Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Eight Questions.

On 30th March last, Lynn @ YATGB set a set of questions, writing:

So the other day, I stumbled across an art project concerning trans people: T-Town: Transgender Neighbors. Each page, if you like, was a small photo of the person in question and then a short interview. Each interview question was repeated to the next subject and it gave a short, potted history. (...) Having read though the original site's questions, I boiled them down to something like this:

(The questions and headings are in italics and bold below, preceding my answers.)

Lynn's idea is to do something similar for Nottingham and the project seems to be progressing nicely. From a prospective neighbour's perspective, it's been both interesting and unsettling delving into the past and writing about it, but I've finally finished – so here it all is:

When did you first feel trans? How did it make you feel? Did you embrace or run from it?

The "when" part of that is a bit difficult. I was trying on my sister's clothes as early as 3 or 4, but I hardly had a conception of being trans (or femme) at that age. I can't remember how it made me feel either, only that I felt compelled to do it. I suppose you could say I embraced it, in that I never tried or wanted to stop (with one brief exception mentioned below), but I quickly understood that it was something for a young boy to do secretly – and especially, whenever I wore girls' knickers to school, that no one should ever find out.

Adolescent coping
How did you cope with growing up? What about puberty? How was school, or teenage life?

Teenage life was mostly "new wave" music, left-wing politics, and hanging out. Trans-wise, I was still wearing my sister's and mother's clothes in private. I started buying my own around 14, when I ventured into Stockport from my Gran's and spent my Christmas money on varied lingerie. It boggles me now that I ever found the nerve to do that. G*d knows what the women at the counter thought (okay, one might hazard a guess), but they served me without saying anything that I can remember and I got away unscathed, relieved and happy.

At 18 I had my first serious relationship: with a bisexual girl of the same age. After a while I told her about my cross-dressing – I actually (bless) wrote her a letter – and she was very nice about it. I was crazy in love with her; but I was inexperienced and immature and consequently rather a jerk. She ended it after about six months. The cross-dressing was, I think, partly the reason, as I'd gotten carried away with the sudden freedom and inflicted it all on her (though the jerk factor certainly figured too). The rejection I took extremely badly, which included "giving up" cross-dressing and throwing all my stuff away. Stupid. Before too long I'd started again and have never made the (expensive!) mistake of purging since.

Early Life / University / College
Having 'grown up' - at least physically, how was life? Did you fit in or fall out? Did you stay home, work away or go to Uni?

Mostly I stayed home. I was unemployed (by choice) for several years after leaving school. Eventually I went away to study architecture in London (coincidentally my ex-girlfriend's sister was there as well), but dropped out after a term and came back to "study maths" at Sheffield instead, travelling in from Mansfield every day. The inverted commas are because I actually spent most of the time studying chess. (I later scraped a third by memorizing key formulas and proofs in the days before each exam and applying them at the table, thus learning that you can get a degree with very little work, just not a very good one – unless you're John Nunn or someone perhaps.)

A short burst on what you do and how you think it has shaped you (for better or worse). Is there something you long to do?

I edit chess books (so the time spent studying chess instead of maths did come to some good), which involves me sitting at home at the computer all day. This has sheltered me from trials and tribulations to a large extent, though whether that's for better or worse, I'm not sure: it's lessened the effects of this type of thing, but at the cost of never needing to deal with it properly.

No, there's nothing I really long to do... although if there was an Open University course in gender theory available, I'd be quite interested in doing that, seeing as I know so much about this stuff already.

Single, married, long term relationship, divorced, happy to be single?

Single. I live with my mother (my father died six years ago) in a house owned by my uncle. For me the essence of singledom was best expressed in an episode of Inspector Morse, where he was asked whether he minded never having married, and he replied: "sometimes I mind". And that's about it: I'm happy being single; I like being single; except for sometimes, when I don't.

Coming Out
Have you? Would you? If so, how was it? If not, why not?

Yes and no. I was deeply in the closet for a long time, albeit more in my head than in reality – in that, although a lot of my family and friends knew, and I knew they knew, and they knew I knew (etc), it wasn't something I wanted to talk about at all. So I was in the closet with the door open as it were. (Think of a young child with their eyes tightly closed and their fingers in their ears, going "you can't see me, you can't see me".)

Nowadays, with family and older friends, the silence is more mutual. We've never talked about it; because to do so, I guess, might change something between us somehow. Personally, I think it'd be better if we did, but I'm still nervous of broaching the subject. For close family I'm being quite silly there because it's right out in the open anyway: my wardrobe is full of women's clothes and my shelves full of trans-related books for everyone to see. On the other hand, "famous relative" didn't come out (as gay) until he was 48 years and 247 days, so I reckon I have until August 15th to prevaricate yet.

The Way Forward
What's next for you? What are your hopes - trans, or otherwise?

What's next: I don't know. Hopes (trans): To be completely open about who I am and not regret it. Hopes (otherwise): That my sister's illness won't finish her off anytime soon. Dreams: To live in a world whose rules of gender are far less rigid.

Words of Wisdom
Anything you'd like to pass on to someone trans?

If that means advice: Embrace who you are as soon as you possibly can.


  1. I did enjoy reading that. I hope the rest of the folk who answer provide such an interesting list.

  2. Thanks Lynn. How's yours coming along? :)

  3. That was really insightful - thank you!

  4. Thanks, I've enjoyed reading it too.

  5. Hi Rhiannon, Hi Tanya

    Glad you liked it :)

    I look forward to reading other people's.

  6. Further to which, Lynn's own set of answers can now be read here.

  7. The updated version of this post, complete with photo, has now been moved across here. The main alteration was in my answer to the Coming Out question which I revised as follows:

    Yes and no. I was deeply in the closet for a long time, albeit more in my head than in reality – in that, although a lot of my friends knew, and I knew they knew, and they knew I knew (etc), it wasn’t something I wanted to talk about at all. So I was in the closet with the door open as it were. (Think of a young child with their eyes tightly closed and their fingers in their ears, going “you can’t see me, you can’t see me”.) That’s not because I felt any shame or guilt – I never really have – it’s due more to an almost pathological dislike of being laughed at. (If you want me to blow up in your face, that’s the way to do it.)

    Nowadays, with family and older friends… well… I did think the silence was mutual: that we never talked about it because to do so might change something between us somehow. However, I actually came out to my mother a few months ago and she said she’d had no idea. My sister (who followed two days later) had some idea but nothing exactly clear either. (Bizarre! I’d thought the evidence was both blatant and conclusive – but seemingly not.) Anyway, they were both supportive, and interested (reading my blog from start to finish), and not at all judgmental The things we worry about, eh? And, most important of all, they didn’t laugh.

    As for friends, I’m still working on the “mutual silence” basis. I don’t hide anything online (for instance, everything is visible in my Facebook account, and this post is under my own name), so it’s very possible for people to find out, either inadvertently or deliberately (should they go looking). Other than that, I’m not intending to come out publicly – in the village, that is. You don’t know how people will react and, given that “badly” is one possibility and I don’t live by myself, it can’t just be my decision. In any case, it’s not something I feel any particular need to do right now.

    If I was writing it again, I'd have to change The Way Forward as well – in particular, regarding “Hopes (otherwise)”, my sister died last October – but I'll leave the rest as it is: as a personal reflection in a certain time and place, rather than a definitive historical account.

  8. Based on what your level of knowledge and on my experience I would not recommend enrolling in a university gender studies course unless it's an advanced seminar that is very specific to something you're particularly interested. I went to one day of an upper-division undergraduate course on general gender and sexuality studies in a sociology department and I felt a native English speaker in a course for people studying it as a second language.

    1. You're probably right, Nicky. Though I've never found an accessible course over here anyway :/