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Monday, December 31, 2018

Notes for a sketch - thinking on Mermaids

Small cafe, two middleaged women, A and B, sitting down at a table talking in Northern English accents.
A - So whats been happening whilst I've been down South with our Deidre ?
B -  Well Mr Jevons, him with the undertakers business in Thackeray Avenue, he died last week.
A - Should be a nice funeral then, unlike the job they did on our Gladys last year. Having the hearse pulled over for speeding was not what the family were looking for.
B - And Janet Amos is 'disappointed' with her young man.
A - How she ever imagined Bruce Smithson would have ever amounted to anything I really don't know.
B - And then there's Amy Braithwaite.
A - No better than she should be, in my opinion. And the way her eldest looks just like Adam Carter, a disgrace is what I call it. What about her ?
B - She's going around saying that she loves her children.
A - Well,somone has to I suppose. The spotty one,the eldest is what, 7 now ? And the twins are coming up to be 4.
B - Yes, but that's the problem. It isn't just saying that she loves them, it's that she's saying that they also love her.
A - Well I never, always thought there was something a bit wrong about the Braithwaites, but that takes the biscuit. There isn't something, you know....anything pervy with it ?
B - She says not.
A - But how does she expect anyone to believe it ? They're only small kids. They don't know anything at all about how love is. Of course they might have picked something up from Adam Carter's sneaking around but no, the whole thing is nonsensical. No child that age can have the remotest idea about what love is about. They don't know about romance , what men get up to with women given half a chance and I've never seen the Braithwaites anywhere near chapel when divine love is properly taught. I suppose it's that she can't seem to keep a man but it's a disgrace to manipulate children like that. I'll be having words with Tom Price what runs the town social services, they'll have to step in. What can a 3 year old possibly know about it, they're making associations they'll have to live with all their lives ? You'll be telling me they know their own gender next...

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Who wears the trousers ?

So was out with a friend,shopping in Marheinekeplatz market ; there's a saturday and a sunday one, clothes, a few antiques , bicycles , a chess stall, all bits and bobs. And I see some trousers.
My friend goes inside the recessed stall and looks for some svelte nouveau vague style number.
And I look up at the trousers.
She comes out a few minutes later and sees I'm still looking at the trousers.
The thought processes had gone...
(1) ooh, large elasticated waist and baggy but a bit masc/faux masc in grey pinstripe. Nice but I don't feel that happy playing with masculinities,
(2) then thinking that they were short and straight not my favourite Erte style balloon 30's types
(3) having memories of a great pair of Oxford bags in black velvet worn in days of first London fashion/philosophy tribe membership. Between peak psychedelia and punk there were various such and mine, in those times, was the kings road exotics, dandy stuff but straight het with a psychedelic bent.
(4) still miss those London fashion languages amidst Berlin hipster/grunge
(5) and at that moment I attained a mini Satori
The background to this is that for a while I've been thinking of how my queer level gender identity is moving, as against my trans one which is fairly constant. A few years ago I felt by default I was on the femme side though, by reasons of age, a fairly vague one. I don't do make up but can be serious about style, a hard enough thing in itself for me even now. I find femme scenes tend to have too many status games to fit into easily, though butch rules hardly appeal. Though maybe these are local things to some extent.
So then moved to id as tweener but that didn't really fit either and finally getting around to thinking myself gender fluid in respect of the butch/femme boundary.
(Yes, am quite aware that butch / femme isn't by any means an overarching paradigm of queer and/or lesbian life but view them more as usefully constant map references).(Also that I could simply wear jeans and sweatshirt and still be 'me'. Don't like jeans, and whilst theres no precise dress code for a book shop manager like to keep clothes fun and relate to them as performative/iterative rather than much bolstering of any internal id).
And there it's stood because I haven't really found a way of expressing that, certainly in respect of playing with butch masc stuff too much. Didn't feel confident enough of going a straight soft butch look or particularly love the generic dyke sooooo *

Satori (enlightenment, understanding of the nature of interior being )

A lavender carnation.
Maybe I can find places as a female playing with some tropes of male dandy, somewhere at the intersection of soft butch and drag king. A kind of queering of queer. This was the siren song of the trousers. An expansion, rather than a change, but still a welcome one.
OK, a mini sartori but still a sartori even if I did start thinking of the bag of silk shirts I'd never quite got around to throwing out and a couple of old Kimono jackets and so on, five minutes later. Anyway this is the direction I'm setting off in,either because of inspiration or momentarily overcoming a blind spot, in the fond hope that I can mix and match sufficiently to avoid misgendering. Fine feathers  make fine birds, and whilst clothes don't maketh the woman they send signals, they help to locate within queer maps, they express and more importantly communicate a set of positions, a suggestion of languages.

*On rereading, a small voice inside is going, 'Sophie, should this really rank amongst your set of concerns now that you're of pensionable age ?'
I ignore it.
After second adolescence, I'm 21 with a book of someone elses memories up until 10 years back. And I'm a Berlin girl, so, wtf, I only live twice.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

A neuro-hormonal approach to gender - back to basics

I'm not a biologist nor a neurologist but do see myself as coming from a background in cognitive psychology with a constructivist bent. 
Additionally would place myself as one of many seeking to study what consciousness is, from perspectives of altered consciousness.
Given that my gendered consciousness has altered considerably with the felicitous change in my liver to produce estrogens, my overall perspective of gender centres on the neuro-hormonal aspects. This isn't to deny that the gendered world isn't also iterative/performative but it is to assert that part of that performance is biased by hormonal soups that seem to alter us internally and externally in some major ways. And not to look at what congruities one finds, in terms of hormones affecting personality, cognition and much else, as the bars of a cage, but more see them in terms of the gymnastic variety.
For most trans people the administration of hormones is part of a process of completion. It sets off what often amounts to second adolescences, and brings on an endless variety of the deepest emotional changes and others that complete our various gender journeys, insofar as any end point is ever possible. For some, whose neuro-hormonal development was already great, they have little effect and are a small part of transition, whilst for those like me at the opposite end of such development, the effects can be overwhelming. Reactions can be immediate or span years. One point that should be made is that reaction to hormones should never be seen as marking being 'really' trans or male or female in some way. It's extremely sad to see how many of those who take on truscum attitudes or go intensely for autogynephilia diagnoses or even hang out with terfs, are those who have mentioned how little they react to hormones and pour scorn on any major or indeed minor changes . Transitioning is one of the hardest of things a human can do and getting through it whilst lacking the sense of authenticity that hormone effects sooner or later normally bring, if simply from the commonality with your gender and communication systems, must be extraordinarily problematic.I do believe that a better understanding of the relation of hormones to cognition and emotion may help such. Also find that too often those in transition with HRT are apt to look at doses and such to explain variations in their process instead of proceeding from an understanding of how the overall changes work.
I've encountered many trans people talking about the effects of  HRT , apart from the purely body feminising kind. Generally people seem to agree that the most important things are changes in adrenal systems, changes in attraction and changes in emotional being. There's a sexual side too but bearing in mind the example of Tiresias have tended to avoid any judgement as to that.  They may also mention spatial awareness - I've heard the lament 'I can't parallel park anymore !' many times - or say something about the vibrancy and colour of the world increasing*. On forums these things tend to be greeted with 'welcome to the club' responses. Possibly because of the nature of my change am aware of a couple of other things that aren't so common but are definitely a thing for some trans people. Main one is probably the alteration in cognitive structures in terms of what processes are easily consciously accessible and those which are firmly unconscious, a bit of an upside down sort of change. In general, as a man, found that reaching re ideas into the unconscious and I'd likely come up with reframings, new associations and the like. Those are now more conscious whilst reaching back and I have a sheaf of long logical arguments to throw into discussion, things more typical, in prior times, of my conscious activity.
Generally  people are concerned more about the emotional changes rather than the sensory ones. Personally find this much mistaken and deeply believe that it's in these minor alterations that the others are firmly rooted and derive their form. The underlying process that affects these and so much else on a gendered basis is, I believe, the arousal system, whose role in 'setting' consciousness is vastly underated.
But that's more than basic.
A general point that I don't believe in extensive wiring creating male and female brains. A useful analogy might be seeing the brain as a large house, lots of rooms windows and functional systems. To be male or female would translate as occupying distinct spaces and altering them with a light of consciousness. Within those rooms illuminated theres a degree of conscious development possible than isn't quite the case with dark rooms, conscious and unconscious. Otherwise the house itself is broadly the same and alters gradually along with internal and external experiences mediated by consciousness. Each house contains a number of spaces which can be occupied and retain slightly different modes of functionality, a limited spectrum. Would hypothesise that gay, lesbian and various non-neurotypical may be usefully viewed as occupying such too. In binary male female terms hormones can alter those spaces and importantly too the window glass possible to see by that determines major aspects of internal and external identities.
A last point which is possibly a little obvious but...the world does experiments. When self identified trans people take hormones a large number of them have significant and partially similar cognitive effects. When people come down with my sort of medical condition - which essentially converts testosterone to estrogen in most males with it - a few hundred thousand in all, the rate of such responses is about 0.0000001%. Brains that work well with estrogen nearly always identify as female.
Brains that work well with testosterone nearly always identify as male.
And, thankfully for trans people, mostly the reverse also obtains.
I guess this is really mainly another redux post but it rounds things up a bit.
Next time on this subject, testosterone and arousal systems I think.

*Personal disclosure - the first moment I was aware of my changes I was looking across at a set of bookshelves. They changed in hallucinatory style, my impressions of the quality of shape receding whilst colour moved to dominate the foreground, all this by reference to my former senses's balancing of these qualities. To this day, there are still the very occasional times I feel that perhaps this whole transition is all some silly illusion, usually when finding yet another place in memory I can't easily match with my present life. Then I habitually look over at a set of bookshelves and no, the world is very different now at the bottom of the rabbit hole. This may perhaps bias me in seeing the sensation/perception borders as somewhat more important than otherwise. Life combining being an experimental subject and an external observer at the same time isn't the easiest of things, even with practice.

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