Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Special 250th Post: The Way Things Are Now. Seven Joys.

This is the 250th post.  That's an important milestone for me though, objectively, it's just another number.  I decided a while ago that I wanted to write something more out of the ordinary for this post.  Or at least more out of the ordinary for my blog.  I didn't want it just to be some days from my gratitude diary.  I didn't want it just to be some photos from an enjoyable day out.  I love both of those things and they're going to get another mention later.  I wanted something more.

The trouble was, I didn't know what that more should be.

Should I give a rundown of everything that's happened in the three years since I began posting?

Should I give a rundown just of this year?

Should I state some of the things that are important to me?

Should I list the things that bring me joy, the things that are providing meaning and centre and direction to me at this point?

I didn't know.   I'd written the 249th post - one of those with photos from an enjoyable day out.  And I didn't know what the 250th post should be.  Not yet.

Tonight something happened.  Something that only filled a few seconds of my life.  Literally.  A few seconds.  And now I know.

This evening I attended a free event at the Literary and Philosophical Library in Newcastle.  The second I've attended this week and the third I've attended ever.

I was pleased to be at this one, a talk by Laura Bates, who started the Everyday Sexism Project and wrote and compiled the excellent book Everyday Sexism.  If you haven't got a copy of that book then get one and read it.  It's worthwhile.  It doesn't matter whether the book is a real eye opener for you or whether you know it all already.  Either way it's worthwhile.

Yeah, I was pleased.  She spoke at Newcastle University a while back and I missed hearing her and was glad to be free to hear her tonight.  She spoke well.  It was clear, eloquent and highlighted many of the things that the project has expressed both through hard evidence in print, and in soft evidence of anecdotes - evidence that becomes very hard when the anecdotes are piled on top of each other, thousands upon thousands upon thousands upon thousands.

Laura Bates is great.  She is.  The project is great.  And the work that she's found herself doing since the project began is great.  I don't think she could ever have predicted it when she started what was planned as a tiny thing.  I am glad I attended her talk.

But something happened.

And it happened less than fifteen seconds before entering the library to hear the talk.

It was this:

Two women passed by me in the street.
One of them pointed at me.
She said "What the fuck is that?" (exact quote)
And they walked on.

I was surprised.  That kind of thing doesn't happen much to me.  Not recently.  But more than anything I was amused to receive such a transphobic comment when almost at the door of a talk about sexism.

Now.  I could write this 250th blog post about this incident.  About transphobia.  About the pressures on transgender people to look a certain way.  About the quest - which I confess I followed somewhat - to pass.  About the privileges a transgender person gets if they pass.  About the privileges they lack if they don't pass:  Namely the privilege to be able to walk down a street without being abused for being transgender.  I could write a lot about the meaning of this kind of abuse, about how those women were saying in effect, "I believe that a woman has to look and be like this and you don't fit the picture in my head and so, as a lesser human being, it is acceptable to insult you."

I could write about how all that fits in with sexism.  With gender stereotyping.  With sexual stereotyping.  How women are pressured to look a certain way.   How men are expected to look a certain way.  How trans women and trans men are expected even more so to look a certain way.  How non-binary people get stuck in the middle of all this and how that in itself raises a whole load more issues.

I could.  I could write lots of thoughts that are in my head - thoughts that have been developed over the past three and a half years since I realised that I absolutely needed to transition and started to tell people and live as the woman I am.

I'm not going to write all that.  Not today.  I'm not.  Because all those things are out there for you to read already.  Some of them are in posts on this blog expressed with a greater or lesser sense of clarity or coherent development.   But mainly because this is my 250th post on this blog.  And I want it to be a happy one.

I thought back to three years ago.  Three years ago my life was different.  Three years ago such verbal abuse was almost a constant in my life.  Because I didn't pass.  (And had worse dress sense and less confidence)  For a while, almost every single time I left the house alone I would receive verbal abuse of some kind.  It was really very bloody horrible.  At times I didn't know how I would be able to do this transition thing.  Perhaps without the support I had - from family, friends, Metropolitan Community Church, and the local transgender support group - I would have backed out and said it's too hard for me.

That was three years ago.  Abuse.  Abuse.  Abuse.  When alone in the street, abuse.

Things are very different now.  Abuse is rare.  I was talking with someone about this today.  About how far I have come along this path of being me.

Things are very different now.  Mostly, any abuse doesn't affect me.  Water off a duck's back.  I was feeding ducks today.

So.  My 250th blog post.  Isn't about abuse.  It's not really about the three years since starting this blog.  A blog I started in order to write about being transgender, about transition and which hardly turned out to be about that part of my life at all because, let's face it, it's actually quite dull!

My 250th blog post.  Is about some of the things that help me.  Right now.  Things that have developed during the last twelve months.  I have found this year very difficult at times.  But I am blessed in so many different ways.  These are a few of them.  Not all of them.

One year ago none of these things were in my life.

Three years ago I hadn't really thought about the possibility of these things ever being in my life.

Thing the First

This autumn I joined a choir.  Not just any choir.  A brand new choir in Newcastle.  This is SHE Choir, something that already exists in London and Manchester.

It's a women's choir.  A women only space.  And it's the very first time that I've managed to be brave and confident enough to put myself forward to be in a women only space and part of a women only organisation.  The first time.  That's massive for me.  Massive.

A friend who has never got to the choir - a friend from another singing group I attend sometimes - posted about the first rehearsal on Facebook.  I thought it sounded good but normally I might have scrolled over it.  A designated, explicitly women only space.  I'm not ready.  For some reason, probably relating to wanting to sing some more, I clicked on the group and took a look.

The group description began like this: A community choir for women, anyone who identifies as a woman, or anyone who identifies as gender fluid/gender queer.

Yes!  Yes!  That's the reason why I felt able to get to that first rehearsal.  A group description that was specifically trans inclusive.  Without that sentence I would probably have stayed away.  Afraid of not being accepted.  Afraid too of the perceived horror of possibly having to drop an octave sometimes when I sang.

I got there and found that I was completely accepted into that space as a woman.  And I cannot tell you what a relief that was, how good it felt, and how much it meant to me.  I am crying a bit while typing this paragraph because it has meant so much.  To have such a welcome and warm acceptance as a woman among a group of woman none of whom I had ever met before that evening.  It blew me away.

I've loved having that choir in my life and seeing those people each week I've been able to be there.  I love that I'll see them again this weekend and during next week and that we'll be having a little performance very soon.  I love that there is never even the slightest sense that anyone might be looking at me a bit weird for being transgender.  I love that.  Because I looked at myself a lot weird - and much worse than weird - for most of my life.

Yeah.  SHE Choir has helped me a lot.  Every week.  Plus singing is fun and I need to do more of it next year as my mental health continues to improve.  Plus there's the added bonus that I am singing the lowest of the three women's parts without yet having to drop down an octave.  Not once!  It's a push sometimes but I've hit every note without even switching to head voice.  Does that make me happy?  God yes!

I'm not the only one the choir has helped.  Someone at the rehearsal this week was saying just what it had meant to her to be there.  And there are others too who have found something that satisfies a real need they have, whatever that need might be.  It's been a force for good for all of us.

Thing the Second

I quit church this year.  After twenty-six years.  That's been very good for me.  Not because my church was a bad place filled with bad people.  Far from it, and I've already mentioned how I might not have made it through to this point without the support I found there from the moment I first walked in the door and happened to be greeted by the then pastor who within three short sentences let me know that I was in a safe space to be myself.

I officially joined that church.  Two years and a few days ago.  Much to my own surprise.

I officially left again this year.  Which was also much to my own surprise.

I am very glad I did.  Quitting, putting a definitive stop to my church going, has given me a great deal of freedom to explore more about who I am, what I believe, how I want to live and so on and so on.  I'm still exploring.  That will never end I hope.  And in the exploration I am finally learning what it truly means to live as myself and finally learning what it is that I can be passionate about without it being a self-destructive passion.

Thing the Third

I have a bus pass.  An autism diagnosis may not have brought me many practical, physical benefits.  But it's brought me this one.  A bus pass.

And it has changed my life.  In a staggeringly big way.  Especially once I got it through my thick head what having it could mean.  That didn't happen until April 22nd - a date I've written about in this blog.

I can now go places and not worry about us not having spare money to afford to go places.  Today I went to Morpeth - a Metro ride and a bus ride away.  I wouldn't have done that without the bus pass because of the cost of getting there.  Last week it was Woodhorn museum and a park.  Since April I have been out exploring and visiting places more than I have for the previous five years put together.

The bus pass has removed a worry and enabled a better life.  Which leads me on to 

Thing the Fourth

Photography!  I had taken photos before this year of course.  But I've taken far more this year and developed a love for it that may develop further as the next year progresses.

I have quite a cheap phone and it's the source of all the photos I've taken since replacing an even cheaper phone.  I'm counting the new phone as thing the fourth even though that's slightly cheating.  Oh well.  It's my blog and I make the rules!

Photos have brought me joy.   Taking them.  Posting them.  Remembering them.  A record of all the places that bus pass enables me to go and of the places I'd have gone to anyway.

Thing the Fifth

Blob Thing.  Yes.  My small pink soft toy has unexpectedly helped me.  He was made on New Year's Eve last year and I didn't know what to do with him.  The way he has become an important part of my life has astonished me.  His blog currently contains 119 posts.  And that way that's developed has astonished me too.  I love my soft toy dearly.  And I love his sister too who was added to the soft toy family in July.

Thing the Sixth

Writing.  Yes, that's new too.  It's not that I wasn't writing a year ago.  I was.  Sometimes.  It's that my whole relationship with writing has changed in the past twelve months.  I want to write about that more at some point.  A year ago I would write a blog post.  Every now and again.  I'd written a few not-good poems in the previous couple of years.  This year it took off.

After an enthusiastic beginning in December 2013, between 2014 and 2015 I wrote 57 posts on this blog.  This one will be the 176th this year.  That doesn't include the 119 posts on Blob Thing's blog.  That's 295 posts so far.  In 336 days.

But that's not all.  This year I've found the confidence to go along to something called The Writers' Cafe, a regular meeting for writers that takes place in a cafe.  The clue was in the name.  I've known about it for ages but would never attend myself because hey, I'm not a proper writer.  How could I ever hope to fit in among all those other people who must be proper writers because they go to The Writers' Cafe?

Just before the summer break I plucked up courage.  And why?  Largely because that friend who had clicked "Interested" about the first She Choir rehearsal clicked "Interested" on a Writers' Cafe session.  It sounded interesting and seeing her interest was enough to spur me to be brave and attend.  Was she there?  No she wasn't.  And I have never seen her there.  She's a very busy person and can't be everywhere she wants to be but has greatly improved my life through not turning up for things!

I found a warm welcome from the "proper" writers and was amazed to find that I did fit in, that the free written exercises we did were good for me and that what I wrote didn't seem to be total crap compared to everyone else.  In fact nothing I heard that day sounded like total crap.  We produced very different results to each other and some other people were also worried about sounding like total crap.  Aren't we a strange bunch of people.

So I went back and when time and mental health have allowed I've kept going back.  I've met good people and hope to get to know them all more next year and to meet more people connected with the many writing events that happen here.

The blog.  The cafe.  But that's not all.  I've written more at home too.  Stories.  Little bits of prose.  I wrote a 9,500 word story for Amanda's birthday and will one day return to it, improve it, and extend it.  I've written shorter stories, quite a few short pieces from prompts, things that won't ever see the light of day too.  I've written a 7,500 word monologue from an unrepentant killer.  I have nearly finished the draft of a Christmas story that will head towards 10,000 words.

In short I have written far, far more this year than I ever have before.  And I have loved it.

And that's not all.  Last month I had a moment of total clarity and as a result of that moment I gave up something in my life that could have been very good.  I gave it up and gave it away.  Because I knew that it wasn't what I was meant to be doing.  What am I meant to be doing?  Yep.  Writing.

I am very excited for next year because I know that I will allow myself to write more.  My skill will improve and I'll learn new writing skills.  I'll work through a course or two too.  I'll meet people and share the writing experience.  Perhaps I'll even find the bravery to get up and read things I've written, to perform.  And if I see something that looks exciting perhaps I'll even submit writing to publications or competitions, without caring much whether it is every published or prize winning because I'm writing it for my own joy.

Yeah.  Writing is big in my life right now.  And as I head into 2017 perhaps it's the thing that is bringing me most excitement and meaning.  I am loving it.  I find I am gradually releasing a passion into being.  I believe that writing will take me somewhere.  Somewhen.  Those unknowns are exciting too.  But if writing just leads me to my own joy and satisfaction then that's fine too.

Thing the Seventh

The Sunday Assembly.  Especially the Sunday Assembly Newcastle Gratitude Group on Facebook.  If you read this blog with any regularity or irregularity you'll have seen it and seen how I got a bit obsessive about trying to post in that group every day.

Thing the seventh is really this: Gratitude.  It's finding the joy every day.  Even on the days that are pretty crappy, the days on which I want to give up.  It's trying to look past all the rubbish bits and find that blessing in everything.  The group has encouraged me to do that and I've only missed nine days in eleven months - most of them because I was too busy doing good things and forgot to post.

Gratitude has helped me greatly this year.  As the song by Tankus the Henge says, "Smiling makes the day go quicker."  I could link that into another of the good and unexpected things this year has contained for the first time.  There's been a lot of crap in the last twelve months.  A lot of crap.  But it's been a great year.

Seven things.  That's enough.  A 250th blog post filled with happiness.  My closest friends and family might point to my list and say "What about this?"  "Isn't this thing new and important?"  My list of six isn't exhaustive.  I know full well that this year has contained many other brilliant things, some of which will come round and hit me with their meaning next year. 

The list is joyful.  It's positive.  And it all looks to my future with confidence.  This is part of me.  Now.

This is my life.  It's not quite what I expected.  But it's mine.

[3292 words]

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