Things I have learnt

As you get older, people say you get wiser. I think that's an euphemism for saying that you get more set in your ways, less fluid. As the number of brain cells in commission decreases with the punishments that the advance of the years deals you: the random wear and tear, the sleepless nights, the booze and other substances, the noise of playing one too many gig through shitty borrowed equipment and undermaintained monitors, your brain shuts down the pathways of improvisation and you learn to do things in certain ways, to think in straight lines. That's wisdom, I think. Simply a shortcut for learnt behaviour.

So what have I learnt recently as I approach another birthday, another turning of the page? What astonishing nuggets of wisdom can I impart on you unsuspecting unfortunates this autumn day?

1. People see what they want to see (but idiots are idiots)

Go Away
↑ "Go away", 9/11/08

I was at a very interesting handmade books fair yesterday in an old social club in Somers Town, a working people's enclave sandwiched between Euston and St.Pancras stations. There were a lot of cool people there selling lots of very beautiful stuff. I bought a couple of limited edition works and an amusing pin badge that says "Go Away" on it.

About to walk into the venue, we were surprised by some very loud shouting across the street and looked across the street to see a group of lads in their twenties, in regulation casual clothing, cropped hair, eyes dulled by cheap lager and slowness of wit. They were yelling animatedly at each other, very noisy, their voices betraying that they were down for the day, the weekend, whatever, from somewhere in Manchester or elsewhere in Lancashire.

The wisdom of the years put us into alert mode. There was an abandon to their swagger that spoke of heightened aggression, pack behaviour, incipient violence, mistrust of the unlike. You know, all the stuff we, the middle class, fear when walking around deserted council estates alone and suddenly become confronted with a group of kids. Usually unfounded.

We entered the warm, rather smelly embrace of the working men's hall and were surrounded by chattering creatives and student craftspeople. A different world, really. Sort of a sanctuary.

Then Kate breathed, "oh, they're coming inside." The atmosphere changed a bit. It was strange. Like a foreign body entering the bloodstream, they didn't belong, drawn in by the crowds and chatter. The room reconfigured around them. They were the loudest thing in there, albeit in an already loud and crowded hall. A wary space soon opened up around them. The artschool kids and the political cartoonists and textile printers studiously avoided interacting with them.

The predominant type of men in the hall were mainly spindly indie kid types, the sort you'd break in two by just looking at their floppy fringes and skinny jeans. The girls were pretty and arty and of course the northern lads targeted them, trying to engage them in conversation by the cunning ploy of making truly and horribly lewd and foul sexual propositions. One unsuspecting girl with a blonde and pink bob actually started talking to them, unaware of what was going on, and was suddenly surrounded by them. She took a while to escape their ring of filthy focus, tension on her bravely smiling face.

Then, while I was nearby, their dull eyed ringleader glanced in my direction, looked me up and down, and said loudly and very clearly to the others:

"is that a fucking man or a woman or what?"

I could, I suppose have congratulated him for spotting the unknown other in the room, the "or what", betraying his confusion. I was actually surprised to be honest. I mean, I know I present quite an androgynous appearance, with my long hair and my neutral clothes, my plucked brows and my general stance. I guess I do confuse matters. But really, I thought I looked quite butch yesterday with a military jacket, big boots and stubble.

I wrote previously about the confusion and ambivalance I feel at being "ma'am"-ed. It happens a lot and I guess what I dislike about it is the sense that I'm surrounded suddenly by a spreading ring of ripples of wrongness that emanate from the person who's called me "madam", or "miss" or "young lady". It's funny writing about it but at the time it feels wrong, because it feels so wrong to the beholder. It's deeply uncomfortable but usually shrugged off with a smile, or even an apology on their part.

This was different really. I mean I've been in plenty of situations before in full drag being verbally challenged, laughed at or even abused in the street. But this was worse. It was a nailbomb waiting to go off in a cramped space. I just knew I was something these lads would not be able to deal with without recourse to something bad. I walked away to the opposite end of the hall.

I was lucky I suppose, that the others in the group were too busy leering at the women to even notice their leader's comment. Soon afterwards, like a foreign body being rejected, they tired of being the unwanted party and left the hall.

Perhaps I'm overdramatising. But the demons we fear are within ourselves, and manifested in the actions of others, and at that exact point in time, my demons filled me with fear of violence. The armour of my self confidence in my shifting gender role is a thin one and easily torn. I wish it wasn't true.

So what it it I learned? Well, like I said, sometimes people see what they want to see. The drunk young man from the north saw something he couldn't quite work out. Something that didn't fit the binary certainties of his world. I saw the same. A group of lads who could turn on me like a pack of hyaenas and who felt alien to my eyes, especially in the surroundings into which they'd injected themselves.

Perhaps if we'd talked it might have been different. We might have been able to understand each other, find some common ground, and come up with something approaching civility. But why bother? If there's something else I've learnt over the years, an intolerant idiot is just that. You can smell shit a mile off. You just learn to walk round it, cos it's better than having to wash it off your boot.

(Of couse, what I should have done when he slurred "is that a fucking man or a woman or what?", was arch an eyebrow and reply, "yes". But then I'm no fan of hospital food...)

2. I am not a transvestite

DSC00035 natural's not in it DSC00075
↑ Self portraits, 2007-8

Here's something else I'm starting to realise. This one comes as a bit of a surprise to me too, though actually maybe not. You'd get an inkling if you've perused my flickr photos of late.

(And this may be again, be the incoherence of approaching senility, or indeed, the very simplification, mistaken for wisdom, that I mentioned at the outset of this rambling piece)

Anyway, what I think I'm realising is that my thing, as it were, is changing or has changed over the years and has now become something very simple, from being something potentially horribly complex.

I've lost you. Wait, let me break it down. See, it went a little like this:

  1. Back in my late teens and twenties, I was convinced I was a woman. that I was meant to transition and become, in my estimation, female. I began the psychological and medical process of transition, many of you will know, and espcially during my time in Six Inch Killaz, I was convinced I was on that path.

  2. Sometime in my late twenties I realised it wasn't true and that if I followed such things through it would lead to worse pain. I really didn't loathe being male enough. I enjoyed changing my aspect and keeping feet in both camps. I stopped thinking of myself as a transsexual and considered myself instead a transvestite. A bloody good one!

  3. Now, I don't think I'm even that anymore. I try and keep my appearance ambivalent. If I wear makeup it's to soften my male features so I look something in-between. I rarely dress in female clothes now, nor can my regular mode of dress be considered strictly masculine. What I feel I've found is a comfortable, androgynous groove that I can rattle happily along in for the rest of my life, expressing neither extreme of gender very much.

So I guess my wisdom is now that of an androgynous genetic male drawing slowly into the harbour of middle age. I like it. It fits me well and I truly feel more settled in my gender anxiety than I've been ever in my life.

See, I am transgendered, but I've found a commute within that complex city of ideas, identity and emotions that I feel is my own. It's good.

So to answer my potential persecutor of yesterday's question:

"is that (a) a fucking man or (b) a woman or what??"

The answer is: (c) I am an "or what?"

Now try saying that last bit in Jonathan Ross' voice. It sounds weird...

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