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Tuesday, 12 June 2018

My first time abroad as my true self

I was determined that 2018 would see my first outing in a foreign country and I felt that Berlin, with its relaxed, cosmopolitan way of life, was an ideal place for it. I can't live full-time female for the health reasons I have often mentioned but I am increasingly getting vital female time so some of the trip was for me to be myself.

I visit friends in Germany virtually every year. Last year's trip was described here:

Germany 2017


This year I travelled with my lifelong friend Richard who was a perfect chaperone (and photographer).

Berlin was hot - high 20s / low 30s centigrade (80s fahrenheit) - and this didn't help my makeup regime. My Mac makeup is water-based and can slide off if I perspire. So I had to revert to oil-based makeup which my skin can react against. I did have my medication in case of flare-ups and it was necessary to use it, sadly. Despite that hiccup, I had a wonderful time.


Day 1: Arrival

We took a late flight and arrived a Berlin Tegel in the evening. A good little airport with a small but well laid-out terminal, unlike the vastness of London's Heathrow Terminal 5, Britain's biggest building. I like the sculpture outside that is a reminder of Otto Lilienthal, the birdman who attempted unpowered flight in the late nineteenth century and to whom the airport is dedicated (Wikipedia: Otto Lilienthal)




We had dinner at a decent Italian restaurant, Fellini, in in the Schoeneberg district and sat outside in the warm evening. My grilled vegetable starter and tagliatelle pasta main were both very good. (Their website is only in German - well, they are just local. Trattoria Fellini)


Day 2: A woman's guide to Berlin

The day dawned hot and fine and I knew that my makeup would have to be heavy-duty to survive a hot day of sightseeing.

We travelled to the city centre by S-Bahn, the elevated.

Sitting on a hot S-Bahn train

Every city has an iconic monument and Berlin's is the Brandenburg Gate. So photos are compulsory.





Pariser Platz and Platz des 18 Marz are pedestrianised spaces on either side of the monument that are attractive places to stroll or cycle in. A grimmer reminder of Germany's past, though, is the nearby Holocaust Memorial, which has been placed over the site of Hitler's Bunker. Consisting of hundreds of almost but not quite aligned blocks, it's a curious but effective testament to the wilful confusion and disorientation of people by the Nazi regime. Berlin is honest about its past and, in many ways, that makes its future more hopeful.



Next we had a stroll down Berlin's elegant main boulevard, Unter den Linden. We enjoyed coffee and cake in a cafe midway down the street. You then get to the finest buildings of Berlin, rebuilt after World War II almost exactly as they were in Frederick the Great's time. Here's a more recent building, the Fernsehturm (TV tower), build in the Soviet era, with a bit of the Berliner Dom on the left, a sort of chapel royal for the Hohenzollern dynasty that ruled these parts until World War I.




I had a sit-down by the Neptune Fountain in the centre of town.



And then we went up the Fernsehturm to enjoy a commanding view of the whole of Berlin.


We had lunch at the Momotaro Tavern in Alexanderplatz just underneath the Fernsehturm, a brilliant and cheap new Vietnamese-run Asian fusion restaurant with stir-fry dishes and burgers. The shiitake and chickpea burger was stunning, and just 6 euros! And the iced jasmine tea is really refreshing. Here's their site: Momotaro

These are mainly photos of me, I'll admit, but this was my Big Day and that all-important first: my first time abroad as Sue. Other photos of Berlin are below.

That evening our friends drove us out into Brandenburg, the region that surrounds Berlin, for the annual asparagus festival. It was suggested I did not go as my female self because of the somewhat 'redneck' nature of the place, which is very rural. So despite having to end my Sue day early, we still had a very good meal in Beelitz. The asparagus, grown under cover so it turns fat and ghostly white, is a speciality of the area and makes a good soup and accompaniment.


Day 3: Baboons and Bunkers

Saturday was very hot and, in order to give my face a rest, I hadn't planned to go out as Sue. We had been recommended the cafe overlooking the zoo in the new Bikini Mall. Sure enough, you get a view of various apes and especially the baboons whilst you have refreshment, without having to buy a zoo ticket. Berlin Zoo, by the way, is one of the world's best.

We went to a new museum, the Berlin Story Museum, which has a good short history of the city and is housed in an old bunker near the former Anhalter Bahnhof, a mainline station that was destroyed in the war. It was a curious yet appropriate setting.

Berlin Story Bunker

That evening we went to a very good Greek restaurant in Schoeneberg called Kos and sat out on the pavement. My pork medallions with plums were unusual but delicious.

(Again, website only in German: Kos)


Day 4: Berlin by boat and on foot

Sunday was a very hot day indeed, so hot that I aborted my attempt to get out in wig and makeup as it would have been very uncomfortable. We felt that taking a boat trip on the River Spree that flows through the centre of town would be a good way to keep cooler. You see all the main buildings along the way.

From 1961 to 1989 Berlin was, of course, divided by the Wall and the river was, at various points, the boundary between East and West Berlin, such as in this next photo. The building below serves as offices for the German Federal Government and its members of Parliament and has been designed in two halves, one on each bank, linked by footbridges, upper and lower, and obvious symbol of the city and the country now being now being unified.


The Reichstag building, with its rather chequered history, has been rebuilt with a glass dome to house a more transparent form of German government:


And the Chancellor's Office also has a lot of glass for the same reason:


The amount of building that has gone on in Berlin since unification is incredible. As well as all the new government buildings, ministries and embassies needed since the government moved from Bonn, there have been many new hotels, shopping malls and offices, and they are still going up. In the middle here is Berlin's new central station, with new office blocks all around it:




But it's not all modern architecture, as the Berliner Dom, the unofficial cathedral, attests.



And the Tiergarten is a nice expanse of green in the middle of town, with the Victory Column peeping up above the trees:



We also walked in the Nikolaiviertel district by the river that was rebuilt by the former East German government to celebrate the city's 750th anniversary in 1987. Old in style, the buildings are largely high-class Plattenbau, the prefabricated concrete construction that characterises so much of the former East Berlin. A lot of facing slabs are slightly wonky. To be fair, they did try to rebuild important things as well as the very limited resources would allow.

George and Dragon in Nikolaiviertel, with Berlin's rebuilt and patched up library behind

That evening we ate dinner at our hosts' flat, which was cooked by a representative of the Thermomix kitchen gadget, a versatile if expensive device. The food turned out pretty well.

Having missed out on being femme at the asparagus restaurant I wasn't going to miss out this time and I was happy to be myself again in the relative cool of the evening.

On the balcony after dinner

Day 5: Bond Girl Heaven

We had been recommended the Martin Gropius Bau gallery but when we got there the weird art exhibitions didn't really take our fancy so we sat in a cafe in Leipziger Platz to plan our next move. And right there was the new German Spy Museum, which was brilliant. Here's their website:

German Spy Museum

Naturally my Bond Girl tendencies were fully favoured with exhibits such as the handbag with hidden camera, the lipstick camera and lipstick pistol and the femme fatale camera bra.




The museum succeeds in being serious and fun at the same time. They have some outstanding exhibits - gadgets such as the above, poisoned umbrellas, spy cars, miniaturised devices, weapons and so forth - but also WW1 trench observation equipment, sections on fictional and film spies, satellites, Enigma and other cipher machines and devices, and some thought-provoking exhibits on how our online activity is all monitored, even if not officially. An excellent museum.

We also had an outstanding lunch at the Qiu Bar of the Mandala hotel near the Sony Centre: QIU bar
 
Sadly, it was now time to go home.


All in all, it was a very good trip and my first time as a woman abroad. Berlin is a great place to blend in and no-one took the least bit of notice of me, which is just how I like it. Many thanks to my lifelong friend Richard for being good company as ever and to my two German hosts who put me up and met me as Sue for the first time.



A few last pictures for fun

The city's symbol is the bear, which can be found everywhere
Bear shop
For some years, Schoefferhofer Weizenbier has been my favourite
We always check to see how the rebuilding of the old royal palace as an exhibition centre is coming along. It replaces the former East German parliament building, a plate-glass construction that was very 70s.

Berlin is like this: an iconic classical building (the Deutscher Dom) reconstructed almost as was, with quality prefab reconstruction in the square behind, and modern buildings all round. The bubbles floating across the foreground are just for fun.
Health or happiness debate.
The best places we visited

Hope you too have happy holidays this year.

Sue x




Happy Fraulein


Saturday, 26 May 2018

Forthcoming days out


Last year I went on holiday to Germany but, in deference to my hosts’ various concerns, allegedly for my safety, I didn’t venture out en femme. I think their worries were unfounded but, anyway, this year in June I plan to be seen as Sue in Berlin, which is a very cosmopolitan and trans-friendly city.

I have also booked a hotel for Sparkle in July. As a lot of my friends won’t be there this year I am in two minds about it as it is a very expensive weekend (hotels and trains accounting most of the cost). But I do want to be there as it’s a fabulous way to meet so many other trans people.

I’ve been so tied up with domestic matters these last few months that my outings have been low-key local walks. It takes a lot of effort to organise those big girly lunches I used to do before my illness, but I shall be trying to do something in that line again soon. I have missed seeing my girlfriends.

Sue x

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Thank you, Meghan, for boosting diversity

It's proving to be a beautiful spring here in England. Let's hope it continues.

Yesterday, then, in glorious weather, the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle was celebrated in Windsor.

To me this lays to rest a ghost in British history and helps usher in an era that I hope will be rather more positive than Her Majesty's current Government seems to want.

Unlike King Edward VIII, who abdicated in 1936 in order to marry an American divorcee (according to the official version), Prince Harry has now been able to marry... an American divorcee. OK, so the prince is not a reigning king with an empire like his forebear, but the fact that this has been accepted by the establishment and the church with relatively little fuss is a new attitude. It also suggests the old rivalry between the two powers is dying out.

Meghan, like President Obama, is mixed race and that to me is a sign of a more humane acceptance in high circles that you don't have to be white to be worthy, in the same way that you don't have to be male, or straight, or have some specific attribute over which you actually have no control at all. The poisonous racist filth that has been spewed online by English supremacists about having a mixed-race person even coming to the country, let alone marrying royalty, has been beyond vile. "Meghan Markle's Mum peels bananas with her feet" is their favourite horrible meme. These same white supremacists rail against the fact that the Mayor of London happens to be a Muslim (despite the much better job he's actually doing than the two narcissists who preceded him). The same goes for for the new Home Secretary (i.e. the person responsible for policing and immigration), not to mention his opposite number in the House of Commons, who is a black woman and is often judged on that.

There are two reasons why I mention racism. One is that the same people who are racists are almost always homophobic and transphobic, too, and frequently misogynistic, with all the unhappiness that that causes women like me. It's a pity that racist TGirls and their supposed allies whom I have come across can't see the connection between hatred for foreigners and the rise in attacks on gay and trans people, including themselves. There's a significant degree of stupidity here. The other reason is that it's now five years since I last spoke to my father whose race hate I can only describe as feral. Naturally, he also hates gay and trans people, like my "Lugbutt"-hating sister, his daughter, whom I wrote about last autumn. The pig-headed insistence on not wanting or feeling the need to understand the perspective of people who are different from them, or even that another perspective exists, shows an absence of human empathy. This hatred stems so often from jealousy and from a fear of losing a privileged position. The inferiority complex of racists and homophobes is pathetic.

So I hope that Meghan, who is a beautiful woman and could make a super and popular princess, will defy the haters and have a long and happy marriage and be much loved. Her presence will help all of us who, through no fault of ours, don't fit a narrow mould. Maybe it's wrong of me to appropriate her in this way for the benefit of trans women, but her being embraced by the establishment sends a much-needed signal to the haters.

Sue x

Monday, 14 May 2018

Bugs of all kinds

It's been over a month since I last posted but that's partly due to a horrible bug I had that left me coughing uncontrollably and which has still not properly cleared up. In the end they sent me for an X-ray and various blood tests, which is pretty rare for me. I've not slept very well because of it, often waking and thrashing about trying to breathe.

The other major reason is that I have put my house on the market and that takes a lot of effort. Because I don't live full-time female and am not transitioning, my extensive wardrobe and any identifying items have been rendered neutral, i.e. there's some female involved in my life, but no-one would make the connection directly to my male side. I wish such precautions weren't necessary, but there you are.

So that explains the recent lack of activity here. It doesn't mean that I have no news.

As before, I have been getting out and about in my local area. I'm not quite in the mood for arranging one of those huge T-girl lunches that I used to do, but I dare say that will come at some point. I did, however, agree to meet a man who had been pestering me for some time, initially online. I normally don't bother with admirers or men who are interested in meeting trans women but this guy happened to mention a mutual acquaintance so he gained my curiosity. I met him in a local pub and far from being a pest or wanting sex as they often do he turned out to be a great trans ally and just has a curiosity about people who are a bit alternative. We got on very well indeed, chatting all afternoon. I felt contemporary and chic in leather leggings and a red top. So that was very positive.

I've been keeping an eye on the horrible anti-trans media abuse that's been going on this month, from the usual sneering contempt of the British tabloid press and the attacks by radical feminists and Donald Trump. I'm hoping that all this is in fact the last gasp of a dying breed of nasties, but there's no room for complacency. The Genderquake debate on Channel Four last week was, I am told (I didn't see it), what you would expect from the likes of media-supported bullies like Germaine Greer. Hate has become currency in the toxic, inhuman world of Trump and May.

I have also been keeping up with scientific literature on trans matters. I really would like to see better research into why a lot of people are trans. Instinctively I feel that it's a matter of biology, but there is only a little hard evidence of this as yet. Obviously, the subject is of insufficient interest for major funding, and so we remain in the dark. My research continues.

Now that the weather's better, I may remember to take a camera on my travels!

Sue x


Sunday, 8 April 2018

Catching up with old friends

Now that my skin is somewhat better and I can wear makeup once more, I am gradually getting more active in my trans life again. I'm suffering a certain loss of confidence, though, as the disfiguring sickness I had, and the length of time it took to improve (over three years), as well as a host of other unexpected work and home problems in 2016, have left me a bit shocked and unsure of myself.

A while ago, though, I'd been in touch with my friend Dawn about meeting up again. She was the girl I spent Christmas with in the early days of this blog (http://suerichmond.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/lovely-christmas.html).

She came for lunch last Wednesday and we had a nice chat and catch-up. She's married her partner, another trans woman, which is lovely, and she seems to be having a nice retirement, often visiting exotic places like Central America and Antarctica. I'm not jealous, not one bit! I'm sorry I forgot to take a photo of the two of us.

I'm pleased that my friend who had gender surgery last month is progressing well with her recovery and has now moved to her new home.

I'm hoping to get to see more of my old friends now. Little by little. As I said above, I am still somewhat uncertain of where I am now and where I stand in the trans spectrum as someone who wanted to live full-time female but was unexpectedly thwarted and can't now do so. So I'll take it step by small step.



Sue x

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Transgender Day of Visibility

Each year, March 31st is Transgender Day of Visibility (TDOV), when trans people are encouraged to be seen in public to raise awareness of our existence and celebrate our authentic lives. Every time we go out we are being advocates for the transgender community, but today is a special day of recognition. I cannot express this idea better than the wonderful Hannah McKnight who writes such a superb blog and penned this entry today:

Hannah McKnight TDOV

Having been sick for many years, I was unable to participate fully by going out before, but this year I did.

On the train today


Now, I'll confess there's a bit of a conflict between the me who wants just to blend in and not draw unwanted attention and the me who wants people to know that there are trans people out and about in their community getting on with their lives. Invisible yet visible, as it were. Ideally, we want a world where trans people draw no attention except the best attention when merited or needed. But we aren't there yet, hence TDOV.

Sue x

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Photography exhibition

I didn't post last week as the news for the trans community in Britain has been so toxic - threats to the Mermaids charity for trans children, a group of trans-exclusive feminists invited to parliament to attack trans women, and the usual hate in the Daily Mail and ridicule in The Sun newspapers. The xenophobia behind a lot of the votes in the referendum on Britain leaving the European Union has caused an explosion in hate crime and anti-minority abuse.

So instead this week I am going to mention an exhibition I saw at the Photographers Gallery in London, which I visited with my oldest TGirlfriend, Ange. I know various other of my trans friends have seen it.

https://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/whats-on/exhibition/under-cover-secret-history-cross-dressers

The exhibition is based around old photographs picked up in markets and such which show people who are not conforming in some way or another with gender norms. They vary from known transsexuals such as French stars Bambi and Coccinelle to college women of the late nineteenth century who dressed as men to express their equality, with representations of many other reasons for presenting gender difference through dress: drag queens and kings, prisoner-of-war and concentration camp theatre shows, local trans groups and or just individuals from the West and other cultures, and (what I didn't know) ladies' college girls in mock wedding photos with women playing the groom, parson, best man and male guests (something that seems to have been all the rage a hundred years ago).

And, as an additional exhibition in another gallery, Grayson Perry's photo album, not showing him as his well-known alter-ego Claire, but in his younger years before he was famous just dressed largely as a middle-aged woman.

Altogether, an interesting exhibition. Entry £4 to these two exhibitions and the various others that are on.

I'm pleased to say that the friend who had her surgery a few weeks ago is recovering well. And one of my trans friends who was looking for work has found a job. Fingers crossed for the other.

This coming Saturday is Transgender Day of Visibility. I shall try to be visible.

Sue x