Saturday, 27 September 2014

Another Transgender Way - To Not Transition

A video has been doing the rounds in transgender groups in the last week.  It's worth watching and is only five minutes long.

It asks the question, "What does it mean to be a man?"  We can just as easily ask "What does it mean to be a woman?"

So here is another transgender way:  Being able to be who you are and being comfortable with your own body in the face of whatever society may throw at you.  We don't all have to transition, to pass, to live a life where people say well-meaning but actually insulting things to us like "You look just like a real man/woman."

I've thought about this way of living before.  The way of living openly as your gender in a body which society has told you doesn't match your gender.  For me that would be to dress as I do, go where I go, and form the friendships I do without changing a thing about myself physically, beyond a feminine hair style.

It's logical.  It's right.  I am not defined by my body.  Nobody is.

But it's not my way.  It doesn't mean my way is wrong.  There is more than one right way.  I can see my need to change my body isn't because there's anything objectively wrong with my body or with the idea of a "woman" with a supposedly "man's" body.  But so many other things in my life history mean that deliberately deciding not to do what I'm doing physically would be a near impossibility.

I'm a woman.  It's part of who I am.  Hormones and surgery and laser treatments and voice therapy won't make me more of a woman.  Not having them wouldn't make me less of a woman.  Intellectually I have no problem with the idea of a hairy woman with a penis or a man with a vagina.

But inside something else screams out against my intellect and trumps the logic.

I'm doing this for my own psychology after forty-two years living as male.  I have that need even on days when I think, "Why the hell should I care?" or "This is my voice, why should I be pressured to force my voice box to behave abnormally?"

But I must admit I'm also doing it for an easier life in which I might "pass" in society for what and who I already am.  To not care much about "passing" takes a vast amount of self respect and an ability to shrug off frequent abuse without being broken down by a thousand wasp stings.  And that quest to pass - and the expectation to seek to pass that even many of my friends have of me - is really not a healthy quest when considering the long-term future of transgender people.  Can we be who and what we are?  Or must we continue to have to aspire to a goal of invisibly fitting in with the cisgender masses around us?  We transgender people are not cisgender.  So why should we have to seek to appear cisgender? - is it because of a prevailing view that we are disordered?

See, I know the logic.  The arguments make sense.  But I am a product of my birth, my childhood, my schooling, my adult life living as a man and filled with unhappiness.  So for me my only choice is transition, hormones, surgery and everything else.  Sometimes I wonder whether this is hypocrisy.  But are these things so deeply rooted that I have no option to even consider that other path?  Perhaps a question with no single answer.  Perhaps the difficulties involved in being transgender mean that any path we freely choose in how to transition or how to not transition is the right path for us, worthy only of support not deep analysis or doubt.

The courage and self-assurance of those who deliberately don't choose the path of "passing" is immense as are the social challenges of their decision.  But in the long-term their choices may lead to a brighter future in freedom for others than my choices and needs.  My choices may help bring a future in which we can be who we are without fear of abuse or rejection or discrimination.  The other way may help bring a future in which we can be both who and what we are, a future in which prevailing views of gender and physiology are transformed into something that fits everyone rather than just fitting the majority.

This man deserves so much respect.  Friends who have chosen similar paths are people to admire.  As are all people who choose to express their gender and fully live their gender (or genders) regardless of physiology in a society that continues to equate gender with physiology.  And the wonderful thing is that most of these people would shrug off that respect and say "We're just living our lives."

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Funeral Address for My Mother, 8th September 2014

Yesterday was the funeral of my mother, Paula Monk.  At some point I will write more about her though many people reading this blog will have known her well and some will have followed her own blog for many years.

What follows is the funeral address that I wrote a few days before my mother died and then tweaked until the time came to read it at the funeral.  That was difficult - I'm not quite sure how I made it through to the end without breaking down and passing the reading over to someone else.  It was difficult but I am glad that I did it.

In response to some requests from people who couldn't be at the funeral, and a few people who were there, I'm posting the address here.  As I read this publicly a few things changed slightly, as was always the case when I used to preach.  But in the main the following is the address as spoken.

For anyone wondering, the entrance music for the service was Going Home, by Mark Knopfler, from the soundtrack of the movie Local Hero.  We had time to reflect in the service while Who Will Sing My Lullabies? by Kate Rusby was played.  And we exited to the song mentioned in the address which my mother, many years ago, said she wanted played at her funeral.

My half-uncle, Paula's half-brother Matt Frost ably led the service.  He's a baptist minister but in accordance with Paula's wishes led a secular funeral.  The only mention of the Bible was that which follows.

I'd like to begin with a reading from the Bible. It's not just any Bible. This is my mother's Bible. She wrote her name in it, 54 years ago. The reading isn't from any of the printed words but from a piece of paper Paula kept safe there for a long time. It's something that was said by her mother in the period leading up to her own early death.

When the time comes you will find you will quite enjoy dying. It's a wonderful struggle.

Paula was involved in that struggle for many years, having been first diagnosed with cancer in 1991 and since that time never had excellent health. Every day has included a round of tablets and medicines and for the last seven years, since she had cancer for a third time, she had a urostomy bag to add to everything else.

Twenty-three years of struggle. In 1992 she struggled so much to survive. In 1993 she remained ill and received much help from St. Catherine's Hospice, as she did in the last days of her life.

Paula very nearly died and was in hospital for 3 months. At one point she had a 10% chance of getting through the following few hours. Some of us will remember clearly the struggles and the suffering she went through in order to live. And some of us have seen in detail the manner in which she has struggled this year and the dignity with which she accepted her own mortality.

And I believe the way Paula faced the struggles can be a lesson for us all. Her aim throughout those years was to live. To live each day in the fullest way her body allowed her to live. And we have seen the way she's done it and what she's been able to experience over the years. She lived to see Jamie and I married and settled. She lived to see her grandchildren and get to know them. She and Bill were able to visit Slovenia several times and walk in the mountains. They were able to visit Thailand to spend time Jamie and his family. She's seen the births of nearly fifty grand-nephews and grand-nieces and could name them all.

And she has lived. She and Bill went back to athletics and continued their role as timekeepers until quite recently, enjoying helping, enjoying the sport and perhaps most of all enjoying the banter and friends on the time keepers' stands. She has enjoyed dealing in antiques and collectibles and the relationships and friendships forged over the years. She and Bill have enthusiastically embraced digital cameras as the many albums at home testify, each containing wonderful pictures of the hundreds of places they visited together, the hundreds of people they've met and the countless family visits and celebrations.

On a personal note I am so glad that my mother got to see who I really am. I am so glad that she was so glad to meet me as her daughter. Because of my mental health history she has worried greatly about me over the years. I am very grateful and she was very grateful that she died knowing that she did not have to worry about me any more. Our friendship on Earth is over but we ended it in freedom, truthfulness and even in joy.

Truly, most days Paula did Carpe Diem – she did seize the day. Even on the darkest days when seizing the day was the last thing she wanted, she still triumphed and grasped the future. In 1993 after over two years of being ill she wrote in a poem “Bugger Carpe Diem!” But she came through the darkness and seized, and seized, and grabbed at the fullness of life. She lived beyond the mundane. Paula did not become famous. Instead she walked the “little way” doing all the little things as well as she could. And as in the Dire Straits song which she loved so much, Paula did the “walk of life”.

In our time of loss it's easy not to see the light. But we have a lot to be thankful for. In particular today we can all be thankful for the last 20 years, for the light Paula has been in all our lives and for the joys and triumphs she's known.

It's difficult looking at all the struggles not to ask a question. It's a question that she asked at times. It's a question many of us have asked about Paula. And it's a question we've asked when we've seen others suffer greatly or die young. All the great religions, the philosophers and the poets have asked it.

I found a book in the house before my mother died. I've seen it before but had forgotten it existed. The book contains a collection of things she wrote and some poems and sayings by others too. The first page was written in August 1980, around the time her younger brother, Robin, died. Paula asks the question about him – but we can in turn ask it about her.

My heart screams out
Why you?”
I don't want your burden – but still
Why you?”

I see you -
Glad, good
Game for living.
Why you?”

I see you -
With strength you struggle
As ever
To stamp the seal
of your own individual person
on life.

With your first faltering footsteps
Into the future
You flung down a challenge to fate.

Fate answered,
With higher and higher hurdles.

You have jumped over with joy,
Climbed over with courage.

But still -
Why you?”

Strength and daring
Are not deserving of such punishment.

I wish you well
And wonder again
Why you?”

We can ask that question. “Why you?” And I'm sure if we haven't asked it already we will ask it. But for today, as we are together, let's try not to ask the question. Let's try to be thankful for each of the seventy years Paula lived and especially for the last twenty years that she nearly didn't see. Let's be thankful for our friendships, relationships and as we keep her firmly in our hearts and minds today let's talk of all the good times; those we lived with her and those she lived with others. And let's be thankful that nearly all her 49 years of marriage were good years. It is tragic that Bill is sick and cannot be here today but today let's think of the life they shared. Let's remember all those good times. Share our memories. Laugh. Cry. And support one another in the way Paula would ask us to.

To close, with a poem by Anne Bronte, written down by Paula in her book:

Farewell to thee! But not farewell
To all my fondest thoughts of Thee;
Within my heart they still shall dwell
And they shall cheer and comfort me.

Life seems more sweet that Thou didst live
And men more true that Thou were one;
Nothing is lost that Thou didst give,
Nothing destroyed that Thou hast done.

In our loss, in our sadness, remember that:

Nothing is lost that Paula didst give,
Nothing is destroyed that she hast done.


Nothing is lost.

Farewell to thee, Paula. Farewell my mother. Farewell.
You are gone. Yet you remain.

Nothing is lost.