Sunday, 16 June 2019

So you still want that surgery?

I used to spend a lot of time at Charing Cross Gender Clinic in London in my early days out in public around 2010-2013, not as a patient but simply meeting friends there and generally chatting to people in the waiting room to see how transition was for them. It was research I felt I needed to do as my gender dysphoria ratcheted up to new levels. Then in 2013 I accompanied a friend there for her surgery. And that went horribly wrong, as this post explained

I assumed this was a one-off problem. But since then, everyone I know who has been for surgery in Britain has had serious complications.

Gender reassignment surgery, or whatever you want to call it, is certainly not touted by the professionals as an easy or straightforward procedure and it takes a lot of genuine effort on all sides to get to the point when surgery is offered. I have always felt that surgery promoters in the trans community can be very irresponsible in the way they suggest it is a solution to dysphoria and a panacea for lots of other life problems that trans people experience. This surgery is a serious deal. But the number of times it goes wrong is disturbing me. I no longer believe that I have unlucky friends but that there is a fundamental problem with the surgery itself.

So my friend in 2013 had her vaginal lining come out in a long strip that hung between her legs. It was horrifying. So was the infection that followed. The next girl had to have surgical adjustments made, also developed an abdominal infection and her hormone dose needed to be so finely balanced or she would be either prostrated with depression or suffer other health problems. Another had further surgery to try to correct a serious flaw in the first and that didn't work either so she is now unable to make love to men as she would like to do. This last year, one friend has had major problems with granulation that only a lot of persistence on her part saw treated properly, a process that took nearly 12 months. Another friend got shingles within a few weeks of her surgery, predomonantly and persistently in her new vagina where the nerves are trying to knit together. The pain and discomfort not ony of the surgery but of the illness are understandably awful. Whilst it is bad luck that this has happened in her case, she complains that it took a lot of effort to get the doctors to take it seriously and the lack of a swifter intervention has made it a long-term problem. I could give other examples where surgery did not go right. As I said, everyone I happen to know seems to have major difficulties.

Obviously, I can only report from their perspective and what I have seen myself. The procedure is complicated, certainly, but the trouble seems to be caused by a low first-time success rate and, above all, the poor aftercare. I'm not sure if going private (if you are lucky enough to be able to afford it) or going abroad (to Thailand, say) is a solution but it's hard not to come to an assessment that gender surgery and care in the UK is not, from what I have seen, good enough.

None of the girls above regretted transition and they are all glad to be undeniably true to their gender now. But they have all been very upset at the things that were allowed to go wrong. Be aware of this if you go for gender surgery in the UK.

Sue x

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

A tour of Great Britain

Well, the title's perhaps an exaggeration, but I certainly visited the three constituent countries of GB recently.

When in England I am based in Chester, where the spring has been mixed weatherwise, but there were some nice walks to be had along the River Dee.

Chester Cathedral Green in spring

I also went to Wales with a friend, visiting the elegant seaside resort of Llandudno, the attractive town of Llangollen and the soaring Pontcyscyllte Aqueduct that is alarmingly free of much protection if you boat or even walk across it, something I have always wanted to see.


The wilder side of the Rover Dee at Llangollen

The astounding Pontcyscyllte Acqueduct, 336 yards (307 m) long and 126 feet (38 m) above the valley floor. There's a railing for pedestrians on the path, but no protection for people on boats!

Later I went to Scotland, a country I have visited only twice before.

As my final destination was a long way from Chester, I decided to break my journey in Edinburgh. This was an opportunity to test my legpower following my accident last autumn which left me on crutches. My leg is still a little sore and swollen but I'm told exercise is the best remedy. So I climbed the Scott Monument in Princes Street and later the taller Nelson Monument on Calton Hill. Fine views from both.

Edinburgh Castle

Finally I took a train I have never been on before that trundles right through the scenic Grampians - sometimes pretty, sometimes bleak - and leaves you at Inverness.

And at Inverness I was met by my wonderful friend Roz who has been living full-time as female for two years now and looks lovely. We went to her home in Invergordon on the Cromarty Firth, famous for its navy days but now devoted to repairing oil rigs.

The Cromarty Firth and its oil rigs

We had so much to catch up on and it was delightful to spend a long weekend with her. The hormones, electrolysis, voice thereapy and other treatments work wonders for a TGirl's hair, complexion and confidence and Roz was looking and sounding amazing. It really makes me feel that despite the setbacks I have had this is the route I would still like to go down if I can (I doubt I'd ever have surgery, though).

Anyway, we enjoyed days out in Inverness and Invergordon and the surrounding area of the Highlands and East Coast. There were lots of lambs, snow on the mountains, gorse in flower (such a tough shrub but with such delicate yellow flowers) and some welcome sunshine.

As there seems to be a delay on the Brexit omnishambles I might return to the UK in July. There's a friend's wedding and other events. I do like a wedding!

Sue x

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Me time

I've spent the last week in Britain. Partly to catch up with certain friends but mainly to have a little bit of time to dress and apply makeup. Living abroad with family has many benefits but being my full trans self is not one of them.

Although most of my everyday clothes are now female, I dress androgynously, which is not hard as so many items these days, from shoes to trousers to tops, are unisex. But now I am in my den in Chester I can wear dresses and paint my nails. I love painting my nails and I got in party mood with this glittery red! One thing I can do in stealth mode, though, is grow my nails and I am pleased to have them long.

Chester is a great place for shopping, with all your standard high street chains plus many quirky independent retailers. I've just bought some comfortable women's trousers and two pairs of shoes, includng a comfortable pair of black patent ballet flats. As I am only a shoe size 5 1/2 (38) I am delighted to have found them in the girl's department! This saves me VAT and makes me feel that my small size, which is a liability when having to act male, comes into its own when I am able to be my female self.

Photos of travels in a later post.

Sue x

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Spring holidays

I've been away, hence the gap in posts. Just a short entry this time to share a few holiday snaps from Switzerland, Florence and the Riviera where I went for a variety of reasons, partly business, partly enjoying the spring sunshine, and partly looking at potential places to live.

Lake Lugano, Switzerland


The "Bay of Poets" in the Gulf of La Spezia

Sestri Levante

They're all very beautiful in their different ways, I'm sure you'll agree.

Sue x

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Transgender Day of Visibility: a dip in the photo archives

Today is Transgender Day of Visibility.

I'm aware that some recent posts of mine have had to discuss very negative matters. And as the news is more than depressing at present I decided to distract myself this week by looking through some of my old photos.

So this year, for Transgender Day of Visisbility, I thought I would share some of these. Some have been posted on my blog before, some never. They illustrate so many ways in which we can be visible: visiting trans clubs or dressing services, going out in public like any other member of society, attending trans events, arranging meet-ups, having a presence online... All the time we are showing the world that we exist, giving ourselves a boost and letting other trans people know that we can lead the lives we choose with just a bit of courage.

In no especial order, here are 15 photos of me over the years, finding my feet, living my life. I hope you can too.

Sue x

At the Boudoir Dressing Service, November 2008. Strangely, this odd experimental outfit is proving verty popular on Flickr.
Six fabulous T-Girls on Waterloo Bridge, London, July 2013. We had lots of tourists stopping to photograph us. L-R: Stella, Linda, Steph, me, Rachel and Irene.
My first night out in the real world, London, June 2010. This was the very first moment I'd ever stepped out onto the street. I was nervous as anything but what a night it would turn out to be.
By the River Thames in Twickenham after a visit to a local beauty salon, July 2011.
Pink Punters LGBT nightclub, Milton Keynes, October 2010.
Official portrait for the Erotica Show at London's Olympia Exhibition Centre, November 2011. I was one of the barmaids at the T-Girl Bar, the first time there'd been a clear trans presence at this major event.
Partying at Nottingham Invasion, January 2012.
Dressed for the Great Drag Race, a charity event in aid of prostate cancer in London Fields, NE London, June 2010. Participants also broke the world record for the largest gathering of dancing drag queens. OK, I don't identify as a drag queen myself, but I will support all expressions of gender.
London Ladies Who Lunch, Cambridge Pub, London, November 2012. Front L-R: Steph, Ann, me, Helen, Stella, Helena; back: Irene, Tina, Rachel.
Aboard the Cutty Sark museum ship, Greenwich, London, August 2013.
The Brick Lane Gang, March 2014. L-R: Joanne, me, Irene, Kay, Rachel C, Stella, Rachel B.
The Boudoir Dressing Service, November 2008. When it all came together and I found my kind of look. A few days later I returned and bought the wig.
Dinner in a restaurant in Manchester, July 2017. With Karen and a giant soft drink!
Barmaids at the Erotica Show, Tobacco Dock Exhibition Centre, London. October 2013. L-R: Helena, Stella, Ria, Sabrina, me, Vanessa (above), Rebecca (below), Amanda.
My first commercial makeover and wig shopping trip, London, July 2010. I had a lovely time at Mac being made up and then went to Trendco for this new wig, both in Kensington Church Street. Doing all this all on my own from my own home and travelling by public transport was scary, but from this point on I knew I could do it and live as I wanted to.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Supremacism and the single girl

Warning: this post contains racist and homophobic language that readers may find upsetting

I have hesitated for years to post much of this next item, but after another white supremacist atrocity (in open, tolerant New Zealand of all places) and several years now of Brexit-encouraged xenophobia in Britain, Trump-promoted hate in the USA, Salvini-promoted racism in Italy, and right-wing and religious fanaticism threatening mixed societies across the world, I think it's time to comment on the problem directly. The world which trans people were at last beginning to feel was decent or at least survivable is showing its brutish roots in cultural supremacism, and people who don't fit the local mould are threatened. As I have said here several times, racism goes hand in hand with all other kinds of persecution of other people outside the main group, and LGBT is almost invariably one of those groups. Trans people who vote for Trump, Brexit, Salvini, Le Pen and other aggressively nationalistic politicians need to think more carefully as to whether their own interests are best served by these racists.

My own father, I am very sorry to say, is a white supremacist. His favourite word is nigger, which he will spit out many times a day: "stinking niggers... bloody niggers... filthy niggers...". Or wog or chinkie or gook or hook-nosed Isey (i.e. Jew). Any person of African descent is rechristened Nigger by him: the supermodel Naomi Nigger, the South African president Nelson Nigger, the BBC newsreader Trevor Nigger,... This is what I was brought up with and I have chosen not to spare the offensiveness so you can see exactly what we are dealing with. Even the Ku-Klux Klan is trying to present a cleaner, cuddlier image and avoid such terms. Yet my father is supposedly a cultured, well-educated man! Somehow, my father's loss of status as an Englishman in the world has hit him especially hard. He is no longer supreme, a winner in life's lottery, but now just one human among many cultures worldwide and at home. As humans, it's been observed, we tend to pine at our losses more often than yearn after something we haven't yet attained. To him, other races, nations, states, religions and cultures are inferior and those who've promoted the rise of inferior people in the world are damnable. Slavery is OK in his view and serves you right if you're weak. He calls himself a Fascist and gets angry when generalissimos get overthrown or put on trial (like Pinochet did). Naturally enough, he feels required to hate and campaign against other minorities, such as gay people (the sodomites, as he calls them), just like my sister who hates LGBT people, or lugbutts as she puts it (see lugbutts.html). I haven't spoken to my father for some years now, partly because of his hate and aggression and the incompatibility between us, and this consequent loss makes me very unhappy.

Maybe its inappropriate to write about one's family in a public place like this but it shows that, just like Islamic bombers hiding in plain sight in suburbia or gun-toting white supremacists from decent backgrounds, the enemy is absolutely within our society, our families and our communities.

Xenophobia, the fear of the outsider, arises not from strength but from weakness; from discomfort, uncertainty, misunderstanding and worry; and from impatience too, a wish not to have to make the effort to accept someone because they have some trait that differs. What bothers me about religion in this context is that it is used endlessly to justify political persecution, a higher power sanctifying some brutality. There's always some way that people justify bad behaviour, and listening to people excusing their hate is nauseating. Worse is the exploitation of the weaker-minded by con men. This week I am particularly disgusted by Nigel Farage, instigator of Brexit, 'leading' (for just one hour himself) a pro-Brexit protest march from Sunderland in North East England, which is universally considered to be the one region of Britain that will be worst hit by the immediate economic effects of the Brexit policy. I feel sorry for the unhappy people who have been conned by this amoral man into supporting the one thing that will really damage them most. It's a far cry from the nobility of the Jarrow March of working men from that area suffering in the Great Depression of the 1930s.

I'm unable to offer a best solution as yet. Just as any community needs to tackle its unrepresentative extremists, white people like me need to deal with these madmen. It seems counterintuitive, but actually attacking the haters back simply adds to the animosity and hate, and you can rarely get through to someone whose beliefs are irrational and fearful and to whom acknowledging an error is too embarrassing. Yet trying to extend love and kindness is rarely met with understanding or appreciation. If used non-aggressively, Transgender Day of Visibility and Transgender Day of Remembrance are valuable ways to show that trans people exist and live all over the world. Nevertheless, the current crop of intolerance is getting to me. Solutions on a postcard, please.

Sue x

Saturday, 9 March 2019

What's in a name?

A few people have said to me, "Now that you've moved home, Sue, you're going to have to change your name."

But this is to assume that I named myself after the town of Richmond in South West London, which isn't the case (or only slightly, as will become clear). In fact, I lived in Twickenham (famous for rugby), but you don't think I'd really want to be known as Sue Twickers, Rhymes with Knickers, do you?

How do we choose our names as trans people? After all, our parents gave us a name around the time of our birth and that (in most cases) reflected the gender we were perceived to have, and Mum and Dad certainly don't have a pool of surnames to choose from. So when we trans people ourselves realise that our gender is not quite what was originally thought, we have the rare privilege of being able to choose our own name. If there are any perks to being trans, this is one of them.

There are so many ways of choosing a name. Some just change from Dave to Davina (or vice versa) and leave their surname the same, others anagram their birth names or come up with reflections of their status (like my friend Susan Sometimes). There are some very witty choices (personally, I think Helen Highwater and Vanessa Parody are inspired, and they're not even on the drag circuit). Sometimes people want to get completely away from their birth name (as in my case). And often people choose a surname that's their location - I know a Helen Essex and an Andrea Huntingdon (counties), Janie London (cities), and so forth. I also know several people who change names on a fairly regular basis. It's all very personal, and that's how it should be.

Now, I've wanted to write this post about this for some years but obviously the queries I've had after moving have been the catalyst.

Let's start at the beginning, then.

My full name is Susan Verity Richmond.

Susan: a name I've always liked. A recent survey associated it with successful business women and I find it a robust, traditional, no nonsense sort of name. Oddly enough, I've had two girlfriends called Susan, but I met them after I'd settled on it as my own name so I'm sure that's just coincidence. I toyed with the idea of Sophie for a few years but dropped it.

I first liked the name Susan at school, aged 7, when our teacher read us Rosemary Manning's wonderful novel Green Smoke about a girl called Susan who encounters a dragon near King Arthur's legendary Tintagel Castle in Cornwall. She and the dragon become friends and he tells her tales from King Arthur's day. The delightful illustrations by Constance Marshall made me so want to be Susan (and have a dragon friend).

Other influences had an effect on my subconscious: TV presenters like Susan King who fronted a show aimed mainly at girls called Horses Galore, Susans at school, other Susans I came across in media or real life. I guess they all work their way into the mix. I don't even recall when I felt Susan was my name too, but it was a long time ago.

As for Verity, that arose when I got internet at home and needed a distinctive name for email addresses and such. Verity is derived from veritas, Latin for truth, as by now I'd realised that this was the true me. Unimaginative, I guess, and actually not a name I like much, but when I said recently to a friend of mine that I might drop it he was most insistent that I keep it as reflecting an honest assessment of my reality. So it stays.

As for Richmond, well, I am sorry to say that I chose it largely from the name of a soft porn star from the 1970s, Fiona Richmond. Sorry because I'm not sure porn is a healthy thing, popular though it's always been. But Verity reflects truth so I'll be truthful about this too. It was an advertisement for this show that did it:

Except the show was on at Richmond Theatre that week.

I'd never seen a woman wearing unusual clothes like this before. I'm not sure how old I was - before puberty anyway -  but whilst I was well aware that women wore high heels, tights, bras and such, I had never seen skyscraper heels, stockings, suspenders and basques before. Here was some kind of exaggerated femininity and it hit me hard. As did the emphasis of the name on the poster: Fiona Richmond at Richmond Theatre. It couldn't do other than bore into my consciousness.

So I wasn't directly named after Richmond in London at all. And I'm keeping the name, despite its slightly naughty origins!

How did you choose yours?

Sue x