I don’t like pubs, I never liked pubs, they’re shouty male spaces, show off spaces, they never worked for me. From early on I was a freak, this was back in Sixty Six, we were all growing our hair long and saying ‘We’re going to make a new world.’ Alcohol wasn’t very much part of that, though other things were. Our social space were peoples kitchens. In each others houses, sitting around the kitchen table, cooking, entertaining. In those days we were mostly living in terraced houses, you didn’t ring the front door bell, you just went around the back and came into the kitchen. As more of us had kids, there were more prams, but we were still freaks, talking whatever jollity, cynical talk of governments and whatever else. Once I moved to London things were different. There weren’t so many casual knocks on the kitchen door, ‘Fancy a cup of tea?’, but there were some spectacular squat locations, the Bank of Scotland for one.
I was presenting as a girly man in those days and being in a relationship with a strong woman, that was my little micro society. I was isolated from groups of queer people. As artists we were proud freaks, there was active alienation on our part. People would say to us, ‘You’re strange’ and we would reply ‘Yes we are.’ We didn’t see any problem with that. That was decades ago, it feels like talking about another person.
Sex has always been important to me, from a very early age when I first realised I could have those feelings. Sexuality was the engine that drove my self understanding and experience. As child in a chaotic environment, sex was the thing I could control. Night time after I went to bed was mine. Much much later as an adult, I discovered I could have other people involved, various kinds of those and in lots of different ways. Romantic love was the pinnacle of all that, I eloped from home when I was 17. It was a quick growing up, realising you have to do all the stuff about getting a roof over your head and earning a living. Between relationships I would go to cruising on the heath or find anonymous sex on impulse, doing whatever I wanted.
When I’m not in a relationship I go from lonely to solitary, when I’m solitary I’m ok. I’m ready for socialising, a new relationship, anything else. The other thing about being solitary is carrying a camera, taking pictures, trying to get published. I don’t go to art galleries WITH other people, why would I do that? That’s when you get other people asking you what things mean.
I’ve always been an artist, that’s how I work things out, I draw or paint or write to take pictures. That’s how I’ve always done it. My focus was doing my own thing, that’s the identity of a solitary person. In a relationship you give all of that up. The solitary person is free to have whatever relationship, where it is sexual or not with other people. You have a network of friends or whatever. In a relationship it’s different, if a relationship ends you have to rebuild the network.
I came to community organising late, it started off with befriending people in chat rooms, some more and some less sexual, all of them subject to trolls. We would just bore the trolls to death, all of us banding together. People started recommending others to me who needed to be introduced to real life networks. That was my first introduction to making connections socially for people. Each thing that made other people feel better was a reward in itself.
With training to be a counsellor, I came out as trans to my tutor at the interview. I was taking a bit of a risk, but it was ‘person centred’ all about ‘unconditional personal regard’ so I was alright. The tutor looked a bit surprised but they just said ‘Oh welcome!’ It was also a situation where I thought, ‘Well if they don’t want me, then I don’t want them’.
By year 4 I was presenting in a way that was clearly identifiable as female. Everyone training knew how you were supposed to behave as a counsellor. With my being trans they would all be ’Oh of course it’s perfectly fine’. It was clear that it wasn’t.
To graduate you have to do a certain number of volunteer hours to make sure you’ve got the practice in listening. I kept going to placement interviews and I kept getting turned down. I would even do practice interviews with my teachers and they would say, ‘you’re really good at this.’ Still I kept being turned down.
Eventually we found out the problem. People interviewing for the volunteer places couldn’t see anything else apart from my trans-ness. They thought people who came for counselling, wouldn’t be able to focus on their problems, because I was trans. That the only thing there would be space for in the room was me being trans.
I wasn’t able to graduate because I couldn’t find a placement. The other people on the course didn’t seem to get it. A room full of counsellors couldn’t see how this would impact on me. I think some people perform empathy, rather than knowing what it actually is.
These days I work counselling transpeople and it is an honour to do so. Having said that transpeople are as varied as cis people. The only extra thing I bring to the counselling process is an openness to their experience, I try not to get in the way on that count at least.
Sexuality is not longer the force that drives my engine, it’s not what gets me up in the morning (laughs), excuse the pun. I’m post sexual. There’s lot more space in my life now, I’m not looking for the next relationship, not chasing or obsessing. There’s time to do other things. There’s a lot more energy to be part of my community and to be organising.
With setting up the Trans social group, initially about seven people were invited to be involved. There were arguments about wether partners should be there. There’s two sides to that as part of an accepting society, but also for transpeople sometimes you want to say things that you don’t want your partner to hear. Anyway some people left and I became involved. I learned about public speaking, in those days I was nervous about half a dozen meek and mild trans people looking at me.
It’s lovely to see people come into the group and gain succour. Whatever speaker or discussion or set activity we have for that time, it’s afterwards when we socialise.That’s when you see people sitting and chatting, and that they truly are among friends, accepted in a way that they aren’t outside.
Its so disappointing to see how the mainstream media have behaved in the last couple of years. It’s no surprise that the Red Top newspapers behave as they do, shit is the only thing they know how to shovel. But the other papers, where you expect something a bit different, it’s like being hit by a friend. I’ve got used to it, but I just don’t know why it is happening. It feels a lot like when there was a movement to repeal section 28, and the papers were doing stories like ‘Gay teachers are pedophiles’ it’s that ignorant. It’s just a phase the media is going through…*laughs* that’s what one says about ones children, isn’t it. Mostly what I deal with is other peoples feelings about what is going on in the media and I try to stay with that as best I can.
My neighbours, the community where I live, I came out decades ago. I’m just here. I’m completely accepted. My local news agent, the guy in the corner shop, he used to try making a few remarks, but we’ve worked it out over time. I might go in there and see a copy of The Times with a transphobic headline, but I don’t get that in person from the guy behind the counter. My neighbour, my great friend who lived across the road, an angry, feisty, shouty woman. We loved to cook together. We used to have great multicultural dinner parties, her and all of her upstairs neighbours, partners and friends. We would gather and cook and eat and drink together. She was so bossy, always telling me I was cutting the vegetables too small or something. Gosh I miss her now she has moved away.
Yes, there can always be disagreements within communities, there are lots of divisive things. Some people say theres a right and wrong way to be trans. There isn’t a right and wrong way, to be anything, as long as that doesn’t interfere with anyone else.
In the trans group there are always tensions around ways of transitioning. I think it’s something to do with a feirce-ness that you have to hold when you are not accepted by the straight world. Then you take that into your group, so If there is difference then there are arguments. Instead of having enough perspective to remember what it was like when you weren’t understood.
Things don’t affect me as they once did when I was younger. I’ve been a child all my life, as are all artists. in my third age It feels as if I’ve come to some kind of maturity.
I have a more open view of gender. Transition for me wasn’t like a big jump from very male presenting to very female presenting. I realise that’s different from many peoples experience.
I managed to get through most of the eighties dressing in an ambiguous way, wearing leggings instead of trousers, and long jumpers. The jumpers would get longer and longer, more and more like a dress. When I transitioned It was as if I had been stretching a rubber band out of maleness, into femaleness, for a long time. Edging further and further out one little step at a time. So when I cut the rubber band, I was standing in exactly the same place but much more relaxed. I was still standing here, but without all the pressure of stretching that idea of gender anymore. I was just here, being me.