Wednesday, 29 June 2016

An intermission: I did a thing!

Oh lord another 6/7 months goes by and I don't update this. I've been really busy lately and this has just fallen by the wayside.
In any case, as a break from the alphabet theme, I wanted to make a post about what I was doing a few weekends back;

I went to a furry convention! Not only that I had a amazing time.

For those who don't know what a furry is let me try and explain (this goes double for those who immediately get a really strong image in their mind).

The Furry Fandom (or furries for short) is a subculture of people interested in the anthropomorphism of animals. I.e. animals with human characteristics, or vice versa (think Disney's Robin Hood, or Zootopia). That is probably the simplest and broadest explanation, but it doesn't really explain who furries are, or what they do. I've decided to look at what people did at the con as a viewport into the subculture. Often it's easy to start with what someone does, rather than trying to define it or explain the why's behind it.

The subculture is really diverse and defies description; my attempt is really focused on what I've experienced. Furries have a really bad reputation, which is largely unwarranted. There might be some truth in some of the things people say but almost nothing applies to 'all furries'. Take everything with a pinch of salt.

Friendship
This might seem like an odd place to start but the furry fandom is like any other subculture; a group of people with a shared interest. It doesn't matter if you're thing is rock music, computer games, anime, horror films, or anthropomorphic animals when you get together with like minded people it's easier to make friends and feel at home. It might not be the first thing you think of, but a major part of these subcultures is growing and maintaining friendships; furries are no different.

Cons are amazing for this; most of the con was spent meeting people and hanging out. Sitting and chatting with a drink just like anyone else would; I could have easily been at a sci-fi or gaming convention half the time and not much would have been different.

Sex & Porn (not what you think!)

Ok, I'm going to address this really early and quickly then go into more detail later. The Furry fandom is NOT, I repeat NOT entirely and solely about Sex and Porn. It's not a fetish group. It's just a group of people with a shared interest. Like anime, Star Trek, comic books, etc, etc, etc.

That said, and I'll go into more detail later, that doesn't mean that it's entirely clean and PG, it really isn't, there was fair amount of porn (tastefully) available; it's just not the defining characteristic. I mentioned I was going to the con to a few people and had to explain to several that no, it's not a sex thing, no it's not a kink thing, yes Izzy is fine with it because IT'S NOT A SEX THING.

Fursonas
Most furries have at least one, if not several Fursonas (furry persona); these are alter ego's or characters, often representing or reflecting part of their creators. Some people put a lot of time, thought and energy into their fursonas, some less so.

To express these fursonas people will often create or commission artwork illustrating their fursonas, this often includes reference sheets; a fully detailed rendering of their characters appearance. These can then be used as a basis for further commission work, for others to include in their artwork, or form the basis for building fursuits.

I'll cover fursuits in detail later since they deserve their own section; but it's important to note that most of the stuff  bellow is largely immaterial when limited to just artwork. It only really becomes apparent when people are expressing their fursona in the form of a fursuit.

What animal or creature people choose for their fursona is normally related to their personality, or things they like. For example someone with a fondness for dogs might choose a canine fursona. They may also be based on the characteristics of the creature in question. Foxes are a common thread usually because of their playful and excitable nature (or at least their perceived nature). They can also be mythical or non existent creatures and even monsters; there were a fair number of dragons at the con for example.

There's a perception that furries care A LOT about their fursonas and treat them with real reverence. In my experience (largely via the people I know / met) people treat them more like much loved RPG characters. Yes they may mirror part of you, or help you express something which you normally find difficult, but at the end of the day it's all about fun and self expression rather than deep personal discovery, or connecting with some kind of inner soul (see otherkin).

As a quick example; A personal friend of mine has two fursonas (N.B. I'm sure the person will be able to tell who they are, I don't want to put words in your mouth so let me know if I've missed the mark here!) This is largely my interpretation of things they've said and how they act rather than things directly said to me.

One is a friendly dragon who like hugs and tea, and is female. Why choose this for a fursona? Because they a friendly person who likes tea and dragons. It's that simple.

That said, they were saying that they felt like this dragon character was a kind of reflection of themselves. Not that they truly deep down felt that they were a dragon, but that the style and aesthetics of dragons appealed to them. I've not spoken to them directly about it but I suspect it's something to do with their strong, ancient, wise, and mysterious nature. It's similar to what I was saying about faries in a previous post.

They also said that they had recently had a hard time nailing down the characters, well, character. This kind of makes sense really. It's hard to translate yourself in to a character since being yourself comes so naturally.

Their other fursona is almost a polar opposite. It's a horned, hoofed demon who is male, and surprisingly sassy. The demon has a lot more character to it; especially when it comes to how they move while in fursuit; it's a lot more primal, darker and more tricksy but with an edge of sinister. There is also something about it that feel masculine, something they themselves have said. To me it seems like a really safe, fun and expressive way to explore the more masculine aspects of their psyche.

I'm partly over analyzing here because it really grabbed me as a great example of why I find the fandom interesting.

Fursuits
When most people think of furries they probably picture a bunch of people in big mascot outfits, and yes that's a fairly accurate picture to be fair; fursits are probably the most iconic and notable thing about furries.

Fursuits are simply a costume of a particular fursona. They're not dissimilar to costumes stage, TV, or even LARP characters might ware, in concept at least. Wearing a fursuit isn't actually all that different from playing a character either. Most furries refer to the act of wearing a fursuit as playing that character. Similarly some may refer to a character being played by a person.

It's a performance, even for those who feel a very strong bond with their fursona. And as I mentioned above the same person can act very differently when playing different fursonas.

But what do people do in a fursuit? In truth? Largely not a great deal it would seem. At the con it was mostly walking the con floor as the character. There were some fursuit orientated activities such as dancing and some silly games but by and large it was an excuse to play their characters, pose for photos, etc.

This is probably for the best. I've heard more than one person describe wearing a fursuit like being inside a sofa; you can't see properly, breathing isn't great, you can't really drink or eat anything and going to the bathroom is impossible. It's also relentlessly warm and sweaty. Walking around for an hour or two is hard enough, having sex would be both extraordinarily difficult and unrewarding. Yet people think it's a thing furries regularly do.

One notable thing about fursuits I wanted to cover is the inherent anonymity. While most fursuits are crafted to one specific person, they can be worn by anyone roughly the same size and shape meaning that you don't always really know who is under all that fur and padding; even if you know the suit (admittedly I think sharing suits is fairly limited).

Some people find this concept intimidating, and while I can completely understand that (especially outside con environments) it did result in some interesting experiences and thoughts. The biggest one being unconscious bias and/or prejudice.

When someone is in a fursuit you can't see the colour of their skin, their age, the gender etc. All you see is what they want you to see, via the veil of a fursuit, and how they act. From that you build up a picture of who this character is; not necessarily the person. It was a really interesting experience; and in some ways quite liberating. I met a few people after I had, unknowingly, met their character and was often fairly surprised at the person under the head (as it were). It made me stop and think; to question myself about how I see people, and what judgement I make (knowingly or not) about them.

I mean I didn't have some kind of 'Oh god I'm a racist' epiphany or anything like that, but it did cause me to pause in a way that little else ever has. If anything it taught me to be more thoughtful and aware of unthinking bias; which can only be a good thing really.

LGBT aspects.
Somewhat unsurprisingly people who are happy to explore their psyche via animal traits are fairly happy to explore there own gender and sexual preference. They're also very accepting of LGBT people; and there seemed to be many in attendance even though Birmingham pride was the same weekend.

Normally when I've been dressed up in public I get this feeling where people have noticed but are trying not have. It's not that I feel they don't approve or aren't supportive, or that they even care but they've noticed none the less. I didn't really feel that at all, even from the hotel staff. It's probably the closest I've felt to normal while dressed up, even when just with friends or even at home.

I wore a few nice outfits and got a chance to actually wear my nice Dr. Martens boots which I've hardly worn so it was all great :)

Ok, so the porn thing ...
Everyone has things they find alluring or sexy. Almost everyone has some kind of kink and/or sexual fetish; even if they don't talk about it, really understand it, or accept it. It's a fairly normal part of being interested in sex.

Just think about that for a second. Almost everyone you meet; be that walking down the street, in a shop, over the phone, at work, in the pub, wherever; they most probably have something specific they like, even if they've never actually done it. And there's a massive range of things ... which I'm just going to gloss over; suffice to say it's broad and expansive.

A lot of people find talking about their kinks embarrassing and uncomfortable, even to their partners let alone anyone else. Others however don't, and in fact find it fun and interesting to talk to people with similar kinks. A lot of this happens online on forums and chat rooms. The BDSM community, for example is enormous, by and large extremely friendly, and welcoming. And while the perception might be that the community simply facilitates sex, it's almost always not the case. It's much more about sharing experiences, ideas, concepts, good porn, etc.

As I've said before, there's a perception that furries are very promiscuous and that the fandom is geared towards that. From what I've seen however I'd have to disagree. Most furries know what they like, and aren't afraid to talk about it, especially with one another; and since the fandom is heavily skewed towards artwork it is often expressed as porn, which is inevitably on the internet, and similarly inevitably fairly easy to find.

This, and the general openness most furries have about their sexuality has formed this reputation; by and large it's unfair. Yes furries like their porn, but I don't think they like porn and sex more than the average person, they're just less inhibited and have fairly odd tastes.

The big problem.
Like any subculture however the furry fandom has some black sheep (ha!). You sometimes hear stories of people wanting to change their legal species like someone might change their legal gender. Channel 4 for instance recently did a program entitled ‘The Secret Life of the Human Pups’ which introduced people (notably 3 men) who liked to dress up as, and pretend to be dogs.

While these people may be part of the fandom, they do not by any means represent it. They're the outliers. Have you ever been part of a subculture, or even something like a political party and found yourself being stereotyped by one specific extreme viewpoint or aspect of that group? That's kind of how most furries feel about it. Same as trans women getting lumped in the same group as drag acts, something I've mentioned before.

It's not fair, but it's understandable. People find it easy to jump to conclusions, and when the most obvious and apparent example is the one being pushed by media (because it's sensational and / or really weird) the cultural mentality can become really fixed. For how long have gay men been shown on tv as limp wristed queens? Or how all Germans are Nazis (Godwins)? How many of these are actually accurate? Practically none, but they often have some (if tiny and/or historic) root in reality.

Part of why I'm writing this is to try and dispel some of the misinformation around furries. Much as I write this blog to try and help inform people about trans issues.

Some expected questions.
While writing this I knew some questions would likely be forming in the minds of a few. Here are some answers; feel free to ask some more if you like.

So are you a furry now?
Short answer? Maybe. Long answer; I don't know. I certainly had a really great time and met a lot of interesting people. I guess it's been something on my periphery for a while so maybe? I don't know. I do know I'd like to go again, if for no other reason to hang out with the people I met again. I'm certainly happy to call myself a furry ally, if not one myself (I think some would just say I'm in denial however).

Why did you decide to go in the first place?
I'd been invited by a friend of mine since she thought I'd enjoy it, and that I'd get on with a lot of the people she knew. It sounded interesting and, as I said above, it was kind of on my periphery anyway. The thing that tipped the scale for me was the thought that if I chose to dress up I'd probably A) be really quite safe and B) go unnoticed what with the GIANT ANIMAL SUITS. I wanted to see how that would feel.

What's the strangest thing you saw at the con?
Honestly, probably a guy walking around in a t-shirt, jeans and bright red knee high stiletto boots. And it was just the shear juxtaposition of it that caught me off guard.

Oh there was the cyclops anime facemask thing. Which did just flat creep me out.

I don't believe you about the not a sex thing. 
I'm not going to lie. There was porn. It was tastefully hidden but really easy to find if you wanted it. There were probably people hooking up and doing stuff, but that was entirely behind closed doors. As I said, furries know what they like and don't mind talking about it. However there were really strict rules about what was, and wasn't allowed in public.

I personally didn't witness any evidence of people hooking up, but there were a few rumors flying around. To be honest most of the people I spent time with found the idea of hooking up at a con for casual sex really off putting and unsettling in a 'well each to their own but no thanks' kind of way.

What was that about Otherkin?
It's fairly easy to conflate furries with otherkin, but they're really not the same thing. Furries are interested in the aesthetics and style of anthropomorphic animals. Otherkin believe that they are in part or entirely not human. To use a clique a 'fox trapped in a mans body'. While there might be a bit of overlap between the groups most furries aren't otherkin, and many find them a bit strange.

What's animal are you / What's your fursona?
I don't know / I don't really have one. If I had to pick something I'd probably go with some kind of woodland creature or spirit. Possibly something like a deer? It mirrors the graceful yet powerful thing I mentioned a while back.

I still think it's weird and nothing you're going to say will dissuade me.
That's fair, It's a weird hobby and I think most furries would agree. That said, try to keep in mind that it's probably less weird than you think and that all furries want to do is have fun and express themselves, and that most of the media you see isn't really reflective of the average furry. And as strange as they might be they have no more chance of being a threat to you than any random stranger might.

Final Thoughts
I had a lot of fun. I think I'd like to go again next year. I met a lot of people, and made some friends. I would say however it's not for everyone; I defiantly felt overwhelmed when I arrived on the first day, like I'd made a really bad mistake and wasn't going to have fun, but after having a drink and meeting a few people I started having fun very quickly. I also managed to dress up a fair amount, which was great :)

Monday, 14 December 2015

A to Z: Identity

I didn't mean to wait 6 months to update this, but this one has been difficult ... again. I don't know why but I just had issues finding the right words to convey what I wanted without it sounding contrived. I guess it's a a harder topic to write about than I initially thought, I've tried to start this several times now and I can't think of a non blunt way of saying it.
I don't know who I am. I don't know who I want to be. So I have no earthly idea of how to go from A to B.

It's a complex puzzle, and I only ever get little flashes. Sometimes it's an item of clothing, or a certain style. Other times it's a person, or a group of people. I see how they carry themselves, or their general approach to life and think, yes, I want to be like that. It never really ads up to a whole person. Not only that it changes over time; I'm not the same person I was last year, and neither is the person I want to be.

I feel like I'm aimlessly grasping for something in the dark; there's something out there, but I have no way to find it. Maybe this is just how everyone feels. I don't know. All I know is that it's a great source of distress. I feel like I'm failing myself. Failing too live up to who I could be. Not really being who I am inside. Saying I feel trapped would be too dramatic, but I certainly don't like feeling like this. As I get older I fear that my opportunities are dwindling. The reality of life is pushing down on me. The time to 'find yourself' has passed and now you've got to get down to actual life.

And that's the other big issue. Even if I knew what changes I wanted to make, it doesn't mean society at large would be comfortable with, or accepting of those changes. Especially in the industry I want to work in.
I guess clothes are an easy and obvious way to express this  disconnected feeling. They're a very easy and clear way to change if not how you feel, but the way people see you. I often feel depressed when I see styles or items (or experiences / hobbies too I guess) I really like, but 'can't have'. Sometimes the fact that I don't feel like I can have them is what makes me feel so down. It's not the necessarily that it wouldn't suit me, or that it's too expensive (not that those aren't issues too, but they are more generic issues for everyone) but more that I couldn't get way with it. That it's not really me. But if I like it doesn't that de facto mean that is is?

To pull a couple of examples out. I've always wanted to do ballet (I think I mentioned this before). It's kind of a defining thing for a guy to do, especially at the age you need to start at to progress well. At that age I was both really confused, and stupidly afraid of anyone finding out that I wanted to do it that I aggressively moved away from it to fit into the little clique of non sporty people I ended up with. I'm almost 100% sure I would have been bullied if I had done ballet as a child. At the end of the day however I knew there were no tutus at the end of that line, for me anyway, so I discounted it. I sometimes think I should try looking into it now, but adult ballet classes sound really intimating. Do I want to be that person?
Another example would be Gothic Lolita fashion. It's a style that appeared in Japan inspired by Victoria\Edwardian clothing. Lots big floofy dresses with lace, frills, corsets, bows, tiny top hats, etc etc. It's a cute style that has always appealed to both me, and a lot of other trans* people. It can work well for androgyny if you have the right body shape to pull it off. I, and many others do not, all it really does is highlight the 'man in a dress' effect. It's sadly become a thing society in general (notably the internet) has grabbed hold of as an amusing thing to point and laugh at, the archetypal 'I'm a lady' crossdresser. There are some versions of it which do work, largely focusing on waistcoats and frilly shirts than big floofy dresses with bows. It tends to be more gothy while keeping the style and being slightly more androgynous.

There are many of these examples. Things which I (or maybe the person I want to be) like(s) but feel that I shouldn't, or can't. I don't know what to do about it. I don't feel like I have the freedom to try anything in fear of getting judged and in someway being discriminated against. I wish I was able to chose what gender to present as day to day. Try things out, see how it feels to live as a woman for a bit, maybe I'd feel better, maybe not. I don't think most places and/or people would be welcome that however, let alone an employer.
There are a couple of people in particular who seem to be able to enjoy anything they want without seeming to worry what people think. I don't know how they do it, maybe it's just a self confidence / self esteem thing.

On a lighter and more positive note; Earlier this year to of my good friends got married. It was a wonderful wedding and I enjoyed myself immensely. It was great to see a bunch of friends I rarely get to see, as well as being a nice little holiday. Something that made it special for me was that, with the approval, nay encouragement of the couple I chose to present as female. I got to wear a dress to a wedding. OK so it wasn't MY wedding or a wedding dress, but it was amazing none the less.

So, a few weeks before the wedding I went dress shopping with my mother in law. It was a really fun experience, if a little nerve wracking. After looking in almost every shop in Cambridge I tried some on in Phase Eight, and eventually choose this dress. It fits really well, feels amazing to wear, and flatters my figure. At the time it stood out to me as something I wouldn't normally like, something 'not me'. I'm not sure if my tastes have just shifted slightly, or in choosing something for a special occasion made it seem more real. I was buying a real dress to wear to a wedding. All day, rather than something to wear at home or at a house party with friends. In some ways I think it stood out as more feminine than I would have other-wised picked. Again, not sure what that means or where that feeling is coming from.
When the day came I was really apprehensive and nervous; simultaneously really looking forward to the experience, but also dreading something happening and having to deal with things like taxis. I was worried the taxi we had booked to take us to the ceremony would just turn around and leave when they saw me, but they didn't. Nothing bad happened at all. I had a great time, and received compliments from several people.

I was asked several times about correct pronouns, and alternate names. I'd honestly never really thought about pronouns. When I dress up I don't feel like I become someone different, I feel different, and act differently (I think at least), but I don't feel like I inherently change identity. It being like a different lens between who I am and the world. It shows some hidden things, and hides some others ... or something like that anyway. As the day went on (and the alcohol was imbibed) I felt more and more comfortable. As always, I'd be interested to know if people felt like my personality changed, if I acted differently. I definitely danced a bit, which is unusual for me.

I can't think of anyone (and please do correct me if I'm wrong) who's primary memory of meeting me is while I was presenting as female. I.e. I think everyone who I count as a friend, or even acquaintance knows me as male. Since I nominally present male that's not surprising, but it does mean people default to male pronouns, which I am fine with. As I say, not really thought about it much before now.

A few years ago I setup an alternate facebook account, on which I present female. It was partly to separate divisive things like photos out, but also to experiment with a female persona. It doesn't get much use, but it's nice to have that outlet. A few moths after the wedding I posted a photo of a new dress. There were several replies, but one stood out in particular. It used female pronouns in reference to me. It hit me oddly out of the blue. I don't know why I never expected someone to do so but I hadn't. It felt good. Some kind of validation maybe? I don't know. It kind of felt right, for that photo, for that person anyway.
I feel that for some of my friends attending an important event like a wedding presenting female was a trigger for them to question pronouns and alternate names. I definitely got more questions about it after that than before; maybe it made it seem more real to them? Less of a quirk? I don't want people to worry about upsetting / offending me over pronouns, I largely don't care; and unless I decide to live presenting female I don't think that will change.

As for names. I have an alternate which I use, I'm not sure I'd choose to use it if I did change gender, but it works for things like facebook. I don't feel a great attachment to that name. I oddly actually feel more attachment to my main WoW character; Rosedawn.

It's probably a little sad, but I really like the name. Spending a lot of time playing her helped too. It's not like I sat there and really felt that I was this blood elf rouge, but looking back on it the concept that the person people saw in the world as me happened to be female is oddly comforting. In fact it's not only a common feeling among transgender gamers, but has also been noted those researching in the field.

I've spent a lot of time talking around the question of identity and not actually talking about it directly. Maybe I'll do that in another post soon. This one has already gone on a bit so I guess I'll leave the rest for now.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

A to Z: Happiness

I've been wanting to update this blog for a while; things have conspired to get in the way.

I had an idea for H, but it required some research and after doing some I quickly realised I was way out of my depth and didn't really know how I felt, which made it tricky to write about. That little gap made getting back into it harder. I'm not going to say that I'll update on a schedule yet but we'll see what happens.
This week my focus is Happiness, or lack thereof. This is somewhat a rehash of my Depression post; I wanted to cover it again now I'm a little older. To take a look at why I started this blog and try to help people understand what goes on in my head. Sorry if this ends up being too similar to the Depression post.

I am not a happy person. I never really have been. Not in the banal everyday sense at least. Even from being quite young I knew something was off. I once told a primary school teacher that I felt depressed, (I must have been maybe 9 or 10, I don't remember exactly) said teacher assumed I'd heard the word and didn't really understand. I did understand it in part it would seem. I knew it meant sad or unhappy without an obvious reason. I have absolutely no idea where I picked up the word or the meaning however.

It's a feeling that has persisted throughout my life. It's part of who I am and I don't think it'll ever go away. I don't really know what the route cause is. As I said before not having a full time job (still) is a large source, but even when those stresses are lessened a deeper, persistent, looming unhappiness sinks in. And that I think comes from my crossdressing.

To be blunt; regardless of what I chose to do to my body, surgery or otherwise, it will never live up to the mental image of who I want to be.
I wouldn't be the first person to think "Wow, I wish I had her figure", it really isn't a solely transcentric issue. I'm know a lot of cis women feel this way, but I think it's more acute for trans people; especially when that feeling comes in surges. I see someone in an outfit I like and it completely derails my thought process; it wrecks my self confidence and can easily cause me to spiral downwards (again, not saying I'm a special snowflake here, just that I experience it too).

And this is where it sucks. Because I like nice clothes, and I often know the people in them. I hate the idea that someone wouldn't wear what they want because they don't want to upset me. If nothing else people with the kinds of figures I'd like to have myself should enjoy them and wear the most flattering things they can get their hands on because god dammit life is only so long.

So what can I do? Deal with it I guess. Become happy with who I am or change. In the past someone raised the point that if I really wanted to transition, surely I would have made moves to do so by now. I don't remember what I said at the time because I was somewhat drunk and it was quite a while back now. Simply put it's not that simple (not to imply that they thought it was trivial). There's a lot of things to be afraid of; people tend to underestimate how hard it still is to transition.

GPs are notoriously bad at dealing with trans issues. It's a very difficult area for them to cover, even though it's becoming increasingly common. In my experience they will try to refer you anyone else, someone, anyone, who is in a better position to deal with you than they are. That or deny you treatment. They shouldn't do this, but they do. I've been flat told that no NHS mental health counselling exists in Cambridgeshire for me to be referred to, let alone for trans specific issues.
The NHS has some specific rules about who can transition, and how they must do so. For example they ask that the patient live as their desired gender for 3 months before they are provided with any assistance. In a perfect world where people don't judge you heavily base on appearance alone this wouldn't necessarily be too bad. The general principle behind it is to make sure the patient will actually benefit from the process. However it's brutal, especially the older you get. For someone like me who isn't naturally very effeminate it would be intensely draining and degrading at best, downright dangerous at worst.

After that 3 month period you are eligible for hormone therapy. Following this the patient beings a year of 'real life experience', which is more of the same as above but with some more support. After this year, if you meet the requirements (maintaining employment being a big one, changing your name to be 'gender appropriate') you get a certificate to receive surgery, and to legally change your gender.

Some of that might not be 100% accurate, it's based off my own personal research, someone with first hand experience might be able to go into more detail / correct a few things.

There are medical risks as well. Hormones can cause blood clots, gallstones, hair loss (from the scalp), depression, and more. There are a lot of general risks of having any surgery / general anaesthetic, lest alone such a major procedure. Things like electrolysis for permanent facial hair removal and the like some risk, but less.
And finally, people suck. Unless you have a wonderful transition and come out being able to pass without a second glance (i.e. beginning the process pre puberty) then you will be ostracised to some degree. It is slowly getting better. More people are coming out as Transgender and transitioning including high profile people. However it's still a long and complicated process that a lot of people find very strange and uncomfortable, and at the end of the day you have to be really sure it's what you want, and that you'll be happier afterwards.

It's an enormous life changing risk. One that I might want to take some day, but now isn't the right time. The knowledge that that possible path is fraught with so much uncertainty, and may not have the transformative effect I want is a deep and pervasive source of sadness.

Monday, 6 May 2013

A to Z: Gender

I had originally intended to write about 'Going Out' but since I've covered that in several areas already I want to be a little more focused. The next few are going to be on a similar topic too, unless I change my mind  again.

I'm taking suggestions for R, T, U, V, and W. Also at some point I'm going to do an Questions and Answers session, for people who want to ask things but haven't had an opportunity. I'll post the questions anonymously, and reserve the right to not answer question I'm uncomfortable with.

This time I'd like to talk about gender, and how I feel about it.

Unfortunately we live in a society where people are expected to live within two distinct genders, forming a gender binary of socially acceptance. Deviation from the binary normally results in being shunned, this includes both those who exist outside it, or simply don't measure up to the expectation regardless of their gender identity. Clearly this poses an issue to those who want to live beyond their birth gender.

I suspect (and am aware that this is a bit of a stretch) most people don't have a real, deep down objections to the concept of an individual changing their gender if they so desire; there are exception based on religion and historical culture.

However discrimination and prejudice exist; I think this is centred around people's inability to quickly, and relatively cleanly categorize someone within the two genders they understand. It causes distress as it throws off the subconscious mindset people automatically fall into when interacting with people of a particulate gender, it is outside their comfort zone. The normal human reaction to new and unknown things is fear; and fear can drive people to do horrible things. Sometimes however this fear transcends itself and becomes discrimination and prejudice. The ability to fool this subconscious categorisation and to be accepted into the opposite gender is known as passing.
For some passing is extremely important, being able to live your life without being found out, being "read" is a lifelong desire and challenge. Unfortunately there isn't much leeway since even naturally born women find themselves unable to keep up with the expectation and get branded as ungainly, or manish. This is hard enough for someone secure in their gender, however for someone striving to be who they feel they really are it can be devastating.

There are a few lucky people who have won the genetic lottery and manage to pass with relative ease, however there are also those who manage to pass despite their physical limitations via careful selection of clothing and make up, mixed with naturally feminine movements and posture.

There are however many people who just don't feel that they belong within one particular gender, they don't feel strongly male or female. Commonly refereed to as Genderqueer or Pangender it ranges from the desire to be generally androgynous, to being able to chose pick and chose which gender they wish to identify with at the time.

At this point I wanted to talk about how I see my gender, and the honest truth is that I have no earthly idea. There are times when I've felt entirely male, but I don't think I have ever felt anywhere near female. The times I've felt closest it's somewhat like a shadow of female, something like a 40/60 split, female to male. Definitely an "obviously a man in a dress" feeling, very clumsy and awkward.
My default state seems to be feeling male, but with a yearning to feel female. It's something I strive for and I'm not sure exactly why. I question if this feeling is self influencing, by which I mean; do I want to feel more feminine because I think that's what I want? or do I want to feel more feminine because it IS what I want, and I am finding it hard to really rationalise what it means.

I often find myself wondering how differently events and activities would pan out if I had chosen to appear female. Sometimes I find it quite challenging to picturing, especially regarding banal, everyday events and activities; I simply can't see how appearing female fits in that context. For example doing general shopping, or even walking around town. It's likely related to why I find it hard to encourage myself to crossdressing at home, alone. All this makes me question the desire to crossdress in it's entirety.

One of the reasons for this might be never having felt that I was feeling feminine. These feelings are not easy quantify or convey, which is why I don't say I've never felt feminine; simply put I don't know what feeling feminine really feels like, if that feeling truly exists. That said I'm relatively sure I've not experienced it yet, there have been times when I've caught a glimpse of it but never long enough to think about it in anything but clouded hindsight. I'm unsure what steps I can take to help attain this feeling but I suspect being happier with the fact that I crossdress, and with my appearance when I do will likely help. I'm sure some level of counselling would assist this but it is not exactly forthcoming, nor truth be told is my desire to seek it out.
When I crossdress I don't get a wave of joy or relief that I think people might expect, at the time I mostly just feel worried, apprehensive and often quite scared, yet I have the almost ever present desire to do it. Once that fades I do gain a sense of being at ease with that desire, almost like what I'm wearing has ceased to matter and I can just continue being myself, whoever that might be. However a feeling of self-conscious inadequacy can quickly override this feeling, along with a certain amount of physical discomfort.

Something I am interested in is how others feel I change when I crossdress, do they think I act more feminine? Do they think I seem happier or less stressed? I'm not sure, and it's not something I've really felt comfortable asking. Partly because I worry that the response with be overly positive and my latent paranoia will override what they are actually saying resulting in my assumption that they do not want to cause upset or offence and hence will tell me what I want to hear somewhat. As I've said before, I find it really hard to deal with that situation. I'd much rather be told something straight and have to deal with it; granted sometimes it's hard to hear and it might result in (short term) upset or offence. However I need to learn to deal with that and move on.

I guess the question I'm wrestling with is, 'which gender do I actually belong in?' I suspect the answer is neither. I think a more useful question might be 'what do I want to do about these feeling'? At the moment I think the answer is crawl under something and hide.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

A to Z: Fairy

One of the things I've wanted to talk about from the start of this blog is why I've chosen to represent my female side with a fairy. I'm going to try and cover this without getting embarrassed and thus missing bits out. In that frame of mind I want to talk about something a little out of scope in order to clarity how I don't feel.  

Otherkin
For some of you this might not be a new concept, but for those who don't understand here's a brief description from wiki;

Otherkin are a community of people who see themselves as partially or entirely non-human. They contend that they are, in spirit if not in body, not human.

In essence it encompasses anyone who believes that they are in some way, something not completely human; this includes not only those who feel they are animals, both real and mythical, along with more extensive fantasy tropes such as angels, demons, elves, and yes, fairies. It normally takes the form of the soul of said animal or creature being trapped inside the body of a human. 

Firstly, I am not going to be making any judgements on the topic; simply put I don't want to insult anyone or provoke an argument. Secondly, while the concept of otherkin has roots in native american totem iconography, zodiac signs and western fairy tails the subculture has only really come into it's own in the past 20 years, stimulated by the internet and the ability for these groups to communicate and support each other. And as anything online there is a lot of drama around it; especially covering rights to expression, and how ridiculous many people perceive it. There might also be something to the fact that many of the the current advocates and opposition are in the 16-25 age group and, it could be argued, that they are somewhat prone to melodramatic outbursts.
NB: A 7 point, or fairy star; a common otherkin symbol. Also happens to be quiet pretty.

Suffice to say, I do not count myself as otherkin, I do not believe that I am really a fairy, in any capacity and I don't believe fairies are real (as interesting as that might be). I wanted to clarify that early on to avoid anything I say being misconstrued.

Fairy vs fae
There are many kinds of fairy, each with their own history and array of varying aspects that have developed over time. They share many common themes and history but each version is slightly different. The two groups that I want to look at are Fairies, and Fae. There doesn't seem to be a distinct descriptive difference between these two groups, they share a common source; mostly related to either the land and/or unexplained things happening (sometimes inducing illness and death). However to me there is quite a clear conceptual difference.

The concept of fairies as tricksy, cunning and generally untrustworthy beings likely comes from the original  source version, which are very different to the fairies that often come to mind today. Personally I've never really liked this interpretation (as much as I do see it as the actually entomology), I tend to think of these traits being related more to the word fae rather than fairy.
In the early 20th century a new vision of fairy lore was forming, based on things like The Coming of the Fairies by Arthur Conan Doyle (and accompanying "Cottingley Fairies" images) and the famous Flower Fairies by Cicely Mary Barker. It hinted at a gentler, passive nature, as well as introducing wings as a key element. Over the years these themes have developed into what I think of as a new subset of the fairy mythos.

This said, I don't think of these new fairies to be devoid of all negative connotations, just those which results in illness and death; leaving overall kind beings who possess a sense of humour who will sometimes play tricks on people. And while I do think this creates a deeper, more interesting concept than being devoid of this "playful" side it isn't the elements of fairies that I personally like.

Keeping in mind what I said about otherkin, and how I'm not one of them, there are certain fairy like traits (and via extension, things that fairies represent) that speak to me, and that I would like to be more in tune with.

Kindness
As I alluded to in the previous section I prefer to think of fairies as generally kind and compassionate beings; they will likely chose to help you, but might do so in a rather odd, and not directly helpful way. Now obviously being kind has nothing to do with gender; I try my best to be nice to people and help people out whenever I can, so I'm doing what I can on that front.

Grace & Beauty
One of the most interesting (and enticing) traits common in (modern) fairies is their graceful nature and otherworldly beauty; this was really formed in the Victorian era, and has been pushed further by more modern interpretations.

I have always liked the way ballet flows, how the moves and positions can seamlessly blend together to create smooth, fluid motion which does create a strange otherworldly beauty. Given the chance I would have liked to have studied ballet, just not the male version therefore of (I have been told there isn't much  distinction until you get quite far, and then it's more about building upper body strength for lifts and flexibility rather than pointe work, which frankly is what I'd really love to do (yes I am crazy), also the men don't get to wear tutus which is just unfair).
Merging the two concepts, I do picture fairies moving in the same kind of ways ballet flows, not so much the particulars of the steps and positions, but more the smooth flow; how differing motions seem to glide into a singular motion, often followed by a pause before the next motion begins, this creates a smooth, soft, almost passive nature. I expect having (real) wings would give one more control over movement and make these kinds of things easier.

As for beauty, I think most people wish they were more attractive than they are, there is an argument that humans tend to perceive themselves as more attractive than others perceive them, which does suggest there is truth in in initial argument; therefore I believe the desire to possess beauty (however one defines it) is ubiquitous and unrelated to transgender issues, however it may compound negative emotions related to beauty. Obviously if I had complete control over my appearance I would most likely chose to appear as a rather attractive woman, but since everyone has their own perception of beauty it is hard to really convey. If I had to, I guess I'd have to say it's a natural, simple beauty which (annoying) can't really be faked by make-up.

Mystery & Curiosity
Fairies have always been mysterious in nature, going back to their original routes as the cause of unexplainable events, however they are also often represented as curious, yet shy beings. Intrigued by the new and unknown (traditionally humans). Shyness, and mystery are two concepts that are often again linked with beauty, I won't go into that again (see above) however when including curiosity there is a crossover with almost cat like traits, I've always been a cat person and in fact have been told that I possess come cat like traits on occasion. I'm not sure what else to put here since (on reflection) I think these concepts are tied so much into the perception of beauty that I'm not convinced I can convey more here.

Freedom
By far the most interesting thing I find in fairies are wings, and with wings comes freedom which is, trying not to be overly melodramatic, something I long for. You might have picked it up from other posts, but I don't feel like I can really be myself. I feel like the person I wear on the outside is a façade (meaning face, rather than fake which has somewhat entered the vocabulary via the stage and film). It's not that the person you see isn't me, it is, it's just not all of me. Everyone keeps something behind, something hidden that only some people ever get to see; some people however keep more hidden away than others.
Unsurprisingly then I picture the avatar of this of this person / being I want to become has having wings. This is probably the biggest reason I chose this metaphor; it could have been a bird of some kind (a peacock for instance) but it didn't speak to me as much as a fairy did, probably because they are humanoids ... and easier to draw.

A note about other people
There have been several people in my life that have helped me along the way, two in particular have helped me shape this feeling. They might know it, they might not. I'm not going to name names directly because it's kind of unfair to call people out. I suspect one of them hasn't even read this, anyone who knows me relatively well probably guess who that is however.

A school friend of mine, someone who had always been interesting, kind, and somewhat crazy. She embodied some of the things I wanted to be, being both a ballet dancer and a fairy lover. She has a freeness of spirit and openness unseen in others her age. We sort of dated for a while, however I left for university and we decided a long distance relationship wasn't going to work and parted ways. Since then we've fallen out of touch, I do miss her friendship. She showed me that someone in our generation, in my social circle could not only accept, but embrace this part of me.

On reflection that paragraph sounds kinda wrong, I didn't like her because she was the person I wanted to be, she possessed some of the traits I define as beautiful, and considering the fact that I want to have these traits myself there in the correlation lies.

The other person I know reads this blog (or at least she had done in the past) I think she helped me more than she knows, being there to help me buy things off ebay that I couldn't really get delivered to my parents house, being supportive about my larp plans (to play a fairy, as I will go into in another post), and also giving me the excuse (and facility) to crossdress in public for the first time. You might not remember it much but I do, it really helped me get to where I am now, (that sounds like a sideways compliment I know but I have come quite far!).

I hope you do pick up on the fact that I am talking about you (yes, you!) because I've always wanted to say thank you, but have lacked the social skills (and somewhat the opportunity ) to do so. So thank you, she who must not be named (because I'm too embarrassed. (also yes for the keen eyed of you that is a harry potter reference from me, I feel somewhat ill now. I blame Izzy)).

Sunday, 3 February 2013

A to Z: Excuses

I talked before about things making me not want to dress up, most of it comes from some form of embarrassment. What I didn't talk about was how I often sabotage myself, and my desire to dress up. It isn't easy to explain, mostly because it's nonsensical and often I don't see what I'm doing till after the fact.

When I get the desire to dress up, either at home or for an event I often create excuses as to why I shouldn't. These excuses are frequently, at the time, reasonable in of themselves; however have repeatedly stopped me from dressing and thus resulted in feeling guilty, letting myself down / missing an opportunity. For instance a common one is not knowing who's going to be at an event, worrying that someone will come to the door when I'm at home, or that I need to leave the house at some point. The biggest excuse I come to however is that it's a lot of effort, or at least it feels like a lot of effort. I almost never dress up any more without shaving and full make up, and I don't think I've ever gone to the effort solely for myself. 
I say any more, there was a point when I would just throw on a skirt because I felt like it, if it was warm in the house, or if trousers were just generally being uncomfortable. I'm not sure why I don't do that any more, it might be linked to the fact that I don't feel comfortable in Ely yet. As silly as it might sound being on the ground floor rather than the 5th floor makes me very conscious about being seen though the window.

As I've said before I'm not really comfortable with my appearance. I worry that my stubble is really obvious so I use way too much foundation, I'm also more overweight than I'd like, and I tend to wear less than casual, everyday clothing. This makes me feel like I'm standing out, even just at home, which is stupid really.

Another excuse I seem to fall on regarding going out is shoes, I must admit that I really love heels. I'm rather good at walking in them and they make me feel feminine (even if they make me stand out even more, I'm 5'11" without). That said, they are uncomfortable. I own a couple of pairs of flat shoes, however they make my feet seem even bigger than they already are and thus I lean away from them. I've been looking for a nice flat pair of boots but I've not seen anything I really like yet.
note: not freehand, I really wish it was, but it's traced D: But I do love these boots (Dr Martens Regina boots)

I am unsure what to do about this habit; One of the things I'd really like to do is try and spend all day dressed up and see how it feels. When I consider it the things that stop me are;
  • It's a lot of effort, and it's just me.
  • It can be uncomfortable, especially over several hours.
  • What if someone comes round?
  • What if I need to leave the house?
  • Izzy will come home from work and will respond in whatever manner she responds in. (don't get me wrong, it will be a positive (or more not negative) response, but as stated before any response, even no meaningful response is awkward, and yes that is a catch 22.)
  • Can I see myself doing the things I'd normally do dressed up?
There are probably more but those are enough to discourage me.

It suddenly occurs to me that using the term "dressing up" kind of typifies my issues, I find myself questioning what it means to me, is it only just dressing up? The way it makes me feel implies there is more to it than that, but the fact that my go to phrase is "dress up" says a lot I fear. This is one of the reasons I want to try and  do so more frequently and in a more casual fashion, along with for the entire day. Try and make it seem more normal and less of an act or show which is somewhat how it feels.

Actually no, how it feels isn't quite right. What I really mean is how I seem to talk about it. I focus on the effects rather than how it makes me feel. I am struggling to find a better phrase to use, something more "healthy" to describe it. 
On an unrelated topic I've not really talked about the whole Julie Burchill, Comment is Free, Transsexuals should cut it out issue. One of my later topics is/was going to address the wider world and this kind of comes into that post more than this one. I'm not going to go into details because I can't really add too much that hasn't already been said several times over. However what it made me realise is that I don't read a lot of trans media. Personally I find it very very difficult to read / watch things that cover that area. It is again a trigger for embarrassment. Also as much as I don't like feeling it, I find it really hard to hear about the happiness of other people regarding this area.

Don't get me wrong, I am happy for them, and I really wish them well, it's just hard to hear stories about other people's success when I'm feeling paralysed, and worrying that nothing will ever come of it. (NB: I know a few trans individuals read this blog, and talking to someone on-a-one to one basis is very different and in general rewarding, what I find hard to deal with is abstract almost freak show / stereotype documentaries that sit on the fence between exposé and docusoap.)

The other thing I didn't realise was just how much hate their is out there, and not from where I would have expected it. I was aware extreme second wave feminism trended towards "natural women are the only real women" but the level of vitriol was breathtaking. Surely logic dictates that men who wish to be women as strongly as to go though serious and life altering processes would be de facto feminists. 

Examining Julie Burchill's past writings I was quickly unsurprised, she doesn't seem to like anyone really. What shocked me however were the writings of other feminists in response, people like Germaine Greer who, until recently, I held in a semi high regard.  I might not agree with her but I respected her views, and expected a level of logic and reason not fear and prejudice similar to that used against the feminist movement in the past. 

All this said, the level of counter arguments in comments, and in complaints is rather heartening. I realise that a large amount of responses were probably from the trans community (or direct supporters ) and thus doesn't necessarily speak for the majority, but it is encouraging that, at least in the internet generation, people are willing to stand up against this kind of blatant prejudice, and if nothing else unnecessary rudeness. For clarity's sake I am not implying it's unacceptable to broach the topic, as long as it's a reasonable and civil discussion, that's kind of what free speech is all about.

Monday, 14 January 2013

A to Z: Depression

This is likely to be quite dry, and less about gender than some other posts. However it's one of the key problems I wanted to try and solve with this blog so here we go. Sorry there aren't that many drawings in this one, I couldn't think of any that really went with the words and wouldn't be really depressing :(
I've never been burdened with an overabundance of cheerfulness, I'm naturally a pessimist and just don't have a sunny disposition in general; both of which aren't necessarily bad things in of themselves. I also seem to have "moderate to severe depression" if I remember correctly from what I was told several years ago by a doctor who based that off a piece of paper that asked me how I had been feeling over the past two weeks; which from the start is subjective and meaningless. What I do know is that I seem to have some of the symptoms so, I dono. I wouldn't call myself clinically depressed but that's probably because that's really depressing.

It makes it hard to do things, like keep this blog updated. I often feel rundown and apathetic. It's an odd kind of stress that comes from having things to do, but no energy or drive to do them. Now it's not exactly an odd or unusual thing to feel however the annoying thing is I constantly feel guilty about the way my life is going, it's feels like a massive weight on me that I find really hard to shift. It's also not rational or based on any rhyme or reason. There are things that I know make me feel more depressed, but thinking about them doesn't always coincide with becoming depressed. Instead I tend to focus on these areas when I'm down which just causes me to feel worse.

My personal future is often an area of concern, I currently have some low pay contract work which doesn't keep me distracted as much as I would like and doesn't pay particularly well; however the money is useful and when the work is there it is rewarding and enjoyable (if sometimes stressful, not in the sense that the work is hard or time consuming but instead I have to deal with the general public, and the general public are often infuriating) however it's not a full time position and it's not entirely in the sector I'd like to work in. As much as I know that I graduated at probably the worst time since the 1930s with a degree in the sector that gets hit first and takes the longest to recover, and my preferred job is in an emerging sector which is extremely tough I constantly blame myself for not getting a full time job, or even an interview in 4 years. What am I doing wrong? What's wrong with me? I must be a complete failure and a terrible human being. Maybe I'm just not trying hard enough.

I think the route of it is the fear that people might think I'm stupid, that I have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm not worth listening to, and that I have no real skills anyone would want to pay for. Clearly not getting a job in a long time leads these issues to run back into one another and just ends up making me feel worse.

The other area that causes me to feel awful is my crossdressing, as I said before I've still not come to terms with that part of myself. I'm also not a great fan of my own appearance or weight (I'm not fat per se, I'm a little overweight and I'd like to lose some). One of the key things that gets me down is seeing someone wearing something I really like, but know that A) I don't feel I could wear it out, B) it probably wouldn't suit me anyway and C) I'll never look as good as they do even with extreme measures (as it were).
The main reasons I'm writing this blog is to try and overcome my discomfort with myself. I question if I should be doing it at all, if I'm "too old" to be doing it (not that I actually believe it to be possible for anyone, myself included, yet I still apply it to myself). I'm not sure what I want to do about it, do I want to transition? Do I want to somehow walk the line between genders? I have no idea. The issues roll into each other, as I've mentioned about being worried regarding how my crossdressing will effect employment.

It comes and goes, sometimes lasting a few days, sometimes lasting a month or so, flip flopping between the two major sources without an obvious trigger. There are things that help me pull myself out of it, mostly Izzy, friends, and actually doing things. Being productive and looking back at something I've done (presuming it's something I'm proud of) does help however it's never long before I sink back down to a general low. I'm not incapable of having fun, smiling or expressing joy, it's just that my default mood isn't particularly positive.

I've tried talking to people but it doesn't really get very far. Apparently Ely doesn't have any NHS counselling services that my GP can refer me to; I've been told there are some self referral places in Cambridge but I'm not entirely convinced by that, not sure why. I feel like it's giving in, admitting that I'm broken and need help. It almost feels like any progress I've made in any part of my life will be whipped away and I'll be tagged with another label. The idea that someone might think or say 'Chris has depression so we have to treat him differently' makes me feel sick. People have said before that they pussy foot around me and I really hate it. I understand that I can react badly to things but at the end of the day it's my problem; and in the cold hard light of it I'd rather know I'm pissing people off and (eventually) deal with it than think everything is ok. I am a rather paranoid person and I have a habit of assuming people aren't being entirely truthful with me. Not in a malicious way, just for my own good or in order to avoid an argument.

I'm not very good at expressing levity, in general I'm quite a serious person who wants to be light hearted and silly but can't break out of the rigid expectations I've set in place for myself. For a while I managed to subvert those feelings for the first few years of uni, but for whatever reason it didn't last, and on the whole I do think it's probably been a positive move. While I do miss some aspects I didn't like the person I became.

Part of the problem with this seriousness is that it takes a bit of silliness to look past who you are now, and to who you might be, even if that new person is much happier. The person I am now doesn't sing or dance, maybe the person I want to be does. The only way to breach that gap is to embrace the possibility of making a fool of yourself and trying it.