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Monday, December 31, 2012

another year

Looking back, it's been a good year overall.
Some major events - having a solid maybe for surgery, dealing with family problems, and lots of good meetings and consequent friendships ; documentary making progress, a couple of nice profiles published, shop book coming out in a few months after this years competition ran fairly successfully, well over a thousand meals cooked, several thousand quiz questions formulated and asked, and charity status in the works.
More important, maybe, an absence of things. Health problems persist but nothing truly problematic, walking perfectly normally in winter - enough to go out in the snow to my first LGBT demo. After a year or more of shocking those people I out myself to, I'm willing to believe I don't really have much difficulty passing. Makes for a more normal life, if anything about my life can be so called. And whilst I still think a lot about gender it isn't particularly a personal thing.
Of course that won't last. It's not that I'm unsettled in my binary gender identity, far from it. But the presentational/iterative aspects in queer terms haven't particularly been a concern so far. Next year I'll be having a broadly female queer/trans* sunday every month and probably other events too with film, discussion etc etc. I really don't have a lot of time to go out, so it's much easier if I bring a scene here instead. There are some enthusiastic queer women involved, who are also normal bookshop community people, and whilst there is a large queer/trans* scene in Berlin, the kind of laid back english language non cis male thing we're trying for should cover an existing gap.
For myself amongst other things it's a chance to explore myself as part of a community, at least in so far as orientation goes.  I am concentrating a lot less on what it means to be a trans woman and far more on what it means to be a queer one, at present.
Am taking on a number of other things, a spoken word monthly reading event, a straight sunday roast and a tea and philosophy day, as well as a couple of interns to help keep the place going. And before that all starts, in february, I'm taking holidays. One week of family, London friends and a shoot for an animation project, then a 10 day vacation in Berlin, actually going out to a gallery, event, club, or whatever a couple of times a day.
And before that I'm having my (second adolescence ) 16th birthday on new years eve, a symbolic transformation from naive introspective jailbait to something more hard edged, maiden to mother stuff when hopefully the pink sparkly unicorn will descend from the heavens and enlighten me as to how the rest of this womanhood thing goes. Or maybe not. Music will be goth, riot grrrl, classic 60's with a bit of east coast bias and baroque. And there will be fireworks. I will be wearing my red silk 40's style dress with red leather ankle boots and vambraces.
And the best of new year wishes for you all .

Saturday, October 6, 2012

something sweet

About a month ago I had an interview for the 'Kreuzberger chronik'. It's a small giveaway thing that goes into bars and shops in the local area, has been going for years and is put out as primarily a labour of love, and hence has a lot of credibility with the residents of the neighbourhood. Certainly I felt a lot of satisfaction in featuring in it, a kind of local acceptance. Did sort of wonder at the time whether it would focus attention on me in a good or bad way, since it does talk a little about me being trans.
So I'm sitting at my desk last monday, half an hour before closing and this german guy comes in. He looks around the shop for a couple of minutes, asks, in a heavy accent whether all the books are in english, and then sits himself down on a seat in front of the desk.
He reaches into a pocket and takes out a copy of the Kreuzberger chronik, with a picture of me on the cover, and asks, somewhat superfluously, if it was of me.
I confirmed it and then he asked me whether I was a transsexual.
Now the guy was quite large with one of those kobold kind of faces one sometimes sees especially on german guys from the south, in his fifties, and overall a little intimidating, so my thoughts did go to the pepper spray I keep within reach as I answered that yes, I was transsexual.
Leaning closer he asked whether or not I'd had 'the operation'.
Getting aware by the smell of wine that he wasn't entirely sober, I said no, not yet, and started to unostentatiously to fumble for my spray.
Nodding, he leaned even closer, looked into my eyes and said, 'I had mine 5 years ago'.
So we talked for about twenty minutes, with my halting german and his rusty english, and he told me something of his problems, how lonely (shades of every trans man I've ever met)  life could be, a difficult relationship he was in, etc. And at the end he said he'd see me in a while, and I said fine, I'd look forward to it and he left. Only to return 5 minutes later having been to the florist on the corner and give me the biggest cabbage rose I've ever seen.
Really sweet.
And thinking about it that that is one of the good things about being out and approachable here. Because there isn't so much casual space for post transition people my age in the queer /trans world. And I've had several drop by here who seem to enjoy an exchange of perspectives. Because however well transitioned you are, however stealth, as many are to some extent or another, there'll always be some things that can only be fully shared with another trans person, and it's only an extension of my normal role of proprietress of an english speaking oasis to fulfill that function.
Sweetly satisfying.

Friday, August 17, 2012

schrödinger's cut

At present am involved in finding out whether or not the outlook for surgery might have changed. Essentially that means whether I can go for anything more than an orchiectomy. It's difficult because what I'm likely to be faced with is either a direct 'no', or a 'not at the moment',or a yes but the odds, re serious complications, are x.
Living with cirrhosis means that you're automatically put in a 'no unnecessary surgery' category. When I broke my leg a couple of years back I was told that there was a high risk of not being able to walk too far without a lot of pain, in a few years time, if they didn't operate. They impressed on me that they still really didn't want to operate and were very relieved when I went along with them. Bad coagulation,and the fact that most pain killers are liver toxic in some degree are the minor problems.  The possibility of infection is one of the potentially fatal ones. On the other hand my readings have been better than previously, though the underlying condition persists, so from what I've heard there might be a small chance of being able to have GRS.
So questions as to whether I want / need surgery and how much of a risk I'm prepared to take are hovering about my consciousness at present
Insofar as I had thought about it before transition it was with an automatic 'of course' answer to the former. It felt dissappointing to realise that my body morphing didn't somehow just include that detail. But the problems of getting it seemed insurmountable at the time, so I've tried to block myself from thinking about it at all until now. Haven't had total success with this. It goes with the mixed up thing of not having had body dysphoria until after starting transition.
To be clear, if the normal risks and expense and pain were what I could expect from a somewhat below  average healthy person of my age, then there'd be no problem at all and I'd happily sail off into a post op sunset. There are the obvious practical advantages - I really do miss saunas,swimming etc. Sexually it would be likely to be a significant  improvement, though at the moment having moved to more full body orgasms is quite...entrancing. Certainly I'd be more relaxed in any sexual situation if post op. Being bi with a main focus on women it's maybe not quite as important than if I was straight, but it would ease interactions.
Then there's the validation. Because I can always look back at that sudden shift of being, that seems to affect me less than most ts people, but it still is annoyingly there. There's the thing one can occasionally still glimpse, that shadow lurking at back of the mind, the one that whispers that maybe none of this is wholly real, that you're perhaps being indulged in some foolish play of presentation. To look down and always see a constant reminder that you're not as fully a woman as you could be does suck in that context. The one good thing about putting on weight is that that view tends to be mercifully truncated, as it were, and shrinkage obviously helps.
On top of that there seems to be something else : a body image confounded, or a neural map with strategically placed fuzzy zones, maybe. Or perhaps something that comes with a posture, the normal cultural specific ways a woman holds her body, which accentuate the de trop nature of a penis. Or maybe it is true, that feeling as your body changes in it's sensitivities, that surgical change simply allows for that process to complete.Telling the difference between these, however, is something I often find difficult to accomplish.
And then there are the motivations I don't have. I don't seek my validation as a woman in surgery. I don't see it as anything other than a climactic moment in presentational change. I believe that attempts to view it as anything different in kind to simpler forms of presentation are fundamentally nonsensical.That's not to say that many can't find it a climactic moment, but don't believe that that springs from the surgery itself as much as from it's place in the individual's narrative.
( For a variety of reasons I do think it's a worthwhile enterprise to establish correlatives, that are more than simple assertions of identity, as to elements that constitute male and female. I certainly don't see those as related to anatomy but rather to cognition. Because I'm neurologically intersex, something that embraces much of my consciousness, rather than wholly desperate for a superficial change in body form, for whatever motives.)
I don't see surgery as a personal completion and nor, thanks to geography, is not having it any bar to official changes. Certainly no-one who knows me more than casually is going to alter towards me through believing I'm somehow more authentic. Whenever I talk to cis women about the attitude that surgery should be a qualification of sorts, the reactions are simply disgust at the genital essentialism behind it. And joining in status games played by the older casualties of the transitioning process has zero appeal.
I think that not having GRS would be unlikely to lead to anything as dramatic as breakdown or suicide in my case. Older surgical essentialists of the most rabid kind will still have lived with the knowledge that they were mismatched with their body for a couple of decades before surgery. I've only done about 4 years so far. Depression, yes, I can see that as likely but in envisaging that I'm leaving out a key factor : whether or not there are reasonable spaces where accommodations can be made, positive possibilities. There, I do have a certain amount of room : it's hardly as if I've spent my life looking to transition and all it's ramifications. Not being bound to an emotionally highly invested image of myself as a woman does help.
On the other hand I do still feel that my present body shape constitutes a handicap of sorts. Internally, socially, in relationships, every which way I'm a developing woman with this single anatomical exception. If the situation does persist, I'm not sure how exactly that might impact on identification. Not so much in terms of gender but more in terms of relationships. From the viewpoint of a bi oriented woman, it would probably accentuate the attraction towards other bi oriented women.Anyway, whilst technically bi really don't see myself wanting a relationship with a guy. Within that sort of possible spectra of gendered relationship, ambiguous anatomy would certainly trend to being something relatively innocuous. The practical aspect of being non op as regards sex actually isn't particularly problematic for me. I always used to get more pleasure from my partners pleasure than the norm and that's now satisfyingly far greater still.
There's also the age thing. Anecdotally, at least, there does seem to be a growing percentage of younger transitioners who are happy in at least postponing GRS. Despite celebrating my 15th birthday this May, body age sadly trumps mind's second adolescence as a factor : and the possibilities of getting some degree of use out of this particular body mod, slim though they may be, are in rather too rapid decline.
When it does come to making any sort of decision will any of these ruminations make any real difference to how I feel ? Not sure...
On a more general level,I'm sure there are many who share problematic health issues relative to GRS. There's the fairly stupid myth put out by some HBSers and the like that there are only a very few conditions which automatically preclude surgery. And in a way they're correct, in terms of abstract conditions per se. In the real world though, there are many conditions which, if present in a more severe than average form, negate the possibility of surgery, not to mention  the situation of people at the intersection of various such problems. As a group, because of  the frequency of problematic and stressful lives and the frequent occurrence of IS type physical abnormalities, trans women are significantly more prone than the average to these sorts of surgical dilemmas. Minimising this group, or simply jeering at peoples 'excuses' for not having GRS is one of the most unpleasant aspects of voices in the trans blogosphere.
And finally, I wouldn't like to feel that I'm in any way supporting a specific standard narrative. I went into transition because I was clearly female, in terms of neuro-hormonal realities. From the initial self realisation I've sought to go from that primitive girlhood state to becoming a woman. I've encountered many changes both internal and external and I've tried to keep growing as well as I can. Because that process for me involves an attraction to GRS does not, and should not, in the slightest way invalidate the narrative of someone trying for similar processes who doesn't share that attraction. 
If a sister leaves for a desired trip to Thailand, I'm happy for her. If a sister is happy exploring life sans Thailand then I'm happy for her too.
Simple stuff.

Postscript. The above was written a couple of months ago. Initial indications are that my health surprises both myself and doctors in terms of readings. That means something like an orchiectomy or penectomy wouldn't be a problem. GRS might be different but still quite possible. Won't be sure for a while exactly how it works out, but for hours - make that days - make that weeks -  my first thoughts were about this subject rather than it being good health news generally.
And I think this will be my last post on operative status for a fair while. Never particularly fond of using those aspects of transition as material .With my specific uncertainty of status it's been rather difficult to read about others surgical journeys and consummations so I don't think I want to join in that myself.                         

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Clarifications, honesties and fictions

I think I speak for many when I say that this post by little light was one of the most inspiring things I read last year. Fundamentally I do believe that honesty is a prime defining characteristic of trans people : that at least once amidst scepticism and hostility from others, allied with our own wished for doubts, we have been honest with ourselves about what we truly are. And, in whatever ways the world allows, we have acted upon that honesty.
Some clarifications then.
For myself, I have no doubts that I'm a woman.
I have some doubts about surgery which spring simply from the fact that I might not be able to have it, and consequent necessary ambiguities as to evading confrontation with that desire.
I have no doubts about transition. The thought of going back isn't anything that I concern myself with because it's simply too ludicrous to even contemplate.
Thinking further on my last post I'd say that a main area that perhaps I find most challenging is to find a personal formulation of how to iterate myself as a trans woman in a world grown strange through that knowledge of myself.
By trans woman I do not mean anything related to surgical status or to any doubts about being a 'real' woman. Rather, I take it as a term relating to history. On the one hand there might be the case of someone who was out at age three, got family, medical and general social support so that no real transition apart from a mildly delayed puberty and probable surgery ever happened. In such an instance I wouldn't see the term trans woman as having much relevance and certainly wouldn't see it as in any way dishonest to avoid it.
On the other hand there are those who have, to a greater or lesser extent, navigated through their own doubts and the male world to the congruence of transition. With such the importance to their lives of being trans as well as the importance of transition mean that they are more easily described as trans women. Of course the 'trans' is secondary, as with black woman, disabled woman, autistic woman, immigrant woman, mother, daughter etc etc etc. And equally if anyone wishes to simplistically call being trans a birth defect and permanently ditch that description, it's hardly an indictable dishonesty given the social enforcement of the gender binary. Like stealth, it generally has some fear component, and possibly a well justified one, given the figures for assault and murder, that can't really be condemned. Obviously it would be nice if such wouldn't universalise their experience and elevate it to sole authenticity, but, as one trans friend recently speculated to me, a high degree of narcissism may be a significant survival factor in transition.
Anyway, this is more of a personal post than a general one about labels, and the point is that besides these general considerations my particular narrative adds it's own spin on being trans. It's 4 years and a couple of weeks since I woke up different to the rather off beat male I'd always considered myself. Whilst social transition is important it's that transition, that tipping point and it's unravelling of male to emergent female circuitry, that is my significant trans identifier. In that way I'm transgressive not only of the gender binary but of the normal bounds of the trans narrative itself. And it's in confronting that, that the application of honesty becomes difficult. As transition goes, there's the negative side, the sloughing off of the male. I daresay that I'm reasonably typical in that sans hormonal reinforcement most of that vanishes away. But much of my intellectual life springs from more recalcitrant male bases and does need continuing critical analysis. My body language presently moves a little to be generally congruent with my socio-sexual identity - a somewhat butch area which is not so easy to navigate. (Can I be in any sense butch and experiment with wearing petticoats ? Questions, questions). More importantly, though, there's the question of knowledge gained through my (real) transitioning process. It's not a female or a male thing but something distinctly other. How to confront that knowledge, how to transfigure it in my life, these are the main questions that I'm still grappling with. It's not about presentation or being any given sex/gender and indeed I'm not sure if it really needs an iterative resolution at all. But it does seem to need some sort of resolution.
Sometimes I wonder whether all trans people are thusly caught in that bright moment where we learned our doom. Because that aha moment that we grasp and confront honestly isn't purely about our own identity but the world's. That our own reality shines hard and bright enough to cast the world as a shadowland around us, a trap of simulacra created through our lived knowledge.
A practical example might be this. I am someone who lives much of her life in a world of ideas. I can appreciate the changes in that mental life in some respects and be frustrated in others. It's really great to just sit back and think without needing stimulation of some sort to raise arousal levels.On the other hand the accessibility of certain categories of knowledge processes is lessened. In Nietzsche's terms, I'm less intellectually light-footed though hopefully not more german because of that. Basically I view that as a relatively normal consequence of new hormone / neurology congruence and a natural concomitant of the relegation of systematised weltanschauung from being closely tied to the day to day self and more part of reflective experience. But there's a dilemma here. A normal cis woman simply lives this experience and doesn't seek out cognitive habits to mitigate the occasional lessening of what could never be a part of her life. Am I undermining my own feelings of authenticity of gender if I do seek in those directions ? Of course there isn't theoretically any problem since the choices I make in this regard are a woman's choices. Practically though, that it also relates to the trans imperative to junk the rags of male life is part of the attempt to create a cis-like authenticity of unselfquestioned female being. But is it honest and authentic in itself ?
Putting it differently. As we wind our ways through the process of second adolescence that lies at the centre of every meaningful transition,we face the same issues as every growing girl.We explore our estrogenized capacities, we seek to find out what it really means to be a woman and the full capabilities we possess. If we shy away from this enterprise, if we simply say that it's really only some sort of passing intoxication,we run the risk of a life spent busy dying. But if we do enter into it how is it possible to avoid using the parameters gained through our first adolescence ? And if we try and ignore this factor completely through some artifice of innocence, what price authenticity ? 

I suspect that I won't be able to make this significantly more clear to myself until further advanced in process.

And then there are the fictions of the moment. Am presently reading through the 60 short stories, sadly not Barthelmic, that were submitted for the competition and confronting my fictive self in various guises. And then there's my rat of an ex husband who wants to use me for a version of the story that's her major project. Which of course I'll be doing. She may be a rat but her project is amazing, a retelling through different cultural matrices of a fairy tale through words art and performance. Take a look here for something awesome.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

second thoughts

So I'm having second thoughts about my transition.
Not about my engagement with the process as much as whether the direction is as clear as I'd like. Perhaps it's in some way down to lacking presently for a surgical marker, and partly it's going through those initial weeks and months for a documentary at the moment and remembering how those first few months of confusion clarified and directions were set.And then there was this excellent article in(unapologetic) Bilerico . That hit home especially  for the coincidence of having just had 'Simulacra' as my U-bahn book.  Whatever, really just thinking over how I resolved identity and whether that resolution still holds.
After the first couple of weeks I was clear that something quite drastic and very related to gender were happening with me. My main aim was to try and ascertain just what exactly I was. It seemed axiomatic at the time that I couldn't just lose male history and identity, that whatever I was would come under the genderqueer rubric. There were a couple of months of going backward and forward and through genders, or so it seemed before the habits started to fade and the essentials of the male vanished softly and silently away.
More, though, there was an emerging picture of the process. I was a young girl in the antique surroundings of her deceased uncle's overstuffed mansion. And my process was to go through that place and change, keep, add or subtract through viewing his accumulation of objects, of habits, of pasts. And thereby try and define my capabilities and autonomy as a woman. Or at least that was the main one of a small number of analogies that I used.
And at that point of time, when that process was inexorably starting, thinking to myself about exactly where that transition might lead and what I might be at the end of it. That, in turn, led to how I saw transsexuality and genderqueerness as operating.
After about three or four months I couldn't really think of myself as anything but female and transsexual, it was only too obvious a conclusion. But there were still three ways I could see myself as being potentially genderqueer.
The first was simply by adopting 'genderqueer' as a more descriptive term than transgender or transsexual.
The second is a superficial performative thing. That we can never totally eliminate every last habit of movement, every quirk of that previously assigned gender. Being 'read' that way messages genderqueerness.
The third was more about what I might grow into. Maybe the male material would prove recalcitrant in some ways or the maleness of the experience might somehow contaminate. Maybe the very extent of transition allots a transgressive gaze on the world, a genderqueerness born out of too much knowledge.
In trying to resolve things on this third level, I came to the thought that whatever would eventuate I'd simply engage in the process as a female and nothing more insofar as I could help it. And even if I were to come to a place of genderqueerness in myself then the only way to do that was through being myself, a woman, and not by harbouring any theoretical reservations about that to hamper me.
Lately though, there is an undercurrent of ennui. It sometimes comes when I'm walking around and viewing the same patterns of the gendered world playing themselves out again and again. It's not any real feeling of alienated identity and any genderqueer identity remains inactive, excepting inevitable performance trivialities. And some iterative ones, if my present butch trending appearance is anything to go by. But thinking that this is part of the transness that makes me a trans woman - that vision of the binary in all it's multiple permutations, that hard won literacy of behaviour and understandings.Because to be simply a normal cis woman I'd have to give up not only much of my past but what I've learned through transition. I do see it as one thing unites us as trans women in that as we go through our transition processes, our transitioning eyes see the world in ways that no cis woman ever does.
It doesn't make me genderqueer. What it does do, though, is challenge my articulation of womanhood to reflect something of that, without needing any special social milieu to practice it in.
Something to live up to.
Fifteen year olds ( I've just had that particular birthday party ) think things like that.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

voice and a first trans interview

I haven't exactly followed classical models in structuring the elements of my transition, and voice is no exception. Given the choice of going into some perfectly organised transition which I wouldn't necessarily live to get far into, or launching into it with little research a couple of months after deciding it was silly to think of any alternative, I went for the latter.
Haven't had voice lessons or practiced much, and it shows. In terms of passing it's fairly poor. I do have a problem in having perpetually blocked sinusses and hence female voice resonance is a problem. What I have concentrated on, reasonably successfully, is narrative emphasis as opposed to pitch. Women tell stories rather than compete for primacy of opinion; the reason for our use of rhythmic emphasis rather than volume seems to me to spring from that. I think I now tell stories better and if strangers initially find my voice overly low...well, I know women who are lower. And at least I've avoided coming over as totally empty-headed, the phase several trans women seem to go through by getting pitch and some basic rhythm right but not actually doing anything with it.
Also it seems to improve. Did one interview about a couple of years ago and hated it with a vengeance. This latest one I could actually bear to listen to without utterly cringing. Is it better for having evolved rather than sprung from artifice ? Goddess knows...
Usually interviews don't concentrate on or even mention me being trans. This one, just a podcast, went into it in some depth. Listening to it, or at least the edited version, and I could kick myself for things said badly or points going awry. Given that I might be doing rather more on the trans theme, any feedback from people able to listen through it would be very welcome.
With thanks to Ian...

Saturday, April 21, 2012

How to take Berlin

Just a post about where I live and why Berlin is still a good place to live and visit. Of course there's all the stuff about the 3 opera houses, the jewish museum, and the general arts and architecture of the city and its historical sites, but this is more of a neighbourhood view.
I live in Kreuzberg and, since my flat is just behind my shop, work there as well.It's fairly equidistant from the old west centre and the new eastern one. Before the wall fell this was the main alternative district, next to Schöneberg which is / was the main LGBT district. Whilst Berlin was a small island surrounded by the Russian army and the potential flashpoint for world war 3, it wasn't exactly the most popular of places so various incentives were set in place to keep the west german population up. High subsidies for artists and the waiving of national service were the two that underwrote Kreuzberg. Sadly it's getting more and more gentrified but some spots my place.
The main road where I go shopping every day is here. When I first started transition I couldn't get electrolysis for a while and I did, and do, detest plastering myself with makeup. That meant walking up and down the street as a fairly obvious guy in a dress, past any number of places with their quota of tourists sitting outside, drinking and looking around . I thought at the time that getting through that would be a useful baptism of fire and in many ways it was. Problem was that it also pushed me into staying very very close to home for a year or so. In general Berlin is a tolerant city : rude, intrusive, and in your face, but tolerant. In the centre anyway.There were at least three other early m2f transitioners that I'd see regularly, on the streets or in shops, and slightly more variant types - the guy with the handlebar moustache and mini skirt is the one that sticks in the mind. And there was the slight advantage of having a swingers club around the corner. That's because some of its male patrons wear skirts, for more immediate access to their personal assets, and therefore a guy-in-a-dress could be viewed ...differently.
Within say 10 minutes stroll there are a couple of BDSM places, though friends in that scene tend to go more to schwelle 7. Then 3 or 4 lesbian hangouts, maybe 8 - 10 gay bars and queer trans nights at many of them. And there's a major sex club about 15 minutes away where poly's hang out. I really should get around to going to some. Also to the allegedly awesome friday salon afternoons in fürbringerstrasse  around the corner, which annoyingly coincide with my cooking time. It's not a significant commercial sex district, the nearest brothel is about 20 minutes walk away and there's no street trade. Overall it is more LGBT friendly than many areas in Berlin, but it is a city with a very out gay mayor and probably over 15% of the population, at least, are LGBT.Make that 1 in 5 in Kreuzberg. Partly that's down to the more fringe elements in german society pouring in here to shelter from the aforesaid german society, when the wall was still up. Partly it's just Berlin being Berlin. There's still some sort of nod to Weimar. When I came out to my neighbour, a reasonably conventionally cultured civil servant, she did express disappointment that I wasn't going to be being more performance art inclined.
I sometimes manage to take evening walks in the local park here.When I first started coming here, there were the places in it where you could sunbathe naked, others where you could engage in sexual activity and places for major drug use. That's mostly gone now - though nude sunbathing and smoking dope are generally still acceptable there. The hill gives it's name to the district - it's where the templar's church stood - and gets popular with the lesbian covens at halloween.
Berlin has it's evenings. It's still very affordable to go out to a bar, another bar, a meal, a music bar( LOTS of live music here), dancing bars, karaoke bars and then breakfast bars. ( It's very much of a green bottle economy here. For example, some churches have bars that they open when they put on, say, music gigs. Think cultural sacrament = beer.) Fridays in the shop slot in as early to midnightish for the active crowd. Normally we get about 30 - 35, with most of those eating whatever I've cooked. It's a good place for english speakers to meet and talk. ( My own german is not exactly fluent. It comes from hardly ever speaking anything but english). Apart from students, most have some competence at speaking german, but it's not exactly a comfortable language to use. That means that the place is a sort of conversational dinner party with a lot of people far more open to meetings than if they were in their own country. The occasional tourist, a sprinkling of students, would be students, assorted types of artist, writers editors film people etc. That's the general makeup on a friday and the normal daytime people are similar but with more tourists and academics. The average age is about 32, and my own personal friendship circle is about 5 years older, on average.
I'm very much part of my neighbourhood. One thing that means I that I have some sort of place in the overall street, kiez / neighbourhood soap opera gossip scene. In that way it's a very german thing. The image of the berlin woman sitting at her open window with a pillow in front of her so as not to halt her observation and talk with other women by their windows in the block, is still sometimes to be seen actualised. It's often intrusive and mildly malicious but helps, with many other factors, to give a social cohesiveness. If I'm out for 5 - 10 minutes or so, I'll normally meet someone I know, say hello in passing or chat. Rather think it goes with the standard phrase New Yorkers use about Kreuzberg that it's like the lower east side was 30 years ago.
In Kreuzberg nearly everyone has two jobs, their art one and their survival one.
Kreuzberg has had a riot on may 1st every year since '87. Still. That may say something about the place.
If you want to come for more than a long stop on the grand tour then don't count on easily finding work, even with reasonable german. 4 years back I'd get maybe a dozen or so people a year asking about work. Now it's more like a couple each week. Rent regs have been relaxed and flats are actually sold as well, which has impacted hard on an economy geared around discretionary consumer spending. If you are a budding artist of any kind, you'll surely find a lot of company here - the last 2 years have been big on wannabe novelists - and art / performance spaces are plentiful . If you want to have a long summer hanging out in the middle of europe on a not too extortionate budget, it's still an ideal place, but... WARNING be very, very wary of doing this in winter. That's another world entirely.
Berlin : in the words of our dear mayor, poor but sexy.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A stealthy moment

Yesterday I finally did something I've wanted to do for a while and gone momentarily stealth.
In the last few months, 3 years after starting transition, I must have had about a dozen people, who'd known me before, coming into the shop. Berlin tends to be a lasting magnet once you've spent some time here.
Sometimes it gets a little awkward when they ask directly where I've gone to. In this case it happened like that, and they also queried the whereabouts of other people who are / were fixtures here.
So this time I answered only about those others, and they went off saying they'd be in one friday soon, when no doubt someone will enlighten them.
It's not, after so many hundreds of meetings , that I'm exactly shy about being out. It's just that I am so weary of the comments afterwards about how they thought I was me but didn't like to ask to confirm. In some cases it may be true, and I'm sure it's not meant as a variant of the 'deceiver' meme.
But equally I'm sure that several really had no idea at all and simply want not to feel as if they've failed a recognition test.
Thinking about it afterwards and actually I can only remember one time when someone came in, didn't react like that and weren't shy of expressing astonishment. They were a trans couple. Figures.
Of course I do have a particular reason why people don't recognise me readily.
Because this was how I looked before...

Sunday, March 4, 2012

such stuff...

Thinking about acceptance a lot recently.
For such an ordinary thing, especially if one puts the focus on acceptance of one's gender, it does seem to get remarkably complicated. It's easy enough to say that everyone who stays with you are accepting and those who fall away not. But really that extreme a binary doesn't exist in nature.
I've got one friend of about 10 years standing. She comes by a lot, we talk, we plan some small things together, we have our ups and downs but we're good friends. But, no, I wouldn't say she accepts my gender. She had a problematic thing with her own endocrine system years back and that ties in to an absolute belief in second wave principles, which don't readily allow for trans realities.
I had only one good friend who broke off contact. She's got a phd in gender studies and mostly was a committed cyberfeminist. Her reactions to me now, if we happen to meet somewhere, are extreme and utterly phobic. I think, though, that she actually is accepting of my gender, just extremely scared of it.
And then there's the question of how great a substance there is in a meeting, how deep it's possible to make a relationship. Selling books, or rather being an active librarian which is far more what I do during the day, there's a strange sort of meeting. Talking to a relative stranger about themselves, in terms of what they get from books, makes for an odd kind of initial intimacy. Being an oasis of english in a desert of german adds to that, it's an encouragement to relaxed communication.So I'm quite used to that pattern, an initial artificiality that one can build greater intimacy on.
Being out does make for the same preliminary artificial intimacy. I don't make any sort of song and dance about it but most people start the 'how long have you been in Berlin ?' conversation themselves and an exchange of histories that goes beyond the superficial is often a route to referring to being trans,assuming the person seems relatively receptive. Maybe I get a good set of people through, or maybe I've got some reasonable judgement about them, but most do regard it as an act of intimacy and respond on that basis.Certainly the depth of friendship that can spring from such sharing is something of a blessing and the acceptance being not of me the trans woman, or simply the woman, but just me.
And then there's the acceptance of girlhood. Whatever the history, we all enter transition as girls and not as women. We haven't been through the hormonal changes or experienced the social realities that are such an enormous part of the reality of being a woman. Frankly I find the attempts to write off such aspects of transition as only of trivial importance in the action of 'putting right one's birth defect' or similar, both dangerous and misleading. To have people, which for me translates to cis female friends, around me to share and help through one's second adolescence is of enormous personal benefit as well as a process that they find of interest in the light that it sheds on their own gendered history.
Then there's also the problems of self acceptance. That's something that operates on many levels. Acceptance of my changed gender identity was relatively swift in terms of knowing sufficiently that I simply had to transition rather than live in the absurd world that male presentation created around me. That didn't mean that I could put aside all doubts, though any based on still being a guy were history in a month or so. But even if I had, putting doubts aside doesn't necessarily mean positive self acceptance. And the extent to which conscious and unconscious processes were aligned in female self identification has been a process that has only slowly grown from an imperfect base.
Maybe this is excessively backward of me compared to most trans people, who may start off with this, but I was particularly pleased at something that happened last month. For the first time I woke up knowing definitely, sans sexuality, I'd also been a woman in my dreams.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

An embarrassing coming out and a call for writers

So finally a coming out post to the blogosphere.
Going back to my biographical stuff, about '94 after my closest friends suicide I became rather more geographically diffuse. A couple of years later I started the enterprise which has been my principal focus to the present. It didn't start particularly well : my long term partner went in to clinical depression, which really screwed up both of us. But, partly with the help of the business involvement, I got through the consequent breakup and slowly but surely managed to get myself back together for some years before the events described in this blog.
The place I'd set up has always been something of a strange partner in itself. From the initial few weeks, about 14 years ago now, it was clear that it was actually more of an institution than a business. It's never made much money, because I've never really pushed that until recently. It's a community thing, though the community is very international. It's a cultural thing, though when I hear the word generally I reach for my....It's an english language zone in a city where that's perhaps needed more than most. It's a meeting place for strangers, a travellers rest, a standard stop on the grand tour, and my own living room. And, less grandiloquently, it's a second hand shop of sorts,that does weekly meals, has different groups meeting in it and puts on music, readings etc etc
In itself, that's not so embarrassing. It's more that if you run something that's sometimes a sort of a salon, there really is only one place to do it if you're trans. A place where the LGBT population is about 1 in 5. The city where trans history centres itself. And to do it and suddenly turn trans, that's embarrassing.
There are a couple of links below. They're not entirely accurate,but close enough. There's also a short fiction competition being run by someone else, but that's linked to here, which any reasonably unpublished writers out there might be interested in.
We, meaning my expanded corporate self, are 'utterly strange and utterly charming', a place where 'you can relax, sit and share your life with Sophie'. For BBC / Lonely Planet we're the worlds sixth greatest bookshop and allegedly number 600 and something on the 1,000 places in the world you should visit. We're 'Another Country' in Kreuzberg, Berlin.
Here's my last interview and this is an NPR story that has absolutely no detail right but actually has a good perspective on the spirit of the place ( and we actually are the largest physical s/hand sf&f bookshop in europe, along with our general stock ).
And for relatively unpublished writers, here's the competition.
The website and blog are in process of change now that my family are all aware of my situation. If you're an avid viewer of 'before' photos there's plenty there. And if you'd like to see more of the place, this is a music video shot here a few weeks ago.
Hopefully people can see now that one of the most embarrassing things is that if I'd been a cross dresser, a gender performer, or a genderqueer artist, I'd have actually been rather more accepted and probably significantly better off than I am...

Saturday, January 7, 2012

An odd perspective

There are a couple of things I take more or less for granted that I suppose I should spell out.
Essentially I see myself as different from the majority of transsexuals in two ways.
The first, and most obvious, is how I came to hormonal transition 'accidently'. It is relatively rare, though fairly sharp late life development of major gender issues does seem a relatively known phenomena. Generally it gets put down to suppression of TS traits, which I suppose helps the psychiatric industry but which I have absolutely no faith in. Having recently discovered the world of captioning and forced feminisation I can understand how stories like mine might seem contrived. Generally I look at myself as someone successfully containing an abnormal amount of female traits within a male shell. I certainly didn't switch from typical male to female, but on the other hand I do believe that I came a very long distance in one night. After all it did take nearly a year of changed hormones before that mental tipping point was reached. Altogether, though, I relate to it as having an odd rather than really distinct history.
Where I do see myself as very different is in regard to my attitude towards my process.I suddenly found myself in a state profoundly different than any I'd known before, whatever the curiously familiar aspects were.
The drive to understand just what these profound changes were and how they've continued to change me, has been paramount throughout. In this way I do see myself as rather different. It is something that arises very much from the concertina-like nature of the transition from non questioningly seeing myself as male to being completely sure of myself as female.
A good example might be my last post on memory. I think most of us in TS transition experience changes in memory performance. But clearly if one is firmly in a process of finally becoming the woman that one was meant to be,a fair part of that can be ascribed in general terms to the withering away of association with the previous male life and the new more vivid reality of life fully lived as a woman.
Or take conversation. Have read a number of times of people finding relief at laying down the burden of macho competitiveness when talking to guys. For me I had huge problems in starting transition and talking with guys because I'd start off in the same way as I had done for many years purely out of habit, and because the guys around me were initially only slowly learning not to treat me like the guy they'd known for years. But very soon in going for those sorts of conversation, I felt almost physically sick. Essentially the testosterone reward of greater alertness that had been a concomitant of those competitive based conversations for years had just gone. And the way I look at that isn't much in terms mainly of my personal journey but more in how certain underlying principles of differentiation that permeate the male day to day self are extremely dependent on neuro-hormonal variables.

Very early on I was talking to an old friend I'd known for about 30 years about my process. One thing I said seemed to resonate with him and has been something of a mantra for myself. It went 'Yay, I'm an experimental subject again'. Am happy to agree that the notion of 'real self' makes great sense in terms of individuals' separate journeys of self understanding. But understanding the ground of gender doesn't come from analysing the train wreck of the previous assigned sex and the vision of another one. It may come, and if one accepts that we're talking about neurology rather than psychiatry I'd say it must come, from the ways in which we journey and can chart our individual routes from the wreck to the new model. However much we know ourselves to be citizens of, say, the country of women we still need to journey to it, through changes that leave no part of us untouched. It's the most profoundly moving experience of our lives. We may never be the most knowledgable of citizens but in that one special journey whereby we view that land from it's borders we have our unique, and uniquely valuable perspective.
That we all do in our various ways but I really do feel that in my circumstances I should try and give as evidential a narrative to my transition as possible. Even though my general health seems surprisingly to have reached a point when it's just possible that GRS could happen, sudden catastrophe like liver cancer is always possible. And though it's altered now there was that other difference between me and others; that I wasn't transitioning to start a new life as much as hoping to be transitioned before I died.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Another year, another remembrance.

A sort of interim post, some thoughts, probably mainly for post-HRT trans women, springing from some talks with women about memory changes.
There's a fair amount of material on ways in which male and female memory vary from each other. Several of these variables would seem likely to be affected by hormone change, (sensory cues,stress etc).This isn't simply psychological. Men and women use different areas of the brain when scanned during memory tasks.
Additionally it seems that changes in the hormone system also affect memory. Post menopausal women, for example, go through a diminution in memory abilities.
For myself I am aware of a few changes. An increase in TOTP,(tip of the tongue phenomena), occasional lapses in long term memory retrieval and memories from the last couple of years being rather more vivid than I'd expect. More changes in life experience memory than learned data. Not really major changes and if it hadn't come up in conversation with a trans woman and then a neurologist friend in the last couple of days I wouldn't have thought much about it.
But considering it in the light of my own model I got to speculating whether the changes might be an internal equivalent of an external capability. That's the reasonably well established idea that men and women seem to locate themselves in different ways. Ask directions from a guy and you're likely to be told them in mildly abstract terms, say, 'take the second on the left then head north on the b12 until...' compared with'go left at the church and then down the hill toward the river'. Basically men go more by abstract directions, women by concrete landmarks. Obviously there's variation but this is a fairly clear distinction. And it's one I'm aware of as an alteration in myself.
So the speculation runs that some life memory may operate according to the same paradigm.That whilst for a guy some memories are obviously more important than others, his memories are organised fairly independently and retrieval coming through initial search terms. Women, on the other hand, might tend to have memories more accessible through sensory cues and their placement within the personal life process. I'm not wholly sure, but when I think of times around men and women when memories are jogged by others, I seem to recall women giving context by relativity to other events and men more by some extra quality of the to-be-remembered event.
And then, to take that speculation to a possibly fanciful extreme, one might say that articulating our transitioning narratives is perhaps one way we go about a reinterpretation of the past into a restructured form of memory theatre. That in composing and telling the stories of our past we're rendering it more accessible to our changed selves. Additionally, perhaps, we may concentrate on a festive occasions more, because such events may also be more meaningful as structural elements of life memory, landmarks for our future selves to navigate by.
It was a full christmas for me this year, some good meetings, renewals of friendships and maybe some new ones made. I'll remember it well.
Many hopes that you've had the same.