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Sunday, July 8, 2018


 If I am starting up writing here again, possibly best to give a potted biog etc
I'm Sophia Emily Raphaeline, I run what some people think of as one of the world's great bookshops and others that weird place in Kreuzberg .

Cis life
Born in the fifties, hothoused as a child. My mother came from a northern UK working class community and had managed the feat of actually being accepted for university but other 1939 events disrupted such. Hence born to become a project pushed to a reading age of 6 when I was 2 etc etc*
Grew up in and around with strong counter culture values which hopefully still maintain. Went to an english public school, academically gave up on literature and did a joint hons phil/psych at London with sufficient further training to go into branches of cognitive psychology but instead went for occasional property projects and newspaper reading/producing for multinationals and govt. and various private lives. Most years were spent in long and short term straight, reasonably good sexual/romantic relationships with an RA slant, married twice. Buddhist and anarcho syndicalist if I had to come up with stuff for belief systems and of course an avid sf&f reader with suitable beard.
Started Another Country bookshop about 20 years back. It's an english language one in the middle of Berlin and one of the better known world bookshops, chiefly because whilst it might not have the best selection or cater to the more exalted canonical tastes it has a certain character of its own. Fame but no fortune since it's a not-for-profit.

Trans life
About 12 years back I was diagnosed with liver cirrhosis and given 3 years to live.
6 - 9 months in and my condition seemed a lot better, though irreversible as a basic. Now it's compensated, meaning that it's damaged and messing up with some stuff but generally consistently muddling through, though this can alter anytime.
1 year in and I changed, dramatically. I, along with 60% of those males with cirrhosis had been undergoing some feminising body features because often the liver damage takes the form of changing testosterone to estrogen. But then I went through an overnight set of changes in terms of perception and some rather basic underlying cognitive structures. 3 months later decided to transition and 3 months after that started. Of course there was a degree of choice in terms of manipulating hormones to try and reverse things, just that it felt  it would be something like standing up to an avalanche and telling it to stop.
I have some training and interests in psychology and in the far past would associate with others who were reseaching their own altered states of consciousness. So when I found myself in such a state I wanted to chart it, to understand exactly how something is impacting on me, treating myself as an experimental subject. So first I was simply checking that nothing had happened like a small stroke  checking myself in terms of physical capabilities and various tasks , puzzle cognitive abilities measures, creative activity changes, going through well worked routines. With few initial results. But every day I was waking up in a different and changing world, along with a deep sense that the changes they evoked in me were somehow purposeful.
Two weeks in and gender was a thing. Becoming everything. It felt like being retuned, like being realigned in some set of deep, fundamental ways. And it was a world where women were far more intelligible, far clearer to me than men. Because I was seeing things the way they were, running an operating system that seemed now aligned more and more with their's. So I had to change and did.
Part of the processes I went through then were like many other trans woman's, the struggle with passing, all the issues to learn in a woman's world. But part was a huge internal change and irrespective of identity have always tried to chart such. It's what I do, I explore, I make rutters, it goes beyond gender. Whilst it's still changing in unexpected ways, think basic neurological changes were mostly done around the four year mark, with social changes ongoing. I'd shed my connections to a personalised past, I changed name, presentation all the while staying at the centre of the community here. And talking to all around and trying to make sense not simply in questions put in terms of vagueness like 'am I a woman?' which for most cases is firm yes,but more around what am I now ? I was a man, now I'm a woman and a being with sufficient agency to use aspects of both from time to time, but all still taking shape.
Basically just another queer, genderqueer RA trans woman who sees transness in terms of being neurologically intersex, one of the hordes. But having the advantage of a rare perspective and training sufficient to explore that in detail, from a cognitive perspective. My pronouns are she and her, and zie and zir. My upcoming birthday will be my 10th, my 21st and my 66th.

Generally I blog about various things with a prime focus of seeing how my own narrative fits with others to understand the nature of transition. Not transition in the general performative way but the transition from testosterone to estrogen based neural systems and how and why these reflect in social gender structures.

*This I take as one of the major reasons why I reacted to hormonal change so violently. I see gender identity formation as first of all arising from the individual's awareness of commonalities with others of the same gender leading to an identification which becomes an integral part of socialisation that in turn helps that identity to be firmly fixed. Whilst I never identified as female, my hothousing made me sufficiently distant from others in terms of commonalities at that critical age that the gender identity process was somewhat attenuated in my case.Not that I ever saw myself as anything but male.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

to be or not to be

Was questioning whether to keep the blog or not and thinking might restart...or not.
Still, to show I'm still alive....a pleasant review

Friday, September 30, 2016

Community standards

More and more it seems to me that explaining trans concepts simply in individualistic terms is a mistake. Can understand it in terms of trans narratives being hegemonised by queer theory, and obviously there's the UScentricity, but think it leads to very false constructions that needlessly complicate. Not to say they don't have some validity but by no means are they complete or satisfactory lenses through which to understand gender. For we are not simply isolated islands but pieces of a continent of gender, parts of the main.
I suppose the outstanding example is gender identity itself, as generally referred to within the trans community. Of course the idea that we have some internal gender setting is an appealing one in terms of narrative construction. And for many, hunting down the measure of their internal gendered self is a satisfactory and accurate way of thinking. But at the same time it's also an unsatisfactory fable, a constructed notion of 'real self' that's outside normal 'selfhood' identifications. It's the thread we follow through our personal labyrinths to our most authentic being, but viewing it as necessarily spooled on some inner reality of 'underlying self' seems to me a step too far. We follow a path, we are led by a sense of gender resonances, of authenticity within our various worlds, and it's only natural that some notion of original self comes to mind to explain that journey, but it isn't necessarily so. For example, one might alternatively, and probably more accurately for some, conceive that the questioning process charts a change from one unstable gendered set of neuro-hormonal architectures to a stable one, the dice finally coming to their rest. Or perhaps some of our inquiry itself provides an architecture for identity Whilst original self clearly has a meaning with trans people who have known their identity from first memories, for those of us who have had some questioning experience, it's a notion of perhaps limited value, outside of a mildly self-indulgent authentification.
Part of that sort of bias is simply down to individual and otherwise unknowable sections of possible interiors being posited as the only elements to trans identities. For myself I'm more interested in framing in ways that allow for more social elements, such as commonality. I don't think the main force behind my own personal transition came, at base, from some internal sense, more that it was clear and manifest that I shared an overwhelming commonality with women, that I was operating as a woman because I obviously shared a world with other women. That my 'identity' was female was a notion based on that overwhelming understanding of commonality. As to what the benefits of transition are, my own view is very tied to the notion of commonality and is summed by this the 10 best things about mtf transition . Of course 'identity' is rooted in individual cognitive architectures reflected in common reactions to the somewhat different characteristics of the evident world conveyed by differing neuro-hormonal states,but it also resides in common abilities to access modes of communication. Lacking testosterone and testosterone typical processing capabilities it isn't possible to access key elements of male/male communication, for example 'challenge' forms of relation. Lacking estrogen and estrogen related processing capabilities, communication involving higher measures of informational content, for example, are rarely possible. When dealing with my gender role in the world I'm not trying to assert my authenticity as an act in itself. I'm not posing in female garb to claim my ability so to do. I'm making a proposition to the world, that it would be better for others to treat me as female, to communicate with me that way, to make some of the more basic assumptions that go with that, because that way we can meet and engage in the fullest, best, most real way possible.
And here the notion of gender expression also becomes problematic. Of course we aspire to heterotopic social processes where each can express their individuality via iterative performance etc. But such expression is necessarily a part of a set of communication systems and engagements. Gender expression isn't  an act of abstract individual artistry, it's a projection of place within gendered systems. Authenticity lies in its being a nicely calculated set of messages that illuminate gender identity, the communication systems preferred and the commonality felt. Obviously that's if you're trans, queer expressions being more ludic and based on other parts of the gender elephant.
I suppose this is a long time to go without an example, so here's one I've been talking about with women friends. One significant change that I've been through is that towards babies and children. Talking to a friend a couple of months ago and she offered to post me her new baby pictures in a way that came over that she didn't really expect me to want to see them and I'm all YES, OF COURSE etc. Really love to be around my new god child. And like most women am highly interested in exchanging weird facial expressions with infants. With children it's slightly different, but still a huge alteration from when I was a guy. On top of that in my chosen family relationships I tend to be mostly in those where sister/daughter/mother type predominate as echoes in the friendships . Am I now aware of lots of maternal traits I used to keep hidden ? Is this my real basic identity as a woman coming to the fore ? For me those are simply inadequate questions, not that they don't have some value as descriptive notions but that they miss out on more important factors. For a fuller explanation I suppose I'll look at two things. The first would be the complex ways in which emotional engagement is magnified by estrogen based systems, that sum more data than any testosterone based one ever can.But in this instance I'd also look at social boundaries created by language.Simply I was never particularly interested in infants because they were never a possible part of my communications network (except with my daughter who I spent a sufficiency of time with as an infant to get a little past that ). Now my communication systems are altered, with body language being a far more significant part that ever before. And now infants, because of that, are people to talk with, admittedly on an elementary level but much, much more than ever before. They're a part of the way I define the community around me, and a part that clearly needs to be welcomed into the human community around them, the web and weft of the world of communication of view.
A few months after my massive hormonal change nudged me from male identifying to female in the space of a few months, I think if someone asked me how I knew I was a woman I'd answer in the following. That it was very clear for me that I wasn't male anymore, simply could no longer accept that because I could see guys from the outside and couldn't really talk to them anymore as I used to. That I seem to identify with female far more. And that I believed those visceral notions were a result of a changed set of cognitive processes that are typically supported by specific sets of hormones. And I suppose I might have felt that I could classify those visceral feelings as ones of commonality with women rather than men in every moment of every day. Ask me now and whilst I still feel those cognitive changes were the basis, I'd be more inclined to look to my daily experience as an immediate authentification. And that's an experience of interaction, of communication, of common endeavour, of the commonality that is sisterhood, of the ground that is a woman's world.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Camera ! Lights ! Action !

A documentary of sorts about my place, a few of the people who used to be around a lot, and me.
Trigger warning for comments re transition.
Fresh from it's run in festivals, Rome, Copenhagen and Cork - the Bookshop

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Being RA

One pleasant thing in the last few months has been finding a term that vastly better fits me than an old one, hence I can say I've 'changed', in terms of self description, from poly to RA .
Looking back and trying to find any precursive stuff to gender transition, that's the thing that most stands out. It was something I first expressed in my late twenties and wasn't particularly about romantic relationships, which I'd always seen as ideally somewhat open, but more about friendships. I grew more and more dissatisfied with referring and categorising people around me into friends, acquaintances, partner, work colleague and the like. Not so much because I was desperate to change any such particular status but because that sort of taxonomy seemed for me to put a stop to how each relationship might develop and kept me comfortable but unambitious in the middle of such.
So basically I spent a few weeks going around apologising to 'friends', exchanging ideas and reiterating my conviction that I should try and avoid such relationship structures and sets of expectations as far as possible. And that I take as a prime RA thing, to constantly have ambition for every relationship around. Of course one can do that without actually calling it RA but it seems to help some sort of belief to counter any internal ranking or structure of self to the relationships around. I think that change was part of the reason why having a wide chosen family has been such an important part of my life since then.
I guess the main way I see that as a precursor is that it came mainly out of a dissatisfaction with the emotional possibilities normally offered by society. Post social transition and the complexity and satisfaction I derive from being with people around me has increased more than I could ever have predicted. And certainly they've helped me cope with many of transition's strains. I seem to have a few mother sister patterns, younger women who I look at partly as daughters but also as older sisters. Those are possibly the most supportive. But I'm lucky enough to live in the middle of a constant social stream where I can engage with a whole set of different people and a large spectrum of possible engagement.
And I think more than anything it's the rewards that come from greater complexities and closer engagements, that are my present reality that most give me the feeling of transition as a coming home...

Monday, July 27, 2015

Wordy stuff

I've been making this argument in a number of places over the last few months.
The feedback I've had is generally always positive, but it doesn't seem to raise sufficient controversy to be widely taken up, hence this post.
Basically I think it's a reasonable, common sense sort of set of definitions that could be useful in defusing various tensions within the community. Thus....

Trans - describes someone for whom transition from their assigned birth gender is an important part of their life. It could be a non binary one and it could be something hoped for in the future, experienced at present or happened in the past, but it should involve a transition that would be socially visible to the extent that you no longer fit within your assigned at birth category.

Trans* - describes someone who doesn't fit in the trans category, but nevertheless in one way or another is, in terms of identity or expression, transgressive of gender norms.

Transgender - is the combination of the two.

Adopting these definitions seems to satisfy the utility of dividing a group with potentially significant medical needs from others. It also gets away from notions of dysphoria, wrong body etc relating to interior events and moves more towards performative measures, but not via surgery, hormones etc which are equally problematic. And it cuts out many of the objections to cis as a word since even the most radical of Terfs are hardly going to assert that they transition.
All in all it seems simpler than present arrangements.

Feedback welcome.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Years end

Lots in process but the year has definitely not been good for self expression.
Things I want to post about soon are...
a cautionary tale about how transphobia was exploited against me in a really bad way
travels in terfland
how concentrating on gender expression elides gendered communication and why that's a BAD THING on the whole...

Otherwise it has not been that kind a year. My aunt and father both died leaving me the eldest in our small family offshoot. My best writing this year was probably reserved for eulogies.
The shop has actually been fairly eventful. The monthly queer/trans* event for creatives here, a mix of food, readings and a/v stuff has gone really well. Next year we go to every tuesday being either a hangout or a queer/trans* event. Have had a private view of the documentary which is odd. The problem is that it mainly relates to the shop community of 7 or 8 years back which is about as relevant to me as the later stages of the Austro-hungarian empire but visually it's great. See how it makes out at festivals. Also in the next weeks we transmogrify into a not-for-profit community benefit institution which means a few things get easier, eg less tax on beer, but we broadly carry on as usual since we've always actually been such in practice. And we're looking for another place that would fit in larger performance style things - at the moment we can get about 35 in but that's often too small, though we'll be putting a video stream through to another room as an overflow. Really a place with a 60 - 70 capacity would be great.
And also having more people helping out. The one who helped out most in the last few months is a 19year old swedish girl. Wonderful to be with a woman who I don't automatically view first as an older sister, like the twenty-somethings around.
Good and bad political stuff. Found it shockingly outrageous that so many europeans back off from the whole Ferguson stuff, as if to avoid the whole notion of systemic racism. On the other hand I've rediscovered a fair amount of community pride. The way people came together to demonstrate against the police and in favour of the refugees here and the actions after to help have been reassuring. Very glad to be severing ties with the UK too, in that way. The acceptance of vileness like widespread food bank usage, the rise of a fascist mainstream political grouping, the nonsense of austerity approaches, city primacy and asset inflation being left unchallenged, all convincing reasons to stay away from the place.
Identity/community stuff have a lot to work through. Started the year with playing at presentation a little towards the butch side but now more involved in understanding myself in a femme context. Working on some slightly more pointed performance pieces re trans identity too. (Have an interesting thing going on of sometimes doing the same thing twice in a month, once for the 'straight' storytelling evening and again for the queer one).
Loads of things I haven't been able to do because of family illnesses etc and having to go back and forth between the UK and here. Too many friends leaving, and not enough time to develop the newer ones.
One of the better things has been starting to listen to more new (to me) music. So despite some good things I'll express myself to 2014 at the turning of the year in a fresh way like this