That Was The Year That Was

That Was The Year That Was

I’m sitting here on this, the last day of 2015, reflecting on my experiences over the past twelve months. It’s been a year of ups and downs but I feel I’m moving into the New Year from a good place.

This was the first full year I lived 100% as myself, Alexandra. I’ve found a self-confidence I didn’t know I was capable of: when I first transitioned I was anxious about being seen in public but now, thanks to a lack of negative reactions from people I’ve encountered, I find I feel relaxed and able to simply be myself.

This was also the year I met in person one of the many friends I’ve made online, the lovely Sonia Boué. After exchanging comments on our respective blogs and communicating via Facebook it was such a pleasure to finally meet at an art exhibition and spend time together.

On the work front things weren’t so good for a while: the company I’d worked at for over eight years replaced their CEO and merged with another company, which affected the structure of the department I worked in as well as the ambiance of the place. I no longer felt comfortable or happy there and when a chance to move on presented itself I took it.

I didn’t get hung up on the possibility of encountering difficulties trying to get hired as a trans woman: I just went in there and interviewed, and had the luxury of being able to choose between offers. Three months later I’m confident I made the right choice: I’ve managed to make some friends in my new workplace and I’m building a social side to my work life.

My wife Anne’s mobility has declined to the point where she now needs a wheelchair when we go out. I’ve become quite skilled at pushing it: I rarely collide with things any more, as well as learning how to spot and negotiate the bumps that would otherwise jar the chair and cause her discomfort. She doesn’t like these restrictions on her independence, but at least the chair means she’s not totally house-bound.

Within the last couple of weeks I received the unwelcome news that my father was seriously ill and in a care home; two days before I had arranged to visit him I was informed that he had been taken into hospital, requiring treatment. I’d not seen him for six years, since my mother’s funeral, and had hardly spoken to him in that time.

He didn’t know about my transition and it took a while before he realized who had come to visit him. He did keep calling me by my old name, but I let it go: in that place and at that time it wasn’t important. I only spent an hour and a half with him before I had to leave for the four hour drive home, but it was good to see him again. The change in him over the course of my visit was gratifying: having started out quiet and listless, by the time I left he was talking in quite an animated way and seemed to be much more positive and happy. It was a good experience for both of us.

As rewarding as the reconnection was with my father, it doesn’t compare with the real high point of my year. That number one spot goes to my daughter, Char, who got in touch with me this summer. Since then we’ve been getting to know each other after such a long separation and we’re getting along well, becoming good friends. We had a fantastic day out together yesterday that the blustery weather couldn’t dampen.

I could dwell on all the time I missed while she was growing up into the young woman I’m getting to know now, but that would be pointless: it’s over and in the past. What’s important is that she’s given me this second chance and I can’t express how much that means to me.

So all that remains is to wish you all a very Happy New Year, and I hope that 2016 will be equally memorable for all the right reasons. Thank you!

A Day In The Life

A Day In The Life

It’s a miracle I ever find time to write. Between corrupting the young and working towards the downfall of civilization you’d think I’d never have even a couple of minutes to freshen my lipstick. Ah, the trials and tribulations of being a trans woman.

I’m kind of sorry to admit that the truth is a little less interesting. I get up in the morning, brush my teeth, take my meds and eat breakfast before showering. Then I shave the hated stubble from my face, dress in work-appropriate clothes, make a cup of tea and breakfast for my wife.

Once that’s done I can make up my face, tidy my hair and head off to work. Doesn’t sound much, but I can usually stretch it out beyond an hour and a half. By the time I get to work it’s 8:30. Straight in front of the keyboard to check the results of overnight tests and catch up on emails, and then 8 hours of miscellaneous software development.

I’ll admit I do pop off from time to time for a little chat with the girls and an occasional smoke (I’ll have to be giving that up before they’ll sign off on my HRT). Oh, and I do visit the bathroom now and then. I’ve even been known to get a drink of water or eat lunch!

Before I know it it’s nearly 5 and time to drive home. Maybe I’ll call in at a local store for some groceries, or maybe I’ll head straight home. Once in the door it’s time to change into my PJs and take off the makeup. I cook dinner for the two of us. OK, that’s an exaggeration: I usually just pop something in the microwave because I can’t be bothered!

I spend a bit of time with my wife, a bit of time online, and a bit of time watching my current series on Netflix (it’s Luther at the moment; before that was Jessica Jones) and all too soon it’s 10pm and time for bed where we read for a while before lights out.

Yup, that’s my life (and I enjoy the comfortable, regular routine of it). Now I don’t have intimate knowledge of what other trans women get up to in the privacy of their homes but I’d be willing to put money on it being as utterly normal as my own life.

You see, that’s the shocking truth of it: trans people are not any different from other folk. I sometimes (when I get a spare few minutes) wonder what some people imagine we get up to: what I’ve heard of their fantasies seems to suggest we’re some kind of sexual equivalent of Olympic athletes, but with S&M gear and a fixation on teasing straight men.

Well, I’m not averse to a bit of bondage myself but I’m a happily married woman with no desire to seek out any other sexual partner. And if I’d wanted a relationship with a man that’s what I’d have looked for (and hopefully found). As for teasing, I wouldn’t know flirting if I tripped over it on the sidewalk.

Oh, yes, I do sometimes wear a short skirt and knee-high leather boots. Why? Because I like it. There’s a certain confidence and power that comes from dressing in a way that can draw attention, that emphasizes particular attributes of my body. It makes me feel good about myself, which as far as I’m concerned is a damn good reason for doing it. I honestly don’t care what anybody else thinks of it!

When I was still pretending to be male I wore all black, nondescript shirt and jeans, trying not to be noticed. I didn’t think much of myself back then. Maybe I’m compensating for that now, but the way I see it is that at over 6 ft in heels I’m going to stand out regardless so I might as well feel comfortable and confident doing it.

The thing is, as I wrote in the past, I used to feel I was hiding behind a mask. That what people saw wasn’t the real me. I’m not hiding these days: what you see is pretty much the image of myself I carry in my mind. I never realized the strength and confidence I’d feel once I settled into presenting authentically.

It’s not that I don’t feel the same anxiety I always did when around other people. It’s that I am able to handle that anxiety because I’ve not got some secret I’m trying to maintain. I’m free to be myself, and I’m having a whale of a time!

Three Day Quote Challenge – Day 3

Three Day Quote Challenge – Day 3

Only a day late for the third and final part after being nominated for this challenge by FeministAspie.

The rules of the challenge are as follows:

  • Thank the blogger who nominated you.
  • Publish a quote on 3 consecutive days on your blog. The quote can be one of your own, from a book, movie, or from anyone who inspires you.
  • Nominate 3 more bloggers each day to carry on this endeavor.

“Love is a small word, but allow yourself to be consumed by the sensation and the world becomes a place of infinite possibility.” — Emma Zurcher-Long, I Am Emma – Emma’s Hope Book

This is a beautiful quote, and I feel the choice of words perfectly sums up the feeling. Love absolutely is consuming. Like fire it appears alive in the way it possesses you, drives you. It’s no accident that people write of “burning love”, calling it “all-consuming”.

What begins as a spark can quickly grow, rising beyond control to take you over. It colors everything you see or hear, forces its beat onto the rhythms of your life. There is immense power in love.

Harnessing that power, riding it, you find that it carries you far beyond what you ever thought possible. It creates opportunity, opens doors, keeps you moving forward even in the face of seemingly-insurmountable obstacles.

Learning to love yourself gives confidence; it gives you strength to push and expand your limits. It lets you view failures along the way as temporary setbacks rather than calamities, and takes the sting from what would otherwise be hurtful remarks from other people.

Love grows from sharing. Showing love to others lifts them and you both. Your own love gains strength, multiplying exponentially with each touch.

Three Day Quote Challenge – Day 2

Three Day Quote Challenge – Day 2

This is my second post after being nominated for this challenge by FeministAspie. Two down, and just one to go.

The rules of the challenge are as follows:

  • Thank the blogger who nominated you.
  • Publish a quote on 3 consecutive days on your blog. The quote can be one of your own, from a book, movie, or from anyone who inspires you.
  • Nominate 3 more bloggers each day to carry on this endeavor.

Today’s quote is from an article by the engineer Lynn Conway, one of my personal role models:

“If you want to change the future, start living as if you’re already there.” ― Lynn Conway, The Many Shades of ‘Out’ – Huffington Post

Lynn Conway has the distinction of twice having directly affected my life for the better. First, she laid much of the groundwork for the development of modern silicon chips through her work in the 70’s at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. It’s no exaggeration to say that without her pioneering work in this field we would not have the wealth of powerful, affordable computing devices that are so ubiquitous in today’s world, and I would not discovered the love of software development that has formed my chosen career.

Second, and in some ways even more important to me than her work in electronic engineering, is that like me she is transgender. She was the first trans woman I read about to whom I could relate, with her strong engineering background and the respect she earned has in her field (she was elected a Fellow of the IEEE and a Member of the National Academy of Engineering). Reading her story gave me confidence that I could be accepted and successful as a woman in a male-dominated, technical industry.

When I came out and started my transition I had a lot of fears about being rejected by those around me, about losing my job, home, security. But I realized, thanks to her story, that if it came down to it I could start over and build a new life for myself. I’m good at what I do: the opportunities would present themselves in time.

If I wanted a better future for myself it was clear that I had to burn those bridges, step off that well-worn path and strike out in my own direction. I had to start living my honest, authentic life and trust that eventually others would see me as I see myself.

It is in large part due to the decades of advocacy work by Lynn and many others that more and more trans people today are able to be open about their situation and not face almost universal prejudice and hatred. While we’re not there yet and many trans people still suffer harassment, discrimination and violence, there have been concrete steps toward legal recognition and protection in many jurisdictions as well as much greater awareness and acceptance among people at large.

Three Day Quote Challenge – Day 1

Three Day Quote Challenge – Day 1

I was nominated for this challenge by a blogger who I love to read because she has a definite knack for getting to the heart of issues and writes with a heartfelt passion about her subjects: FeministAspie.

The rules of the challenge are as follows:

  • Thank the blogger who nominated you.
  • Publish a quote on 3 consecutive days on your blog. The quote can be one of your own, from a book, movie, or from anyone who inspires you.
  • Nominate 3 more bloggers each day to carry on this endeavor.

So, without further ado, here is my first quote.

“Sometimes you wake up. Sometimes the fall kills you. And sometimes, when you fall, you fly.”
Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, Vol. 6: Fables and Reflections

It’s something I read last month (I’ve recently read the whole Sandman series of graphic novels) and it struck a chord with me. You see, recently I left my job, accepting the offer they had made me (I can’t discuss details: that’s part of the contract). After eight and a half years it felt rather like stepping off a cliff: here I am, not knowing where I’ll end up, walking away from what had been a comfortable existence.

But the thing is, I wasn’t happy with where I was and it took such as drastic step for me to realize it. I’d stepped off the cliff and suddenly there I was, falling. It’s funny, but I made this image a couple of years ago (just before I transitioned):


I’d been visiting friends in West Bay (where much of Broadchurch was filmed: this is the iconic cliff seen from the opposite angle), and I was in a really bad place, mentally. But I guess the caption I added was appropriate to my optimistic nature, “Sometimes when you jump off the cliff you find you can fly.”

So that’s why I felt the connection to Neil Gaiman’s words in Sandman. I don’t know if I ever woke up but I can tell you that I have learned to fly.

I’m here, now, as the person I always felt myself to be inside. So many things have happened recently. I lost my mother 6 years ago today. I found out from my brother today that my father is in a care home with terminal cancer. And yet I am in a good place mentally. I feel good about myself, and isn’t that the finest tribute I could make for my parents? That they raised someone who has found the strength to be true to herself.

I’m going to visit my father next week (thanks to those of you who commented a few weeks ago when I wrote about him being taken into hospital and my subsequent feelings). My daughter is accompanying me, which is a help: he doesn’t know yet about my transition and it will be a comfort to me to have someone with me.All these negatives might have brought me down, but the truth is that after so many years of hiding and denying my true self nothing can overcome my new-found confidence and feeling of self-worth. These days I face the world as the person I see inside, and the way that people accept me as myself makes me feel so happy. I truly have learned to fly.

Rewriting History

Rewriting History

“You were never much of a man.” Anne has said this to me several times since I transitioned; I know exactly what she means and love to hear it. From puberty onwards when I started to become aware of gender I didn’t identify with any of the male role models around me.

I couldn’t put a name to how I felt; I saw part of a documentary (back in the 1980’s) which I couldn’t tell you the title of. It was about a middle-aged trans woman but her circumstances were so far removed from my own that I failed to see any connection to my own life.

So all I had were people treating me as male. My mum bought me boys’ clothes, I attended an all boys school from age 11 to 16, I played rugby. Any comments on how I looked or acted were male-oriented, either praising my conformance to the stereotypes or criticizing me when my act was unconvincing.

In my teens when I was considered old enough to be left at home alone I would decline to accompany the rest of the family to rugby matches. Instead I’d wait for them to leave and then raid my mother’s closet, dressing in her clothes for an hour or so. I’d look at myself in the mirror and feel so happy seeing a girl reflected there. I used to dream that I could travel Alice-like through the looking glass, become that mirror-girl.

I hated my male genitalia. I’d dream of cutting them off but was always too afraid of the pain and risk of death to attempt it. I always avoided showering after games at school because I couldn’t even bear the thought of anybody else seeing those parts I hated so much.

It’s easy to look back from where I am now and wish I’d said something then, started my transition before my voice dropped and my hair started to grow out on my face, recede at my forehead and become thin on top. But I didn’t have the concepts back then to even begin to explain, and I’d have been terrified at the thought of trying to explain to my parents (who probably knew even less about such things than I did).

Obviously I can’t change what happened: the events of the past are immutable. But what I can change is how I speak about my past. I’ve completely stopped using male-specific terms to refer to myself at earlier stages of my life. I was a child, not a boy; I was in my 20s, then my 30s. It’s straightforward in the present: I’m a woman and that’s that.

In my own mind I consider myself to have always been female. I don’t consider that I was socialized as male: being autistic I never felt that I fitted in anyway and didn’t form many relationships with my peers. I was always happier when left to my own devices with a stack of books, box of Lego and my computer. I didn’t participate in playground games with either boys or girls; instead I’d be reading, building trains and space ships, or writing programs.

I don’t consider my gender to be defined at all by my interests; rather it is an aspect of my identity. I simply know it as a fact of my existence, exactly the same as most other people. My mind informs my reality. That’s the reason it doesn’t feel right to talk about myself ever having been a boy or a man. I’m a woman whose body turned out wrong. One small error led to the development of male characteristics and I need medical treatment to correct it.

I tried. I tried hard for years to live up to the expectations of those around me who saw me as male. But it felt false. It was a charade, never feeling natural. I was wearing a mask, playing a part. Pretending to be what everybody else thought I was. No more. I’m through with denying who I know myself to be inside.

The new job helps a lot. Nobody there knew me pre-transition so they all just treat me as who I am. There’s no reservation in behaving the same way towards me as towards any other woman in the office: it feels very natural and comfortable. I feel accepted as myself. It might be hard for somebody who’s not trans to fully appreciate the importance of this, how validating it is to know that I’m around other people who see me as I do myself.