Friday, 30 December 2016

Who we are

A friend, Anne Yarwood,  recently asked if I would mind writing something about Surrey Swans for a web site that she has been involved with setting up.

For me, the opportunity to write this was another reminder of the way that things are changing. It was a great encouragement to meet with Anne and talk things through as part of the process of putting it together.

The article is titled Who we are and is on the Stories page of The Imagination Acts web site here.

The text reads like this:

Who we are

In 2003 a group of people began to meet at the function room of the Lion Brewery in Ash, Surrey. They adopted the name Surrey Swans. People have met there 11 or 12 times a year since then.

Those that come long are transgender or the friends or partners of people that are transgender.

I first went along in 2007 and began organising the meetings in 2011.

Why did the meetings begin? And why do they continue?

For me, the story runs something like this.

I was born a boy in the 1950’s. As a teenager, and then as I grew older, I occasionally dressed in clothing that’s generally classified as being ladies.

It was a secret. It resulted in mixed feelings. Pleasure. Guilt. Shame. Sometimes I would buy things. Other times I would throw them away.

In the nineties and noughties things were changing. Trans-related issues began to be discussed openly on WEB sites.

In 2007 I booked a makeover. It felt a bit like meeting myself for the first time. In a way, Andrea was born.

And then Surrey Swans began to make a big difference in my life. To be more precise, people at Surrey Swans made a big difference.

No longer alone. No longer a total secret. Guilt and shame giving way to self-acceptance, wellbeing and healing.

So began a journey.

Today, Surrey Swans matters to me because of the people.

It’s a place where I spend time with friends.

It’s also a place of safety, acceptance and friendship where people who are in the process of discovering themselves can meet other people that are travelling in a similar direction. People who are able to pay attention, to listen, to care, to take seriously and to empathise.

I believe that love is a kind of giving of attention, and of listening. And so, in its way, Surrey Swans is a place where people receive love.

It may be that one day there will be no need of places like Surrey Swans. That our perceived social norms will no longer result in people feeling ashamed or guilty about the way that they dress. That we won’t jump to conclusions about who people are based on stereotyped images projected by the media. We’ll understand that a person is more than the clothing that they choose to wear.

As transgendered people are empowered and encouraged by each other they are more able to go about their daily lives in a way that better reflects who they really are. Able to celebrate rather than self-recriminate.

As people and groups of people that once stigmatised, chastised and criticised learn to tolerate the transgendered. And then to accept them simply as people. And to welcome them.

Until one day, no one even notices.

And little by little this is happening. Right at this very moment.

And some footnotes:

The term transgender is broad. It conjures up other words like transsexual, transvestite and crossdresser. And more modern terms such as genderqueer, gender dysphoric and non-binary.

The same word can mean different things to different people. Different things in different countries. A word that one transgendered person identifies with can sometimes profoundly offend another person.

Here isn’t the place to discuss the precise meaning of these terms. If you’re interested in the meaning you could try here as a beginning: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Transhealth/Pages/Transhealthhome.aspx

In truth, as with many collective nouns, the words are open to stereotypical abuse.

The only way to begin to find out what the term means to a particular trans person is to spend some time talking with and listening to that particular person. Everyone has a unique and special story. And not everyone fits into a specially predefined category.

Having said that, of the people that I know, each in our own uniqueness, we all agree that our trans-ness isn’t about any label that tries to attach itself to us. Really, it’s just who we are.

andrea.wright@hotmail.co.uk

http://surreyswans.blogspot.co.uk/p/introducing-surrey-swans.html

Shop Assistants, Surgeons, Gender, Science Fiction and Artificial Intelligence

Several weeks ago a friend said that she was recently shopping in a pretty well know UK store when an assistant at the store referred to her as Sir. This, obviously, wasn’t a good experience and she recounted the incident on social media. She was surprised to be contacted by the store and was invited to meet with the store manager who offered apologies and coffee and promised to take actions to help ensure that similar incidents don’t happen in the future.

More recently I also heard of an incident where a surgeon at a hospital consistently referred to a trans patient as he even though the patient was clearly presenting as female. After the surgeon had left, a newly qualified doctor spent quite a while apologising for the surgeon’s behaviour.

There seems a strange irony in this. A commercial world where senior people are anxious to ensure that everyone,including junior workers, deals with trans people with curtesy. And a part of the National Health Service where junior doctors are left apologising for the discourtesy shown by senior colleagues.

I know that the whole gender thing can become complicated. But, a person presenting as female probably wishes to be referred to as she. A person presenting as male probably wishes to be referred to as he. This isn’t the whole story, I know. Some people prefer gender-neutral words. But it is never more complex than simply asking a person what there preference is and then having the courtesy to go along with their wishes.

I recently read a trilogy of Sci-Fi books by Anne Leckie (Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy). They are amongst the most enjoyable books that I’ve ever read, so if you have a chance I recommend reading them. In the future presented by these books gender is something that is significantly less significant than it is today. People are generally referred to as she regardless of gender. People dress as they wish, regardless of gender They wear makeup as they wish, regardless of gender. And in a curious kind of way AI (Artificial Intelligence) is presented in a way that shows a potential for love that exceeds the way that people sometimes behave.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Windsor Baptist Church, Martyn Joseph, my wife and God

Back in October I went along to a barn dance organised by St Mary’s Church in Ash Vale.

In a convoluted kind of way this led on to something new, and surprisingly wonderful, for me.

Sally, my wife, asked if I’d like to go along to a Martyn Joseph concert at Windsor Baptist Church.

I’d been along to a few of his concerts before, and wrote about one of them here. But  that had been as Andy rather than as Andrea.

When Sally asked me I said, well maybe I could go as Andrea. And she said yes, why not?

So that’s what I did.

Overall the evening was remarkably moving for me.

Sally knew quite a few people that were planning on going. Andy knew quite a few people. The quite a few people had heard of Andrea. But none of them had met her.

So in a way, for me, it was another step along the path of coming out. Being free to be myself.

And, perhaps, in a way for Sally as well.

There was scope for nervousness for us both.

People didn’t seem to bat eyelids.

As I sat there just before the music started, one of the people that go along to the church came over and said “I just came over to say hello and to give you a kiss.” She gave me a kiss on the cheek. “I can’t put into words how it feels in my heart for you to be here”.

I had met her before, and chatted a little bit. It was a special welcoming moment.

The music, the lyrics were great.

I talked with people that I already knew and they began to get to know me again.

From a spiritual perspective I was surprised.

I really don’t know what to make of God. I remember that evening listening to the music, and the lyrics. And looking up at the words on the wall at the front of the church. It says God is Love.

I sat and wondered. What is love?

These are questions that I thought I knew the answers to.

Talking with Frank and Jane during the interval about churches and people and experiences. Not all of them good experiences. I think it was Jane that said, really it’s only about that … pointing to the front of the church. The words. God is Love.

I went to get some drinks. The girl serving the drinks asked me what nail polish I was wearing as she liked the colour, and helped me carry the drinks back to our seats.

Once the music was over I helped clear the chairs away. High heels don’t make that any easier.

I went to thank Martyn for the evening. He smiled and hugged me. We talked a short while and said goodnight and hugged again.

For me the evening was special. There was the music. And first hand experience of more people who are involved in a church that don’t have hang-ups about a person that is trans.

It gives me with a sense of hope.

In a way it should all be an unremarkable thing. Why should people have hang-ups?

But in fact, many people do.

And it brightens my day to meet people that don’t.

It makes a difference to me.

So thank you to people at Windsor Baptist Church and St Mary’s Church in Ash Vale. To Sally. To Martyn Joseph.

For opening up the world a little bit more to me. And for making the possibility of God more possible.

Quiz nights and Café Rouge

A few weeks ago Linda, Chloe and Chelle who come along to Surrey Swans went along to a quiz night organised by people at St. Mary's Church Ash Vale. They had a great time and were made to feel really welcome by people there. I had hoped to go, but wasn’t able to. Not so long ago Chloe, Rosemary and myself went along to a barn dance organised by the church.

I’ve often-times mentioned my own mixed-up views on religion and, more specifically, Christianity. But I have been greatly encouraged by the openness and acceptance shown by people in the Ash Vale area.

Last week I spent a lovely evening with Tina and Julia at Café Rouge in Windsor. There weren’t many other diners, but the food was excellent as was the service.  And here we are, Julia, Andrea and Tina:

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Wednesday, 2 November 2016

A magazine, an article and a barn dance

Way back in April I received an out-of-the-blue email from Rebecca, the editor of The Parishoner, the Parish Magazine for Ash Vale. Ash Vale is right next to Ash, where Surrey Swans meet. 

This led to the publication of an article which reads, petty much, as follows:

Just people …
 

As I sit and write this, the State of North Carolina has been in the news. Even here in the UK.

 
In connection with this, I read that Ted Cruz has raised the question: “Should a grown man pretending to be a woman, be allowed to use the women’s restroom?” (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-elections/ted-cruz-accuses-donald-trump-of-political-correctness-over-transgender-bathroom-controversy-a6996666.html). I’ll leave you to work out what his answer to that question is.
 
Is that a reasonable characterisation of transgendered people? Men who pretend to be women so that they can get away with using the lady’s restroom? Or perhaps women pretending to be men so that they can use the gents? Or boys pretending to be girls and girls pretending to be boys.
 
And does it matter anyway?
 
To me it matters, because at its heart this is an issue about people. How we understand them and, ultimately, how we come to accept them or reject them.
 
The issues of gender and trans-gender can be complex and here isn’t the place to attempt a detailed analysis of the biology, sociology or psychology of it all. Nor do I have the qualifications to do that.
 
However, I do know many people that identify themselves as being trans. And that’s how I see myself. There’s even a social group that meets together regularly in Ash.
 
I’m happily married and have two grown up daughters. For a long time, my “trans-ness” was a private thing. It took over fifty years for me to reach a position where I could accept myself, be myself and begin to let the secret out. There have, of course, been challenges along the way since that time. But the people that matter to me … family and friends … have batted few eyelids. I feel accepted and loved. I also have a whole lot of new friends.
 
So, who do I think trans people are? And why are trans people the way that they are?
 
Well, of course it is possible to attach labels to us. The box of labels might include little stickers that say things such as transsexual, transvestite, crossdresser, bi-gender or genderqueer.
 
But in reality, each of us is an individual with our own unique life-story. And as with people everywhere, little stickers are never really adequate and they often lead to misunderstanding and injustice.
 
It is a fact that none of the trans people that I know believe that what they are doing is playing dressing up games or games of pretend.
 
When asked “why?”, I find that people are much more likely to respond with something like “it’s who I am” than they are to give a list of reasons “why”. And no one has ever told me that they are who they are because they want to use a different washroom.
 
It isn’t so long ago that people who said this were disbelieved and stigmatised. And sometimes, in some places, this stigmatisation still happens. Thankfully there are also places where things, attitudes and people are changing and the words trans and acceptance are not mutually exclusive.
 
I believe that changes like this begin when people meet each other, talk, and listen to each other. Thus begins a process of understanding and recognition which can lead on to reconciliation and acceptance. Of course, the acceptance isn’t inevitable. But if the process of communication never begins then it’s almost certain that the acceptance will never take place.
 
Most of all, a trans person is just that … a person. We have no need of special treatment. Just the need to be unmolested, allowed to live and allowed to be people.
 
Once upon a time I wrote a letter to the student magazine of the university where I studied. The letter was an attempt at explaining why a marginalised group of people were wrong in the way that they lived. At the time, I thought that I had good intentions. But it shames me to think that I wrote a letter like that without ever having taken the time to talk with any of the people that I was writing about. All that I’d really done was read books.
 
The irony is that trans people have a history of being stereotyped, misunderstood, marginalised and stigmatised.
 
From a trans perspective, I believe that to begin to get beyond this we need to see the word trans as representing something more than a set of things or issues. It’s actually all about people. And really, the only way to begin to understand what trans means is to get to know the people.
 
And I believe that knowing the people would help answer questions like those raised by Ted Cruz in a way that treats people as people rather than as issues.
 
So, I’d encourage all of us, everywhere, that before we put pen to paper, fingertips to keyboards or words to mouth, to think about the people rather than the issues.
 
Of course this doesn’t just apply to the way we deal with trans. A lot of other words come to mind as well. For me, all those years ago I allowed words that I had read to cloud my vision of people. And each day I have to challenge myself to watch the news and to think of people when I hear words such as refugee, migrant, homeless, Islam, Christian. 
 
For more background on trans-related issues you could begin by looking here: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Gender-dysphoria.
 
And I can be contacted here: andrea.wright@hotmail.co.uk

 

The article was published in August.

Rebecca suggested that it might be good if some Surrey Swans would be able to get to know some of the parishioners, and vice-versa.

So, as an outworking of that, Chloe, Rosemary and I went along to a barn dance at Ash on October 22nd.

We had a great time.

Although I don’t have much in the way of “faith” at the moment, it’s encouraging to see that a church is OK with people that don’t know what the answers are and also isn’t claiming to have all of the answers to all of the questions.

The vicar took the time to ask how the church could be more welcoming to trans people. I think in the end he summed it up well in saying that there’s maybe some educating and then forgetting. In the sense that it’s about people looking at someone and not being especially concerned about them as being trans … or anything else … but just accepting them as people.

An especially good thing about the evening for me, was that I felt that’s what people did. Dancing, talking with people, visiting the loo. No one seemed worried.

I mentioned a conversation I had with some very close family friends when I “came out” to them as being trans. I remember them saying that a church house group that they led at one time had a trans person that would come along. I said I thought that was great that they could do that, but the thing I found difficult was that I suspected that although the person was allowed into the group, most people would be praying for them to be healed of their trans-ness. At that point it had taken me a lifetime to work out that my own trans-ness was about who I am, and accepting … even being happy … with the fact that it didn’t need healing. The vicar asked if the real healing began when I was able to begin to accept myself as myself. And yes, I thing that it did. I hadn’t thought of it that way before.

Quite a few years ago my wife Sally and I used to go along to a local Baptist church, at the same time as a couple that moved to Ash. We knew that they went to an Anglican church there. Also, we knew that if “the article” included a picture of Andrea and Katie (our younger daughter), that they might not recognise Andrea, but might well recognise Katie.

So … when I saw them arrive at the barn dance … I went over to say hello.

They didn’t recognise me … which, I must admit, I was relieved about. Then, as the penny dropped, there was a bit of a feeling that their jaws dropped. But only a bit.

Later in the evening I had a chance to spend some time chatting with them both, and that was great.

It’s odd though, that I don’t know how they felt about the idea of Andy also being Andrea. I hope they were as un-phased as they seemed.

So, the barn dance was part of the ongoing story of my own life and the people that I know. And that means a lot to me.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

A trip to Eastbourne

I spent the weekend of 14-17 October at Eastbourne with my close friend Tina. We stayed at the Haddon Hall Hotel. The weekend was organised by TransLiving and we had a great time.

Thursday. Pack a very large suitcase with more than enough of everything.

Friday morning and it’s time to make up. Tina arrives and by about 10:45 we’re on the road.

The Sat Nav spends a long, long, long time calculating. It eventually reaches 100% soon after we get onto the M25 at Staines.

Take the next exit it says.

I know it’s been a long time since I visited Eastbourne, but I feel like we should stay on the M25 a whole while longer.

So we do.

The estimated arrival time drops.

Take the next exit it says.

A penny begins to drop.

Last weekend it (it being Garmin) took us all the way to Pink Punters without the merest hint of a motorway.

Maybe I set a preference somewhere … or an avoidance.

Garmin keeps trying to avoid.

We keep ignoring.

The estimated time of arrival keeps dropping.

Round about Junction 10 of the M23 we take Garmin’s advice and exit left.

By the time we get to Uckfield we are peckish.

And the car park is free for 2 hours.

Just a little walk away we discover Truffles Bakery.

Coffee and a steak slice for Andrea. Coffee … or was it tea … a sausage roll and an Eccles cake for Tina.

A chat.

A trip to the ladies … which actually is a unisex … then onwards.

Arriving in Eastbourne a little before 14:00.

Parking just where the white van is here. It being the only free space available.

Garmin’s aversion to motorways is cured.

Collecting the key for room 311H and the parking vouchers we unpack.

Hobgoblin for Andrea, red wine for Tina.

Chatting with Amanda and Lucy. Connie. Maria.

The intro.

A change of clothing.

Dinner.

A little trip outside:

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Then the 70 v 80 disco.

Makeup removal.

Sleep.

Saturday.

The sound of the alarm.

Breakfast.

Checking out the merchandise. A pair of breasts.

A trip to the shops. Tina gets some eye liner.

The seafront

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The pier:

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We … more particularly Tina … discover that piers (or at lest the pier at Eastbourne) is a bit tricky if your heels are on the small side.

Back at the hotel, a change of makeup and clothing.

Dinner.

The masquerade and some dancing.

Sunday. A trip to the shops picking up some things for Angela.

Andrea is in need of some flat shoes.

There is a closing down sale at Evans … and Evans may have something that fits Andrea’s feet.

Tina (the shop assistant) is really helpful.

Two pairs of sandals for £24. Can’t complain.

Popping back to the hotel then out for tea at the pier.

After dinner Tina and Andrea spend a few hours chatting and drinking at Weatherspoon’s.

We miss the super-hero’s ball, but dance a little as the evening ends.

All too soon it’s Monday, breakfast, Beach Head and home.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

On October Evening at Pink Punters

Nails are manicured Friday evening in preparation.

Saturday morning.

The packing takes a while.

Foundation. Foundation brush. Powder. Powder puff. Powder brush. Eye shadow. Eye shadow. More eye shadow. Eye shadow brushes. Eye liner. More eye liner. Mascara. Blush. Blush brush. Lipstick. Gloss.

Toothpaste. toothbrush.Makeup remover. Razor. Cotton wool buds. Cotton wool.

Perfume.

Panties, panties, panties.

Bra. Bra. Bra. Bra. Bra.

Boob. Boob.

Tights. Tights. Tights. Stockings.

Hair. Hair. Comb.

Shoes. Shoes. Shoes.

Dress. Dress. Dress.

Rings. Earrings. Necklace. Watch. Bracelets.

The suitcase is just large enough for one night as Andrea … though it would hold a weeks worth of stuff for Andy.

And no. I have no idea what was going through my mind when I packed so many bras to accommodate two boobs.

Laura arrives soon after 4:00 pm

We’re on the road soon after.

Sat Nav dictates  a motorway-free route. Nice scenery with a selection of tiny little bridges over canals.

The sound system informs us that Lucy has arrived at the hotel.

Susan arrives soon after.

17:37 and we arrive.

Chloe is outside reception chatting, but by the time we park has moved n to pastures new.

Check-in.

Shave.

Moisturiser.

Undress.

Panties.

Tights.

Bra.

So many to choose from.

First choice is a front fastener. Even though this particular bra has an infamy of its own. It has been known to release its captives at inopportune moments.

Two attempts and the fastening is secure.

Pop in the puppies.

Over the past several months Andrea has been dieting.

The fastening is far from secure and the puppies are planning a break out.

Five was definitely an overabundance. But at this moment Andrea is glad that she has a choice.

The front fastener is discarded,  the alternative offers a much higher security level.

In the background Laura coaxes the television into life and paints nails.

Foundation. Powder. Shadow. Liner. Mascara. Blush. Lips. Scent.

Dress. Necklace. Hair. Earrings. Watch. Bracelet. Rings. Shoes.

Texts to Chloe, Susan and Lucy.

The bar. Chloe is already there. Lucy and Susan arrive soon after.

A drink.

A meal.

A change of dress.

A walk across the road.

Down the steps.

Scrutiny of the handbags.

Ticket purchase.

Up the steps. Obediently whispering.

A drink and a seat by a fire outside.

Amanda and Denyse arrive.

At 10:30 the other bars open so it’s inside and upstairs.

Sitting, socialising and picture taking.

Andrea snaps Chloe, Lucy, Laura, Denyse, Amanda and Susan

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Then passes the camera to Denyse. “Sit on my knee” jokes Laura. Andrea obliges.

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A trip to the pink room.

Bright lights and conversation.

Andrea taking a picture.

03

 

Of Chloe … taking a picture.

 

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of Andrea taking a picture …

You get the idea.

 

04

 

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A girl in wedges looks at my heels.

Do they hurt?

I smile, knowing that they will.

She empathises, and says that wedges are much more comfortable.

We meet the Guy with the Dragon Tattoo.

The book that I read was about a girl and the tattoo was on her back.

This one is on his arm.

It is red.

He is Welsh.

Hence the dragon.

He explains a whole group of people have dragons in all kinds of places.

We take pictures.

Though, sadly, not of dragons.

Would you like me to take one for you?

Pictures are taken and I say hello. Karen is from Sheffield. Visiting friends and visiting Pink Punters.

Heading out of the pink room.

Looking down … the writing on the floor says … “Mind …”

“Mind the step” says the man with the dragon.

Karen laughs and suggests that he’s a t**t.

He smiles in denial.

Susan and Andrea chat a while with Karen and Alan.

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Andrea discovers that she is common.

Something everyone has always suspected.

The dance floor beckons and welcomes us with YMCA followed by John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John and a little it of Grease.

The prophecy of the girl with the wedges gradually comes to pass.

Denyse is offered the chance to check that the passing girl is 100% real.

Back upstairs we converse.

People.

Friends.

Partners.

Family.

Babylon 5.

Start Trek.

Voyager.

Borg.

Picard.

Seven of Nine.

Janeway.

Harry Kim.

Battlestar Galactica.

Farscape.

Amanda and Denyse head home … we think.

Chloe heads back to the hotel.

Susan heads back.

Lucy and Laura discover the trans music room.

Before we know it it’s almost 04:00.

Another dance.

A guy asks me who I am.

A girl encourages me to smile.

Another holds ands and dances a while.

You look great she says.

Thank you I say.

A guy she is with takes my hand and we dance a while longer.

I’m always amazed at the friendliness of people here.

Laura and Andrea think Lucy must have headed back so they head back as well.

Back in room 209 Andrea’s phone rings.

Lucy hadn’t headed back.

She heads back and drops by to say goodnight.

After Lucy leaves it’s time to say goodbye to the makeup.

The alarm is set for 10:30 … the phone says that is in 6 hours and 3 minutes.

A lovely, lovely evening, night and morning.