Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Claire's Review Of 2014

Hello and welcome to Claire's Review Of 2014!
<cue lots of cheering. Shoot anyone looking sad or bemused>
In the next half hour (or however long it takes you to read it) I will reveal the awards for the most outstanding contributions to the last 12 months of my life!
<cue lots of cheering. Shoot anyone leaving their seats for any reason whatsoever - even if it's to go to the toilet>
But, first of all, I have to thank Mark Zuckerberg for inventing Facebook without which this review would not have been possible!
<shoot Mark Zuckerberg just because>
Then I have to thank all my friends who kept in touch with me, supported me and kept me sane.
<Put armed guard around my friends just in case anyone tries to get at them for keeping in touch with me, supporting me and keeping me sane>
So now, without further ado, lets start giving out the awards!
<Light fuse on bomb and retreat discreetly. Shoot anyone who follows you>

Album Of The Year - Angélique Kidjo's Eve

In the running were also Future Islands's Singles and Robert Plant's Lullaby And The Ceaseless Roar but Angélique Kidjo's album won out because it just made my jaw drop and my body jiggle - even though I don't understand a word of it!

Film Of The Year - 12 Years A Slave 

In the running were also Paddington and Pride but 12 Years A Slave won out because it was the only film that made me go vegan this year (it's all to do with slavery!). Sadly, my morals weren't up to much and I quit the vegan diet after only one month!

Walk Of The Year - Wirral Coastal Walk

In the running were also Europe's First Ever Trans Pride March and The Walk To Work Everyday but the Wirral Coastal Walk won out because, between myself and Pauline and the generosity of our friends and family, we raised approximately £500 for the British Lung Foundation which is just amazing!

Pride Of The Year - Trans Pride Brighton

In the running were also Manchester Pride, Liverpool Pride and Sparkle but Trans Pride Brighton was the clear runner because, unlike the others, it made me feel extremely proud to be part of it and, after all, Pride should make you feel proud, shouldn't it?

Most Ridiculous Personal Accusation Of The Year - 'Claire Is A White Supremacist'

Also in the running were 'Claire Is A Hero' and 'Claire Made My Birthday Party A Spectacle' but 'Claire Is A White Supremacist' won out because it had absolutely no basis in truth! To my mind, a white supremacist is a member of the BNP or Ku Klux Klan not someone who stands against them and other racist organisations like Britain First and UKIP. The accusation still bloody hurt though - largely because it was so unjustified!

Saddest Day Of The Year - 17th February 

Also in the running were 5th April and 3rd August but 17th February won out because I didn't see it coming. I expected to be upset on the anniversary of John's death (5th April) and our anniversary (3rd August) but not the anniversary of when John was taken into hospital for the last time (17th February). I managed to hold it together whilst at work but was in floods of tears by the time I got home. Next year I will be prepared.

Medicine Of The Year - Progynova

Also in the running were Decapeptyl and Co-Amoxiclav but Progynova won out because of the changes it brought about within me. It has been a much happier ride this time, (but, frankly, is it any wonder I found trying to cope with unemployment, hormones and a dying husband all at the same time a bit too much last time?!!), even if it has, in all likelihood, been the cause of me passing out twice this last year! And the boobs still have some room for improvement too but maybe that'll come with the increased dosage.  

Holiday Of The Year - Rhodes 

In the running were also Scotland (Glasgow, Glencoe, Edinburgh) and Brighton but Rhodes won out because it was exactly what I needed at the right time! My house was being redecorated, I was still shell-shocked by the Most Ridiculous Personal Accusation Of The Year and I just couldn't relax so thank fuck I saw sense and took myself away from it all to relax and chill out (in 84 degrees!) for a week! It meant confronting my fear of flying but it was totally worth it! 

Social Group Of The Year - Merseyside Non-Scene LGBT Social Group

Also in the running were the Wirral LGBT Friday Afternoon Drop-In and The Merseyside LGBT Book Group but the Merseyside Non-Scene LGBT Social Group won out because it introduced me to Steve who is a lovely, caring, man who also introduced me to several other groups in the area and I also got to meet lots of other lovely people in a relaxed, non-threatening, atmosphere. 

Workplace Of The Year - (Voluntary) Community Action Wirral

Also in the running were Intact and Tomorrow's Women but (Voluntary) Community Action Wirral was the clear winner because they paid me! No, really it's because I feel like the luckiest person on earth living within 10 minutes walking distance of my place of employment, working with the loveliest bunch of people I've ever worked with in the most satisfying job I've ever had! Every (working) day I get to feel valued and loved and come home knowing I've made a difference to the community! It's just awesome! 

Most Pivotal Moment Of The Year - Being Introduced To Clare Campbell

Clare Campbell is CEO of Big Love Sista. She is also a whirlwind of positivity and it is my utmost joy that I got sucked into that whirlwind this year! I was introduced to Clare by Tony Griffin at the Navajo awards and I was initially scared by her bubbliness (bubbly people make me wary) but she handed me a pack of Goddess cards and invited me to the next meeting of the women's circle groups she ran in Huyton. I went to the meeting and it was a very empowering experience but, for one reason or another, I didn't go to any other. Then I heard about the Big Love Sista Choir and I went along and it was such a joy. Then there was the Big Love Little Sista Festival that the choir performed at and that is probably the most awesome day of my life to date! And next year I'm gonna get to paint my own Goddess in one of Clare's painting courses! So I am absolutely delighted that I now know Clare Campbell! (Also in the running were Starting Volunteering At (V)CAW and Starting Aqua Zumba Lessons) 

Most Pivotal Decision Of The Year - Taking Courses In Mindfulness At Wirral Mind

The first half of the year was tough and by May I was heading rapidly down a spiral of self-loathing and depression. So thank fuck Tony and Julie Griffin encouraged me to look at the courses that Wirral Mind run! I chose three that were run by Graeme Waterfield and they all turned out, in one way or another, to be about Mindfulness. My life significantly improved after taking those courses - I finally accepted John's death and I managed to equip myself to cope with further attacks of depression so that when they hit, as they did in August and December, I was able to handle it and stop myself from descending down that spiral of self-loathing. And, when I think that I was able to ride through them in a matter of days rather than months or years, taking those courses is without doubt the best decision I've made all year if not, in fact, my life! (Also in the running were Reaching Out To Friends and Coming Out As Trans Again) 

Most Fun Of The Year - Big Love Sista Choir

Also in the running were Claire Day 4 and my birthday celebrations but the Big Love Sista Choir won out because every week I have the most fun with a bunch of amazing women even though I can't sing! Being part of the choir also lead to being involved with the Big Love Little Sista Festival and performing on stage and actually enjoying it! I've really missed it this Christmas break and I can't wait for it to start again! 

Most Generous Person Of The Year - Tony Griffin

Also in the running were Julie Griffin and Everyone Who Donated To My Wirral Coastal Walk but Tony Griffin won out because not only did he invite me to be a co-founder of the Merseyside & Cheshire Transgender Family Support Group, allow me to speak at Liverpool's Transgender Day Of Remembrance, invite me to the Navajo awards and credit me as a Navajo assessor (even though I hadn't done any assessments the preceding 12 months), introduce me to Clare Campbell, take me out to help me choose flowers for John's birthday, invite me to the most beautifully cooked roast dinners I've ever ate and lots of other things I've probably forgot (and some I haven't) but, most valuable of all, he invited me over for Christmas Day for the second year running (and sorted out a turkey dinner for Mia too!). So there really is no contest - Tony is my Most Generous Person Of The Year!

Person Of The Year - Julie Griffin

Also in the running were Tony Griffin and Clare Campbell but Julie won out because, well, she just does! There is no one like Julie! She has been a shoulder to cry on, she has been someone to ask for advice, she has been someone who made me laugh like no other, she is the person I feel the most at ease with and she doesn't take no crap from me neither! She is just the most awesome friend I could ever have hoped for and my world is infinitely brighter for having her in it! Thank you, Julie! xxx

Animal Of The Year - Mia

Also in the running were... well, nothing actually! Mia wins paws down! She has been my salvation! And also a cause for stress and tears! But that's what happens when you love someone (even if it is a cat!)! It's been mutual love at first sight - despite what she might tell you! So Mia wins the star - and one and only - prize of a handful of Dreamies! Well done, Mia! xxx

And thus concludes my Review Of 2014. If you're upset that you've been neglected in any way, take consolation in the fact that I've not put you on my ever growing list of People I Don't Ever Want To Meet Ever Again along with many others this year! And, if that doesn't do the trick, well maybe you'll have better luck next year!
Ta ta for now!

Claire xx

<After bomb has exploded, check for casualties and shoot any survivors>

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Truly, Honestly, Trans

Laura Jane Grace may not be a name familiar to you but she is lead singer of punk band, Against Me! and made headlines this year by coming out as Trans.
I admire her courage - it can't be easy for a lead singer of a punk band to confound expectation by revealing they are Trans. However, as I don't much like the music, I haven't paid much attention to her until my friend Chrissy posted a link to a documentary series Laura Jane Grace has made.
It's called True Trans and it's honest and truthful and I identified with great swathes of it! In short, it is the best series of documentaries I've seen about what it is to be Trans. You can view the documentary series here: True Trans
However, one glaring error Laura Jane Grace made was not to ask me for my opinion!! Thus I have rectified that below under the headings of the episode titles...

Growing Up
In all honesty, I don't remember much about my childhood. However, I don't really remember much about any period of my life at all - distressingly so where my life with John is concerned - (Is this normal? Do I need to see a doctor about this??) so not remembering my childhood is no different to any other period of my life! 
I certainly don't remember identifying as a girl. 
I remember certain things like going to nursery and wearing a lady's hat from the dressing-up box and being told off because 'boys don't do that kind of thing!'. I remember wanting to wear make-up and be pretty from a fairly young age and that materialised in asking to be a clown at a fancy dress party as I didn't have the guts to ask for what I really wanted! I remember tearing the head off my Action Man and swapping it for the head on my sister's Sindy doll on numerous occasions. As a teenager, I remember dreaming of the day when I would be able to live as a woman. When I was about 13, I remember catching an episode of an American chat show late at night called Donahue which was about, and finally gave me a word for, people like me - transvestites.
There was no internet in the 1980s and not even for most of the 1990s. So there was no way for me research or connect with others like me. So I felt very lonely. 
Looking back, the way I dealt with how I felt was to hide who I was and shut out the rest of the world for fear they look too closely and recognise the freak I believed I was. So not only did I feel lonely, I made myself lonely as well. 
I was miserable and it showed. I was regularly told to "cheer up, it may never happen". The truth was it had already happened the day I was born and labelled a boy.

Gender Dysphoria
As I said above, I never identified as a girl but I was unhappy with my gender. I hated the straightjacket I wore as a bloke. I wanted the freedom to be a girl! 
But, as much as I hated it, I recognised that I was a bloke and that was that. I certainly didn't want to be labelled as one of those freaks they called "Transsexuals"! So I felt ashamed of my crossdressing and feelings and suppressed my desires because 'boys don't do that kind of thing!' and it did me great psychological damage and, yes, I considered suicide several times such was my unhappiness.
At times my life felt like a see-saw that I had no real control of. I was happy when I crossdressed and then I would go a few months without wanting to do it again and then the desire would come back as strong as ever. I wanted to live a life without all these highs and lows and trying to live as a bloke wasn't bringing it me. In fact, it got to a point where I seemed to have no control over my gender dysphoria at all and in 2009, coming home from work in tears one day - a day I had spent feeling like I wanted to tear my skin off! (not the first and not the last) - I finally decided I had to confront my fear of living as a woman.

Finding Trans
As mentioned above, I discovered the word "transvestite" and people like me on an American chat show in the 1980s. Sadly, that chat show was typically transphobic and presented these transvestites as freaks. So I grew up believing I was one. (Transvestite = Freak. I = Transvestite, thus I = Freak)
Whilst I lived at home, I discovered stories about Transsexuals in the magazines and newspapers my parents read. Sadly, these were also typically transphobic. 
It wasn't until I started looking online - a good 10-20 years later - that I began to learn that I wasn't a freak. 
The best website I found was called UK Angels - a good many of my friends now were made via the site - and I was inspired and encouraged to stop hiding and start living as the Trans person I am.
Honourable mention must go to Emma Walkey at this point. If not for seeing her photos of wandering around Cheshire Oaks, I might never have had the guts to do the same myself and discover that the public didn't want to lynch me but treated me much the same as anyone else.
It also had to be the internet that I learned about a Trans swimming group and met Alexandra and Sam who told me about TREC (Trans Resource & Educational Centre) in Manchester, as I can't think where else I would've learned about it. At my first meeting at TREC I was accosted by this lunatic called Jayne and dragged kicking and screaming to a Japanese restaurant/takeaway called Samsi and we have been firm friends ever since. Without her I may never have been persuaded to go to Transforum - a social/support group for those 'investigating their gender' - and learned that Transsexuals weren't freaks. They were real, live, breathing people with fears and ambitions much the same as mine. Without Jayne, I may never have been persuaded to go to InTrust either, meet Tony and from there find my way to living in the Wirral. Without Jayne in my life, my life would almost certainly not be the life I am living now. The cow!!

Not Alone
This episode of True Trans deals with suicide. The fact is that far too many Trans people feel they are without a friend in the world, that life is not worth living, that suicide is the only way out. I was one of them. 
I was, and made myself, lonely. It was how I tried to cope with who I was. Because I was lonely I was miserable. Because I was miserable I considered suicide. Because I kept on living a miserable life, I kept on considering suicide. 
The earliest attempt was when I was approximately 14. The last attempt (because of my gender dysphoria) was when I was 37. Then I transitioned and my gender dysphoria has not driven me to the edge of suicide since.
But, of course, it wasn't quite as easy as all that. I had to change from someone who believed they were a freak and that living as a woman meant a life of misery to someone who accepted that I wasn't a freak and that living as a woman was my best shot at happiness.
That journey to self-acceptance started with looking in the mirror one day when I was crossdressed and recognising that was a truer reflection of who I was than when I was dressed as a man. I was terrified! So, of course, I buried it but I could not deny the truth and it pecked away at me day and night until I was forced to confront and accept it and only then was I prepared to do something about it. 
If only Trans people like myself weren't fed this constant myth that being Trans is shameful and/or an abomination then surely the suicide rate of Trans people would plummet!
I don't believe we want to die. We just don't want to live a miserable existence.

Coming Out
I came out as a transvestite in 1999 - the same year I came out as bisexual (then, a little later on, gay). I told my best friend, Lyn, and she was really excited for me which was rather odd! It was definitely not the reaction I was expecting! We went on shopping trips together, and I got advice and support from her on how to perfect my look. She was the first person ever to do my make-up. I loved that time of my life. Then she moved to Australia and I never heard from her again.
Because of her I was confident enough to be out about my crossdressing online and so John knew about my crossdressing before we ever met. He didn't seem to mind me being a transvestite and even encouraged and supported me.
Then maybe about 2006 I told my parents in an email that I was Trans. John asked me if I was sure I was ready to tell them and I replied that I would probably never be ready but now was the time to tell them anyway. 
My parents replied that I told them I liked to wear make-up when I came out to them as bisexual - thereby showing they didn't understand the difference between crossdressing and being Trans (they're not unique in this by any means!) - and that 'it didn't matter what I did, I would always be their child' which was rather lovely of them.
Then a few years after that I had to tell them and John that I wasn't a transvestite as previously thought but a transsexual. 
John's reply was that he'd been expecting it and may have to 'reconsider things' which worried me greatly. I don't recall what my parents reply was other than for a while my dad didn't seem to be able to decide whether I was a "him" or a "her" so settled on "it". Even now they still sometimes get the pronouns wrong and it still hurts every single time. 
Then in 2010 I had to tell my workmates I was transitioning. They responded much more positively to it than I expected. There were awkward moments and one fuckwit told me to my face that he preferred me before I transitioned. I replied I didn't care who he preferred, I'd transitioned and that was it so he'd better just get used to it!
However, coming out is a continual process. This year alone I've come out twice - to the women's choir I'm a member of and to my workmates. Their response was as affirming as I could ever have hoped for and I feel empowered by their love!

I started to transition in 2009. It started with a visit to my GP, then a visit to a local psychologist who pronounced me gender dysphoric (even though he had no remit to do so), then appointments at Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic in London where, after three appointments 6 months apart, I finally got officially diagnosed as perfectly sane but gender dysphoric. 
In May 2012 I got prescribed hormones and 3 months later I stopped taking them as my head was doing cartwheels. So, in November 2012, I asked Charing Cross to remove me as a patient. 
Looking back, dealing with transition, hormones, and my husband dying all together at once was just too much to handle. 
Then in April of last year, 2 days before his 65th birthday, John died and a month later I decided to find my way back into the system. As a result, I ended up as a patient of both Leeds' and Charing Cross's Gender Identity Clinics! Perhaps uniquely so??
As it turned out, Charing Cross saw me before Leeds and I re-entered the "Gender Reassignment Pathway" at the tail end of 2013 and started hormones again in January 2014. 
So far, the emotional turmoil that occurred the first time around has not re-occurred the second time around and I have no intention of quitting the pathway this time either despite the fact I have to have an injection in my bottom every three months! 
However, being on both Leeds' and Charing Cross's books, I did have to tell Leeds to remove me. So perhaps, again, I'm unique in having now told two Gender Identity Clinics to remove me as a patient!

To be openly Trans you have to have resilience. No one thinks that what they really need in their lives is to be perceived as a lunatic and get called names in the street! They certainly don't wish to join a group of people who statistically have higher levels of unemployment, homelessness and poverty than almost any other! Nor do they wish to join a group of people who are killed in their hundreds year after year!
Yet, if you are Trans, this is the reality of our lives. 
I have gone to job interviews and had people roll their eyes at me as soon as they saw me. In those same interviews I've had people openly state that they could not employ me for fear of what the rest of their staff would think of it - despite such discrimination being against the law!
I have had people shout at me in the street and some of my friends have been beaten up and worse. One lady I used to socialise with ended up dead in the Leeds to Manchester Canal.
The truth is all too apparent - society doesn't want us amongst their number. Which is why so many of us exist outside of society. And why I am always nervous when I decide the time has come to out myself as Trans. I can never be confident that the response will be as I want.

Undoubtedly my relationships with people have changed since I transitioned. My parents have had to get used to the fact that I am now their daughter and my brother has had to get used to the fact that I am now his sister. It can't be easy. In fact my brother has said as much. But they've been a lot better than many families of Trans people for the mere fact that they still want me in their family.
My relationship with my husband also changed. For one, he had to get his head around his sexual identity. For a man who didn't feel confident to come out as gay until he was in his 50s this can't have been easy! All that hurt and turmoil of living in the closet and for what? To end up having to question whether he really was gay after all?!! So it is to his total credit that whatever he went through, he never took out on me. As far as I'm concerned, he seemed to take my transition in his stride. So it is a great tragedy that he was dying just as I was beginning to really live. It feels like our relationship was cut down just as it was beginning to take off.
As for the rest of the world, I feel my relationships have become much richer now that I am able to be myself. Unlike all those years when I didn't want people to get too close for fear of what they'd discover, now I relish close relationships with people. Despite being a widow, I am happier than I've ever been and laugh more than I ever have. I'm glad I hung on through all those years of misery to experience this. Life really did get better.

Since I have no kids, I have no idea what it's like to be a parent. However, I am mummy to my cat, Mia, who doesn't care whether I am Trans or not! 
Similarly, it's my belief that kids don't mind whether people are Trans either - unless they're taught to mind!
So parents ought to be more mindful that who they pass judgement on might be just like their own kids. 
It cannot be good for a kid's self-esteem to learn their parent(s) doesn't like people who are just like them! 
So the best thing is surely not to pass judgement on people and, instead, appreciate them for who they are.

I believe seeking acceptance can be a curse. After all, it was my craving of acceptance that forced me to live as a male for 37 years. 
Thus I believe, whilst there is nothing wrong in wanting acceptance - it's infinitely preferable to being rejected! - we should not make it a condition of our relationships with people.
I try not to restrict myself to what I believe will be acceptable to others and nor do I demand that others accept who I am or what I do. I would much rather have honesty than acceptance.
But I do have standards! Thus, self-acceptance is a condition of my relationship with myself. After all, if I don't accept who I am and what I do, just what is the bloody point?!! 
That is why I transitioned - because I could no longer live with myself - and, since I transitioned, my acceptance of who I am has grown and grown; which also seems to have had a knock on effect in that I find more and more people appreciating and accepting who I am.
I now live in a world of mutual inspiration - I'm inspired by others and I'm told I inspire them too - and that can only be a good thing.

So there we have it and my conclusion is that honesty and truthfulness is nearly always the best policy. It is what I appreciate most about the True Trans documentaries and it is certainly what I aim to be in my life. 
It means I sometimes find myself surrounded by a wall of criticism and that is indeed stressful but I would far rather be hated for being truthful than be loved for being a liar.