Trans Day of Visibility 2019

It’s TDoV again, and I’m still here.

There was a point in my life where that wasn’t really such a certainty. In the four and a half years since coming out, the three years since getting hormones, the two and a half since top surgery, I have lost a grand total of zero friends as a result of transition. I’ve faced zero familial objection (this may be because I had the luxury of not having to ask anyone’s permission and of being able to present the situation as a fait accompli [even though, with two more surgeries impatiently awaited, it’s not strictly accompli; there’s also the GRC looming, for which I do not much fancy having to surrender my passport]; either you accept your son, or you don’t, but you don’t have a daughter); not everyone is so lucky.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time introspecting and about the same amount of time being annoyed by the relentless force of a very tiresome and very loud minority determined to make life harder for people who already have it very hard, and grown adults who feel they have a moral duty to bully children, often on the front pages of national newspapers, because nothing says “moral rectitude” and “maturity” like using a nationally-circulated publication to harass seven-year-olds for wearing The Wrong Kind Of Clothing and Weeing In The Wrong Toilet (if I recall correctly from my own childhood it was generally just considered positive if small children weed in A Toilet as opposed to in their chair, and wore Some Kind Of Clothes instead of removing them and running around with no knickers on, but it’s possible my friends were the exception).

In the midst of that I’ve been quietly proud of the younger generations for whom gender becomes more and more optional and whose support for their peers is so much more committed and usually better-informed, despite these pointless Mumsnet campaigns.

That said, even in the 90s nights in rural nowhere in a school largely intended to keep bothersome fuck-ups away from “real people” (because further isolation is of course what all abused teenagers need; we had a large mural in our building painted on a personal trip by none other than celebrity nonce Rolf Harris in the 1970s. I leave you to draw your own conclusions as to the nature of the school), I found a bemused kind of support for my 16-year-old declaration that I was “going to become a gay man”. I had no more idea how I was going to make this happen than anyone else, but I still have a leavers’ book signed by my peers and a vivid memory of an encouraging message penned in clumsy biro letters by one Gemma Petherick: “You go be a gay man. I believe in you.”

Well, Gemma, it’s taken me a further 16 years–an actual lifetime–to get that started and it’s still a work in progress (a paralytic lack of confidence in my charming personality doesn’t help with putting the moves on real live gents, for one thing), but I got there. I did it. You were right to believe in me.

Not in me alone: no one in this world does anything by themselves. Generations of trans people before me fought for this: Michael Dillon, Lou Sullivan, Reed Erickson. Friends who’d made the same trip before me gave me their advice, tips, names, taught me what not to say or do in order to avoid undue stress from interrogation or additional delays. I lucked into a time when consciousness of this irritating mismatcjh between body and self is expanding; a certain intolerance of intolerance had already given me a circle of friends committed to No Bullshit Transphobia before I came out.

And that’s actually what I want to focus on this year: friends and allies.

Because being trans is often a historically lonely experience where isolated individuals thought they were the only person labouring under a unique and horrible curse, because cultures seek validation from tradition, because people will insist on treating gender variance as a trend that’s popped out of nowhere, I’ve been lookign to the past like trans Sherlock Holmes for traces of my “trancestors”. There’s in fact an easy litmus test to determine between “woman escaping from the strictures of the patriarchy” vs “actual trans man” when looking at the past: “did they ever stop being a man voluntarily?” or did they, like the nameless weaver reported in 17th century France by Louis Crompton in his Homosexuality and Civilisation, caught out with the wrong genitals and offered the chance to “repent”, instead respond more or less, “Non merci, je préférerais être pendu.”?

In a couple of these cases I see not only the courage and determination of men refusing to be forced into a life that wasn’t theirs on the basis of anatomy, but also the anachronistically stalwart loyalty of their friends. James Barry‘s good friend Lord Charles Somerset; the fellow-soldiers of Albert Cashier who had him buried with full military honours under the name he had chosen, and unwaveringly maintained that he was a man regardless of his genitals–correct in their knowledge that he was their friend and comrade Albert, regardless of the circumstances of his birth.

I think also of the war surgeon Harold Gilles who not only reconstructed shattered soldiers during WW1 but also performed the first known phalloplasty on the young doctor Michael Dillon. I think of Magnus Hirschfeld, who first argued that the best treatment for what would come to be known as gender dysphoria was to allow the patient to transition–whose valuable work and research was burned by the Third Reich. I think of my friend Sandra Duffy, international trans law expert travelling the damn world trying to fix it; I think about the recent spectacular success of hbomberguy’s stream to raise money for the UK Mermaids charity which supports transgender children and their families and its support from game developer John Romero and US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and all the other people who visited and donated. I think of the parents I’ve seen at trans pride, proud as all hell or confused but loving, with their recently-out children.

I can’t pretend to know what it feels like for an unprepared cis person to find out their child, parent, sibling, friend or partner isn’t the gender they thought they were. My experience of this as a trans person (even before I knew that’s what I was) has always been a peculiar mixture of envy and alarm before I transitioned and now, with the process well underway and misgenderings down to never, a kind of paternal (well, avuncular, anyway)pride as a person blurred by separation from themselves begins to come slowly into focus and springs into life. As they begin to shine. I can at last fully empathise with the (trans) friend whose own response to my coming out was: “oh thank God, I’ve been waiting for you to say this for ten years“.

It’s not that this is some cult, that I want every person on earth to go get a new gender from the gender bin and throw away one that works for them. But I do think it’s useful to look at yourself and ask, “am I happy like this? How would I feel if my gender were different?”. Even if the answer is “nah fam, I’m good”,. sometimes there’s a niggling question buried in there: “do I have to wear make-up/have to not wear it?”; “what if I have a test run of just not having a gender at all?”, “I feel kind of trapped by the expectations attached to my gender”. Maybe it gives people the freedom to pick-and-mix gender signifiers instead of feeling that they’re required to perform a role that doesn’t entirely fit.

Those of you who wear bras might like to liken it to taking off one that just does not fit. The relief! The freedom! The vulnerability, sure–but it’s so much easier to deal with anything else when that particular pain is gone, and the red marks go away eventually.

Anyway, here I am: thirty-six not out, weird and ridiculous, still can’t dance and no longer care. I go to the gym, work in a job, cook my own meals, occasionally even remember to clean the kitchen; I write to MPs, I vote, and I never, ever, ever watch anything that credits Graham Linehan as a writer.

(If you’d like to learn more about trans men in history, Wikipedia peppers them in here among those of us who are alive and famous enough to have a Wikipedia page–I haven’t published enough books for that yet. If you’d like to take some of the sting out of the expense of post-surgical taxis, my Ko-Fi is here.)

Tudor Costuming 101

There is nothing in my life that I do which isn’t a riot of trial and error, thrown in at the absolute deep end, and this was no different. Here is a step-by-step guide to making a full Tudor gentleman’s outfit, which you too can wear to the National Portrait Gallery to harass the paintings and make the security staff giggle.

Step one: obsess about owning a doublet because you’ve been reading about Tudor history.

Step two: finally commit to buying a pattern.

Step three: buy curtain fabric off ebay, some cheap ribbon, and another set of curtains from TRAID during their £3 sale.

Step four: I don’t have a sewing table, by the way, so I did pretty much all of this standing up at an 18-year-old ironing board that was shedding padding onto the carpet the entire time, and I spectacularly burnt myself. But at least I didn’t take a chunk out of my knuckle with the shears this time! I did burn the next knuckle up on the same finger.

Several pattern pieces pinned to their patterns

I also didn’t cut enough of some pieces but I didn’t find that out until later so I had to go back and cut more.

Incidentally, standing up for sewing is much less awful for my back than sitting hunched over a machine has ever been, and makes me less impatient, which means I’m more likely to do things properly! Incredible. Yes, this disaster counts as doing things properly

Step five: While still in the early stages of construction, run out of trim and have to order more, thus effectively forcing a pause.

ribbon trim laid out on velvet

Step six: while waiting to get more trim, make life even harder for yourself by deciding you want “slashy Tudor hotpants” (not their correct name, astonishingly! Apparently they’re called “paned slops”); search for a pattern but find them all astonishingly dear. Instead end up on an SCA/Renfair guide site which uploads written instructions on “quick and dirty pumpkin pants”, which acknowledges that once you put in panes, which requires another layer of fabric, you can’t really call it “quick” any more.

Step seven: arrogantly attempt it anyway. Do the base layer fine. Do the next layer fine:

slashed tudor shorts held up to show slashes clearly

Step eight: promptly make the exact mistake you were trying to avoid vis-a-vis which side goes over which (it’s wrong side of inner layer to right side of outer layer then invert, genius), and have to unpick about 50% of it. NB: you are also sewing an elasticated waistband into the curtain pole section of the old curtains, which you will not do in any kind of rational or logical manner.

Step nine: having completed your PANED SLOPS WITH POCKETS IN THE SIDE SEAMS, BECAUSE MAKING CLOTHING WITHOUT POCKETS IS FUCKING ILLEGAL, CLOTHING COMPANIES, STOP THAT SHIT, you will now get the remaining quantity of trim: it sill won’t be enough so you’re going to have to make do.

Step ten: Oh shit do I have enough grommets? Yes I have enough grommets, but can’t fuck this up at all. You immediately fuck up the first one and break it, because you cannot remember how to apply grommets and have lost the instructions, and are squatting in the bathroom doorway using a plate weight from your dumbbells as an anvil because the floor in your flat is too soft. Buttonhole that hole with embroidery thread instead, and move on.

Step eleven: sew on buttons, button loops, and attach cord through grommets. Immediately have to shorten the button loops. The aglets still haven’t arrived for your jacket: don’t let that stop you from wearing it to Bageriet for semla and getting compliments from nice Swedish bakers on your sewing.

close up of me wearing the jacket, with fraying cord

Step Twelve: the cord will unknot if you try to tie it in a bow. Repeatedly. You will have to perform emergency surgery in a Nero toilet and later remove a grommet that’s come loose and replace it with more scarlet thread buttonholing.

Step Thirteen: the aglets have arrived by the time you get home. They look suspiciously big. You fit one with your bare hands. It is too wide and won’t go through the hole. Unfurl it with jewellery pliers and carefully wrap it properly. Repeat this 23 more times.

close up of shoulder attachment, with aglets

Step fourteen: insist on a photoshoot, wearing eBay-purchased ruff made out of yet more curtains (net ones), and a pair of extremely elderly thigh socks from the late American Apparel range. Realise with a heavy heart that, unless someone has a costume party, you have absolutely nowhere to wear this outfit.

photoshoot of full black and red tudor gentleman's outfit: red stockings, red and black paned slops, black doublet with red and gold trim, white ruff. no shoes or cape

Step fifteen: mysteriously receive praise for this disaster from multiple professional costumier friends even after pointing out that it’s a hanging thread mess that you failed to iron effectively and that you also managed to sew the lining wrong twice and that the unpicker is now more familiar to you than your own body, to which they will inevitably reply: that’s how it is, bro.

If, for some mad reason, you enjoy this blog in general, you can fund my coffee problem here (please fund my coffee problem/rent, as you can see I keep making terrible, terrible choices and at least it will be funny while the world is on fire)

“You’re So Pretentious”

If there’s anything that gets my goat–really just abducts my entire herd–it’s pretention.

Well. It’s… people calling things pretentious, when they’re not.

If you’re rushing to describe that as “pretention”, don’t. This post is pure pedantry.

You see, pretention is about pretense. It’s about pretending to care about something because you think it makes you better to care about it. It’s when your intention is to deceive. It’s when you care about how you look to other people; when you want to look “better” than you are.

If Gary McFart wakes up one morning and tells his neighbour that he’s a big fan of Ravel, though he’s never listened to a single composition (or has and disliked it), that’s being pretentious. His neighbour Katy Pissbins can rightfully bitch about him to her friend Chanelle Nosejob that he’s “so pretentious”. That he “thinks he’s better than us”, or at least wants to be. Go, Katy Pissbins and Chanelle Nosejob! Take Gary down a peg and make him stop being so silly.

If Gary McFart tells Katy Pissbins in a moment of mad sincerity that he’s always loved Ravel–and he truly, truly has, he’s listened to so many performances on YouTube, and it moves him! It really moves him! It moved him so much he went out and learnt a whole new vocabulary that Katy Pissbins doesn’t understand, because he wanted to be able to talk about this thing that he loves, to say accurately how and why it moved him–

Then no, he’s not being pretentious. Katy Pissbins might think that his love for something outside of their shared social experience is a sign of unnecessarily elevated self-worth, but both Gary and Katy Pissbins are entitled to love whatever they want, and there is no elevation too great for self-worth. And, as Katy Pissbins would know if she wasn’t so fixated on how other people perceived her, she might realise that “traditionally associated with the middle and upper classes” is neither the same as “better” nor “getting ideas above your station”. Be free, Katy Pissbins. Your station is wherever you want it to be.

But it works the other direction, too.

Josh Yeah-Actually tells his new friends that he’s well into grime. Josh Yeah-Actually doesn’t… really get grime. He’s not sure he actually likes it. He’s made and effort to look like he does, because he can’t bear the idea of being found out, but he just doesn’t, really, you know, he doesn’t get it. He’s painfully certain it’s not for him. But he wants to be the kind of person it’s for. He wants to be what he’s decided is “cool”. So he tells everyone he’s into grime. Olivia Stickbottom is rightfully suspicious of this. She wants to know who he thinks he’s fooling.

Of course, maybe Josh Yeah-Actually absolutely fucking loves grime. He goes to gigs, with his public-school accent. He makes friends regardless, because sincere love and enthusiasm are a pretty powerful attractant, and unselfconscious confidence in loving what you’re into will trump “you sound and look a bit out of place”. Olivia Stickbottom might ask who he thinks he’s fooling, but in this example, he’s not trying to fool anyone. You don’t need to fool anyone, Olivia! You can just have fun!

If I never have to hear “getting ideas above your station” aimed at someone’s sincere interest in something new to them, or “tcch, she thinks she’s cool” muttered about a person whose interest doesn’t always line up with their appearance, I will be a very happy man.

Learning a new vocabulary because you want to talk about something “correctly” or in more detail is part of liking a thing. It is not pretentious to be precise about things. Make an effort to pronounce words from a language that isn’t yours correctly isn’t pretentious. It is not pretentious to be polite about people’s languages.

And the word you’re looking to angrily write in the comment box is pedantic. I’m not pretending to be otherwise.