Oh yes it is! Oh no it isn’t!

I know some transpeople have a downer on traditional British (i.e. English) pantomime. It’s all that travestie: men dressing as women and making fools of themselves on stage, whilst children learn that laughing at a guy in a frock is ‘de rigeur’. Or at the very least, socially sanctioned. Which maybe some of the little blighters translate into action outside the theatre. Hegemony of ideas does have a habit of making bad behaviour ‘OK’.

I used to hold this anti-panto’ position myself at one time, primarily because I used to feel very less confident than I do now. This of course, is a somewhat egocentric position (I nearly wrote selfish, but I’m not that self-flagellating) considering the issues that many transfolk have as they come out and find a niche for themselves in the world.

But I’ve come to the conclusion that the issue is not the jokes that our society has about cross-dressing. A sense of humour is a necessary asset for anyone who has to deal with the vagaries of frocks, accoutrements, make-up, and getting feckin’ shoes that fit. BUT the problem is that the if the ONLY message that our culture gives is that laughing at trannies is fine, then we create a nasty ghetto of thinking where cruelty lives unrestrained. We need alternative narratives that give a contrast to the ‘Ugly Sisters’ routine. Things that show us in a positive light. Unfortunately the UK is still a loooooong way from getting this right; but there is (I think) some hope at the end of the tunnel (for which, may we be truly thankful).

So, yeah… panto’ is just fine. As long as the joke’s not on me all the time.

You really should have said, y’know…

(I wrote this article back in 2011. Time for a ‘re-print’ I think).
There comes a day when a transgendered person gets ‘found out’.
I suppose that little needs a bit of explanation. You see, almost all transgendered folk start their lives firmly in the closet. And why not? … after all, it’s hardly a condition that anyone wants to be all that ‘frank’ about (pun intended!). Prejudice and stigmatisation of anyone with gender issues is still very rife in British society. Some have said in fact that the situation that trans people are in today is rather like that of the gay community forty years ago: still full of stereotyping and ridicule (and that’s at the best of times). Yes, we have our ‘tolerance zones’ and ‘safe areas’, but there are still too many incidents of hate crime, still too many news stories of trans people being assaulted, still far too many media jokes that make us appear like an easy target for yobs in search of a safe victim. It ain’t easy being a girl (or a bloke, for that matter)!
So we largely stay in the closet, unless the need for gender-transition is so strong that the only way to survive is to come out and face the consequences. After that, all other issues become secondary and one becomes a touch-stone for the world’s ills. It’s amazing how just being an ‘out’ transwoman can seem so very provocative. Suddenly old friends act as if you’ve just revealed that you’re really an alien from the planet LV-246, and you know it when you get dropped from their mobile contacts list. And at work they either treat you with kid gloves (just in case you sue!), or try to pretend you’re not there. Of course there are up- sides… the world isn’t all doom-‘n’-gloom … but it’s still a traumatic process for all that.
But what if you’re in the closet and quite happy to say there? Well, there’s always the chance that you’ll get caught by your partner whilst ‘dressed’ one fateful day. By ‘dressed’ I don’t mean just ‘wearing clothes’ of course. I mean wearing the clothes of the opposite gender (There… I’ve said it. Shock-horror! Call the Daily Mail immediately!). There you are, feeling comfy and safe. It’s just an ordinary day. Your better half has gone out for the evening to see friends, and you decide to take the opportunity to slip into something less comfortable. There’s that new bra and high-heels that your secreted into the house a few weeks ago, which you’ve never had the chance to properly try on. So, the temptation gets the better of you… you abandon yourself to unreason, climb into your best clobber and slap. And it’s bliss! It’s just fab’! This is what you were born for: the whole female ‘thing’ in all it’s glory. Yeah, you avoid looking in the mirror (don’t want to break the spell!), but for that brief moment you’re as glamorous as Marilyn (and with much longer legs).
But what’s this? A sound of a key in the lock?! Feet on the stairs?!! Panic-stations!! It’s too late; that zip is too difficult to undo, that lipstick just too red to obliterate in five seconds…and that bra catch is unreachable!
So she (or maybe he?) finds out. And if you’re really lucky there will be mutual embarrassment, maybe a bit of scolding and a few tears. But she’ll understand. Just. You’ll purge and promise to never do it again. All those clothes that took so long (and so much sweat!) to accumulate will go into the incinerator, and your guilt will become your own personal jailer and censor. But if you’re unlucky you’ll discover what anger and betrayal really mean. She’ll savage you verbally, make you feel as small as can be, and then refuse to have anything to do with you ever again. Is your life ruined? Hard to say. Purgatory has no time- off-for-good-behaviour.
So should you have told your partner about your little proclivity when you first hitched-up with one another? Wouldn’t it have been more honest? Haven’t you been a complete liar for not telling her earlier?
Sorry. Life’s just not as simple as that.
Here’s the story as I’ve experienced it: You start dressing when young. You give up. You tell yourself you can control it. You find you can’t. You enjoy it, but tell yourself you shouldn’t. You get a huge sexual kick out of the clothes, the image, the persona… the whole nine-yards of being a woman. But still you tell yourself that you’re not transgender (that’s assuming you’ve even heard the word).
You get older. The the sex-kick abates… but still you love to dress. Or maybe you don’t love it? Maybe it loves you? Maybe it’s just something about ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’? You get hideously confused. You want to stop, but can’t. And when you do stop, you can’t wait to start again. You get depressed. is life really supposed to be this complex?
If you’re unlucky then you grew up in an era (or a part of the country) where the word sex was hardly mentioned in the family, and the word ‘transsexual’ was never mentioned at all. The closest you ever got to such a thing was Danny la Rue on TV (God bless him!), or the Panto Dame at Xmas (though you always envied the Principle Boy much more!). You ogle those legs… and wish it was you.
So, you lock yourself in the closet, label yourself a freak, a pervert, and seek out the love of a good woman to just lead a ‘normal’ life. After all, it’s what everyone else has got, and it’s what you want the most. You may be trans, but you’re a human being too with all the needs any other human being has. Then you meet someone you adore. Yes of course you should have told her!!… But when you met her (and for a long time thereafter) thoughts of dressing never crossed your mind. So it works…. Yay! Love solves all. You’re cured!
Until later of course.
Let’s not beat ourselves up. The story of wives finding their husbands neatly dressed in some very tasty smalls one evening is an old one. Were all these poor saps deviously, cold- bloodedly fooling their spouses? No. They were doing the best they could do under the circumstances, and the sad thing is, they would have avoided getting into the situation of they could.

The Logic of Gender

The logic of gender is pretty obvious when you get to think about it.

Not that TERFs do much thinking (when sloganising and reacting is sooooo much less hard work). But I’ll elaborate my earlier thoughts here just for clarity.

The use of language as a communicational construct is largely a matter of signalling. That is to say, the meaning in any signalled message (be it verbal, bodily dress-wise, etc.) is in the intent of the sender rather than in the message itself. This is pretty much a given in communication science. Consequently, one can add that the meaning of any message is in its use, rather than some externally defined ‘absolute’. I know some will argue that dictionaries give a definition of a word’s meaning, but I would argue that all a dictionary does is reflect historic/cultural use of language. All dictionaries are out of date, since by the time they are compiled and in use the language has already ‘moved on’.

Hence if I use words such as ‘gender’, sex’, ‘male’, ‘female’, ‘woman’, ‘man’, (etc) I’m not signalling some Gods-given absolute of definition (since there isn’t one), but only the current state-of-play in the dialectical battle of meaning. This is a social function; we struggle over what we mean, and in doing so come to acceptable forms of usage. These are by no means ‘closed’ issues though. One need only to think of poetic use of language to realise that a word can mean many things depending on its context and assimilation within a cultural structure.

So what about our use of ‘gender’ and ‘sex’? Well, I know these are used interchangeably by many of us. I have no objection to this. But when it comes to the use of language about myself, I require of others a modicum of polite acceptance that if you want to get my attention and have a fair exchange of views then flexibility over acceptable terminology is necessary.

Just as it would be UNACCEPTABLE (and clearly so!) to use the terms ‘wog’, ‘darkie’, ‘chinky’ or such for people of other cultures, then it is unacceptable to call me a ‘man’ when I am clearly living in the female gender. To say that no one has a right not to be offended is disingenuous, since it is clearly the case that deliberate use of offensive language to describe other cultures is a feature of racism and bigotry. It would be a category error therefore to assume a different set of linguistic criteria apply to me. Yes, it is often wrong to offend, significantly when the offence is based on a personal attribute rather than something another has said or done.

For my part, Gender and Sex are two different things. Gender is the domain in which I live. Sex is my biology. These are related, but not deterministically so. If they were, then feminism as we know it would not be possible. A woman’s cultural and social (and hence economic!) world would be always determined purely by her biology. But it clearly is not. Our society has changed for the better because women have broken free (at least in part) from the traditional over-determination of their roles in society based upon their bodily construction.

Having said that, is it not also so with transgender people? Do our sexual organs ‘determine our being’? Is my existence simply a matter of the chromosomes I was dealt at birth? Pace any references to ‘the patriarchy’, I would deny that my genetics (or what is between my legs) is what makes my identity what it is.

It is the separation of the domain of identity from deterministic (i.e. essentialist) biology that give us all (no matter how we identify) the freedom we need to lead fulfilled lives. Hence, when I use terms such as ‘transwoman’, ‘woman’, ‘female’, etc. to describe myself I am not playing some weirdly mysterious game of infiltrating traditional female privacy. I know where I am not wanted. But I am using these terms within the context of discourse to describe my experience of the world, and how my relationships with others can be best explained. To do otherwise is to read too much into my speech and actions, and closet me once again in a neat box where I can be labeled, categorised, discarded, ignored… and persecuted.

Love me or hate me, I’m more than the sum of my parts (and especially the parts between my legs). If the radical feminists can’t hack it with me, then that’s their loss: they’ve forgotten the face of their mothers and are doing to others exactly what others did to them.

I rest my case m’lud.

Labour Antisemitism?

The whole business of anti-semitism is part of an endemic range of xenophobic, homophobic and religiophobic auto-responses that are lodged deep in British society.

They are difficult to eradicate because those who suffer from them are very reluctant to engage in any rational discussion, and when they do engage (usually anonymously) they are highly defensive of possibly being ‘outed’. There is much denial, and a great deal of over-stressed nationalistic hubris. This a sublimatory response to the innate shame that comes with phobic anxiety.

The legal process in the UK has gone a very long way to eliminate the worst of explicit phobic prejudice. But laws can only do so much. They are, at best, a layer of last resort. A deterrent to the kind of harmful behaviour that used to be quite common decades ago. Instead, much overt nastiness has been driven underground; the domain where the current battle takes place. This low-level prejudice can be educated out of society, but it is a generational project and will certainly take better strategies than we currently have in place.

Consequently, if we want to point the finger at latent antisemitism we could do better than just look at the Labour Party. Yes, there will be antisemites in Labour. Just as there will be in the Tory Party, Greens, Communists, etc. And the teaching profession. It’s not that there are antisemites — that is a given. It’s what we are doing about them that matters.

International Women’s Day

I sometimes wonder about the relationship that transwomen (or let me put it another way: those women who were not born to the binary-based female role) have with events such as International Women’s Day? Do we feel solidarity with our born-to-role sisters? Do we feel welcomed? Or is there a little uncertainty about it all… a certain tentative sense of being on the fringes of things and not ‘normalised’ to the kind of discourse that such events produce.

I’m not sure. But I think not being sure is probably a healthy thing. I don’t want to wander naively through my life feeling that I’m casually welcome absolutely everywhere. I know that the law is (largely) on my side in this matter, but that’s irrelevant when it comes to the actual social interactions one experiences every day.

Yes, I am delighted to wish all my female friends, colleagues, acquaintances, students, etc. a very glorious IWD… but I know the limits imposed by my history. Yesterday does matter; I value my male past as much as my female present. Hence I am *different*, and I know that this is an inescapable fact of my life.

Good wishes to you today. And good wishes too to all my splendid transgender friends.


The issue of ‘self identification’ seems to have stirred up a hornet’s nest recently. I can well understand it. This is not because there’s a real problem, but because the pressing reality of gender and identity has been brought into high relief. For some, this is just too much of a ‘reality’ to take.

Perhaps a little history will help, at least on a personal clarification basis? —

a) I ‘came out’ in 2008. February. So this is my tenth anniversary ‘in role’. However, I have had issues with my identity all my life. It was an evolving thing. When I was very young it was a distant ‘itch’ that I couldn’t scratch. When I was a teen’ it was a fetishistic part of my developing sexuality. When I was an ‘adult’ it was something I hid and dealt with as best as I could– usually in deep secret.

b) In those days it was easier for me to think of myself as a ‘pervy’ or (at worst!) a cross-dresser, even though I felt very unhappy with those labels. But it was much safer to be a fetishist interested in female attire than a person who had deep-rooted gender issues. The former was ironically acceptable. The implications of the latter too desperate to consider. Yes, denial is a wonderfully convincing thing.

c) But denial only goes so far. It starts out as a defensive action, then becomes a guilt complex, then evolves into self-disgust, and finally arrives as an existential threat. At that point it becomes change-or-die. So I changed. The consequences of this are my history of the past decade.

d) I have come across dozens of transgender people who have gone through the same process, and have eventually had to ‘put up or shut up’ about their issues. Not everyone can continue to cope when leading a double-life, but those that do are (in my opinion) heroic in their psychic strength.

e) Changing my public identity was relatively easy. I picked a new name, formally changed it by deed poll, and asked every body I had contact with to change my details. All I had to do was ask. The only thing that has not changed is my birth certificate (and some of my qualification certificates). If/when I apply and get a Gender Recognition Certificate then my birth cert’ can change too… but I’ve discovered it’s not practically essential. My identity as Beatrix Elizabeth Groves-McDaniel needed no great legal effort at all. In practice, I already have ‘self-identified’.

f) I am largely accepted as ‘me’ (one way or another) by 90% of those I come into contact with. Roxanne will confirm this. As a teacher, I have taught thousands of students over the last decade. I can count the number of problems I’ve had with students over my trans’ identity on one hand — and still have a couple of fingers left over. My impression is that most people just couldn’t care less what my gender origins are (or what shape my genitals are in). What they’re keen on is: am I an ‘OK person’, do I have a sense of humour, do I know my stuff, do they feel safe with me, and will I get them where they want to go. And that’s all.

g) I am very open about who I am. If anyone asks (and they very rarely do) I will tell them the above story. Openness is my best defence.

i) I have never had a problem with ‘female areas’ (e.g. toilets). Maybe I’m unusual? Maybe I’m just not sensitive enough? But no one has ever objected to me being in the ladies, and I have (on occasions) been invited to women-only events as part of my work.

j) It’s not that I think to myself “I AM a woman!” to myself all the time. It never occurs to me. I just live my life. If I am asked to describe my gender orientation, I sometimes say “I’m a woman” or I sometimes say “I’m a transwoman” or I sometimes say “I’m a transgender person” … and maybe other descriptions I have forgotten. I don’t need to feel ‘fixed’ in gender-space or need to adopt a permanent polar or non-polar concept of myself. I’ve said all along that what I want to do is carve out a niche for myself in the female domain. A niche that suits me. My history means I am learning how to deal with indeterminacy.

k) There are bits of me that are still part of my ‘blokey’ legacy. For example, my voice. But I have a past, and I don’t want to deny half my life for the sake of the other half. It’s unhealthy, and yet another aspect of denial. What I want is to integrate my various characteristics.

l) Like many people going through gender transition I have in the past (and sometimes in the present) adopted a somewhat ‘exaggerated’ or ‘cliched’ female presence. It’s easy to understand why. Half my life was spent in male-mode and hence the stereotypes I have reached for as a model of identity are all from that aspect of my life. In addition, the flamboyant joy of being released from the perceived drabness of male existence means I have often treated femininity as a playground. Like a child being let loose in a sweetie shop.

m) We (i.e. trans’ people, whether MtF or FtM) go through a cognitive apprenticeship. You could call it a ‘second puberty’ or ‘teenage’, when experimentation and finding ones sexual and gender feet is a constant issue. But as this evolved, things settle down. I’m less flamboyant than I was these days, though I still do love clothes and will tart myself up, given an opportunity. But it’s curious that I wear make-up far less often than I did… and this is perhaps a sign that my ‘second puberty’ is coming to an end.

n) I don’t think my story is particularly unusual. In my informal chats with trans’ people over the years I have heard the same repeated phenomena narrated to me, with the odd variation.

So…. what’s the issue? Am I, or my transgender sisters and brothers a threat to anyone? That’s a pretty laughable idea.

What do I want? To be accepted as I am, to be protected against discrimination, and to be helped when I need it. But I think you could have worked that one out without having to be told.

H. L. Mencken on Religion

Where is the graveyard of dead gods? What lingering mourner waters their mounds? There was a time when Jupiter was the king of the gods, and any man who doubted his puissance was ipso facto a barbarian and an ignoramus. But where in all the world is there a man who worships Jupiter today? And who of Huitzilopochtli? In one year – and it is no more than five hundred years ago – 50,000 youths and maidens were slain in sacrifice to him. Today, if he is remembered at all, it is only by some vagrant savage in the depths of the Mexican forest. Huitzilopochtli, like many other gods, had no human father; his mother was a virtuous widow; he was born of an apparently innocent flirtation that she carried out with the sun.

When he frowned, his father, the sun, stood still. When he roared with rage, earthquakes engulfed whole cities. When he thirsted he was watered with 10,000 gallons of human blood. But today Huitzilopochtli is as magnificently forgotten as Allen G. Thurman. Once the peer of Allah, Buddha and Wotan, he is now the peer of Richmond P. Hobson, Alton B. Parker, Adelina Patti, General Weyler and Tom Sharkey.

Speaking of Huitzilopochtli recalls his brother Tezcatilpoca.
Tezcatilpoca was almost as powerful; he consumed 25,000 virgins a year.

Lead me to his tomb: I would weep, and hang a couronne des perles. But who knows where it is? Or where the grave of Quetzalcoatl is? Or Xiehtecuthli? Or Centeotl, that sweet one? Or Tlazolteotl, the goddess of love? Of Mictlan? Or Xipe? Or all the host of Tzitzimitles? Where are their bones? Where is the willow on which they hung their harps? In what forlorn and unheard-of Hell do they await their resurrection morn? Who enjoys their residuary estates? Or that of Dis, whom Caesar found to be the chief god of the Celts? Of that of Tarves, the bull? Or that of Moccos, the pig? Or that of Epona, the mare? Or that of Mullo, the celestial jackass? There was a time when the Irish revered all these gods, but today even the drunkest Irishman laughs at them.

But they have company in oblivion: the Hell of dead gods is as crowded as the Presbyterian Hell for babies. Damona is there, and Esus, and Drunemeton, and Silvana, and Dervones, and Adsalluta, and Deva, and Belisima, and Uxellimus, and Borvo, and Grannos, and Mogons. All mighty gods in their day, worshipped by millions, full of demands and impositions, able to bind and loose – all gods of the first class. Men labored for generations to build vast temples to them – temples with stones as large as hay-wagons. The business of interpreting their whims occupied thousands of priests, bishops, archbishops. To doubt them was to die, usually at the stake. Armies took to the field to defend them against infidels; villages were burned, women and children butchered, cattle were driven off. Yet in the end they all withered and died, and today there is none so poor to do them reverence.

What has become of Sutekh, once the high god of the whole Nile Valley?
What has become of:

Resheph, Baal, Anath, Astarte, Ashtoreth, Hadad, Nebo, Dagon, Melek, Yau, Ahijah, Amon-Re, Isis, Osiris, Ptah, Molech?

All there were gods of the highest eminence. Many of them are mentioned with fear and trembling in the Old Testament. They ranked, five or six thousand years ago, with Yahweh Himself; the worst of them stood far higher than Thor. Yet they have all gone down the chute, and with them the following:

Arianrod, Nuada, Argetlam, Morrigu, Tagd, Govannon, Goibniu, Gunfled, Odin, Dagda, Ogma, Ogryvan, Marzin, Dea, Dia, Mara, Iuno, Lucina, Diana of Ephesus, Saturn, Robigus, Furrina, Pluto, Cronos, Vesta, Engurra, Zer-panitu, Belus, Merodach, Ubilulu, Elum, U-dimmer-an-kia, Marduk, U-sab-sib, Nin, U-Mersi, Persephone, TammuzIstar, Venus, Lagas, Beltis, Nirig, Nusku, En-Mersi, Aa, Assur, Sin, Beltu, Apsu, Kuski-banda, Elali, Nin-azu, Mami, Qarradu, Zaraqu, Ueras, Zagaga.

Ask the rector to lend you any good book on comparative religion; you will find them all listed. They were gods of the highest dignity – gods of civilized peoples – worshipped and believed in by millions. All were omnipotent, omniscient and immortal.

And all are dead.

The Boy in a Dress

Let me get this absolutely straight:

a) There is NO deterministic connection between human biological characteristics and the expression of self-identity in social contexts.

b) By this I mean: my biology and my dress are not foundationally connected. My sex organs and chromosomes do NOT determine what I can or cannot wear in terms of clothing.

c) Dress is a communicative channel, used as one aspect of personal identity ‘signalling’ found between individuals and the social-order at large.

d) The meaning of any communicative function (‘signal’) is in the person who encodes/transmits the message, and the persons who decodes/receives it — NOT in the message itself.

e) The normative aspects of dress and fashion are formed from tradition and the exigencies of culture (which in turn derive from the economic mode of society), NOT any biological process.

f) Culture, tradition, and the normative rules that develop within these domains, change as societies evolve.

What this all means, essentially, is that you can wear what the hell you like. You don’t have to wear trousers because you’re a boy, or a dress because you’re a girl. There is no ‘natural law’ that says so. This applies as much to children as to adults, and only the wishes of adults can determine what children are compelled to wear. Since these wishes are part of cultural inheritance, they change as society changes — hence any furore about a child wearing a dress at school is purely concened with the resistance of some adults to social change, and their angst over their OWN sense of identity in a dynamic world.

I hope this contributes to silencing some of the absolute reactionary DRIVEL I’ve seen written on the subject recently.

Just an opinion

People often say that they have a right to an opinion. This is correct. But you have no absolute right to express it, especially when there are considerations attached:

a) Is the opinion informed? Where is your evidence and from what source? Is your source credible? (e.g. it can’t simply be ‘everyone says so’ or ‘the Pope (substitute any religious personage or book) says so’, or ‘My friends say so’, or ‘I formed this group and now I’m an expert’…)

b) Why are you expressing an opinion? To cause hurt or harm? To correct an error? (see (a) above) To unload? To troll a conversation? Because you dislike the person speaking?

c) Does expressing an opinion add anything to the cause or issue that is being discussed?
d) Is your opinion rational? Or is it emotional? It isn’t a bad thing to express one’s emotions, but then be honest about it — don’t dress it up as if it were thought-through argument.

e) Are you clear about your terminology? For example, do the words ‘gender’ and ‘sex’ mean the same thing? Does everyone use the term your way? If not, you’ll end up talking at cross-purposes.

f) There is a difference between ‘an argument’ (noun, meaning a rational process of thought that forms a defensible position) and ‘arguing’ (verb, meaning to have a go at someone because you want to vent your anger)

g) Did you really read the question? I mean, did you understand what was said or just jump to a conclusion?

i) The meaning is in the person NOT in the words. Words can mean whatever the utterer wants (otherwise, such activities as poetry would be impossible).

I was taught by Mimosa Bunce, a Hobbit!

What a lot of people don’t know is that I was taught by a real, live Hobbit.

I truly mean it. No joke.

My tutor at college, Margaret Ann Bell, who died very recently, used to work for Oxford University Press in her youth. She met many famous authors. One of them was JRR Tolkien. She needed to top up her very meagre salary, so she offered to be Tolkien’s char-lady. She kept the Tolkien home clean, in her manner, and in his garden was a Mimosa bush. Margaret used to cut Mimosa for the house, and Tolkien (who I think was a bit sweet on her!) gave her the nickname Mimosa as a consequence.

Margaret’s maiden name at the time was Bunce. Tolkien said later that he would commemorate Margaret in a ‘book’ he was writing.

Now if you check out the list of Frodo and Bilbo’s relatives in Lord of the Rings, you’ll find a great aunt (?) of Frodo’s listed. She’s called Mimosa Bunce.

Hence, I was taught by a real Hobbit. Something I’m rather proud of.

(And no, she was quite tall and didn’t have hairy feet )