, my upbringing, my politics, my day job, my messiness, my total inability to recognise people on the street if I have my headphones on, my habit of waving my hands around and talking a mile a minute when I’m excited or nervous — what the fuck does any of that have to do with my being trans?

I’m working on a new adult novel at the moment, called Mad. One of the male characters decided to inform me he was trans in the middle of a fucking sex scene. Right. So I just put a bit in the next morning of him telling his best friend that the cute guy he pulled at the club wasn’t bothered by his lack of meat and two veg. That’s it. That’s all. Done. He is a trans character, and that is quite probably going to be the only explicit reference. Because it’s more goddamn important that he’s a flirty, sex-mad, vain and slightly shallow guy who actually figures out love doesn’t conform to what he wants all of the freaking time. That’s who he is. That’s what the character needs to be. Turns out he’s trans too, big fucking deal, I don’t need a PhD in queer studies to write him, any more than any woman writing gay romance (which is most of you!) needs to know what a dick up her arse feels like to write anal. You have a brain, you have an imagination, use them.

The minute you say, “Oh, I don’t know enough about trans people,” all you are doing is saying, “Trans people are fundamentally different to me.”

No. We’re not. Transitioning is fundamentally different to anything you as a cis person will ever go through. But trans people? Apart from puberty sucks (which is not a special trans area), dating’s hard (ditto) and transitioning itself (if we choose to do it), we are just like you.

Time some people got their heads out of their arses and realised that.

 

 

 

 

(I wrote this while I was in a trans chatroom. One of the remarks that went scrolling by as I vented was this: “You know what’s so great about living in a modern world? Having fresh canteloupe in January.” See? We’re normal people too.)

So it’s not Sunday, and normal service will resume next week.

However, it is now 2016!

I actually made goals for 2016, something I haven’t done in a long time. And one of them was to start hormone treatment. Only that’s going to be way harder than writing it on a piece of paper and going ‘hey, I can totally do that.’

The thing is, hormone treatment is usually the third step, after diagnosis and social transition. But for me, it’s the last step. I have no plans at the moment to have bottom surgery, and I’ve already been diagnosed, socially transitioned, and had top surgery.

Unfortunately, NHS services really do presume that anyone accessing a gender clinic hasn’t made any steps whatsoever, so the information that’s out there is useless when it comes to how flexible they’re prepared to be. The Laurels in Exeter had all the flexibility of a plank. I hadn’t heard awesome things about Leeds either. And Nottingham was to be avoided at all costs.

I live near Leeds now, so I sent them an email detailing the situation. Imagine my surprise when I was called back the same day by the Leeds Mental Health Team! (Seriously, for the non-Brits here, NHS efficiency is an oxymoron.) Well, the first lovely fact of that phonecall:

It will currently take you three and a half years to get your first appointment at the gender clinic after being referred.

Seriously, three and a half years.

On top of that, by the way, it takes four months to be diagnosed, up to two years of social transition before an eighteen month hormone treatment plan and, two years later, surgery. That’s just under TEN YEARS to transition on the NHS right now, from that very first referral made by your GP.

Oh, and if you want help in that time? Call a hotline, NHS has no resources for you.

Ten fucking years.

Thankfully, the clinic lady was actually helpful to me. She outright admitted that going through the clinic wouldn’t be ideal for me, and offered to write a letter to my GP telling him to refer me directly to either a local endocrinologist, or one in Harrogate who has worked with their patients before. Cut out the clinic entirely, and crack on with the hormone treatment separately from the gender services.

And the waiting list for an endocrinologist right now? About two months.

Three and a half years versus two months, I know what I’m going to try.

So seriously, if you’re a trans person needing something a bit different from the gender services, call them! They will try and help you get around the problem. And if they don’t? Complain the fuck out of it. It’s only by complaining we’re going to change the system, because three and a half years to wait for treatment is longer than people waiting for a cosmetic boob job on the NHS. It’s absurd.

 

 

(happy new year!!)