Friday, 31 July 2015

The Goddess of Femininity

For those of you coming late to the party, I’m married to a trans woman who started her Real Life Test about seven weeks ago. 

There are many gates a trans person has to go through in order to transition; to my eye, the Real Life Test (RLT) is about the most asinine.  Essentially, without medical intervention, the trans person is expected to live in their identified gender for a specific period of time (often a year, but gender clinic waiting lists can protract this) before the medical folk get on board. 

While it’s easier to pass as male during the Female-to-Male RLT, it isn’t especially easy and it’s potentially dangerous if you live near roving Neanderthal tribes.  The Male-to-Female RLT is not only difficult and dangerous, but a lesson in humiliation.  So in other words, if you aren’t killed or don’t kill yourself during your RLT, we’ll give you medical treatment. 

My partner, the Bit-ler (Butler-In-Transition) is fortunate that firstly, she can afford to spend a coupla thousand quid on a hair system with a monthly maintenance bill of about £100, (not counting transport costs, since there’s only a handful of places in the UK who ‘install’ this type of system).  She can also afford to attend an endocrinologist privately – not only does she have this B cup I keep rabbiting on about, but her facial hair has really decreased its growth.

(O yes, the MtF is expected to do her RLT with no tits and a fully functioning beard, just as the FtM is expected to do it with breasts and menstrual flow but no beard or upper body strength.)

The Bit-ler’s additionally lucky that she works for an agency that has protocols in place to deal with transitioning employees – she knows she won’t lose her job.  AND . . .  remarkably, her colleagues weren’t content to sit quietly through the announcement of her transition, but after giving her a round of applause, have been proactively supportive of her.  She’ll probably live through her RLT.

And of course, she has me. 

You’d think the MtF’s wife would be a font of feminine wisdom, but the Bit-ler drew the short straw in that department.  I don’t cook.  Doing my hair = pulling it back in a scrunchy.  My fashion sense, according to my son, is various levels of plaid.  As to being quiet and decent, well . . .

And this isn’t helped by the Bit-ler’s periodic channelling of the Femininity Goddess – an Irish Mother Superior/Hyacinth Bucket entity who walks through our house, hands clasped, uttering phrases like, ‘How common, something I would never say, especially with the windows open.’ 

I’m sure the old lady next door has heard the phrase, ‘You fucking whore,’ before we moved in, but anyway . . .

While I’m not great at beauty or fashion tips, I do see in technicolour when the Bit-ler doesn’t act ‘female’ in a social setting.  As we discuss what women typically do in this or that situation, a little voice in the back of my head asks, ‘Why?  Why are women expected to be this way?’  I feel like I’m taking some great beautiful wild thing and trying to tame her.

The Bit-ler always sweeps my hesitation away – No, tell me, tell me what it is women do when they’re hither and yon, or inside places men are never permitted.  She has to know what the expectations are before she can decide to accept or reject them.

As I share this ancient lore, I wonder when I ate that lore-bait, hook, line and sinker, why I’m the type of woman who smiles and laughs and shares and endures. 

Three steps later, I wonder where my life went, that my mornings are spent curling her hair when I can’t be arsed to do my own.  That when I spend time considering why her outfit works or doesn’t, I’m wearing the Jack Skelton T-shirt my son gave me, over unflatteringly skinny jeans with dried mud from the garden and dog walks.  That I police her gender-appropriate social niceties and have given up screaming, ‘Fuck!’  At least when the windows are open.  That I live knowing someday someone will call me a lesbian and maybe treat me badly for it, and I’ll have to deal with that like a seasoned pro instead of someone who hasn’t a clue what lesbians have to suffer in order to live and love.

Wow, eh?

I don’t have answers to my questions, but I’m still willing to do this.  Mostly because I’m amazed at the Bit-ler strapping on her bra and marching out with her lemon-yellow shoulder bag to take on the world.  I’m a bit too selfish to deny myself the adventure, no matter how many outfits I have to pass judgement on.

But the questions are there.  I wonder if I’ll know sometime in the future, what I’ve put to the side so I can do this now.  I wonder if I’ll regret or be happy that I did. 

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Let Me Tell You ‘Bout the Hair

It’s rather astounding, how powerful a woman’s hair is.  Before officially starting her real life test, the Bit-ler went to work with her B cup breasts and her somewhat androgynous women’s clothing.  She was never clocked as female or even gender fluid.  She was male, full stop. 

More than any other transition accoutrement, she needed hair.

Some trans women have their own luxurious locks; others get by with a bit of judicious styling.  The divide on the Bit-ler’s scalp could only be breached by the wigs she had, none of which fully satisfied her, all of which precluded being physically active.  The Bit-ler reconciled herself to a demure life. 

I, on the other hand, did not think beauty was a good swap for giving up my partner in crime, so I researched the whole thing and found out about hair systems that allow you to do sports and take showers and yes, even wear hats!

At this stage, I’m an enthusiastic, supportive hag. 

And so off to Edinburgh the Bit-ler goes to get a hirsute-ish pate.  I’m left in the new house with the fencing guys who’ve promised they can erect a barricade that’ll keep the Doodle in our garden.  A Doodle, I should add, who has already learned how to open the childproof door locks and escape the house.   Repeatedly.  With a big ol’ grin on her doggie face.

The fence guys themselves were civil enough.  The neighbours were a different matter.  We’d left the land of UKIP-pery and Mad Farmers to join the Uppity Nouveaux Riche too busy espousing capitalism to weed their rose beds.  New neighbours sensitive about property boundaries.  A sensitivity that extends into our garden, apparently.

By Day 2 of making bacon butties for the fencers and failed diplomacy with the neighbours – tasks previously the sole responsibility of the Bit-ler, as legislated by law and gender inequity – I’d redefined her trip north for hair as a luxury spa holiday that left me holding the can, an unappreciated Cinderella SOFFA.

Despite my self-pity, the fence got raised, no neighbours murdered in the process.  The Bit-ler came home looking the happiest I’d ever seen her.  It’d all been worth it.

Until the next day.  The Doodle’s early morning escape from our newly fenced garden required a run to the DIY shop.  Only, the Bit-ler had to get ready so she would pass.   Therein followed a long, drawn out prep that included visual demonstrations from myself.  Amazing, how complicated brushing your hair in a mirror really is.  Something second nature to little girls but that takes a while to master if your first attempt is as an adult. 

The next three days, Doodle found new escape routes, so three more trips to the DIY.  Three more preps by the Bit-ler while I twiddled my thumbs.   On that last trip, I was having trouble with the Sat-Nav.  The Bit-ler looked over just as we came into a curve.  The car drifted toward the centre line and she pulled it back before we crossed it.  I lost the plot. 

For me, losing the plot isn’t telling her she’s a feckin eejit who should keep her goddam eyes on the road.  Nope, losing the plot is taking a sample box from psychiatry’s diagnostic manual and giving her an assessment at 120 decibels.  A little knowledge with a lot of sharp edges.

She says nothing.  In her mind, she has to put up with an outburst like that because she considers me long suffering.

‘I wondered when I’d start shouting at you,’ I said.  A declaration of how long suffering I think I am. 

I eventually apologised like the alleged adult that I am.  The Bit-ler eventually agreed she didn’t have to take shit off me because I’m supportive.  But the first shot had been fired in what probably won’t end at a 21 gun salute to our old way of living.  Everything’s changed, from how long it takes to get ready to go, to what people perceive of our relationship.

And all because of her hair.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Caroline Paige Did It First

Caroline Paige
Last week, Caroline Paige didn’t get a Pride Power award.  Someone who did get an award, also got credit for Caroline’s achievement. 

Who is Caroline Paige?  The first RAF air crew and UK officer to transition while serving in the military.  How bad-ass is that?  A fast jet aviator coming out as trans in 1998 – before the military LGBT ban was removed.  After transition, she did eight helicopter deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Pride Power indeed!

The Bit-ler asked around the military LGBT community for their reaction to Pride Power’s mistake.  People didn’t want to make a fuss.  The woman getting the award had done things.  Someone from the military would correct the mistake on the night.

No.  Feckin not good enough. 

So I contacted both Pride Power and the Guardian journalist who wrote First Trans RAF Pilot, The Remake.  Pride Power didn’t respond.  It was the day before the awards ceremony, so a bit late to change their minds.  The journalist, however, did tweet back to say that although she knew the woman getting the award wasn’t the first, she thought she was the first openly trans pilot.

Caroline Paige - look at them medals!
Okay.  Before Caroline, no one in the RAF had transitioned.  Caroline put 18 years of service at risk by telling her chain of command.  Once they agreed to let her transition on the job, there were people involved issuing her with female uniforms, changing her name and gender in their records, jerking her out of a cockpit and shoving her behind a desk because a girly couldn’t be flying to the front line.  Enough people involved that she got outed to the press.

How was her transition not open?  Because she didn’t self-promote?

Ten years ago when my son, El Punko transitioned, he said that the effort it took every day to be trans, left him with no energy to be an activist.  I told him that living his life was activism – the number of lives he touched, the trans and LGB, the SOFFA and totally unconnected. 

Obviously the LGBT community needs public activists – and yes, people who self-promote – in order to give the community visibility.  But any successful movement has to have a grassroots element.  One person meeting another person and changing an opinion, making a difference a thousand times over so the high profile, professional LGBT folk can have a splash-out with the media and give each other awards. 

I have no objection to that LGBT club of self-promotion, but don’t steal what’s due to someone like Caroline Paige.  The Bit-ler and all transfolk serving in the RAF now, have the option to accept awards or keep a low profile or walk somewhere in between because of Caroline.  Regardless of their own achievements, she was the first.    

Caroline Paige, first RAF pilot to openly transition
Edging Caroline Paige out of RAF history belittles her sacrifice and achievement, not to mention commits a despicable theft of her personal story and her public contribution.  Give that back to her.  Not as a mumbled aside in front of a room of people popping wine corks and taking selfies with celebrities.  Do it as publicly as you took it away from her.

Hey, and while you’re at it, give Caroline Paige an award.  She actually earned it.