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Pretty Ugly

When I first arrived in Norway, I didn’t know what was wrong. I was going to stay for a week with some old friends of my mum’s, along with my mum and my brother. A nice family holiday, somewhere I’d never been before and always wanted to go.

Kjetel met us at the airport. He wanted to take us around a few caves before we got to the flat. While there, he asked me why I’d changed my name.

I frowned.

“Because it was a female name.”

I had thought it would be obvious.

Later, we got to the flat, and it became clearer.

“The girls can sleep in there,” Marianne said.

For a start a) my mother is a grown woman and not a girl and b) I am a grown man and absolutely definitely not a girl.

My mum hadn’t told them. It wasn’t so much a punch to the gut as a hand closing tight about my neck. She was ashamed of me. And now I was stuck, thousands of miles from home, with people who possibly wouldn’t want people like me living under their roof and eating their food.

My mum cannot possibly understand. She can’t see what it is like to be hated. Because there are people out there who were my friends up until the moment I told them, and then turned on me faster than a bottle of milk on a sunny day.

So I lived the next few days how I have made it my life’s mission to never have to life- in silent shame. Being politely dismissive about comments I should grow my hair. Sitting through the showing of old photographs with a tight smile on my face. Swallowing every poisonous “she”, “her”, and “sister”.

Things reached a head once I was, with very little explanation, bundled into a car and taken to a cabin without internet for an entire weekend.

I’m not lamenting the loss of Youtube, or Tumblr, or any of the other “trivial” millennial shit Kjetel had made it his purpose to demean and deride all the time I was there (Pokemon Go being his favourite target). What I missed was someone I could speak to who understood the absolute hell I was going through.

I was alone. Completely alone.

My brother is fifteen, a selfish creature who has too much of his own nonsense going on with puberty and his dickhead father to care about anyone else. My mum spent all her time talking to him or Marianne and Kjetel, and had no time for me.

By the second day, I wasn’t eating. I tried to sleep all day because that was the only way I could stop crying.

My mum found me staring out of the window and shaking. I asked if she was ashamed of me. She said no, that she’d told them the day we arrived. Which meant they’d been willfully misgendering me for days, and she hadn’t corrected them- and I had just sat there and taken it.

This is incredibly painful for me to write about. If it has not already become clear.

That night I made a point of correcting people. I am here and I refuse to lie down and play dead. Which of course gave Kjetel recourse to attack me.

“You’re not gay.”

“Er, yes I am. I would know. I spent a long time thinking I should like women, but I just don’t. I like men. I’m gay.”

“But your boyfriend, is he gay?”

“He doesn’t identify as gay. But he loves me for who I am. When he was at school, his friends always said he would be gay. I think it’s kind of funny.

“I think he is straight,” Kjetel nodded knowledgeably.

That wasn’t the only bit of wonderfulness.

He tried to tell me I was “really” a woman- but I cut him off. I gave him the most impassioned speech on women and the respect I have for them and the ultimate knowledge that only I can have that I am not and have never been one. He laughed. My mother said nothing.

He also condescended to tell me I would be pregnant within the year.

I can feel the bile rising in my throat as I write all this. To me, the last bit was the worst. Because it’s toxic in so many ways. Firstly, that my getting pregnant has anything to do with my gender identity. It doesn’t. Shall I tell you why most men don’t get pregnant? It’s because they physically can’t.

I’m going to be a dad, and no narrow-minded fuckhead is going to stand in my way.

Secondly, the thought that I would be so fucking stupid as to get pregnant deliberately. My mum’s Catholic. It would devastate her to have grandkids out of wedlock. I’m poor. If I can, I want to do better for my children than a basement flat, casual income and an unstable home.

Just because I have ovaries, doesn’t mean I’m a fucking moron.

Thirdly, that my getting pregnant would in some way quash my notions of being trans.

Let me tell you, if pregnancy is so impacting on a person as to make them forget who they actually are, I want no part of it. Being trans is an essential component of the powerful, headstrong person I am today. Nothing short of evil would take that away from me.

I wonder what his childless wife, Marianne, would make of his equating womanhood to pregnancy. At a guess, not an awful lot, but I suppose a lot of what I saw in Norway disappointed me.

If you go, stick to the cities. Stick to the cruise boats. Don’t eat the food and don’t talk to the locals. What I found was a beautiful country inhabited by ugly attitudes- about immigration, the environment, the EU, women. It is a country in decline.

As for Kjetel, I will never see him again for as long as I live. Nobody gets to make me feel as awful as he made me feel. Since returning from Norway, my dysphoria has gotten significantly worse. I bind and pack a lot more than I did before I went out. I shake and cry a lot more too.

I have shivered naked and ashamed in Sunshine’s arms, crying, “I never wanted to be like this.”

How low does a person have to be to do that to someone? I wish I could show this to my mum, to Marianne, to Sunshine and to ignorant, bigoted Kjetel. But I’m not that cruel.

I am trans, and it has made me stronger.

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The Sign of the Cross

I don’t know if Sunshine knew that I saw him cross himself. I wonder if he was trying to hide it from me.

We don’t talk about faith. Not ever. We might talk about our Catholic upbringing, or about religious texts in a purely theoretical way, but we never admit to believing in anything.

For me, that’s because I’m queer. Depending on who you ask, it could be the way God made me or the way the devil made me. It could be my cross to bear, a temptation I am supposed to resist, or it could be a great blessing.

Queerness and religion are fraught with conflict. Frequently, I am assumed to be an atheist. However, I strongly believe that the universe was created by something that presides over it. It’s just what I believe. And I don’t know why I believe it, I just do. I studied Physics at university and there’s just something about the way it all fits together that makes the universe seem like a work of art.

Even now I’m resisting defending myself. People are scornful, think I must be an idiot to feel this way. I’ve had my fill of probing questions asking what I think of heaven or hell or angels or determinism and I really don’t think that has anything to do with anything. Belief is what you believe. End of.

I don’t like talking about it. Like Scripps in the History Boys, it’s private.

Sometimes I go to church. I like the ridiculous Catholicism of it all, the hymns, the gold, the wine. Its theatre. It’s quiet and it makes you feel calm. But I never go on a day when somebody might notice I’m missing.

Sunshine and I were out playing Pokemon GO! and there was a Pokestop by the war memorial in St Peter’s Square. We walked to it, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw Sunshine cross himself.

I think I knew he wasn’t an atheist. Or maybe I wanted him to not be an atheist. Still, atheists usually tell you. For example, I’ve only met his sister three times and yet I know she’s an atheist. She said so. It’s like veganism- because their beliefs are opposite to a lot of people’s, it has to get mentioned.

But atheists don’t cross themselves at war memorials, do they? So he definitely isn’t. He was compelled- strongly- to cross himself in front of the memorial, something that I, for all my upbringing, was never taught to do. I never genuflect or cross myself with holy water.

Part of me wanted to ask him about it. It’s one of those things you’re supposed to ask, when you get into a long term relationship with someone.

But I couldn’t. I’m so wounded from having to keep my own shapeless faith to myself that I don’t know how to talk about this shit any more. So it’ll stay as just that. The sign of the cross by a war memorial.

Family

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In a state of worry, I baked three pounds of shortbread for eight people.

It was the day of my partner’s brother’s housewarming, the day I met my sunshine’s parents. We arrived early, greeted by his brother and brother’s partner. We toured the new house, and sat in the living room.

They were full of excitement; told us how a friend of theirs had painted the word “GAY” onto the wall with their paint samples, and how they had hurriedly painted over the “Y” when they realised family were coming over.

It was still obvious that it had read “GAY”. I didn’t think it would help if I told them, so I kept it to myself.

My sunshine’s parents and two of his other siblings (Catholics, remember?) arrived not long after. I would later discover that they had not been told that I was coming, that his admission a week earlier that he was seeing me had been the only warning they got.

We shook hands, made vague “nice to meet you” noises. I’m crap at all that. Food and wine made for a welcome distraction.

I made a joke and my sunshine’s dad laughed for a good thirty seconds. Maybe it was going to be okay.

I didn’t talk much apart from that (I don’t talk much in large groups at all). Dad drank too much wine. Mum doesn’t drink at all these days, apparently. I was introduced to them by name, but I struggle with names. The labels don’t seem to fit them yet. I don’t really see them as people yet.

The happy homeowners announced their engagement; a magnum of champagne was uncorked. At least three of us didn’t drink any, so I can only wonder at where it all went.

“GA” apparently is the name of the paint colour: Green Apple. That was a better cover up than the blob of Kiwi Crush used to mask the “Y”, at least. I wouldn’t have bought it, but I generally spot “gay” when nobody else does. It’s a gift.

I learnt very little about them really, and gave no reason for them to like or dislike me. My sunshine has inherited his mother’s ears, but otherwise looks very little like them. I think that’s because he is full of youth, and they are both quite incredibly old.

The worst case scenario would have been my packer slipping from its perch and bouncing, gracelessly, onto the living-room rug. That didn’t happen.

His dad misgendered me with only his last word to me, and then slipped out the door as Sun corrected him. I’ll blame the wine. His mum said that we should come and visit them. I’ll take that.

Family isn’t always easy. I wrung my hands so hard I had to rub ibuprofen gel into my wrists to get to sleep. But I can see the value in it.

“Sexually Confused”

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When my sunshine told me how telling his parents about me had gone, he replied “well enough”. I later learned that this meant it had been a 6 on a scale where 10 was “alright” and 1 was “screaming and crying”.

What he really meant is that they don’t like it, but don’t see that there’s anything they can do to stop it.

This bodes super well for my relationship with my future in-laws! Hooray!

His father did the standard “Oh, bloody hell” etc., but there was a football match on and, y’know: priorities. His mother wanted a detailed medical history, after which she went, “good”, and my sunshine was understandably a little upset.

She also said that people, like me, who are “sexually confused” (at which point my sunshine made a small disbelieving noise and she backtracked ever so slightly) form fissile relationships. I didn’t know what fissile meant. Apparently it means likely to fall apart.

I laughed. She’s never met me. She doesn’t know what I’m like. Words that could never be used to describe me include “flighty”, “dreamy”, “changeable” and “inconstant”. Words that pretty accurately sum me up include “direct”, “decisive” and “fucking stubborn”. The thought that someone could get me so wrong on account of my gender identity was hilarious.

And then I went to bed. And I realised.

This isn’t just some random person. This is, on a theoretical level, a candidate for the vacant “grandma of my babies” position. The fact she has such preconceived notions about “people like me” is vile.

I know it’s not her fault. She’s in a cult. But. She could at least… meet me before deciding I will never know love, or friendship, and that she feels sorry for me?

We could, in theory, get along. We probably have some interests in common. Providing she can see me as (and treat me as) a person, everything should be grand.

He says, smiling weakly.

I’m going to meet my sunshine’s parents in all of (counts on fingers) five days and I’m fucking petrified. Look at my writing style. It’s all over the place today. But it absolutely echoes how I’m feeling so it’s staying.

I want to love them so much. And I want them to love me. And I want them to understand that I love their son (and I liked him for a long time before that). I want love, and family, to see us through this whole clusterfuck, and bring us out the other side having learnt a little more about each other.

Please, God. Please.

Father’s Day

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This father’s day, I celebrated by buying myself a pot of shaving cream. This then set off a bout of dysphoria, but that’s not the point. I am a good dad to me, and I deserve a suitably dadsy present.

Sometimes, I think I paint my dad too black. He spent much of my childhood driving me around the country to various chess competitions, buying me chess books and encouraging me.

He took me swimming. He let me drink beer and watch European football midweek, eating spaghetti and sausages from a tin- stuff mum wouldn’t ever have allowed. He took me to the pub, bought me McDonalds.

But he did all these things because they suited him. He pushed me to do chess, but karate (which I now have a student national silver medal in, dad, not that you’d know) fell by the wayside. He was late home from work every time and didn’t get me there on time. If you’ve ever done martial arts, you know that being late is a serious offence- and I was punished for it.

My dad texted me recently to let me know that he’d just been to a philosophy festival. He’s not a man I recognise. My dad drank Stella Artois from the can and read Tom Clancy novels, was clean-shaven for 50 years of his life. He had a passion for electronics and made really good roast potatoes. He made snide comments in Mass. He didn’t care for philosophy or spirituality.

I know the cause- he’s showing off for his new girlfriend, who does wiccan funerals. She likes Sade and is, by many accounts, a complete bitch.But this is not about her.

This is about my dad and how he came to visit me twice in the four and a half years I lived away from home (before I cut ties). How he pushed me to do things I didn’t want to do because he was ashamed of himself for leaving school at 16. How he emotionally manipulated me to try and stop my mother from divorcing him.

How he failed me so utterly that I never want to speak to him again.

But this post is also about me, and how I may never get the chance to be a father.

As I have posted before, according to UK law, if a baby comes out of your uterus, you’re its mother. Regardless of whether you’re legally a man or not. On your child’s birth certificate, it reads “mother”.

I could never be anyone’s mother. Or girlfriend. Or wife. Or daughter. I’m just not that. It would be so very painful to suffer this on what should really be one of the best days of my life.

I don’t know what I’m getting at here, except that I feel sad, and inferior. I want, above all things, a hug. And then I want to be a father, no ifs or buts. I want to get a shitty homemade card on Father’s Day, and put it up on the mantlepiece like it’s a work of art.

I want to be the dad mine never was, loving unconditionally. Bringing my kids up to be proud of who they are, and not ashamed (as I have been made) to not have done better. To love and be loved without question.

I want to be a father.

I Stand With Orlando

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“There’s been another shooting,” Sunshine said. “It’s bad.”

And to begin with, I thought nothing of it. America: there’s been another shooting- it happens every other day, and it’s never news.

I didn’t realise until later the blow he’d been trying to protect me from. Arguably* the deadliest mass shooting in US history, and LGBT people were the target.

It happened in Pulse nightclub, a sanctuary. “Pulse” refers to the heartbeat of the founder’s brother- after he died from HIV-related illness, she wanted him to live through the club. Now, the name of the club will be significant for different reasons.

Apparently the shooter** had seen two men kissing not a month before, and this enraged him past the point of reason. His already flourishing homophobia became motive for murder. He bought two firearms, constructed a diversionary explosive, and murdered at least (people are still dying) 50 people.

As it was Latinx night, many of the victims were Latinx. And although there is no evidence as of yet that the race of the victims mattered to the killer, this will undoubtedly have hit the LGBT Latinx community hard. POC communities need sanctuaries like Pulse more than white people do. They need to feel safe more than white LGBT people do.

Where do they go to feel safe now?

As I stood vigil in Manchester’s Sackville Gardens, at the centre of the Village, I heard the same fear echoed again and again: it could have been here. It could have been us.

I mean, it couldn’t have been us, because in this country a member of the public couldn’t just buy two assault rifles, but hey ho. Apparently guns need constitutional rights more than people do.

But throughout the world, LGBT people are afraid. Because we know we are hated. And we know that hate can get us killed.

We’re all familiar with it. I’ve got a “Christian” popping up in my comments telling me to repent or perish. What a love-thy-neighbourly thing to do.

And it’s that kind of socially acceptable homophobia that makes acts like the Orlando murders possible. It’s the 200+ anti-LGBT bills posted across 35 states. It’s Sky News pretending the sexuality of the victims was incidental to the crime. It’s the straight people who said, “Je Suis Charlie” for days and are silent now.

But I will not be silent.

I don’t think I understood Pride until Sunday. I thought I shouldn’t make a big deal about being gay, or trans. But now I get it.

Straight people, in general, will not speak out for us. They will not cry out when we are murdered. They will stand by as we are stripped of human rights. Quite often, they don’t even notice, because the straight media doesn’t let them know.

So we have to do it. And we have to be visible, because in a homophobic world, that is our defiance.

We will not be afraid.

We will not be silent.

We stand with Orlando.

*http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/06/13/481884291/putting-deadliest-mass-shooting-in-u-s-history-into-some-historical-context ; links to external sites are not indicative of the views of the author, more the author’s admission that he doesn’t actually know much about US history or mass shootings and isn’t going to pretend that he does.

**Not named here because he doesn’t deserve to be remembered.

Allies and Pronouns

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You’re probably a super trans ally. You get the pronouns right, every time. You make sure to ask if you’re not sure, and you ask in a way that makes the trans (or cis!) person feel comfortable. Good on you.

Seriously. Good on you.

But I just wanted you to know- that’s not the end of the story. In fact, it’s barely the beginning.

What trans and gender variant people need you to do, really need you to do, is correct other people on our behalf.

It’s not a matter of me being shy about it. Believe me, I have barely been shy about anything in my entire life. But I have corrected people on their pronoun use in the past, and it has not ended well for me. Not-receiving-needed-medical-attention levels of not ending well for me.

See, trans people aren’t common in most circles. So, most people won’t notice when they fuck up my pronouns. They won’t notice when they fuck up my pronouns six or seven times (by which time I’m having a shitty evening). But they will notice the eighth time, when I go, “Actually, it’s he.”

And rather than think, “Oh! That’s right!” They think, “Wow. Rude. I’m trying.”

Here’s where you come in.

The first time they fuck up (the very first time!), you just echo the correct pronoun a split second after they say the wrong one. And they catch the thread of what they were saying again, and it doesn’t become a Thing. You do it the second time. The third, if they need it- but they probably won’t, because actually, these pronouns aren’t all that difficult when you’re not strengthening the wrong connection in your brain all the time.

We can’t do that, because: a) We’d be making everything all about us. This is an accusation that gets levelled at trans people a lot. But we bet if someone started calling your aunt “Sir” she’d make rather a lot more of it. b) It’d sound weird, like we’d started referring to ourselves in the third person. You don’t like it when Trump does it. Don’t make us do it.

Please. I f you could take this advice to heart, and pass it on to other people, I would love you for that. Trans people need allies. Just- do it right. Thanks. 🙂