Naming II:

This is the second in an exciting series of entries about names, and why they’re important, and the strange synchronicity between naming problems with the two things this weblog is mainly about: having CFS/ME and being, um, transgendered. Two preliminary comments:

1. Note the “um” in the previous sentence. It’s hard not to preempt the whole point of this entry about names by naming what you’re going to talk about. Note also the gap after the colon in the title. Um…

2. I’m going to say this a million times, but I don’t want to imply any synchronicity between the physical states of having an illness (CFS/ME) and being born in a body whose biological sex is different from the gender of the mind it contains. The second is not an illness, doesn’t need a cure, and is just difficult to live with in our current, unusually cisgender-oriented society. I’ve talked about this lots elsewhere, so I shall desist from ceaseless babble.

Now, you see that phrase underlined in the last paragraph? That’s the issue at stake here: what to call someone born in this condition (me!), and whether (and what) subsidiary terms could be applied to this term for those who have sought to adjust their body to cope with either their own self-image or current western society’s inability to countenance such a person existing.

Note two starting blocks here too: firstly, I’m not again going to debate whether this state of being exists right now: it’s a bit like me asking you to debate whether your mum and dad actually existed.loo-purple.gif Secondly, I’m going to assume it does make some approximate sense for people to call themselves “male” or “female” or “a man/woman”, and because words are just convenient bendy ways in which humans approximate the world, it makes sense to apply these terms to what we really think of as ourselves – our insides, ours hearts. Physical intersex conditions do of course exist (rather more commonly than believed) in which the person is born with physical characteristics of both sexes, but self-identified intergendered people seem a whole lot rarer. The sense in which anyone can sum up their whole identity as man or woman might seem only approximate if you think very hard on a rainy day, but brain differences really are there, and it should be at least as valid for a person in my own state of being to be able to assign myself a internal gender as it is for you. So I’ll be using “man” and “woman” to mean internal gender identity here. Besides, it’s snowing outside for the first time this year, it’s really pretty and I’m tired, and there’s only so long that this entry can be before I need to stop and just look at the nice white featheriness through the window and stop zapping my achey body with thought.

In time I might get used to referring to gender identity as “man/woman” and physical sex (chromosomes, hormone levels, sexual characteristics?) as “male/female”, but intersex people teach us it’s all greyscale physically anyway. And I’ve discussed elsewhere how stubborn I am on the existence of a core wired-in gender identity in each of us (contrast with mutable gender roles), and I’ll continue to be stubborn about that. So give me a break! I bet everyone reading this knows if they’re a man or a woman. So do I.

So. Like all words associated with the birth of new concepts, particularly contentious ones, they’re stirred up and spin into popular use in a linguistic baptism of fire, forking into many different terms with crossover meanings, all communicated, misused, redefined and qualified by the subculture which forged them into existence (in a rush to become visible) and the critical culture around them. The result is linguistic soup. I say “new concepts”, of course recognising that it’s not really new, but re-emerging: lots of others cultures already had words for us without blinking.

The most obvious words existing for people like me begin with the prefix trans-: words like transgender, trans(s)exual, transwoman, transman, and then some other words that are really associated with quite different things such as sexual persuasions or kicks: transvestite, etc. Then there’s a slew of associated terms, MtF, FtM, transgenderist, etc. and again a lot of misleading seemingly associated terms, which are actually about sexuality and using characteristics of the opposite gender, usually surface roles, to make a point: for instance in drag. Hopefully I don’t have to explain that sexuality has little to do with being, um, transgendered.


The most balanced general description of the history, developments and disagreements about these terms I can find readily is on the Wikipedia website. I quote for the definition of transgender:

The term remains in flux, but the most accepted definition is currently:

People who were assigned a gender at birth, based on their genitals, but who feel that this is a false or incomplete description of themselves.

Another one is: Non-identification with, or non-presentation as, the gender one was assigned at birth.

Transgendered people may or may not have had medical gender reassignment therapy, and may or may not have any interest in such a procedure.

When referring to the two basic “directions” of transgender, the terms Transman for female-to-male (which may be further abbreviated to FtM) transgendered people and Transwoman for male-to-female (which may be further abbreviated to MtF) transgendered people are often used. In the past it had always been assumed that there were considerably more transwomen than transmen. However, the ratio is approaching 1:1.

I’ll have to dive in here and say as I’ve said before that I don’t like the trans- words, particularly when applied to gender (but will often nevertheless use them because they’re the best of the little-understood words). Here’s why:

Think quickly: what does trans- imply to you? I’d suggest one of two things which are more or less closely related:

1. Changing or moving from one place to another: transfer, transport, translate;

2. Being between two states or lying across a boundary: transverse.

So, what does the word transgender imply to Homer Simpson? I’d imagine he’s thinking (if he thought) of someone who either (a) is lying between the two genders mentally, half girl/half boy, or (b) has moved from one gender to another.
We can dispense with (a) quickly: there’s already a word for people who (relatively rarely) think of themselves between genders: bigendered. As for (b) I’d contend that’s impossible with gender identity (as distinct from gender role, with which it’s of course possible to swap and play around). As David Reimer said so memorably before his death with regards to being raised in the opposite gender and his eventually traumatic rejection of this:

As Nature Made Him

I was never happy as Brenda, never. I’d slit my throat before I’d go back to that. I’d never go back to that. It didn’t work because that’s life, because you’re human and you’re not stupid and eventually you wind up being who you are.

Some people might disagree with this hard line on the immutability of gender: but I’ve talked about Jerry Springer enough.

Note that transgender as originally coined in 1970 was sometimes actually supposed to mean “lying between genders”. It’s now however generally used as an umbrella term as defined above.

So where did the word transgender come from? Probably as a reaction to the word transsexual for two reasons: firstly because people like me who haven’t resorted to medical intervention need a word, and secondly because anything with “sex” in makes people think of, well, “sex”, before they think of physical sex (“male”, “female”, chromosomes, hormones, unmentionable body parts and all that).
So what about the word transsexual? Much as I dislike it (see above connotations) it makes a bit more rational sense if applied (only) to those who’ve undergone sexual reassignment surgery (not “gender reassignment surgery” which would require a brain transplant!), at least as far as changing the outward sexual characteristics go. But it’s not as if all your XY chromosomes are flushed out and supplanted with XXs, or vice versa, or that you suddenly become fertile in your self-assigned new sex. In a sense, you become intersex, although not born that way. I suppose both trans- definitions above therefore do apply, but they encourage the usual confusions (“I used to be a man, now I’m a woman”), and have become something that sometimes sound a bit negative to me. To me I should stress, as it’s very subjective, and probably TV and my impressionability’s fault.

What of the other words? Transwoman refers to someone whose gender identity is a woman but whose birth body was male, and vice versa for transman. But because of the confusion of the trans- prefix, I have a feeling they used to be used the other way round, and my friend in Sweden tells me they still are there: in Sweden I’d apparently be referred to as a transman, which would lead to a whole new level of mess, and I don’t want to be referred to as any kind of man. Plus, they sound a bit Star Trek. MtF and FtM? Horrid abbreviations, make you sound like a genus of grey alien, and, like
“transman” in Sweden, the subliminal first hit of the first letter to someone new counts for a lot. If someone hears “transman” they think “man”, and I’m pretty sure if you flashed the letters “MtF” at someone in a lab with electrodes in their brain they’d first think “man”, when the whole point is they should be thinking “woman” first. “MtF” is supposed to stand for “male-to-female” (see “transsexual” discussion above) – why on earth not rather say “FfM” (“female-from-male”) if you have to have a three letter acronymn. The “F” or “M”ness at the beginning matters, I’m quite sure.

So where do we go now? Coining new words rarely works, and I’m not usually one for battles about names: the constant fights in the world of CFS/ME to invent new names, while meaningful, are exhausting. However, I think words so misleading at first sight (which is what matters) can really be a problem to a beleagured minority. much as I have to continue to use them for now. I think we might need a word for being born in a body whose biological sex is different from the gender of the mind it contains that isn’t “transgendered” and I don’t think it should be “transsexual”, as this logically implies surgery. “Genderqueer” is gaining some acceptance in the U.S. as an umbrella term but it’s not specific enough for use in this instance, and to most U.K. people “queer” connotes sexuality still, rather than “not like you”. I’ve wondered about silly invented terms while trying to sleep like XYXism (“zicksism”?) but that falls into the same traps as everything above – it’s not about chromosomes. Reverse the words? “Nanow” for me, “Nam” for a transman? Silly night-time reveries that don’t really imply the simplicity of the fact of existence for people like me, which really isn’t a hard concept, at least to someone in a teepee.

Brandon Teena before his death

Brandon Teena

I keep falling back on jeebo and beejo! Just because they most simply express a concept children can understand (from real experience): I’m a “girl-inside-boy-outside”, g-i-b-o or jeebo.
Brandon Teena was a beejo. They’re fun words, they sum up the essential facts of existence, and they don’t imply any necessary physical intervention: they describe a state of birth. I can see this weblog’s going to need a glossary.

Any word defining a minority makes that minority seem… well “not-normal” and can lead to pity or brutality just as public consciousness of this minority begins to emerge. A good way to combat this is to define the majority and set up a friendly polarity, so that the majority think “hey I’m something too” rather than just feel normal. “Heterosexual” is the best example, and I bet Europeans didn’t think of themselves as “white” until they met people who had different skin colours. “Monosexuals” is another nice way for bisexuals to point out that hetero- vs. homosexual aren’t the only two valid options. In this sense, most of you, dear readers will be either jeejos or beebos. Please spread this meme!

I’ll leave you with a thought about the word “cisgendered”, coined with very respectable Greek heritage to mean “not transgendered”. The alternative to coining new words of course is reclaiming hate speech as your own: “queer” and “nigger”. This thought from the Wikipedia article:

If trans people can be called trannies for short, then cisgender people can be called “cissies”.


I’m getting blogblock, in spite of all the kind comments sent in (thank you so much! I never knew anyone would read this weblog). I’ve been trying to work out why, and I think it’s partly because I promised I’d write something, so therefore, of course, can’t.

. o O (never promise to self to write again)

It’s also that I’ve been iller again and anxiety very high; and this weblog’s new, but even the new girl in school only gets the first week or so off before the hair-tugging starts, and there’s only so long I can bleat on about my anxiety and the various weird tricks my body pulls out from round each corner. So this post will be the equivalent of a plumber popping round to clear my blogblockage: something to fix a mundane problem (a blocked drain, a plugged-up sink), not something to look forward to, to savour or to revisit mentally. It’s for me: and expect no cheery whistling from this plumber. He’s a mean plumber, and he wants a cup of tea before he starts work. He’ll probably overcharge you for a ballcock. I’m going to get rid of him as soon as the U-bend’s fixed.


So you don’t need to read this. The only conceivable reason may be if you’re one of my nice new friends with CFS/ME and want to compare notes. The rest of you – move along now, nothing to see. Oh, you could glance at the blockquotes at the bottom of the entry.

The main problem from which I think everything stems just now is sleep. Symptoms: taking much-frowned-upon-in-UK sleeping pill every night (sharp intake of breath from every GP in the UK, nod of approval from my private M.E. specialist). Zolpidem 5mg. Plus anxiety popper, clonazepam 0.5mg. I then float on the surface of 10,000 dreams for 5-6 hours and my eyes suddenly open dead awake but exhausted, heart-racing, and I’m immediately aware I’ve been in some near-awake state for what seems like hours, floating just near consciousness and pushing myself back under: the closest analogy I can think of is that I’m trying to go under water (and I hate water), and I have a million floats attached to me – my near-consciousness pushes me back under (“sleep! sleep!”) and I dream a million dreams every ten minutes I’m asleep before the floats push me back again. I dread to add “like a bloated corpse”, so I won’t. Then after 5-6 hours I’m awake, that’s it. I sometimes try another clonazepam then, doesn’t seem to help. I’m in total confusion about whether they are supposed to aid delta/stage-four sleep, unlike the other benzos which kill it. I thought I read they did. Certainly it feels like I’m getting dreamy-dreamy non-delta sleep all night long.

drugs as above;
expensive and ugly bodyclock which is supposed to give your body a simulated dusk and sunrise – I’m either awake 3 hours before it, or it doesn’t wake me;
black-out curtains (called “light-out curtains”, presumably because, like in a sitcom of old, they don’t want us to think about the war) – they let in the light;
bedtime “hygiene” – not sitting in bed when I can help it, the milky drink thing… when I was allowed dairy;
plants – all the valerian type things that might knock a hamster out if he took a few hundred;
nytol – the anti-histamine that didn’t work but they found made people sleepy and now market as a gentle sleep-inducer – pfft! bring on the morphine;
thinking – count sheep, relax each part of body, pretend you’re writing on the back of your head (this last one from an actor from Coronation Street on a daytime chatshow – my research goes far and wide).


Not tried:
socksVicky’s grandma’s suggestion to go to bed in a pair of wet socks.

So I’m left wondering where my sleep went, spending the days in a doze, being intensely boring or anxious online with people who are being kind and keeping me going, and repeating the same things repeatedly, all the time, repeatedly to the same people, all the time, repeatedly; and also repeating all the same things all the time. My memory seems really impaired.

My sleep’s always been poor, but this is a seachange. Where’s the sleep gone? (a) diet, (b) clonazepam, (c) anxiety, (d) tinnitus/hyperacusis retraining device? Blasting white noise into one side of my brain for five hours a day (it’s as far as I got) can’t be easy on an organ already damaged by the weirdest imbalances and immune problems. So my doctor says; so my audiologist agrees, or at least that I stop it for 3 weeks and discuss. Caught between evils here, as I’m very anxious my hearing is worse.

My private doctor’s told me I’ll never get well if I don’t get 9 hours’ deep sleep a night. This is quite hard to swallow, as 6 hours fitful seems like a far-off target. She’s telling me to take more drugs to do it, and I’m very scared of tolerance and dependence, and the fact that my family doctor will have even more reason to write me off as a lost cause.

I’m also told that I have to change from being an owl to being a lark, which is even harder than my current diet of no dairy, no wheat, corn or any cereal, and no sugar except one piece of fruit a day. I usually go to sleep at 3-4 a.m., constantly feel bad about it, and try to figure out why I do it. I think it’s because my anxiety lifts at midnight, and because I fear sleep and the horrid dreams and exhaustion from half-waking all night long. My doctor wants me to be asleep by 9:30pm. Now this may not seem like so disastrous to those larks reading this (presumably at 7am) but to me it’s near impossible. Myself and The Doc settled on midnight as a first target after a brief tussle on the phone. Isn’t your larkiness or owlishness supposed to be gene-based? I’m left more confused.


There seems to be fairly widespread thinking that the hypothalamus function is damaged in the majority of CFS/ME patients (those who don’t think we’re making it up), and I’ll pretend I know how this is linked to sleep. This article may help those who know more about medicine to understand (and explain it to me). You therefore have permission to accuse me of being “hormonal” if you like when I’m anxious or snappy, with some accuracy. Because of this, apparently it’s likely that my melatonin levels (the hormone that helps you regulate when it’s night and when day) are crazy, and she’s sending me some to top them up. It’s something that can’t be prescribed on the NHS in the UK but is readily available elsewhere in the world. Dr Myhill’s opinion is that this is due to some ridiculous political nonsense in the UK rather than genuine health concerns; but I’m a bit concerned by reports like this one from Berkeley (via Circadiana):

“It really amazes me that melatonin is available in any pharmacy,” Bentley said. “It is a powerful hormone, and yet people don’t realize that it’s as ‘powerful’ as any steroid.”

If anyone knows a lot about melatonin, pineal glands, sleep hormones, or just wants to drown me in third-eye mysticism, please do.

I’ll leave you with some quotes from job adverts recently gone out for positions at the UK’s new “Chronic Fatigue Centres”, as a result of the knock-out win by the Wesseley school to ensure that people with CFS/ME in the UK will be stigmatised for years to come:

Employer: Royal Liverpool & Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust
Job title: Trainee Clinical Fatigue Therapist

1. Psychological treatment involves delivering a highly complex understanding of the psychological, physiological and social factors of CFS to severely disabled, fatigued patients and relatives, in order to change perpetuating illness behaviour and motivate patients to perform a self-managed activity programme, regulate disturbed sleep patterns and modify predisposing personality style.

2. Clients with CFS, because of their chronically fatigued state, experience barriers to understanding. For some clients there can be significant barriers to accepting the changes needed in behaviour, which have to be overcome in therapy in order to facilitate a successful outcome.

5. As some clients with CFS may be resistant to working in a psychological framework there may be exposure to verbal aggression.

Employer: Epsom and St Helier NHS Trust
Job title: Highly Specialist Clinical Psychologist in Chronic
Fatigue Syndrome Management

Patients referred to the service often present with complex medical and psychological problems, are highly distressed and may have difficulty accepting and be hostile to the rationale for adopting a cognitive-behavioural approach to the management of their fatigue.

In addition, patients using this service may have problems of an intimate nature eg sexual difficulties, history of trauma or abuse, which are not suitable for treatment in a group setting.


I’ve made the comment above flippant, but I’m really terrified by these job descriptions – it means the UK’s moved on from the theory that CFS/ME is largely/wholly somatic to applying it in genuine way. Next stop: those who don’t cooperate will lose health service goodwill and benefits? It honestly feels like I’m about to be put in a cart and taken to Siberia for reprogramming. Apparently they are going to “modify” my “personality style” so I start to realise that I’m perpetuating a mythic illness – and I’m about to hit someone – and it’s all because of some sexual abuse or trauma in my past? Sure, I’d like some coaching into adjusting to my disabilities; I will “have difficulty accepting” and might “be hostile to the rationale” only if you don’t also talk to me about the plentiful research into organic body chemistry differences found in countless patients with this disease and what you might like to try for my body too. It’s a catch-22 – even in typing this, I’m becoming a “resistant” patient – another kind of refusenik. I hope readers with CFS/ME in other countries whose doctors are looking for and finding distinct biological markers for this disease are shocked by this – we may need your help very soon. My partner and I discussed emigration last night, and added up how many points we could get to get into Canada – really.

I’ve financed my own cognitive therapy for years outside the NHS to help with my ability to cope with living in a world with illness, and a body that doesn’t fit current perceptions (umm, wait, I need to pay for that..?). I’ve done my own “graded exercise” in the past – walked hard for 30 minutes every day at lunchtime when I was working. But apparently I need a brain transplant?

This entry’s not going any further. I was going to go on about how anxious I am, but there seems little point as it’ll bore you, and make me more anxious, as quoting the above has done. Maybe writing this will unplug something just to say it, and if anyone got this far, to beg patience from those kind, sweet, well people who spend their time online buzzing me with messages, little funnies, encouragements, pictures and mp3s. And also to everyone who has been sweet enough to send unsolicited mails of kindness, other than those people who keep asking me if I want a bigger penis, which shows just how badly targetted spam can be. I’m working on mailing you back. And I’m really sorry I’m so changeable and hard work, and please keep nagging me. Aside from the obvious misnamings, I really should have been christened “Handful” at the font.

Because we shouldn’t have to.

Nightcrawler: They say you can imitate anyone, even their voice.
Mystique: [as Nightcrawler] Even their voice.
Nightcrawler: Then why not stay in disguise all the time? You know, look like everyone else.
Mystique: Because we shouldn’t have to.
- X-Men 2

I recently discovered via Wikipedia that I’m a gender refusenik, or, even better, a gender otkaznik (Otkaznik (ru: “отказник”, from “отказ” (refusal, rejection)). Brilliant! Nothing like being told what you are by an encyclopedia. I imagine many gay, lesbian and transgendered people have had the experience sometime around their early teenage years, but I didn’t really expect it at my age. “Refusenik” has generally got two accepted uses:

1. Those denied permission to emigrate abroad, particularly Soviet Jews.

2. Those who refuse to serve in occupied territories, particularly in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

So, two shades of meaning, one implying denial of certain freedoms by external circumstances, and the other a personal unwillingness to participate in something you don’t believe in. I’d like to think my otkaznikking is very much a case of the second definition; but there may be a bit of the first thrown in too. We’ll see.
Why a gender refusenik/otkaznik? Well, it’s very much a case of “I thought I was the only one”, but the quote from the film X-Men 2 at the top of this entry sums up my feelings on being a person who, on being born and surprisingly finding herself in the odd position of having a body that doesn’t match her insides, looks around, sees transgendered culture as popularly (self?-)identified on the web, and doesn’t much like it. I should add I didn’t like X-Men 2 much either, but the person I accompanied to see it in a rural Irish cinema was thrilled, so I was happy. Just as I was beginning to doze through the mutant/alien/special effects mush (sorry!), the quote above jumped out at in such a bizarre non-literary environment and brought tears to my ears because of the resonance with my own feelings. The context (for those like me who don’t really do scifi) is that a segment of the population grow up as mutants (but are misunderstood very nice people really), and can do standard stuff like freeze people by touching them, runnng through walls, and, oh I don’t know, turn enemies into hedgehogs or something, and these mutants are persecuted as a minority. Mystique above mainly runs around in a sprayed-on blue scaly body suit in the film, which is presumably as near to nudity as the film-makers dared go for the parents’ sake while keeping their options open for a children’s certificate. She can apparently turn into other shapes at will; the above dialogue explains the rest. Why doesn’t she just morph into looking like a non-mutant and stop being persecuted? Because she shouldn’t have to.
I may have lost most of my cisgendered (that’s you) readers already, and I can feel disapproving glances from transgendered readers. But I’m really uncomfortable about lots of aspects of transgendered culture, to the extent of not liking the trans* words at all (see my Naming II entry whenever I write it) and not even wanting to have used them in reference to myself to friends , but they seemed like a shorthand I felt I had to use at the time: with hindsight, I’m not sure I would use them again in such an email.
The basic fact of being born this way, is that your brain and therefore mind, personality, soul if you’re religious, identifies itself very early on as being of a different gender to your body. If there was a word for “girl-inside-boy-outside” (and I bet there is in Finnish, or Anglo-Saxon) then I’d use that. The prefix trans- raises lots of problems, discussed elsewhere, implies a transition from one place to another, and using a suffix referring to either gender or biological sex after it just confuses more. Frankly, I’d rather be called a g-i-b-o (but please, at least, let’s pronounce it “jeebo“).
So “girl-inside-boy-outside” (and vice versa for b-i-g-o’s: recent studies show there are just as many beejos as jeebos) is how we are born. And since sex reassignment surgery existed, it’s been seen as “the answer to the problem” within western society – the goal being to change your external appearance sufficiently that you become invisible as such a person, and disappear into the mass of people with the same internal gender as you had all along anyway – in my case, a woman. Those who can’t or choose not to do so are told they in an incredibly high suicide category, they’ll never be happy, etc.
And yet, in lots of other societies, this just wasn’t and isn’t the case. No room for details here and cultural interpretations vary: but most Native American tribes recognise two-spirit/Berdache or Winkte people, Tongans Fakaleiti, Indian culture Hijra, part of the Arabic work Xanith, Maori culture takatäpui täne ki wahine. Modern western culture lost this idea somewhere along the line.
Being of one gender in your brain while another physical sex in your body is about as difficult a concept as understanding that some cars come left-hand drive and some right-hand drive, regardless of whether they’re made in the UK or France. Sure we’re made for a minority market, but we’re not badly manufactured: just specially made. The few children I’ve explained the jeebo thing to have casually shrugged, asked a few impertinent questions (brilliant!) and carried on quite happily. I’ll never forgot one response when I told a small gorgeous wide-eyed child I was a girl on the inside and a boy on the outside; an hour later when we were walking along a quay, he said “we’re outside, does that mean you’re a boy now?”. He looked a bit glum when we all giggled; I had to rephrase it and he was happy.
As we get older, we seem to get a big block on this. If someone looks like a girl, they’ll feel like one inside, right? I’m not referring to gender role here, but identity: who she feels she is. If she thinks (and has always thought) she’s a he, then for some reason, this can’t be so. She must be mistaken, have suffered some childhood upset, be unhappy about her gender role, or just be mistaking being a tomboy for having a central male gender identity. But it’s such an easy concept to understand: body doesn’t always match brain. How did we get such a blind-spot that such a thing might happen, when most other societies saw it plain as day? Imagine biting into an apple pie and finding out it’s cherry: “Oh! I didn’t realise! How nice!” would probably be a more sensible response than telling the cherries they’re really traumatised apples.
It could be that I’m a bit transphobic, just as many gay people were homophobic a few decades ago. I’m certainly not very self-liking just now. But I just feel very uncomfortable about the reams of websites by transgendered people, particularly transwomen, that endlessly display photos of themselves made up for the studio, discuss hair removal techniques, vocal training techniques, and show what to me looks like a ghetto. I’ll repeat myself frequently on this weblog, but for me it’s always been more about hearts than handbags: there’s nothing wrong with any of the above but I just sense a deep lack of balance about where the heart (identity!) is in all this. All the above methods are ways in which transwomen can appear to have always had the body considered as more congruent with their internal gender. It’s (some would say necessary) subterfuge – the ultimate goal being to “pass”, dread word, i.e. not be spotted as a transgendered person, and then in many cases to slip out of the transgendered community into “normal” society, bolstering up the view that such mixes of brain and body don’t occur in nature.
Obviously this just encourages the self-perpetuating view that being transgendered is, well, odd, rather than just unusual. The current way the state deals with people who seek reassignment surgery is to make “patients” prove their intentions, by conforming to some idealised (almost 1950s) view of their internal gender identity: “living as a woman” for a specific period of time. Lipstick, nail varnish and heels get you a huge tick on the road to surgery. Why is this necessary? Isn’t it a confusion of gender role with identity? In what sense am I not generally living as a woman now? The name almost everyone calls me by is generally recognised as being more feminine than masculine; I wear “girls’ clothes” (jeans and tops, some jewellery, like my other girl friends); my partner has seen me for years as a girlfriend. Equally insane to the idea that a transman (beejo!) should be out chopping wood and fighting bears every day.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with reassignment surgery!mystique2.jpg If it makes someone feel good, that’s good, just like if you don’t appreciate the shape of your nose, getting it bashed with a hammer might help how you feel about yourself (or might not). For me it would be very convenient to step inside a little booth and come out looking as if I was born as a genetic sexual female as well as a woman inside. I’d probably be blissfully happy for a month, because the upset of being addressed as male (which really does sting) would just disappear. But this isn’t going to happen. It would be misleading of me to imply that my refusenik status is all to do with the proud non-combatant second definition above: my body’s quite ill and probably wouldn’t take the strain, and my judgement is too that the process wouldn’t achieve the ultimate aim, which is I maintain a form of camouflage: to appear to have always had a physical sex that society reckons as congruent with your internal gender. So if I’m truthful, I’m also probably a category one refusenik – no visa to travel. Sure, it would make things easier if I could, but couldn’t there at least a bit of the world have a stab at seeing me female inside without having to jump pre-feminist hoops? This of course requires you, dear reader, to make the little leap of imagination a few year ahead of when your culture does the same.
Yet a little category two refusenik voice inside me keeps asking: would it be truthful in some sense for me to alter my appearance so dramatically? I’m a girl-inside-boy-outside – a jeebo – and at the moment a gender otkaznik. So do I have to feel my whole life that I’m not going to be happy if I don’t alter how I look? “You know, look like everyone else.” A very large bit of me does think, like Mystique that I shouldn’t have to.

Babette’s Beast


Sorry for the break in transmission. My gastric symptoms really took a hold, and after a hyperactive mailing list day on Friday (sorry, robots) came a very big and I suppose, very predictable mood swing yesterday: so low and tearful and afraid I can’t remember when I’ve been like this for a long time. Just trying to tread tread tread water today, so writing this will either be therapeutic or another bad anxiety trigger. I may quit and run. Oh and my pee went green. Which apparently can be caused by asparagus, which I don’t eat because I don’t like any vegetables beginning with the letter A: there’s four I can think of in British English, count them out for me. So I guess it must be some kind of vitamin/mineral overdose from my silly scoop mistake, which by now three lovely people have apologetically laughed at, quite understandably. I hope last week was all about stupidity and not illness.
I’m currently very scared and feel my leg’s being chewed off by Wolf Dread, although, actually it’s a cousin of his, called Depression, and he’s a bad, bad wolf. It’s hard to describe just how he eats away at your bones. Someone in a #depression channel yesterday, bless him, suggested I “take up some hobbies” and take my mind off it. So hard to describe how, if you haven’t felt the deathly depths that depression can really get to when you can’t even think or move an arm without intense pain, guilt and fear, that stamp-collecting really wouldn’t help. To be bitten repeatedly by the wolves of anxiety, and then when they’re having a break and chewing at a detached limb, to have their cousin wolves of depression attack just doesn’t seem fair. But the jungle’s not fair, as taught by countless David Attenborough programmes about big monkeys eating little monkeys, and sea lions nibbling at penguins; TV that should have a health warning on it, because it’s so upsetting. Human beings can only bear so much reality, and some of us can only take a tiny scoopful at a time.
And it’s so chilling how intricate the details and subtle flavours of these mood changes are. Anxiety isn’t like depression, it evokes a completely different sensation to the palate, and you can taste the change immediately. And each episode of each condition has a differently horrifying flavour, like the exquisitely laid out dishes in Babette’s Feast; like you’ve never tasted this particular dish before. So you can’t prepare for it, or defend with previously stashed letters to self, diary entries or mental reassurances, because they aren’t relevant to the particular orientation of fears, loss of self-knowledge and disintegration that surmount you.
I get upset when people say depression brings creativity. Bipolar depression may bring on rushes of activity: I can’t speak for this. But it’s a 20th/21st century romance, or consolation, that depressives are at their most creative when beaten down by depression: a coffee-table thought. It’s a sickness, and while others may enjoy the fruits of dipping into that world at leisure in an art gallery before chocolate fudge cake in the nearby cafe and a poster for the wall, if the artist was truly depressed, then they should feel nothing but sympathy. Maybe it’s an expression of the empathy that depression can bring – if you’ve seen it in yourself, you know how unrelievable it is in others – but it’s not an LSD trip. I’m sure someone who’s down for a bit gets to consider things in their life that they may not have, and this may lead to fruitful creativity: but depression itself just suffocates and kills. The little I truly understand of it is that, just when you think you’ve reached the lowest level you could be at, a hundred more levels heave into view below, and you realise you could drop one thousand more. I’m quite sure I’ve only experienced hints of the kind of terrible loss of self and pain some feel.
I’m not going to go into the details of the fears, as from experience it only turns them up to 11; they’re illusionary triggers that try to divert you from the underlying chemistry of disease. I’ll just say one from today: ear fear again. Loud noise in my left ear this morning. Feeling of more deafness – panic. At least three people now have written to me about their ear problems, and some much more frightening than mine: and they have all dealt with them, by the sounds of it, with more dignity and courage than me. I must learn.
Three days ago I received my tinnitus retraining device (a misnomer – the audiologist wants to deal with my hyperacusis first). I have to build up to 8 hours a day. It’s a slightly scary thing to put in your ear. Recently on BBC2 there’s been a program called Tribe where a man called Bruce Parry spends time living with, and being initiated into indigenous tribal cultures all over the world (although, being quite posh, he’s yet to try being initiated as a Geordie). In one episode, he’s sitting in a clearing with his new Amazonian friends in his leaf underpants, chewing grubs, and knows that they sometimes use the grubs to clear earwax (eww..). So they pop one in and start laughing at him as he squirms (apparently the best joke in the Amazonian rainforest is to put the wrong kind of grub in someone’s ear). Anyway, this tinnitus/hyperacusis device has a little antenna, and is just like that: putting a wiggly grub in your ear.
And now it’s later, what I’ve written above seems like a weak attempt to talk myself out of some terrible fear with casual language, and my heart is like a rollercoaster ride.

Car coat, she has a quilted jacket with a hood if it rains
Big pockets for the pharmaceuticals she takes to fix her brain

Something is very bad inside and I have to stop typing now. Today I’ve had a lovely friend playing nice silly games with me online which have cheered up and made me feel more like me, and in another place, the insane breakup of a community of CFS/ME people which I’d just come to feel at home and safe in – and a new dear friend forced to leave – so much for the empathy of illness. fingers.jpg Too much stuff. The supposed detached empirical approach of my last article has become a small mountain to climb, and I expect I won’t be writing Naming II today. I’m trusting that anyone reading this who might meet me online understands that there are levels of presentation you can sustain publically for a little while which belie what lies beneath: but only for a time. But you have to maintain those levels if you possibly can to keep yourself in touch: people can only stand so much misery and illness, just like I can only stand so many David Attenborough programs.
I’m just going to have to post this now, and then hide in my tent and wait out the storm.

Naming I: CFS/ME

There are some uncanny parallels between how ME/CFS (the disease) and being transgendered are treated in current society. I’m trying to slowly find a way of describing these, because they seem to be the hooks on which a lot of self-doubt and anxiety hang for both classes of people. I think it’s a zeitgeist issue: one currently so embedded in western thinking, especially the latter, that it’s hard to see. I’m going to try to look at these, starting with the issue of Naming, which leads to the issue of psychologising what is, on the one hand a serious organic illnesses, and on the other, a benign variation in human makeup like having a nice big nose, but in this case highly stigmatised to the point of torture and murder. And the consequences of this psychologising are that already dispirited, anxious, low self-esteemed people are the one hand not taken seriously in a symptomatic way by doctors, and on the other hand medicalised beyond belief. And I think a lot of this originates in naming problems. Yes that’s right, I’m going to have a moan. This will probably be a three-part post. What I’m doing is called pacing: so first, CFS/M.E.
The condition commonly now known as M.E. in the UK has had a huge number of names in its time, all of which tend to confuse in some way or other. Common names currently: Myalgia Encephalomyelitis (M.E.), Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS), Post-Viral Fatigue Syndrome (PVFS). You’ll also see the “encephalomyelitis” transmute into “encephalopathy” sometimes, either because it’s easier to spell, or for more sinister reasons. If you like words, you can push further back and find a reference in 1750 by Sir Richard Manningham to a syndrome referred to as febricula which rings some bells; Florence Nightingale and Charles Darwin had something similar. From the 1860s, the name neurasthenia was given to something quite similar, and in the 20th century, various isolated “outbreaks” have given rise to various different names: Icelandic disease in Iceland, Royal Free Disease in Britain, and Tapanui flu in New Zealand. Decent enough histories here and here.

Continue reading

Out of the swing of the sea

So, I did come down sick again: maybe some explanation for this swing down which is continuing. I’ll spare gruesome details, but it’s gastric and has been continuing for 3 days, so I’m losing yet more weight. And it may have been my own stupid fault. My new private Doctor who specialises in CFS/ME, Dr Myhill sent me a confection of minerals in powder form to dissolve in water (tastes like what I imagine washing up water tastes like: I haven’t tried), and, not finding the specified “scoop”, I thought “coffee scoops” and doled myself out a soup spoon full on Thursday, to immediate gastric reaction. I’m told my body may be in shock mode now. We found the scoop today at the bottom of the powder – it’s like a lilliputian’s teaspoon.
The result (if that’s the explanation) is feeling very sick, tired and anxious and stuck in bed. But I’ve had repeated gastric episodes of a yucky variety in the last six months: the first coinciding with my loss of hearing and cochlea damage. I hope it’s understandable that I’m anxious right now about more “idiopathic” damage and deafness, and doesn’t signal a descent into being yet more pathetic.
So this has to be a snatch of an entry, and I’ll use others to provide content. For those who don’t know the (agonising, ridiculous, soul-destroying) state of CFS/ME healthcare in the UK, which I’ll still have to put off for another time, please please just quickly look at my own private doctor’s take on the “organic illness vs. you’ve convinced yourself you’re ill” debate. I like a straight-talking doctor:

CFS Psychological or Physical?
This seemed such a stupid question that I never bothered to consider it.

Also her article on “Dealing with Doctors“:

Most doctors do not distinguish, indeed do not want to distinguish, between fatigue, frustration, sadness and depression. If you burst into tears with frustration at the total lack of understanding, that merely reinforces the universal diagnosis of depression.

Because of her attitude, I’m sticking with her methods for at least 6-9 months. She’s a breath of fresh air, after more than a decade of UK doctors looking like a deer in headlights when you mention M.E. She’s very nutrition-based, but she’s also ordered a lot of tests (vitamin D deficiency for mood problems, melatonin levels, parasitology, and something scary in case my hearing loss was a tiny stroke, and a third thyroid test) which the NHS have told me they won’t pay for – so I have to. I’ll be taking vitamin B12 shots weekly soon, which is first-aid commonplace treatment in other countries for this condition, and unspeakably unorthodox hippy nonsense to UK general practioners. Allow me a brief outburst.

All of you are worthless physicians.
If you would only keep silent,
that would be your wisdom!
- Job 13

Joni Mitchell says it best in The Sire of Sorrow (Job’s Sad Song).
Anyway enough. I’m sitting in bed, trying to expose my ear to noise, as instructed, and trying not to worry. Two lovely friends held back the borders of my anxiety yesterday by just talking to me on the internet. Thank you thank you.
I’ll have to stop, as rest for CFS/ME patients is supposed to not involve laptops, TVs or even music but, just for me, another song of longing based on verse from a long time ago, from a band who have saved me time and time again. Just a deep deep longing to be out of the “swing of the sea” for a little, to get some rest, physically and emotionally.

I have desired to go,
oh I have asked to go
where a few lilies blow,
to fields where flies
no sharp and sided hail
and springs not fail,
and springs not fail.

And I have asked to be,
oh I have asked to be
out of the swing of the sea,
where the green swell
is in the heavens dumb,
and no storms come,
and no storms come.

- The Innocence Mission – No Storms Come – from Gerard Manley Hopkins – Heaven Haven

And finally, Hope’s lesson for Giant Despair.

And let us consider, again, that all the law is not in the hand of Giant Despair. Others, so far as I can understand, have been taken by him, as well as we; and yet have escaped out of his hand.
Who knows, but the God that made the world may cause that Giant Despair may die? or that, at some time or other, he may forget to lock us in? or that he may, in a short time, have another of his fits before us, and may lose the use of his limbs? and if ever that should come to pass again, for my part, I am resolved to pluck up the heart of a man, and to try my utmost to get from under his hand.
I was a fool that I did not try to do it before; but, however, my brother, let us be patient, and endure a while. The time may come that may give us a happy release; but let us not be our own murderers. With these words Hopeful at present did moderate the mind of his brother; so they continued together (in the dark) that day, in their sad and doleful condition.

Hopeful comforts Christian – from The Pilgrim’s Progress

He’s back

Anxiety/panic and confusion over everything back very badly after an event two nights ago. Very hard to move or speak without hurting me or others, who understandably get frustrated, or talk coherently about what’s hurting. Wolf Dread came back and is baying for blood, taking snaps out of me. Thoughts of the most terrible outcomes and endings. Triggers; triggers, illness and sleeplessness. Stay in bed.
Maybe this is exhastion after staying up too late for too many nights talking to people who seem to have the key to my prison. What to do if you have to choose between fitness of mind and body? Maybe it’s an aftershock of a very quiet and lovely visit from friends yesterday, with no more exertion than sitting, watching TV, and talking – which means my life really is going to be very limited from now on; maybe it’s the 36 hours of anxiety over issues I can’t write about here. Maybe it’s illness: the distortional games CFS/M.E. likes to play on your brain chemicals, just for kicks. Or maybe it’s just how things are. But it’s so mean, after all the hope of the last week, and I feel it’s all my fault, for whatever reason I can find at the time.
Fear of sounding like teenage goth, so won’t type much more. Maybe type on another dry topic later to try and sound literate and detached, to attempt some real mental detachment. Stephen Fry said once (I paraphrase) “if you want to be something else, you just have to keep pretending to be it, until it’s you”. But this is closer to real-me: when you see those entries, that’ll be journo-me.
I say closer because I wouldn’t want you to see me in the hateful flesh now: barely coherent. Senses gathered briefly when my hands touch the keyboard, and wildly reeling when the efforts over, rests between each sentence. Not nice to be with.
It’s very hard to be truthful like this with the world watching (where my world is a few people). Please forgive me for my choppy-changy moodswings, and what seems like self-indulgence. It may be so: it’s just that I can’t tell, and hurt too much just now to be able to find out, or really do anything. This entry is a limited edition 7″, and may disappear at any time, through sheer humiliation. Who wants to read this?
My uncle wrote to me unexpectedly yesterday – we haven’t talked for years. He’s really a second cousin, and the remaining link to my mum who’s gone (her cousin and childhood companion). I dream about telling her she had a daughter all this time, because I know she would have opened her arms to it. I hope he won’t mind me quoting his letter:

You are in dire straits, without much wriggle-room, though I guess loving outsiders, perplexed by their helplessness are reduced to affirming platitudes and detachable encouragements which presuppose a kind of freedom and energy available to them but not to you. What, where is the key?

“We think of the key, each in his prison
Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison.”

I think of what people do in prison. Immense numbers of press-ups. Messages tapped out on walls or pipes. Treatises written on bog-paper. The gratifying fantasies of revenge. Commonplace rotting. I also recall (from childhood) that Bunyan’s Giant Despair is given periodic fits (just as hope itself) so that in a brief lapse of his tyranny the victims find the key that was with them all along in the dungeon.

I guess you have to wriggle-wriggle with what you have available to you, not the contents of platitudes beyond your reach, disqualified by your reality. All the time the choice of life over death is set before us. In some prisons, wriggling may be the only affirmation of choice.

P.S. There is a moment in each day that Satan cannot reach – William Blake

I dream of stumbling across some fragment of that gene of eloquence that he’s always possessed in some dusty attic of my mind one day. He probably won’t see this as I doubt he has internet connectivity these days – he prefers lonely estuaries to bustle – but his letter bears reading and re-reading for me. I don’t know if he’d be able to adjust to some of the revelations of this weblog, if he saw it. He once said to me with a huge air of sadness, when we discussed the loss of faith I, and he to a greater degree had suffered, that he was “last century’s man”. It was terrible to hear – his despair at the time. I hope he doesn’t think that still – he isn’t. Every century needs this kind of care and eloquence. I don’t talk to him enough, probably because I feel the weight of a childhood staring out of the wrong face at him, with the wrong assumptions coming back at me when I do, which is hardly his or anyone’s fault. Maybe this might change, if I tell him one day. Meanwhile, I’ll sit still, and wait for one of those lapses of tyranny. His Giant – my Wolf.

i’m fast asleep / my headphones / they saved my life

Sorry for no entries for days! Just about every two minutes or so I’ve contemplated a new entry, and contemplated how many of my massive readership I’m losing because it looks like another shipwrecked weblog. It’s not, I promise. Just that on reflection my last feverish entry (you have to get it out, waargh) may be a bit heavy for most, and unintelligible to a few. And a bit of a shock to some who know me. Sorry.
This one will be about My Ears. I wanted really to say that if, as a few of you have written back to me, you have Ear Problems too, that private ENT doctors, whether you pay them or not, smell, and audiologists are wonderful, so go and find one. If you’re in the UK, you might be able to find one locally on the NHS. They don’t go through the same intense 5th year course in “Snootiness Skills” as doctors do, especially the kind who decide they’d like state-condoned backhanders from anxious people – I suppose you would expect that to be a natural selective factor for the kind who will go private. The NHS ENT doctors are, I expect, perfectly likable people with cats and unpretentious hobbies (I’m imagining fishing) and slightly shabby wallpaper that needs redoing but that somehow they won’t get around to fixing for years; the problem is, you don’t get to see them for 18 months even if you go deaf. For my international friends, this is called the “NHS waiting list”. The ones you therefore pay, if you can afford it, to see earlier than 2006 are ruthless, take your money and snap at you, and conduct a hearing test with transparent headphones, while rustling papers on their desk. They then tell you your hearing will not return, tell you not to think about it much, as they get your coat.
I’ve so lost faith in the health system here: I sometimes pine for America’s system, ruthless and nasty to those not in work as it sometimes seems. Selfishly, if I had insurance through a job or family would things be better there, specifically for M.E.? Would my doctor have correctly diagnosed my cochlea damage within the crucial 48 hours and got me to hyperbaric oxygen or steroids to fix my hearing loss? On all accounts the US is taking M.E. patients and the issue of the organic illness more seriously, and putting some real money into research instead of psychologising everything within sight. I’m sure I’ll write more later about the psychologising of organic illness in Europe in another rant similar to the last entry, along with psychologists doing the same to benign conditions like someone like me being a girl (which I don’t think is fatal). But not today: today it’s An Ode to Audiologists.
I don’t have much content here really, except that “my” audiologist (and it’s a sign of my renewed faith that I think of her as “mine”) didn’t give one itchy look as I talked to her for hours, took every question and silly comment I made seriously, my half-baked internet-derived notions with interest, never patronised, and never once gave me the impression she had any other appointments all day. Ironically, I had to pay to get the first appointment with her, so I could get it in days rather than weeks/months/years, but after that you just blend organically back into the NHS, and everything else is free. A tiny bit of me is beginning to revise my recent view that it was all an impossible pipe-dream in 1948.
So my audiologist laughed at the costly but pitiful child’s handwriting pencil-drawn hearing tests from my private ENT appointment with Mr Grumpy, and ordered some more – within a week. She took special account of my anxiety disorder and my lack of mobility due to M.E., and booked a time that was just right. The tests were long and carefully explained all the way through, and, suspicious as I am of my own mind’s ability to fiddle any test to make my ear seem better, I was shown that they were accurate by post-testing demonstration. I really could hear the tones I “caught a whisper of and hoped I could really hear”, and my hearing really was gone where I thought it was. She was very patient and so sweet with me. And the results were so encouraging.
The results: I have a dip in my left ear starting at 2000Hz, dipping down (I think?) 40dB at 4000Hz-6000Hz and then for some weird reason spiking right back up at 8000Hz, which is the end of the graph. There’s a bit of low frequency hearing loss in my right ear, but nothing to get excited about. The hand-scrawled Rhoobarb-and-Custard profile of my hearing from my private ENT consultant (who’s probably now spending my fee on new golf clubs) said my hearing dived at 1000Hz and never returned, and was “profound”. So, either someone is affecting a miracle the ENT doc assured me “couldn’t happen”, or he just didn’t bother properly, and wanted to get home for his egg and chips. I think the latter.
So I do have some serious hearing loss, to go along with my M.E./anxiety/depression salad, but it’s not quite as profound as it looked. It feels bad, but my audiologist put to me an unpatronising argument that a lot of it is to do with brain-stem pattern recognition (note the difference between this and psychologising the problem: “you just aren’t thinking right, loser”). I’m still terrified whatever virus did it to me will do it to me again in the other ear, but more hearing tests might chide me to not be so scared in due course, and I’m meanwhile having some parasitology and vascular tests to rule out anything nasty, like a minor stroke – enough to keep my worry atoms functioning. The existing loss is where humans make, I think they’re called fricative sounds or sibbilants, and I know someone who could tell me if she’s reading this! Lip sounds, B’s and F’s and S’s. And I do have quite bad tinnitus, which is varying at the moment from a loud squeal/clang some days (like today) to more mild whooshes other days that I hardly notice for hours on end. And my most serious problem currently, the hyperacusis (sensitivity – ouch – to high frequency sounds and an inability to get the TV to a volume where I can both hear it and not hurt), the audiologist says is likely to be treatable. I believe her. I like her. How people are as people matters more than what they think they know, or how long they were trained to know it.
So this week sometime I’m getting a little plug to put in my ear, which will whoosh white noise at me. I’m supposed to wear it 8 hours a day, probably for a long time. It’s supposed to be pleasant, not unpleasant, and a relief from the spiky noises. And it’s free, part of Tinnitus Retraining Therapy, and I think they cost people $2000 in the US. Maybe there’s some reason to still remain here. If you come across me sometime, if I get better and out of this living room, and see a little plastic thing in my ear, don’t perform the aural Heimlich Manoeuvre on me, please.
So, getting to my point, which is like getting to the end of one of Escher’s staircases, losing my hearing has been a night-terror to me for months. I always said all that was important in life was “friends and music”, and I’ve lost many of the former through this rotten disease, and my inability to cope with the gap between the girl inside and the boy on the outside, the worry of relating to others and what they’re thinking about me. Sending that mail a week ago is my way of working on that, and I’m currently back into miracle-recovery mode over my attitude there due to (particularly) a few responses from people who have oceans inside them. As to the latter, it’s a terrifying thing to think I might lose music – truly not-worth-living feeling for the first few weeks of anxiety, after the deathly predictions of the ENT doctor. This won’t make any sense to someone who listens to the odd “Classical Relaxation” CD on the way home from work I know, just as I also won’t understand your fascination for clay-pigeon shooting – but that’s ok. Just assume for a second it’s like a death sentence to me. I usually can’t concentrate on conversation when some music I love is on – I can’t think straight, I get the most wonderful dizziness and I’m lost in it. I swear I could get lost in a city listening to Ennio Morricone’s Metti Una Sera A Cena, which deserves its own entry here.
So the point is: I’ve joined, wired it into how I listen to music at home, and spent ages writing the simplest tiny php script (of which I know nothing – I’m a web-ignorant benny) to pull in live information to show what I’m currently listening to on the side panel of this weblog right now. You can also see my profiles at audioscrobbler and, should you be as bored as a melon. The “What’s Playing Now” thing apparently fades quickly, so might only show if I’ve been listening to music today: it depends on how many friends you have, and I don’t have many. Apart from you, dear readers, who if you audioscrobble I would implore to befriend me.
This is the thing: that doing this was scary for me. It probably won’t seem scary to you, or the list of what I’m listening to interesting to read. It’s more like my way of casting a net. Three people have written to me in the last week saying they have hearing problems too, and I think at least one has said (bless you!) that your approach is to listen to as much, and do as much ear-y things you can before (or in case) your hearing goes forever. Mine’s always been the opposite – to give up and not scare yourself by pushing fate. So this is trying to reverse the trend – my headphones as an act of tiny tiny faith from someone who isn’t good at it.

Jerry Springer – The Nopera

The recent furor (read: minor fracas) in the UK over Jerry Springer – The Opera was largely aimed at two things – the number of swear words used – apparently an impressive 8000, although you have to remember “chick with a dick!” repeated by 27 cast members 5 times (as is opera’s annoying way) counts as 27×5, not 1; and secondly, at the portrayal of Christ as “a bit gay” and a bit daft. I didn’t get as far as the second half, as I found it all a bit annoying, so have no comment on the latter, and as to the former, well I like the odd swear word from time to time – the etymology of rudery is a fascinating thing particularly when the words so clearly come from Anglo-Saxon and were respectable back then (ref: shitten). I guess the Norman invaders in 1066 just wanted to make the natives look rude. The origin of the F-word (see, even I’m being coy for sensitive readers) to which I could devote a long entry remains shrouded in mystery and myth interestingly, but the parentage of most of the rest is pretty respectable, or at least charmingly onomatopoeiac.
No, the reason I didn’t take to JS – The Opera, was that I was disappointed in Stuart Lee, one of the co-writers and the erstwhile Lee and Herring and Fist of Fun Lee, who I quite liked because they were so childish (for international readers: british comedy duo of the 90s who repeatedly failed to get their series renewed by the BBC). Disappointed because, from the first half I saw, he didn’t really do anything but regurgitate the typical Jerry show in a supposedly ironic way. I suppose it’s not his job to challenge but merely to make some money, which he at last has seemed to manage to do, but he did seem to have some ability to dissect hypocrisy and go for the jugular. But the constant attacks on sometimes vulnerable transpeople that Jerry perpetuated like a circus act in almost every episode seems to have gone beneath Stuart’s radar or at least his previous dislike of bullying. I suspect his audience might have been reduced if he had actually critiqued this a bit, and you can always dress up layers of irony as (“ahhhhh!”) actually having a go. But I don’t think he was; he was just joining in with Jerry’s subliminal bullying. He certainly seems happy that Jerry endorsed it: the latter apparently took a bow at the Opening Night. Simon Cowell, Angus Deayton, Michael Moore and Sir David Frost (yeah: that lot) are used to proudly puff up its reputation on the show’s webpage, while supposedly subliminal messages like “Chick with a Dick” flash by on the website in sub-Jam style, 10 years too late to look anything but a desperate grasp at the provocation that Jam did so well. David Hasslehoff and Dido are big fans. Jim Davidson might have been proud of all this, but it’s all a bit disappointing from you, Stuart.
So, it didn’t feel fair or interesting writing something about just how subtly damaging the original Jerry Springer show was to transpeople, because it’d be like complaining that the Colosseum games in Roman times were a bit mean on the lions, christians and slaves thrown into the ring. Of course Jerry and his production company wanted people to get hurt and end up throwing chairs at each other, because the majority enjoyed it. Jerry’s previous incarnation, Jerry Bentham would probably have approved: “the greatest good of the greatest number”.
But, Stuart could have done this differently. He retains transsexuals as circus clowns, perpetuates the idea that they’re all screwed up, just as the cinema of the 50s and 60s did about gay people, and even seems (in my reading) to confused high camp with being brain/body differently gendered – possibly even mistaking it for another sexuality or a version of being gay. I won’t repeat the quote, but you can see it here at comment 4 if you really want to – this was addressed by the mob at the queening supposed transsexual. I’m sorry: “gay man’s”? Most straight or bisexual transgendered women, being women, tend to prefer straight men.
Stuart can claim of course that he’s just reporting it as it happened on the show, the crowd baying for blood and sieg-heiling Jerry – but he’s not, as he has a surreal dig at religious sensibility at the end which I never saw in any JS show. He’s just made another roman circus for fun. Which is fine, but I’m allowed to say it doesn’t help people like me, so here I am saying it.
The nub of the matter is the original show’s insistence that transwomen “used to be men” (and vice versa, although transmen I don’t think were featured heavily, because they’re not as funny). This of course is a common thing you hear everywhere including on supposedly supportive programs on the BBC, but it doesn’t make it any less false. From this vital first premise, on which many a Jerry Springer show spun to its inevitable chair-throwing conclusion, lay the idea that the transperson was being deceitful in not telling her lover that “he was really a man”. Many of the participants (some of whom, with hindsight, appear to have been actors or heavily staged) played along with this, more fool them, although in the last episode I blinked at the girl was heard to mutter a little submissively “well Jerry would say I became a women, but I’ve always been one…” before the lions were let loose. Much the same tricks have been played on UK TV recently, borrowing from American-style formats: the Sky series There’s Something About Miriam (the “something” being, fairly obviously from the start, in her pants) seemed to almost fetishise Miriam’s status as an inter-op transsexual woman being chased by a gang of unwitting men – and portrayed her as “I’m really a man”, which she stupidly played along with, presumably because the money was good. Why then did the program refer to her as “she”? Because the production team were stupid and confused and it would of course have ruined the enjoyment of the hundreds of beered-up Sky viewers clutching their groins and ooing at their 56″ plasma screens. Transsexuals as the new performing bears.
Because this idea is so pervasive that post-operative transsexuals “used to be men” (or women), and because so many transsexuals bow to the same pressure and use the same phrases in the rush for acceptance, we have to ask “how do we define a man or a woman?”. If your answer is purely on the basis of what’s attached to the front of the body (“Miriam’s” frisson, played to suspiciously fetishistic extremes with bikini shots), then why the same excitement and furor on Jerry Springer when a post-operative “confesses” to her boyfriend? Surely she’s a woman then, and he has nothing to complain about? If neither of these, chromosomes maybe? But 1 in 2000 births are intersex in one way or another, one of the deepest taboos of our time, which means there’s a fighting chance one of the readers of this weblog will be intersex and not know it. What about an AIS woman? They’re XY (male chromosomally) but their bodies didn’t respond to the masculising androgen in the womb, and they usually grow up happy and secure in their identity as women, even though XY, many never finding out. If you think gender’s down to any of these, what’s your gender? Had your chromosomes checked recently?
The answer is that, of course in all likelihood you know what your gender is: it’s what you know you are inside, and always have, and probably not given a thought to. You may be uncomfortable with your gender role at times: how your current society expects you to act. But you’re probably pretty sure if you’re a man or woman, and if your doctor told you tomorrow your chromosomes were unusual, it wouldn’t change your mind. It’s called gender identity and it’s somewhere deep inside you – in the Map of the Human Heart, and likely created by the unique timing of washes of hormones in the womb.
That’s why Miriam, unless she made some horrible mistake electing for surgery always was a girl, and why Jerry’s victims always were the gender they’re supposed to be lying about being just before they get beaten up on his shows.
One day, there’s going to be a program called “Jerry Springer – The Nopera”, for non-operative transpeople like me – the ones who choose to keep the body they were born in, either because they can’t or won’t change it, because they stubbornly expect society to catch up and understand that your gender identity might not fit your body, that gender is more about the heart than handbags or hand-drills, and expect in time at least a few of their friends and family may be able to leap the gap and address them with (and think of them as) their real gender. It may seem like a big leap, but other societies have been recognising (and welcoming) this since history began. If you’re a Christian and are campaigning against Jerry Springer – The Opera, save a little of that energy and also use some of Jesus’s compassionate intelligence in revisiting gender identity instead of following the mob. If you’re not, like me, but are born in a Judeo-Christian culture, have a go at re-examining the tradition in which you’re currently embalmed, that seems to have uniquely blinded us to variations in gender identity. If you’re from another culture, you may live in one of the lucky ones where you can see this clearly! Heck, even supposedly tyrannical Iran is arguably more progressive than the UK and US.
So Jerry Springer – the Nopera. It will feature non-operative transgendered people, who will confess that they have been lying all along about their gender: that in spite of their bodies, they are and always were a different gender inside compared to what may be expected from the outside. I’ll be on first, apologising to the headmaster of my single-sex school for breaking school rules, that I was really a girl all along, and didn’t think to mention it, but really should have done so and popped next door to the girl’s school. I’ll confess to my first partner when we were 16 that I was really a girl, and that I’m sorry I put her in the position of having a lesbian relationship without knowing it, but reassure her that it doesn’t make her a lesbian (dread thought!). Several other “noperas” (as we will decide to call ourselves) will follow, some with the opposite polarity to me, confessing that they should have explained earlier to their parents why they screamed when told to “put on a nice dress for your gran”, always ended up climbing trees, and really started scaring them by binding their breasts as teenagers. Few chairs will be thrown. Scatter-cushions will be used instead for some gentle biffing. Viewing figures will be abnormally low. Simon Cowell will not appear at the premiere, claiming he has instead to wash his hair that night.


I sent this mail out to about 40 people on Sunday: old friends, and family. Half of them knew most of it but golly gee: so that’s me and this weblog open and raw to the world then.
I guess it’s as good a way of introducing any new friends to what this is about as any, poorly-constructed as it is. I’d been aching over sending it since December, and decided I needed a weblog in case anyone who received it wanted to understand a bit more. So it all became a bit chicken-and-egg.
I guess time will tell if it was wise. I’ve been swaying from slightly-euphoric relief to screaming anxiety since, my biggest fear being that it’s an imposition of things to some people who don’t want to know it, and most of all, with respect to gender to the half of those who didn’t know, that they’d be forced to call me something they weren’t comfortable with in public, while raising eyebrows at each other in private. This could only make me more isolated, and it’d be my fault. But I’m so unhappy and lonely, this may be a nothing-to-lose thing, that I should have done 5/10/20 years ago.
I’m also very worried about precedence: how when some read this mail they may reflect what I tell them with respect to others (some will understand this), or with respect to representations of transgendered issues on the web, most of which I dislike intensely. That’s another article I guess.
Message edited wherever I feel like it, because it’s mine, to protect the innocent, including me. I’m not proud of the style, phrasing, or how hard/embarrassing it must have been to receive by some. But some things you just have to do to survive I guess.
I’ve had some lovely kind short replies, a couple that have made my heart leap with happiness, and one or two that have amazed me with their insight. Because their reactions made me brave, I’m going to include the letter here and now. No-one’s been nasty, so my little Thai friend, who offered to kick-box anyone who was, will have to keep her boots clean for now.

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