Tuesday, 27 August 2019

The Imagination Acts, Diversity and Unity

A few months ago Anne Yarwood, a close friend of Sally (my wife) and I asked if I would be editor of the month for the web site that she has produced - The Imagination Acts.
The result was a collection of pictures and words with a theme of Several Shades of T – Unity within Diversity.




You can read the article at The Imagination Acts web site or at Andrea's Space here.

Also, to save having to click links (and to guard against the possibility that the above links may stop working one day) the article is included below.

But please do visit The Imagination Acts as well - it has an enormous lot of other things that are well worth reading - and a whole lot more artwork.



Several Shades of T – Unity within Diversity
There is a human tendency towards classification and categorisation. To assign labels. To generalise. Male. Female. Straight. Lesbian. Gay. Bi. Trans.
Classification has its uses, but also limitations.
We can use labels to form alliances and to define borders. To stereotype. To marginalise.
It challenges me that I sometimes construct borderlines as a way of self defence and preservation and fail to see the bigger picture. It is possible to value the things that hold us together. To uphold each other. And to celebrate our distinctiveness.
After more than half a lifetime of denial I gave up a battle with myself and began to accept myself as the person that I am. This came with the label “trans”. As time passes, I need to regularly remind myself of the inadequacy of this label. To see that no label defines who I am. Or who you are. There is a much bigger story to your life and to mine.

The Borderline
Cos what is love – a word, the feeling of you ?
Something we dream or the things that we do ?
And who am I – these thoughts, this feeling, my views
A fragile form or a dreamer like you ?
Are we so different, defined ?
Where is the borderline ?

When we are like water, like trees
We have a name, an illusion of identity
Of boundaries, of borderlines
But my dreams are yours and your fears are mine
I hope we wake up from this dream of being different, defined
When we are only space and time
Emily Maguire (https://emilymaguire.com/biog/) is a singer-song writer, poet and composer. The International Society for Bipolar Disorders awarded her the 2019 Mogens Schou Award for Public Service and Advocacy.
Several Shades of T 
The storyline that I’m thinking of opened with L and G.
After a while they were joined by B.
And then T.
LGBT.
More recently a large selection of the rest of the alphabet has joined in. Some of them more than once.
LGBTQQIAAPOG …
Lesbian. Gay. Bisexual. Trans. Queer. Questioning. Intersex. Asexual. Ally. Pansexual. Other. Genderfluid. …
Sometimes the newcomers all get represented by just a +.
LGBT+.
But the story isn’t about the alphabet.
It’s about people.
It began long before the alphabet got involved.
And like all stories about people, whilst there are still people the story will continue.
Some people are intimately involved in the story. Others are more on the periphery. We can all be involved. In some ways, we all are involved.
There is a truth in that different people read the same story in different ways.
Some see a collection of different letters of the alphabet. They don’t identify with any of the letters. The story is a threat. An anathema. An abomination. They want to put an end to it. But the story is about people and not the alphabet. Ending it involves blood. And even then, whilst there are people the story will continue.
Some claim a letter as their own. They hold it close. They know it and understand it. Looking at the other letters they aren’t so sure. Not all letters are equal. Some of them are frauds. Dangerous. Threatening. They need to be restricted. Controlled.
Some don’t consciously read the story at all. But by words, silences, actions and inactions they take part.
Over the years I’ve come across people that read the story in these ways. And of people that read it in many, many other ways.
My own take on it has changed. Is still changing.
I’ve discovered that I have letters in this story.
I know other people that have the same letters.
But sharing the same letters in a story doesn’t make us the same people. We have our own thoughts, feelings, preferences. And we can even read the same story in different ways.
I know other people with other letters.
But I know no one for whom a letter, or even an entire alphabet, provides an adequate definition of who they are.
In all of this I identify as T and G – that is a Trans person that is Genderfluid.
So, what does that mean? And does it matter.
The term trans is often defined as something like this: an umbrella term for all people who cross traditional gender boundaries – whether that is permanently or periodically (https://www.nhs.uk/livewell/transhealth/documents/livingmylife.pdf.
And then there’s the term genderfluid. You could say that genderfluid individuals have different gender identities at different times. A genderfluid individual’s gender identity could be multiple genders at once and then switch to none at all, or move between single gender identities, or some other combination therein. For some genderfluid people, these changes happen as often as several times a day and for others, monthly, or less often. Some genderfluid people regularly move between only a few specific genders, perhaps as few as two (which could also fit under the label bigender), whereas other genderfluid people never know what they’ll feel like next (See HERE  – wiki/Genderfluid).
However, the definitions certainly have their limitations.
I’ve come across some trans people who don’t like to stand under the same umbrella as other trans people. Which might add another letter to the story to accommodate them.
Some people don’t believe that T has the right to be included along with LG or B.
Sometimes, people begin to talk trans and then focus more upon pronouns, lavatories, changing rooms and restrooms than they do on people.
Sometimes people say and do things that are much worse.
Trans people face many challenges. All people face many challenges.
What special rights should trans people have?
Perhaps nothing more special than things that I believe should be given to all people.
Things like kindness, compassion, respect and understanding.
Ultimately, what every trans person that I know wishes for, is to simply be themselves.
It’s not about special treatment or privileges.
Of course, that’s the beginning of a story more than it is the end of one. Pronouns, restrooms, changing rooms and safe spaces matter.
Safety matters.
People are capable of pretending to be someone that they are not.
There are challenges.
But in working out solutions to these challenges let’s remember that behind every acronym and label there are real people. That even when people share the same label, they are different from each other. That there is no single voice that fully represents any label. That it is possible to disagree with someone else and yet to do that with respect and kindness. That there are times when the ability to reach a compromise is a strength. That it is better to listen to and talk with each other than it is to write about each other. That whispers sometimes speak more loudly than yells.
The acronyms are complicated. People are complex. But there is something special when people that pick up different labels are able to move beyond the things that make them different. To see diversity as a thing that can enrich and strengthen rather than something that weakens and destroys.
And of course, just like you, I have lots of other letters of the alphabet in lots of other stories. And we’re all involved in each of these stories in one way or another. Some stories touch us closely. Others seem to be more distant. But we are involved. What we say and do has an effect. Our inactions and silences also have an effect. And all the separate stories are, in reality, parts of a single bigger story.
Martin Niemöller (first-they-came-for-the-socialists) is remembered for saying:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.

And so, even though I am not L or G or B, I still speak out. We are all neighbours (www.biblegateway.com/passage).
Last year I discovered the music of Emily Maguire (https://emilymaguire.com/ ) and was especially touched when listening to a song of hers called The Borderline which speaks to me of the way it can be so easy to concentrate on things that divide us rather than the things that hold us together. You can listen to it  HERE  and  HERE.
The words are:
The Borderline
[E.Maguire]

Where is the borderline
The boundary between your tribe and mine
Are we the rain, the river, the cloud and the sea
If we are like water then which drop is me

And what is time – the fast blink of an eye
A circle so vast that we think it’s a line
And what is space – the air, the silence we breathe
A place of our own and the ghosts we don’t see
Is it the boundary, the borderline
Between you and I, your mind and mine

Is fire the spark, the fuel, the air or the heat
The smoke in your eyes or the ash at your feet
Are trees the root, the branch, the wood or the leaves
The forest we burn or the broom that we keep
Beneath the stairs, the stars, the space in a jar. The air outside is that where you are
Is that the borderline, the boundary
Between you and I, between your tribe and mine

But isn’t fear the dark shadow of hope
The things that we want and the things that we don’t
And so we cling and close the eyes that look in,
The soul we don’t see under the skin
Cos that’s a boundary, the borderline
Between you and I, between your tribe and mine

But we both were born and both will die
And in between will doubt and dream
Of a better life than life before
A meaning or a reason for
This feeling of being different, defined
When we are only dreaming of boundaries and borderlines
I hope we wake up

Cos what is love – a word, the feeling of you
Something we dream or the things that we do
And who am I – these thoughts, this feeling, my views
A fragile form or a dreamer like you
Are we so different, defined
Where is the borderline?

When we are like water, like trees
We have a name, an illusion of identity
Of boundaries, of borderlines
But my dreams are yours and your fears are mine
I hope we wake up from this dream of being different, defined
When we are only space and time


And yes, I too hope that we wake up.


Thursday, 17 January 2019

TRANSlation - a trans film for cis people

Back in November 2018 we had a visit from a group of people studying at UCA as described here and here.

The video that they produced, TRANSlation - a trans film for cis people, is now online. Here it is:

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Sunday December 9th 2018 - Pre-Christmas Buffet

Sunday December 9th was the evening of the pre-Christmas buffet.

It was a lovely evening and it was great to see everyone. Here are a few pictures.

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Wednesday, 28 November 2018

November 25 2018–Films and Quizzes

Earlier in November I received an email from Harri who is studying at the University for Creative Arts (UCA), Farnham

"We have been given a brief to create a 10 minute documentary, and my group wanted to document the community between trans individuals. As a trans student myself, this topic is close to my heart.
I was wondering if your organisation would be open to being the subject of our documentary? Or perhaps if you know of individual members who would be open to discussing the trans community?"

"As we are focusing on community, it'd be lovely to explore the relationships Surrey Swans builds and how it has helped individuals. We would love to conduct interviews with any member who would be happy to be filmed.
We'd also be exploring how people experience the difference between a tight-knit trans community such as Surrey Swans, and also the trans community as a wider concept."

We had a brief get-together at the Lion Brewery on Thursday 22nd November. A chance to meet the people that would be creating the documentary, a look at the kind of questions that might get included in interviews and to talk a bit about Surrey Swans, what it means to me, to some of the people that I know. And a bit about relationships in general.

So, on Sunday 25 November 2018 we had six visitors from UCA. Nate, Harri, Alex,Terrell, Evie, Elisha.

They arrived at about 6:30 pm to set things up.

I arrived at about 7:15 pm as setting up was nearing completion.

I have a chat with Elisha, who’ll be asking the questions, as the final bits and pieces of preparation are done.

Of course, if everything always went hitch-free first time there’s be no point at all in practicing anything or learning to do new stuff.

The hitch is with the microphone. A large submarine-looking thing which seems intent upon misbehaving.

It’s impressive that there are no visible signs of panic.

A backup plan kicks in … or perhaps it was put together on the spur of the moment. It involves moving outside and using an alternate microphone.

In fact, “inside” is a little on the noisy side, so moving outside is a good idea anyway.

The main challenge is that it is November 25th. Which means that it’s a little on the chilly side.

Volunteers are interviewed and filming (I guess that should be videoing since no film is in sight) proceeds through the evening.

Here’s how it looked:

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Nate, Harri, Alex,Terrell

Evie, Elisha,

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The evening was really very enjoyable and we’re looking forwards to seeing the finished product. Nate, Harri, Alex,Terrell, Evie, Elisha were fantastic, getting things done efficiently and without imposing at all on other things that were happening during the evening.

We did have a visit from UCA back in November 2013 … you can read all about that here.

On a different note, since November 2016 people who come along to Surrey Swans have gotten involved in quiz evenings organised by people at St Mary’s Church in Ash Vale. I wasn’t able to get along to it, but a team of 6 swans plus 2 friends did and they came third. So no longer is it true for us that “the only way is up” :). They had a great time.

Friday, 1 June 2018

A visit to Guildford Police Station

May 31st was the day set for a visit to Guildford Police Station.

In April I’d received an email from Robin, who works there asking if I’d be prepared to visit them and talk about Transgender issues and how they could assist us should we come into contact with the police.

Robin also mentioned that it would be fine if other people came along as well and said that things that would be useful to talk about were things like:

How you discovered that you were Trans. Problems you’ve come across, how you’ve been accepted, or not, whether you’ve been victimised because of it, whether you’ve reported issues to Police and how they responded and how we can do things better ?

We agreed on a date of May 31st and ‘Chelle, Linda, Rose, Amanda and Cynthia said that they’d like to come along as well.

In the event, work commitments meant that Cynthia couldn’t make it.

I’d spent a while thinking about what I’d like say and wrote it down to try and estimate how long it would take to say it, and to try and keep myself from running off at tangents.

I was keen, as well, to provide some tome for everyone else to share some of their own thoughts and experiences.

We met at the Friary shopping centre in Guildford at about 11:00 am for coffee and a chat, and then headed for the police station to arrive there at about 11:50 … it’s a short 10 minute walk. We were met by Robin. Spent a few minutes signing in and headed up to the meeting room on the 7th floor.

Almost 30 people turned up to listen to us. We were a bit surprised. And impressed as well, that so many people would give up their own time to coma along and listen to us.

We spent a little over 30 minutes sharing thoughts and experiences. And had a lovely response from people afterwards.

Hermann, one of the officers at Surrey Police (the tall one in the picture) spent some time sharing about the way that their work is about safeguarding and assisting people.

We spent quite a while eating bread rolls and soup and chatting. It was especially good in that lots of people (including we five visitors) said it had been a useful time and that we’d learned important things.

For me, and I believe also for others, it had been a really valuable time.

Here’s a picture taken after the the talking and before the soup and bread rolls:

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If you’re interested in the kind of things that we said, then here is some of it:

Robin (front centre in the picture) introduced us and explained a bit about what we were likely to be talking about.

The script that I worked from was this:

Hello

  • Good afternoon, I’m Andrea
  • And here are: Chelle, Linda, Amanda and Rose
  • We are trans or transgender
  • But more than that we are just people
  • Each of us have been involved in one way or another with Surrey Swans
  • A place where trans people, friends and partners meet socially once a month in Ash

Firstly

  • I’d like to begin by saying thank you
  • Jo and Michelle came along to Surrey Swans back in 2014 along with Carol (from New Patch) to talk with us about what you do … so it’s nice to return the visit
  • When I mentioned this meeting to people at Surrey Swans, I got very positive feedback about the police force … about you.
  • We know that what you do makes a difference to people. It makes a difference to us.
  • What you do is not just a job
  • Isn’t it strange, yesterday I was thinking, there are times when I’m driving and I see a police car, and I feel anxiety. My mind fills with stuff like “I hope my break likes are working. But as Andrea When I see a police officer I feel safe
  • So, thank you

A definition of Transgender / Trans is that it is an umbrella term used to cover numerous types of gender identity such as:

  • Transsexual
  • Transvestite
  • Non-binary
  • Bi-gendered
  • Non-gendered
  • Genderfluid
  • … etc.
  • that’s a lot of diversity

A question:

  • How many people here meet trans people on a regular basis?

You know though, whatever trans is:

  • Trans is people
  • Individual people with unique stories and life experiences
  • Not all trans people agree with each other even on all things trans
  • I, and all of us here, are not representing the trans community – mainly we are just sharing personal experiences and thoughts

My story … which is different from everyone else’s

Childhood, which was a long time ago. I remember:

  • I confusion
  • experimentation with clothing

Growing up, as a student and then later, I remember

  • Confusion
  • What it was all about?
  • Just a fetish?
  • Becoming a Christianity
  • Was it sinful?
  • Should I feel guilty?
  • Feeling guilty.
  • Buying things
  • Throwing things away
  • Repenting
  • Keeping secrets
  • Feeling ashamed

By 2006 or so

  • The internet – communication with strangers
  • I wasn’t the only person in the world like this
  • Telling anonymous people
  • Buying clothing that was more than underwear
  • Someone asking if my wife knew
  • Letting my wife find out
  • Her coming to terms with it and accepting me
  • Neither of us understanding
  • Trying makeup and lipstick - Try it sometime … there’s all kinds of possibilities for total disaster.
  • Seeing an advertisement for a makeover, clothes and pictures
  • Going along
  • Being encouraged to tell my wife all about it
  • Meeting myself
  • Crying
  • Telling my children, family, friends
  • Learning to be myself
  • Working out that really, it’s just about who I am
  • If I have a label it’s Genderfluid - People say “what’s that” rather than just go along with a likely incorrect stereotype

And some experiences

Linda, Rose and Amanda then shared some of their thoughts and experiences.

And a few more points to finish:·

  • Trans people are really just people
  • Not a label, a problem or an issue to be dealt with (being trans is not really about bathrooms)

In common with other people:

  • Each of us is unique, with our own life stories, fears and dreams
  • Sometimes we are still in the process of trying to discover ourselves, understand ourselves and accept ourselves
  • We don’t always act logically and sensibly
  • We sometimes suffer from uncertainty, stress, confusion, fear and vulnerability

We (all people, not just trans people) mostly just want to be free to be ourselves.

So, in dealing with trans people, as with anyone else, it’s great, whenever possible, to:

  • Be polite to us
  • Treat us with dignity and courtesy
  • Use the pronouns (he, she, they ...) that we prefer. If uncertain then ask us
  • Consider our physical and emotional condition
  • Be aware that there is a possibility that we are feeling afraid and vulnerable. Talk to us to find out about our own situation.
  • Explain what’s happening and why it’s happening
  • Try to understand us

And we, on our part, will try to do all of these things when we meet you, because we know that you are people just as much as we are

What we want … what we need … each of us in this room

  • To be treated with respect, as we in turn, treat others with respect
  • To be listened to just as we listen
  • To be accepted … or at least not be intimidated or hated … just as we are accepting

And finally from me:

  • Thank you again for listening
  • And at Surrey Swans we’re keen to maintain good links with the police service, so pay us a visit soon
  • And … ask us questions …

Chelle then shared some thoughts and experiences. She also raised a question as to the kind of definition of “trans” that the police use when safeguarding trans people. We were reassured that the definition is the same one that we talked about near the beginning of the session.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

April 2018 sk:n, Dior and Guildford Police Station

We had a visit from Tracie at the sk:n clinic in Esher to our meeting at the end of April.

Tracie talked about the treatments that they offer, particularly laser hair removal. It was really interesting and informative.

I’m thinking about it still, it would be nice to especially not need to shave my face.

We also received some samples of anti aging skin-care cream.

As a bonus, Amanda brought in some perfume and foundation samples that had kindly been given to her by the Dior counter at House of Fraser in Guildford.

A few of us will be visiting Guildford police station on May 31st to share our thoughts and experiences with people that are based there.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Some recent pictures

Here are a few pictures from recent Surrey Swans meetings, kindly provided by Beaux.

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