Not passing

He wore a multicoloured skirt, in a light shiny fabric with narrow pleats, mid calf length, under various more androgynous layers. He had a beard. It took me some time to think when a woman might wear such a skirt- on holiday in high summer, perhaps, five hundred miles south of wherever you normally live, on the sunniest days. Some might just possibly think it evening wear. There he was, bold as brass, shameless, striding over the Millennium Bridge.

He. They, possibly. Ridiculous solipsistic man, wanting to be looked at and only inspiring disgust. Or, wonderful, inspiring and courageous person, subverting gender rules and rules about aesthetic expression- you can’t wear something so beautiful on a mid-September afternoon in London. At most a silk tie or scarf, if you are particularly raffish, rather than a silk skirt.

His choice. Some think him “inappropriate” (imagine that little moue of disapproval in the word. It’s whispered, scarcely audible, though filled with venom) and some heroic, and he does what he does.

Others will create lines, and I can’t. Each woman reading this will have experienced, probably in the last 24 hours, being shut up, talked over, interrupted or simply ignored by a man. I get ignored or patronised by both sexes, and women’s anger is coming out more and more. Trans women who pass, whose face, figure, mannerisms, voice, hair, dress sense, do not give them away, are accepted as women. Those of us who don’t may be accepted as trans women, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time. I would like to draw a line just below me in the hierarchy, and it’s a hierarchy and I am better than them or at least more deserving- I’m making an effort and they’re not. My voice sometimes has masculine harmonics in it, and that’s alright, surely? I’ve completed facial electrolysis and so that should be a minimum requirement: a beard is deeply inappropriate. For trans women at least, gender non-conforming or non-binary people have different rules. So I should be accepted in the women’s spaces, where I usually don’t speak, but if you haven’t completed hair removal it should be among your highest priorities. And a GNC man or non-binary AMAB should not be in women’s spaces. I can’t produce a line. The only rationally defensible line is of Stealth, which places a burden on trans folk- too great a burden, I say, because I can’t bear it. Or, perhaps, absolutely anything goes.

Women are drawing lines. Some who feel free to state their needs without apology demand women-only space, and see me as a man. I was eleven, the first time someone shouted at me out of a car window. I won’t repeat the comment here. But I will say that I did not start to heal from the years of those kind of interactions until I found women only space.

I don’t feel able to ignore that pain, and yet it makes a demand on me which I find too great to bear. It is a conflict, not a problem. Problems have solutions, but conflicts have outcomes. My hope is that the situation is in flux. It is with that man in a skirt, an eyecatching, ridiculous, glorious skirt, shifting gender norms, and with other non-binary folk, finding more or less subtle ways to subvert gender norms. And with female anger at other targets, such as handsy or cat-calling men, which might also change society.

Meanwhile I will do what I want, unable to rely on a rule that I can because there is no such rule, hoping I will be alright.

Coming out, again

H stretched, luxuriously, so I leant against her side and she put her arm round my shoulder. It was a little ungainly as I am so much taller than she, but I liked it. The busker was particularly good, a saxophonist with a smooth tone, and a quiet backing recording which supported him without ever being the main attraction. She had put me up in London and we were wandering along the South Bank. Then a woman looked down at me with disgust on her face. Two women, like that. Surprise, perhaps, H thought, and indeed I stare at women holding hands, in surprised delight.

The day before, there was a relaxed social gathering near Barnet, and I was in the garden of a woman I had not met before with about twenty people, three I’m meeting for the first time. It’s far too hot, and I take my wig off. I am chatting to F, who asks me if I have had chemotherapy. Her friend’s chemotherapy makes her very sick, and only gets rid of the cancer temporarily- three months, the last time, before she needed more- so chemotherapy is on her mind. I was surprised, but then, not everyone is switched on to the possibility of a trans woman, so some don’t read you however obvious you are. I told her I had gone bald before I was thirty. She tells me how good my lace-fronted wig is.

Circle time. Are there any priority shares? There are, and looking at F I say, oh, I am not having chemotherapy, I share that just because it came up. But then in circle time I wanted to share about that man, and how I felt, and how when cis women learn to deal with offensively pressing men in their teens, this was a new experience for me. Which means coming out as trans, to F. Back in the garden, she thanks me for my “honesty”. But honesty does not require me to make sure everyone I meet knows I am trans. If you can’t work that out, which always surprises me- though people working it out quickly disappoint me- I don’t have to tell you.

F is bi, and her mother was disappointed, disgusted even. Mum’s new partner is terribly homophobic. And when F had a long term male partner, Mum was relieved. Now F has a female partner again, and will have to come out to Mum again with all the same resistance as before.

Every day you may have to come out for the first time.

bright lily


Gentileschi, St CeciliaWomen often comment on my slim, feminine, beautiful, pianist’s hands- these adjectives come up again and again. U showed me her wide hands and wide nails: she would never wear nail varnish, it would bring attention to the nails, which were, shock, horror, wider than they were long. The first time she did this I acknowledged it, but said nothing in particular, and then seeing her after each time found myself assuring her how pretty her hands were. It only took me two years to forget this lesson: J shows me her broad thumbnail- “Look how broad it is!”- and I acknowledge, but do not reassure. I should, really.

She wanted to talk something through, she wanted to do something you might think was mean. Not jumping to that conclusion, I hear her reasons and assent- she has a perfect right to do that. And she asked me whether I had had the Operation. Not as bluntly as that, of course, I cannot remember how she sidled towards the question. I said because she was so good a friend I had no objection to telling her “I am anatomically correct”. This is not quite true, but close enough.

We went out for the day, which was lovely, and ate in a tea-room- we agreed, so much nicer than Costa! I found myself noticing more as I spent time there, the flying ducks on the walls, the old cameras on shelves, the framed “classic” advertisements for Ovaltine and the 1950s lampshades. We then went to the supermarket where she picked up some bits, and bumped into friends: she introduced me, and they told their news.

Then she felt moved to advise me. Each of these she repeats for emphasis: she would no more go out without earrings than without shoes; I must wear make-up, it would soften my features; I walk with long strides which some might think mannish, I should take shorter steps. Though when I told her Carol had said my walk was Neanderthal (in 1999) she thought that was going too far.

I wonder when one might speak so personally to someone, and can think of two circumstances: when I am shocked by their behaviour, it really is beyond the pale, or when I am embarrassed to be with them and simply must say something. It could be transphobia- “She looks like a tranny! People will see I am out with a tranny!” That she is my friend shows it is not just that simple, and difficulty with confrontation might affect her manner.

I have not grown up with fashion, or such conversations, and appear unfeminine, and get uncomfortable;

and I don’t want to think of that as making a mistake, because that implies I am putting on an act. I am myself.

and I want the help with it that I want.

Oh! The conflicting feelings! I just don’t know!


If we respect each other, does our friendship need any other foundation? May 2000, I decided that I had to transition to female, I could not bear not. That was the Saturday. On the Wednesday, I went to the local TV/TS group, and sat with the trans women. None had jobs, one was studying, I thought their lives unbearable. So I decided I could not transition, I would make a go of presenting male. It was the Sibyls who showed me it was possible to live reasonably, transitioned, and especially F.

I saw her transition. She got a posting within her multinational company to another European capital, so when just starting to express herself female full time she was perfecting that other language and learning to drive on the right. We went on holiday together, once before I transitioned, and once after. She took me to Wimbledon, and on the centre court we watched Tim Henman and Pete Sampras. Tennis was her game, and she saw the skill in particular shots which seemed less spectacular to most of the crowd. It is not my game, I have never played and rarely watched it, and she paid me one of three compliments which I treasure: she enjoyed going there with me “because you’re interested in Life”.

I was transitioned, and we kept in touch by but then, it was me phoning, and almost all me talking about my concerns. “How are you?” elicited factual information rather than any real sharing, though she told me she would be seeing her daughter for the first time in years- how we suffer, for this thing which no-one would ever choose! Living with stuff which would be unbearable if you thought about it, we deaden ourselves to these pains.

So I stopped phoning.

I invited her to my ten year anniversary party, and she was having trouble with her emails so did not get the invitation on time. I phoned her, sent her a link to the photos, and just now got a Christmas e-card from her, a hideous saccharine thing of “Santa” coming down the chimney and leaving presents. Oops, I am depressed, I am not seeing clearly. A pretty, joyous animation with some touches of humour of Santa leaving presents, and flying off in his sleigh.

She kept one friend who had known her before transition, and apart from the Personnel department in England, no-one in the new office knew of her past. People do not see her transsexual history as they do mine- she told her best friend, who had not known. So, perhaps, she could not have me as a friend in case her secret came out, and did not want to talk to me to be reminded of her own transsexualism, which was now in her past.

We had respect! It is enough to found a friendship, unless there is something like this to break it. I felt such rage, I wanted to publish her name, photograph and a link to her business website here- a revenge at once mean, puny and misdirected. I wish we could be friends. And- I could resent all sorts of reasons for her to withdraw from friendship, but not that she was frightened and ashamed, for that is not her fault.