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Sunday, 15 October 2017

Androgynous holidays 3: Prague

So I conclude this little collection of posts about getting away by describing a long weekend in Prague with my friend Sarah.

This is indeed a beautiful city. World War II didn’t touch it, despite (or actually because of) its being in the heart of Hitler’s empire, so a thousand years of history remains layered everywhere. The buildings are beautiful, and so is the setting among steep hills with the river flowing through, and there is an abundance of things to see. It’s all very walkable but the public transport is also cheap and efficient. I’m less excited by Czech food and beer, I confess, but that’s a minor point (once the food gets grim there are plenty of Italian and other foreign cuisines to be had).


Prague Panorama 1: from the Castle
Prague Panorama 2: from Letna Park

Prague Panorama 3: from Zizkov Tower

We spent our first day visiting the obvious sites: the Old Town Square, the Tyn Church, the Old Town Hall with its famous astronomical clock and caught the procession of figures striking the hour, the Charles Bridge and the Castle complex on the hill.


Beautiful buildings everywhere you look

Bridge gatehouse

So much decoration on so many buildings

Castle, churches, statues

The next day, in contrast, we ventured out to what has been described as the “World’s Second Ugliest Building” (I couldn’t tell you what the first is) – a futuristic Soviet-era tower built to jam West German TV, but opened just as the Iron Curtain collapsed so its only function now is to provide a view of the whole city. Its most bizarre feature is the giant babies crawling up it, artworks that were taken away for repair just a few days after we visited. Don’t ask me their significance!



We also wanted to visit the nearby Military Museum to see the V2 rocket and other stuff (Sarah is a rocket scientist) but it was closed for a major refit so instead we tramped up the steep hill to the National Monument which contains the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.



We then went to the National Technological Museum. Bohemia, later Czechoslovakia, later the Czech Republic, has always been a major mining and manufacturing area and the Czech-built planes, trains and automobiles were interesting, as were the galleries of mining equipment and astronomical instruments (we both like astronomy). Mining is in the lowest basement, astronomy on the top floor. Seems appropriate! The gallery of illusions was great – rooms that appear to make you shrink or so steep-floored that you have to lean to appear upright... Pretend you’re Alice in Wonderland! An excellent museum.



Day III and we went to the Museum of Communism. Not many exhibits as such, mainly information boards, but the message was clear: communism was a dirty fraud and the Czechs with their mineral resources and highly industrialised were thoroughly exploited to the benefit of the Soviet Union and other less productive parts of Comecon. The social ills, material shortages and bullying culture were pretty bad. Of course, Czechoslovakia rebelled in 1968, an uprising that was crushed by Soviet tanks. A grim chapter in history indeed. To look at the city now, with its shops and restaurants, you would hardly know it had been part of the Warsaw Pact. Mind you, the downside to that is that city centres all now have exactly the same shops!

I wanted to take a river boat and on the way to the landing stage we stumbled across something I had very much wanted to see but hadn’t yet planned, which was the crypt of the small orthodox cathedral where the agents of the Czech resistance were holed up after their assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, arguably the very nastiest of Nazis, head of the Gestapo, Hitler’s Man in Prague where he was known as the Butcher and the Hangman, and very much the driver of the Holocaust. It’s a national shrine and the history of Operation Anthropoid, the only successful assassination of a leading Nazi, is told in the anteroom. The German reprisals on the Czechs were horrific but that finally convinced the rest of the world that the Nazi regime was deranged and evil. I intend to come back to describing this emotionally moving location in another post as contemporary politics are throwing too many shadows of this sort of horror onto life today.



Our boat trip was a pleasant break from this history of oppression and evil. I was especially delighted by the famous, brooding Vysehrad rock with its fortress and monastery, immortalised as a symphonic poem by local composer Smetana. I’m sure there was a legend of a ship-swallowing monster connected with it, too, but our boat chugged by unmolested.


River Vltava from the Charles Bridge

Prague Castle from the river

Vysehrad rock

On Day IV, our last, we paid a brief visit to the Jewish Quarter. This area, full of synagogues survived the Nazis, even though the inhabitants didn’t. Perversely, Hitler wanted to keep the area intact as a sick museum to an exterminated race.

And then we went on to the remains of the giant pedestal of the Stalin Monument, the biggest ever Soviet-era statue – 17,000 tons depicting blissed-out workers admiringly following Uncle Joe Stalin. The wretched artist and his wife committed suicide before its unveiling in 1955, a year before Kruschev came out and condemned Stalin. The whole thing was blown up in 1962 – a process that took two weeks. There was an film of an interview with one of the masons who worked on it in the Museum of Communism explained that the Czech women on the left hand side appears to be to be laying a hand on the Soviet soldier’s gun for protection. She’s actually reaching for his genitals, a symbol of Czechoslovakia’s rape. There don't seem to be any free photos online but you can read about it here. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalin_Monument_(Prague) There’s now a giant working metronome on the site (I don’t get its significance) and we were pleased to see that the plinth is now an unofficial skateboard park, a deconstructed monument to a trivial activity but one so symbolic of freedom and personal skill.

So apart from history grim and gorgeous we also enjoyed some good meals. I’m not so thrilled by Czech beer, I must confess, and dumplings are something that really do stick too severely to the ribs, but we fed ourselves well on the whole. Particularly outstanding were this rolled rabbit loin with stuffing with barley risotto. I also had a classic goulash at the Cubist building, the Black Madonna. The best dinner was at the Cafe Imperial a few yards from our apartment. Sarah says her tuna was amazing (my salmon was pretty good) and the local white wine was pleasant. The tiled décor was extraordinary.

Rabbit loin roll
Cafe Imperial


As for trans life, I didn’t go out in full female mode. It’s partly because I’m a little distressed about my loss of trans freedom and I get the blues when I have to go back to male mode (most TGirls will recognise that feeling). But I was also a little uncertain how the locals might take it. Besides, Sarah has been living full-time female for a while and now needs to exist as an independent woman without me inadvertently outing her. So no full femme, although my shoes, bag and so forth remain female. One day I will travel abroad as a woman, I have promised myself.


Photogenic Sarah - lovely lady and good friend

Do go to Prague, it's beautiful.

Sue x

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Androgynous holidays 2: West of England


By popular request, here’s part 2 of my androgynous holidays, with pictures.

I went away three times in September, for different reasons each time, but always with the aim of clearing my mind, which has been troubled of late.

My first trip was to Wiltshire, which is really the first county west of London where you no longer feel the gravity of the capital drawing you towards it. I wanted to fulfil a few promises made to me when young, and to be as feminine as possible whilst still presenting as male.

Avebury is a wide and very ancient neolithic henge of stones, ditch and mound that was partly encroached on by a houses in the Middle Ages. No-one knows what these ancient monuments were for or why they were built but the effort required to construct them and the many other ancient buildings and artefacts in the area suggests a place of great significance. You can look up a lot about it online. I went because the more famous Stonehenge was often on the itinerary when we went to Wales or the South West for family holidays when I was a kiddie, but my father always said Avebury was bigger and better, yet he never actually took us there. So it was something that had always been on my “To Do” list.


Avebury

It’s certainly a beautiful spot with ancient buildings and sheep encroaching on the stones. My bed-and-breakfast hotel was lovely and the village pub provided a good dinner.

Avebury


The next day I fulfilled another promise to myself, which was to walk more of the Ridgeway, possibly Britain’s oldest road that has been used for maybe 5000 years. I did some stretches in Buckinghamshire as a teenager with my father. This time, however, I was kitted out in my girl clothes, though not presenting as female. My walking boots and purple socks are women’s (as I explained in my last post, I have tiny feet and I often can’t get men’s shoes and socks in my size), as were my T-shirt, fleece and trousers. I’d rather be all woman, but clearly my skin health problems have made me very cautious about wearing makeup except on special occasions. I wear women’s clothes every day anyway as it’s the most obvious connection to my feminine side.

The area around Avebury from the Ridgeway Path on Fyfield Down. The landscape is full of stone age sites.


The weather was perfect and the walk was wonderful. I felt tired but calmer in spirit when I arrived at my destination in Ogbourne St George where I stayed in a cosy old hotel and had a fantastic dinner in the wonderful pub called the Inn with the Well, which does indeed have a well – 97 feet deep, right in the middle of the floor with reinforced glass flush with the floor so you can walk right over it. The warm mackerel starter, rabbit casserole main and warm chestnut & choc pudding, with local lager to drink, made an excellent dinner that I will remember for a very long time. And the road leading to the pub goes into my book of daft place names …

 

Mind you, the little River Og, which gives its name to the village, is a pretty odd one, too. I should explain that when I was 10 my classmates and I found in a school geography book that there was a place called Bushy Bottom in Sussex. As 10-year-olds we thought that was hilarious. Since then I've kept a note of places with ridiculous names, like Batman in Turkey or Bastard Butte in Wyoming. Sadly, Butt Hole Close in Yorkshire has recently been renamed. Apparently people had been posing in illustrative fashion by the street sign. Such models who feel dispossessed can now venture to Ogbourne St George if they prefer. It's all very silly ... and I am doing nothing to stop it.

On a related note, the train to Swindon (from where I took a bus to Avebury) whizzed passed a weird sight: a man standing in a cornfield, naked but for a pair of tiny blue briefs, holding a 15-foot pole vertical. There was some device on top pointed at the train - a camera, speedtrap, I know not what. The sights of England, eh?

I digress.

The next day, I went to beautiful Marlborough, which has always been a favourite place to visit, though I haven’t been there for years. It never changes: the broad high street, the curious alleys, the old shops, the weed-stocked River Kennet flowing gently by. The Green Dragon pub where I had lunch put me in mind of the fictitious Dragon of Wantly inn that appears in Anthony Trollope’s Barchester novels. I think Trollope is a marvellous author and Marlborough is very much a Trollopian town.

A lovely trip that calmed me after a lot of troubles with plumbing and other stuff to deal with in August.


Bath Abbey. Picturesque, but places of worship are rarely transgender havens.

The following weekend I went to Bath and the distressing conversation with my sister about Lugbutts (LGBT people) has been recorded. Despite that, there were walks to be had all along the River Avon, especially on a disused railway line that’s been turned into a path and cycle track running all the way to Bristol. The irony is that my sister didn’t seem to spot that my shoes and socks and shoulder bag were women’s! I did clip my nails so they wouldn’t be quite so feminine. The previous time I had visited her I forgot to cut them and even remove the clear varnish, and I could tell that she was staring at them. I hate this double life and after her revelations about her anti-trans and gay campaigning, I don’t think I’ll be seeing her so much.

Let’s pause here for now and I’ll tell you about Prague in the next post in a few days as that’s more significant, especially as I went with a trans friend.

Prague - we're getting there


Sue x

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Androgynous holidays


The illness that disfigured my face for over three years has subsided and, with a new, cautious makeup regime, I can be seen in public identifying as female again. But it has left me very distressed because just a few years back I was aiming at living nearly full-time female. That can’t now happen because when the problem arises again (as it does periodically) then I will be back to presenting as male only. It’s taking me a while to come to terms with this.

As I mentioned in the first post of this year http://suerichmond.blogspot.co.uk/2017/01/those-biggest-resolutions.html it was in 1997 that I resolved finally to accept that I was transgender. I have dressed as a woman every day since, though that’s not the same as presenting as female all the time.

Most of my clothes now are women’s items, so even though I have had to revert to presenting as male for much of the last four years, I still feel connected to my trans side through what I wear and through manicuring and varnishing my nails, eliminating male type hair and so forth.

I therefore check out the latest clothing styles to see what may pass as male attire even though it’s female. Fashions these days are actually quite samey across the genders, as it happens. I have been blessed by being petite and having small feet (UK 5½ or European 38/9, US 7½) so women’s shoes, socks, T-shirts, jeans, etc. are easy to find. Having small feet has always been a problem, though, when wanting men’s shoes as the ranges usually start with a 6 or even a 7 and even before finally accepting my trans side I would sometimes have to opt for women’s styles in shoes (the shop assistants being apologetic whilst I was secretly pleased!)

So on my recent trips to Wiltshire, Bath and Prague I have been presenting as male, but with perfect nails, women’s shoes, underwear, shirts and shoulder bag. I feel connected to my trans side but nobody especially spots the understated femininity in my walking boots or socks or top or bag. Perhaps this is one aspect of my future as a trans person. Not a future I envisaged or wanted, but one that may have been forced on me by necessity.

Anyway, I’ll tell all about my adventures and provide some more pretty pictures in my next post. 

Prague in autumn


Sue x

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Hello, Lugbutts


A number of people commented on my sister having become an anti-LGBT campaigner in my last post, so I guess I should go into more detail.

As mentioned before on this blog, my family are all very religious. Or rather, they are religious fundamentalists, and their faith is not actually very mainstream. They are pretty bigoted and intolerant of many things because their god disapproves. I left their religion over 20 years ago and barely speak to my parents now, partly because of that but mainly because of my father’s violent threats and his race hate that is really horrible to hear. They don’t know I’m trans (not as an adult, anyway) because I fear abuse and, even worse, their attempts to convert me back to ‘the right path’ again.

My sister was telling me of a new group she’s joined within her religion. “It’s my job to deal with the lugbutts.”

“Who on earth are the lugbutts?” I asked. 

“You know, those LGBT people. Lg-bts or lugbutts. They are extremely rich and they use their money to catch out religious tradespeople by ordering things that the trader can’t, in all conscience, provide [presumably double-bed hotel rooms for gay couples or cakes with pro-gay slogans]. They also use their wealth to influence the politicians and schools to corrupt and brainwash people. This turns impressionable people away from reality so children end up saying that they’re not really boys or girls but the other, or you end up with boys dating boys or girls dating girls.

"If your genes are boy genes,” she pronounced, “then you’re a boy. I mean, dur! isn't that obvious? These lugbutts are really persecuting so many people and damaging Britain and I feel really threatened.” 

What … the … hell…? Apart from the fact that my sister has never had a boyfriend or been in a relationship, so interfering with others’ relationships is pretty hypocritical, it’s also pretty vile when persecutors project their own behaviour onto others and yet claim to be victims. 

And there was me in front of her wearing women’s shoes and socks (though very unisex).

I put her right on genetics, but I really do now give up on anything but a nominal relationship with my family. It’s a sad choice – they’re obviously the closest people to me – but her insane, nasty, ignorant rant has made that choice easier.

Many trans people have a difficult time with families but I do wonder if I didn’t pick one of the very shortest straws here, and I feel very distressed about it. 

So, my dear fellow lugbutts, we just have to keep on being ourselves, being visible and, sadly, combating this sort of ignorance and prejudice.

Sue x

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Mixed fortunes, mixed gender

I haven't posted for a month because of domestic problems (mainly involving plumbers and engineers) and because I really needed some time out. It's been stressful all right.

Things are getting mended at home - society's requirement seems to be that girls are really not good at heavy domestic maintenance and should leave it to the men. Now I was born with a man's body (and birth certificate to prove it!) but frankly my hunky bod has its limits in terms of energy and competence, so the professionals have been tramping over the Richmond estate for a while now.

I tend to write posts on separate themes so I will go into more detail another time about the relaxing break I took in androgynous mode in the ancient places and trackways of rural Wiltshire, which helped clear my mind and reduce the stress, although as a townie I'm really not used to such long walks and was pretty tired, though it meant I slept like a log!

A small part of the vast Avebury stone circle


I also went to stay with one of my sisters. Again, long walks with her along the River Avon around the city of Bath. But this time I was in brother mode, which requires making up flat-pack furniture because that's a man's job, right? But it was when she revealed that she is a member of a religious group and is campaigning against LGBT rights that I felt very depressed. That merits a separate post as it's a Big Thing.

My work gets very quiet in August and picks up again in September, so I have been easing into it with a gentle start. I work from home so at least I can dress how I please. The recent stresses have made me pick very feminine floral dresses and skirts these last two weeks.

Sigh! How many of us trans people spend our time picking our presentation to match our environment in order to feel safe? It's fine to dress and be ourselves at home alone, it's OK if toned down and alone in public, it's impossible with family. What a lousy way to live.

Sue x

Monday, 14 August 2017

Six years of blogging


Six years ago today I started this blog just to put something about me out there and to encourage other trans people to live a more as their authentic selves.

At the time I was testing to see if living full-time as a woman was viable and it looked like it would be. Then in 2014 my perennial problem - eczema - settled on my face and I couldn’t shave or wear makeup, so presenting a more feminine appearance was no longer possible.

I’m a lot better and can wear makeup again, provided I’m very careful, but obviously life is not the same. I have struggled to come to terms with my loss but have maintained my blog as I still want to provide support, information and news to anyone who might find it helpful.

So, here’s the current status of my blog, a little roundup I do every year.

I’ve always felt the stats that Blogger provides are a bit wonky and temperamental. I’m close to 100,000 views now, with visits increasing all the time, and 43 subscribers. Welcome to this year’s new subscribers, Rossanna Gabrielli and Rhonda Tipt.

The five most popular posts have changed quite a bit this year and by far the most read is the TGirl Bar 2013. And why not? Who wouldn’t want to be served a drink by this group of attractive, polite, hard-working, well-presented, sexy ladies? Or even be there working with us?



Next comes the old favourite, Nottingham Invasion, from January 2012,

My Resurrection, a post from late last year about returning to living outside again,

Nostalgia Trip to Pink Punters from 2012,

and last year’s Annual Roundup

Of course, I'm delighted to have been given an award recently for this blog by Feedspot (see previous post).

Thanks for reading. The trans community is facing troubled times from certain world leaders. I’m not going to be intimidated and will continue to express my reality as a transgender person, here and in real life.

Love to you all 
Sue x

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Top 100 Transgender Blogs award

Thank you Anuj Agarwal, founder of Feedspot, for featuring my blog among the Top 100 Transgender Blogs.

http://blog.feedspot.com/transgender_blogs/

I'm very flattered to be given the recognition, especially as your selection includes important transgender resources such as national newspapers (the Guardian, the Independent), Pink News and Snopes, organisations such as the National Center for Gender Equality, great blogs such as Femulate, Hannah McKnight and Male Femme and especially those of friends like Lynn Jones and Mandy Sherman (links on the right).

It means a lot when I get recognition because my aim here has always been to share with and encourage other transgender people and, I hope, inform non-trans people about trans life.

So thank you, Anuj and your panellist, and thank you, subscribers and readers.

My blog is six years old next week. 



Sue x

Friday, 14 July 2017

Sparkle 2017


I went to Sparkle again this year. Although this fabulous celebration of everything transgender goes on for several days, I limited myself just to the Saturday. This is largely because I didn’t want to set back my improving health by spending more than one day in makeup.

On that note, I’m pleased to say that 15 hours in makeup caused no eczema flareup, although all the antihistamine I took left me feeling a bit spaced out and groggy. I suspect my friends are used to that!

I have always loved Sparkle. Though it makes for an expensive weekend, there are so many official events and so many venues to have fun in and so many friends to catch up with that it’s become the highlight of my year. I was so distressed last year when I had to cancel my visit.

I turned up on Friday night after a smooth journey (no delays through “gunmen on the line” as in 2015!) And do you know, there is now a train every 20 minutes from London to Manchester – an incredible frequency for intercity services. I had a quiet dinner on my own in Manchester’s Chinatown (which is better than London’s Chinatown, in my opinion) and spent the evening making essential beauty arrangements, such as painting my nails.

One thing I have always done is to photograph my outfits for Sparkle. Chiefly as a personal record of my growth, tastes, fashion, etc. I’ve not posted them before, but I will this time as don’t have many photos and usually there are 7 or 8 looks for the weekend!

 
Daywear: pastel pink.

Evening: black lace


















Saturday morning dawned bright and it was hot and fine all day (I have luckily never been cursed with Manchester’s famous rain on any visit I have made there) and I was in Canal Street, the heart of the Gay Village, by 10. This was a daft thing to do really as there’s nobody around at Sparkle till gone midday! But I enjoyed a light breakfast at Velvet.


Glowing in the lovely sunshine

The first person I met was my lovely friend Wilhelmina from Hungary. After a chat we went into the city centre for lunch as Canal Street is a little pricey and we prefer real life ‘outside the ghetto’.

And then the afternoon was the time to bump into friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen for years – Jolene, Amanda, Emma W and Jackie, Kate and Suki, KD, Stefania, Gina, Rachael, Priya, Emma D, Joan, Tania, Jenny Anne and Ellen, Karen… I was sorry to miss Lucy and Helen whom I’d tried to get in touch with, but I know loads of other people who were there but I didn’t see. That’s the trouble with being there just one day, and there’s not that much time for a proper catchup with anyone. But the most important thing was for Roz White and me to meet as women for the first time, which we’d never managed despite knowing each other for so many years. A massive hug was called for. It was lovely to meet her close friends Tegan and Sara for the first time, too.

In the evening I joined Kate, Suki, KD, Emma, Jackie and Karen for a late dinner at Browns in Manchester city centre, a good restaurant which has taken over an old but grand bank building.



After which I went to bed! I just couldn’t face a noisy club, and the medication I take for my eczema prevents my enjoying a glass of wine and was making me very sleepy. And I’m old!

So that was my Sparkle for 2017. Short but sweet.

Visiting Sparkle did me a lot of good. It made me feel part of the community again and gave me a little more hope that I am coming out of this devastating sickness. And I got to see friends whom I love very much.

I’m hoping that next year will be like 2010 – 2013 again – a three-day party!


Slurrp!!! Dining in good company.

Sue x



Sunday, 2 July 2017

Preparing for Sparkle

It's that time of year again and I'm thinking of what should go in my suitcase for Sparkle, the annual transgender celebration which falls next weekend. As any TGirl will tell you, packing the Sparkle Suitcase is a major operation!

Despite having gone at Sparkle every year from 2010 to 2015 I had to miss it last year because of an overwhelming set of problems that hit me all at once. They are gradually being resolved one by one but it's been the worst 12 months I've ever had so I am determined to have a carefree time there this year with my girlfriends.

I have only booked two nights so Saturday will be the day I am out and about and I will play the rest by ear, depending on how my face is. The disfiguring eczema that's blighted my face for 3 years is a lot better. I have managed to get out en femme a few times this spring (and I must write up about that) and on each occasion my face has been OK afterwards. In fact, I now take the nasty medicine only when I have my makeup on. So here's hoping I can manage Sparkle Sunday as well.


Sue x


Saturday, 17 June 2017

German interlude: healing divisions



Last Thursday I went to vote in Britain’s surprise election and then got on a plane and left the rest of the country to deal with the fallout. The political situation in Britain is really toxic. But I’d rather talk about my holiday in Germany and the interesting talk on trans matters I had with one of my hosts.

Berlin is a place I’ve been to many times. Fascinating from a historical point of view, if disturbing in so many ways. The city now is vibrant and very liveable, despite the many problems that all big cities have. This time I stayed with good friends, who are a gay couple.


Healing divisions

As far as sightseeing went, I visited Potsdamer Platz, which used to be a bombed out wasteland with the Berlin Wall running through it but is now a buzzing business district with new office blocks and the commercial Sony Centre, a good place for a coffee. Some buildings have been placed right over the old demarcation line, a symbol of the formerly divided city being reunited.

Sony Centre at Potsdamer Platz showcases Berlin's modern architecture and reconstruction


Just up the road is the Holocaust memorial that covers the site of Hitler’s infamous Bunker. It’s hard to know how to represent the atrocity and the artist has created an undulating landscape crisscrossed by avenues of concrete blocks that vary in height and tilt, a symbol of the confusion of victims in a supposedly ordered system that has no human connection. It certainly has a weird effect on the mind as you wander into it – you can see a way out, yet you are hemmed by this dark oppressiveness.



The Soviet War Memorial, put up immediately the city was captured, though it subsequently ended up in the British Sector when the city was divided among the four victorious powers, is now open to the public. I am delighted to see that little sparrows have made their nests in the barrels of the two tanks and two guns that form part of the monument.

Soviet T34 tank at Soviet War Memorial. You can just spot the little bird on the gun barrel.

Birdie living in a howitzer


You can’t go to Berlin without taking a photo of the famous Brandenburg Gate …



The German Technology Museum is brilliant. Built around the old train sheds of a bombed station, it has a wonderful collection of railway locomotives and carriages, many locos in the characteristic black with red wheels. The aviation and shipping galleries are superb, too, and the section on rockets is important. I was interested to see a model of the German warships lying on the bed of Scapa Flow, which I visited last year, and that the war rockets and buzzbombs on display were all on loan from British institutions, as if a little kid had asked for his ball back from the neighbour’s yard! Plus, there's a Dakota on the roof!



As well as Berlin itself I took a boat with my friends on the Wannsee lake on the outskirts of the city to Kladow and we enjoyed lunch in a restaurant with a beautiful walled garden shaded by trees. Even in these idyllic spots you can’t get away from grim history, though – the boat passes the house of the Wannsee Conference where the Final Solution was agreed early in 1942, and the nearby Glienicker Bridge is where US and Soviet spies were exchanged during the Cold War.



Life’s better for all now with less political extremism, distrust, hate and violence, I’d say. It’s pointless asking some of contemporary politicians to note this fact, though.


Food and art

There was also the annual asparagus festival in neighbouring Brandenburg. The North European Plain is dull, flat and rural and Brandenburg is a fairly typical part of it. I’ve never been all that excited by asparagus but the stalks grown here in the dark end up ghostly white and plump and, coupled with a local lake fish, the Zander, they makes a tasty dinner. I tried this fish elsewhere with ham and saffron rice and it was even better. By the way, German wheat beers are wonderful.

I also spent a few days in Dresden, rebuilt largely as it was before the 1945 air raids that destroyed the city. And very fine the buildings look, too, like a small-scale St Petersburg that was built at much the same time. They contain some of Europe’s most significant artworks and scientific instruments, collected and commissioned by the Electors of Saxony. Dresden is relatively expensive, though, being a bit of a tourist trap. However, it was very worth visiting.


The Frauenkirche. Controversially bombed, controversially reconstructed. But a building of great beauty and breathtaking boldness in design.

Pretend you're the artist Canaletto who's just been commissioned to paint views of Dresden. You even get an easel to line up your photo!

The beautiful Zwinger palace

Clever reconstruction of historic palaces and neighbouring homes. Modern reinforced concrete frames clad in tiles and stone (some original), with modern plumbing and electrics, lifts, fire safety, etc. Air conditioning outlets replace chimney pots and a typically modern glass roofing covers a courtyard. The topmost Latin inscription reads, "Was reconstructed 1986-2013"

Dresden from the tower of the Schloss: the Opera House and River Elbe. What looks like a Turkish mosque in the background is actually an old cigarette factory!


Crossdressing German style

Although I had brought my makeup and hair with me I didn’t, in the end, go out in full femme. My clothes are virtually all female clothes but are essentially unisex most of the time. The reason was that, although Berlin is full of gay and trans people, my friends felt it was a little more dangerous in their part of town. That’s their official version, which I’m not really convinced by. But, in fact, I think they felt slightly uncomfortable about it since they don’t fully understand trans matters. They already feel a little bit discriminated against and not always well received as a gay couple by their neighbours and perhaps compounding this by being seen in company with a TGirl was more than they felt happy with. I feel one should respect one’s hosts’ wishes, whatever the motive.

But I did have a long chat with one of my friends about crossdressing, which he used to do a lot in his younger years with his mother’s blessing (lucky boy). But for him it was just that he wanted to pretend he was an air hostess or a princess, just for play. It was the role that was important. He felt puzzled when I said I dress as a woman because it’s the easiest way for people to identify what I am and that I want to be treated as a woman, and I felt he was challenging me to prove I wasn’t just adopting a role as he used to do. It’s hard to prove something that you yourself don’t understand and nobody has yet come up with an explanation for. I think part of the lack of understanding that gay people have for trans people stems from the fact that, although we are often lumped together, there is no direct connection between sexuality and gender. Being gay (or straight) is about who you like to sleep with; being trans is who you feel you are.

Just to round this off, you may like to know that one ruler from the junior lines of the house of Saxony, Augustus the Duke of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg (reigned 1804-1822), was evidently transgender and liked to be called Emilie. (His grandson Albert was Queen Victoria’s husband.) And it seems like he was not the only one in that extended family to be. You see, you can't get away from the fact that transgender people have existed throughout history. Yet history shows also how little understood we are.


Emilie in boy mode

Mainly, though, I feel rested and that can only be good after a difficult 12 months.

Sue x


Sunday, 4 June 2017

Face 2 Face Time, a play about being trans in a relationship


Last week I went to Putney Arts Theatre in South West London to see seven new short plays about “Love in the Time of Tinder”.

In case you don’t know, Tinder is a dating app. A bit like Pokemon Go, the idea is you swipe to find monsters in your area!

The main reason I went, apart from having the opportunity to make the cheap joke above, is the fact that I love live theatre and that local performances can often be as good or better than shows at the main theatres, and that one of the plays was written by my friend Grace Johnstone. And it was about being trans and in a relationship. What’s not to like?

Just to run through the other six playlets first. They were all very good, well-written and well-performed, all entertaining and thought-provoking with much humour and plenty of opportunities for the audience to recognise themselves in the characters, behaviour and situations.

Fifteen Minutes: literally that, about a somewhat awkward speed dating event linked to an app, veering between funny and cringemaking. A good insight into how digital life can take over real connection between people.

It’s Complicated: a longer play with various scenes, a lot of laughs and time to develop characters, namely a man and a woman who are pressed by their respective friends to get back out there after the end of previous relationships. I found the last scene, when the would-be couple who have been messaging finally meet in a bar, very realistic and well performed. I very much liked this one.

Party Poopers: a man obsessed with breasts and a happily divorced woman meet at a party, not accidentally it would seem. Their very different outlooks create an edgy encounter with some sharp dialogue.

A Human Heart: you wonder throughout what this rather disturbing situation is all about, where a couple are subjected to intense and intimate questioning about their relationship; only at the very end does the purpose of the test become clear. Despite the emotional discomfort of the test, they pass where all others have failed.

Delayed: This was, along with Grace’s, the most humane of the plays and the only one in which there was a kiss, a lovely, sweet heart-warming kiss. I went “aww!” at that point. Two commuters chat briefly each morning on a London station platform but, like most commuters, are more tied up with their iPods and dating apps than the nice person next to them, until the end.

Seeing Red: This appealed, too. A bumbling prejudiced guy scoffs at the modern art at a gallery before realising he’s insulting two of the artists. A sad mistake, since they are undoubtedly desirable! Sharp dialogue.



The penultimate play was Face 2 Face Time, Grace’s work. Arguably the most serious of the plays, I immediately recognised the situation only too well: TGirls chatting online about coming out to their partners, and one who does so dramatically by quite literally coming out to her girlfriend from her hiding place fully dressed and made up.

One of the regular props in these plays was a pair of giant smartphones and here they were used to good effect, backlit with two M2F trans people appearing in sideways silhouette as they chatted to each other, a conversation held a thousand times over on every trans forum and chat site. To me that was almost like watching a documentary, although it was presumably a new take on revelations/confessions to the rest of the audience. I felt that although I knew the situation, the fact that the two trans women were played by female actresses might have confused the audience; at least, I think if I wasn’t trans I’d have been puzzled by what was happening there. Maybe having two male actors, but with female wigs, so the silhouette was feminine, though not totally, and you got the deeper voices that are usually characteristic of us M2F trans people, would have made the audience realise that something more unusual was afoot. However, that would have reduced the surprise of Dave in the next scene emerging dressed into the limelight and his girlfriend’s view for the first time.

Dave, though nervous as hell, is honest and explains his other side fully to his girlfriend, and there’s a lot to explain. I’m sorry that the audience laughed when he declared “I’m Gemma” but I think they accepted – as Dave’s girlfriend did – that here was a relationship that could still work, even thrive, with hard work and compromise. Food for thought.

I suppose the real challenge for Grace was to get such a large amount of information on transgender issues and relationships into just 15 - 20 minutes. Like I say, it was a more serious play than the others but I think the audience warmed to Dave/Gemma and did somewhat root for his girlfriend Sarah who was determined to make a go of it. If I’d not been trans I might have got lost on some of the concepts and jargon (what’s “transition”?)

It’s hard for me to be objective when I recognise so much of myself and my own life there, so let me refer you to Maggie Dixon’s review (link above) as she was impressed and much moved by this play.

The one puzzle – and this is largely because, although she had written it, Grace did not get involved with the staging of the play - was that Gemma dressed seemingly in Indian style: kurti or shift dress, loose leggings and flats. But we all know, of course, that TGirls always dress in leather miniskirts, stockings and skyscraper heels! So that didn’t work. (Only kidding, although it was an unusual selection by the props department).

Sadly, the plays were on only for one week. But I hope they will be performed again soon, in their home in Putney or elsewhere. There wasn’t a single dud play there and one of them is that all-important trans one. A very enjoyable evening. It’s a nice little theatre, too, and right in the middle of this bustling suburb of London.

Sue x