“Self-knowledge rarely comes packaged in a single coherent narrative”

Stock photo. Inclusion does not imply any model's gender identity or orientation.

There’s a good piece in The Conversation by Tey Meadow, assistant professor of sociology at Columbia University, on the hot-button topic of gender non-conforming kids.

I know the language around this stuff can be confusing if you’re not steeped in it. By gender non-conforming we mean rejecting stereotypical gendered things, so for example a girl who refuses to grow her hair long or wear dresses is gender non-conforming, or GNC for short. A boy who’d rather play with Barbie than Action Man is GNC, and so on.

Gender non-conforming doesn’t mean transgender. The overwhelming majority of GNC kids just have finely tuned bullshit detectors and a whole bunch of individuality.

I can understand why parents might panic over gender non-conforming behaviour. For some, it’s the terror of having a gay kid, which still persists. But for others it’s the knowledge that to have a trans kid means dealing with a whole bunch of shit that parents of cisgender kids don’t have to deal with.

In the current climate it’s to know that your child will face abuse from all kinds: not just arseholes in the street but school run mums on messageboards and middle-class women in newspapers. It’s to know that your child may have to make agonising decisions about their body and their place in the world that their peers won’t have to make. It’s to know that your child will be discriminated against, and demonised.

But, again: most gender non-conforming kids aren’t trans.

More importantly, they’re not being pressured to identify as trans.

Quite the opposite. The few kids who are persistent, insistent and consistent about their gender identity have to spend months and sometimes years being assessed before even something as simple as puberty blockers may be prescribed.

The media really doesn’t help when it flatly lies about the treatment offered to gender non-conforming kids, publishing propaganda from pressure groups claiming that the entire system is fast-tracking vulnerable kids on a high-speed conveyor towards surgery. It isn’t (and congratulations if you spotted the “they are coming for our children!” trope as used by every bigoted group since the beginning of time).

A tiny, tiny proportion of gender non-conforming kids are trans; most aren’t, and those kids aren’t fast-tracked to anything.


[the] model doesn’t push kids toward a transgender outcome or even a linear narrative. Instead, clinicians teach parents to pause, absorb the messages their children are sending and then articulate what they are seeing back to their children. Parents and psychologists help children express their genders in authentic ways, and then work to understand the significance of the things they are saying and doing. It takes times and practice.

The constant misinformation in the media and on social media is letting gender non-conforming kids, trans kids and their parents down.

Meadow again:

Gender-nonconforming children who are supported by their parents in expressing their identities by and large thrive. In fact, recent studies show that trans youth who are affirmed and supported by their families to transition are psychologically healthier than children who are gender-nonconforming but receive no such encouragement.

The emerging consensus is about educating and supporting parents to help their kids thrive, not forcing kids into boxes they don’t fit into.

The last thing any trans adult wants is for a cisgender kid to be wrongly diagnosed as trans. We know all too painfully what it’s like to be forced to be somebody you’re not.

“The journey, not the destination, matters”

I recently started learning to play the piano. If it’s true that it takes 10,000 hours to become good at something, that means my neighbours will stop hating me in the year 2210, or 2114 if I practice a lot more often.

Getting good isn’t really the point, though. As TS Eliot rightly put it, it’s the journey that matters.

I like learning the piano. It’s fun, my tutor and I have a good laugh and week by week I get a little bit less shit at playing the piano. I’ll never be any good at it, but each time I make progress I get good enough to do a little bit more.

Right now, I’m doing a terrible version of Lana Del Rey’s Video Games and a terrible, basic chord version of John Grant’s Caramel. These are not difficult songs, I know, but until recently I was convinced they were impossible. Now, they’re achievable. I can’t do it now, but I know that eventually I’ll be able to play and sing Video Games without messing it up and do Caramel perfectly while honking into a kazoo for the synth solo.

Not only that, but it’s given me the confidence to write on piano too. We’re not talking piano symphonies here, but having moved from painstakingly programming keyboards one note at a time it’s enormously liberating to be able to actually play things.

I will never be good at this. But the list of things I’m good enough to play will keep getting longer.

In A Man Without A Country, Kurt Vonnegut suggested that “we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.” Getting slowly better at something you previously found impossible is one of the most glorious forms of farting around I’ve ever experienced.

No-platforming Nazis

Neo-nazi poster boy Milo has posted a big rant to Facebook about how his career has hit the skids. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, one must have a heart of stone to read it without laughing.

There’s more to this than well-deserved schadenfreude, though. It’s yet more evidence that refusing to give vicious rabble-rousers a platform kills their careers. Of course it does. They built their careers using those platforms to abuse free speech and other people’s tolerance of extremist views.

We’re told that de-platforming white supremacists and other bigots makes them stronger and louder. But the evidence shows that it doesn’t. Milo’s the one mewling now; not so long ago it was the neo-nazi Richard Spencer. Infowars’ Alex Jones will be next.

It’s time once again for the famous XKCD cartoon about free speech:

Cris Shapan’s incredibly funny fakes

There’s funny, and then there’s the kind of funny where you end up a crying. honking mess. Cris Shapan’s fake posters and book covers leave me helpless with laughter. His Facebook page is a joy.

What I love about Shapan’s work isn’t just the jokes, although the fake pulp novel Maelstrom Of Pee made me laugh so hard something important popped inside me. It’s the attention to detail. Shapan’s work is just extraordinary.

The fake advert above is on urban myth debunking site Snopes: it’s so convincing that many people have shared it online thinking it’s a real advert from the fifties. A similar thing happened with another of Shapan’s fakes, a foodstuff called Rolled Pig.

There’s so much joy and silliness in this stuff. It’s glorious.

Calling time on my Apple Watch

I’ve had all three generations of Apple Watch, but it’s time to call time on it. It is an incredibly clever device and it felt very futuristic when it first came out. But it does absolutely nothing to make my life better.

That’s not to say it can’t be useful. It can. But it’s not useful for me. The longer I have it the more things I turn off, and the more annoying I find things that didn’t used to bug me quite so much. For example, the lack of an always-on display has become intensely irritating, especially when the display doesn’t always come on when I want it to. Of all the things I want a watch to do, showing me the time straightaway is the most important thing for me. And it still doesn’t do that properly.

Siri voice control still doesn’t work reliably, and dictation is still incredibly patchy. I don’t run or swim so its fitness tracking is irrelevant. I don’t need a remote control when I’m listening to music on my iPhone. The Hue complication doesn’t do what I want it to do. I keep notifications turned off because I don’t want to be interrupted when I’m doing something else, which is most of the time. I don’t use the weather app complications any more because more often than not, they don’t update. I don’t use Apple Pay on it because paying with your wrist is stupid and it means having to tap in a PIN code every time you want to unlock the watch. It wakes me up when I’m trying to have a nap. When I travel it means Yet Another Bloody Charger, and when I go to gigs it’s Another Bloody Thing To Put Into Airplane Mode.

Also, it’s ugly. I’ve experimented with endless colours and strap colours and fabrics, but it’s still a small computer screen rather than a piece of jewellery.

I like to point out that often, technology answers a question people aren’t asking. That’s definitely the case for me and the Apple Watch. For me, it doesn’t answer the only question I have about it, which is: why am I persisting with a device I don’t particularly like any more?

Time for a Timex instead. All it does is tells the time. That’s all I want a watch to do.


Locked out

I’ve been locked out of my Twitter account for a terrible, terrible crime.

No, not being a big old Nazi. Messing with the year of birth in my profile page. This, apparently, is a really bad thing and I can’t currently read anything on Twitter or see other people’s messages to me.

It’s been brilliant.

Being unable to access Twitter has made it clear that my relationship with social media is completely out of whack. I’m following too many people and indulging too many more, and the result is a firehose of fury with precious little of the funny cat pictures and dad jokes I signed up for. It’s become a massive time thief and a drain on my mental health.

I’m not quite ready to bin Twitter altogether, although I’m close, but assuming Twitter decides to let me back in again I’m going to massively reduce the number of people I follow – not because they’re bad people, because I don’t follow bad people, but because I’ve let myself fall into a situation where there are just too many people talking at once. I can’t hear myself think above the din.

“The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal.”

I’ve been meaning to share this for aaaaaaages.

Harrison Bergeron, a short story by Kurt Vonnegut.

THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

I read Harrison Bergeron when I was a mere slip of a lad, about 20 years after it was first published. It’s short and funny and beautiful and terribly sad, and I can’t think about the ending without crying.

It’s stayed with me ever since I first read it. It was the gateway drug that gave me a lifetime love of Vonnegut’s work (and his writing style, which I’ve shamelessly nicked), and like much of Vonnegut it’s eerily prescient: the things happening to the characters (I don’t want to spoil any of it) are like today’s social media distractions.

The story was published in one of those sci-fi anthologies, and it must have been a particular good one: it also featured the utterly terrifying Descending by Thomas M Disch, which I think about every time I descend into the Subway.

Face off

One of the many joys of being a late transitioning trans woman is that you have a choice: you can be a bearded lady, you can get used to shaving two or three times a day, or you can have facial electrolysis to remove your stubble. If you’re younger or darker-haired there’s another option, laser hair removal, but it doesn’t work on grey, blonde or ginger hair so that rules me out.

As much as I’m in favour of breaking gender norms the Conchita Wurst beard-blue-eyeshadow-and-blusher combination doesn’t work for me, and I hate bloody shaving. So electrolysis it is.

Electrolysis is a process where a highly skilled technician uses a tiny probe to remove all the money from your bank account.

I’m not kidding. I’ve been approved for 15 hours of NHS-funded treatment. Unfortunately the typical born-male face has around 30,000 follicles, each of which has to be treated individually, and the process takes between 100 and 200 hours over a year or two. For some trans women who have thicker or darker hair than me that number can be as high as 400 hours.

Once you’ve used up your NHS funding you then have to pay for the rest yourself. The clinic recommended by the NHS in Glasgow charges £72 per hour, although there’s a 10% discount if you block-book ten sessions. That brings the price down to £64.80 per hour.

Let’s assume I’ll need 150 hours. Less my 15 hours of NHS funding that’s just 135 more hours: 130 at £64.80 per hour and the remaining 5 at £72 per hour.

That’s 130 x 64.80, which works out as £8,424, plus 5 x 72, which is a further £360.

As a conservative estimate, then, this is going to cost me £8,784.

I’m sure it’ll be worth it in the long run, because stubble is the ticking clock in my Cinderella story: if I’m going to be out for more than a few hours I need to decide what I’m going to do about shaving. I currently shave twice a day, sometimes three times if it’s going to be a late night. But in the medium term it’s awful.

It’s awful for several reasons. The first and most obvious reason is that it’s bloody sore.

Lying on a table for two hours as individual follicles are electrocuted and heated before the hair is yanked out with tweezers isn’t a great deal of fun. It’s particularly awful on bits where there isn’t much fat, such as close to the jawline, and when it’s done anywhere that bit of my face doesn’t calm down for about two days afterwards. For the first 24 hours I look like I’ve been stung by angry wasps.

The literature tells you that most patients find electrolysis mildly uncomfortable rather than sore, but those patients are women and their hair is easier and less painful to remove. Whenever you see electrolysis illustrated it’s always a shot of a serene-looking young woman with porcelain skin, not a middle-aged trans woman shouting JESUS FUCKING CHRIST I FELT THAT IN MY TEETH.

The main reason it’s awful, though, is that in order to remove stubble there needs to be some stubble to remove. And while I’m glad I don’t have the kind of Desperate Dan chin that gives a five o’clock shadow fifteen minutes after shaving, it means I can’t shave for the days running up to each electrolysis appointment – or immediately after the appointment, when the skin is angry.

What that means is that to keep a weekly schedule, I have to spend most of my week presenting male: if I’m getting stubble yanked out of my face on Thursday, I can’t shave after Monday morning and can’t shave again until Saturday. If I do a really good job on Monday morning I can get away with being me into Monday evening, but Tuesday through Friday means presenting male. That’s four days a week of people double-taking at my name, four days a week of trying not to see my own reflection, four days a week that feel like the biggest backwards step imaginable.

I’m sure it’ll get easier once the most obvious bits of stubble are gone and I no longer need to shave them. But for now the prospect of doing this for another year and a half isn’t exactly filling my soul with joy.