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Bad Blood

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I am proud to be a blood donor. Every three months, I walk to my local donation session and pump out a bag of the red stuff as quickly as I can. No, seriously. I try and beat my best time.

The NHS relies on 6000 blood transfusions a day to help treat cancer and sickle-cell, during surgery and after childbirth. So, I’m really proud to be a part of it. I’m on team A negative, who when I last checked had the highest blood stocks (because we’re awesome). That means my blood can be used to treat people with A positive, A negative, AB positive and AB negative typing.

In fact, I would urge you, if you can, to give blood. The NHSBTS hands out all sorts of freebies for giving blood, and you get video-game-style achievements for hitting certain targets. That’s a reward system I can get behind.

However, as of late I’ve been trying to change my details from female to male. Which puts me in a rather difficult situation.

Men who have had oral or anal sex with men in the last 12 months, with or without protection, are banned from giving blood.

I am in a committed, monogamous relationship with a man. We use condoms, gloves, and dams. My last HIV test was less than a month ago. In short, we practice some of the safest sex you’ll see outside convents.

Meanwhile, I had a friend who went three sexual partners without getting any kind of STD check, and had unprotected oral sex with at least two of them.

Her blood is fine and dandy. Mine is a biohazard.

I understand the theory. Statistically speaking, men who have sex with men are at higher risk of blood-borne STDs, and sometimes these can take a while to become detectable. However, in 2013 in the UK, less than 50% of new HIV infections in the UK were due to men having sex with other men.

The majority of those other cases? 36% were heterosexuals who contracted HIV from having sex with other heterosexuals.

In fact, I’m going to break down the numbers.

Year MSM Straights Drug users Mother-to-infant Other
2013 2947 (49.1%) 2135 (35.6%) 112 (1.9%) 83 (1.4%) 16 (0.3%)
2012 3037 (48.6%) 2569 (44.1%) 113 (1.8%) 77 (1.2%) 18 (0.3%)
2011 2839 (46.0%) 2815 (45.6%) 131 (2.1%) 105 (1.7%) 11 (0.2%)

You can prove anything you like with statistics. In fact, I chose these three years without looking at the data because I didn’t want to skew it. However, if intravenous drug users, who make up around about 2% of new HIV cases, are banned from giving blood for life, why on earth are straight people who have sex allowed?

I’m not arguing about IV drug users though. I’m arguing about responsible men who just happen to have sex with other men. My point is that although people pretend the blood ban is all about statistics, it actually doesn’t make a lot of sense when you look at them.

In fact, oral sex (which I am not allowed to give blood after having) has a lower rate of transmitting HIV and Hep B than penis-in-vagina sex (which I can do with a different person every night unprotected and still be good to go).

Men who have sex with men do have disproportionately high rates of blood-borne STDs, it’s true. But you know what would help with that? Regular screening and interaction with healthcare services. Two things you get by becoming a blood donor.

Tim Farron, leader of the Lib Dems, has proposed the Blood Donor (Equality) Bill which is currently making its way through Parliament. However, until it does, I, and thousands of others, have been put in a difficult position: stop giving blood, or give up the good stuff.

https://ratrust.org.uk/me-and-hiv/hiv-statistics?gclid=Cj0KEQiAuqC2BRDVxMSnpa-mhZoBEiQAFta8wabfCJfhuoVsuevWht0SKsjb5xEPIF2Gs1jvyr3Kbu8aApRc8P8HAQ#homosexual

http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2015-16/blooddonorequality.html

Best Laid Plans and Car Doors

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On the 5th January, I made a minor miscalculation whilst getting into the car, and smacked my head. What followed was a night in A&E and three months of panic attacks, dizziness and vomiting. My memory was so poor, I lost all concept of how much time had passed. Left on my own for more than a few hours I would become incredibly lonely and frightened.

Post-it notes littered the walls of my flat. One above the kettle to remind me to put water in before I boiled it. One by my bed so that when I woke up in the morning I would remember why I was in pain. By the front door: “Phone, wallet, keys.”

I went out wearing odd shoes. I regularly forgot the code for my building. I went out for lunch and had to call a friend to take me home because I couldn’t walk.

Now, I’m all but better. I’m not anxious, I’m not confused, I just get a little dizzy from time to time. Brilliant.

What a shame my life isn’t where I left it.

Three months ago I was ready to resume teacher training. Now I’ve missed an entire term. Nobody from the university is responding to my emails. I’ve missed the deadline for filing my taxes. I have no job, no sick note, no clue.

Three months ago, I was overworked, overtired and under-appreciated, which is why a double concussion turned into a mess. But at least I had a plan.

Now what?

Social Media and Staying Apolitical

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Like many people, I use social media as a tool. It keeps me connected with those of a similar background, but also provides me with a platform to promote my work. So, how can I avoid alienating my readership while not making it seem like I’m ignoring the world around me?

The obvious solution, of course, is to take a line that everyone agrees on. We’re all reasonable people here, so we all believe in the same things. One side to every story. No grey area. Lovely.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the world doesn’t work like that. The world is full of contentious issues where 55% of people believe one thing and 45% believe the exact opposite. For me, those are numbers I don’t want to be playing with.

In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s quite a messy situation somewhere in the Middle East. That bit next to Egypt. Yes. I know, I put it lightly.

In my personal life, I have an opinion on this matter. In my personal life, if I come up against someone with a view that I find troubling, I speak. Or rather, I should say- in my personal life, I have come up against people with troubling views, and I have spoken. I am proud of this.

Which makes it all the harder to remain impartial publicly.

It is very easy to assume, that just because my view is not “extreme”, it will not be taken as such. I have seen friends and strangers make similar mistakes.

One man assumes that, because he browses social media at work, regardless of the intention, he should not have to scroll past distressing images of the conflict. He is an educated man who has taken the time to research the conflict for himself, knows what is gong on, and worries that his coworkers may be distressed or angered to find him looking through such images.

So, he makes an open request, on social media, for the sharing of such images to end.

This is read by another man. He is also troubled by these images. Their content is shocking, certainly, but what makes him more concerned is that he has not seen such images in mainstream media. He feels like people are being blinkered against the realities of the conflict, and the suffering caused by it.

He is as rightfully indignant as the first man was rightfully troubled.

By remaining impartial, I feel guilty. I have an audience. Not a substantial one, but a noticeable one. I have a chance to share my opinion, which, because it is my opinion, I believe to be the best opinion a person could have.

In my mind, the more people who think like me, the greater the chance for the conflict to come to the correct conclusion. My political mind thinks that, by not speaking up, I am wasting the chance to use my platform for good.

It would be social media suicide. All it would take is one slip of the keyboard, and I would be branded an extremist, dragged into a comments-battle until all credibility was stripped from me as my words were twisted my indignant strangers.

I must be content to remain apolitical in public. Yes, it’s cowardly, yes, it’s cynical. But I don’t have the luxury of being otherwise.

However, in private, I know who I am. Ask me on the street, and I will say proudly. Ask me on here, and I will say nothing.

Out of my Comfort Zone

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So, this Saturday, I was bored. So, I decided to completely run against my instincts and do something I would never ordinarily do.

You might assume, me being trans, that I’m some sort of super-sexually empowered person who is gender-blind, totally up on being politically correct and can tell a person to check their privilege at fifty paces.

Not so.

As a teenager, I hated being bisexual because it left me in a position of uncertainty. If being gay was a choice, I’d have bloody well heard about it. I was brought up fairly conservatively, so you should have seen the stick I gave myself for being “between genders”.

If I hadn’t lived it, I wouldn’t have believed it existed.

So, deciding, on impulse, to spend the afternoon with a group of strangers who enjoy BDSM was not exactly in-character, I mean, I enjoy cricket and tea and books and knitting. BDSM definitely doesn’t enter into it.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t realise it was excellent writing fodder. The most boring man in the world suddenly wakes up one morning and decides to have a couple of pints with some kink enthusiasts. I still can’t quite believe I did it.

If you’d met me, you wouldn’t believe it either.

I can’t see this particular episode making its way into my current novel, but I have it. That particular life experience is checked off, in the bank, mine to exploit as I wish. But you know what else? I had fun.

Me. In a bar full of strangers who had mostly seen each other naked, and asked me such questions as whether I was interested in tying knots or being tied. I had an amazing time.

So. Do something on impulse. Say “yes” to life. I mean, I spent the first fifteen minutes of the meet hiding in the lavs, but I eventually found my balls, and actually said “Hello” like I’m the sort of person who walks up to random people and says “Hello”.

I’m not getting much writing done. But I’m confident that I will, now.

A Bad Writing Day

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Sometimes everything I write is awful, and the mere act of writing it is like trying to swim through custard.

I had such a good writing day yesterday, and it’s so irritating to follow it up with such a feebl effort, but it’s the way these things go. This is why I can’t afford to stop writing on the good days just because I’ve hit my word count.

Days off are Good

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View in Sackville Gardens

My view from a bench in Sackville Gardens, where I spent my day off

Although all work and no play makes for finishing my first draft sooner, I am not one to ignore the full richness of life for the sake of my word count. Despite that, it now stands at a noble 5800, a whole 3800 ahead of schedule. This is me, patting myself on the back.

Hooray for me. However, this is a long post, so strap yourselves in or get lost.

Anyway, in order to stop myself becoming a dull boy (/man/woman/whatever), I have scheduled a day off a week, which I may or may not take. So, this week, I have been eating a thoroughly excellent bean casserole I prepared with the last of my food every day rather than doing any shopping, so that I could afford to attend Sparkle.

For people who don’t know, Sparkle is the main UK transgender pride event, and runs in Manchester for a whole weekend. I am so glad I did, because it reaffirmed to me what I am trying to do in my writing.

It was incredible. I have never seen so many trans people gathered in one place, which although unsurprising, was generally the comment I heard most from first-time attendees.

On Friday evening, I wandered down to Sackville Gardens and spent a cool evening writing. Even though the majority of events didn’t start until Saturday afternoon, there were still a fair few trans people milling about, as well as an amusingly large number of people who couldn’t work out where all the transwomen were coming from.

I did, unfortunately, get stared at, but there are worse things. The kids who spotted me said, “There’s a person sitting on that bench,” which is all I caught and all I cared to hear- I am a person, and I was indeed sitting on a bench.

Saturday was where the real fun began. Loitering early, I met a transwoman who promised to give me her t-shirt after she changed into her “regalia”, but unfortunately I couldn’t find her. I was corralled into helping with the family area, and I am so glad that I was.

In doing so, I managed to make contact with Manchester’s trans youth group, which, as I’m moving to Manchester in September, I wanted to do anyway. In them I found a truly astonishing group of people.

Not astonishing in that they were particularly inspirational, or heroic, or any of these terms that get attached to teenage cancer patients/disability poster-children/orphans. They were normal kids, enjoying a normal day out in the park.

When we see transgender children in the media, it’s horrifying. We get this picture of isolated freaks, being screamed at from the Daily Mail Online comments section. Not kids, playing on a bouncy castle, lounging around drinking pop, going swimming. Transgenderism is seen all too often as a life-ruining aberration, when it should be nothing more than a minor adjustment.

Some of the kids I spoke to had been forced to leave school- not by the actions of their peers, but because of the school itself. The very institution that was supposed to be acting in loco parentis neglected their duty of care, in some cases enabling and perpetuating discrimination on a daily basis.

Although I am young enough to join the group, I want to act more in a voluntary role, to help with their education campaigns. When I was at school, not long ago, our sex education was crap. In year 9 (when we were 14), a nurse came in and rolled a condom onto a plastic dick. The rest of our information on contraception, we got mainly from RE classes.

Despite Section 28 (which forbade mentioning homosexuality in government spaces), being abolished the year I started secondary school, the closest I got to LGBT inclusive education was, aside again from RE, in the comments made by my peers. Not towards me- I have a tendency to keep my head down- but I did hear other, braver members of my peer group actively despised simply for being LGB.

When it came to growing up trans, I had no idea what I was. Other children occasionally saw that I was different too, and the stories I have of those instances are sad indeed.

This, I think, is why I want to write a novel featuring a transgender character. Because, although I believe I am a good writer, capable of excellent fact-checking and writing a generic novel that some, if not many, people would be happy to read, I feel that the state of transgender education in this country (I cannot speak for anywhere else) is literally destroying lives.

The attempted suicide rate for living trans people in the UK is 35%. 1 in 12 trans women worldwide will be murdered.

I don’t care what people think about trans people inside their own heads, but when they start killing people, or passively leading a transperson to kill themselves, it’s wrong. I don’t care how immoral you think it is for someone to wear a dress- it does not give you the right to hurt them.

You know what I saw on Saturday? Normal kids. Kids who have as much right to an education, to family, to a day out at the park, as anyone else. And it makes me sick that by pretending these people don’t exist, we perpetuate the misery of children, who cannot comprehend what they have done to deserve so much anger.

I’m sorry it’s been a long one. But this is why I have to become a teacher, even if my gender identity means I can’t do it for long. This is why, although my gender identity is a footnote to my day-to-day life, it features so heavily in my writing. Because there are young people out there who don’t know why they feel the way they do, and they don’t deserve to be hurt any more.

The Worst Kind of Good News

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So, I just checked my emails and it turns out I have been selected to attend a poetry workshop next weekend. I ought to feel happy about this. Unfortunately, I don’t.

My family is currently a swirling maelstrom of politics. Next weekend, there is a wedding of an obscure cousin which I must go to  because I refuse to be a pawn in the childish powerplay between differing sides of the argument.

And in doing so, I know, I become a pawn of an entirely different kind.

I don’t see my family often. I have a sixth sense when it comes to family drama which told me to get out of there, immediately, and not look back. As a result, I live several hundred miles away, and because I chose to do this, they don’t visit. That’s fine. They expect me to visit. Less fine.

Visiting means taking a closer look at how family member X is letting their life fall around their ears. Visiting means listening to family member Y whinge about family member X for hours on end, complaining that I, or X, somebody else, is autistic, when they are the ones who cannot read the very blatant social cues I am kicking off. Visiting means going to see Z bitch about Y and X and take only token interest in my life for gossiping purposes.

Family is a minefield. It costs a fortune for me to visit, and when I do, there’s no tea-drinking, board games or barbecues- the things you want family for. Instead, all that happens in the brief time I am there is an intense cataloguing of every time someone in the family has said something upsetting since the last time I was there, punctuated by snide comments about my hair or my taste in jumpers.

Group hug. We all have families.

There is literally one reason, one good reason, why I should go to this wedding.

I have a kid brother. And as much as I hate my family dynamic and wanted to get out, he doesn’t have that option. He’s stuck. He’s thirteen, which is the worst age to be for anything, let alone being forced to go to the dull second wedding of your cousin-once-removed because of a family feud.

When I left home for university, he hated me for it. I was selfish and I left him alone. All he wanted was one person who talked to him like an equal and who understood how badly our parents were falling to pieces. And I left.

I don’t regret that. I went to university, I got a degree. Not a good one, but I got one, and for a time I had a great life with someone. Now that’s ended, and I still don’t go back, because nothing’s changed for the better.

If I could have taken him with me, I would have. He’s nine years my junior, and has had to worry about way more than I ever did at that age. My parents were old enough; his are older, and rightfully divorced. I was an independent only child who gained a brother; he is a sociable younger sibling who lost his elder. I may have had the pain of growing up gender-variant, but I have no idea what goes through his head.

He is the only person I feel guilty for leaving behind. Everyone else chose their way; he didn’t. He got landed with it.

So, I’m going to the wedding. It really hurts, but I have to go to this wedding. I hardly ever get to see him, and some members of the family go out of their way to make my brother pay for the unknown sins of his parents- while treating the adults with civility. I go to show solidarity with him.

I just wanted someone to know I did good. I can’t find the words to tell my parents that I’m writing again. It was always something they discouraged. They’re very practical people. It’s not that I don’t think they’d be proud of me. But they would question why I couldn’t put my intellect to better use financially.

Be productive; make coin.

But I know that there are more important things in life. If I can win once, I can win again. There will be other competitions. But I only have one brother.