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.  

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.

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.

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.