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Thursday, 2 July 2020

First steps in trans living 3: getting out the front door

A great deal of trans life takes place in clubs and dedicated venues. You turn up there or to a nearby hotel, you put on your dress and makeup and then enjoy the fun for a few hours as the girl you really are and then you take it all off and go back to the reality society sets out for you. It's satisfying, but only partly.

So, continuing this series of reminiscences from ten years ago, today I recall the first excursion directly from home, which needed to be done if I was ever to feel free to live as I wanted.

If you have a car then you can avoid some of the difficulties of leaving home dressed. A car is in many ways an extension of your home world, a bubble surrounding you from much public interaction. I got rid of my car years ago as public transport in London became outstandingly good in the 2000s, but that left me with no option but to leave home on foot, with the potential to be spotted by neighbours and therefore outed, which I wasn't ready for.

In fact, the first attempt I made to step out the door I had to abort through a crisis of nerves. What was the world outside going to do to me? Even with much discussion on this topic on trans forums, I still wasn't sure what lay out there. Later that day I left the house with my heart in my mouth, walked around the block and came straight home, trembling. Yes, I was that nervous.

The following day I decided to do something longer. Again, I was nervous as hell but, having stepped out and locked the door, I deliberately pointed myself away from the nighbourhood and walked to the wide main road where I felt the traffic was too fast for people to stop and stare. I walked ...for miles. It was in one way a joy to feel free as a woman out in the sunshine; in another way, it was still very scary, but I decided to go as far from comfort as I could push myself.

I ended up at Kew Gardens, the famous botanic gardens. I had a season ticket. And do you know, the woman on the gate scrutinised me carefully and asked why I had a ticket in a man's name. I'm flattering myself I passed. But I suspect she was being extra rigorous. So, dear readers, the first thing I ever did as a woman on her own, was have to convince someone that my male documents applied to me after all. In some ways, I see the funny side of it.

Having been walking for an hour I needed the loo and for the first time went to the women's public toilet. It was empty, thankfully, as I would probably have been too nervous to have shared the space with someone else.

But in the vastness of Kew Gardens I felt free to move at will and avoid people and that made me much calmer. I took some selfies but they are not my favourite pictures so I won't post one here. Instead, here's one I took at Kew a year later wearing the same floral skirt and red top to give you some idea. My beautiful friend Petra was there with me this time.


I was impressed by what I had achieved and I wondered what was next. I could just walk all the way back home or ... I could be more daring. I had amazed myself, if I'm allowed to say so, and I left Kew Gardens and went to the station for my first ever trip on the London Underground. I only went one stop, to the end of the line at Richmond, where I bought a sandwich at the buffet. That also took a bit of effort as, again, it's not something I had done en femme before.

I ate my boring sandwich on the station bench, reapplied my lipstick and waited for the train to Kingston as I had now decided to push myself as much as I could. Kingston is a major shopping town in South West London and I spent a couple of hours going into department stores to buy clothes. I couldn't believe that here I was just looking through the rails of clothes like any other woman. The fulfilment of a lifelong dream.

I went home by train, barely believing all that I had done on my first day out of my own home. I knew I still had a lot of ground to conquer, but this was a major step.

Sue x

Thursday, 25 June 2020

First steps in trans living 2: the Great Drag Race

(c) The X Foundation
An openly gay boss I once had sighed one day, "I'm celebrating my 49th birthday this weekend. Which is 256 in gay years." So, continuing this throwback to ten years ago, before this blog began and the world was newly formed ... OK, no, that's too much of an  exaggeration, but in trans years it was a VERY LONG TIME AGO. My second big trip, just a few days after the first, involved my piggy-backing my need to get out en femme onto an unusual event.

Many trans people rely on fancy dress events to get a chance to be out as themselves without attracting undue comment. Events like Hallowe'en or Carnival, the school prom or the local drama club, and similar. So the opportunity I had to be out in public was the Great Drag Race in 2010.

Nothing to do with RuPaul, this was an event organised by Prostate UK and Prostate Action, charities (now amalgamated as Prostate Cancer UK) that fund research into prostate cancer and look after sufferers and their families. A good cause, not just for men and their families, but transwomen too as, even after transition, the prostate may cause problems. The reason it was a race in drag was to acknowledge the high-profile work done by women for breast cancer care with events like the Moonwalk or Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

I'm not a drag queen and, frankly, neither was any other participant, but here was a chance to be dressed in public, with praise for doing so thrown in. Win-win! I had various sponsors and had brought my friend Ange along with her camera.

It was quite a high-profile event, held in London Fields, a park in North-East London, and the compère was Peter Duncan, best known for his TV shows, notably Blue Peter *. A very personable, down-to-earth man in real life.

So although most of the participants being sponsored to run were just men who'd borrowed something off their wives, some of us like to think we were a bit more like the real thing. In fact, as I applied my makeup, one guy looked over at me and said, "You've done this before!"

My official portrait photo from the event is at the top. The unofficial one by Ange is at the bottom.

Now the first thing to do when ready was to break a world record. With ten minutes training from choreographer Lisa Lee we formed a chorus line and danced (or flailed around) for five minutes. Guinness World Records considered this activity sufficient to qualify for the title of Longest Line of Dancing Drag Queens Ever and so, dear readers, I am a world record holder with an official certificate to say so, and if Roy Castle were still alive I'm sure he'd tell everyone on his show about our outstanding achievement. Dedication and all that. *

The race itself was 10200 metres overall (six and a third miles), representing the 10200 people who die from prostate cancer in Britain each year. It was a warm summer's day and, frankly, running that far in a wig is no joke. The hair I chose was a cheap but light purchase from Doreen's fashions (a shop for trans women that sadly now exists only online). I did wear sensible running shoes but swapped them for four-inch court shoes for the last lap, and waved a pink umbrella too! Frankly, such shoes are not for running in - I bruised my toes!

It was exhilarating being out in a very public place in this way and thereby gain more confidence. I spotted another TGirl there. You could tell, we actually looked different from the rest. It was her first time out in public and, incredibly, she came on the Underground dressed already. I didn't actually talk to her because of our unspoken etiquette that you don't point out to a TGirl you may have spotted that she's a TGirl, even if you both are. I won't give her name as she's changed it anyway, and has been living and working full time female for some years now, but it was good to know that someone had had the same idea as me. We have become good friends since.

There's not a lot online about this event any more although I did find this on YouTube which gives a bit of the flavour:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z5G9bcwOf9A

Thanks to Ange for giving moral support and taking the photos and for the people who sponsored.

More out-and-about capers soon.

* Note for non-British readers:
Blue Peter is a children's magazine show that has been running on BBC television since the 1960s.
Roy Castle was a musician and entertainer who had a TV show for children called Record Breakers. "Dedication" was the lousy theme song that he sang at the end of every episode.


Sue x


Tuesday, 16 June 2020

First steps in trans living: dining out, my baptism of fire

This marks the tenth anniversary of my first public appearance in my home city. This January I wrote about my first ever night out ( https://suerichmond.blogspot.com/2020/01/big-anniversary.html ) but the difference is that that was in a dedicated trans venue whereas this was my first time in an everyday environment. And it was a baptism of fire that, frankly, did a lot to boost my confidence and kick off a month of exploration that led me from shy debutante to confident girl about town.

Here's how it went. I can recall the details perfectly as the evening is indelibly printed on my mind.

I'd agreed to meet Emma Walkey at her hotel in London and we would go for an evening meal. Now, Emma had invited me to join her as she assumed that I was already confidently out and about; and I agreed to join her as I thought she was, well, confidently out and about. We were both wrong: neither of us had done this before!

Having got dressed and made up, Emma rang down to reception for a taxi. "Do you know any good taxi firms?" I heard her say. I was about to suggest, "Ask for a black cab" (i.e. a standard London taxi) but then I thought, "Doesn't matter. Reception will know".

Very nervously, I left Emma's room with her. We got to the hotel entrance and waited for the taxi they had called. And we waited. And waited some more. Half an hour late, a minicab (private taxi) arrived. I told the driver where the restaurant was and he started to punch the name into his satnav. "This doesn't look good," I thought. It sounded a lot worse when he said the fare would be £25! Obviously, he was used to shuttling people to and from the airport and never went to the central maze of streets.

Being my first time out in the real world I had really wanted to avoid complications because I was very nervous, but I had to act and said this really wasn't what we were after. The driver was decent and realised that there had been a misunderstanding with the hotel and he left us for free on the Bayswater Road to catch a black cab. Now, if you know London, you will know that the Bayswater Road is one of the six-lane main arteries of the city and at seven in the evening it is packed with traffic. And I had hoped for a discreet, quiet time and not being too much in public view! So there we stood on this busy main street in our finery with the traffic trundling past until we managed to hail a black cab that swerved across lanes to pick us up. Phew! That was quite a baptism of fire given how nervous I was. I rang the restaurant from the cab to keep our reservation open as we were going to be very late. For comparison, the fare was about £12.

My first appearance in the street


We arrived at Sarastro's in Drury Lane. This place has featured a number of times in this blog as it's a fun place to go, with extraordinary décor and a mainly Turkish menu ( https://www.sarastro-restaurant.com/ ).

We enjoyed a good meal and very nice treatment from the staff. I had booked it because I had assumed they would be trans friendly. Of course, as time goes on, you realise that everywhere in big cities is actually trans friendly. After all, trans money is as good as anyone else's.

In a dining booth in Sarastro's restaurant


Emma suggested we finish off the evening at a pub. "Wow! This is an evening of firsts", I thought. "First time out in my home town, first time out in the street, first time in a taxi, first time in a London restaurant and now first time walking about and going to a bar."

We walked through Covent Garden and it was the longest I had ever walked as a woman. Negotiating the cobbles in high heels was a new skill to learn! It was getting on for 11 pm and it was hard to find a pub open. We went all the way to Wardour Street, very much the heart of the West End. There happened to be lots of elephant statues in London that summer, painted by different artists, and we came across one in the covered galleries of Covent Garden Market.



In Wardour Street we found O'Neill's fake Irish pub and rounded off the evening there.

A blonde and a brunette walk into a bar ...


We made friends with a couple of students who were very complimentary about our appearance. We like people like that!



Well, after that we caught a taxi back to the hotel, had a last photo and returned to the humdrum world.

Emma and I have been firm friends ever since this day


My journey home by night bus took a very long time and the dawn was about to break by the time I got to bed. It had been the most amazing night out, breaking so many barriers. It was what I had dreamed of doing since I was a little kid. And now it was real.

Sue x

Monday, 15 June 2020

The bathroom bill racket

To those many British trans people who have been distressed by their government's threats of bathroom bills, I would like to point out that such moves are a form of racketeering and should be called that.

A racket is formed when a problem is created and a solution offered by the same party for ongoing gain. In this case, a non-existent problem (predatory trans women) is 'solved' by protection being offered to a favoured party (non-trans women). So it's a form of protection racket, the sort of thing the mafia relies on, as well as corrupt governments everywhere.

This is not just a discriminatory act, but involves coercing trans people into fearing using gendered toilets. It sows fear in both cis and trans women where there was none before, divides society and so strengthen's the government's hand by allowing it to be both damager and fixer.

Don't be bullied. Recognise mobsters for what they are.

Sue x



Friday, 12 June 2020

Good and kind allies

I was part way through drafting a post entitled "Allies who are and allies who aren't" for the anniversary of a sudden attack on me as a trans woman by people whom I thought were friends. I will save that for another day as the controversy of J.K. Rowling's anti-trans tweets has blown up.

I am not going to discuss the actual issue but I am going to share many messages to the trans community this week from actors who are allies because they are kind and moving and make me feel hopeful in an otherwise bleak year.

I was very moved indeed by this powerfully supportive yet humble statement from Daniel Radcliffe who played the part of Rowling's character Harry Potter:
 
I realize that certain press outlets will probably want to paint this as in-fighting between J.K. Rowling and myself, but that is really not what this is about, nor is it what’s important right now. While Jo is unquestionably responsible for the course my life has taken, as someone who has been honored to work with and continues to contribute to The Trevor Project [an LGBT suicide prevention organisation] for the last decade, and just as a human being, I feel compelled to say something at this moment.

Transgender women are women. Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people and goes against all advice given by professional health care associations who have far more expertise on this subject matter than either Jo or I. According to The Trevor Project, 78% of transgender and nonbinary youth reported being the subject of discrimination due to their gender identity. It’s clear that we need to do more to support transgender and nonbinary people, not invalidate their identities, and not cause further harm.
I am still learning how to be a better ally, so if you want to join me in learning more about transgender and nonbinary identities check out The Trevor Project’s Guide to Being an Ally to Transgender and Nonbinary Youth. It’s an introductory educational resource that covers a wide range of topics, including the differences between sex and gender, and shares best practices on how to support transgender and nonbinary people.
To all the people who now feel that their experience of the books has been tarnished or diminished, I am deeply sorry for the pain these comments have caused you. I really hope that you don’t entirely lose what was valuable in these stories to you. If these books taught you that love is the strongest force in the universe, capable of overcoming anything; if they taught you that strength is found in diversity, and that dogmatic ideas of pureness lead to the oppression of vulnerable groups; if you believe that a particular character is trans, nonbinary, or gender fluid, or that they are gay or bisexual; if you found anything in these stories that resonated with you and helped you at any time in your life — then that is between you and the book that you read, and it is sacred. And in my opinion nobody can touch that. It means to you what it means to you and I hope that these comments will not taint that too much.
Love always,

Dan

Thank you, Daniel!

Eddie Redmayne, who has acted in another Rowling-based film and played the TS protagonist of The Danish Girl said:

Respect for transgender people remains a cultural imperative, and over the years I have been trying to constantly educate myself. This is an ongoing process. As someone who has worked with both J.K. Rowling and members of the trans community, I wanted to make it absolutely clear where I stand. I disagree with Jo’s comments. Trans women are women, trans men are men and non-binary identities are valid. I would never want to speak on behalf of the community but I do know that my dear transgender friends and colleagues are tired of this constant questioning of their identities, which all too often results in violence and abuse. They simply want to live their lives peacefully, and it’s time to let them do so.

Thank you, Sir!

Emma Watson, a well-known feminist herself and star, again, of the Harry Potter films, has tweeted the two following statements:

Trans people are who they say they are and deserve to live their lives without being constantly questioned or told they aren’t who they say they are.

and

I want my trans followers to know that I and so many other people around the world see you, respect you and love you for who you are.

Again, thank you.

Evanna Lynch (who plays Luna Lovegood) said:

I imagine that being trans and learning to accept and love yourself is challenging enough, and we as a society should not be adding to that pain.
Feeling like you don’t fit in or aren’t accepted for who you are are the worst, most lonely feelings a human can experience and I won’t be helping to marginalise trans women and men further.
I applaud the immense bravery they show in embracing themselves and think we all should listen to their stories, especially as it is Pride Month.

That is deeply understanding, kind and thoughtful support, Evanna. Thank you.

Chris Rankin (who plays Percy Weasley) said:

My beautiful, brave, strong, trans friends and house of #ChrisNess family [a virtual community thats supports queer youth]. We love you. I can’t say it enough.
You’re wonderful, and deserve to be treated as such. Please know that. Be proud of who you are. We are proud of you.

There are plenty more such supportive statements and pro-trans actions from actors such as Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley), Noma Dumezweni (Hermione on stage), Katie Leung (Cho Chang), from Rowling's US editor, Arthur Levine, and Harry Potter groups, but these are the ones that made me feel happiest.

Genuine allies are priceless. I hope sharing this support is as uplifting to my readers as it was for me.

Sue x

Monday, 8 June 2020

Candid camera

I found this down the back of the internet just now.

(c) Paul Jones 2012


Taken by one Paul Jones at the Sparkle trans event in 2012.

I have no recollection at all of it being taken. None whatever. Maybe he sneaks about in bushes and snaps unsuspecting women. We know his sort! It's fake anyway, it's not like you'd ever catch me gazing into a mirror now is it?

I jest as I'm actually delighted to come across it. I was all dolled up nicely with careful makeup and my lovely coral-pink lace dress, having just hosted the Angels Sparkle lunch.

This unexpected find anticipates a handful of posts I am going to be writing over the next month about my sudden explosion onto the trans scene and into the real world in June/July ten years ago that ushered in the happiest couple of years of my life. With all the unpleasant and frightening things that have hit the world so far this year, I hope they will provide some happy relief.

Sue x


Saturday, 6 June 2020

The lives that matter

Black lives matter.

"Oh, yes, they certainly do, Sue," goes the riposte, "but so do trans lives, and all lives, and ..."

Yes, but right now it's black lives that are in line of fire and that's what we must concentrate on. I've witnessed enough police bias in Britain, let alone seen footage of brutality and killings in America, to know that some people are targeted by police forces purely because they have darker skin than others. And I've experienced enough race discrimination myself in Britain for not being pure Anglo-Saxon and for being born somewhere unusual (where, ironically, me and my family were targeted for being white). So I know well enough that the more you stand out from the crowd the more you will be mistreated. But not as well as your average black person in the West knows it.

There's no excuse for racism.

Science is very clear: there is no such thing as race. Cavalli-Sforza and others who have made it their life's work to research the biology of race conclude that the only biological way of subdividing the human species is by blood group and, since children may be in a different blood group from their parents, it's hardly a good basis for division. There is NO other biological difference between people. We all have exactly the same genome. Stick around in Africa long enough and your descendants' melanin genes will switch on permanently just like locals. And vice-versa. We all have those exact same genes, it just takes a little while in an environment to make them switch fully. This is not news. Hippocrates, the "Father of Medicine", he of the Oath that all doctors take, described how the human body adapts to its environment in his essay Airs, Waters, Places, and that was around 400 BC!

So discrimination is the result of ignorance and wilful nastiness. People choose to be racist. Everyone in the world has been subject to compulsory education for generations now, so there are no excuses for being ignorant. Everyone in the world is the product of a migration at some point in their own lives or in the history of their family. So complaining that some people are now living where there weren't people like them before is hypocritical. And if you joined the police because you enjoy bullying and you thought policing was a way of legitimising your thuggery, people won't support you or trust your force. It's up to the good cops - the ones who feel communities need protection, even the ones who joined up just to have a steady job - to weed you out for the sake of their reputation and honest employment. And it's up to us citizens to help and encourage the force to do that.

I boycott businesses that mistreat and discriminate. I won't, for example, buy Dyson products because of the cynical employment history of owner James Dyson. I won't go to a Wetherspoon's pub because of owner Tim Martin's cavalier dismissal of all his staff during the current lockdown. I won't associate with racists, bullies or bigots: I dump them once their nastiness is clear. I have even cut contact with my own father largely because of his horrific race hate (see this post, with caution: https://suerichmond.blogspot.com/2019/03/supremacism-and-single-girl.html). I won't support police forces that are institutionally racist or the politicians who engage them.

Nor should you. Be bold and make it plain that you won't tolerate this malice. If you are still unsure, be aware that the haters and discriminators will be on to you too soon enough since you also differ from them. Black lives really matter.

Sue x