Friday, 29 October 2010

Emotion surges and tears

There's a possibility that the increased hormone dose might be having some effect on my emotions! At any rate I've been subject to emotion surges this morning, although not without a stimulus. Once a year I get to feeling that I'd like to watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy of films, and without fail these always stir me up. I'm easy meat when it comes to powerful drama and mood music.

This happened last year, and if you dig into the archives to my 4 October 2009 post called My favourite moment from LOTR 3 (The Return of the King) you'll find a mention of crying and emotioning just as now. Except that this year the real-world, very personal losses of parents and (very probably) my former partner M--- are much in my mind and are making it all harder to control. I think I'm feeling the grief more keenly than ever before. Strange, when in other ways my life is forging ahead in a direction very much to my liking! I should be jubilant. But instead it's all tinged with a sadness profound enough to choke on.

Don't worry - I'll get past this. And in any case, life always goes on, with or without oneself, and one might as well go with it and make the very best of the deal you get.

But my goodness, never have I felt more strongly that 'everything has its price'. It's so true. One way or another you pay heavily for every nice thing that comes your way, every ambition fulfilled, every step forward. As if a law of physics were being obeyed: you get nothing out without putting something in. Money is the least of it. Sometimes you pay with people you do not want to lose.

Getting back to LOTR, the character I find the most appealing, that I most identify with, is Eowyn, the heroine of Rohan, who is like a trapped bird longing to fly, and who can fight as any man in the defence of her land, and who (as celebrated last year) proves up to a most courageous and defiant act in the face of overwhelming horror.

There you are: I really always wanted to fight battles to save all that I love. I need a horse and a  sword.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

I can't wait to use it

I refer to my new washing machine. The old one, inherited from Mum and Dad, packed in some months ago, but I was able to use the machine at my old house half an hour away. It meant a weekly round trip, but then I had to look in every seven days anyway to comply with the insurance, make sure things were OK, clear any fallen apples from the drive (the house remains up for sale), and snip at the odd bush. But now that the garden has stopped growing for the year, and the days are getting colder and wetter, I didn't fancy a prolonged visit to my old home just to do a couple of washes, especially as I'd have to turn the central heating up to a comfortable level while waiting and use up some expensive oil.

Besides, a new working machine was going to be essential for the post-op period - lots of towels and bedding and so on to keep clean!

So I got on with it, ordered a large-capacity, cool-washing, fast-spin Hotpoint from a local shop, and it arrived just an hour ago. My next door neighbour K---, who is a plumber, and has the same machine, is going to connect it for me and push it into position. I'll be doing my first load today, and that'll give me enough time to wash and iron a few items I want to take down to Cornwall with me. Yes, I'm off again shortly!

The delivery men were very nice. They carried it in very carefully - having already taken away the old machine - and no damage was done to walls or floors. They called me madam and treated me like a woman who sensibly leaves things like this to the men. There was no condescension in this, just pleasant respect. I felt great. I wasn't dressed up - just a dark top and skinny jeans. The tummy was a little prominent, but the outfit tended to make me look a bit willowy for once. I gushed in my usual manner, even saying at one point, 'I can't wait to use it!' Miss Domestic.

Oh, the first wieghing under my pre-op Weight Loss Regime was a disappointment. My weight was fractionally down, I suppose, but after a light breakfast it would have been just the same as last week. Maybe I'll see some better results by next week. Meanwhile foxes gnaw at my vitals all the time. However, I feel virtuous, because last night when in a Brighton pub with friends, I resisted the temptation to have a yummy Chinese meal, even though the trans guy sitting next to me had the full works.

Only an hour to go to my two midday crackers, four green olives, and an apple.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Winter boots

Here's my winter line-up for this year, all of them black boots. I haven't got any brown boots, and I'm not sure it would really be worth my buying any. The three black boots are not all new. The pair on the right were bought nearly two years ago and have been reheeled twice. Those in the centre were bought one year ago. And those on the left just the other day.

I really don't know which I like best. The centre boots have the highest heel, and look the most elegant, or at least the most piratical. The righthand ones have a medium heel, and you could certainly walk in them around a big place such as London, as indeed I have. The zip-up pair on the left have a flat heel but are the most go-anywhere and casual of the three. All have soft leather uppers and all fit well. If I had to choose boots that I could wear comfortably all day long, I think it would have to be the lefthand ones, but then it would also depend on the clothes worn. Tights and leggings and long skirts suit left and centre best; the righthand boots look best with jeans, especially if tucked in. All of them can look fabulous with a miniskirt.

Right, that's boots sorted. What about hats and scarves and gloves?

Monday, 25 October 2010

Health warning to prudes

In the South Island of New Zealand, in the far southerly region known as Southland, is a place called Clifden. Clifden is famous for two things. First, it was the site of the first bridge to span the then infamously dangerous Waiau River. Even today this suspension bridge, completed in 1899, remains the longest in New Zealand. Here's a picture of it when new:

When I saw it in March 2007 it had for a long time been replaced by a modern bridge downstream, but you could still walk across it. Mind you, it didn't seem to be in a very good state:

It's presently closed after a recent local earthquake, for health and safety reasons. Apparently the NZ Government doesn't want backpackers getting caught on the bridge when the rusty iron chains finally go twang. Spoilsports.

To continue my tale. Just off the far end, that is, on the west bank of the river, was a limestone cliff, wooded at its base. The trees, with their gnarled roots, were very photogenic, and begged to be seen close up. They partially screened a curiously-shaped cave:

Well, I don't know what you think, but to me this is one of the best natural representations of the Female Parts that I've ever seen. And yet there was not a mention of this cave on the otherwise very complete tourist information board by the bridge, even though the second reason why Clifden is famous is - you've guessed it - because of its network of limestone caves!

I should have thought that this cave was renowned in the local Ngati Mamoe Maori folklore. It might well have been the scene of coming-of-age retreats and suchlike, for both girls and boys, especially girls I'd say. Maybe it was known as Te-tomo-tapu-o-puhi ('the Sacred Cave of the Virgins') or O-Papatuanuki ('the place of Mother Earth'). (My knowledge of Maori is shaky, so apologies to native speakers for these invented placenames, but I hope you respect the attempt) My point is, this cave must have played a big part in the ritual life of the Maori in this region of Southland, and yet I have not been able to find any reference to it on the Internet, nor in any of my NZ guidebooks. NZ nowadays respects its Maori heritage, and such a cave would surely be worth a mention in the guide books. So what's going on?

I can think of two reasons offhand why this cave isn't flagged up as a must-see place, like the Moeraki Boulders are, say. (Another South Island tourist sight, on the south-east coast near Oamaru) First, the local Maori might not want the cave desecrated by an army of giggling camera-toting tourists bent on getting a joky, semi-pornographic picture. (It's really not uncommon for venerated or sacred Maori land to be officially off limits to tourists) Second, and I think this is probably the main reason, the NZ Government is awkward about anything that might be considered immodest or embarrassing, and it's therefore coy and shy and bashful about this cave. So it just says nothing about it. And the guide books and souvenir picture books suffer from a similar avert-your-eyes primness.

Well, here we are, at the start of the twenty-first century, but there are areas of the world where Victorian Respectability and Victorian Moral Values still hold sway! And not just in New Zealand. This morning I caught an item on Radio 4 about some towns in Italy making it a punishable offence to appear in public in 'provocative clothing'. No miniskirts allowed, for instance. Dear me!

It's all right, officer, I've got knickers on today.

Which brings me to a more general point about being shocked, about sharp intakes of breath, and about narrow-minded prudery. In the run-up to my genital surgery I'm going to be speaking at length on about penises and vaginas and clitorises and other terms of that nature, just as we all have to if we want to explain how things are proceeding to those interested. This is a blog written with transsexual people in mind. OK, anyone else can read it too. And why not? It's also the edited highlights of my ordinary passing life, a kind of online day-to-day diary. But there is a definite and deliberate bias towards what transitioning people might find interesting. And just as I found other blogs helpful in the past, a resource of many individual experiences, I hope my own unravelling story will join that useful collection of facts and impressions. And to ensure that it can be true and frank, I can't avoid discussion on topics that might make some folk blush. Being squeamish about the physical details would be like saying my body is not fit to be talked about, that it's dirty and unclean. It would be pandering to dishonesty if I shut up simply to spare some people's feelings, or to sidestep old-fashioned notions of what is appropriate and decorous.

But no doubt somebody somewhere will burn me at their stake for wanton indecency!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Hormone tap now turned full on

I replace ny existing 100mcg Oestradiol patch every Saturday and Tuesday. Yesterday I began to stick on a second patch, giving me an extra 50mcg each time - a 50% increase in hormones. Assuming I have no adverse side-effects, this new regime will continue week by week until Saturday 15 January, in thirteen weeks time, when all hormone treatment must cease until after the op.

I'm hoping for accelerated feminisation in that thirteen weeks, although realistically I probably won't notice any changes in such a short period. No size DD boobs, no babies, then. At least the effects of the Oestradiol may take longer to fade once I stop.

I noticed that the 50mcg patch was about half the size of the 100mcg patch - rather a cute little thing - which made me wonder whether the anount of the hormone transfered from patch to skin is constant, and larger doses require a larger surface area. Rather like a heavy-duty car or leisure battery is always bigger than the standard thing (more lead plates within). Does anyone use a single 150mcg patch, and is it huge?

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Still shooting as the Bomb explodes

It takes a lot to shake me, and make me lose balance. But after The Consultation two afternoons ago, my head felt stuffed full of whirling thoughts, and I simply had to go home, have a cup of tea, and somehow get everything I'd heard into some sort of order in my mind. I didn't manage it until quite late. I texted several people with the bare news, saying I'd be able to speak next day but not just at that moment.

It was of course the first pre-op consultation with Mr Philip Thomas, surgeon, at the Brighton Nuffield Hospital. I'd found myself overcome with the enormity of it all, and what a massive step this was, and how quickly it could all happen.

The appointment was at 5.15pm, and I took this with a pinch of salt. Quite rightly. It turned out that another girl called F---, who lived and worked in Somerset, and who had driven over from Taunton after lunch, also had an appointment at 5.15pm. Both in the same tumbril, then. F--- was a bit ahead of me in the timescale, and was looking for a Christmas operation, whereas I was thinking of sometime in the spring of 2011, March or April say. She was very pleasant, and I hope the fates will throw us together again.

First, we met Mr Thomas's Clinical Nurse Specialist, Liz Hills. I'd met Liz before, when making my daily visits to Debbie at the Nuffield in November 2009, and Liz remembered Debbie very fondly.

Liz immediately impresses you, instilling  huge confidence, and quickly becomes not only your personal expert clinical adviser but your friend and mother combined. She has that wonderful ability to lift concerns off your heart, and banish fear and dread. And to be fair, I encountered nobody at the Nuffield who wasn't helpful, friendly and fixated on the job. The place has a good atmosphere. It is attractive, efficient, clean and modern. There is no lurking undercurrent of cut corners, stress or chaos. It's all very reassuring.

Liz took us gently through what to expect. She was very clear. There was really no need to take notes - a pink folder full of printed material was provided. You were freed up to listen. What we heard all sounded eminently manageable. Bring it on, you felt. Then she put us in the hands of Carla, her Clinical Assistant, who took us up to Floor 1 and showed us the general setup there, and in particular one of the rooms, Room 12, which I could swear was the one that Debbie had occupied eleven months ago. It was spotless, well-equipped, and had a lovely view over the Downs, all the way to the sea. An inspiring view. Important when you awoke after the operation, and later on when the first euphoria might have evoporated, and you needed a reminder that there was a beautiful world out there, sunny and calm. It was very like a hotel bedroom, but with specialised fittings. In the ensuite bathroom Carla showed us the dilators and a douche that we would learn to use and take home. It didn't look possible that those long, smooth, transparent cylinders would be able to slide inside! They reminded me of high-quality, high-tech glass ornaments. But again, I was so reassured that I felt I'd actually enjoy setting up a dilation routine for myself, and becoming expert at it, another accomplishment.

Then back downstairs, and I was in first with Mr Thomas, with Liz in attendance. I had met him three times before, but this was the first proper personal consultation, with the subject expressly being my personal anatomy, and how my own body was going to be changed. I dare say I was a bit overawed. He was, after all, one of the two main men in this field in the UK! Gulp. But he was charming, and put me at ease. He explained the finer points of the penile inversion surgery, and especially the risks and complications that could arise. Some were more remote possibilities than others, but I made a mental note to expect some little problems at least, considering my age. I'd have to come off the oestragen six weeks before surgery, to ensure minimum risk of blood-clotting. That was no problem for me. Then Liz took me into an adjoining examination room. I took off the bottom half of my kit, got onto the table, and grasped a mirror from Liz so that I could see whatever I wanted of the proceedings. Then Mr T, with rubber gloves on, had a good look at me. He didn't have to look for long. He anticipated no special problems, and said that I did not need any pre-op hair removal.

What? No hair removal at all? I got dressed and we spoke further. The operation had recently been refined. Hitherto the base of the penis had had to be cleared of hair so that the new clitoris was not lost in the forest, so to speak (my words, not Mr T's), and also so that excess hair wasn't left just inside the new vagina. Just how much to remove depended on the individual's own physique of course, which was highly variable. If for example one had been circumcised, a lot more penile and scrotal skin had to be used for the labia and to line the vagina, and that would indeed need time-consuming hair-removal treatment. But for uncircumcised people like me, the latest method did not use any skin from the base of the penis. It allowed the clitoris to be hair-free and avoided an unnatural ring of bare skin around the vaginal opening. It would look just like any woman's. And if a trans woman wanted less hair post-op, to suit her personal cosmetic needs, then she merely used any of the standard commercial hair-removal techniques that an ordinary woman would employ. But what about hair on the penile shaft? This would need to go, because otherwise it would end up deep inside the vagina, but it getting rid of it would  be a comparatively minor job. Right, that was clear now.

But then...if only a few hair-removal sessions would be needed, for just the sparse wisps of hair on the penile shaft, the op could be brought forward, couldn't it? Yes, indeed. I wouldn't have to wait months and months? No. At this point my head started to feel a bit over-saturated with information and things to consider!

There was another thing.. Mr T wanted me to lose some weight. About 10kg, bringing my weight down from 90kg to 80kg - roughly from 14 stone to 12.5 stone. I could do that. I mean, what a motivation, the op and its results as the prize.

There was some more conversation about psychiatric assessment and so on that I didn't really take in, deciding that it could be gone into when I felt better able to focus on it. I thanked Mr Thomas, wrote out a cheque for the consultation, and agreed with Liz that we'd speak in a few days' time. And so I left, wishing F--- all the best. I had a slight headache, but nevertheless felt euphoric. As if a bomb had exploded, engulfing me in the blast, but I had emerged unscathed; though somehow different, as if I'd undergone some vital rite of passage. I was surely now on my way. I'd crossed the Rubicon. Alea iacta est! 

The following day I had a long walk by myself across the wide sands exposed at low tide at East Head, near West Wittering on Chichester Harbour. The sunshine was brilliant, blinding even. The cold wind was keen. It was the first day this year when I'd felt the need for gloves. Winter was coming. On the other side of it I'd be in the Nuffield and changed forever.

Footnote: Just spoken again with Liz. Provisionally, my admission date will be 28 February, with the operation on the morning of 1 March, and discharge on 8 March. I must come off hormones on 18 January.

Memo: Must ensure that I have my hair done as close to admission as I can.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

I love you and other demands

Listening to song lyrics from the 1960s onwards, there are some prevalent themes. In the case of male singers, when they talk about attraction for a woman it has often been on these lines:

I love you (and you must love me back)
I need you (and I expect you to run to me)
I want you (and that's all that matters)
You are my everything (I'm unrealistically besotted)
I've built my life around you (I'm dangerously obsessional)

In some songs the message is a little more sophisticated:

You don't understand me (but I will make you see things my way)
I am in pain (and only my pain should be considered)
My whole life is in your hands (don't hurt me with a refusal)
I can make you happy (because I am a man who has made so many other women happy)
I can give you all the loving you need (I'm such a good lover)
I'll be so kind (despite my past record of thoughtless cruelty)
We can be in love forever (trust me: my old faithless, philandering life is past)

Often a certain amount of flattery is tried:

You are so gorgeous (and I think you are a dizzy airhead who will believe me)
You are so gorgeous (and I expect you to drop your life and be my slave)
You are so gorgeous (and having pressed that button, you will respond in all the ways I want)
You are so gorgeous (and I've made your love juices flow for me already, haven't I?)
You are so gorgeous (but don't insult me by taking no notice)

And sometimes reality is offered:

I like spending money on you (so I'm buying you; don't forget it)
I'll give you such a good time (but we must do the things that I want to do)
It'll be two sweethearts together (you'll have no life except the one I allow you)
We can both still be free (meaning I can be, but you can't)
I'm just a jealous guy (and I'll knock you about if you so much as look at another man)
You let me down (I abused and controlled you - so what?)
You're stupid (I can't stand any woman being cleverer than me)
You're out of line (I don't like your thinking for yourself)
You wear it well (but your looks are fading)

If a woman is singing, the lyrics have often expressed a reaction to disappointment, broken promises, betrayal, and neglect. A lament on a torn heart. A defiant assertion of future independence. An acknowlegement that a woman is forever vulnerable to a man who makes her feel special, and will fall for it all again.

What's the point of this post? I'm thinking about life in the future. The days when a man could sit down, take his ease, and curtly tell any passing woman to make him a cup of tea may be gone, but the days of being rudely assessed for bedworthiness are surely not. Being eyed up like a prize cow is a consequence of transitioning successfully. Being treated like a dimbo, and not being taken seriously is another. I believe that not far below the surface, not far below that child-friendly, homemaking, emotion-sensitive, twenty-first century male exterior lurks a caveman mentality that says 'I'm stronger than you - do as you're told' and basically sees women as chattels. It's taken a back seat for decades in Western culture, but is simply dormant. And all trans girls that look, sound and behave like ordinary women have to contend with it.

I'm no feminist. But I'm going to be on my guard. Well, that's the intention. I bet I'll just be another confused victim who falls for a bit of smooth talking.

There are upsides, however. Think of the sinking Titanic, or sinking Queen Mary II for that matter. Lifeboats. Women and children first? All for it.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Fiona makes her first 10,000 miles in less than five months

I picked Fiona up brand-new at the end of May, and it's now only mid-October, but yesterday she clocked up her first 10,000 miles. Well done, Fiona!

Apart from a glitch with the airbag warning light in the first weeks, which was put right and has stayed fixed, nothing has gone wrong. She's still in showroom condition. I've got most of the controls as I like them, though some are not yet used, such as the catches to let down the back seats for a long load. The oil level (you check this electronically) is still at 'full'. I've had to top-up the screen wash at intervals, and I've checked the tyre pressures before every major trip. And of course I've brushed her out and washed her bodywork and wheels a few times. That's about it. The most chore-free car I've ever owned. Highly suitable classy transport for a girl who likes to get about.

And the significance of 2,000 miles a month shouldn't be missed. I'm no timid stay-at-home. I go out and meet people and do stuff. Fiona lends herself to a certain kind of highly mobile, long-distance, go-anywhere existence that fits in nicely with my photography, my liking for eating out, seeing friends, cultural events, and visiting beautiful places. And also, let it be said, for the routine transition-related visits to London or Kent. I just press the button, fire her up, and take off.
Cars are expensive to own, and best used as much as possible so that the cost-per-mile figure stays reasonable. I think I'm doing well there. In 2009, running the old petrol-powered 2.0 litre Honda CR-V, my all-in cash costs (I will ignore depreciation) totalled £4,465 of which £2,918 was fuel; spread over the 17,000 miles driven, that was £0.26 per mile. In 2010, using the Honda for the first five months and the 2.4 litre diesel-powered Volvo XC60 for the remaining seven, my all-in cash costs are likely to be about £5,400 of which fuel will be £4,300; spread over 25,000 miles, that works out at £0.21 per mile. Despite higher fuel costs, a significant reduction of £0.05 per mile - that saving mounts up. If I keep up the mileage, it should be even better in 2011; but I suspect that surgery and convalescence will mean a lower mileage, and by 2012 the comparison will have lost its point.

Of course, £5,400 is a lot of money, whichever way you look at it. Some might call it a financial pain they'd rather not have. But then the other side of the coin is that I get to drive a fast, powerful, luxurious, well-built, safe, very practical motor car that hauls the caravan as if it's nothing at all, and looks right at any classy venue. Fiona is in many ways my passport to a nice kind of life, and she feels like some sort of compensation for the downsides of transitioning. I threw an awful lot of my capital into her purchase. But I haven't been disappointed. One friend, R---, has said we were made for each other. Well, Fiona certainly does what I want from her and does it well.

But the 'safe' aspect  is almost the most important thing. I don't just mean Fiona's ability to protect me in an accident. I mean the secure feeling I have, in or out of town, when driving about in her. I can't be got at. I've got enough power and speed and acceleration and traction on all four wheels to get me out of any likely trouble, and the sheer size and look of the car means that I am high on the 'who goes first' pecking order at road junctions and roundabouts - a fact that I've exploited shamelessly at times. I am quite an adroit, quick-thinking driver and if need be would certainly barge my way through without compunction if I had to get somewhere very quickly, or escape some road-rage maniac. Naturally I'd smile dazzlingly and gush soundless apologies as I did so. But normally I just serenely enjoy the ride and the view from my high-up, climate-controlled travel capsule. The climate control means of course you can show off your shapely girly arms and low neckline even if it's desperately cold outside. Roll on the winter frosts!

Fiona handles very well on scenic country roads, but is absolutely in her element on fast motorways. It's curious how hushed and smooth things are at 2,500 rpm at a steady 80mph, and amusing to note that even at that speed the average mpg will creep up (I can get a continuous electronic readout). Incidentally, modern diesels have a particle filter that traps the naughty black soot associated with them, and recycles the stuff if you get the engine hot enough to reburn it, as you do at motorway speeds. So it's actually green to take Fiona out onto the highway and let her rip. What an excuse for a nice, fast drive somewhere!
One thing I've noticed, is that more women than men drive Volvos, and that the XC60 and XC90 models seem especially popular among the fair sex. The reasons must be complex, but most definitely the XC60 in particular (i.e. a Fiona) is the choice of elegant but cheerful forty-something ladies who give you a conspiratorial smile, as if we both know a good thing when we see it. No question, the XC60 is a ladies' car. Mmmm. I made the right choice! Men, watch out.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Funny faces and other textspeak

One thing you may have noticed about my posts - and any emails you may have exchanged with me - is that I try hard to write grammatical, correctly-spelled, correctly-punctuated, unabbreviated English. Call me a pedant if you will, but I can't bring myself to murder the language.

So my posts look like essays. And my emails look like old fashioned letters, beginning 'Dear So-and-So...' and they have a proper ending. I like to use a wide, intelligent vocabulary. And I prefer to avoid jargon, acronyms and lewd expressions. I dare say that here and there a few spelling mistakes creep in, but it's not in my nature to be slapdash where written work is concerned. People unsympathetic to me might dismiss my posts as deluded tosh, but they have no grounds to say they are badly written!

Incidentally I'm not claiming any great virtue for myself here. Many other bloggers clearly observe a similar standard. So I wonder how many feel as I do about certain typing tricks that seem to have originated in the early days of phone texting, but have now spread to messages and posts sent out from a desktop machine using a proper keyboard. They are all unnecessary.

I mean for example the irritating use of '4 U' for 'for you' and 'gr8' for 'great', and those strange obscure sideways-on facial expressions such as :) or :( or ;~ which I find so hard to interpret, and acronyms like IMHO (whoever voiced a humble opinion? Or is that an honest opinion? Who can tell?) or LOL (the one I dislike most - does it mean laughing out loud, and if so, in a jovial or jeering manner? Or does it mean lots of love?). Frankly, if you want to say 'Oh My God!' then it has far more impact when written out in full than 'OMG' has. So why not write out the full seven letters and two spaces? It doesn't take any effort, really, and it's not as if you're trying to save paper, is it? Or are you coy about mentioning the Deity?

There is surely something euthemistic about all this abbreviating that veils and softens the  meaning, and hides it from immediate comprehension. What motive would anyone have for being so enigmatic? It isn't clever and it isn't honest. It certainly isn't clear. 

I say away with the whole lot.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Looking ahead

Now that the wheels are turning on the run-up to my surgery, I find myself contemplating how life will be once I have recovered from it and can get about normally. From the late summer of 2011, I mean.

And yet in many ways I am already living that future life now, and have done so for many months. House, garden, car, caravan, travel, caring friends, good neighbours, creative and cultural interests, they're all in place. I have an independent, self-sufficient and (I believe) friendly personality to go with this life, as well as sufficient income to support it all.

There are a few things missing. For instance, I'd like to be much fitter, but fitness classes and sporty activities like badminton involve clothing that I can't get away with in my pre-op state. I can do a lot of walking, but communal activities will have to wait till I'm post-op. It will all be something to look forward to, not least the opportunity to make extra friends while engaged in these things. And I do know from previous experience how to create a vibrant and active social life for myself. (Whether I can take it without nodding off over my bedtime drink is another matter!)  

Of course, major omissions from my present life are sex and romance. No surprise at that of course, because at the present time my libido is nil, the relevant bits just don't work, and in any case I am not looking for love. While there is anything at all left of my long-time relationship with M---, experiments with other people are completely out; it would be a betrayal, hurt her terribly, and certainly spell the end of whatever we might still have or could regain. There is room in my heart for only one person at a time, and just now that place is taken.

But I still have to devise strategies for coping with third-party attention, whether I'm 'available' or not. By mid-2011, I expect to be adequately feminised and despite the handicap of senior-citizenhood, I will, in the eyes of many a man aged 50 or older, be as presentable and attractive as any older woman. I need to recognise the signals that mean I have caught someone's eye, so that I can respond appropriately. It could be a man or a woman. Even if I intend to say 'no', I must learn a nice way of doing it that acknowledges their worth as a person and doesn't snub them or confuse them. In the beginning I imagined claiming to be a raving lesbian would put a man off, but I now see that it doesn't necessarily work, and besides it isn't suitable for a lot of situations. So I need a whole lot of subtler ideas to counter any approaches made. 

I decided long ago that I would be frank and up-front about my origins. That's why my blog is in my own full name, and has been from the start. I don't want to maintain a complicated stealth smokescreen of misinformation or lies. On the other hand, obvious personal security issues make it prudent to be careful when mentioning personal details, whether mine or other people's. As you know, I publish plenty of photos of myself (a total narcissist all my life) but I never publish named photos of friends and relatives.

I don't actually expect to be ever publicly ambushed, but a transparent blog will prevent it, or at least take the sting out of it. If some malicious person blurts out 'You used to be J--- D---, didn't you?' and I will simply yawn in his face (it'll be a him) and tell him sure, it's all in the blog, and has been for years, with photos to boot. It's no big deal. And if, in a friendlier context, someone I've been talking to pauses, becomes a bit confidential, and says 'Tell me, it's just something about you...are you trans...?' then I shall instantly reply 'Well spotted...yes, I am, but it's not a secret. As you can see, I'm very comfortable about myself. Does it make any difference to you?' and take it from there. Fortunately there are no skeletons rattling about in my cupboard, no scope for blackmail: no drugs, no alcoholism, no criminal record, no embarrassing affairs, no perversions, only a couple of speeding offences. How useful it is to have been a humdrum nonentity for most of my life.

But I don't intend to be a humdrum nonentity in the time left to me! Certainly not.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Welcome to Melford Hall

The family seat in Suffolk, don't you know. We had to let the National Trust take it over in 1960, retaining private rooms, and so for most of the day, most of the year, it's crawling with the public. One cannot relax until they all go away. Then it's time for tea and cake. This is me in the drawing room, awaiting that moment:
The tea and cakes are brought in by the butler and a footman at five o'clock precisely, through that open door to my right, and presented to me with due ceremony. I have never contemplated departing from the protocol laid down by my great great grandfather who was most particular on these matters. The little charade begins with 'Tea, my lady'. And I say, as if all this is fantasy, 'Thank you, Withers. Just one cup and a slice of the angel cake, if you please.' 'Very good, my lady.' The tea is poured, the daintiest sliver of cake placed on a spotless white napkin stiff with starch, and the pair retire in deferential silence. After a while, refreshed, I make my way to my bedroom to change into my evening gown, which will be laid out by my personal maid. The stairs are quite impressive, and portraits of illustrious past Melfords watch me as I ascend:
The bedrooms are kept in their traditional state, as if frozen in time around 1895. It's all rather quaint, but nice in its way:
The house is really old, with origins going back to the time of Queen Elizabeth I. Having passed through Long Melford village ('long' because it's just one very long street, with the Hall and the Church at one end, off the green), you enter the grounds through an ornate brick gateway:
Regrettably, the visitors' cars are in evidence, and even more deplorable are the rather unsubtle signs placed by the National Trust:
Well, it was let the Trust have the property, or face crippling death duties. One has little choice, and one has to live with the unhappy consequences. But I sometimes have to avert my eyes from the kind of people who tramp over the dear old place nowadays. The Trust let me have Life Membership in 1996; they were an exclusive organisation then, with standards. Now any riff-raff can join, and they do. All done to get membership up, and rake in the annual subscriptions. Sigh.

The mention of Beatrix Potter (the renowned children's author and illustrator) is correct. She often stayed at the Hall. This is where Jemima Puddleduck and the rest were conceived. I am promptly reminded of the day my childhood ended. I was ten. I adored Beatrix's books but the bad-tempered schoolteacher thought I was 'too old' for them, and, under threat of punishment, forced me to put them away and read something else. Those books then disappeared from the cupboard, as I soon discovered when, risking a rap over the fingers, I sneaked a look inside. The episode was spiteful and cruel.

I did as I was bid. I went the whole hog. I switched to Ian Fleming and James Bond, which my father was reading, specifically Goldfinger, and was enlightened on many things. Halfway through the book, when tracking Goldfinger to his Swiss lair, Bond encounters a girl who is also tracking him, with the intention of assassination - Goldfinger had killed her sister. This was one girl that Bond did not seduce. She was a lesbian. I found that intriguing and very interesting: it was something from the grown-up world. But I never forgot being shut out of Beatrix Potter's world of endearing, make-believe creatures.

Having passed through the gates, the house comes into view, with a wide ditch (called a ha-ha) to keep callers at a respectful distance:
It's almost a serious moat. When I was young, I saw a painting by a man called Millais entitled Mariana in the Moated Grange, and I used to think that he must have had Melford Hall in mind. Those trees are a scandal. They should all look exactly the same. I must have a word with the men. The drive runs parallel to the house, before turning 90 degrees at a corner of the moat:
Well, really. Look at that tree. It's completely out of hand. Far too large, and badly shaped: it's obscuring the Hall. I will speak severely to the men. Just because I am in Brighton most of the time, that is no reason for this kind of neglect. They must set to and reduce the size of the tree, and restore the view of the Hall, or they will not get their Christmas morning off. Nor any wages for the the next three months. Nor may they keep the wood cut away.

I hope you have enjoyed this brief tour of Melford Hall. In the summer, I like to visit the little summer-house in the garden, and hear music played. I will leave you with a glimpse of it.

Friday, 8 October 2010

I've acquired a husband!

But when did it happen? Gosh, I am getting so forgetful. This is the story.

I needed some Aquarinse for the caravan. For those who don't know, that's a nice-smelling pink concentrate that you pour into your onboard toilet flush reservoir. Topping that up is one of the more pleasant caravan chores. As opposed to emptying, cleaning and recharging (with a chemical) the toilet cassette, which is the pits. I'm sure you wanted a reality check of this sort!

Back to the story. I also wanted a new pair of extension mirrors to fix onto Fiona, so that I can see better what's coming up alongside me when towing. The old set no longer complied with the latest EU standard, and the fixing nuts had become very stiff - hard work for my feeble female fingers.

So I called into the Uckfield branch of Chichester Caravans. A really nice lady served me, and we quickly fell into conversation. The Aquarinse was a no-brainer. Not so the mirrors. They came in two styles - flat glass, or convex. Which to choose? I asked her advice. She said she personally preferred flat, because it showed you what was actually there, whereas the convex gave you a wider view but vehicles coming up from behind looked further away than they really were. So if you misjudged their distance, you could pull out right in front of them, which might be dangerous. This is what I thought, so I opted for the flat-glass version.

Then she added, if my husband wanted the other sort instead, it would be all right to swap them if the mirrors and packaging were both undamaged.

My husband?

Well, yes, if I had a husband he'd want his say and might overrule my choice...husbands tend to, don't they? I mean, she must have assumed that while hard-working hubby was stuck in his London office, I'd been detailed to get these little items for our caravan. And that I was the slightly scatter-brained wife. Even though I drove a big Volvo. Well, that was his car, really, wasn't it, just as my credit card was really a second card on his credit account. There you are. That's how it is when you're a wife.

I didn't quite know what to say. The moment to explain instantly passed, and so I had to let it go. We were now discussing parents and daughters and long-haul flights. Oh dear, she's going to remember me as someone's wife.

I wonder what is the ideal thing to say in these circumstances?

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

The family funeral goes well

It all went fine.

I wore the exact outfit I'd described in my last post, with my hair freshly washed, and the makeup as good as I could get it, though still minimal. I'd given Fiona a dawn cleanup. I felt relaxed and confident. It was a chilly but sunny morning with no wind. A hint of blue sky. Beautiful autumn colours here and there. Good signs.

I picked up Auntie P--- and we sped off to the Newport Crematorium, arriving with 25 minutes to spare. I pulled up right in front of my closest cousins. No hiding in a far corner for me: let's turn up on a galloping horse, with a swirl of dust and a hearty Heigh-ho Silver! (In so far as you ever see swirls of dust in damp and rainy South Wales, whose fickle climate had just made the Ryder Cup overrun) We got what seemed to be a couple of delighted waves. Hmmm. Promising. Reassuring.

P--- said she'd stay in the warm car for the present, so I got out on my own - sans hat, as nobody else was wearing one - and as elegantly as I could walked over to the throng. And it was all right. It was universally Hello Lucy and hugs. No comments, no remarks, no questions, and no explanations needed. I had only to chat, which I can do as well as anyone. My goodness I can chat. The voice held up.

Soon it was time for the service. I sat with P---.

My uncle L--- had not been religious, so this was a Humanist ceremony, just as at my Mum and Dad's funerals last year. So the focus was on the achievements and successes of the deceased individual. I was glad to hear all about my uncle's life. What a clever man he had been. He had lived a long time; he had died aged 98; and he had pursued his interests until a stroke six years previously, soon after losing his wife, my Auntie M---. That was the end of his full life, when the person he had shared it with for so long died before him. Were they now together again, somewhere? Who could say.

As ever, I was engaged but unmoved by the cremation ceremony until the final moments, when the last gestures of farewell are made, and that curtain slowly closes around the coffin. Then, as always, I feel the dreadfulness of what is happening, and feel a moment of despair, because after this there is nothing of the physical person. They may or may not have a soul, but shortly everything tangible about them will be totally consumed and gone forever. I won't say I ever really want to rush over and stop the curtains closing, but some inner urge to halt the final act has to be quelled. I always feel upset, even if it isn't my family. I don't know how that gets reconciled with my usual self-reliance and independence. I must be more brittle and affected by events than I think.

Before P--- and I left, we spoke to a cousin of mine and his wife, who I'd not seen for years. I hadn't recognised them. They were very pleasant. We arranged to see each other next time I was down in South Wales for a few days. We will. I keep such promises. They called me Lucy. I don't know how they knew my new name, because I hadn't told them. They weren't in the slightest bit embarrassed or awkward. Nobody I spoke to was.

Having dropped P--- at her home - I was returning later - I went off to The Three Salmons Hotel at Usk for the buffet lunch. What a decent spread that was! But I hardly ate any of it, and drank only one cup of coffee. I was too occupied talking, in particular with the younger (that is, forty-something) daughters, their mums (my contemporaries), and the three ladies from L---'s nursing home, who had looked after him in his final years. These ladies seemed to like speaking with me, even after I gave the game away with a slip as I explained who I was. Gushing as usual, I said that I'd been 'my uncle's nephew', which I then instantly corrected to 'but now his niece'. Whoops. But it didn't matter.

They all called me Lucy. Everybody did. And nobody looked at me oddly or warily. None of the three little kiddies there, playing hide and seek under tables, gave any sign that I was strange to them or sending out the wrong vibes. They just behaved like kids who had no cares in the world.

I didn't talk to the men. I smiled, and we were polite and friendly, but I had nothing to say, and felt no impulses to start a conversation. What did we have in common? Nothing. I just didn't feel part of their world any more. But not a failure for feeling like that. I was truly somewhere different. And accepted in that other place, even though still only half-formed, a neophyte.

I felt I had come through an important test. If I could cope with this, and emerge validated and relaxed, then surely there was no circumstance in which, as Lucy, I couldn't shine. I felt so good.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

A big coming-out looms!

It's just dawning on me that next Tuesday's funeral in South Wales is going to be a mass first-exposure of myself as Lucy to the wider family on my Mum's side. Roughly twenty-five people of all ages, all of them rather distant relatives, but of course still 'family' and entitled to a view on another family member's appearance and behaviour. Almost like coming out! Yikes!!

Only a very few will have heard that I am transitioning, and only my cousin R---, her son M---, and my aunt P---, have actually seen me before in girly gear. I may therefore cause a sensation. I've no idea what will be said and thought. I do hope I won't be regarded or referred to as the 'sex change cousin'. Or asked silly questions about my sexuality. Or in any way treated as an exotic freak. Surely nearly everyone will be really mature and cool and friendly and accepting. Won't they? Gulp.

I'm transport for Auntie P---, and we will at least arrive in great style in Fiona. And I'll be wearing a black Diane Von Furstenburg dress, wide black belt, black tights, black patent leather flats with an oval buckle, my pearls, a long charcoal grey Windsmoor coat with a very wide grey collar, all topped off with a little black porkpie hat with feathers and a veil, worn at a rakish angle and discreetly kept in place with a thin, unnoticeable elastic band. Plus of course the black Prada handbag. So I will at least be modishly and appropriately attired. Let 'em make of it what they will.

Another thought: after the cremation ceremony we adjourn to a buffet lunch at Usk. But not straight away for me: I'm first taking Auntie P--- home to Newport, and only then whizzing up to Usk. Which means that I must make a second grand entrance half an hour late, all on my own, and after all have digested and discussed their first shocked impressions. Eeek.

Well, they can't kill me, and at least I'll have been able to discard the silly hat and brush my hair. Let's hope I can join the gathering quietly, and that the small talk really is small and non-contraversial. It ought to be all about my deceased uncle, and not about me. But I can hardly expect to escape speculation and a barrage of questions and comment, of which the most positive might be at best 'Oh you're SO BRAVE, deciding to do this at your age!'. Oh well...

Did I mention that I've set up my first official pre-op consultation with Mr Philip Thomas on 19 October? I wonder if I should work that into the small talk...?

Friday, 1 October 2010

Rules of Eating Out for Girls On Their Own

What drives you out on a wild rainy night, just for a meal? I've thought about it. It's about being with people, even if no conversation takes place. Indeed, too much engagement might lead to denunciation as a mutant with three heads, eleven eyes and rotting flesh, a tranny anyway. And yet there is comfort in being amid a merry throng, even if you have to be discreet. I could have cooked in the caravan tonight. But I chose human company instead.

I'm now down in Suffolk, not far from Framlingham. Suffolk is a mostly well-off county but places to eat are less numerous than in Sussex for instance. There were, I knew, two decent curry houses in Woodbridge - the Royal Bengal and the Shapla - but I didn't fancy eating at a curry house without company. Some kinds of restaurant demand a companion, or better, several companions! So it would be a pub. I went to the local standby, the White Horse at Easton, but found it fully booked up with a function of some kind. So no table, although you could have a drink. I had one. A large glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. I was wet and determined to be cheerful, and not put off by the somewhat snooty plutocrats who had entered for their feast. No, the hoi oligoi of rural Suffolk weren't going to defeat me, even if I felt like a gatecrasher at a posh private party. I took my time over the wine, then left and tried the more plebian Chequers Inn at Kettleburgh. I was rewarded. It was warm and friendly with lively locals, normal human beings, and I could eat.

Nevertheless it was just a little surreal: the immense black howling gale outside, and a pub CD playing not Wagner but the Very Best of Adge Cutler and the Worzels. So this Gotterdammerung of an evening was played out to 'Oi am a Cider Drinkurr' while the wind roared, the rain lashed, doors blew open and slammed shut, the shutters clanked, and I elegantly scoffed lamb shank washed down by a double gin and tonic. By the time I was elegantly dipping into my ice cream they had switched the music to Dusty Springfield: 'You Don't Have To Say You Love Me'. I heartily approved.

The 'rules' of eating in public for Girls On Their Own are second nature to me now, and I suspect they are actually an aid to good digestion:
* Ensure hair and makeup look right. Repair the ravages of the tempest as soon as possible after arriving.
* Sit down gracefully.
* Don't dump the bag, coat and scarf in a tangled heap. Place the bag carefully, and lay out the coat and scarf as if made of gold brocade with sewn-in jewels.
* Sit up very straight.
* Make small, elegant movements; no grand, sweeping gestures.
* Maintain an expression of pensive, almost spiritual interest. Purse the lips from time to time.
* Use (or pretend to use) your mobile phone as much as you like. Remember: 'You're never alone with a phone' - although it helps to have some reception.
* Fill in time by making notes and replaying photos. Make faces to match, as if a dear friend were the subject. Appear to have a busy, fulfilling, utterly satisfying life.
* Be especially polite and friendly to the waiter or waitress, and be ready to chat to them. Have a credible and interesting reason for eating alone ('I buy art/take landscape photographs all over the country, and I generally have to travel by myself, so meals like this are really important to me...'), and expand it as needed.
* Use knife, fork and spoon as if trained at an expensive Swiss finishing school.
* Eat little morsels, slowly, as if really a top restauranteuse who has dropped in to test the cuisine.
* Don't rush at anything, even if it gets cold, or melts. Eat continuously only for three or four mouthfuls, then put down knife and fork and pause. Chew a lot. Sip the wine or water.
* Don't openly appraise people at adjoining tables. Observe them indirectly. Smile if there is any accidental eye contact with another woman.
* Don't smack lips, slaver, or hoot with delight.
* Sip your drink daintily. Don't toss it back.
* Keep knees together under the table, and don't cough, sneeze, yawn or emit wind.

There, easy to remember all that. All set for dinner at the Palace, I'd say. By the way, I wouldn't be seen dead in McDonalds or Burger King (no wine, no Worzles) but if forced to enjoy their hospitality I wouldn't deviate one bit from these rules.