The woman on the bus, the elephant in the room

I had an appointment at the Sandyford clinic the other week. It’s where you go to get your official trans membership badge, where you learn the secret trans handshake and where you’re issued with your copy of the sinister transgender agenda. If you go often enough you get a free Richard Littlejohn voodoo doll.

Gallows humour aside, it’s a place many trans people go because it’s the only gender identity clinic in the West of Scotland. The likelihood that you’ll be there at the same time as several other trans women is very high; the likelihood that you’ll be heading there at the same time as other trans women is high too. So it was hardly a huge surprise when I got on the bus and an older trans woman got on after me.

If she’s reading this, I hope I’m wrong about you. I hope your life is full of joy and wonder, that the days are just packed and that everything I assumed about you was wrong. Because when I looked at you, I jumped to conclusions, all of them negative.

You looked miserable in a shapeless coat and a dated wig. You avoided making eye contact with anybody, spent the short trip staring at the floor, your body language submissive. Don’t look at me. 

You looked like somebody who’s learned that to be noticed is to attract the wrong kind of attention. 

What I should have done when we got off the bus was to smile in recognition. Not in a “you’re busted!” way or to strike up a conversation; nobody feels particularly chatty on the way to a doctor’s appointment. Just an friendly acknowledgement from one marginalised person to another: I see you.

What I actually did was to distance myself.

I distanced myself because there were three young men hanging around the traffic lights and I was scared they’d notice me; notice you; notice us. Two trans women, ripe for mockery, maybe more. So I walked a little faster, the clip-clop of my heels faster than your footsteps in your flats. I chose self-preservation over solidarity, and of course the danger was entirely imagined. The men looked right through me, and right through you too. 

I distanced myself because I was scared you’re a mirror. In my head I see two futures. In one, I’m happy. Still young, ish; fun and funny and fashionable and fulfilled with a loving family and a really hot girlfriend. That’s who I was trying to be that day in my skinny jeans, tunic top, Primark boots and take-no-shit swagger.

And in the other I’m one of the transsexuals I remember from 1980s documentaries, miserable in unflattering florals, mooching round a tatty C&A while security guards stare. 

Dowdy. Downtrodden. 

I don’t fear much any more, but I fear that.

You looked downtrodden, and God help me I acted like that was contagious.

I distanced myself because like many people of my age and older, I grew up in a culture where trans women (and it’s always the women) were portrayed as pitiful or perverts or both. Some of that stuck. You can’t swim in polluted water and come out clean. It’s why it took me so long to be proud of who I am, and why I wasn’t proud enough to walk too close to you.

I’m deeply ashamed of that. It’s not who I want to be, who I strive to be. Everybody has the voice urging them to throw others under the bus to save their own skin, but I try not to listen to it: I don’t want to be the one with Anne Frank in the attic shouting “she’s in the loft!” whenever I hear footsteps on the path outside. And yet all I needed to do was smile, and I didn’t do it.

If you’re reading this, I’m sorry. You deserve better. We all do. 

The way that we walk, the way that we talk, it’s there in our thoughts

Today’s headline is really just an excuse to mention Girls Aloud.

Here’s a fun Twitter thread about biology and bio-hacking. It’s sent me to Amazon to find out more about epigenetics, which seems awfully interesting and exciting.

Please do read the whole thing. I wish biology had been explained so vividly when I was at school.

The queerest of the queer

I’ve had a massive crush on Shirley Manson for more than 20 years.

To be honest, I’m suspicious of anybody who doesn’t have a massive crush on Shirley Manson. Fierce, funny, impossibly talented, Scottish, ginger and drop-dead gorgeous, the Garbage singer is one of rock’s great personalities, and the way she rocked her combination of cute dress, black tights, clumpy boots and fuck-you attitude did all kinds of things to me back in the day. She’s just as amazing now, and I’m absolutely convinced that if I were to meet her I’d be incapable of speech.

There’s a saying about rock stars that the fans of your own gender want to be you and the ones of the other gender want to be with you. With Manson I always felt both: if I could have magically transformed myself into somebody else it would have been Shirley every time. Especially Shirley in the Only Happy When It Rains video.

I still feel like that today. When I discovered by accident that I had bought a dress very similar to one Shirley wore recently, I damn near exploded with delight.

I think that’s something she’d approve of. She’s long spoken out on behalf of the outsiders, the “queerest of the queer”, and it’s a recurring motif in her music. The first time I saw the Androgyny video – Manson blurring gender roles while singing “boys in the girl’s room, girls in the men’s room, you free your mind with your androgyny”, her lascivious, lusty “boyyyyyyys” and “girrrrrrrrls” punctuating the chorus – I had to have smelling salts and a lie down.

I never tried to be Shirley Manson in real life. The look and the attitude were for my imagination, not my everyday: androgyny wasn’t the kind of thing you could get away with in my town, and I’d never pass as a woman.

In an excellent article for Allure magazine, Katelyn Burns writes about the impossible standards to which trans women hold themselves.

Before I transitioned, I had a very palpable sense of the “too”: I was too tall, too fat, too bald to ever be a “real” woman, so what would be the point of even trying to transition? It’s a common sentiment among trans woman and a direct result of the impossibly narrow box within which society confines women’s appearances. For many trans women, male puberty puts cisnormative beauty permanently out of reach; for others, the idea that the world could see them the same way that they see themselves is the stuff of fantasy.

And that’s a great shame, because that fear holds us back from being ourselves, from experiencing the world as it should be.

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot of late because I’m still in the transitioning trenches, trying to work out my identity and how I want to exist in the world. The judging Katelyn writes about makes me feel pretty crappy quite a lot of the time, but sometimes the heavens align and I feel pretty damn good about myself.

It happened the other night. I was going to see an avowedly trans-inclusive punk rock band, so instead of my more usual androgyny I decided to let my inner Garbage fan come out. I chose a dress I really, really love, teamed it with thick black tights, got my make-up just right and spent a bit of time sorting my hair out. And I looked bloody amazing.

I’m under no illusions about what I look like: I’m very tall, very big, overweight. But when my presentation gets close to looking like the person I want to be, there’s a joy I find really hard to describe, a feeling that everything has magically clicked into place.

And sometimes other people validate that. I’ve been chatted up by strangers at gigs, complimented by women in bars, received throwaway comments that have kept me walking on air for days. Before I went to my punk gig, I popped into my local to see some friendly faces: I might have felt amazing, but the prospect of going into town wearing a dress for the very first time was still frightening, not least because I was going to meet a friend who had never seen me presenting as Carrie before. So I needed to do it in stages: go to a familiar place first, and then go on into town when the fear had subsided a bit.

I’m glad I did, because when I walked in one of my women friends was there. “You look really pretty!” she said, grinning delightedly before adding “Is it okay for me to say that?” When I reassured her that not only was it okay, but it’d be even more okay if she could just say it a few hundred more times and maybe put it in writing too, she laughed and told me that “seriously, you look really hot”.

Before I came out I never dreamed I would ever be told I was pretty, let alone hot. One of the great sadnesses of not coming out until later in life is that you’re stuck with a body that’s developed in all the wrong ways. But while I’ll never be mistaken for a pretty young anything that doesn’t mean I can’t be proudly, unapologetically, confidently me. Whoever you are, whatever you identify as, being true to yourself is pretty damn hot.

I’m going to see Garbage on tour later this year. I’ll be the one dancing really badly in a cute dress.

“Do you have to do it in front of my kids?”

This is powerful and wonderful. It’s from BBC’s The Social, the bit where Auntie Beeb gives a platform to voices you don’t necessarily hear very often on the main channels’ output. Its comedy output is consistently hilarious, but it’s in the serious stuff where it really shines.

This one’s about something simple: being in love.

The video’s made it to the excellently intelligent discussion site MetaFilter, which has resulted in a really interesting discussion.

Here’s Mudpuppie, on how LGBT people police their own behaviour in public:

Be careful who you touch in public, and how, and be mindful of who’s watching. Be careful how you refer to your partner, and be mindful of who’s listening. Constrain your public hellos and goodbyes. Be careful how you present yourself, lest you offend someone who reacts to that offense with violence, either physical or verbal or metaphorical: Something less than a punch, maybe, but not nothing.

Sciatrix agrees, but adds a positive that I’ve definitely experienced:

…there’s a world of difference between a straight person’s enthusiastic grin and the quiet chin jerk from the dapper gentleman on the bus, the particular pleased crinkle of eyes from the woman on my walk to work when I’ve buzzed my hair again, the slouching, tow-headed tilt of recognition in the kid in the back, the lit eyes of the student on the edge of the room… There’s a quiet kind of seeing each other that’s totally unrelated to the straight, cis world except inasmuch as none of us fit inside it. For all that we don’t always speak the same languages or the same community concepts, we all speak the lingua franca of hello, I see you and can you believe it?

There’s something lovely about that, too.

I’ve only experienced a little of it, but Sciatrix is right. There’s something really lovely about it.

People are happier when they can be themselves

Cornell University has studied all the peer-reviewed English articles about gender transition from 1991 to 2017 and found overwhelming evidence that social and/or medical transition is a positive thing.

Among the positive outcomes of gender transition and related medical treatments for transgender individuals are improved quality of life, greater relationship satisfaction, higher self-esteem and confidence, and reductions in anxiety, depression, suicidality, and substance use.

…regrets following gender transition are extremely rare and have become even rarer as both surgical techniques and social support have improved.

Anti-trans activists and their friends in the media repeatedly claim the opposite. They’re lying to you. There’s an ever growing body of evidence showing that letting people be themselves is great for their mental health.


Let boys be happy boys

I’ve written a few times here about toxic masculinity, the idea that certain beliefs and expectations are bad for men as well as women. This, by Tim Winton, puts it really well.

Boys and young men are so routinely expected to betray their better natures, to smother their consciences, to renounce the best of themselves and submit to something low and mean. As if there’s only one way of being a bloke, one valid interpretation of the part, the role, if you like. There’s a constant pressure to enlist, to pull on the uniform of misogyny and join the Shithead Army that enforces and polices sexism.

One of the most worrying things in the world right now is the radicalisation of young men, much of it online. Many young men are lost, and there are plenty of people offering them easy answers. All too often, they’re the wrong answers.

In the absence of explicit, widely-shared and enriching rites of passage, young men in particular are forced to make themselves up as they go along. Which usually means they put themselves together from spare parts, and the stuff closest to hand tends to be cheap and defective. And that’s dangerous.

Recruiters for the likes of the far right know this. It’s why you find them in forums where young men talk about depression, and anywhere else there are vulnerable young men looking for answers. It’s why they amplify the voices that tell people liberals, feminists, people of colour and LGBT people are stealing their birthright.

A man in manacles doesn’t fully understand the threat he poses to others. Even as he’s raging against his bonds. Especially as he’s raging against his bonds. When you’re bred for mastery, when you’re trained to endure and fight and suppress empathy, how do you find your way in a world that cannot be mastered? How do you live a life in which all of us must eventually surrender and come to terms? Too many men are blunt instruments. Otherwise known, I guess, as tools. Because of poor training, they’re simply not fit for purpose. Because life is not a race, it’s not a game, and it’s not a fight.

Too many people are telling angry young men that it *is* a race, it *is* a game, it *is* a fight. And that’s harming men and women alike. It’s right and proper that we call out toxic behaviour and male entitlement, but men are victims here too.

…patriarchy is bondage for boys, too. It disfigures them. Even if they’re the last to notice. Even if they profit from it. And their disfigurement diminishes the ultimate prospects of all of us, wherever we are on the gender spectrum. I think we need to admit this.

Let’s talk about music

I know, I know. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in the various evils of the world that I forget that I’m the greatest songwriter who ever lived*. So let’s talk about that.

I’ve been promising new music for quite a long time now but I’m actually nearly ready to deliver it. I’m in the final stages of mixing an album David and I have worked really hard on and that I’m incredibly proud of. Musically and lyrically it’s the best stuff we have ever made. It’ll be done in weeks, not months.

It’s also kickstarted my creativity again: for example, last night I managed to write a guitar-heavy anthem, half Pixies half Mogwai, about a Japanese ex-cop who saves people’s lives atop a blasted cliff face. I know! That old cliché!

Anyway. The new stuff is going to come out under a new name: HΛVR (spelt “havr” and pronounced “hey-vurr”). It’s a great Scots word and means to babble, to talk nonsense. Which we do, a lot. As you can see, it also looks really good as a logo even in sketchy form.

For now I’ve uploaded a couple of demo songs, things that I like but that don’t quite fit with the record we’re putting together. You’ll find them on Soundcloud here.

* I don’t really think that. Much.

I can’t get no sleep

The Caledonian Sleeper train is in the news after the latest concerted “pile-on” (their words) by anti-trans activists who organise on Mumsnet: they don’t want trans people on sleeper trains.

(It’s interesting to see people with hateful views, many of whom advocate violence against minorities, hiding behind the label “mumsnet user” and abusing the stereotype of mums as nice, unthreatening and sensible people who can’t possibly be vicious bigots. The US religious right trades in similar tropes.)

Later this year, the service is changing so that people won’t be sharing with strangers at all, so the risk of feeling “uncomfortable” will be removed entirely. But even now it’s a non-issue, as Dr Brooke Magnanti explained on Twitter:

A lot of people piling on @CalSleeper about gender clearly have never used the service; they can if they wish select single occupancy and sleep by themselves; alternatively, there are sleeper seats in an open carriage where anyone can sit next to anyone.

You can also travel with friends and family and share your cabin with them.

As someone who has travelled these routes regularly, it is in fact only seldom that you actually end up sharing with a stranger. And most people use the Sleeper for its intended purpose: TO SLEEP.

If you feel uncomfortable with your assigned berthmate, you can change when you arrive (the old Sleeper system used to designate anyone with ‘Dr’ as male, so I had to do this on the platform a couple of times)

Every carriage has an attendant, and every berth has an emergency and attendant call button if anything happens. You can change once the journey is underway; I was reassigned an empty cabin due to noisy/drunk person in the top bunk once.

I fully support trans people.@CalSleeper, the folks piling on you now are doing it for publicity and headlines. They aren’t even your customers.

This is something I’ve had to think about. I’m going to a concert in That London in the summer and considered the Sleeper, because it’s by far the most convenient and cost-effective option. But I decided against it: on the one hand my fear of sharing with a bloke (the same fear women have, plus the extra risk of abuse that LGBT people face), on the other my concern about making someone uncomfortable by my mere presence.

So instead, I’m flying and staying in a hotel. It’s going to cost considerably more money and it’s considerably less convenient but I’m fortunate in that I can choose that option.

Not everybody can. And that’s the problem with the current wave of anti-trans bile coming from Mumsnet and being parroted, unquestioned, in the media and on social media. It’s about policing where we can go, about limiting our ability to live normally. We’ve even got supposedly sensible newspaper columnists advocating segregated bathrooms, an idea that we’ve seen somewhere before:

Some of the most vicious racists were mums who claimed black women spread disease and must be segregated; in the US, some suffragettes argued for the vote on the grounds that it would help white power defeat black people’s votes. The same kind of nice, unthreatening and totally not bigoted at all people turned their attentions to gay and lesbian people in the 1970s. It’s not that they were racist, or homophobic. They were “uncomfortable”. They had “genuine concerns”. That was more important than the dignity and safety of other people, people who had much more to fear than they did, people who they demonised and vilified.

What extremists did then, and what their spiritual heirs are doing now, is weaponising people’s fear of the other, of the unknown. Their goal isn’t to protect anybody. It’s to erase a victimised minority, to prevent them from living normally, to exclude them from public spaces and public life.

Don’t let the labels fool you: what bigots are doing on Mumsnet is the same radicalisation the alt-right racists and anti-semites have been doing on Reddit and other social media.

They’re not protecting women. They’re grooming them.

Everything is going backwards


The leading trend on UK Twitter today is #PunishAMuslimDay. The Guido Fawkes political blog’s comments section is full of staggering, blatant anti-semitism. Social media has become a cesspool of racism and every other form of bigotry and stupidity imaginable. The world appears to be getting considerably dumber by the day.

For many years I was evangelical about the internet. I was convinced it would help us become more connected, better educated, more understanding.

I got that one wrong, didn’t I?